After several years on the ground, I feel a need to help those packing for their first trip to Afghanistan. To anyone who is or has been here: Feel free to add to my list.
iPod / iPad
An iPod can help pass several hours of the militarys “hurry-up-and-wait” drills. You can fill your it with music, games, audio books, podcasts and videos. I personally travel with an unlocked iPhone 4 and an iPad2.
Unlocked Cell Phone
You can find tons of places to buy an unlocked phone online. Get it before you go overseas. The prices double when you get into country. There are a few carriers in Afghanistan and you can buy a SIM card at the local cell phone shops on base. (try tigerdirect.com)
A Reading List
If you are not a reader, consider becoming one. Eventually your iPod’s entertainment value will wane, particularly since Internet cafes here lack the bandwidth necessary to upload new material. I suggest giving your reading list to family and friends so they can send books on an as-needed basis. They will have the satisfaction of sending things you need and want, and your vocabulary will improve during those hours of “hurry up and wait.” Don’t forget to include periodicals. Once finished with your books and magazines, pass them along to others in your unit. Load your ipad up too! I have over 80 books and over 100 magazines loaded. The iPad saves tons of space.
Pictures of Friends and Family
This goes with out saying, pictures will be the only tie you have to family for a while. You cannot count on downloading pictures sent via e-mail. The connection at Internet cafes is slow and you will waste your 30 minutes on trying to download a photo, only to have the download not finish.
Thumb Drive / Memory Stick / External Hard Drive
You should buy a USB thumb drive or memory stick, at least one gigabyte in size. They take up very little room in your pocket and allow you to save pictures from friends on deployment, pre-composed e-mails and journal entries. That way, you can write e-mails at your leisure before heading to the Internet cafe. Once there (and under the 30-minute time crunch), you simply copy and paste the text into the body of an e-mail and send. Load up an external hard drive with tons of movies and tv shows. If you don’t have any, bring a couple extra hard drives so you can copy movies and tv shows from others on ground.
You can find cheap laptops on places like ebay.com and tigerdirect.com. Pick up something with at least a 500GB hard drive and 2GB of Ram. With all the movies and TV shows you are going to watch, it comes in handy. You can also document your deployment, keeping Operational Security in mind. Your friends and family will enjoy the end-product.
It takes very little room in your bag. It is also something your family and friends can send for a taste of home.
Flashlight / Head Lamp
Almost all of us have small LED headlamps which can be found at Wal-Mart or a mountain sports stores. I also use the hands-free lights daily walking around the installation on the roads at night, running at night, fixing things for which I need both hands. These are not tactical in any way shape or form, but they do have their purpose. Surefire lights are sold in the px’s. (Very expensive)
If you are sensitive to operational security, you should not have a problem with recording your deployment in photos or video. This is another peripheral device that will get lots of use with your laptop. Your family will enjoy the show when you return home.
A Good Pair of Sandals
Do not waste your time on $2 flip-flops they sell at the Exchange for use as shower shoes. Buy a good pair of sandals or flip-flops that will not puncture when walking across gravel. There is nothing more aggravating than having to walk back from the showers across dust or gravel after a cheap plastic flip-flops has broken.
The backpack will stay with you at all times while you are in transit. It should contain everything that you might need during the first 24 hours. There may be a considerable delay before you are re-united with your larger bag so that all of you will need to have all essential items in your backpack. Try North Face or 5.11 backpacks.
Here are some random things you might want to pack:
- zip-lock bags
- Bath towel & wash cloth (in a zip-lock bag)
- small toiletry kit (all liquids in screw-top caps)
- small flashlight
- pair of work gloves
- rain gear (small)
- Zip locked bag of snacks
- small pillow
- long sleeve shirt for chopper rides
- Copy of your passport / LOA
- Cell phone charger
- Credit Card / Debt Card / Get about $200.00 cash
Send most of your things to Afghanistan via USPS about 14 days ahead of time. Travel light.