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Pitch Black

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan – This is by far the darkest FOB I’ve ever been on.

By 7 p.m., it’s pitch black out here, and to leave a lighted area like the dining facility results in a few seconds of total blindness.

Salerno does not accommodate you with any lights, presumably because they’d make the base an easy target for the rocket-wielding insurgents in the nearby mountains. The predictable result is a desperate attempt among base residents not to slam into concrete barriers, wooden footbridges and each other.

Sensible soldiers keep magic-marker-sized LED flashlights clipped to their belts — available for only $8.68 at the on-base PX while supplies last — leaving little discs of red or blue light on the chunks of white stone that carpet Salerno. The moon is the closest thing to a floodlight.

The darkness makes people revert to a childlike state of fear. Well, I’ll speak for myself. At the media operations center my first night here, another journalist, who stepped outside for some fresh air, walked in with a look of concern on his face.

“Did you hear that?” he asked. I hadn’t.

When I walked outside to investigate, it turned out his alarm was completely justified. A loud — very loud — whining howl emanated from somewhere in the nearby brush: Eeee-yaaaaaaal, eeee-yaaaaaaaal.

As soon as one call began to die down, several more sounded off. Whatever was making that noise — a wolf? — it had brought along its family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

Tired and hungry as I was, I didn’t travel halfway around the world to be eaten by something. I stayed at the center until closing time, then tiptoed to my tent, heart racing, eyes trying to adjust to the dark.

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