We finally got the word to depart Fort Bragg and moved all our stuff to Seymour Johnson Airforce Base (I am not making up that name) to catch a C5B aircraft to Germany. Once we were in Germany we would tranload all of the equipment and personnel to C17 aircraft for onward movement to Afghanistan. The young soldier next to me in the C5 had never flown in an aircraft before in his life. Needless he was pretty excited and scared.
The flight over the pond was uneventful and I was able to get a good amount of sleep on the plane. The C5 has a passenger section above the cargo hold looks like a passenger liner except you are facing to the rear. We landed in Germany in the early evening and were locked down in the terminal. Fortunately, there was some food to be had thanks to the USO and the Red Cross. I don't remember how long we stayed on the ground, but it couldn't have been more than a few hours. Our equipment was loaded on the C17 and we were given permission to board the aircraft. As we were getting comfortable the crew chief informed up that about 3 hours into the flight we would be conducting an air-to-air refueling. I was pumped about that. Three hours after take off we were instructed to buckle up because we were about to link up with the tanker. Other than some light turbulance I was unable to tell any difference. I am sure if I had been in the cockpit I would have had a totally different view.
We were told we would land about 0630 Afghanistan time. As that time neared we were informed that the Bagram had been attacked with RPGs. The news got even worse--they may turn the aircraft around and fly us back to Germany and that would mean would have to start all over. We were this close and I did not want to have to mentally prepare myself to do this again.
Finally, it was determined that it was save to land. Bagram Airbase is in a bowl surrounded by some high mountains which does not make for a long gentle descent and add in the threat of the SAMs or RPGs the pilots conducted a very fast circling descent which puts any rollercoaster you have ever been on to shame. I was lucky enough to be sitting near the wheel wells so when the gear went down I was able to see our spiralling descent and watch the touchdown. As soon as we touched down the rear ramp started to open and we all had first look at the beautiful but barren landscape.
We were hurried off the aircraft by the crew (they did not want to have to spend much time on the ground) and met by a nice Special Forces sergeant who was expecting another group on the plane. However, he was nice enough to point out where not to walk (minefields) and led us to the terminal. Once we arrived at the terminal no seemed to know what to do with us. For some reason they had been informed we would not be arriving for a few more days. Luckily, we had an advanced party already on the ground. SSG Groce and SFC Rocca found us as we were playing cards in a bombed out building.
These two angels took us to some empty tents. Unfortunately, we had to go out and scrounge up cots to keep us off the ground. There were some Canadian Soldiers who had procurred (stolen) some extra cots and were happy to share. Our temporary home was not one would call the lap of luxury but we were happy to have a plastic floor and some cots to keep us out of the water when it rained (the Afghans were sure we were the good guy because after we defeated the Taliban a multi-year drought was broken).
After all the days of travel we settled down for a good nights sleep. I was curled up in my sleeping bag all toasty and warm when I heard some firing off in the distance. I layed in my bag and did hear any of the experienced units in the area act concerned so I drifted back off to sleep. A few minutes later one of my NCOs started shaking me and told me to get up. I asked him what was wrong and he said he thought we were being attacked and what did I think we should do. I still did not hear any of the other units acting like this was an attack, so I looked at him and told said, "We are either going to live or we are going to die. If we live I want to be rested and if we die, then it really doesn't matter", and I drifted off again to sleep. I later learned two things. The first one was that he thought I was the bravest guy he had ever seen (nope, just tired) and the second thing was the firing was a training exercise being conducted by the local Afghan milita. That is why no one was upset about the firing. Needless to say after my good nights sleep I was ready to face the new day.
NEXT: On to Kabul or How to piss off your boss