Monday, March 22, 2010

What You Need to Bring Overseas as a Contractor

© 2010 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles and
The Range Reviews: Tactical
$g&m f9bd 45kd q!?5.
Afghanistan Lessons Learned:
Contractor Edition

Having now spent some time in Afghanistan, I have learned through first hand experience, sometimes painful, and through observation, what are some of the less obvious things you should bring with you. (This covers non-Force Protection personnel.)

Things to know:
The US Mail will be your life line. USPS Flat Rate Priority takes anywhere from 5 days (East Cost sender) to 15 days to arrive at the Bagram Post Office. SAM (Space Available Mail) can take much longer.  Depending on where you are, it could be another ten days before it gets to you after it hits Bagram. So if you are out on some FOB or COP, I am really sorry, you are looking at three weeks minimum. That's just the way it is in a hostile environment.

Anything with liquid in it that is to be mailed, must be well packed, the bottle top sealed with filament tape, and the box similarly secured with tape on all edges! Spend the money and get a couple of roles of the filament tape. There is nothing more disappointing than getting a box that got all torn up and finding your things gone. Do not over pack boxes, a bulging box will pop and the contents become lost in transit. Similarly, a loosely packed box will be crushed, the box torn apart and the contents lost. Pack the box tight, use newspaper to fill in the gaps!

Dust is omnipresent. Be prepared with personal allergy relief meds if necessary. Contact lens wearers need lubricating eye drops.

You will get sick as a dog. If you are smart you will bring two boxes of generic Dayquil, and two boxes of generic Nyquil gelcaps. This will help get you through the initial incident. Bring aspirin, ibuprofen, and/or acetaminophen as you prefer.

If you take a prescription medication regularly, you need to bring a six month supply of your meds with you. There are no pharmacies on BAF, KAF, or any of the FOBs. You may be able to use or one of the online pharmacies though.

Things to have:
Chapstik regardless of your gender! You are not used to the dry climate/altitude.
Good quality hand lotion. Hand washing is constant.
Babywipes, large pack. For the days when there is no water to bathe with.
Two pair of ballistic sunglasses. Z87+ rated.
If you wear reading glasses, bring a spare.
Nail clippers, small and large
Shemagh. Basically a large square scarf that you fold into a triangle for covering your face.
A good day pack.
A pack of thumbtacks! They are perpetually in short supply.
A couple dozen nails, 6d commons or finish. Always hard to find!

Two of everything you use as toiletries. Often the exchange is out of items... for a long time.
Two toothbrushes.
Two tubes of toothpaste.
Two deodorant sticks.
Two large bars of soap. (Might as well grab the hotel ones too before you go.)
Two full size bath towels (three is actually better.)
Two wash cloths.
Two cans of shaving cream. Tape the top on, and put them in individual plastic bags in your checked luggage.
As many packs of blades for your razor as you think you will need. You won't find what you need at the PX when you need it.

Feminine hygiene products in particular, are always in short supply!
Conditioner! Conditioner! Buy the good stuff... So I am told.

Anti fungal foot powder
Talcum powder
Qtips, large pack.

Bring a good pillow! You will thank me for it.
Two sets of twin sheets. You need to change them weekly!
Ship a quilt ahead of time if possible. Otherwise bring it with you.

2 pair of broken in boots. I like OTBs myself.
12 pair of good socks. Darn Tough Vermont top my list.
12 sets of underwear.
12 sets of t-shirts.
3 sets of UnderArmor tee shirts. Expensive, but worth every penny.
Hoodie or sweatshirt and sweatpants for hanging around or extra warmth.
Wool cap
Baseball cap
Buy your work trousers stateside. They are over-priced at the PX. I have been using 5-11 trousers and I am relatively satisfied with them.
One set of blue jeans. Good for your mental well being.
Flip-flops/shower shoes

Good quality flashlight. At minimum a Mini MagLight. SureFire would be better.
An MP3 player. Trust me, it will be one of your few pleasures.
Spare batteries. Get lithiums, they're expensive but they last longer.
Multi-tool like a Leatherman or Gerber. I also have one of those small tool kits with allen wrench, torx, Phillips, square, and straight bits along with the driver handle. I must use it at least once a week!
Two sets of addresses, passwords, copies of your Ids etc. Stash one away in your hootch and another in your pack.
Gel type Crazy Glue.
Canned air! Have it mailed to you in packs of three! You need to blow out your computer every couple of days. If you have a DVD player, same goes.
Medium sized RubberMaid or Tupperware food bins for your snacks.
A set of Squishy Bowls and Utensils™. I used mine constantly.

In your carry-on:
fleece blanket for the flight. It's long...
Headache remedy
Chewing gum
Power bars
When traveling to or from theater, be inconspicuous. Wear casual but comfortable clothes. Think business casual, not contractor casual.

More things to know:
Break your boots in before you go!
If you are going to use insoles, use good ones.
Get your Eagle Cash Card as soon as possible.
The laundry turn-around in Bagram is usually seven days. (As of 7/10-10/10)
The shower facilities are quite capable of burning you. Be careful.
All bases are dangerous. They are no different than any other big city.
Always travel in pairs. Especially women!
Know where your bunker is.
Keep your body armor handy, clean, and well maintained.
One more time! When traveling to or from theater, be inconspicuous. Wear casual but comfortable clothes. Think business casual, not contractor casual.

That's my list for now. As I remember anything else that's pertinent, I'll add it in.  Traveling to Afghanistan and working there can be difficult. It is an austere environment, and anything that can make it more comfortable and bearable is a good thing to do. Your company will not prepare you adequately! Remember, it is the small things that make it tolerable, so keep that in mind!

Best regards,

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