Leaving Afghanistan: Our Longest War | Home Sweet Home – Life in a Kandahar 'RLB'

Posted at 11:17 AM, Oct 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-30 23:29:23-04

When home is more than 9,000 miles away, the next best thing may be a retrofitted shipping container – so long as it has air conditioning.

Here, they’re called by the acronym RLBs, though few of the men who use those letters are sure what they stand for. The answer is ReLocatable Building – a barracks for the modern era, designed to be easily movable when the war moves on.

On Kandahar Air Field (KAF), American units tend to be housed as close together as possible. The men and women of the 276th engineering company live mostly together in two neatly-stacked rows of RLBs. They share an open courtyard with a transportation company from Tennessee. Orange Tennessee “T” flags supporting the Volunteers drape from the second level of RLB’s on one side of the courtyard, a Kansas City Chiefs flag flies from the other.

Men and women use the courtyard as a gathering place when the day starts in early morning darkness, and as a place to review the day gone by at night. Care packages often end up on a table, built into a small gazebo. Soldiers rifle through packages of girl scout cookies, Slim Jim beef sticks and DVDs sent from friends, relatives and strangers back home.

Massive concrete blast walls surround each row of RLB’s, and at each end are bunkers, lined with sand bags to protect from the occasional rocket attack.

Soldiers sleep two to a unit, and each pair’s container is their castle, or, their cave. The closest place to somewhere solitary they’re likely to get for a 9-month deployment.

Lt. Winters, the leader of the 276th 1st platoon, shared his RLB with this visiting reporter for a week in September while his roommate, a sergeant, was off on another assignment.

The room is cozy. Winters keeps it dark, with air conditioning blasting at all hours. Bunk-beds and a small couch – purchased from a departing unit months prior – line one wall. Handmade shelves, the product of carpenters in the unit, line the other, and hold up video games, ammunition, snacks and a 50-inch TV, requisitioned from a building that the 276th took down.

The rooms aren’t much, but they’re home for thousands of men and women, at least for a little longer.