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PIX11 News visits NY soldiers in Afghanistan

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BAGRAM, Afghanistan (PIX11) –  It was a long arduous flight from New York to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Dave Kimmel and I began our journey Friday night, flying from Andrews Air Force Base to Ramstein, Germany for an overnight stay before flying across Europe to Central Asia. We boarded the second largest aircraft in the US Air Force — a C17 that is so huge, the interior is just as wide as a New York subway tunnel.

This was a no frills flight, sitting on hard seats along the side of the aircraft, no in-flight entertainment, other than the DVDs and music we brought along.

For $4.60 we purchased a meal that was awful. Very spicy strips of chicken, barbecue chips, and Oreo cookies, along with a Dr. Pepper. We were flying as guests of the Air Mobility Command, which is probably the busiest airline in the world. AMC boasts one flight every two minutes.

We were permitted to  sit in the jump seat in the cockpit during takeoff and landing.  The sun faded behind odd shaped clouds as the jumbo jet rolled down the 9500 foot runway. The flight took us across Europe, The Czech Republic, Georgia and within 50 miles of Iran. About six hours into the flight, we were in Afghan air space. Below were the snow-covered rugged mountains of the Hindu Kush range, with peaks as high as 24,000 feet. Peering out the window wearing night vision goggles, the scene looked desolate and foreboding. Within minutes, we observed the shimmering lights of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

We arrived at Bagram Airfield around  3 a.m. and didn’t find our lodging until daybreak. Hotel California they call it. This place makes Motel 6 look good. But at this hour any room with a bed looked good. The entrance is fortified with sandbags and concrete walls to repel any incoming mortars. We found bedding and tried to get some shuteye before being jostled two hours later to prepare for our first day at this sprawling base that is home to 20,000 servicemen and women.  Pakistan is due east and Iran to the west. Afghanistan was once viewed as the gateway to Central Asia.

Bagram is a 30 square mile base once occupied by the Russians. It is seen as a prime target of the Taliban which has intensified its attacks on the base. A mortar hit here a couple of weeks ago, killing two people. This is still a war zone and there are inherent risks every day.  We drove to the edge of the base that is ringed with barbed wire.  Beyond the wire, an unbelievable sight, dozens of landmines planted by the insurgents.

We are here to visit New York servicemen and women and bring them a taste of the Big Apple  with Juniors cheesecake, Nathans hot dogs and Essa-a-bagel bagels. We are also bringing a bagful of presents and letting these New Yorkers know they haven’t been forgotten this holiday. You can see our reports on the PIX Morning News and the News at Ten.