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Friday, May 27, 2011

Final Stop: Kyrgyzstan

Jeff and I are at the final stop before our long flights home. We're at the Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan. We were laid over here for a day on our trip into Afghanistan and we're back for a few days on our way out, so this seems like a fitting time to look back on all the different trips we've made. Here's a list of everywhere we've been. The locations marked with an asterisk (*) mean we loaded, unloaded, packed and unpacked our immense amount of gear.

Ft. Campbell, KY (*)
to Ft. Stewart, GA
to Shannon, Ireland
to Manas, Kyrgyzstan (*)
to Bagram, Afghanistan (*)
to Kandahar, Afghanistan (*)
to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pasab, Afghanistan (*)
to combat outpost 10 miles east of FOB Sakari Karez, Afghanistan (Ramrod)
back to FOB Pasab, Afghanistan (*)
to FOB Sakari Karez, Afghanistan (*)
to Air Assault 1
back to FOB Sakari Karez, Afghanistan
to Moulian, Afghanistan (Air Assault 2)
back to Kandahar, Afghanistan (*)
back to Manas, Kyrgyzstan (*)
to Leipzig, Germany
back to Ft, Campbell, KY (*)

Ya know that (*) you saw connected to most of the locations listed above? Well that represents all this stuff. This was taken right before leaving Sakari Karez for Kandahar; the first leg of our trip back home. And actually, this pile is missing 3 other decent sized packs that we had with us most of the way. We decided to leave them back at Bagram out of fear that we wouldn't be able to handle it all. In retrospect, that was a very good call. But in the scope of carrying-thing-difficulties, this load paled in comparison to hauling a 40lb camera, 15 bottles of water, and an MRE (meal ready to eat) in 110 degree weather across the desert, through streams, and over grape rows on the 3 days of air assault missions.

This is a what the Avid editing software I use looks like. This program allows me to put together all the various videos and sounds precisely how I want them to flow together. This timeline, for the 2nd part of our 48 hour air assault mission, is the most complex project I edited in Afghanistan. If you look closely, each particular clip was carefully selected, placed, and adjusted to fit my vision for the story. The blue pieces are audio and the greyish clips are video. There are a total of 4 tracks of video and and 4 tracks of audio. The topmost video track is a color correction layer to enhance the vivid colors and somewhat stylize the look of the story. This story alone probably took about 10 hours to edit. I'm VERY particular when editing. My perfectionist tendencies definitely come out; especially when I have a decent amount of time at my exposure.
Believe it or not, this is my camera. It's completely covered and sealed in its rain protection sleeve. While rain wasn't a problem in Afghanistan, SAND WAS!!! No amount of cleaning could keep sand off of anything. The sand in the Kandahar region was particularly light and fluffy. Anywhere you stepped, the sand would puff up into a cloud beneath your foot. Such small granules were good about finding their way into the smallest of camera crevices. Every camera adjustment was accompanied by a faint unsettling grinding noise (highly stressful for a cameraman with a brand new camera). Sand became especially problematic during sandstorms (obviously) and when anywhere near a helicopter. The huge courier chinook helicopters in particular would stir up massive sandstorms of their own. So the rain cover was applied to the camera before boarding any helicopter flights. Eventually I bought some compressed air to help clear the pesky sand out of my beloved camera's components.

The dining facilities (dfac's) afforded many opportunities to get take-out beverages and snacks. But in Afghanistan, surprise surprise, there's not an abundance of mini-fridges to cool off said beverages. Major problem right? I mean who wants a warm Mt. Dew or Pepsi? Not me! So I got a little creative. The air conditioner in our unit would get pretty cold. So I busted out some duct tape and started taping drinks to the air condition. Since duct tape keeps its stick I could just leave the same 2 strips of duct tape up to conserve. Once a drink is all taped up, just wait 30 minutes and VOILA you end up with a pleasing ice cold refreshment. Like they say in the military "adapt and overcome."

This is the CHU that Jeff and I acquired. CHU stands for something housing unit. I can't remember exactly, but this is where we stayed in Sakari Karez. We were originally setup in an Alaska tent, but the AC and electricity in it failed, and we desperately needed internet to be able to send our stories back. So we used our connections to line this up. The internet was incredibly slow, taking over 5 hours to send back a meager 100MB file. But it was better than nothing. The mattresses were horribly uncomfortable and I acquired the wooden table from another CHU when someone was moving out. In perspective, this was a suite though. It allowed us to do a lot of work in a fair deal of comfort. Jeff and I were in very close quarters for a month and yet we got along very well. We talked about that and believe that the mutual respect we hold for each other went a long way in helping us preserve an air of peace. It helps that we're happy to cut each other slack since we're already good friends and familiar with each other.

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