I recently had the opportunity to take a trip to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan with the CEO of Phenix Brands, former Marine “Godfather,” and creator of Mig Fuel, Ray Edwards. The trip was business in nature but I wanted to take the opportunity to get some information on the political climate firsthand. Due to Ray’s business relationship with the people on the ground, he had made good friends with senior military leadership of the country.

Lucky for me, the Kyrgyz’ love of vodka, bathhouses, and camaraderie provided me with an opportunity to learn how they perceive their current situation and where they want to go. I quickly discovered that the hospitality of the Kyrgyz people was something I had not seen in many of the other countries to which I have traveled. You could tell that they truly cared, and were engaged with you during conversation. They also work very diligently to find common ground to build a relationship upon.

Once we arrived in Bishkek at 0400, we were met at the gate by someone who took our baggage tags and shuffled us into private transportation. (We never saw this guy again.) We then arrived at a private waiting room where we were greeted by the man who runs the Manas International Airport as well as other key leaders in the country. We had chai and exchanged pleasantries while they got our bags.

We were soon en route to the hotel via police escort and armed guard. As we passed through intersections, I noticed that the adjacent streets were blocked off by police officers. It was about a 30-minute ride from the Manas Airport to the hotel. Every intersection along the way had been cordoned off prior to our arrival.


So there I was, drinking vodka with senior leaders of the Kyrgyzstan military and prominent businessmen in a bathhouse, wearing a well-made white robe. I was slightly worried at first about how they’d react to my presence given their country’s history of fighting alongside the Soviets in Afghanistan during the ’80s, and of course our country’s history of ‘intervening’ in that conflict. I quickly learned that they respected me due to my background, given that I had experience on the same battlefield. They saw it as a warrior bond not bound by a country, and offered respect because of it.

Kyrgyzstan and Russia

When Operation Enduring Freedom began, we used Manas Air Base as a transit site for U.S. personnel going in and out of Afghanistan. In June of 2014, Americans vacated the base and handed it back over to the Kyrgyz military. You would think that with the U.S. presence draw-down, the Russian military would have experienced an increase. It did not.

Manas Air Base, now known as the Transit Center at Manas, has been largely transformed, seeing an increase in civil operations and an increase in cargo operations by Turkish Airways and AEROflot Russian Airlines. No Russian training operations have been allowed there, nor have they used any of the property. This has all been restricted to Kant Air Base.