My last post to this blog was in April 2011, just before I deployed to Afghanistan for 6 months.
Cramming 6 months of photographs into a single story is a bit challenging, but here it goes. There will be more words than usual for this post, but I'll show you around the base and then show some of my favorite photos.
One warning: you may see a lot of mustaches in the following photos. This stems from "1000 years of fighter pilot tradition," as one dude says. We grew our combat staches from the time we left until the day we got home...and they look glorious.
The sendoff. Dark sunglasses hid the teary eyes. Cassy was still smiling for the photo below, taken a few minutes before I left Italy.
We spent 6 months at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan (shown above in this photo I found on the internet). It lies in the eastern part of the country. The setting reminded me of Las Vegas or Phoenix; the giant dry valley is surrounded by desert mountains. The big difference is that the base is at 5,000' above sea level.
The base - one huge construction zone. Something new was always being built. Notice there's not a blade of grass or a tree inside the fence - just dirt, gravel, and pavement.
A common meal for me: rice or pasta, veggies, bread, fruit, and cereal for later. After eating rice and the same vegetables for 6 months, I was ready for a change. For the record, I could have eaten hamburgers, fried chicken, pizza, etc. for nearly every meal, so it's not as if we were restricted to this healthy crap.
My part of the room. You can see the foot of my roommate's bed behind the silver locker. These rooms were nice, considering that lots of people spent 6 months in a tent. With jets taking off around the clock and the tents constantly flapping in the wind, we were very lucky to live in these little trailers.
Pizza Hut! Starbucks is nearby...I'm not kidding.
Many areas in Afghanistan are still laden with mines from the days when the Soviets occupied the country. This area is actually inside the confines of the base.
"100 Days of Wind" is what our weather briefer called this miserable phenomenon. Even with these bathrooms tied down, they still blew over almost every week in the summer.
Our standard combat loadout consisted of four 500-lb bombs and over 500 rounds of 200mm bullets. The giant tanks hanging from the wings are filled with fuel. On a typical flight, we would stay airborne for 4-6 hours, which required aerial refueling 3 times.
The photo below shows the nearly-identical bombs we carried, both of which are GPS-guided. The main difference is that the bomb on the left can be guided to a laser pointer, which is either fired from another jet or by someone on the ground. The bomb can track the laser energy to a moving target, like a vehicle.
A UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopter
My biggest project of the trip. Felon Wynn and I built this wall from scratch. Climbers and family in the U.S. sent us tons of donations and Evolv sent 30 pairs of new climbing shoes. We also got a great deal on Metolius holds. The Air Force supplied the lumber...thank you tax payers! This wall was a great place to train in our down time, day or night.
An Apache helicopter departs on a mission at dawn. I was taking the photo of the ruins below when I saw the helos departing. I swung the camera around a fired a couple of silhouette shots. This is the only one that made the cut.
To get the above photo, which is outside the base fence, I parked a truck inside the fence, placed a 2"x10" board on top of the cab, and stood on the board with my tripod on the roof of the truck as I waited for the sun to rise. Apparently this kind of behavior didn't seem suspicious to anyone, because I took photos for about 45 minutes without getting hassled by the cops.
Matthew, one of my favorite crew chiefs, and I after a flight. He had perma-smile when I came back from my sortie with 2 less bombs.
Tron and Riot stepping to their jets
Hook gets the usual crew chief sendoff
Khan. One of my top 5 favorite photos from the trip.
Chewy took a bit of a fall and ended up with a tiny scrape (50 stitches?) on his nugget. The best portrait photo I have ever made.
This story is too long to tell, but the photo above shows Clutch and me with 2 members of the New Jersey Army National Guard. I had dropped a bomb to help them break contact when they were pinned down by enemy fire in the mountains. The vehicle we're standing in front of took a direct hit from a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) during the firefight. Note the frayed rope where the RPG entered the vehicle. Thankfully, these dudes executed solid tactics and, with the help of some air power, got out of there with no injuries. Meeting them was the highlight of the deployment for me.
Typical living quarters in rural parts of Afghanistan...no joke.
Homecoming! What a fantastic feeling to be home after being away for 6 months. Pretty girl, too.
The day I arrived was absolutely perfect...warm, sunny, with great views of the mountains. Compare that to the homecoming two days later (see photo below).
Taryn waits patiently in 30 mph wind and sideways rain for Cyber to climb out of the jet. The conditions were absolutely miserable, but nobody seemed to mind their umbrellas turning inside out or their hair getting ruffled.
Home sweet home