- 01/01/2003 - 02/01/2003
- 02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003
- 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004
- 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004
- 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004
- 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004
- 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004
- 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004
- 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004
- 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004
- 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004
- 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004
- 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004
- 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005
- 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007
Time to once again open my life up a little in order to share the plethora of wealth I'm about to absorb. I'm going to be back in Iraq through September, so hop on board and check back every couple of days, I'll do my best to update as much as possible. Questions? email@example.com And check out the site I'm working with: http://www.billroggio.com Support independent journalism!
Monday, May 31, 2004
Captain Dent woke me out of one of those sleeps that I imagine I would have if I were anticipating center ice tickets to a Game 7, Detroit/Boston for the Cup.
In other words: It was rather restless in anticipation of what we are about to do.
It didn't help much either because the 155's were firing off illumination rounds twice a night. This happens to be the biggest gun in Afghanistan, and it scares the hell out of you when it goes off in the middle of the night.
Everyone here at FOB Ripely is a little jumpy. I got back to the FOB two days ago, two days after getting bumped from the flight at Kandahar. I was professionally relieved to know that the operation was not the combat action everyone has been anticipating.
They did get two mid-level Taliban PUCs and some small weapons caches. They are also putting a big STOP in the middle of any Taliban activity in the area. In fact, the Army is to the east and is seeing quite a bit of action in Zabol Province. Lately there have been a number of Afghan troops killed there plus reports of larger groups of Taliban in one area.
It could be a coincidence, or it could be that, as previously suggested, the Taliban-led fighters are being grouped up and are feeling the need top start fighting back.
That has been the situation since the begining.
This is a good to to clarify something to the world. Something very important that I learned this last month: There is A LOT of Taliban down here.
I am learning that there there is no way we will ever rid this area of Taliban. With that said, I believe there is a fine line between Taliban and the general male population. What I 'm seeing is that this type of life is the social norm. We are never going to change this country's culture because we want to.
The Taliban is simply an extreme form of a culture that is male dominated. The difference now and then in southern Afghanistan's Pashtun area, is that the interpretation of Islamic Law is now back within the family unit versus being enforced from the extreme right by military and governmental rule.
This, to me, is a good thing. This is as far as we can take back a culture without damaging things socially. This seems to be the extent that the people are willing to accept.
It took until 1920 or something for the United States to allow women to vote. You can't expect a near-mideviel culture to be able to do it just 30 months after liberation.
Ok, with that lengthy explanation, I want to seperate the average Joe Afghan from the militants. Non-militants are "Afghans". Not "afghanis". That's money. The militants, which include mercenaries, Al Queda, fundamentalists, fellow tribesman from Pakistan, or whatever, they are now refered to as "Anti Coaltion Militia" or ACM's.
To I flew back into Ripely by helicopter on the 26th and had to wait a few days for the new op, codenamed "Thunderball", would start. During this time I read a lot in Master Sergeant Ageans tent (the only Agens in the Marine Corps!). It's my second home. It's quite a bit bigger and less morbidly hot and smelly than the Public Affairs tent.
That tent is my "office of record". My "house" is over the curve in the desert to a small two man pup tent graciously supplied by the USMC. It's on of hundreds lined in a row on the desert floor. All taking a barrage of sand on multipule occasions everyday.
The FOB is coming along well. It's 4 square miles with a 3 mile perimeter of wire and Hesco walls. Now this guy is getting rich. The Hesco wall is a line of individual bastions made up of heavy wire and some sort of heavy fiber wall. They stand around five feet and seem to make a 6'x6' square, which is then filled with dirt and stone. Very efficient and in mass use instead of sandbags.
The Marines and elements of the 265th ADA unit out of the West Palm Beach, Florida area, are building away. The airstrip with small rudiment tower is up. Building are replacing tents, the perimeter barrier defences are almost complete. The Jordanians should be here any day, and they're compound is nearly complete. Most importantly, the Army is working to get the Provincial Reconstruction Team up and functioning. The PRT will be the hub of the much needed aid effort n Orzagun Province. This base will also try to provide the security needed for these folks to regain their senses.
Back at the PAO tent (Public Affairs), it's about 9'x9', and is stuffy because it is home base to 6 hard workinng Marines: Captain Dent, Gunny Milks, Sgt. Preston, Corporals Alvarez and Sturckey, and fiinally the low man of great sense, LCpl Poague. A name is also synonmous for the grunt term meaning "lazy Marine with easy job".
Since there weren't showering facilities until recently (and even now too rudiment for most, like me, dare to use), everything is a bit ripe. Socks are hung in here mixed with ripe marines and a couple of journalists, and you understand why Top Ageans' tent was the place to be while waiting. And we we do.
Finally there is Carmella, only the fourth and last to visit the Marines during this deployment. From Australia, she says she's a documentary maker, so look out for it. I have no idea what it's about, and neither does she. She says she just goes out and lets the story fall together. We'll see. She has spent at least a week out here in hell, so I imagine her film will be a bit about the Marines.
