Lifestyle & Belief

Salsa night in Kandahar

At the sprawling US military Kandahar Airfield, in Southern Afghanistan, there are many ways to entertain oneself on a year-long deployment, including Salsa night. That's every Saturday. Correspondent Ben Gilbert has a report from Kandahar.

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Rocket attacks are a regular occurrence at Kandahar Airfield. Sirens pierce the air signaling incoming fire � and thousands of troops duck into cement bunkers but this isn't an air raid. This is �salsa night.�

Specialist Joaqim Chavez and a friend look on as about 100 couples swing and dance in the cool autumn air on a Friday night at Kandahar's �Boardwalk.� It's a rectangular wooden walkway with a roof, open on the sides. Salsa night is one of the events held on the stage here�

�Well, it's as close as we're going to get to home, so we're enjoying it. Something to look forward to for the weekend. It breaks up the monotony of the week. Makes the time go by faster��

And it's one of the few times troops can touch the opposite sex while they're deployed. There are an estimated 25,000 troops based here at KAF, as the main military headquarters for southern Afghanistan is known. They stock supplies, take care of the journalists coming through, and fuel the fighter jets stationed here�.

But when they're not working, they need something to do and the boardwalk supplies it. It's the epicenter of entertainment at Kandahar Airfield. There are restaurants and shops. Barbeques and concerts.

There are also two volleyball courts, a softball field, a basketball court, and a concrete, or �dry,� hockey rink. The Canadians built it. Donny Okum is a Canadian soldier who lives here, but drives supplies to troops out in the field. He says this is a good way to pass the time during a seven month deployment.

�Yeah, something to do at night,� he says. �There's a league that runs 24 teams, 550 people playing, with four different countries. It's a good league, but tonight just screwing around�.

The Canadians have been around Kandahar since 2006 � and they've built hockey rinks on even the smallest of bases. It's their national pastime, says Gerrid Ferguson, another Canadian Army truck driver. He doesn't see any problem with the fact that he's playing hockey while a war is going on not far away.

�My last tour I was out in the desert the whole time, dug in, so to come back this time and have something like this on this tour, it's not too bad. So what comes around goes around.�

That's great for those who have come around�but some living in small, spartan forward operating bases , or FOBS, aren't exactly happy about the relative luxury here.

Specialist Matthew Dimercurio, Private Allen Nichols and Private Marshall Wesley sat at a booth at Kandahar Airfield's TGI Friday's sharing a Sunday. Their rifles sit at their sides on the red faux leather benches. All three soldiers are from route clearance units, meaning they hunt for explosives, and live at small bases far from KAF. Two of these guys are here because of injuries, the other one, training. They'll head back out to their units soon. They like the chai tea frappes and other amenities at the boardwalk but it's also a bit much.

�People are pampered here�infantry and route clearance guys out there doing work, and we don't' get anything. The medical staff, logistic guys here get everything, and we're screwed. Yeah, they get all the cool stuff. Guys who are outside the wire all the time, we're out at little itty bitty FOBs, and we're lucky if get to go back to our choo at night and play on computer, play x box, that's the height of our day.�
Gilbert: �So you don't object to it but make little more spread out�
�Yeah, my FOB's been there for eleven years�no barbershops, you have to let your buddy from Kentucky cut your hair. You're like what are you doing man? It's pretty sad�.

So these guys are living it up while they can. They also do some shopping while they're here. Afghan's sell black market DVDs and local knick-knacks at a weekly bazaar. And the American PX, or Postal Exchange, is like a small Wal-Mart in the desert. IT sells everything from gold rings to TVs and computers. All the better to capture the combat pay these soldiers are making while they're overseas, and a nice respite from the realities of the war outside the gate.