Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 6

I witnessed a lot of last minute goodbyes and faces filled with emotions among the shifting troops at Camp Manas.

My team’s bags finally arrived, and I held out hope until the last minute that mine would come straggling in, but no such luck.

The PX was small, with limited inventories and almost no clothing for women. I purchased a towel, a pack of men’s t-shirts, socks and two pair of men’s trousers right before we went on lock-down for the flight to Afghanistan.

My laptop, good boots and stacks of neatly ironed Mossy Oak RedHead shirts with matching tactical pants would never find me now.

Seeing who got the good seats…

I learned a lot that day. Lock-down simply meant being locked in a very hot, large tent with all your belongings and a whole bunch of other sweaty people for a couple of hours while someone in the front screamed orders so fast I couldn’t understand a word. Thank goodness Lt. Col. (ret) Lew Deal could interpret the announcements for me.

Someone tipped me off that the seats along the sides of the plane were the best, but they were all full when I boarded. Far be it for me to argue over a seat, especially when the occupant has a 9-mm and I’m just wearing a boat anchor in the shape of a vest.

I think this guy’s got it.

But there is justice. I found a seat in the cramped front-middle of the plane and soon struck up conversation with a young man in a tan jumpsuit. He was a hunter so we hit it off immediately.

As the cargo was loaded, he asked if I would like to ride in the cockpit with him and the other pilot as we flew from Kyrgyzstan to deliver the load of passengers and gear. He didn’t have to ask me twice.

View from above the mountains of Kyrgyzstan

The sky was crystal clear, which gave me an eagle’s eye view of the mountains below.

We landed somewhere in Afghanistan, and about a dozen passengers loaded on a C-117 along with a menagerie of pallets, fuel tanks and things I couldn’t identify. But that left all kinds of against-the-wall seating on this flight.

We arrived at Camp Bagram sometime before midnight. Our contact assigned us a bunk. This place had none of the casualness we found at Camp Manas.

The obvious fortifications spelled war zone.

— Brenda


Brenda Valentine’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 5

Everyone at Camp Manas was packing and dragging firepower, except us hunters. We felt pretty under-dressed for the occasion.

Welcome to Camp Manas near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!

Thousands of troops pass through here each month. We arrived a little before dawn. After a short briefing, we settled into our bunks. Since I had only the clothes I was wearing, there wasn’t much unpacking to do.

Thank goodness my toothbrush, passport, American flags and cell phone were in my backpack. I figured I could simply borrow Jim Shockey’s hairdryer and Bill Miller’s lip-gloss.

Soon we were issued protective gear. The vest had thick bulletproof plates surrounding our vitals and felt as if they weighed a ton. No kidding. The vest alone was like wearing two concrete blocks over my shoulders (and I am a very strong woman). I can’t imagine how some of the small-frame girls handle this piece of gear all day in the triple-digit heat. My helmet is certainly off to them.

Now I feel a bit overdressed…

That evening we had a formal meet and greet with the troops at Pete’s Place, the main gathering point at camp. We met servicemen from everywhere, but a group of former Florida cowboys from the Red Horse Unit and some guys from Guam hung with us till quitting time.  I met a couple of young female enlistees from the St. Louis area who wanted to get into turkey hunting.

The common thread we shared was a love of country and hunting.

— Brenda