As the last major deployments of American and NATO troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, one of the most important milestones in their departure was the closing last week of Bagram Airfield, once the largest US base in the country.
At various points over the last 20 years Bagram has been so big that troops stationed there could enjoy Subway and Pizza Hut. But another consequence of having so many young Americans together in the one spot was that the base developed its own Pokémon Go community.
As this piece in Stars & Stripes outlines, Bagram was home to several Pokémon Go gyms and loads of Pokémon Go players, meaning for many young men and women stuck overseas the game became a welcome respite from the danger and a way to make friends.
“Being able to start a conversation with a complete stranger in the middle of a war zone about something like Pokémon was a great way to stay social,” a contractor working at Bagram last year told the site.
The base’s closure—it has since been handed over to local Afghan forces—also raised the prospect of “lost” Pokémon, as gyms that were once hotly-contested are left unchallenged.
Screenshots of Bagram after the troops left show low-level Pokemon, normally easily defeated, stuck guarding locations, perhaps indefinitely. A tiny Lotad has defended the former Warrior Chapel at Bagram for 10 days, while a lowly Aron has defended a memorial to a fallen servicemember for about two weeks.
Then again, maybe there’ll be locals or members of the Afghan forces who are into the game and can keep the gyms changing hands. And if there aren’t—or even if there are and the gyms just sit there—some veterans like Alaska National Guardsmen John Sutter are trying to look forward to a world where Afghanistan isn’t a warzone, but a place where some Pokémon got left behind.
“Maybe in 20 years I can ride a motorcycle south and reclaim that Pokémon gym again”, Sutter told Stars & Stripes. You should go read the full feature here.