"All I wanted was a mission, and for my sins they gave me one"

The arrow points to a couple of Taliban prisoners.  All you can really see is their helmets, blindfold and hoods.  The soldiers are securing them to the floor of the plane.  Our dogs were in their travel cages with all sorts of stuff stacked on top They were in between the row of seats on either side of the plane.  It was a pretty tight fit as you can see.  Also, technically, the dogs are not suppose to be anywhere close to prisoners. This is a knee jerk reaction after the Abu Ghraib fiasco. Technically this flight with its passengers didn't really happen, wink wink, nod, nod. 


Yes they did.  The day started at 04:30 with a rocket attack alarm.  By now these were not a big deal.  Chow at 05:00 and then time to walk the dog, clean kennels and feed him.  This was routine everyday so nothing had changed in Kandahar.  Training started at 07:00 and we normally ended in an hour or two so we could get the training done before the heat became too much for the dogs.  There was much discussion within the rumor mill as to when we would be leaving Kandahar for our duty locations.  Word came after training from the head trainer that no dogs would be traveling due to a kennel cough quarantine. 

My dog, as well as all the k-9s that had traveled with me to Afghanistan, were fine.  None was sick and in fact we had taken measures to protect them.  I had spoken to the folks in charge and explained this fact to them.  Plus the fact that our dogs had been separated from all the other dogs here to keep them healthy. We as well as our dogs were housed miles away from the others. I knew that the US Vet had cleared our dogs so I was puzzled at the info we were not moving.  I later found out why.

After training, I and four other handlers were requested to report to the administration office.  There we were informed to get packed and ready to move.  We were leaving in two hours.  Turns out the “No dogs are moving” was to calm the handlers that had been stuck here in Kandahar for a while. Their dogs were quarantined,  not ours.

Packing consisted of stuffing everything we owned into two bags.  This of course meant the remaining handlers inherited all sorts of stuff we couldn't carry. Food, drinks, magazines, plastic three drawer chests, extra pillows, and all those things that made living in a tent on a cot a little better were all expendable.
At 14:00 (2pm) the truck arrived and we loaded our bags, kennels, dogs, and ourselves for the ride to the flight line.  There we waited for boarding. We were returned our passports and issued our admin files to take with us on the flight.  At about 19:30 (730pm) we got on a bus to move to the aircraft.  Once we stopped at the plane we were all a little surprised.  This was not a big cargo flight at all.  In fact it was small. I mean real small compared to the giant cargo planes you normally think of. The aircraft was a C27J Spartan.  The name Spartan fit quite well.  We loaded the kennels, bags, and all of the handlers.  I sat at the forward most position so I could see the cockpit and out the windscreen.  It was really interesting.  The crew was friendly and extremely efficient.  Seating was actually comfortable.  Considering we sat with our backs against the side of the plane facing the middle, our feet propped up on the cargo and sat strapped onto basically web hammocks.  Compared to the commercial flight, I prefer this.  Looking out the open cargo door in the rear as we moved down the runway you could feel the power this little workhorse of a plane had.  As we gained speed for flight the cargo door closed and locked.
In an instant the nose pointed up and we jumped into the air.  The big engines roared and you could feel the power this thing had as you strained to keep from leaning into each other from the g force pushing you rearward straining against the restraints we wore.  Within a short time everything leveled out. The dogs which had been barking constantly settled and we all relaxed for the flight to wherever we were going. We had not been told our destination. 
After about an hour you could hear a change in the engines and we descended sharply into the night landing smoothly somewhere.  The engines did not shut down and we were told we were taking on cargo.  In fact the cargo was Taliban prisoners and their heavily armed guards.  Within a few minutes they arrived, flex cuffed, wearing anti spit hoods and shackled.  They were placed on the floor of the aircraft and for all intents and purposes, strapped down like cargo. They were not going anywhere.  Plastic barf bags were supplied to the guards for the prisoners.  I was told by the crew that the prisoners had a tendency to get sick.  Stress and normally the first time ever flying would get to them.  My feelings?  Oh Well!

The dogs went nuts when they got on.  Not sure why, probably they could smell the adrenalin the prisoners had to be putting out.   The crew, also armed I might add, made a final check and we once again leapt into the air.  This time there were a series of fairly sharp turns and some pretty steep climbs.  I have no idea if it was terrain induced or something else, just that we were doing some pretty heavy maneuvers.
Some time later, OPSEC requires me to leave times out, we landed.  When the cargo door opened the prisoners and guards departed and we were met by Airforce personnel to help us unload and move to a waiting area.  I asked a sergeant, " Hey. where are we?"  He said, “Welcome to Bagram Air Field."
We met up with our contact and were shuttled to the K-9 area where we would be staying.  I moved into a building, threw my bags down and found out the basic info all soldiers and civilians in a war zone need to know.  Where is the latrine, where is the dining facility, and where do I go when (not if) the siren blows.  Once acquiring the needed info, I pretty much collapsed into the top bunk in a wood barracks building.  It was now 03:30 and one hour short of 24 since we had started. Yes it had been a very long day. 
BTW This is not my final destination but only another way-point in a journey that will take me to the front line of this conflict, that is, if there is such a thing as a front line.
More later,

Jon Harris