So, everytime one of the big guns goes off, Carmella starts talking to the base. "Is there a Marine out? Is there a Marine out there?" "It's outgoing Ma'am" would finally chime out from one of the dozens of anomyous tents. "What's outgoing?" she replied. Uhhh... OUT - GOING. Huhh.. huhh....huhhh
Up until a few hours before I spent a few hours talking to the Battalion Landing Team commanding officer, Lt. Col. Asan Khan. I've introduced him before, so look back a few weeks.
In that time I agreed with him that going out with him and the Govorner, Jan Mohammed, would be a better deal than with Bravo. Bravo was supposed to be going by chopper. The colonel told me everyone was going by truck, so I switched over to the colonels unit for the operation.
In the morning more than hundreds of Marines and Afghan Miltia Forces would start a three day operation, sweeping through eight objective areas over a huge expanse of one of Afghanistan's most rigid environments. Most of it in southeastern Orzagun.
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
So throughout the day I am in a dilemma:L Send the SAT truck back, stay, stay a few days then send the truck back... what to do. A call to Istanbul made the decision for me. They decided that it would be useless to send it back and we were told to stay at least another week. This of course has made Nadir a bit pissed and there appears to be a mutiny on the horizon. All he talks about is how bored he is and how much he misses his wife. I told him from the start to expect at least two weeks, maybe four. We're in day 11.
Good news is that I get to catch a chopper in the morning for the firebase. Hopefully (I'm told there will be)I'll get pushed out to the action quick. The plan is to get some good video fast, get back to Kandahar and feed, then get back in the field. Being the only TV guy covering the Marines has a great potential for sales... now I need the video. Besides, I can't see many network guys joining the Marines, the conditions are very rural and difficult as previously posted.
Two more mortar rounds came in today. One of these days that Taliban freak is going to get lucky. Just a matter of time. A rocket took out a Norwegion in Kabul yesterday, so they're getting ballsier. Too bad we're knee deep in Iraq before we finished "The War on Terror". Let me elaborate:
Now I try not to be partisan, but I've had enough. I am officially begging anyone who reads this to do their civic duty and vote. Not just once, but persuade two non-voting friends as well. President Bush has gotten it all wrong from the getgo in Iraq. Yes I supported the invasion (as an American, not a journalist), but now it is clear that what we were told and what is reality are two different things. Most troubling is that nearly 800 Americans and thousands of Iraqis have been killed in a war that should not have happened yet. I say this because I do believe it was a matter of time that we did invade. Problem is, is that it was done on the pretext that it was part of the War on Terror, and that is clearly now not the case. There is not a single shread of evidence that suggests that Iraq was helping bin Laden and his goons, which leads me to Afghanistan. This is where the epicenter of terror was and is and the job is far from over. This country is shattered and needs the full attention of the international community to recover, and they're not getting it. A new report out says that Al Queda is at 18,000+ members and growing. The number one reason: The War in Iraq. Not only that, but the world hates America more than ever. All because we invaded Iraq. Pointis, Bush claimed to invade in part because he wanted to fight terrorism, but as it turns out, he has only helped terrorism by invading Iraq. He says his goals are to "rebuild" Iraq's infrastructure. Amazing since we have yet to even come close to rebuilding the roads in Afghanistan.
The people of Afghanistan are counting on the US and the international community and we cannot let them down. Unfortunately, we are... all because we invaded Iraq based on poor intellegence, poor judgement and poor leadership. We must remember where the War on Terror is, and it isn't in Iraq. Do not confuse the two as some of our leaders would like you to do.
Monday, May 24, 2004
Also; Yesterday morning around 6:30 while I toiled in pain as all the water in my body decided it wanted to exit, a mortar shell landed about 300 yards from my tent. So close that I felt the blast on my face from inside my tent. Guess that proves you can get killed any time, anyhwhere here in Afghanistan. PS - No one was injured. Two other shells that came in failed to explode. A fourth "dud" blew up hours later - whew!
It's amazing when you walk around FOB Ripely because you quickly realize that life in the field for soldiers and Marines probably hasn't changed much in centuries. Technology advances are definitely evident, but the basic life of these fighting men and women certainly hasn't.
I came back to this hellpit late last night and we needed to rise early. Today's task is to join up with UNAMA and take a look at the growing local interest in the election process. One of the keys to determining the success of the Marines, is this process. If people are registering to vote, you know the threat of the Taliban has been diminished. Of course the Taliban are doing what they can to disrupt the process. The more registered voters, the less Taliban. Word is that voter registration in the Tarin Kowt bowl is over 50%, which is amazing by any country's
standards. For Afghanistan, it's unheard of. To think we're in the middle of Taliban country, this is something I need to see for myself. Of course, like usual, I have to wait. So in the meantime...
Living in a tent out here isn't that bad. I should say, it's better than sleeping outside in the 8 inch deep moondust. Not to complain, but the main problem is that when the sun begins to rise at 5 am, so does the temperature in the tent. Naturally, like a mousse in a burning house, it doesn't take long to run for cover. Here there is none, so you just have to do what you can to be as comfortable as you can.
The camp here continues to grow. The companies that have been on operations for the past three weeks are starting to come in. All around are tents and men sleeping under the stars. One image that stands out from this morning is one of a black soldier sitting in the dirt staring at the ground in a daze. His head covered in the dust that plagues everything. His hands, as tan as mine. Didn't look like he had a good night's sleep in quite some time. He looked like he was completely at his limit.
