I’m writing from Masan Air Base, Kyrgyzstan. We arrived a day and a half ago. This is a stop-over en route to Afghanistan.
The flight over took 22 hours, with stops in Ireland and Turkey before we landed here. I’ve never been good at sleeping on airplanes, and this flight was no different. I think I got 3 or 4 hours of sleep.
Our send-off was impressive, though - we had a General who gave us a pep talk before we took off, and shook each of our hands. On the flight line to the airplane, there was an honor guard with 4 flags; 6 Soldiers standing at attention to honor us. I have to admit, I was touched.
Before we left, I had a chance to go home for a few days. Unfortunately, I got sick, and spend a day mostly sleeping. It was good to be home though; I would rather be sick at home than well away. Saying good-bye was harder this time than after New Year, though: my family and I knew this was the last good-bye we would say before I left for a long time. I was pretty morose for a while when I got back to Ft. Riley. There were a few other Soldiers on our team with families who were likewise feeling down about leaving their families behind. We know we have an important mission, but that doesn’t stop us from having feelings. Our barracks were pretty quiet the day before we left.
The Air Force runs the base at Kyrgyzstan. They’ve done a pretty good job setting up amenities for us here - phone service home, Internet service, and several shops. I stopped at a couple of the small shops earlier today and bought something for my wife’s birthday, which is coming up several days from now. I stopped at the U.S. Post Office on the base and mailed the package home. Hopefully it will arrive sometime around her birthday. It wasn’t terribly expensive, but the thought counts.
While I was waiting for an Internet PC to check my e-mail, I chatted with a young female soldier, who was also waiting to check e-mail (PC’s are a bit limited, so there are times we have to wait). She is an Active Duty Army Soldier, and talked about how she had been deployed to Iraq twice. She is also now on her way to Afghanistan, like us.
I asked her if she had seen any action, and she replied she had. In fact, she had received a high medal for some of her actions, and earned a combat badge. I asked why she wasn’t wearing the combat badge (it’s authorized for wear on the ACU’s, or Army combat uniform), and she answered that the badge had cost the lives of her Platoon Sergeant and one of her friends in the fray. I understood her answer.
The base here in Kyrgyzstan is surprising - it’s very close to the Russian border, and shops here sell Soviet-era military gear, like uniform hats and other trinkets. It’s quite amazing to see these things for sale, knowing the history of the Cold War. Now, they’re just souvenirs of history.
The people of Kyrgyzstan have a unique beauty. There is some Mongolian to them, as well as Caucasian. The result is a striking mix.
From the base, I can see mountain peaks in the distance. The elevation on this base is about 2500 feet above sea level. From here, within the next day or two, we will leave for another mountainous place - our ultimate destination: Afghanistan.
This airbase is a crossroads for most U.S. and NATO forces flying in and out of Afghanistan. I have seen Croatian military forces and French military personnel here, but most of us are from the United States. When we leave, we will come back through this place.
I met an Army nurse who told me how many Afghan Army Soldiers she treated in Afghanistan. Almost all the soldiers coming through the U.S. Army hospital in Kabul were Afghani. I told her I had heard the Afghan National Army used Soviet military tactics - attack in force, with large numbers, with little regard for how many casualties may result. I told her we were going in to train them, and that I hoped we would be able to change some of this. She told me she hoped so, too.
I got a chance to call home this morning - there is a 12 hour time difference, so when I called on Saturday morning here, it was still Friday night back home. I was really glad to get to talk to my wife and kids - I had told them before my flight out that I didn’t know when I would be able to call them again from overseas, and that it may be a week or so. As it turned out, it was only a couple days.
It’s been an encouraging day. We’ll be leaving soon, and the stop was good for us. I’ll remember this day for a while.
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.