I've never been a big outdoorsy person, and especially when it involves a lot of dirt and mud, but I've rarely been happier moving around outside under rainy skies and over messy ground as I have been in Bagram, Afghanistan.
My partner on this ultimate field trip, KWTX reporter Rachel Cox, and I got out of nearby Manas, Kyrgyzstan in the early morning hours of Saturday when the temperature was two degrees. The high that day was 15, and it had snowed the past couple of days. We were ready to get out of the cold precip, but when we got to Bagram Air Field, we found more wet stuff, some 40 degrees warmer, the first they'd had in weeks, and a bit of a rarity.
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And then it rained the next day, too. For folks toting around expensive camera equipment, that adds an extra layer of stress to our job. Get the shot, but don't break your not-so-waterproof toys.
But I'm positive the good outweighs the bad, especially for the men and women putting their health on the line for months at a time. First off, the air is hardly fresh. Everyone drives diesel vehicles. Fumes apparently are ever-present except on the rare rainy days when it gets pushed down.
And then there's the enemy. While we're certainly not in the lap of luxury, the bad guys "outside the wire" really don't have it well off, so picking a fight with the Americans usually isn't what they'd like to do in wet conditions.
I'll take rainy and safer, thank you very much. The weather has cleared since our first couple of days, so who knows what will come with that?
What we've been able to see and the people we've been able to talk to in just a few days here has opened my eyes much wider to what folks deal with here, so far from home, so far from comfort. That's not to say all sorts of efforts aren't made to give them stress-reduced times. We'll have more on that in the coming days, but when you stand at a watch tower for 12 minutes knowing a guy with a gun and a radio stands there 12 hours watching the grounds to keep the enemy in sight, you know for sure this all isn't easy. I knew that before. I know it better.
Off in the distance from that tower, dozens of Afghans walk the grounds in search of landmines laid by Russians years ago. Children roam the area around the mine workers, occasionally coming up to the wire and the tower, asking for candy. They've got it worse. They live here permanently.
That soldier in the tower can call for help if needed, and it arrives far quicker than you would probably imagine. So there are soldiers sitting somewhere for hours at a time waiting for a call they hope they never take. Not easy, either. There are other means by which those teams can get called out besides a message from a tower. Let's just say some media visitors (we'll call them "S" and "R") may have inadvertently caused a rapid response. The troops were cool about it, thankfully. Maybe a couple of them were happy to get out for a bit.
The soldiers who have worked with us and spoken to us are outstanding and more hospitable than I could have imagined. That's the other eye-opener: that in a place of war, I feel very at peace with these people...and safe, rain or shine.