Often times as I walk around here, I see images of the many pictures I have seen from remote Vietnam-era firebases like Khe Sahn. Barbed wire, bunkers, and bone tired men. Bathrooms here consist of both porta johns, and built "shithouses" where the deposit is made in 50 gallon drums that have been sawed in half. Everyday, these drums are dragged out from under the "shitters" where gas is thrown on them and innards burnt.
As the sun rises, it leaves a beautiful hue on the mountain ridges. It's a glow I don't think I've seen anywhere else in the world. With it comes the reflection of the dust that always seems to be in the air. It's a haze of natural pollution that settles all around the hundreds of tents, which for the most part, are in formation, probably along unit lines. Of course being the only journalist, mine stands alone. It's the only way I can tell which tent is mine. I always have fear of unzipping the wrong tent in the middle of the night, so I ensure that never becomes a problem. One of the worst things you can do is wake up a strange Marine in the middle of the night. It's a good way to test your reflexes (ask my wife).
Speaking of being the only journalist: I'm baffled by this. The best action in the country is right here, and fortunately for me, no one else has caught on. As I see things right now, the fight has moved off the border and is being pursued farther inland. The Army has been conducting operations in Zabul province to the east, which has yielded some great catches. A few days ago, up to 80 Taliban attacked the Afghan National Army. 80 Taliban in one area!! Unheard of at this point in the game. With Marines pushing east from Urzagun Province and the Army pushing west from Zabul, it's clear to me this "pincher" action is forcing the Taliban to group up, which will be their biggest mistake since becoming Taliban. It seems they are surrounded and being squeezed. At least that's what the evidence suggests. We should find out this week as Charlie Company (the helo company) prepares to push out on a fresh operation.
May 22nd 1200
Today I'm off on another interesting story. I'm going to hook up with men contracted by the UN to see how voter registration is progressing in this former Taliban stronghold.
Our meeting point is the governor's compound. Here, a small batch of special forces and Marines are keeping tabs on progress while providing support to the locals who are working feverishly to "rock the vote" Afghan style.
We get a rather late start and immediately visit the new UNAMA compound. UNAMA is the UN arm that oversees elections. The men from Global Risk Assessment are interested in seeing what's being done here, in particular because this is where their office will be.
The compound is a former Special Forces base. It's surrounded by a high mud brick wall with a "U" shaped set of buildings in the middle. The compound is where people are being trained to facilitate this new type of political system. Remember that voting on a national scale is a completely new concept, and here they're working from scratch.
The compound itself is still being worked on: A fresh coat of paint, new concrete flooring and a well is being pounded into the earth's crust in the main yard. Nothing too exciting for me. For the Afghans, it's a big deal.
By the time we're done looking at it, it's noon, and we are told everything closes down for lunch (which lasts until 2:00), so all of the Afghans want to go eat and take a nap. We go back to Jan Mohammed's compound (the governor) to wait until 2:30 or so when we'll see the registration sites.
Back at the governor's place, Jan Mohammed calls for us to join him for lunch. Everyone but me all but ignores him and as the rest of the westerners go upstairs to eat military rations, I accept the invitation to join him for a meal.
In the main yard of the compound are two large "dining areas", a lot like what we have in our parks: The sides are open and there's a roof for shade. Except these shelters are much bigger and made completely of concrete. The floors are covered end to end with woven carpets and there are men lining the area with community food plates in the middle. I've arrived late, so I get the pick of what's left. Just about everyone is done, except Jan Mohammed, and together, I get cultured in more Afghan food.
Jan Mohammed is a former Mujahadeen commander and has been appointed governor of Uruzgan province by President Karzai. He is a fierce anti-Taliban, having been thrown in a dark hole for two years by the religious freaks a few years back. He's an older man with a weak right eye that is clouded by a cataract. like all men here, he sports a long, scraggily beard.
We eat a meal of rice, some sort of meat, yogurt, bread and vegetables. Water is scarce, so our refreshment is a type of watery buttermilk. Knowing that eating this food could mean trouble, I do so sparingly and hope to God I don't get sick.
During the meal, I ask the governor where I can get an Afghan flag. He tells me through a "terp" named "Jack", that he will make one for me and pass it on to the Marines for me. To me this is a big honor and I leave for the upstairs quite happy.
Once there, the Marines are lying around taking a nap, so I join some of the Afghan guards and two terps in a small room with four beds. We start talking and I take the opportunity to find out what people think of the coalition forces.
One particularly well spoken terp, Assan Mohammed, tells me that he believes 80% of the people support the coalition and its efforts to help the Afghans (Afghan always put things into percentages. How they get these numbers is beyond me).
I ask him about his history here, curious how he dealt with the violent past of this country.
At 42, he knows quite a bit. During the communists, he lived in Kabul with his family. His father a successful businessman. During the Taliban, he taught English to children in Kandahar. He says that during this time, he would get into trouble for doing so. In fact things got bad enough that a Taliban member would sit in his classes to ensure that he only taught Islamic courses. English was forbidden. Under such pressure, he quite teaching altogether.
