Like our trip into Pakistan just six hours earlier, Pakistani air defense comes on the radio in a state of intense emotion. By threat of intercept/force, they kick us out of their airspace and force us to return to Afghanistan. Wha?! We are one of thousands and thousands of coalition planes that cross this same airspace, but tonight we must have the “Kick Me” sign on our back.
We try to calm them down and explain we’re on a scheduled flight, but they’ll have none of it. The threat of launching fighters to intercept us is the final straw and we turn around back towards Afghanistan. (We later found out the Air Force mobility coordination center failed to add our flight to the document allowing Pakistan overflight. Oversights do happen, more often than we'd like, but that's the downside of a ginormous, complex entity like the mobility arm of the military.)
Naturally at this time we’d hop on a satellite frequency or phone and get some help in fixing the situation. But this plane just happened to have a broken satellite antenna. Doh! We are now stuck in Afghanistan, because we don’t have overfly authorized on the route to the north or to the south. We decide to land at the nearest base: Kandahar. (Hah!!) So much for overflying that pit. We pull in to what is a ghost town compared to earlier in the war. As I walk out of the plane the first thing I notice is the smell: dusty, but with the slight smell of smoke or something burning. Anything is better than smelling the poo-pit, so I’m cool with it.
(Here is a video of the Kandahar area when I was flying the CV-22 there in 2010:
The 50 passengers are quite frustrated, as they were supposed to return to Europe where their families were waiting, but now they are in Kandahar with no where to stay. That’s when they suggest: let’s go to Mazar-i-Sharif. They are familiar with the base and can assure us a place to sleep and a hot meal. "Why didn't you say so earlier? Deal!" So we launch into the dawn sky and head north. And this is where the first reward of the adventure comes: I get to fly right up the middle of Afghanistan and its mountains in the daylight without fear of being shot, something I hadn’t really been able to do in my past AFSOC life.
Our passengers hooked us up with temporary sleeping arrangements, although it was right at freezing temperature inside them. But it was better than a cargo plane floor or tent cot. We dropped our bags and walked to the chow hall... which is where we received another treat: the view of the snow, mountains and clouds outside the fence. After a quick meal, we returned to the rooms, hoping the small heaters we turned on would take the bite from the air, though not really caring either way.
After six hours of solid sleep and a little bit of dozing, it was time to get back to work. Too bad, as this quiet little base suited me well. The view of the mountains from the compound was inspiring! It reminded me of a grand adventure had by several Italian nationals in Africa. They are Italian professional who are held in a WWII British POW camp. Several days after they arrive at the camp, the clouds clear enough that they see a huge mountain summit hovering above the clouds. They realize it must be Mt. Kenya, famous at that time for it was considered nearly unclimbable. Well, they happen to be mountaineers and decide they’re going to escape the camp and climb the famous peak. It’s a story about the love of mountains and adventures… about risking life to live life. Check it out: “No Picnic on Mt. Kenya”.
Part 3 Coming Soon. The Adventure Never Ends...