‘The road to Kyrgyzstan’ | TheFencePost.com

‘The road to Kyrgyzstan’

I am not going to rant about anything this week and instead I am going to tell you a story.

When I was a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks, N.D., after 911 the Grand Forks Air Force Base was sending airmen and women to Kyrgyzstan where we had set up a temporary base.

A photographer and I prepared to fly to the base on a KC 135 Stratotanker. That’s the plane that can fuel other planes in the air.

Part of our preparation included putting on chemical warfare gear, which I told my handler that he better make sure I didn’t have to do again. The gas mask was a bit claustrophobic.

Before the journey started, I wrote a column for the daily paper titled “The road to Kyrgyzstan” about what the photographer and I had to do to before the trip with a photo of us in our chemical warfare gear.

In the column, I wrote, “Now I suppose you are thinking, just what is Rona K. Johnson going to do with chemical warfare defense equipment?

Well, according to Deputy chief of Readiness Harold James, ‘God willing the creek won’t rise too high, and you won’t have to use this stuff.”

As luck would have it, we were going to stay overnight at the air force base in Mildenhall, England, where my oldest daughter was stationed. So, I got to spend a night with her and her buddies at their favorite watering hole.

The airmen and women we flew with were teenagers, some had already been to Kyrgyzstan and for others it was their first time.

It was such an honor for me to travel with these people even though it was so cold that I had to put all the clothes I had in my suitcase on to keep warm. The air force didn’t tell us to bring a sleeping bag, which is what they used to keep warm on these flights.

We also didn’t have seats which they reserve for when senators and representatives fly with them. It was apparent that newspaper reporters and photographers didn’t have any clout with the military.

We were supposed to stay at a cushy hotel in the capital city of Bishkek but those plans fell apart and we stayed in tents on base instead. The accommodations weren’t that bad, but we were warned not to keep any food in the tent because of rats that were the size of cats.

I was thinking about this story as I was going through all my past articles that I’m putting together for my family when I’m no longer on this earth.

I hope you enjoyed my trip down memory lane.


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