Look, I'm not doing this for you, but for my own dark and twisted reasons. Oh, and because everyone else is doing it.


September 14, 2004

update from afghanistan (from 9/10/04)

The latest from my friend serving in Afghanistan... If you have a second, please send some pleasestaysafe vibes to him.

This is the official "Osama-Hunting Update Number 8" for our friends andfamily.

It's been a while since the last Update e-mail. I have been really busyhere. Our last round of operations ended and the new round kicked off alittle while ago. Of course, we can't communicate anything aboutoperations, at least not current and future ops, but I can tell you thatas a team and as individuals we are getting better at what we do by theday. It's a great feeling from the professional point of view when you watch the machinery getting faster, more precise, more effective each time you turn around.

The Army institutes a climate of learning--in theory. I've always admired the concept, but known that, in reality, learning had to compete with a rash of other, more pressing, priorities, and gathering learning comments and compiling them amounted to an administrative chore. And you know how it goes with those: you find the most expedient method o fknocking them out so you can get back to the things that 'matter' most.

Well, When mistakes can cost you so dearly you learn--fast. We'relearning by taking the so-called After Action Reviews (abbreviated AAR,of course) serious, letting all speak freely. All soldiers can contribute. It's not only the forum that allows for our growth. You should hear some of the comments; they're perceptive and creative in finding solutions. So the learning starts.

We turn the gravel outside our compound into fine sand, we're conducting so many rehearsals. Once we have a new way of doing things we train for it by rehearsing every action right here at our home. We rehearse how to get on and off the vehicles, how to take a village with vehicles, how to conduct re-supply operations, how to quickly re-fuel using hand pumps (actually measuring the time), and so on. Each time we do this, we get better. Confidence increases, and that is half the battle.

The effect on the ground is that the Taliban are thrown off their tracks, wondering why. It's like moving pieces on a chess board. Each time we mak a move, they are scratching their heads.

Tuesday to Thursday of this week I went to Bagram and back by convoy. I got to see some more of the country, to include a passage right through Kabul. In Bagram I had the usual things to take care off, to include an abundance of hot showers. What was more interesting is the trip itself. Most of the trip lead through rural areas. That and The BigCantaloup--Kabul.

We passed some serious checkpoints as we approached the city's valley. Once inside, I was shocked by the state of disrepair. Just 2 weeks afterthe end of the Olympic Games in Athens, we drove by Kabul's Olympic stadium, the five rings clearly visible on the outside. I think that's where the Taliban conducted their weekly public beheadings. Abundant everywhere, pock marks of combat: facades with thousands of little holes on their surface, others with big gaping holes, missing balconies. Apartment buildings with collapsed floors at mid-height, and subsequently stripped of all metal parts. Whole streches of previously proud avenues in rubble on both sides, rubble forming the platforms ofyears-old improvised shops. Factories in ashes with the occasional green of a Soviet tank carcass or turret.

We saw surprisingly few re-construction efforts under way. All rubbleheaps had been searched over--where it is safe--for re-usable items such as wood or metal hardware, electrical wiring, etc. Every usable space among the rubble was re-christened as a home, shop, or whatever.

We rolled right through it all, challenged to keep the convoy tight. Once we got out and passed the checkpoints on the other side we approached the Bagram valley. For a short while the countryside was what you would consider normal. This changed as we crested the pass into the Bagram valley. Suddenly our trained eyes noted the markings of major operations: burnt-out military hardware complete or in pieces, fire positions everywhere you looked, tank dugouts, BMP positions, machinegun nests, fox holes, and sniper positions. It doomed on us that this was the site of much suffering and tragedy. The fights that these hills and the valley had seen was fierce, bitter, and relentless, kin to trench warfare in France during WWI. You could tell the battle that raged here was driven by leaders who resorted to throwing more human beings and materiel into the fray whenever a certain position seemed close to faltering. Stubborn at the expense of human lives.

You imagine these individuals, pawns of ideologies, brimming with a fighter ethos, which irrationally fueled them to keep going and keep fighting so their brothers would not be let down. In the end the battle was lost and won. As it always is.

The history of Soviet Bagram tells us of 30,000 mujahedin who walked to battle from Kabul, entering the battle field at its only unmined stretch, a purposely set kill zone. Thousands died in a short span, but many kept on going to take Bagram back.

On our way back we spent more time in Kabul. This wasn't by design but simply because one of our trucks broke down in the middle of it all. We towed the truck to the main ISAF compound. That's the HQ of the International force in Afghanistan. It houses a melee of international military members in what amounts to a university campus atmosphere. I negotiated in French to get the maintenance shop to lend us a hand. I switched to German a minute later as the shop turned out to be a joint Germano-French operation. It caused some bewilderment on behalf of our troops as much as from the mechanics. I really had fun with that!

I wanted to have a lot more fun. How? Well, this ISAF installation must be the only place in theater that allows the consumption of alcohol (and where such consumption by US troops is legal or tolerated). I envisioned an over night stay to receive and install a new diesel fuel pump. Along with the arduous wait, I envisioned a relaxing bottle of beer or two (German, no less). I even had relations smoothed out to the bartender. Everything was set, until they fixed the truck!!! Oh well. I know the address now...

The other day we had to send home one of our soldiers because of a previous knee injury that flared back up and will require surgery. His knee got injured back in Ft Bragg on a training patrol. I remember driving him to the hospital like a bat out of hell (did you know those Humvees can go 75MPH!?). He worked very hard to get his knee to heal in time for the deployment, whereas others invented mysterious back pains that would keep them from being deployed. This soldier worked so hard, he earned everybody's respect the hard way. In the end, sending him off on the helicopter to Bagram and on home from there was just as hard for us as it would have been to get him killed on patrol. We all stood there late into the night at the gate of our compound, waiting for his ride to touch down. All were somber, quiet. 59 bear-hugs, not many dry eyes, and off he went, leaving a painful void.

Since being a teenager, I've always enjoyed these tight friendships that grow when you spend time together in an intense environment, but the strength of the relationships we form on this deployment is completely new to any of us. You always hear how tight the bonds are that are formed among brothers in arms and you think you know what people talk about when they say that, but there really is no way of understanding it until you experience it. I think it makes us all a bit richer for life.

OK. I gotta go back to scheming the Taliban's fall now. HA. All the best to you back home!!!

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home