The conversation once again switched back to his family in Kabul and it turns out I would stumble onto a scar in his life that was too much to bear. One night a jeep with five Afghan soldiers came to his house. They had heard his family was thinking about escaping to Germany. The men came into his house and in front of him and his family, shot his father dead and then left. Assan could barely finish his sentence when his eyes welled up and he had to leave so not to cry in front of me.
Both terps I spoke with say that Afghanistan is tired of fighting and that the majority of people just wanted peace and the ability to raise their families. For that, they say, is why Afghans in general are very receptive to the coalition. In particular, they say that great thanks and kindness is extended to the Americans. They say that they will never forget what the Americans have done for them.
Our conversation came to a solemn ending as we all started to get sleepy. I said to Assan, "You're a good man. You can be my neighbor any day." "Thank you", he said, and we both went off into our own worlds. I could still see the pain in his eyes as he drifted into thought. For me, I looked out the window and I could hear hundreds of birds chirping. I could see swallows do acrobatics in the sky and I wondered if they had any clue what was happening on the ground below them.
After a nice nap, we took off once again and started visiting registration places. We visited three all together. One in a tent outside the main mosque, one in a small room upstairs near the downtown of Tarin Kowt, the last one in a warehouse that was riddled with bullet holes, shrapnel holes, and large holes in the roof made by rocket fire.
We found that registration was going well, but could be better. Many people inn the rural areas were being harassed by the Taliban and couldn't register. There were also complaints of workers not being paid, which was causing trouble. Overall though, it appeared as though this area was taking the vote thing very seriously. The enthusiasm was refreshing and it left an impression in me that this was going to eventually work. As one of the UNAMA guys said, "rome wasn't built in a day."
The best part was that this shows how effective the Marine presence has been. These areas that are inhabited by Pashtuns are considered areas where "rocking the vote" would be difficult. What we are seeing is that the Marines' presence is providing the security needed to allow people to register. After just three weeks, nearly 25% of the guesstimated voting population had registered. Not only good news for this country's first vote, but good for President Karzai who is a Pashtun. Right now, I see no other qualified candidate to run this country.
As I sit in Kandahar waiting for the operation to begin, I once again get very sick. This time is the worst. It starts at 3:00 am with vomiting and diarrhea. By breakfast, I am into shallow breathing and so weak I can barely walk. I try to tough it out, but soon my body is aching and I have a headache from hell. Fearing I have sunstroke setting in, I relent and get a ride to the hospital. Here they say I do not have heatstroke and that I am hydrated fine. That leaves one thing: Jan Mohammed's food. The doctors give me medicines and tell me to rest, which I do for the rest of the day. I need to get better because tomorrow I go back to the field and wait for the new operation to start which is set for Tuesday.
The thought of this operation is exhilarating. This won't be like the last one where we are reacting to an attack. This time the Marines have the Taliban surrounded and are going in to get them. The danger is much greater here because the insurgents have their backs to the wall. Tomorrow they will have the chance to give up or die, nothing else.
This is my last entry for a few days, so check back often.
Thursday, May 20, 2004
After a day of near nothing with Abdullah and Nadir, the one thing that was accomplished was a number of long argue-discussions about a couple of things that left me quite enlightened.
First, I have come to the conclusion (reinforced by the discussion) that peace throughout the Middle East is absolutely impossible until the situation with the Palestinians and the Israelis is resolved. No matter how you slice it, America is on the shit list of most Moslems because of their support for Israel. Problem is that Moslems are 100% certain that Israel is 100% Palestinian land and that the Jews should be moved to America with no claim at all to the land they now occupy. I personally feel (and argued) that the land is ancestral to both peoples and there needs to be compromise. I also believe that Israel has tried to compromise. With the Arab view that compromise is impossible, I lay the blame there with the Arabs. The true blame actually lies with the British and the U.N. for screwing it up in the first place back in 1949. Even there, I still believe that the Jews needed a homeland after World War II for the simple survival of their people. Unfortunately it was at the expense of thousands of Palestinians, which leaves us still toiling with the problem and no end in sight.
We also had a pretty good argument over the use of nuclear weapons against Japan. As horrific as the death toll was, I am a firm believer that the bomb was a necessary evil to finally put to rest a regime that had conquered dozens of sovereign nations, not to mention the fact that they murdered millions of innocents.
All of this, of course, before they attacked Pearl Harbor.
We also discussed the fact that Moslems as a whole seem to ignore the plight of their fellow Moslems until something goes wrong. This argument was enunciated
with the fact that very few Moslem countries are contributing to the reconstruction of Afghanistan or Iraq or Bosnia or Albania or Somalia or Kosovo, etc,,, All Moslem countries over the past 15 years in which the "bully" United States has sacrificed hundreds of men and women to try to help.
What bothers me most about this last argument, is Afghanistan itself. Here is a country that is universally acknowledged to need considerable help. So can anyone tell me why the total Moslem presence here is less than 2,500 soldiers, none of which are actually combat oriented troops?
