Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Kandahar Airfield....another world.....

Kandahar Airfield was my first glimpse of Afghanistan back in July, It is the NATO Military Base centred around the International Airport about 12km from Kandahar City and home to almosy 40,000 people made up of Military Personnel and Contractors Supporting them, everything from Cleaners to Chefs to Builders.

It is a very strange environement to arrive into, you are brought through what they term the "arrivals" area which is in fact the last standing building from the fall of the Taliban back in 2001, plenty of eveidence of the bullet holes in the walls, what also hits you is the extreme heat and dust, dust everywhere....

I spent my first few days here in July before moving up the mountains to the altitude of Tarin Kowt north of here in Uruzgan Province, and last week, I had occasion to go back to Kandahar Airfeild or KAF for short, for a number of meetings, so off I went on an American Helicopter from Tarin Kowt, (its like a bus here !) and got a phenomenal aerial view of this beautiful country through the mountains, you can see the dried up river beds and the green zones in the valleys below the barren desert mountains that seperate the mountainous region of Uruzgan from the Plain to the south in Kandahar Province, you can also see Kandahar City with its vast layout of Mud Houses along with more modern homes all spread out across the flat plain, a truly remarkable sight. This is a City that has been fought over for centuries and is still at the eye of the storm here, there is a saying here "he who controls Kandahar, controls Afghanistan"

I spent five days in KAF last week and got a chance to see more of the place as well as get some work done with my colleagues based here including may I add seven of my compatriates from Limerick, Tipperary , Waterford and my own native Clare.

KAF is truly an odd place, it is a Military Base of enormous proportions, with streets and heavy traffic everywhere, and not normal traffic, large Army Vehicles and Container Trucks all moving at a maximum of 20 km / hr. Pedestrians are given priority everywhere and the Military Police are there to impose order throughout the base, the buildings are essentially temporary in nature though there are many that are much more permanent, accommodation blocks for troops, Contractors Compounds, DFAC's (Dining Facilities), Gyms, and even a Church.

The noise is everywhere in KAF, everything from the PA system throughout the camp to the roar of Passenger Planes, Fighter Jets & Helicopters all day and night. Everyone here is working and working hard, from the soldiers of many nations to the waiters working in DFAC's and PX (Shops), It is truly a culture shock.

Also in KAF, is the Boardwalk, which is the social centre of the Camp, this is a remarkable place, a large recreation area surrounded by a wooden covered walkway, with Retail Outlets all around, everything here from Tim Horton's, TGI Fridays to Pizza Parlours and even a French Cafe.

In the centre there is an open space which can cater from everything from joggers, to cricket to outdoor concerts and even an Ice Hockey Rink, yes, right here in the desert !

It is a great place to socialise and wind down from the very work orientated focus of the camp, buy a coffee or just sit and watch the (rather surreal) world go by !

 After leaving KAF to return to Tarin Kowt, it occured to me how one could actually get accustomed to "living" in KAF, as essentially everything is there and this got me thinking how you could almost accept it as normal which of course it is anything but, and I have even met people who live on Camps such as this and have done so for many years, it is certainly an alternative way of life, and not one I'm sure would be entirely well balanced, as if you think of it this way, a soldier does a tour of anything from six months to one year, and though they may return to do another tour, most Military Organisation insist that they have adequate time between tours, what then of the many civilians who make their lives in places like KAF........

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Bidding Farewell to their Comrade......

I was acutely reminded recently of our task here in Afghanistan which is not merely about building works but more about supporting the Military Effort here in Tarin Kowt, their main focus here is on supporting the local communities to rebuild, mentoring them, making their communities safe.

Brave men and women from Australia, United States, Slovakia, Singapore and of course Afghanistan are out here each day carrying out their duties and helping to rebuild this "failed" state so to speak and it may take many years to accomplish this. They are involved in all sorts of projects from re-building schools to mentoring the emerging Afghan Police and Army and risk their lives each day outside the security of the Forward Operating Base here at Camp Holland.

A reminder of this risk was brought home recently when I attended a Military Ramp Ceremony for a Fallen Soldier. This is a formal Military Ceremony where the fallen soldier is given a "send-off" by not only his own comrades but also by the memebrs of the other Coalition Forces here at Tarin Kowt.

A Formal event was held at the Gym here, at which speeches were made the soldier's colleagues and from here, a lone piper marched in front of an armoured vehicle bearing his remains which was flanked on either side by practically every soldier on the base all the way to the waiting C-130 Military aircraft which would bring him on his last journey from his Military Family home to his Grieving Family.

It was of course a sad event to attend and a reminder of what these young men and women risk each day over here but it was also a great privilige to be there and witness these men and women honouring their comrade in such a respectful way, and I felt honoured to stand there amoung them, pay my respect and to also watch as that plane rolled down the runway and carry him home, to the upright salutes of several hundred soldiers.

This assignment has given me an up close appreciation of how committed and hard working soldiers are when on tours of duty in foreign lands such as this, and I have a renewed and deep respect for them, well done to you all , I salute you...........