At the last minute, I was assigned to be a courier for our office and had to take some documents and information to one of our remote training centers (RTC’s.) This particular RTC, called Islam Quala (IQ) is unique because it’s in the far west of the country, so far west that you can see the Iranian border crossing when you stand in the guard tower on the camp.
Luckily for me, the staff at the camp agreed to meet me in Herat, which is the main western city of Afghanistan, and it’s a good 90 minutes from Iran.
What that meant was a plane ride all around the country in the course of about 8 hours.
Since my mission here is funded by the Department of State, I was put on a DOS plane out of the DOS air wing – basically the department of state’s own private airline. They have what some of the guys from IQ called, “straight up Indiana Jones” airplanes, but I was lucky and was flying a Dash 8 300 Series. These are sweet little planes made by Bombardier (de Havilland) in Canada, and most people in Boise will recognize this plane as one of the main prop planes used by Horizon/Alaska to get people to regional destinations. There were no more than 6 people on the plane for any one leg of the trip and there are 30+ seats, so it was very comfortable.
DOS air wing is situated very close to my camp, so the convoy there was uneventful and short. We were on the road at 5:45 a.m. and checking in for the flight before 6:00.
The plane was headed to Konduz and Mazar-I-Sherif before getting to Herat, but the return flight was direct from Herat to Kabul. My co-passengers were civilian correctional officer advisors headed to Herat. They work for a company that is a competitor of DynCorp, but we all work for the department of state, so we pledged to get along while on the airplane.
The flight to Konduz was short, but directly over the mountains that I see every morning as I go to breakfast. It was fantastic to see, and I got a bunch of pictures that I have to develop and post a little later.
The Konduz “airport” was very small and we stopped only for a few minutes, but I did hop off the plane and walk into the terminal and look around. It was very primitive, and I made a point to use the bathroom just to see what that was like. That smell will be with me for a while I think. That was a short stop and we were back in the air headed to Mazar-I-Sharif. This stop was longer and I walked into the airport there to buy some pistachios because they are famous for them there. They were quite good, but when I bought the two-pound bag, I did sort of heft them in my hand and shouted, “THAT’S A LOT OF NUTS!” This startled the shopkeeper, but I think he was flattered.
We got to Herat very early, but the people I was there to meet were waiting and we sat around and talked for a while. It was real nice to meet some of the guys who work so far out on the front lines of our mission. Met a guys from San Diego, St. Louis, Romania and Great Britain. But after about 20 minutes, I asked why they were sticking around, and non-security-minded me forgot that they would stay with me until the airplane took off to make sure that if the plane broke down that I would be safe and have a place to stay.
But the plane didn’t break down and I was back in Kabul in a couple of hours.
All the way around, it was a boring trip, but I did get to see a lot of the country side, which brought up tons more questions for the locals working in my office. I’m excited to learn more about their culture, but for now, I’m going to take some time off today (Friday) and relax a bit.