Just for the record: Big, mighty "we should be a world power" Turkey has less than 1,000 troops holed up in the capital doing next to nothing. The Egyptians have a hospital at Bagram, as do the Jordanians in Mazar-e-Sharif. The only "combat troops" destined for Afghanistan from a Moslem nation are just arriving here in Kandahar. Those are also coming from Jordan, which is one of the few friends the United States has in the Middle East. Where is Saudi Arabia and all their money? They have enough to finance the destruction of the World Trade Center but not enough to help their fellow Moslems? I am confused!
The finale came when we started talking about the pictures of the Iraqi's being tortured and humiliated. Of course this disgrace is the worst thing ever to plight the world. As bad and stupid as this is, my Moslem friends have no answer to why the world said nothing as Sadaam murdered tens of thousands of fellow Moslems. The world said nothing when the video of bound men being thrown from the top of buildings came out last year. No one says anything when prominent journalists are arrested, tortured and killed in Syria and Iran (currently ongoing). Most importantly, no one said anything when tens of thousands of Kurds and Shia were murdered by Sadaam in the early 90's. However, if America humiliates some prisoners (most of whom were arrested during attacks on the coalition), the world falls apart at the seams.
Finally, Nadir and I talked more about his desire to leave again. This time I understand. His wife of five months, who speaks no Farsi, is stuck in a small two room apartment with her mother-in-law and Nadir's two little brothers and sister. Nadir is the sole provider, including shopping, etc.. There are no parks, medical facilities, television, libraries, and very little security in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. After that talk and thinking about Heidi, I started to put my hair back into my head.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
We've been in Kandahar since Sunday and already the Afghans are driving me nuts. In fact, Nadir has been driving me nuts since day one. Some of it is the communication gap, which I can overlook. The rest is just good old fashion whining, and I can't stand it.
I actually started even before I left. The problem is, is that I'm in charge of this thing, yet everyone seems to ignore that fact. Whenever there are questions for me, about me or just about things I know about, I'm skipped altogether. Small example:
We're supposed to rent a second car to take the gear. No problem. Nadir gets the money and I go to pack and rest my mind (the trip to Kandahar is very dangerous and I had to get my "what if" scenarios together). In the short period I'm gone, Nadir (all 23 years of him) decides we aren't going to take a second car. How do I find out? I'll tell you. So I go out to the truck to check on the progress (5 am the morning we leave) and notice there is no second car. At this time, I'm informed that Nadir has decided to take a trailer. So I ask, "Where will I sit?", and Nadir points to the front seat. So I ask, "Where will Abdullah sit?", and Nadir points to the front seat. Point is, this is MY operation and yet, I am not conferred with on decisions. So Nadir is packing away and wants to put a 30 pound BETA Cam behind our seat in the exact location I am thinking we can put Abdullah. So i tell Nadir to put the camera in the back where there is a ton of space. "But David, this is a camera and is fragile...", he says. "Really Nadir, I've never seen one before... you mean they're fragile?" I reply. "Oh yes... very fragile, David", he says. So in my mild manner, I finish the conversation with, "No shit Nadir, now put it in the back." Which he does in huff. Just one of many small examples.
As previously posted, the ride down sucks and is thankfully uneventful. Unfortunately, it takes just a few hours before Nadir is crying about "How long are we going to stay?". "I told you 50 times Nadir, from 2-4 weeks." "Oh, but my poor wife...," he replies. At this time, I explain to him that I haven't seen my wife in seven weeks, and won't see her for another six. I also explain that all the soldiers and Marines won't see their spouses for a year. And in a parting gesture, I hand him a tissue and tell him to wipe his eyes. I don't think he got the dark humor.
So Tuesday afternoon, I head back to Tarin Koht via C-130 and am once again in the dark, vast, dusty, hot, stinky, desert.
When morning breaks, I climb out of my broiling hot tent (at 7:30 am) and head for the media tent ( which is filled with gear from the Public Affairs soldiers). Being that my specific mission is combat footage, I can only wait until the operation starts to do any work. I spend most of the day sweating and reading a book called, "The FBI's 10 Most Wanted." I'm also fortunate enough to find a dazzling picture of the ubber-hot Uma Thurman and Jessicca Alba. Shortly after that, I'm dehydrated from drooling so much.
I also find out that the operation that was supposed to kick off Thursday, has been pushed back to Sunday. Oh yeah... A week out here with nothing to do. Hmmm... so I decide I'm going back to Kandahar to work on some stories I had started previously so not to waste too much time.
The planes here don't leave until late (10 pm) and we've been getting some probes on the perimeter from the enemy, so things are done in an extra cautious manner. In fact the radar picked up an incoming mortar round earlier in the day that missed by such a distance that no one knew we'd just been shot at.
Of course, tis leaves me with extra time which allows me to do a "logistics run" with some Marines into Tarin Koht. Actually what it is is a well armed patrol that goes shopping for various needs like floor mats, stoves, pots, etc...). Tarin Koht is a city form the past. Very poor and very Kipling. The Marines draw quite the crowd when they shop. It is like a big town event. As the Marines order stuff out of an undersized shop, the crowd gathers to watch, particularly the kids. Before long, big kids are pushing little kids into the Marines, little kids are slapping at us in a playful way and everything is just getting a little too close for me. I can only imagine what one guy with a grenade could do at this point. We spend an hour or so in town shopping and visiting the headquarters of the provincial governor, Jan Mohhamed before heading back to FOB Ripley.
