26 December 2008

Christmas spirit at Combat Outpost Kushmand

Michael Gisick of Stars and Stripes continues his reporting from Afghanistan, this time from the remote home of Company C, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Thanks, Mike!

Combat Outpost Kushmand, a dusty base home to about 100 U.S. soldiers, probably doesn’t fit the bill. Near the southern tip of the U.S. presence in eastern Afghanistan and a punishing, days-long drive from the next closest base, it is not overwhelming in its amenities. Until a week ago, there was no water for showers or laundry.

Snow covered ridges are just visible in the far distance, but Kushmand is a capital of dust, a plywood town on a barren plain. It’s chow hall is known as the "Dusty Spoon," although some wit removed the "S" and the "n" from the sign.

Call it what you will, it’s a well-regarded place to eat, and the post’s six Army cooks worked for several days ahead of Christmas to uphold their reputation. Longer, actually.

"We’ve been ordering food for this for three months," said the head cook, Sgt. First Class Wilford Coleman, Jr, 36, of Chipley, Fla.

"We don’t just cook stuff that comes in a bag," he said. "We cook real food. A lot of visitors tell us this place is better than those contractor chow halls."

Roast beef, steak and ham notwithstanding, as Christmas came and went the dusty outpost was still a long way from home. Nine-and-a-half time zones, by one measure. Seven-thousand and some miles, by another.

The post has no chapel. And, while a chaplain visited the base and performed a short service on Tuesday, there was no church on Christmas.

Sgt. James Kendall, a medic with Company C, 1st Battlalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, re-enlists on Christmas Day at Combat Outpost Kushmand in southeastern Afghanistan. Photo: Michael Gisick, Stars and Stripes.

Sgt. James Kendall, who re-enlisted in a Santa hat, was on his third [Christmas away from home]. But unlike some, he gave the holiday spirit a go.

"I just got done watching ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ " the 31-year-old said, sitting on the back steps of his plywood barracks as other soldiers tossed a football.

Spc. David Brasket, a medic attached to Company C, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, plays a hand-crafted drum set made from scrap metal, old oil drums and a garbage can as part of Christmas festivities at Combat Outpost Kushmand in southeastern Afghanistan. Photo: Michael Gisick, Stars and Stripes.

Later, after [Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser] and his entourage had flown off, an ad hoc band — a few infantrymen on guitar and a mechanic on drums — took to a corner of the "Dusty poo."

The mechanic, Spc. David Brasket, 25, of Vancouver, Wash., built the drums with scrap metal, some old oil drums and a garbage can during his lunch breaks. It took about two weeks. He tries to rock out twice a day, usually by himself.

Merry Christmas and come home soon!

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