Bagram Airfield is in the eastern part of Afghanistan, and it is the largest U.S. base in the country. The airfield is a hub of constant activity at all hours of the day and night. The air is filled with a cacophony of different sounds that constantly fight for the attention of anyone that is willing to give heed. There are large cargo planes constantly moving servicemembers and supplies into the country, out of the country, and around the country with the deep bass drone of their massive engines. There are fighter jets that take off with their engines at full afterburner that will cause your ears to ring for minutes after they have taken off like a blast from a brass instrument, and there are smaller prop-driven aircraft that are constantly moving into and out of the airbase. These smaller prop-driven aircraft supply the tenor hum that accompanies the bass of the large cargo planes. Not to mention the plethora of helicopters that are coming and going non-stop which are the percussionists of the group. Add into the mix the constant movement of vehicles, which I liken to the woodwinds of the symphony, up and down Disney Avenue (the main road on Bagram), and you have a constant assault on your eardrums that is anything but musical.
What is surprising, though, is how quickly you become desensitized to this crammed together symphony of noise. You essentially become ear-blind to everything that is going on around you, and you cease to recognize it. That is until everything falls silent.
It is late January of 2013, and I am well into the second month of my second trip to Afghanistan. During this trip, I am working in the Regional Command – East (RC-East) Headquarters which is located on Bagram Airfield. This particular morning, at about 0500 (5 AM), I walked over to the headquarters building from my room, of distance of only about 200 yards. I spent my day working from my desk in the Combined Joint Nine (CJ 9) office where all Civil-Military Operations for RC-East were tracked, coordinated, and planned for both military and civilians working in the area.
I did not leave the headquarters building during the day because there was a chow hall located downstairs which kept us from having to leave the compound and walk the quarter mile to the next nearest chow hall (we did sometimes walk just to get out of the building, but we didn’t this day). I spent my evening that day just like I did every evening: I went to the daily briefing with the Deputy Commanding General for RC-East, and then I went back up to my desk until about 2100 (9 PM).
I left the building to walk to my room expecting to hear the symphony that I had grown accustomed to, but tonight things were different. As I exited the building, I walked into a foot of snow on the ground that had not been there earlier when I had walked to work. In fact, I had no idea that it was supposed to snow that day at all, let alone an entire foot. While the snow was the first thing that I noticed, the lack of noise was what gave me pause.
The sounds that I described above were noticeably absent from the airfield. The only sounds that I could hear were the sounds of my boots crunching the snow beneath my feet as I walked and the sound of snowflakes hitting the ground. I had never been in a snowfall where the surrounding area was quiet enough to hear the falling snow hit the ground. I was completely amazed at how silent the entire base was. I felt as if I was the only person on the base because I could not hear anyone or anything moving except for me. I was stunned into absolute stillness as I listened in vain for anything other than the falling snow. There were no vehicles on the road, there were no aircraft taking off or landing, and there were no other people walking around where I was. The moment was holy, and I felt that it was sacrilege to move because any noise that I made was alien to the moment. I felt as if the entire country was at peace, and it made me wonder if this kind of peace will ever be present in the country of Afghanistan again. I forgot for a few minutes that I was in a country that was devastated by war and surrounded by people that would occasionally launch some sort of rocket or mortar into our base trying to kill someone.
For the few minutes that I stood silently admiring the peace and quiet, I was not in Afghanistan. I was not 8,000 miles away from everyone that I loved and the safety of home. I was not in the middle of a war zone where anything could happen in an instant to destroy life. For a few minutes, I was the only person alive, and I got to simply enjoy the beauty, peace, and silence of a winter snowfall.
That night I slept soundly not disturbed by loud noises or worried about a mortar coming in and having to rush to a bunker. That night I was safe, and I could dream about sharing that amazing experience with my wife and kids the next morning when I got to talk to them online.
I deployed to Afghanistan twice during my career, but I only experienced that type of silence and peace that one sacred night. I believe that the experience is exceedingly rare, as are all spiritual experiences, and I pray that anyone who is deployed to Afghanistan gets to have the experience that I had. While there is much about my deployments that I want to forget and move past, the night that Bagram Airfield fell silent is a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Josh Davis is a retired U.S. Army First Sergeant. He is Ranger qualified, Airborne qualified, and SERE-C qualified. He is the recipient of the Expert Infantryman Badge, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star, and numerous foreign jump wings. He has a B.A. in Religion from American Military University and a M.A. in Human Services Counseling with a Life Coaching cognate from Liberty University. He lives with his wife and three kids in Buford, GA where he works as a freelance writer and is a barbering student.