The journey begins with a short hop to Minneapolis. First time I've been
to Minnesota in several years. The last time I was here the gift shops
were teaming with Vikings jerseys. Now the sweatshirts extol the virtues
of canoeing in the Boundary Waters.
Atlanta...knowing that I have a 14 hour flight ahead of me I check out
those cushioned neck collars. I've seen people using them before.
They're supposed to keep your head upright so you can sleep unimpeded.
One major problem; they are not cheap...and I am. The debate rages in my
head, a great night's sleep for $40.00. Is it worth it? I pull the
trigger and make the purchase. Buyers remorse kicks in immediately.
I cannot wait to try out my new purchase. The person next to me looks at
me while I put it on during take-off. I fall immediately to sleep...for
15 minutes. Upon awaking I am no longer wearing the neck collar. I look
all around...no luck. This cannot be happening to me. It wasn't until we
were leaving the plane..13 hours and 15 minutes later that I discover it
on the floor near the seat in front of me...covered in foot prints. So
far..not so good.
Do you know how long 14 hours can be. Fourteen hours while you are
wedged into a window seat. Over and over again I kick myself for not
downloading dozens of new songs on my iPod. I ignore the fact that I
have no idea on how to download songs on my iPod. They do have movies
and TV shows on the individual screens on the back of the seat in front
of you. I watch two episodes of the Mentalist and two of the Office.
Just 12 more hours to go.
We land in Dubai. It has been 21 hours since leaving green bay. I have
been up for 28 hours. I go to the baggage claim and wait for my bags. I
watch frustratingly as person after person collects their luggage and
moves on with lives. I wait until the final bag is collected. This
cannot be happening to me. I literally don't know whether to laugh or
cry. Mounds of beef jerky, cheese curds, DVDs, packer items, all
collected for the troops...sitting somewhere between Green Bay,
Wisconsin and Dubai. I go up to a Dubai baggage official and ask him if
there is anything he can do. He asks me if I just arrived from New
Delhi, India. I tell him no, that I came in from Atlanta. He informs me
that I had been at the New Delhi carousal and the Atlanta baggage claim
would be carousel number 3. I go to carousal number 3. There are only
two bags on there; a. UWGB Phoenix Nike bag and a Wisconsin Ducks
Unlimited bag. They are circling aimlessly. I don't feel to check my
tags to ensure proper identification.
I check into the Dubai Holiday Inn. Having heeded the advice of world
travelers I consumed as much water as I possibly could during the trip.
There would be no danger of dehydration for this guy. I hurry to my
room...I don't have to tell you why. I open the door and race to the
facility. One problem...the lights don't work. I must overcome this
problem. I wedge a bag to keep the main door open and try to hurry. I
hear voices coming down the hall. I am in view of the hallway. I must
act fast. I have no idea what crime I could be charged with but I don't
think it would be a good one. I scramble to close the door...trip over
the Ducks Unlimited bag and miss hitting my head on the corner of the
desk by inches. This would not have been a good way to be found. I crawl
to the door, just as I was about to complete my mission, I make direct
eye contact with a prominent looking middle eastern looking gentleman
with his family. It was just for a second but I'm fairly sure shock and
bewilderment were coming from his eyes. I do the only logical thing I
could think of...I say something in what I hope sounds German and slam
I go to desk and ask about the lights...you must keep your room card in
a slot for the lights to stay on. They really take this conserving
energy idea to a whole new level. I ask for a 3 a.m. wake-up call. I am
informed they don't do wake-up calls. I cannot miss this flight...there
won't be another one for one week. I have been awake for almost 30
hours...what's four more?
I take a cab to the airport. Cabs in Dubai are 2010 Land Rovers. The
young driver tells me that one weekend a month he is allowed to take it
home for family outings. He tells me he has three kids and a wife. He
tells me about how much he loves America and hopes to one day move there
and drive a cab. He asks if he would be allowed to take it home on
weekends for his family outings. I don't have the heart to tell him that
the only trip his family would want to take in an American cab is to the
airport for a flight back to Dubai. My fare is $20.00. I dig into my
pockets for a tip...all I come up with is another 20. I look into the
Afghanistan Airlines Terminal..I don't see any likely candidates who
would break it for me. He says no problem...that it was an honor to
drive an American. He gets the $20.00 tip.
I sit in the terminal with all the others travelling to Afghanistan. I
believe my Nike jacket and Packer visor gives me away as someone who is
not from Afghanistan. A woman with two small girls sits next to me. She
is wearing the tradition veiled outfit, even here eyes are covered with
a veil. She is following a strict tradition which goes back centuries.
Her girls are wearing matching Barbie shoes and carrying Sponge-Bob
Square pants backpacks.
We get on a tram to get to our plane. There are 64 of us...I
counted..wedged together. I am the only one who stands out. in one of
the episodes of the Office that I watched, Michael Scott wrote a book on
management style...one of the chapters was titled; Everybody likes the
guy who offers a piece of gum. I offer gum to those around me. Three
accept, two decline politely. John Maino and Michael Scott...spreading
goodwill through the world--one stick of Orbit Peppermint at a time.
We arrive in Kandahar, Afghanistan. We are about an hour late and a
security check which includes an entire hand scan takes over an hour. I
look for my ride to the base I will be staying at. There is no one in
sight. I ask an airport official if a military person was there to pick
anyone up, he asks me if my name if John Maino...I'm not kidding..he
pronounced it perfectly. I say yes I am! Things are looking up. He said
the military person waited for two hours but left with instructions to
call if and when I arrived and they would be right back to pick me up.
Sounds great except for two problems, 1. I lost the number. 2. My phone
isn't working anyway. I ask if I can sit in the waiting area and try to
get a hold of someone else. He says no...that I have to go to the
outside gate and wait for a ride. It is a long walk to the gate, a small
man with a large cart comes to my rescue. I tip him three dollars. I
believe I am sworn at in Afghani.
I am at the outside gate of the Kandahar, Airport. Believe me looking
outside the gate of Kandahar airport, you do not see the friendly lights
of Oneida Casino. I am told by a man that my ride is waiting for me
outside the gate. I am relieved and walk outside the gate...I am less
than relieved when I only see groups of men in beards sitting in pickup
trucks. I see an American looking man in an SUV. I walk up to him and
ask if he was there to give me a ride. He says he is sure he is not. I
get close, an M-4 semi-automatic rifle is across his lap with his hand
tight on the grip. I ask him if we can at least ask like we are good
friends. He says yes, but that he would be leaving soon. Have you ever
had that dream that you are in a big crowd and you are in your
underwear. I am living that feeling.
I walk back inside the gate and make friends with a group of young guys
working in the area. I desperately need a friend right about now. I
introduce them to beef jerky, they love it. We become great friends.
Thank you Jack Links.
My ride arrives. My new friends hug me as I leave. I hug my ride.
All week I have been excited over the news that I will be taking a
helicopter from Kandahar Airfield to camp Nathan Smith on the outskirts
of Kandahar City. We arrive at the helo pad. It just left...of course it
did. I hitch a ride with a National Guard Unit from Rhode Island who
handles security for the 432nd. They are hard-core Patriot fans...I mean
hard core. They are great guys and sound like they could have been in
The Departed. Transportation is now via MRAPs. Huge well-armored
vehicles. When I visited Iraq in 2006 all transportation was via
Humvies.If the vehicles came to life an MRAP would be BJ Raji and a
humvee would be Ryan Longwell.
I arrive at Camp Nathan Smith and am heartily welcomed by members of the
432nd. I am home. Tbc.
Afghanistan Report #1
The journey begins with a short hop to Minneapolis. First time I've been