First Days in Kandahar

The process of getting into Kandahar was relatively easy, and at the end of the day, I was glad to be in the room where I’ll be living for the next year, with no indication on the horizon that my job will be ending until the close of the contract.

I flew out of Dubai on DFS airlines, which is not really an airline, but a transport company focused on getting people and goods into war zones all around the world. So the flight was full of contractors. Very few foreign nationals were in the seats, and most were from India. I’m not saying that these guys were dumb, but they had a lack of common sense that was staggering. The guy sitting in front of me on the plane, hit me in the face. That’s right – from the seat in front of me, while thrashing around or stretching or doing whatever he was doing, he struck me in the face. He was apologetic enough, but I was baffled.

In any case, we were flying through Bagram and stopped on the tarmac to let about 75% of the people off and take on as many who were either headed to Kandahar or flying back to Dubai. Somehow, I ended up with a window seat and no one in the center seat, so that was great. Bagram, both on the flight in and out, was really pretty. It’s very green there. Green like Boise is green is a better way to say it. But definitely greener and nicer than Kandahar looked out the windows of the plane as we landed.

We landed on Kandahar Air Field (KAF) which is the central location for Coalition Forces in Kandahar, and for the most part, all of southern Afghanistan. It was great to land on a military base and have strict structure for what we were to do next. My security escort from Chemonics was there to walk me through the process of getting access to KAF and to get final transport to the Chemonics facility.

All the security guys work for a company called Pax Mondial and they are mostly from Britain. So this is really cool because they’ve all got wicked James Bond-type accents. Even the Scottish guys sound a little bit more legitimate, just because of the accent. They all carry AK-47′s and when I asked why not the M-4, they said that the round the M-4 shoots is smaller, so an attacker can fight through being hit by it. The AK will, and I quote, “Take your arm off,” which I was glad to hear. I mentioned that I wanted the guys protecting me to have a gun that could take a person’s arm off. This is good news for me, bad news for Taliban arms.

After my orientation, I realized I was in a completely different world compared to working in Kabul. Chemonics is a very small operation compared to what DynCorp does in Kabul. There are less than 20 full-time expat staff here, with as many security and as many Nepalese security guards working the compound. There were nearly this many people working in the finance office in Kabul. But the compound is almost as nice as Camp Gibson, with better services (daily room cleaning and complimentary laundry service.) And not to mention my day off each Friday.

Plus, I have a badge to get onto KAF whenever I need to – and the services there are straight up redonk. They have a TGI Fridays. You read that right. They have deep fried green beans and the whole thing. I haven’t gone yet, but I’m thinking about it this coming Friday. Fisk Sorenson, a friend from MTI, is currently stationed at KAF, so I’ll get to see him. Plus, my brother might be deployed there sometime in the future, so there’s that as well.

But security is an entirely different deal here. Insurgents are constantly shooting rockets at KAF, and since our compound is right along the inner perimeter, we respond to every rocket attack that KAF gets, hitting the floor and running for the bunkers. I’ve only been a part of one attack, but it’s a little crazier than the relative safety of Camp Gibson nestled against the ANA camp in Kabul. And while we are running for the bunkers when the sirens go off, there is safety enough to sit on the roof of one of the buildings, completely exposed above the fences, and look out over miles and miles of countryside. With A-10′s, F-15′s and Predator drones buzzing overhead most of the day, the area seems to be pretty safe.

So I’ll be here for a little while, then will travel up to Kabul to the office Chemonics has there, and I look forward to it. Lashkar Gah is the city where Chemonics has another branch office, and I’ll be headed there as well, but for now, I’m booking quick wins in process improvement and imagining the best solutions I can to the challenges they have here in timekeeping and accounting. We’ll see how it goes.

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