My First Step

I wanted to make this blog so everyone that is interested can keep up with what I’m up to half way around the world.  A lot has gone on in the time I have been here so I promise the updates to come in the future wont be as long.

I’ll start off with the trip over.  I left on January 19th from Fort Bragg, NC.  Fort Bragg is my current duty assignment and it is where I will return to after this deployment is over.   I’m with the 525 Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, which is spread out to over 50 locations all over Afghanistan.  My family came down to see me off and it was actually a little more emotional than I would have thought.  From Fort Bragg we (there was a group of about 19 other soldiers leaving with me from the same unit) left for BWI which was about an 8 hour trip on a charter bus.  Once we got to BWI we loaded our gear. I was allotted my ruck (which is basically an oversized backpack), an assault pack (regular sized backpack), a briefcase for my laptop, and two army issued duffel bags.

I would say it slowly dawned on me that I was headed into Afghanistan and it took a series of events for me to realize fully I was in a wartime environment, which I’ll explain as the events happen.

As I waited for the commercial plane to pick us up I made my last couple phone calls and then headed on the plane.  I have to admit I don’t consider myself a very emotional person but those phones calls were rough.  The plane went to Germany refueled then, to Turkey, refueled, and then stopped a Manis Air Force Base.  We left at 2200 on the 19th from BWI and got to Manis at 0400am on the 21st.  I feel like I was robbed a full day from the time zone difference.  It’s okay though I’ll get it back on my trip back home.  Manis AFB is a staging area where anyone inbound into Afghanistan has to stop and do some admin tasks as well as palletize their gear to be placed on a C-17 military cargo plane.   Manis is located in Kyrgyzstan two countries above Afghanistan.  It’s in the middle of nowhere.  Our group stayed in a huge open bay tent with rows and rows of bunks where soldiers from all branches were coming and going.  It snowed a little which delayed our flight into Afghanistan by a day but we didn’t mind because the food was good and there were free candy bars.

Once we got word that the flight into Kandahar Afghanistan was on, this was yet another small realization to where I was actually headed.  We boarded the military plane and flew into theater…… which is another term for Afghanistan.  Now the cool part, we did a combat landing which I was not ready for.  It turns out that a combat landing is something where the plane will turn sharply and then descend very rapidly until it touches ground.  Needless to say everyone was saying O-sh*t as no one was expecting it.  As the ramp opened and I walked out with my weapon in hand I took my first step onto Afghanistan.  I swear it could have been right out of a movie.  The sun was currently setting painting the sky a reddish pink. With military planes, helicopters, and the mountains in the background.

Kandahar Air Field or KAF is pretty big and the funny thing about it is that everywhere you look you just see the colors tan and blue.  Tan buildings/tents and the blue sky.  A really cool thing is that because it’s a large airfield fighter jets, UAV’s, and helicopters are always flying around. Something I’m still getting used to is the time difference I am 9.5 hours ahead of east coast time.  It was funny because every time I thought my body was getting used to the time difference I would lie down at like 1600 (4pm) and I would pass out until four in the morning.

It’s crazy to think that I’m in Afghanistan,  It seems like just yesterday I was walking to class in my cadet uniform at Virginia Tech.  Where my biggest worry was if I was going to be able to make it to TOTs Tuesday It’s also crazy to think that I was in eighth grade when the twin towers were struck and I’m finally getting my chance to serve nine years later.

At Kandahar my group conducted some mandatory training that all army personal need to complete before moving on…briefs, shooting, drills….etc.  Kandahar is pretty cool it is literally a melting pot of different NATO nations there for a common goal.

KAF is also where I fully realized I was in a wartime environment.  We were zeroing our rifles at a range on the outskirt of KAF late at night.  Out of no where the alarm sounds of an incoming rocket/mortar it was the first time I heard the alarm but I did as everyone else did and got down to take cover, not even a second later a rocket landed about a 100 yards away.  Now 100 yards really isn’t that close but it was close enough for me to realize that I need to be fully aware of my surroundings at all times.

After all the training was completed we hooked up with a convoy (a number of military vehicles traveling together) and went to our final destination Forward Operations Base (FOB) Spin Boldak.  The way there wasn’t bad, I got my first look at life outside the wire of Afghanistan which is so different from anywhere I’ve ever been to.

