On Tour With the Captain

Hunter Whirley Known on Outdoor Life.com as “The Captain,” aspiring outdoor writer Hunter Whirley is a captain in United States Army currently stationed in the Herat Province (western Afghanistan). NOTE: Because he is on active duty in a war zone, The Captain had to help me write and edit some the following questions due to security. For example, he was unable to answer my question about where the spare key to the front gate is kept (hint, it’s under a rock!). My thanks to The Captain. Pictured left: Backpacking trip in the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. I ended up marrying that girl … and I still carry all of the heavy stuff, Whirley says.
Gayne: Thanks for the time Hunter. How’s the weather over in Afghanistan? Whirley: On a particularly nice day it is 120 degrees, but it is a dry heat – at least that’s what some joker always says before he is told he is an idiot. Pictured left: Salmon fishing on the Nisqually River in WA.
Gayne: What are some of the animals you’ve seen over there? I hear they have lizards as big as cats, spiders as big as cats, and ibex that are bigger than cats. True? Whirley: I don’t know about lizards, spiders and ibex, but where I am they have a lot of goats (yes, bigger than a cat). As a matter of fact, right-of-way when driving goes to goats crossing the road. The only other animal I can tell you about is the cocker spaniel-sized rat in my B-hut. I could have killed him the other day, but firing rounds inside your bedroom is frowned upon on this particular post. Pictured: A 17-pound Salmon … one of the few fish I caught that season. Work gets in the way of important things like fishing, Whirley says.
A sporting clays tournament in WA. No, I did not win, Whirley says, but I did not embarrass myself either. Gotta look at the bright side.
Gayne: Every now and again we see reports that our soldiers in Iraq get to do a little fishing in their down time. Any such luck for y’all over in Afghanistan? Whirley: If there was any water within 100 miles of my location, I might try fishing, full body armor and all. But knowing my luck, I would be stopped by the only Game Warden in Afghanistan and fined for not having a fishing license. Pictured: My brittany spaniels: Annie (L), Shiner (R). Shiner is grown now and has destroyed everything I own.
Annie and Eli. They’re cutest when asleep.
Gayne: I understand that you’re a fellow Texan. Where’re you from originally? Whirley: Fort Worth Pictured: The last hunt before I deployed was Rocky Mountain Elk in Montana. A young cow elk looks HUGE to a Texan, Whirley says.
Gayne: How did you get interested in the outdoors? Whirley: My Mom and Dad started taking me hunting and fishing before I was two-years-old. By kindergarten I could tell you the difference between a mule deer and a whitetail. The outdoors has always been a part of my life, and I hope to pass the same passion I have for the outdoors on to my children. Pictured: Ah, scenic Eastern Afghanistan…
But now I am in the west (Afghanistan), Whirley says.
Gayne: And wanting to write about it? Whirley: While most kids were read Dr. Seuss for bedtime stories, my Dad read Capstick for me. (I know, great bedtime stories of lions mangling people. No chance for a kid to have nightmares there, right?) But, I loved it. I went on to get a degree in journalism and somewhere along the way thought joining the Army would be a really good idea (which it was). Now, I want to share stories of the outdoors that have meant a lot to me. Pictured left: Afghan National Army training. No matter what army it is, the commander has to give a pep-talk, Whirley says. “Men, I want to see your maximum effort out there, blah, blah, blah…”
The training doesn’t seem to bother the local Kuchi tribe … yes that is the real name of the tribe.
Gayne: What is your favorite game animal? Whirley: Big game hunting is great, but I would have to say quail is my favorite. Watching good dogs work and the flush of a covey is hard to beat. Pictured From left to right:SGM Nasir (ANA), SGM Papa (ITA), a local child, SFC Bills. (We had no idea who this kid belonged to, but we’re pretty sure his clothes were originally white.)
A meeting with Afghan National Security Forces. It’s about as exciting as it looks.
Gayne: What’s the best way to pass time in Afghanistan? Whirley: The local night life is pretty mundane around here. As I understand it, there is one bar in the entire country and it’s shutting down, not that I could partake anyway. I spend most of my free time reading or in the gym. Pictured: No, I’m not a hobbit, Whirley says. Captain Zacche is freakishly tall.
Local wildlife
Gayne: What is the local food like? Whirley: Different. Some of the food tastes really good but will make Montezuma’s revenge look like a cake-walk. Most of the meat is some derivative of goat or lamb. To Afghans, the animal’s fat is considered the “choice” cut, and most Afghans savor a chunk of fat like we would filet mignon. The Afghans also make a type of runny yogurt from boiled goat’s milk. It is highly advised that if you ever find yourself in Afghanistan: DO NOT DRINK THE YOGURT! Pepto only goes so far. I have gotten to where I only eat what I can identify. Kabobs, rice and nan (bread that resembles a thick tortilla) are safe. Pictured: Ed’s Lamb Kabobs. Step 1: Make most squeamish guy on team kill and butcher the lamb (just for fun). Step 2: Marinate all night with whatever you’ve got. Step 3: Skewer, one piece fat to one piece meat. Throw on grill … make squeamish guy eat the fat.
Nothing goes with barbecue like a warm near-beer, mmmmm.
Gayne: Is it dangerous where you are? Whirley: Compared to down-town L.A., no. Pictured: Three men climb off of a motorcycle. So far, the most I have seen on one motorcycle was an Afghan man and his wife … with their three children sandwiched in between them, Whirley says.
The local motorcycle dealership. Bikes are pieced together from spare parts, baling wire and duct tape.
Gayne: What have you missed most about the states? Whirley: My family, a quiet day in the woods or on the water, Shiner Bock Beer and not having to put on 50-pounds of body armor to go out my front gate. Pictured left: The Tour de Afghanistan was cut short when bicycles started exploding. (Seriously, the bad guys can rig anything to detonate.)
The Bazaar: “Mista, mista, you buy, you buy.” “Why would I want a pink t-shirt?” “You buy, You buy!”
Gayne: Anything else I should know about Afghanistan? Whirley: Yeah, Bollywood is huge here. Aishwarya Rai is a house-hold name, but on Afghan TV they use a blue dot to cover any exposed skin on females for propriety’s sake. It’s not nearly as exciting, but I know the only reason you are interested in the lady is for her outstanding acting… right? Gayne: Of course. She’s a very talented actress. Thanks Captain, come home safe. Pictured: It seems Afghan road workers share the same work ethic as American crews, Whirley says.
My Italian buddy, Captain Bruno, was brave enough to pet the dog … the last person I knew who touched an Afghan dog contracted rabies, ebola, typhoid fever, rickets and bunions.
A local tribal leader: “Captain, do you miss home?”
“Yessir, I sure do.”