I'm off to one of the southern provinces* tomorrow. My first trip out of Kabul, unless one counts two aborted attempts to get into Bagram airbase.
*No, I'm not going to tell which one. OpSec, remember?
If they were aware of it, both The Boss and The Godfather would probably object for security reasons, but there's really no great risk in going. The A-1, or ring-road as its more popularly known, is dodgy under the best of circumstances, and with the Taliban gearing up for their annual summer offensive, its particularly so now. However we're avoiding that difficulty by flying south. Why walk when you can drive, and why drive when you can fly?
The bird is a chartered Mi-17, the standard air transport here for anyone who doesn't have access to US Army aircraft. Old but reliable, and well maintained by an expat crew. This will be my first flight in a Russian helicopter, and my first flight in any helicopter since 1992. I'll have to make sure not to have a big breakfast on Saturday. Last time I was in a helicopter (a Chinook out at Fort Lewis, Washington), our TacOfficer had indulged in a large breakfast of pancakes and sausage. The rest of the company got the remains of yesterdays MRE, but he apparently felt that a trip to battalion mess was part of his privileges of rank.
On that day I was an involuntary witness to the secondary usage of a ballistic Kevlar helmet. The air assault infantry didn't call them "puke pots" for nothing. I still smile when I remember that hapless captain getting chewed out by the battalion commander for blowing chunks in front of the rest of the company. The worst part is that he did it ten minutes into the flight, and then had to hold the helmet on his lap for the next half-an-hour. Fortunately for him the crew chief didn't insist on all personnel wearing their protective gear for the duration of the flight. That would have been a mess.
Back to the point: this trip should be a quick in-and-out mission. I'm taking four of my guys* with me, but they're mostly for show. We've got excellent contacts with the local ANP and ANA and should have a very nice reception of local dignitaries and troops.
*Come to think of it, I should probably tell them not to have a big breakfast either.
We'll be in close proximity to an ANA base the whole time, and the ANP have promised us an escort.* If we needed it (which we won't), there's even an ISAF base about three klicks away, staffed by several companies of light infantry from one of NATO's newer members.**
*ANA=Afghan National Army; ANP=Afghan National Police; ISAF=International Securty Assistance Force (i.e. NATO). I should really do a post that explains all these acronyms.
**No, I'm not going to say which NATO member. That would make it too easy to figure out the destination. But it's worth pointing out that this particular NATO member has a well-deserved reputation for getting into the fight and mixing it up. Not like those lazy Germans, who are up north anyway.
The plan is to be back mid-afternoon, so we'll spend almost as much time in the aircraft as on the ground, which is fine by me. I'd rather be flying than standing around some dusty compound in southern Afghanistan. Still, the change of scenery should be nice.