Friday, December 31, 2010

Spreading the Cheer

Early on the morning of Friday, December 24, AKA Christmas Eve, the Brass Quintet loaded up our instruments and gear for a weekend trip. Not really a vacation, but it was our first time to travel outside the Kandahar area since arriving in Afghanistan. We caught a helicopter flight to Forward Operating Base Lagman, a very small post north of here. (I can't be too specific about the details for security reasons, of course!)

It is easy to get a bit spoiled after being at KAF for a while, given that we have a boardwalk, multiple gyms, multiple dining facilities, internet access in our rooms, and bath facilities just down the hallway. The smaller FOB's don't necessarily have all those luxuries. Upon arrival, we had "VIP" accomodations, which were a couple of dusty rooms in a solid building, as opposed to a tent. There was a short walk to the latrine and shower, which were not as roomy as what we've gotten used to, and in the cooler weather having to walk over there in the dark was not a pleasant prospect. We arrived just after lunch, but the Chaplain's Assistant who was our "tour guide" was able to let us invade his "stash" so we were able to get a meal anyway. There is one chapel at Lagman, and it seems to have been built by the base's other primary tenants, the Romanians. The sanctuary room is full of Romanian-style icons and paintings. (I'm familiar with these types of images, having visited Romania twice a few years ago. I know one sentence in Romanian, which translates to "I don't speak Romanian." If you're only going to know one, that's not a bad choice.)

We had some time to scout out the facilities--one dining hall, where we would do most of our performing, plus a gym, barber shop, movie room, computer/phone center, and a Greens Beans coffee shop. Lagman is surrounded by mountains, so we appreciated the scenery, and with much less vehicle traffic it is far less dusty than KAF. The dining hall has a different contractor, and I must say that the food quality was quite an improvement from what we've been eating.

We hastily arranged to provide some pre-music for a Christmas Eve service, and that gave us a chance to give some of the Soldiers present a preview of coming attractions, so to speak. It also gave us a chance to listen to some Romanian songs (I don't know if they were hymns or carols) from the Romanian personnel before the service.

Christmas morning, we slept in for a bit to recover from the previous day's hectic travel schedule. Our first performance was for an appreciative lunch crowd, with us crammed into a corner of the festively-decorated dining room. We ran through a large selection of holiday tunes before finishing our set list and joining the chow line to try the turkey, beef, green beans, mashed potatoes, eggnog, pumpkin pie, and other delicacies.

After lunch, we headed to a Christmas party being hosted by the Combat Stress office. It was warm enough by this time that we didn't mind being outdoors, and having people dressed as Santa Clause, Mrs. Clause, and a couple of elves added to the festive feeling. (Photo above, though I wish I had a happier expression on my face!) With the relaxed atmosphere, we ended up sight-reading some of the tunes in our book just to have some variety. (Most of them turned out pretty good too.) After the party, we had some time to relax a bit.

We met up later to play our dinner set, and then we played some carols for a Christmas night gospel service, followed by some music for a midnight mass. I was glad that I had some time in between to get on Skype and talk to some friends and family, during which my parents pointed the webcam to the fresh Nashville snowfall out the window. Normally I would be irritated at missing a rare white Tennessee Christmas, but after all the snow I shoveled last year at Ft. Drum I was fine with the sunny Afghan weather. I'm also glad that modern technology, in the form of a laptop and a portable hard drive, allowed me do spend some of my down time enjoying things like ventriloquist Jeff Dunham's Christmas special, the cartoon classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and one of my all-time favorite films, It's a Wonderful Life.

Sunday was our "day off," and I was grateful for the rest, though we did get together in the evening for more dinner music. This time, however, we put away the caroling music and played some of our regular tunes. Monday afternoon we headed back to KAF, sorry to be leaving the great food and close camaraderie shared by the people on the small base. I was glad to get back to my comfortable bed and indoor plumbing, however. I can't say enough about the people at Lagman, though--they went out of their way to make us feel welcome and they seemed to really appreciate having their own music group for a few days. Hopefully we can make it back before too long!

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