Dawn over Bagram Airfield was a dull gray. A high ceiling of clouds softened the morning. Dust, that thick Afghan dust that rose from every road and covered every building, tree, and plane, was rising from the paved roads and the dirt paths between buildings. It blurred the outlines of the Hindu Kush rising up in the distance beyond the base and the town, snow-covered and angular against the growing light. Chaplain Aaron Kiko trudged from his quarters up Disney Drive toward the chapel, his booted feet stirring up more dust as he went. The chapel was his, and these were his airmen, at least for the moment.
Kiko was greeted by airmen and contractors and a few soldiers alike. Some were going for morning runs in their physical training uniforms and garish visibility belts while the road was closed off, while others hustled to or from their work shifts. Many were going to dining facilities for breakfast, or to the post exchange for toothpaste or protein powder or magazines. The steady stream of “Good morning, Chaplain,” “Hey, Chaplain,” “How’s it going, Chaplain?” broke up the trip. A few saluted, but only a few, which was just fine with him. The base hummed with activity from vehicles and the roar of planes coming and going, even at this hour. That hum never stopped.
There were still times when Kiko loved the hum and roar of the airfield, even though the din grated on everyone’s nerves most of the time. The noise was constant, with flying machines coming and going at all hours, construction all day, and motor vehicles passing constantly. The aircraft arriving and departing from the flightline were still beautiful as they banked in the air over and in front of the mountains. Sometimes it was the loud whoosh of a F-15 Strike Eagle trailing well behind the tiny outline of the craft streaking into the clouds, or the incredibly loud whine of C-5 Galaxy engines as the enormous cargo birds lumbered on and off of the airfield like mechanized bumblebees, appearing too slow and heavy to stay in the sky. Every day it was the roar of turboprops on HC-130 Combat King airborne refueling units as they took off, and the growl and thump of HH-60 Pave Hawks as they beat the air overhead. Many airmen became so immune to the flying machines around them that they no longer looked up for anything less than the mortar alarms, but Kiko still stopped to watch or listen when he could.
There wasn’t much time to stop and watch on a base of thirty-five thousand personnel. Days like this Sunday were particularly exhausting: he’d been up until almost midnight, between sitting with various soldiers after his evening meal and planning a memorial service for the next afternoon, and had fallen into bed, for once too tired to lie awake thinking about the grieving soldiers he had counseled that day. Still, he appreciated the routine of being on base. Kiko’s first tour as a war zone chaplain had been as a modern-day circuit preacher of sorts. He’d made the rounds to forward operating bases throughout the south of the country, holding services and counseling soldiers and airmen in all sorts of conditions, through all sorts of troubles, leading worship amidst rocket fire and reading meditations by the red light of his headlamp.