Sink or Swim – Part 2

I obviously can’t go into as much detail about all parts of my stay at KAF (Kandahar Airfield) or it would be a long ass post. But I thought the plane ride was kinda symbolic.

After getting through the gates, we went on a bumpy and slightly smelly bus ride across the base to pick up our PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), which consists of a duffle bag filled with a protective vest (Kevlar possibly, I don’t remember) and helmet, a gas mask and a flash light. This was to be stored under our beds and donned if you are close enough to it when the sirens go off, which happened again while picking up our PPE and trying it on. After 2 minutes face down on the ground with my arms over my head. I head to a concrete bunker and hang out till the all clear siren.

Next we go get our ID’s and travel around the outskirts of the base, safely just inside the walls to get a view of everything, including the “Shit pond”, which is a small lake that was filed with human waste, cooking oil and grease. The smell gets whipped around the base with the desert winds. It can get quite ripe. But like anything you get used to it. Till you get home to Canada (or where ever) anyways and can not get the smell out of your hair, skin, clothing, and baggage, no matter how much you scrub, wash and rinse. Eventually it fades on skin and hair, for most, in time to go back to KAF after vacation.

Luckily it’s close enough to our tent line that you get used it fast. As well as the sounds of jets, planes and other vehicles, night and day which we were also luckily enough to be right beside. Oh and the constant blasting and testing of missiles and other ammo at the ammunition depot and fields. You really do get used to it though. Makes for a rough first week, coupled with home sickness.

“Home” is a 8ft by 6ft space in a 8 person tent that you share with up to 7 other people of the same sex. Mine was quite cozy with a real dresser, a single bed, a locked storage box, a night table, and one of those 3 tier plastic containers you can store stuff in. I learnt quick to put shoes in there and not leave them on the floor or all kinds of creepy crawly would crawl out when you picked them up.

Prior to the plane trip to KAF, I had a week stay outside Ottawa on an old base or training range. Where we learned CPR and First Aid, fire fighting skills, training on how to recognize land mines, booby traps and any number of natural hazard, including but not limited to: Snakes, scorpions and spiders. We learned to don our gas masks in the dark inside a hut filled with pepper spray gas. I was one of the lucky ones that had been shown how to use it before, minus the pepper spay, when I was on base in Baden-Söellingen, Germany. We also got medicals, immunizations, etc. They were’nt really worried about us getting to know each other. There was plenty of time for that in KAF.

Lunch and supper were usually spend at one of the 4 Dfac’s (no idea what that stands for), which were basically cafeterias, each with a slightly different themes. Aptly named: Niagara, Cambridge, Luxemburg and Far East. They basically served the same items with different spices, garnishes etc to make them more, North American, British, European and Asian foods. There was also a “fancy” restaurant who’s name I have forgotten and a European bakery that served the best black pepper beef pot pies, which was below a European PX (“post exchange” – fancy way of saying store). At the time I was there, along the boardwalk there was a Tim Hortons, a Subway, a Pizza hut, an ice cream stand and some other concessions. Pizza hut quickly became a favorite. Along with Tim’s. Can’t be a proper Canadian without a Tim’s close by.

The next weeks blended together with learning my work, getting acquainted with the lifestyle and people of KAF and missing home, but enjoying myself for the most part. Life at KAF was interesting and the money was good. I bought a cell phone and got internet. They along with food from the board walk or things bought in one of the PX’s or souvenirs from the market or boardwalk were the only things you paid for. Everything else was included, plus a hefty pay. Bottled water was everywhere you looked at the end of every tent row, outside every building, around every corner. Tap water was not potable at KAF and could give you very nasty bugs, parasites, etc.

In the evenings we would sit outside on our decks made of pallets and ply wood in camp chairs around wooden cable drums that served as tables and played cards, talked and played board games or we would go to the gym or grab a late supper at one of the Dfac’s or spent half the evening in a concrete shelter in the dark with maybe 20-30 other people or more trying to get as close to the concrete bunker as possible should a stray rocket get too close for comfort. Though most were duds and half the time they could not hit something no matter how hard they tried.

Once or twice a month there would be a barbecue hosted by the company and we would get 2 beer and have hamburgers, steak, ribs and/or hot dogs. Real stuff sent from the US or Canada. Other then that drinking and drugs of any kind were strictly forbidden. So was fornication of any kind. The “No booze, no sex” rule that also applied to both the Canadian and American troops stationed there. Other nations were not as strict with the no sex rule but the no booze rule was enforced by the base commander and anyone civilians caught doing either were sent home. Not sure what happened to the troops.

On one such occasion (barbecue, not sex), after drinking our beer a guy friend and I decided to go looking for another friend of mine and found her on her deck in front of her tent with another tent mate and a tent mate of my guy friend. We sat down and started talking. About an hour or two later when the barbecue was starting to wind down and people were starting to migrate back to their decks in front of their tents, I felt something crawling on my face. I swatted at it and it bit me. Being used to black fly’s and other things biting me I only mildly paid attention. My friend looked over and said “hold still, you have a spider on you, I can’t see what it is”. It fell on my leg and bit me again, fell and scurried off.

