By a weird coincidence, my first trip back to Kandahar somewhat mimics my departure route. The flight took us from Camp Arenas to Camp Bastion in the Helmand Province, but at that point the differences stop. From Helmand to Kandahar was a direct flight, no intermediate stops in Bagram this time. This flight was on the District's contracted plane. Not every district gets its own plane and/or helicopter, but it seems that in Afghanistan ours has both. The Colonel, when he visits, arrives on this plane and I was informed back about the time I found out I'd be going to Kandahar for the deactivation ceremony that he would probably be making one more visit. One thing that never quite stays the same is the number of passengers arriving. So the three expected passengers, the Colonel, the Master Sergeant, and Deputy in charge of Programs and Project Management, were also accompanied by an Electrical Engineer needing a ride to Helmand and the incoming Area OIC.
When I arrived in Afghanistan there were two districts, one in the north and one in the south. However, the plan for the last six months has been to consolidate to one district in early July. This is a part of the drawdown of forces leading to a departure in December of 2014. As a part of the consolidation, the District becomes and Area Office, the Area Offices become Resident Offices, and the Resident Offices become Project Offices. This gave me the unique chance to be hired as a Resident Engineer, backfill an Area Engineer position, and then become the Resident Engineer. The more unique opportunity is for a full bird Colonel to be replaced by a Lieutenant Colonel who will have the same job title as the three Lieutenant Colonels serving under him. Obviously their titles changed too, but you get the point. None of the Area OICs were aware that the incoming Area OIC would be coming in to their areas as a part of this trip.
Not long after the Colonel arrived, we had a hold hands and sing Kum bi ya meeting. Probably not the right term for it, because the Colonel did distribute some awards and coins. I received a pin for being in country for 30 days in support of Operation Enduring Freedom which I am awfully proud of. Two of our recently arrived soldiers received combat patches, several of my engineers received Commander's Coins, then we got down to business.
There was a brief meeting with the Camp Commander, partly to introduce by way of live handoff the new guy. Another goal was to brief him, since he is relatively new as well, on the state of our projects. For my part, I was a knot on a log. Oh sure, I spoke because you don't bring me anywhere and not expect me to open my mouth. Was it needed? No, I just had to make sure that everyone knew I was there because I know my stuff and not just to be eye candy.
After that, we loaded and headed for Helmand. An uneventful trip except for one very important point. I mentioned the plane. Well, it ain't no 737. It isn't even as big as the puddle jumper I flew in to Herat in the first time though it's close. It seats about 15 maximum. It and the pilot were from Colombia. Needless to say, there was not a large staff. The crew numbered three. The material handling equipment that loaded the plane was an O-6, 2 O-5s, an E-8, and a GS-15. With the other engineer and myself handing over our gear, we had to have easily had the second most well paid material handling equipment I have ever seen load a plane. The next day I took a picture, then there was another O-5 and an O-4 added to the mix, the most well paid material handling equipment.
Upon landing in Helmand I found out that the plane was headed back to Kandahar, which of course made me ask why we were not on it. Apparently I had some combat tourism to participate in. So, while the plane headed for Kandi, we headed to the terminal where I was told I would need to get a one day pass for Camp Bastion/Leatherneck. All I needed was my CAC, a set of my orders, and my passport. All I had was my CAC. I sweet talked the lady into giving me a badge anyway, making a note to bring those things next time. Am I ever glad I regained my travel swagger.