It was just 15 minutes, but in mostly pitch black, our crew made a flight across Afghanistan from Bagram to Kabul in a Black Hawk helicopter. Below us lived freedom-loving residents, and surely, some folks who would love to bring an American chopper and its occupants down.
Who knows if those enemies saw or heard us, didn't care, were too cold, or some combination of those. We made it safe with a soft landing in the capital of this war torn country. Some in our party were a little more nervous than I was...but I had nerves for sure.
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Bagram Airfield is big...really big. The base at Kabul? It's the opposite of Bagram. You can walk from one side of the grounds to the other very easily. One colonel told us you can't find something, just stroll a bit and you'll run into it. Like Bagram, the mountains around us are gorgeous. You can see villages built into the base of the hills, and structures under construction. There's literally progress on the horizon, but a whole lot of danger.
That's why Americans and a bevy of countries are here. Off the top of my head, I've seen British, German, Italian, French, Turkish, Jordanian, Romanian and, of course, Afghan military since we've been here. Sitting at the dining facility, the languages catch your ear. The other day, an American and a Turk, both in uniform, sat across from each other, discussing gay rights and hunting, among other issues. Fascinating eavesdropping.
You also need an escort everywhere you go here. Security is tight, as you might imagine, so as we went back towards the media set-up here, we passed a checkpoint and needed to sign in and get badges. One of the folks in our crew accidentally hit the light switch as he piled into the tiny hut. He quickly reached back and flipped it back up.
With the driest delivery I can imagine (says the dry-humored guy), a Turkish solider said, "Happy birthday."
I will laugh uncontrollably for the rest of my life when I think of that moment. Maybe flipping on the lights at birthdays is more universal than I thought. Maybe he had some other reason for saying it. But "happy birthday" makes me smile. Amazingly, that happens here amidst tension, stress, long hours and selfless service.