This was originally posted 02 FEB entitled Letter from a Southpark Jail. I decided to re-post it as a series of ‘Chapters’ in the hope of making it a more manageable read.
Chapter One: PAX Terminal, Camp Dwyer
The following is a transcribed letter I wrote to a Significant Other while cooling my heels in Kandahar, trying to get my CAC renewed (Common Access Card: An ID card for Civilians working with the U.S. Military). ‘Southpark’ is, for lack of a better term, A Holding Facility ‘soullessly owned and operated’ by DynCorp International for transients, itinerants, sycophants, miscreants, and other sad and lonely temporarily homeless people just trying to travel through, hoping to land somewhere else and the sooner the better… Southpark is understaffed, under-financed, under-achieving, and sometimes underwater. It is also overpopulated, misconceiving, deceiving and just plain infuriating. Southpark will depress you, repress you, digress you, digest you, and shit you out (if you allow it). Writing saved me from insanity there.
Saturday 28 July 2012, Camp Dwyer PAX Terminal, Afghanistan 1218hrs
I’m sitting in the PAX terminal. We boarded the plane, (Sixties-Era, prop job) a couple of hours ago, but they were just kidding. After sitting on the tarmac for about forty five minutes they brought us back here. Seems someone forgot to feed the hamsters which are actually responsible for propelling the plane and hence, they died. We were told not to worry; they are flying in some fresh, well-fed hamsters from KAF (Kandahar Air Field) and once they get those settled into the plane’s power plant, we will be good to go: wheels up around 1430hrs.
So here I sit, thinking of you, Dubai, and Hamster Avionics.
This PAX terminal isn’t too bad, as these places go. (I have seen worse—and better). Like every other facility on Dwyer, it is a tent, but it is a rather enormous tent and they have provided the weary travelers with bottled water and MRE’s. So I am sated, as far as it goes. You see, I really am low maintenance.
Not being inclined to ignore any opportunity to ‘talk’ to you, I am using the tools (pen and paper) I thoughtfully provided myself in the event such opportunity did manifest itself. So here I sit, happily communicating to you using Nineteenth Century Technology. I do hope you are properly impressed.
“And what lovely penmanship!” She exclaimed.
“Thank you,” he said.
Looking about the terminal, I have pronounced us a motley crew: About a dozen or so Indians & Sri Lankans, some Filipinos, a smattering of American Expats, couple of Brits, and a few bored Marines behind the counter, whose job it is to search the TCN’s. The counter has a sign which reads: “TCN Search Area.” TCN: ‘Third Country Nationals.’ in case you didn’t know.
“What did you do in The War, Daddy?”
“Son, I put my hands all over aromatic TCN’s.”
“What’s a TCN Daddy?’
“Uh…That’s a very sophisticated weapons system Son.”
1310hrs: PAX Terminal, Dwyer
Ok, for amusement, I took an inventory of the MRE’s stacked on pallets here in the terminal:
56 cases of MRE’s per pallet
12 MRE’s per case
Total MRE’s: 10,080 (assuming my arithmetic is correct; a rather liberal assumption)
Posted on each pallet are four signs which read:
DO NOT EAT!
MRE stands for “Meal, Ready to Eat,” in case you didn’t know, or in this case, Meal, Not Ready to Eat. (“We done been eatin’ ‘em anyways. Hope we don’t die of ptomaine before the hamsters do, causing our Turbo Prop to morph into a glider…”)
1441hrs: Still in PAX terminal
Announcement: “Listen up! We couldn’t get the hamsters here, but we’ve drafted a couple of gerbils and they’re fit for duty.” (‘Now there’s some happy news,’ I mused.) He continued, “For all those going to KAF, this means now you’re flying non-stop,” (Guess gerbils are not certified for multi-destination air duty.) and your luggage is already back on the plane. As soon as we warm up the gerbils, you fly. Those of you who are going to FOB Shindan, you will follow me now.”
Someone pipes up, “Are we walking?”
There’s one in every crowd…
Having a few minutes to kill while the gerbils are doing their warm up exercises, I return to the MRE pile and rat-fuck a couple of the boxes. ‘Rat Fuck’ is a technical term which simply means, “To open several bags of MRE’s and take only the premium items, leaving the not premium items for the next schmuck attempting to do same.” An example of this would be taking all the Reece’s Pieces and chocolate chip cookies, leaving only the cardboard crackers and synthetic peanut butter.
Wheels up and airborne and the gerbils gerbilling their little asses off. Time to destination: thirty minutes.
1613hrs: Flying High (I wish)
I am seated in a window seat. Normally I would take the aisle, but I wanted to describe the spectacular view and with all the beautiful details of this rarified vista below:
Perusing the in-flight movie list (from the one inside my head), I select Lawrence of Arabia (with subtitles in Pashtun). I estimate getting about half-way through the opening credits before we touch down. I listen to the wonderful Academy Award winning musical score. The scenes of the burning desert are so real inside my head that I actually break a sweat. This Special Effect is helped along quite nicely by the fact that the air-conditioning on this aircraft is non-functional. I suppose one of the collateral duties of the deceased hamsters was operating the A/C unit.
1638hrs: Wheels Down
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Beautiful Kandahar.” (I do not doubt his sincerity, but I did detect a bit of sarcasm in his voice.) “For safety, you are required”, he continued, “to wear your full body armor with your helmet when exiting the aircraft. There really is no danger, but we want you to sweat just that much more. Thank you for flying Gryphon Airlines today and once again, we apologize for the teeny tiny delay we had in leaving Camp Dwyer and we do hope you will… uh, be flying with us again soon.” (As if we will have a choice)