MISSION TO AFGHANISTAN: Time well spent with Nevada guardsmen
November 24, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan — Rain pounded the metal roof of my small room early Friday morning. The rapid repetition of drops, however tinny sounding, awakened me two hours before the alarm rattled me off my bed.Low clouds and especially the rain’s unwelcomed melody did not sound good at 4 in the morning since several of us — including Sgt. Dave Morris of Silver Springs — had a civilian helicopter ride from Camp Phoenix to Bagram Air Field. With the sun gradually rising above the ring of mountains surrounding Kabul, the ceiling also appeared to lift, showing intermittent clouds added with a few sprinkles of rain.After a week of spring-like weather in Kabul, the rain caused concern. If the rain resumed into an unexpected late autumn downpour and the cloud ceiling dropped to the valley floor of Kabul, which lies in a valley about 5,980 feet above sea level, then our 11 a.m. flight to Bagram was destined for cancellation.So, let me set the scenario for ensuring all the puzzle pieces fall into place for the Camp Phoenix to Bagram flight so I can in check in for my Saturday flight without rerouting my return trip through three continents.Timing became everything since my flight out of Afghanistan leaves Bagram at high noon on Saturday, first heading to Kandahar, where I first covered a Nevada Army National Guard battalion one year ago, and then to Dubai to initiate the travel Odyssey from the tip of the United Arab Emirates to Frankfurt and then on to San Francisco and Reno.Worried weather watchers at the command post made amateur predictions on the probability of more rain (including me), but to the north, the sun peaked through the reluctant clouds. If not, another night at Camp Phoenix could be fact instead of fiction unless magic occurred from the 593rd’s operations officer, 1st Lt. Christopher Yell. The real work of Yell’s logistics may have overridden the day’s original tasking of trying to schedule us on another flight to Bagram, either as a manifested or stand-by passengers or for the 593rd Transportation Company of the Nevada Army National Guard to prepare its thickly armored vehicles for a 30-mile convoy to Bagram.Yell’s call to flight operations confirmed the flight remained a go for BAF, but pilots, nonetheless, were hurrying flights from take-off to destination points in case more unsettled weather reared its ugly head and encircled Kabul again. Flight times for military departures seemed to be much better today than regularly scheduled civilian flights. Show time for the flight was set at 10 a.m. with check-in. The helicopter, though, arrived at the heliport at 10:25 with take off at 10:55. Everyone listed on the manifest checked in early, so a specialist led 12 of us to the helicopter where we donned our body armor, found a seat and fastened ourselves in with a variety of seat harnesses fit for an astronaut.Remember the 10:55 a.m. for wheels up? The helicopter lifted up at 10:40 a.m. and flew low over Kabul before gaining altitude and heading toward BAF. Within 20 minutes, we were on the ground again.Neither rain nor clouds nor my schedule to travel to BAF stopped our quick flight from Camp Phoenix today. Only hours remain in Afghanistan.• Lahontan Valley News Editor Steve Ranson has been in Afghanistan covering Nevada guardsmen there. The retired guardsmen is preparing for his return to the Silver State after spending the holidays with the soldiers.