Say hello to the U.S. Army’s general order number one – NO ALCOHOL!! But it’s not all bad for being locked down 24/7: The jailed Taliban who reside about one hundred feet from my tent don’t drink anyway, so no harm-no foul for those sons-of-bitches. If anyone wants to send me a kite, however, I will fly it over their tents whenever we get a good breeze. Not quite the abuse of Abu Ghraib prison, just our own little psyop program.
Life isn’t all bad though, as we did just recently open a Subway and a Burger King, which is a welcome relief from all the damn T-rations (a kind of MRE) and steak and seafood, which is a strange diet to have in the middle of Afghanistan, and has started to get to everybody anyway. Where the hell are they getting all these damn Lobsters from!?
The base is locked down for the obvious security reasons, so the only people going off base are the non-stop daily milair flights, “the hunters”, military convoys and patrols into the villages; and mountains and base emergency service workers, such as ourselves who respond to off-base aircraft crashes or emergency landings, under armed military escort.
Ariana Airlines has resumed limited flights out of here, back to Arabia for observance of the holy month, mainly for the purposes of shuttling Muslim pilgrims for the Hajj in Saudi Arabia. They have been given one end of the airfield and a few tents for their air operations, but soon the main terminal, mosque and a few other buildings will be returned for normal airport operations.
The mosque, once completely full of bullet and frag holes, has been rebuilt by the warlord’s local workforce and looks pretty good. Who says all that opium and extortion money can’t do some good? Of course, I can’t say that for the rest of the base, which suffered quite a bit of damage during the initial assault on the Taliban back in 2001. Buildings like the “Taliban’s Last Stand” and the main hangar still have a lot of damage but are still fairly structurally sound, and we still use them. The main air terminal had very limited damage and is currently being repaired for future use.
For those that have never been here, the airport is actually about thirty miles south, as the crow flies, to the city of Kandahar; so we are kind of out here on our own, our only resident being the local friendly warlord, who only lives about a half mile from our front gate and, for an outrageous fee, provides some security, goods, services and a small labour force for the base.
Security by a warlord? I hear you ask: With every man and woman on this base armed
to the gills (except us) you wouldn’t think we would need much security. The local rumour mill says that when the monthly security “fee” isn’t paid to this warlord, that’s when the rockets start flying. And fly they have. Not too much in the last four or five months mind you, but the month I arrived here, they hit us pretty good. That’s when the security fee extortion rumour started, and like I said, as far as I know it is only a rumour.
So what is a bunch of good-ole-boy, Airport Crash Rescue/Firefighters doing in an Afghanistan war zone you ask? Same thing we do in Ecuador, Honduras, Arabia, Uzbekistan, Djibouti, Iraq and many other hotspots around the world. Working DoD and non-DoD rescue contracts, and providing first rate, first-class rescue and fire services to the military, civilians and sometimes even the locals. Something we do cheaper and better than the military cares to do. That’s why it’s contracted out, along with many other different services.
Many people ask how the hell did I ever get into this kind of work, and working in these kinds of places? It’s not an easy answer over just one beer. Most of my colleagues have the basic requirements to get hired from being ex-military airport rescue firefighters; mostly ex-US Air Force & Marines, fresh out. But a few old timers such as myself have a lot of other specialty training, which is what some contractors, especially in places such as this, are looking for.
This training includes skills such as Advanced First Aid/EMT, Confined Space Rescue, Specialized Hazardous Materials & Munitions training, Advanced Aircraft Rescue, and now the most recent thing – dealing with terrorist attacks involving chemical/biological weapons. Yeah, we are tasked with many different jobs and you never know when any of your training is going to prove useful. For example, we recently had to tackle an incident where an aircraft had landed with sulphuric acid dripping onto the aircraft’s cargo, which happened to be bombs and munitions. We also deal with explosive canopies, ejections seats, drogue guns and all the other nasty things associated with pilot egress and ejection when pulling a pilot from a military aircraft.
The Management here were also looking for people with notable experience in Helicopter/Para-Rescue; experience which I had gained through other contracts, the most recent being as an instructor for the 9th Helicopter Flying Wing, Para Rescue – Royal Saudi Air Force (non-DoD contract). I also gained relevant experience while in the military, and as a DoD civilian. The plan is that we should be able to respond by air. We’re still working on getting this program set up and running, but are having serious problems due to the huge amount of UXO and landmines in the area.
Another reason they’re looking for helicopter experience, is very soon we are to be tasked with flying to FOB`s (forward operating bases) and providing rescue services to these remote locations, which are frequently rocketed and attacked. Understandably, they prefer people with some flight and “conflict zone” experience.
Obviously, emergencies in these types of environments differ from what your average city or municipal firefighters encounter, mainly because we’re working with the military and the many nasty things that accompany that.
Some examples of different types of emergencies we respond to are:
Hung Munitions – This is when a pilot in mid-flight tries to fire a rocket or missile, or drop a bomb and said rocket or bomb decides not to leave and STAYS on the aircraft. It’s not fun approaching and pinning/safe-ing these munitions after the pilot has landed and abandoned the aircraft to you. Just imagine how the pilot feels?
IFE`s – In Flight Emergencies. This could be anything and a combination of many things that involves an aircraft trying to make it back to the airfield. Engine fires, rocket strikes, frag holes (encountered many in 1st Gulf War), ejections, hydraulic failures and a host of other circumstances.
Crashes – Obviously not fun and never pretty. I’ve been to lots of them, having personally witnessed 8 crashes and responded to many more after the event. You’re typically greeted by splattered aircraft and crews, and the accompanying munitions, hiding and laying in wait for the rescue man to step on. But hey, don’t worry; they aren’t supposed to arm themselves unless released by the pilot. Yeah, right! And many other emergencies including just regular fires that are too numerous to list here, but you get the idea.
Yes, we are the pilots’ best friends, that’s why we have no problems spending our days inside the many different aircraft of the world’s armed forces’ inventory, training and practicing for the real thing; however, “the real thing” is always the problem. Training is paramount, yes; but sometimes it doesn’t always prepare you for the real thing and the real bad things, which always make this job interesting, if not dangerous; because this job, like any other job, can become routine and boring. Guys get settled in, comfortable and complacent, and just about that time is when the shit hits the fan.
A lot of people ask about the risks and bucks and I would have to say it evens out in the end. Are the rumours true about the great money? You bet – but then we do work for it and even risk our lives from time to time.