Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Kandahar 500 - How Middleboro Jones earned his "racing chit" while in Afghanistan, January 2010

Today was spent watching NASCAR as they raced at the Texas Motor Speedway, which was right across the street from the hotel I stayed at prior to shipping off to Afghanistan a year ago.

Racing was never something I thought I would have to do when I was in country, but like many other things that occurred in Afghanistan, it couldn't get any frickin' weirder than racing in the " Kandahar 500 ". What is that you say?? Take a listen and I will relate the story of how Middleboro Jones got to earn his road racing chit while in country.

THE KANDAHAR 500 - January 2010

It is best to double check & make sure you know what’s you are getting into before you accept an invitation, especially out here in the sandbox.

The latest adventure for Middleboro Jones started out innocently enough. I’m standing outside smoking my cigar to catch a break from glow of the blue haze of the computer screen at my desk and all the usual craziness…. A colleague was across the yard is calling my name and waving me over….

I went over to her as she was standing outside the 10 passenger van that we have for the HR group. She said, “C’mon, we’re picking up some new vehicles and we need another driver.” OK, that sounds like a request that I could assist with….I get in the van with some others I know including a big guy who works in Fire Control called “Cowboy”. He falls in to the category of character you would go out drinking with one night, wind up in a jail cell with him, and he would be saying, “Man, that was fun….let’s do it again..”

As we proceeded down the roads, I notice we are getting closer to the perimeter of the base and as I look out the window, I notice we are at the ECP (Entry Control Point). IT is at that moment that my colleagues tell me that the vehicles we are getting are outside the wire (i.e. outside the confines & PROTECTION of the base)

…..Now, sometimes, vendors bring goods to the ECP for a handoff. That is OK because it occurs right in front of the guards and is a protected area. In this case, we are now proceeding out the gate and down the road away from KAF…. We are no longer on the base, nor have an armed escort, nor have armor surrounding us as we travel. We are in a plain van, unarmed and without “Battle Rattle”(Vests & Kevlar helmets) or weapons ….This is not good.

We proceed to the end of the first road, about a half a mile, take a right and drive down to the end of the next road, (another ½ mile), take a left and then proceed on to a third road. As we drive down these roads, both sides are lined with broken buildings, collapsed structures and lots of ragged looking hovels which are likely someone’s home……This is not good times 100.

We proceed to turn left into a gated compound, which is full of fairly new vehicles. The vendor operates a construction company and rents vehicles on the side….outside, a small group of children with tattered clothes, dirty & unwashed , play in the dust at the side of the road….they are smiling & trying to have fun but are in need of many things we are unable to provide them. Total distance covered, roughly 1 ½ miles or as we would say here, too F#$King far to be on your own without the proper items LIKE WEAPONS or ARMOR.

Now the tricky part, we got out here, now – we have to get back….They have us line up and get ready to go like the fires of hell itself were licking at the rear bumper of the vehicle…They put me in the lead (which is where I want to be because if there is a vehicle in front of me, and it slows down, I am liable to run it off the road !) – The little man opens the gate & I decided to find out how fast the Toyota Forerunner can REALLY Go…I hit the gate & I’m off like a shot – The Toyota screams as I pushed the pedal into the carpet – The Forerunner reaches 75-80 mph quickly as the road is a straight shot…I get to the end of the first stretch and round the corner at 50 miles an hour…as the tires squeal their disapproval, I’m back up to 75-80 miles an hour heading down the road again…

The locals are checking out the cars (7 of us) proceeding down this crappy Afghan road like we were driving the Kandahar 500 - 100 miles an hour, 6 inches of each other’s bumpers….The next corner is rounded like the first and then, in the haze of dust, I can see the gates of the base about a ½ mile away. The traffic has increased a bit as we are nearing the gates and we slow to a more respectable pace – in this area, the last thing you want to do is approach a ECP at high speed – behavior like that, regardless of reason will get you lit up like a Christmas Tree… pull up slowly up to the gate, show my Base ID and proceed back into the safety & confines of KAF.

In my mind, I recall a line from the first Star Trek Movie, after the Enterprise escapes the worm-hole effect that nearly wrecks the ship….

Captain Kirk: Status Report, Mr. Chekov -
Ensign Chekov: No casualties reported sir….”
Dr. McCoy : WRONG Mr. Chekov! There are casualties – MY WITS, as in “frightened out of, Captain Sir.”

At that moment, I felt a kinship with the good Doctor McCoy as I had never felt before….Yup – The world has two types of people who pull off these kind of stunts – lucky amateurs and professionals.

Today, we were a group of dangerous/lucky amateurs begging for the fickle finger of fate not to screw up our day….I am glad to be here to report that the “Fates” obviously had other things to do…..whew. Middleboro Jones lives to ride again……BUT not like that…no sir…It does not bode well to temp the “Fates” more than once. And I’ve used up my allotment of chances for the immediate future.

YEP, that was how I earned my "racing chit" last January in Afghanistan......It calls to mind the words of one of the world's greatest writers:

" Auto racing, bull fighting, and mountain climbing are the only real sports… all the others are games.." – Ernest Hemingway

I would have to agree.

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