Wednesday, Sept 4th-
We had a VERY early bag call at 0315 that morning to head our to our next stop, Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion which is west and slightly north of Kandahar, We took a very different aircraft for this short flight, a “Short Take Off and Landing” (STOL) Dash 8-100 30 passenger, two-engine prop. This was nearly a commercial-type plane so it was very comfortable compared to a C-17 or a helicopter… but still no complementary peanuts.
Camp Leatherneck shares its space with a British base encompassing the airfield. We arrived about 0900… the flight itself was about an hour but it’s typical to have to spend 3-4 hours in “lockdown” inside a military passenger air terminal (PAX), which we did in Bagram awaiting our flight call. We were met by our MWR liaison and checked into our billets (which were some of the nicest I’d ever seen in the war zone) for a brief rest and PX visit prior to meeting with the base commander.
At 1130 we met base commander and his command group, where we were briefed on Camp Leatherneck’s current role. They provide support, missions, rescue and other operations.
This stop we split up into two teams. The A team included Bruce Higdon, Mason Mastroianni, Michael Ramiez and myself…clearly the cream of the crop 😛 . The B Squad (aka the “also-rans “) were Ray Alma, Paul Combs, Jeff Keane and Ed Steckley.
At 1500 Team B went to the camp chapel and the adjacent area while our team drew at the USO center. Typically these drawing session last for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, and consist of a steady stream of soldiers, support personnel and contractors. I am happy to draw everybody and anybody but I most like drawing the deployed soldiers who are there at the command of the military and not of their own choice. It’s not easy on anybody to be so far away from friends and family, and in the middle of a war zone to boot, but the enlisted men and women seem to need the most cheering up. We did get to draw a number of the USO volunteers and workers on this stop as well, and those folks really deserve a BIG thank you for choosing to be over there working hard to make the lives of the deployed soldiers easier. The USO does a great job with this, and they are all great people.¬¨‚Ä†(Photos below courtesy of the FOB Leatherneck Facebook page):
Michael Ramirez and Bruce Higdon ready to draw at the Camp Leatherneck USO
Mason Mastroianni does a “B.C.” drawing for a soldier
Bruce and Mike in action
Me drawing one of the USO workers
Another satisfied customer… I think.
A soldier with his Bruce Higdon drawing…
The four of us drawing away…
Gordon worked as an IT specialist at FOB Leatherneck
Proudly showing his Mason original
This guy fortunately was unarmed…
Bruce does his thing
This guy isn’t sure about his Mike Ramirez original
The A team draws at the FOB Leatherneck USO
Mason and I packing up
With the terrific USO staff!
After this session we all met up again. The troops had a barbeque that night we were invited to share in, and it was probably the best food we had on the entire trip. Team B stuck around to draw more folks, while my team went to a different part of the base. These guys are the paramedics of the war zone, and fly into firefights, adverse weather and very dangerous conditions to rescue soldiers who are hurt and need immediate help. We were given a tour of one of their converted Blackhawks, which contain amazing advances in emergency medicine including mobile blood supplies, stabilizing equipment for almost any kind of injury and other stuff that was invented to support of their needs and that of their patients. The troops seldom get out of their areas, having crews standby 24 hours a day, so we went to them and drew for several hours. I was told that in the Korean War, the survival rate of soldiers injured in the war zone was about 55%. In the Vietnam War, about 70%. Currently, thanks in part to the expertise, bravery and technology of our troops, survival of soldiers injured in battle today exceeds 95%. These are heroes among heroes, and it was a great honor to get to draw for them.
Our stay at Camp Leatherneck was short, as we would fly out early the next day headed to our final stop in Afghanistan: Kandahar Air Field. Check back tomorrow for more.
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