Went on my 8th mission the other day. It was significant for two reasons: 1) it was my last mission outside of Bagram; and 2) when I returned, my replacement was here. Oh happy days!
Like all the other missions I went on, this one had a couple of special moments.
We flew via CH-47 helicopters in a 2-ship formation to Pol-e 'Alam, south of Kabul. The ride was a blast, lasting just over two hours and taking us on a race track route to four other operating bases before we reached Forward Operating Base Shank.
Changing altitudes and directions at random intervals, we were able to avoid any ground fire from the little mountain men below. Our special passenger had a great time; a beautiful black Labrador, part of a military working dog team. If dogs love sticking their heads out car windows, sticking their head out the back of a helo flying about 1,000ft off the deck must have been pure heaven.
Pol-e 'Alam is 7,000ft up; a mere 500ft higher than Bagram. I was not expecting to experience any problems with regard to maneuvering in full gear at this slightly higher altitude. I was wrong.
One of the first places we visited was the highest point on Shank to get an overview of the entire base. From the bottom of the hill, it looked like an easy climb; only 45 sandbag steps to the top. We hit it at a quick pace reaching the top in not time. Only problem was in full kit (over 80lbs of gear--body armor, weapons and ammo) I was completely winded once we reached the top. I thought I was in pretty good shape; I was proven wrong. I developed a new found respect for all the Soldiers, Marines and Afghans who fight in the mountains at these higher altitudes daily.
Our mission went off without a hitch, even completing our objectives early. The bonus came when we found an Afghan bakery on post. Flat bread and hot tea. Nothing beats it around here.
Upon return to Bagram a couple days later, I met my replacement. The end is near :)