Spin Boldak is located in the Southeastern portion of Afghanistan. It’s right along the border of Pakistan and surrounded by mountains in the distance.  It’s really cool because at night you can see exactly where the border is due to the fact that the city of Spin Boldak does not have electricity and Pakistan does.  So all the lights are on the Pakistani side and the darkness lies within Afghanistan.  The night sky here is something else, hundreds of stars are visible on a clear night with no lights to obscure the view. It’s incredible.

The weather isn’t too bad here. It gets kinda chilly in the morning but warms up to the high 50’s later in the day.  The warmer weather is coming though, which will also bring more activity along the border.  It doesn’t rain here often but when it does rain it pours, and everything is caked in mud, it’s not too fun.

The food here is not bad and the living conditions are somewhat a little better than what I was expecting.  I think the best part is that baskin 31 robins supplies ice cream for dinner.  Although there aren’t 31 flavors they do have 4 and they happen to be my favorite.  To explain a little more about the FOB there is a small gym that has all the essentials, a MWR tent (Moral Welfare & Recreation) with phones/ computers/ board games/ and an old pool table.  The DFAC (cafeteria) is pretty good it’s a lot like Shultz but a better selection/ the food quality.   The surrounding area is mostly desert with Mountains close by that surround the FOB.  The best description I can give is this area is a mix a Southern California (palm springs) and Arizona …….if you’ve never been to either of those states you’re missing out.

As for my job I have a couple of roles were I’m in charge of a platoon a soldiers who focus on maintenance, logistics, and convoys.  I’m in the process of being trained up as a convoy commander so I can start conducting my own logistical convoys, which I am really looking forward to.   I really like Afghanistan…. for now anyways and I’m really enjoying learning about the Afghan’s culture and way of life….some of it disturbing but most of it very interesting.

I am very excited about serving here in Afghanistan.  It’s a lot different from the states but I really enjoy it.  It’s also an adjustment meeting everyone in the unit as well as my new soldiers that I’m responsible for.  I just found out the other day that I am the youngest officer on the base at 23.  I have a long road ahead of me, but I’m ready for the challenge.  The nice thing is that coming from Virginia Tech has some weight to it and that helps with first introductions with other officers.

A lot of people have been asking what I would like in care packages I like candy, sugar cookies, gum, jerky, phone cards or anything that is a reminder of home.  Though I really don’t need anything other than a written note I would really appreciate that more than anything.

Sorry this update was so long I’ll try to send one a week and keep them a little shorter.  I hope everyone is doing well and Go Hokies

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6 Responses to My First Step

  1. Kevin Hart says:

    Hey Matt,

    Really like the blog, I think it is a great idea! Keep us posted.

    Ps.
    Hope that’s a safe base your on and mortar attacks aren’t too common.
    100 yards is close enough!

  2. Trae Bailey says:

    Hey Darnley,

    It was good reading your update and I am glad to hear that you are doing well in Afghanistan. In case you were wondering things are fine back here at VT. I finally got out of the Corps and joined half civilian life with Strueli, D-rock, Zinn, and the rest. I think we are all pretty much pulling at the chain to graduate, commission, and get to work. Thanks for posting and good luck to you and your troops.

    Best,
    Trae Bailey

  3. Theresa Prince says:

    Matt, Thank you for writing, it was wonderful to read all about your journey and I look forward to next weeks. I know I haven’t been present in your life thus far, but it doesn’t mean I love and worried about you. I hope you know you are always in our thoughts and prayers.
    love Aunt Theresa

  4. Joey says:

    Proud of you bud! Can’t wait to hear all about it and stay safe!

  5. Jeremy says:

    Darnley… congrats on the first blog post! I hope you find blogging as enjoyable as I do and I think it will help in some way keep you connected to everyone and us to you! Sounds like a pretty surreal experience so far in some regards although it clearly is real for you. Since it is, stay safe and can’t wait for the next update!

  6. Luke Wells says:

    “Where my biggest worry was if I was going to be able to make it to TOTs Tuesday It’s also crazy to think that I was in eighth grade when the twin towers were struck and I’m finally getting my chance to serve nine years later.” favorite line for a couple of different reasons.

    be safe, good friend.

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