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17 August 2009
The roads are so littered with enemy bombs that nearly all transport and resupply to this base occurs by helicopter. The pilots roar through the darkness, swoop into small bases nestled in the saddle of enemy territory, and quickly rumble off into the night.
A witness must spend only a short time in the darkness to know we are at war. Flares arc into the night, or mortar illumination rounds drift and swing under parachutes, orange and eerily in the distance, casting long, flickering but sharply defined shadows. The worst that can happen is that you will be caught in an open field, covered by nothing and concealed only by darkness, when the illumination suddenly bathes you in light. Best is to stay low and freeze and prepare to fire, or in the case of a writer, to stay low and freeze and prepare to watch the firing.
Explosions from unknown causes rumble through the cool nights while above drifts the Milky Way, punctuated by more shooting stars than one can remember. The Afghanistan nights will grant a wish to wish upon a shooting star. And while waiting for the next meteor, the eyes are likely to catch tracer bullets.
A CH-47 helicopter whirls in with a “sling load” of resupplies from Camp Bastion to FOB Jackson in Sangin.
The pilot comes in fast, to the dark landing zone, lighted only by “Cyalumes,” which Americans call “Chemlights.” The sensitive camera and finely engineered glass make the dark landing zone appear far lighter. The apparent brightness of the small Cyalumes provides reference.
A show begins as the helicopter descends under its halo.
The charged helicopter descends into its own dust storm.
Gently releasing the sling load.
The pilot hovers away from the load, pivots and begins to land.
The dust storm ripples and flaps over the medical tents.
Heat causes the engines to glow orange.
Dust begins to clear even before landing. The helicopter, under its own halo, casts a moon shadow.