Air conditioner alley, the main drag on my way to work every morning.
Eggers (EGG-errrr-s...zah) is a busy place. I've been sprinting to catch up with the pace of work here, and am still lagging behind. The work schedule is 8 to 8, officially, and subtract out lunch a dinner, but often work starts earlier and runs later. So far I'm averaging an 11 hour day, and that's with a half day the day I arrived and on our "day off" (don't come to work til 1300) on Friday. As such, I haven't been awake enough at night to update my blog. Some of you have mentioned this to me =). While I'm very happy you all are enjoying the blog, I think I might have spoiled you guys writing every day at CRC. That kind of pace is not going to be sustainable here. My plan is to update every 3-4 days, sometimes shorter when I have a lot to write about, sometimes longer when I'm getting slammed at the office. But be sure to let me know if I get too sporadic with my posts. I know I can count on you.
Camp Eggers is my new home away from home. It was built circa 2005 (I don't know the exact date) and named after a special forces soldier that was killed by an IED here in Afghanistan. Eggers is inside what is known as the "Green Zone". It's similar to the Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq, but not nearly as large, nor as secure. The Green Zone also includes International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) HQ (home to Commander ISAF, formerly General McChrystal), the US Embassy, the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the Presidential Palace, and a compound known as New Kabul Compound (NKC). All together, it's probably only a few square kilometers right in the heart of Kabul.
Around the Green Zone is the Inner Zone, which is larger, but less secure. You'll regularly encounter Coalition forces or Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoints in these areas. The rest of Kabul is the Outer Zone. You don't go to the Outer Zone unless you're required to. The potential for attacks isn't really higher (in fact, it's probably lower since little of importance resides out there), but you're a lot farther away from help if something goes wrong. The airport and a couple of smaller bases are really the only things out here worth mentioning.
Eggers is a haphazard place. This area used to be a very upscale neighborhood, and it shows. There are nicely decorated sidewalks and strong, natural stone retaining walls. There are tiled porches on some of the permanent structures, and a lot of two-story buildings. The Coalition supposedly paid top dollar for the land here, and promptly came in and ruined it. Offices and living quarters were dropped in what were formerly backyards, side alleys and streets, taking up almost all the open space. Without much acreage, the only choice has been to build upwards, resulting in very few single story structures, and lots of "urban canyon" feel. Walking around for the first couple days felt like I was a mouse searching for cheese at the end of a maze.
Most of the structures we've added are shipping containers (like the ones you'd ship cars inside from Japan to America, big things) that have been improvised for office space and housing. Doors and windows are cut in the sides, and rooms built on the interior. Office size varies, depending how big and how important the organization is. For the living quarters, the rooms aren't large at all, MAYBE eight feet by twelve feet, with two or three people per room, but they are air conditioned, and they aren't leaking on your head while you're asleep or anything.
New construction at Camp Eggers. Notice the bamboo ladder. The side supports are solid pieces of wood, and that's at least 30 feet in the air.
If only I was living in one of those.
You see, Eggers is growing. Quickly. In fact, it's growing SO quickly, that the amount of people on Eggers is greater than the amount of living space. This means all the new people get to wait for old people to leave before they can get a bed. Where do we get to stay in the meantime? In a tent. Yes, my friends, I am still living out of a bag. Woe is me.
For a tent, it really isn't that bad. It's large enough to fit a dozen bunk beds, though not all the bunks are filled. It is air conditioned, and combined with the Kabul weather, it actually gets a bit chilly at night time. During the day it's sweltering, but I am VERY rarely there during the day, given my work schedule. The WORST part about it is that it's actually across the street.
When I in-processed here, the guy I'm replacing, Andrew, told me "The only word you don't want to hear is 'Alamo'." Well, guess what? Alamo Tent is where I am. (I told him afterward I wished he hadn't told me that, since I wouldn't have known the difference if he hadn't.) Alamo is the only tent, the only housing of any kind, that doesn't sit on Camp Eggers proper. In order to get there, I have to walk out through all the security checks and cross a public road. The road is heavily patrolled, and has lots of security on it 24/7 (in the 60 feet that are between my tent and the road, there are two gates and five guards armed with AK-47s), but the local populace does have access. Every morning there are cars full of people and bicycles and motorcycles carrying people to work. Since these people have access, so do the insurgents interested in hurting me if they get crafty enough. Not long ago there was an attempted kidnapping on a contractor in a "military" uniform along this road. The distance I have to walk along this road is only about 50 yards, but it has been suggested that I follow the buddy system when walking that way just to be safe.
I was told there was a 3-4 week wait time on housing, with a good possibility that I would have to wait longer. I am encouraged by the fact that since I moved in, at least three people have moved out. My tent isn't the only tent, so I'm sure there are a lot more people ahead of me, but it's nice to see progress and to know that the days of a solid roof over my head are actually getting closer.
Eggers is a diverse place. The flag plaza is a veritable forest of country banners from NATO and our other Coalition partners. I've worked frequently with British and Canadian forces already. The Mongolians man our force protection patrols. The French are here working with police trainers. The perimeter security is manned by a local security contracting company, employing the local Afghan population. There's at least a couple dozen other nations participating. Even with the multi-national population, the base has a distinctly American feel. Currency here is dollars, and the food is just like home. Last night was steak night at one of the DFACs, today for lunch was philly cheese steak on the short order grill, tonight was Mongolian barbecue (yummy). The majority of personnel are American, and almost everyone speaks English (not the locals - they only know enough to get by). This contributes to a very friendly overall atmosphere. People greet you as they walk by and usually have a smile for you as well.
This is in stark contrast to ISAF HQ, just down the street. The multi-national force is the same, but there are far more non-American personnel. Food isn't served unless it has curry in it (I'm only barely kidding here, they curry everything, even eggs and grits at breakfast), currency is euros, and people are generally rude and impolite. Having spent sometime at ISAF, I'm glad I landed here.
Before I get too far removed from it, a quick wrap up of CRC, by the numbers:
403: people processed in my CRC class.
249: people on the flight from Ft. Benning to Kuwait. The rest had their own transportation.
8: days, or parts of days, spent at Ft. Benning.
7: World Cup games watched between formations.
85: approximate weight in pounds of the equipment I was issued at CIF.
16: colonels (O-6, full bird) deploying in my group. 16 is a lot.
11,000: times I wished I was home, approximately.
1.5: inches thick of the paperwork I had to process and file.
25: dollars spent for a week of internet access, so I could Skype with my family and write this blog.
That's all for now. Out here.