Kandahar Airfield (“KAF”) was as bizarre as it was dusty. You sort of tasted it before you smelled it — and smelled before you saw it. It’s been a full decade since I first did. When the cavalry troop I’d commanded touched down as a final top-off to President Barack Obama’s Afghan surge, we gazed upon this weird way station of America’s war effort with exhausted eyes. Fatigue breeds a certain stripped-down simplicity — “Just show me to my damn cot, already!” — so it took until morning to truly spy the strangeness. It was a place of curious contrasts.
Dry dirt roads, but plenty of civil and military traffic – like Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine, with tanks and Toyotas alike.
Inbound rockets and bomb shelters; and T.G.I. Friday’s dine-in on the base’s bustling boardwalk.
Trauma patients flown in daily to the hyperactive hospital; and amateur athletes flocking nightly to the Canadian-dominated hockey rink.
Long morning runs to condition ourselves for field duty; and long morning lines to caffeinate our souls with Tim Horton’s coffee.
A nomadic camp with several gyms.
The feel of a refugee encampment with the look of an imperial Epcot Center.
I hated the place, and myself for guiltily cherishing the reprieve of its relative safety.
As an ill-fated ground combat outfit, my squadron only camped out a couple of weeks before choppering to the rural “frontlines” for a hopeless tour of duty. As an ill-fated mega-base, KAF stuck around for another decade before closing down its role for a hopeless war of absurdity.
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