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Commentary: From snow storms to sand storms

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Caleb S. Kimmell
  • 435th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

I stepped off the bus in awe. In front of me sat a colossal C-17 Globemaster III, alone in a corner of the Ramstein Air Base flight line. Maintainers buzzed around like a busy hive of honeybees, and loadmasters strained to push bulky pallets into the belly of the plane. Hailing from Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, a C-17 was much different than the B-52’s I've been watching fly away for the past two years.

I followed the line of Airmen into the aircraft. The central chamber was chock-full of pallets containing a wide variety of items to support operations across Africa. It was a sight to behold, the absolute precision of how tightly this plane was packed to the gills.

After a few hours of being tossed around by turbulence and drowning out the aggressive hum of engines with my headphones, I felt the plane settle down into its destination.

I immediately felt the heat as soon as the aircrew opened the door to offload the cargo and passengers. I stumbled out and was blinded by the hot sun. I finally arrived at my destination: Air Base 201, Agadez, Niger.

Born and raised in Minnesota, nothing prepared me for the difference in geography.

I walked across the tarmac into a tent where I got my paperwork squared away, and was assigned my room. After that I met my sponsor, Capt. Austin Gouldsmith, an information operations officer. We hopped into his pickup and toured the base.

When I say base, I mean that in the loosest of terms. It’s exactly how I pictured a deployment environment would look, and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

Positioned just south of the Sahara Desert there’s barely anything but sand, heat and wind. We drove around the perimeter, looking out for miles over the barrier walls and fences. There were small scrub brushes, tumbleweeds and sparse patches of greenery scattered about the landscape. I thought to myself “How in the world does anyone or anything survive out here?”

The entire base consists of tents. You have medical, logistics, intelligence, security forces, all of these different agencies spread about left and right in coyote brown tents. It makes navigating the base feel like I’m an ant dashing through interconnected tunnels and small passages.

What stood out almost immediately from my first few hours in Agadez was everyone was calm and relaxed. It is a harsh environment, and everybody knows it. So to try and alleviate any hardships a person might encounter, every Airman is treated like family. We all get along because we’re all in this together.

After my short introductory tour, Gouldsmith took me to my room. It was a containerized living unit, commonly referred to as a “CLU.” The room was nice even though it resembled a prison cell. My room had an excellent view over a wall where I could scan the desert for miles.

That night I decided to take a short walk around the base, just to see what the Airmen do for fun in the evenings. When the sun sets, lamps and string lights brighten up the community with an inviting orange glow. There were small groups of people gathered around tables, either having a conversation over dinner or playing cards. People took advantage of the night-time temperature and played volleyball in the main courtyard. There were Airmen on their phones, having a conversation with loved ones thousands of miles away.

Even though the Airmen in Agadez dig through the dirt, get covered in sand and sweat for eight hours a day, I never saw a scowl. Not a single bitter Airman who just can’t stand life in the desert. No matter who I spoke with, nobody said that this was an awful experience. Challenging yes, but like I said, it’s the friends and coworkers who get you through it all. We all have a job to do, and we push each other. Every Airman here relies on their neighbor to hold him up. It’s truly an experience to behold.

Africa is a unique challenge that a lot of Airmen have never encountered, myself included. In the end, however, we all know that we’ll get to go home one day, and that is what makes us wake up each morning. There is a sense of pursuing to better yourself here at AB 201. Whether or not anyone here sees it, we will all come out of the desert as better Airmen, and better people, than we were before.