Friday, March 23, 2012

Back at KAF

Private Rios
Graphite on paper, 7"x5"

My time at Arghandab is up and I'm back at Kandahar Air Field (KAF) again.  Arghandab was a lot of fun.  It was great to be away from staff duty and to work directly with the local Afghans and the military forces out in the field.  Everything we did out there affected the mission.

I got to do some more drawing as well.  Above is a sketch of Private Rios, who always seemed to be on guard duty whenever I had to go through the gate over to the District Center.  A friendly, outgoing, and very talkative guy (to use one of my mother's favorite phrases, he could talk the ears off a brass monkey), Rios was curious as to what we were doing in general, and was thrilled to have me do this sketch.

In my last post, I included a drawing of the Arghandab District Governor.  He loved it, but thought I made him look too serious.  Actually, I really lightened up his expression - you should have seen the stern face I had to work with!  The next day, I went in to say goodbye.  The DG was sitting in his office with about a dozen of his cronies.  He told them all about the picture I'd drawn the previous day.  Next thing I knew, he was pulling some paper out, finding a pen, and wanting me to draw him again, only this time with a smile!  How could I refuse?  The pressure was on!  So I sat there and drew him again, with one of his cronies who looked like the original Abraham sitting next to me and giving a running commentary.  It was a blast.  I was lucky: pens are unforgiving, but I managed to capture his likeness and spirit pretty well.  The DG was thrilled.  Mission accomplished.

I did quite a few other sketches during my time in Arghandab.  You can see them on my studio's Facebook page,  I haven't put them on my website yet ... actually, I think my website is overdue for some updates, but not today.

The next morning, I packed up and a group of us trudged up the hill to the landing zone.  The Embassy helo came in about 20 minutes early (yay).  I climbed in, buckled up, and we were off.  My time in Arghandab was over.

The helo, by the way, was an old Russian-built MI-8.  Think 1950's Chevy van with rotor blades, flown by crazy Ukrainians.  There are certain ways in and out of the LZ that the military wants helos to take to minimize the impact that rotor blasts might have on both the base and adjacent religious shrine.  The Ukrainians don't pay much attention.  They skimmed right along the ridge, one or two hundred yards out, thoroughly enjoying themselves.  For those of us in the back, our windows were filled with mountains on one side and blue sky on the other.  And the mountains didn't look very far away.  Beats the hell out of any thrill ride at Six Flags!

Back at KAF, the first thing I did was take a nice long shower, shave, and throw a couple of loads of clothes into the laundry.  Life at a FOB is fun, but it's lacking in certain amenities.  Things like a fairly spacious and clean shower stall, for example.  Toilets that flush, instead of port-johns.  The ability to pull your clothes out of the dryer when they're done, rather than pick them up after they've spent several hours wadded up in your laundry bag and now look like you slept in them for a week.  Today, I treated myself to a cappuccino at Green Beans, which is the Starbucks for war zones.  Life's good ... at least as far as creature comforts are concerned.

I was talking with a friend at breakfast this morning and he was lamenting the fact that, here at KAF, we spend all day reading emails, writing reports, and preparing PowerPoint presentations, all to affect decisions on things we'll never see.  Very true.  Which is why I'm heading out to the field again very soon.  I'm transferring to one of our District Support Teams (DSTs) and will be there for the rest of my tour.  I'm really excited about it - I'll be able to dig down into the dynamics of one particular district, get to know the District Governor and key leaders, team up with the military unit, and in general get my hands dirty doing operational stuff.  And I'll be able to do more interesting drawings.  It's a district that I'm already fairly familiar with, so I won't be walking into it blind.  THIS is what I came to Afghanistan for!  So when am I leaving?  Not quite sure, but probably within the week.  You'll read about it right here.

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