Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Turn Around

Photo: an unusual display of the flags of Bulgaria and the state of Tennessee on top of the living quarters at Kandahar Air Field.

Things are changing at Kandahar Air Field. We are moving closer to our "redeployment," which is our return to the United States. (Yes, "redeployment" sounds like it means "deploying again," but it actually means "leaving the deployment theater to return to home station." Don't ask me why.) This has made for a different way of operating in the past couple of weeks. We are spending much of our time packing away the equipment we no longer need, turning in equipment that needs to stay here or be trashed, mailing home items that we don't want to carry back to the States with us. There has been less time for rehearsals, very few scheduled performances, and more emphasis on individual practice time.

Another change is that most of August is the annual observance of Ramadan, or as it's pronounced here, Ramazan. During this period, Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. As a sign of respect for the local Muslim population, we've had to change a few things. We are now required to wear our full uniform at all times when out and about; unless we are actually engaged in exercise we are not to wear the Physical Fitness Uniform. We are also expected to refrain from eating and drinking out in public, though meals in the dining facilities are unaffected. (After sundown, the eating and drinking restrictions are lifted since the fasting period is only during the daytime.) These are simple changes, of course, though with August being one of the hottest months of the year they do test one's patience at times.

Temperatures have been very, very hot. Triple-digit Fahrenheit temperatures, up to or past 120 degrees, are not unusual this time of year. Folks are getting frustrated about having to move, clean, and pack equipment in the afternoons and fatigue, both from the environment and nearly a year of being here, is wearing all of us down.
I'm spending time doing customs inspections; this involves inspecting gear and luggage that is about to go back and making sure that it is clean and contains no contraband items before it is sent to the US. Each company has a few members trained to do this, and I'm one of two that the band has. The caveat being, of course, that I can't inspect any of the band's luggage or equipment since I might be tempted to show "favorable action."

I did have an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago. I found out-almost literally at the last minute-that I needed to go to a briefing room to meet a "state official." So I went there and waited for a while with several other Soldiers from 10th Mountain. The officials in question were state governors, from Kentucky (Steve Beshear), Utah (Gary Herbert), and my home state of Tennessee (Bill Haslam). Gov. Haslam was easy to identify, with his baseball cap bearing the familiar "tri-star" emblem of the state flag. A resident of Knoxville, his face lit up when I mentioned attending the University of Tennessee and playing in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band before joining the Army as a bandsman. It was a totally unexpected experience, and I appreciated him being willing to travel to a combat zone to visit some of the troops here.

In my next installment, I'll tell more about the final days of our rehearsal tent!

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