Not long after, I'm a plane back to Kandahar. I get there around midnight and call Heidi because I'm stressing out. Our tenant owes us nearly $1,000 and it's stressing me knowing my wife is stressed about it. I gave her some direction earlier on ways to quickly rectify the situation, and I need to call her to see if there's been progress. Turns out the check was lost in the mail and everything would be straightened out by Thursday... we'll see.
I get a good night's sleep, but have the pleasure of waking up to Abdullah all elated because he gets to go back to Kabul Thursday and Nadir, who continues to complain about how bored he is and how much he wants to leave and "when is the operation going to be over" There goes another handful of hair.
Sunday, May 16, 2004
I'm back in Kandahar with my SAT crew. There's new combat ops starting soon, so stay tuned. Remeber, I have limited access to the net right now, so check back often!!!
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Today is pretty boring. Not really a problem for me because I'm a bit sore from yesterday. Me and Alvarez hang around the base relaxing. I do some writing and as much eating as I can, and wait. There isn't a supply run until tomorrow at the earliest.
So I spend the day writing and and being lazy. Into the early afternoon, a patrol spends a few hours preparing for a recon mission. Their goal is to climb to the top of Afghan Gahr, a large mountain off to our east. It's supposed to have a Taliban presence on it.
Alvarez and I pretty much decide we will be on any reaction team that would respond in the event the 12 man patrol got into trouble. They were sending 12 guys out, on an 8-hour hump over a wicked mountain. I kept thinking that there was no way these guys would make it back by dark, and for some reason just 10 minutes before they left, I decided to join them.
25 minutes into the hump and I recall saying to myself, "Well, there's no turning back now." That is definitely an indication things are going to be rough. The terrain is very rugged and very steep. I was able to keep up (and some) on the Marines. Fortunately, I didn't have to hump a weapon. This hump required climbing, which benefited me having my hands free. Regardless, it was a tormenting hike. Both up and down the mountain my legs and back burned.
On the bright side, it was beautiful once at the top. The view just spectacular. We all talked about how the view and terrain was so similar to 29 Palms, California. I definitely recall having visions of the notorious Mount M***** F***** at Camp Pendleton. That was the previous champion of hell hikes. The year was 1985. So 19 years later, I'm humping up Mt. Doom in Afghanistan with my beloved Marines. OOHH-RAHHH!!
It was so hard and we ran out of light with an hour to go. At one point we thought we saw a man crouching on a hilltop. Three of us saw him move. It was a rock. Didn't matter, to be safe we fanned out and went over another steep hill. By now, we are all in pain and still 2 kilometers from home.
We finally made it back to the wire and we were being debriefed when the alarm went off. All hands to fighting holes and it wasn't a drill. Sounds exciting, but it wasn't. I sat in the chaplin's hole and ate some food while gingerly organizing my thoughts and gear. I was definitely impressed I made it. Now I just dreaded waking up. We had a convoy to catch at 4:30 am.
Monday May 10th
I didn't sleep well at all so when 4:00 am rolled around, I was miserable. Like usual, the trucks were packed with Marines. Fortunately we had snipers with us who were getting out two hours up the road, so it wasn't that bad.
By the time we made it to Ripley six hours later, we were covered in dust and sweat. Being dirty here is a conclusion. There is nothing you can do about, you just get dirty. Very dirty.
N ow that we're at Ripley, I find out that CNN ended up going out on patrol, so this puts the heat on me. Nic has a satellite phone, but that doesn't make for quality pictures, so if I can get to Kandahar tonight, before he does, I will have a headstart on getting the first video out on the Marines. This is a big deal.
Fortunately four planes are leaving that night, so Madelline and I get to Kandahar the same day. Unfortunately, the last plane to Bagram just left and there are no flights on Tuesday. CNN could catch up.
Tuesday May 11th
I get up and get my first shower in a week. The best part about not getting a shower for a week is that first shower... boy it felt good.
After I got some chow and headed up to the PX area to get a haircut and buy a few things. I asked the guy to trim my new goutee, and he all but cut it off. Oh well, I was feeling good regardless.
On the way back to the tent, I decide to check to see if some random flights are leaving for Bagram . My experience proves flights pop up out of nowhere. So I walk in and it turns out there are TWO flights. The first has roll call in less than two hours.
I quickly put our names on the list and set out to find Cpl. Alston, who is with Madelline. This is an awesome break because this all bit assures my vido will be the first to make it out. Under equipped, I will beat CNN head to head.
Our flight leaves at the ever preferred time of 4:20, and we're back in Bagram by 6:00. Madelline's driver meets us and we're in Kabul an hour later. Everything like clockwork.
Of course my night is just starting because this video has to get out. We cut 7 minutes in all and feed it down. IHA is elated. I'll feed a story a day for the next 3-4 days while I get ready for my next trip to the field. Not only does my video show the first action that is available of the Marines, I also have video of special forces leading Afghan soldiers. This is rare, if not a first. Good news: CBS bought my stuff, so watch CBS and if you see it, it's mine!
In all, dozens of houses were cleared in this manner. No doubt an interruption
to daily life, but one that was meant to send a message.
