2013 NCS/USO Tour- Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan

September 12th, 2013 | Posted in News

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Mason Mastrionni (B.C.) heading into the terminal at KAF

Our last stop in Afghansitan was at Kandahar Air Field near Kandahar City in the south eastern region of the country. I had visited this base in 2010 as part of a previous USO cartoonists tour, so it was very interesting to return and see how things have changed. In our last visit to Afghanistan, we went directly to KAF from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and spent our entire time billeted there while we flew helicopters to outlying FOBs each day. This time we only spend a day there, not even staying the night.

Things had changed there quite a bit, with the presence of many international forces that used to share the base either greatly diminished or gone entirely. There seemed to be a lot more bunkers about as well, especially in their famous boardwalk area, which in addition to the amazing ice rink now sported a field turf soccer/football field and a half basketball court.

Friday, Sept 6th-

We had another early bag call at 0545 and were wheels up at 0715 from Camp Leatherneck on the same type of STOL aircraft on the way to Kandahar. Once we arrived we were met by a Major, who was our main military liaison at the base. We got to dump our bags in a couple of rooms and take a short time to catch our breath, but we were basically on the go from the minute we hit the tarmac. This would be a long day.

We had three drawing sessions at KAF, but first we got to meet some of the command of the Combined Joint Task Force 101 in their operations center. Missing was the Commanding Major General, who was away that morning attending the memorial of a fallen soldier somewhere off base, and returning sometime later that day. We were told by numerous officers that the Commanding Major General was really looking forward to meeting us as he is a big fan of cartooning, particularity daily comic strips and MAD magazine. In fact, all day long we kept hearing that from different folks and getting updates from the Major that the General was trying to get free after his duties to come and see us. Unfortunately that never happened… we where only at KAF for about 20 hours and the Commanding General has many demands on his time (apparently there is a war going on there or something). Fellow caricaturist Ed Steckley did a caricature of him from us, no doubt sealing our future banning from ?ever visiting Afghanistan again. We did draw plenty of soldiers, though.

We had three major drawing sessions, in fact. The first was at the USO center, a place Jeff Keane and I had drawn at with the previous group in 2010. We were swamped from beginning to end, and several public affairs personnel were on hand to do some video and a print story on our visit… I’ll let
that describe our time at the USO center:

Some pics courtesy of staff Sgt. Scott Tynes:

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Me drawing away

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Bruce Higdon (Punderstatements)

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Micheal Ramirez (editorial cartoonist)

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Ed Steckley (MAD magazine/ Humorous Illustrator)

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Mike again

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Mason with a happy soldier holding an original B.C. drawing

Our next stop was kind of a surprise. We were just supposed to drop by an area of the base that housed the 2nd Calvary Regiment aka the “Muleskinners” to say hello and maybe sign some autograph cards. What we found was a room they had prepared for us complete with signs of our appearance and walls decorated with cartoons! So, we grabbed our drawing stuff and had an impromptu drawing session in a kind of recreational room. There was a huge line… one of the only real drawbacks to doing what we do is that it involved 10-15 minutes with each soldier. While that is awesome for us and for the soldiers we see, it really limits how many we can get through in a few hours. I draw pretty fast but not nearly as fast as I could if I didn’t chat so much with the troops I draw. We always seem to leave some people in line we couldn’t get to. I always feel bad about that.

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Ed and Mason atop an MWRAP on one of our stops about the base…

Just a bit about the famous KAF boardwalk… this is a crazy oasis in the middle of a base of rocks and dust. It’s a one kilometer square covered wooden boardwalk boasting over three dozen glass doored shops, coffee house, eateries, internet cafes and lounging areas…not to mention the ice rink, turf field and basketball court I mentioned before. This really is a unique area and it’s amazing it’s managed to stay open and operational through so many changes of command and missions. Here are some pictures:

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We broke for dinner at an authentic local Afghan eatery on the boardwalk… T.G.I. Fridays. While the ambiance and menu looked like one you might find in your hometown… trust me… nothing tasted like it does here at home. Steady supplies are an issue in places like Kandahar, so places like this are often out of stuff or use weird substitutes. My mashed potatoes were actually some kind of yam. Anyway, it just goes to show you how different life is no matter how hard they try and bring a bit of home there.

Before dinner Jeff and I went on a mission to find this bunker that our original group all drew inside of in 2010. We knew where it was before, and while it was gone from that spot we did find some of it just a short distance away, and took some pictures of it. There had been quite a few more signatures and scrawls added, and the sun peeking in the sides has faded some of them, but it was still there:

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Jeff and I find the wall of shame!

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Rick Kirkman (Baby Blues)

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I had done an Alfred

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Mike Luchovich (Editorial cartoonist)

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Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine)

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Some other additions as you can see… the bird was there before we drew on it

Here’s a link to my post from 2010 about originally doing the drawing.

Our final drawing session took place right on the boardwalk in this open decking area. This was a really great time, and we drew late… almost up until our time to go to the PAX to catch our flight out of Afghanistan and back to Kyrgyzstan, which would be out last stop before home. It really never gets old, even though I feel like I am asking the same questions over and over, I never get tired of talking with these men and women. Each has their own story, and while the country back home thinks of the military as an abstract, single organism it is really made up of individuals with their own hopes, dreams, fears and plans for the future… all of whom are roughly 7,000 miles from the people they love and the places they call home, doing often mundane and sometimes very dangerous jobs to serve our country and our freedoms. It’s a genuine honor to bring a few smiles to their faces.

Check back for the final wrap up tomorrow!

 

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