So, there I was.
My rifle was locked in a shipping container.
My pistol ammo was turned in.
My body armor was packed in a duffle.
My building had a shower. Inside.
It was 0500 in the morning.
I was going home.
And since I was going home, I was awake at 0500 on the first morning that I had nowhere to be in almost 9 months. Why not start the countdown 14 hours early?
Huh. Seems a little early for a controlled det[onation].
And then the magical stream of radio frequencies that had just delivered the first half of an episode of Justified to my trusty (usually) new Kindle went out.
It was day two-hundred-and-something at that inexplicable live-fire annex to the National Training Center that was Bagram Airfield in 2016. And most of Task Force Red Warrior had already left.
We showed up ready. We were the Theater Reserve Force. If something went down, we would go.
But why would you send a bunch of standard light infantry bubbas from Bagram, when the Special Operations boys are bored, and they are right there, anyway?
So, for nine months, we sat. In a Tactical Operations Center. Waiting.
The line companies did some exploring. Every now and again a Special Forces team wanted some little buddies to follow them around. Or someone needed to babysit the US Forces-Afghanistan commander’s airplane when he flew to make sure the Germans were still at least nominally in charge in Mazar-e-Sharif.
One time we thought we were going to be sent to Kunduz. Almost 200 miles. By ground. In 2016. It didn’t pan out. (author’s note: that may have something to do with the number of potential ambush sites along the route. At this point in the war, we knew exactly how many there were. As did the Taliban.)
One time, an F-16 crashed.
It was on take-off.
The pilot walked home and knocked on the gate. (author’s note: good news story? Yes, certainly. But would it have been generous of him to wait long enough for our ready platoon to rescue him, instead of rescuing himself like some sort of hero? Also, yes.)
We trained as individuals.
We trained as Fire Support Teams.
We trained with Our Air Force Tactical Controllers.
We carried a radio the 100 yards between the TOC and the Task Force gym, just in case someone, somewhere in Afghanistan found an urgent need for an enterprising Task Force Fire Support Officer / Battle Captain between sets.
After a certain point, we studied for the GRE (this one was mostly me).
Mostly, we waited.
Spring came and went. Summer turned to fall.
The first flights of Red Warriors headed home. We TOC humans waited for our replacements.
We–me, again–got grief from the Incoming First Cavalry Division Chief of Staff for wearing a Marne patch on my right shoulder at the relief-in-place outbrief. (author’s note: Turns out he didn’t like replacing the mighty Third Infantry Division in Iraq back in the day. For his good and for mine, he didn’t ask my opinion of First Cav; although, I was tempted to give it, regardless.)
And, eventually, the day came.
Due to the hard work of one diligent Taliban sympathizer, something finally happened.
A few hours later, I got to go home. Back to Fort Carson, the mountains were calling, and I did go.
Five others did not.
On November 12, 2016, four Americans were killed by an insurgent while preparing for a Veteran’s Day 5k run on the “Disney Side” of Bagram Airfield. Sixteen additional Americans and one Pole were injured. One of the injured Americans eventually died of his wounds. Their killer, an ostensibly reformed Taliban fighter, had slowly constructed a bomb on the base while working as a contractor on the base’s non-tactical vehicle yard.
For hours, we on the opposite side of the airfield had few details of what had happened. But one thing was clear from the moment the internet cut out: whatever had happened, there were casualties.
My remaining hours in Afghanistan were surreal. Waiting to find out what was going on. Knowing that whatever happened was bad. Lacking even the comfort of a little bit of force protection ammunition. Unable to let anyone at home know we were okay.
We still flew home, though, unharmed and more or less on schedule. Back in the safety of the non-IED lands, the good people of Kuwait were kind enough to leave the Wifi on for us.
Not everyone was so lucky.
 The Disney Side was the side of the airbase with the main headquarters. Perhaps not coincidentally, it also featured the surreal accretion of morale, welfare, and recreation facilities that graced freedom’s frontier in happier times. While the author was not privileged to experience Bagram Disney at its peak, he can certify that its counterpart at Kandahar Airfield was truly a sight to behold.