The search took hours, so when we got to the end of the village, my PAO liason, Cpl. Jempsey Alvarez, `and I went with a group of soldiers escorting the detained men to the rear where they were being questioned.
It took about 20 minutes to cover the 2 km walk and i was glad when we got there. As always, I headed straight for an MRE to get some chow before I started a new leg of work. I try to stay well feed and mucho fluids flowing. The environment is harsh and conditions demanding, so it's the least I can do.
In the rear are several separated group of men and boys. All of them are sitting. Some are bound, a fewer number are blindfolded. More than 250 in all. The Special Forces and other trained military types are working through "terps" (interpreter) deciding who is not a threat, who may pose a threat and who is a threat. Up a hill is where the "PUCs" go. PUC mean "Person under Control". These are the guys that the military deems as "suspect" and are detained for further questioning. Two days after this, they were flown out of the area to places unknown.
There's other groups of men as well. Even though not all are found suspect, all get to spend the day in the sun enjoying bottled water and military MRE's whether they wanted to or not.
Lt. Col. Khan wrapped up the afternoon with a long talk to the village elders. He sat in a fold up chair with a terp standing next to him. He'd say a sentence in a very nonchalant way, and the terp would forcefully pass it along. I'm not sure why the colonel uses a terp when he speaks Pashtun as well.
Regardless, he reminded the elders that he holds them responsible for helping with the security of their village. He told them that a Marine can be his best friend of worst enemy. That schools and wells are the end result of cooperation.
The talk lasted a good hour in which everyone got up and shook hands with Colonel Kahn. It was at this time that he began to speak Pashtun to the elders, as if he was letting them know there's a new sheriff in town.
The colonel also told me to go take a look at the body around the corner. So I went down the hill and around a mud hut and there was a dead Taliban. He was one of those killed in the fight just hours before. He had been shot a number of times, including through the neck. He was also missing the back of his head.
Notably, the guy had plastic cuffs on his wrists and feet. I've seen it in the states where they cuff suspects who had been shot, but a picture like this is sure to be used as propaganda. Unfortunately, I have to take it.
After this I decide to follow the engineers down the hill where they're going to explode the munitions they found. As I'm walking up the road, I lose track of the Marines, but soon see a couple up on the hill to my right. "Hey... we're gonna blow some shit up!", he says. I knew I'd found them again. So I climb the hill and watch the set the charge. I set up my camera about 300 meters away and retreat back another 50 meters to cover behind a large boulder.
When the blast goes, I feel the concussion on my face, which makes me sure that my camera probably isn't standing. As I make my way toward it, I'm very relieved to see I was wrong. This picture adds the icing to a great day of shooting. Having the first action video of the Marines is a big deal and I have to get out of here. I tell that to Alvarez and we catch a ride on an outgoing 7-ton truck and head back to Indianhead for another night under the stars.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004
I watched the Marines. I didn't know whether to grab my pack and run or put my pack on and run. With the chopper being filled and little room to move, this was a small issue. So like a good neophyte, I watched the guys in front of me and most were moving to put packs on and run, so that's what I did.
I ran out of the chopper hard and ran for the nearest boulder, which was already occupied by a Marine. Being unarmed, that's fine by me. In an air assault, the Marines will run out about 20 meters and fan out behind cover in a defensive manner until the bird is gone and the surrounding terrain is assessed.
I noticed a few guys get up and begin to head towards a pass, so I followed. It was easy to see that something happened here. There were pop up flare caseings and smoke grenades. Besides, the place was a picture perfect ambush point: One lane dirt road that's cresting a hill. On the right is a steep hill covered in in rocks of all sizes. If the sky weren't so blue, you'd think you were on the moon.
To the left is a much bigger, but slightly less steep hill.
It was just after 2:00 am on May 8th when a small five man patrol from the 2nd LAV was scouting a position to set an attack position that was scheduled to begin at sunrise, three hours away.
Over the hill was the town of Gumbad. Inside that town, US intelligence had strong evidence that a senior Taliban leader was in the area. The troops had been on his tail for the past two weeks.
According the the BLT commander, Colonel Assad Khan: As the patrol came to the crest of the hill, a man was seen on the hill to the right and the Marines waved for him to come down. As the men approached, he opened fire on them with a Kalishnikov, hitting squad leader SSgt Robert Thompson in the groin. Lance Corporal Gary Spangler immediately returned fire, killing the man. Spangler is described as "the smallest guy in the platoon". This started a firefight at close range, within 20 meters, that included as many as 15 insurgents.
SSgt. Thompson was able to crawl behind a boulder and start first aid. He was soon joined by HM3 Robert Spejcher, a a decorated Navy Corpsman who had already served with valor in the War in Iraq.
Soon, another Marine goes down. 6'4, 235 lb., Corporal Ron Payne. A former high school football and lacrosse player from Orlando, Florida. He is hit several times in the neck and upper chest with both gunshot and RPG wounds. Thompson sends the corpsman to Payne's aid. Spejcher grabs the wounded marine and drags him 10 meters to cover behind a nearby set of boulders. His wounds are too serious, and Corporal Ron Payne becomes the first Marine KIA in the 22nd MEU's mission to restore order to the area.
