The Soldiers gathered their combat gear and walked in the darkness to the helicopters waiting nearby. Roll call was taken several times, and then the engines started and the helicopters were ready and we loaded up and flew away.
The helicopters flew in black out through the night. Inside the cabin was dark. The only light was an infrared firefly on someone’s helmet, and it was flashing invisibly, but apparently it was enough light for my full-spectrum camera.
The helicopters landed in a marijuana patch. The light was very dim. The dust from the rotors and movement of Soldiers along with the splash from the moon permitted moments for using the lens as a paintbrush. The aperture and shutter and sensitivity are the brushstrokes, while the sensor is the canvas. The uncommon moment changes everything with the camera. In such opportunities, the camera should not be viewed as an objective recording device, but as a paintbrush to express what can never be objectively captured. An enemy rocket into a helicopter would dramatically change the moment and that would be real. A bullet in the chest. A bomb underfoot. Other than those realities, there were some moments for art.
We moved away from our helicopter which roared away, and then another helicopter roared away, its rotors sparkling with the Kopp-Etchells Effect, while its hot engines were captured on the tiny canvas inside the camera.
The Soldier points; there is a pistol on his side. The helicopters disappear, and now only the sounds of breathing and the crunching of parched soil under boot can be heard. There is also the pungent smell of growing marijuana, outlawed in America but as normal here as okra. Alcohol is forbidden here, while marijuana and opium-poppy grow by the thousands of tons. A sentence for alcohol here could be as severe as a sentence for heroin in the United States. Bar tabs in America are paid with money that says “In God We Trust,” while Afghans are notorious drinkers and are normally barred from Kabul bars. And here we were, in a marijuana patch, in Kandahar Province, hypocritically calling each other hypocrites.
Maybe that’s why so many people prefer the life of a Soldier. Moments like this are simple.
For some people, war is a duty. For others, a gateway. For a few, war is a gateway drug.