My friend tried to kill it but couldn’t it moved too quick. He thought it was a brown recluse though and told me I needed to get to Role 3 (the Nato Role 3 hospital) fast. I was starting to feel sick to my stomach (from the spider bite or from nerves? I don’t know) and feeling lightheaded. They got a vehicle and in the middle of another rocket attack took me to the hospital. Once I got there I was taken in, put on a saline IV and asked a bunch of questions about what bit me. I couldn’t answer. Someone else said spider but we did not know the kind. I had seen it briefly and they started showing me pictures to try and identify, I passed out.

When I woke up they told me they had given me stuff to stop the spread of the poison. They said even if it was not the spider I thought it was there was plenty other poisonous spiders and other things that could have bitten me and since I was not able kill it and bring it with me they would need to keep an eye on me. I was put on a hospital bed in a ward of about 10 beds. There was other people there including a child I believe. I don’t remember much about the next 2-3 days. After more then 24 hours I was sent back to my tent and told to rest. I slept a lot or just laid on my bed.

After another day or two I was able to get up for 12-20 minutes at a time and a few days later I decided to go back to work, the first day was a bit of a blur. The second day I was feeling better and decided to go to the board walk for my lunch and grab a pizza from Pizza Hut. I ordered and then went to lean against the rail at the other side and wait. A few minutes later I apparently fainted and fell. Unfortunately there was a bench beside me that a few people were sitting on and I smashed my face into the cement post on the back of it.

I woke up when a worker from Pizza Hut pored cold water from a bottle over my head. Not sure how good an idea that was considering my face and shirt were covered in blood. When I saw the blood I passed out again. I am not one to faint at the sight of blood, even my own. But that was a lot of blood. My shirt was saturated in it. And my face stung like a bitch. I still wasn’t sure what was going on.

Three British girls cam rushing to my side, all were medics in the British army. One told me I would need stitches, she lifted me up in her arms and carried me to their vehicle and drove me back to Role 3. Same doctor again: “Boy you must really want to go home”. No… I did not. The girls disappeared. I never got to say thanks. Not that I could, my whole mouth and face was numb. I didn’t hurt yet. He sat me in a wheel chair and disappeared and when it felt like I was going to pass out with pain which did not take long to start or loss of blood, or both he showed up again and said in a lovely accent I did not realize he had, said “It’s busy tonight” and disappeared again. After god knows how long he came back a 3rd time and pushed my wheel chair into an x-ray room.

An American girl about my age or maybe a few years younger took x-rays of my head and wheeled me back to the other area I was in. Then I was brought to the dental part of the hospital and more x-rays, this time dental type ones were taken. They confirmed I had a broken jaw and my front teeth were cracked, but not broken. I also had bitten off about 1/3 of my bottom lip. That concerned me the most. I was scared of scaring. There is some but now it is hardly noticeable. About 20 stitches later in my lip and inside my mouth I was back in one piece. They said my jaw would heal on its own (it did not, I had to have it broken and wired about 6 months later).

I went back to my tent and slept most of the next 2-3 days in a haze of pain. My tent mates and other friends I had made, bought me soup and Gatorade and snuck soups and soft foods into the tent (not supposed to have food in the tents). Until I was well enough to .go to the Dfac again. I ate soft foods the rest of the time I was there. After about 2 weeks I was told I either have to try and get back to work or they were sending me home. My job consisted of talking on the phone alot. 2 hours into my first shift I gave up and tearfully told me supervisor I wanted to go home.

I went back to my tent and a flight to Dubai was arranged for 3 days from then. On the day I left it was a blistering 42°C. The warmest so far. I got back on the plane from hell and we lifted off. I arrived in Dubai roughly an hour later. I left with a friend of mine and a friend of his who were going on their vacation. They decided to go to Egypt. I landed in Halifax to 25°C and was freezing. I was home. :love:

2 Comment

  1. That’s some of the things my husband complained about. Blistering heat and then freezing cold during the winter. He was stationed at Ghazni FOB (forward operating base) there in Afghanistan for 15 months. He also said you got used to it.

    Despite what happened to you, it sounds like it was an overall unique experience for you. Though, admittedly, there is no place like home.

    1. Yeah the extremes from Day to Night or even in the shade to out in the sun where quite different. He’s right though. You do get used to it. I was there from February to June so I was mostly there for the rainy season… and did it rain! It was definitely over all a unique experience. I am used to be uncomfortable and I’m not afraid of hardship or seeing things that a lot of people can’t handle. I know there are people out there much worse off then I have been at the worst point in my life so really there is nothing to complain about. I would rather just help people if I can and when I can.

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