Distant World a Couple Miles Away

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FOB Salerno, Afghanistan (March, 2008)

Last night at 10pm I found myself walking by starlight down a deserted gravel road in eastern Afghanistan. There was no noise, no disturbance, no lights. Only silence and stars. My thoughts wandered. I thought of masked marauders and bogeymen carrying AK-47s. But they didn’t show. It was just me, the stars, and the jagged hills on the horizon.

Then…. distant gunfire and the sounds of celebration. Snap, crackle, pop! The distance made it sound like fire crackers. I stopped in my tracks and listened for something more distinct. The muffled sounds of distant cheers suddenly gave way to something much louder….

“Allaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah akbar…………….. Allaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah akbar……………..”

The after-dark call to prayer from a distant mosque, amplified and off-key. I stayed where I was, closed my eyes, and let the sound ease into my ears. When I opened my eyes again, I noticed Orion disappearing over the horizon and felt the moonlight on the back of my neck. The air was still. ‘How can life feel so peaceful in the midst of a war?’ I thought.

Welcome to nightlife on Salerno FOB (Forward Operational Base), next to the city of Khost, about 20 miles from the Pakistani border. No hustle, no bustle, no lights— they’d make an easy target for nighttime mortar fire. At Salerno, we enjoy the stars and the moon and the sounds of a distant world a couple miles away.

I arrived here last week after an epic journey through Europe and Asia. I caught up with my past in London and Hamburg, and then embraced the present in Istanbul and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. From Kyrgyzstan I flew by C-17 to Bagram Airbase and then by C-130 to Salerno FOB. Here at Salerno I’ll be teaching college classes to US soldiers for the next 4 months.