After carryingaround those 20lb plates it was such a weight off my shoulders, literally. It was almost symbolic as well. We no longer had the weight of the deployment hanging on our shoulders. It was pretty cool.
Well we ended up sitting at KAIA for almost 11 hours before we left. Originally our flight was supposed to leave at 1300 but that got delayeduntil 2045. In the military's infinite wisdom, we had to be back at the departure tent at 1700 where we went into lockdown. Unfortunately chow didn't start until 1715. Heaven forbid that they delay the report time for 30 mintues so we could eat but that would make too much sense. So darn it, I had to order a pizza which actually wasn't too bad. Lock down consisted of sitting in a stuffy tent until it was time to boardthe plane. Remember the 2045 departure time, well that's when the first wave of soldiers was taken to the plane. I ended up in the second wave and it was almost 40 minutes before the bus returned to take us to the plane. As I walked on our pallets hadn't even been loaded yet. Becuase there were over 80 of us travleing there were 10 pallets to be loaded. We each had 1-2 black boxes along with 1-2 duffel bags, hence the 10 pallets. I'm not sure why the plane wasn't loaded before hand but it wasn't. Anyway, it took another hour to get the plane loaded but we finally took off at 2130.
As we were getting close to leaving the tent the thought occurred to me thatwe were in our last hour in Afghanistan. What a cool thought. I thought about all the Afghan's I'd met and wondered what will happen. I hope that the foundation we've laid will get them through the coming years. I know that they have good mentors following us so I'm not too worried.
I sat next to Trooper on the plane. A few minutes later a Navy LCDR boarded. As she walked past us she commented that her boots were no longeron the ground. "Boots on the ground" is just what it sounds like. It's also the phrase used to describe the length of your tour. Ours was one year "boots on the ground." Most units have never made it to a year but by the time we leave Manas we will literally have 12 months "boots on the ground." Lucky us.
About an hour into the flight Tropper turned to me and said, "Do you knowwhere we are?" I immediately responded, "Not in Afghanistan." We both laughed. Since it was so dark out I didn't bother looking our the window in the door but Trooper called me over. He said to press my face up to the window and look straight out. As I did I saw the Big Dipper straight across from us. It was a really cool sight. After about a 90 minute flight we landed in Manas Krygzstan (sp). This is where we flew through on our way here so it seemed fitting to be backtracking the same way that we came. As I stepped off the plane I was struck by the smell of grass. What a great smell. It was also quite cool, at least compared to Afghanistan. It was such a welcome feeling. They are 90 minutes ahead in time from Afghanistan so it was almost 0130 inthe morning. If you're asking why 90 minutes and not 60 or 120 I can't answer that. For some reason Afghanistan is 30 minutes off. I'm sure I could Google to find the answer but never got around to it. It was just one of those quirky things about Afghanistan. It took almost another 2.5 - 3 hours before we got our bags so most of us went to the chow hall to get something to eat.
Remember that Manas is in a"hazardous duty" zone, just like Afghanistan and Iraq which means that those serving here are entitled to the hazardous duty extra pay that I've been getting this last year. Anyway, as we walked into the chow hall, there to meet us was the MWR(morale, welfare and recreation) poster advertising all the off-base excursions people could go on; tours, golf, sight seeing, etc. Aaron pointed it out to me and we just shook our head that the service members serving here were entitled to hazardous duty pay. Life's just not fair.
Finally our bags arrived and we filed off to our tents. We're staying next to where we were last year. Finally at 0515 I crawled into bed to get a few hours sleep.