Quick trivia question: What is the only country in the world that's home to both a US military base and a Russian military base?
Answer: It's Kyrgyzstan.
I happen to be at one of them right now (the Air Transit Center at Manas) just outside of the Bishkek airport.
What that means, of course, is that I'm NOT in Afghanistan. And yes, that's a great sign. The combination of endless days stacked one on top of the next, and the fact that blogspot was blocked from our computer servers at Camp Phoenix, meant that my blog posts were few and far between. Within a couple days, I'll be at Fort Dix (and unfortunately, stuck there for the Super Bowl), and should be able to hold the missus and our daughter in my arms in just over a week. Awesome, eh?
Of course, I have no idea where to start or stop when thinking about the past year, but one thing hasn't changed since I last posted: The single strongest feeling I have coming home is that I need to make up for lost time.
For the past 12 months, I put aside everything else that I might want to do (i.e. leisure reading, PT, staying in touch with friends/colleagues) and focused entirely on the unit and our mission. Trust me, that's not a complaint or a lament -- I wouldn't have done it any other way, and I *get* that all of that is part of the deal I entered into with Uncle Sam -- but it's just a statement of fact.
That type of self-surrender to the environment is not necessarily true of all soldiers who enter war zones...but before I get too high and mighty, I'd have to point out that my version of "hardcore REMF" or "badass FOBbit" isn't really comparable to the guys who are out closing and engaging with the enemy every day in places like Kunar and Helmand. Still, it's a sacrifice that I didn't fully understand a year ago when all this started at Reading High School. The way I see it all now, though, helps explain why I'm going to be a lot more visibly emotional when I get back to Reading next week than I was on "goodbye day."
Besides the obvious feeling of physical relocation away from the *zone* one of the biggest changes in Bishkek, compared to Kabul, is that it's much easier to breathe the air here. Much like a loud buzzing sound that you don't really notice until it goes away (and you notice as you revel in its absence) the air in Kabul is of pretty awful quality, owing to pollution, topography that means a bowl of exhaust surrounded by mountains, the burning of coal and wood in the winter, and thermal inversion which traps the nasty air.
At Manas, I can take a full, deep breath and it seems like I can feel the cleanliness of the air. The novelty hasn't worn off, and I don't think it will.
The other great feeling now is that I can PT as much as I want. I know this may surprise a lot of people, but periods of formal military training or work (i.e. mobilization and deployment) tend to leave me in worse shape than they found me. Now that we're just in wind-down mode, and have tons of free time, or *white space* on the calendar (as we will at Dix, too) it's a PT bonanza for yours truly.
And what makes it all possible are these wonderful Air Force facilities! I know Kyrgyz politics -- and Russian influence -- might mean Manas might not be around forever, but as far as places to be stuck for a couple days, this place ain't bad...they've got all the basic amenities here, such as the MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) computer on which I'm typing this.
Looking forward to posting again from the states very soon, and in the meantime, just sort of hanging out and working out between meals isn't such a bad way to pass the time before I can "rejoin the world."