Now himself taking fire, the medic returns fire, first with his pistol, then with Payne's M-16. The medic fires a flare to signal the need for help and makes one quick transmission into the reciever that contact hhad been made. As he finished that sentence, a rocket propelled grenade slammed into the boulder right next to him. The blast destroyed the radio, and showered the medic with shrapnel and rock along the left side of his body. Also under fire, Private Brett Miller falls and breaks his leg.
Keeping the most pressure on the insurgents was LCpl Spangler. He lobbed grenades with such accuracy that after the fight, you could see the aftermath of two direct hits. The grenades also kept the fighters from successfully trying to surround the Marines.
In the meantime, the M-16 and two successive machine guns used by the Corpsman jammed. Using one final grenade as diversionary cover, the Marines withdrew. Two of them forced to evade more than 7 km. Including Miller on a broken leg.
This attack set off an operation that was unplanned and probably unprecedented in this war. It set the tone for how the Marines of the 22nd MEU plan to play this out. Their Battalion Landing Team Leader is a tough Lt. Colonel that is originally from Pakistan's tribal region. He speaks the language and knows the people. His name is Assad Khan. A handsome, tough looking man with a friendly demeanor in person. A hard Marine that is looking to bring peace to his region of birth and drives his Marines to get the job done.
For the past two weeks, his men and women have been conducting non-stop foot patrols, going village to village, making contact with people who have yet to see a coalition soldier.
The area is also full of Taliban. A line of fighters that stretches through Uruzgan, Helemand, and Kandahar Provinces. Several high ranking Taliban leaders come from this area which is fiercely conservative.
After immediately sealing off the area, Khan sent Bravo and Alpha companies into action. At first covering a platoon of Afghan National Army soldiers as they entered the villages, then taking control once they were in.
In my experience, the villages were nice by Afghan standards. Still primitive, but very green. The primary industry was poppies, but they also grew other things including fruits and herbs..
Tuesday, May 11, 2004
As it stands, the story on the Marines is really the only story, that I can see, that I can actually win. I will be one of three journalist allowed to cover them as they finally start combat operations in the south.
Things have started getting easier moving about the country. It's almost assuredly a combination of pressure from journos like me and the fact that the command structure is changing as troops rotate out.
The flight from Bagram to Kandahar went off without a hitch and we ended up staying the night there to wait for an early morning chopper flight to where the Marines' 22nd MEU is now based. With me is CNN's Nic Robertson and and AFP reporter named Madaline Coorey from AFP (French Press).
The chopper flight was very nice. Flying low over the desert and between mountain passes, you get to see a large slice of Afghanistan from a very nice vantage point.
Turns out the Marines have deployed to Urzugan Province. This province is home to Mullah Omar and is well known as a Taliban infested province. It's a rugged and near inaccessible province that has seen very little coalition protection since the war began.
As we fly over the area, it is mountainous and barren. Hardly any sign of life until we fly through a pass and the town of Tara Khowt becomes visible. It's easy to see because it's the only thing green fro miles around.
Next to the town is where the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit has been sent. It's been one of the most anticipated moves of the year and I am the first journalist to get to see it.
The Marines have been here two weeks and are hard at work turning it into the newest coalition base in the country. It's name is Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ripley.
Only two weeks old, Camp Ripley looks hardly like a base. It actually looks more like a staging area with boxes of supplies and men feverishly working to set up the defenses. Patrols through the area indicate a population relieved to see the coalition finally arrive. For the Marines, it's history. It's the first time a MEU has been deployed to a landlocked area of operation (AO). The AO is southern Urzugan Province and northern Kandahar Province. An area that most believe is filled with some of the last remnants of resisting Taliban. It could very well be the hiding place of Osama bin Laden as well.
We land in a plume of dust and as you step off the chopper, it has all the characteristics of what I expect the moon to be like. Like other places in Afghanistan, the dust is up to six inches deep and is as fine as baby powder. Although the valley has a beauty to it, it is clear the conditions here will be harsh. There's no showers, no shelter and only MRE rations to eat. I am starting to think this place will not be one of my favorites.
For the media, there is a small tent that acts as a work space, which like usual, is immediately taken over by CNN. there's no where for us to sleep, so we're given small two man tents and a plot of land amongst a sea of similar tents that will now be home.
Less than two hours into the stay, and the wind kicks up to ferocious levels. During the next seven hours, I would endure the most violent dust storm I have ever seen.
Not having any work to do until I get into the field, I hunker down in my tent to ride it out. In the end the driving wind would actually force the baby powder sand through the walls of my tent making life quit miserable.
When it's over, havoc has been dealt across the base, an inch of powder covering everything I just brought. It's an event that no one could possibly have enjoyed and one that definitely started my visit off in a sour way.
When it was over, people began to emerge from their tents like curious mice and the rest of the day was spent by most trying to clean to the best of their ability, which was nearly a useless endeavor.
My goal was to get on the first supply convoy to where the action was. Currently, more than a thousand Marines were at a smaller base more than a dozen miles away from where the combat operations were taking place.
CNN wanted Nic to do live shots that night, which put Madelline and I on the convoy without them. Good news for me. If I could get into the combat zone and out again before CNN, I would be the first TV journalist to get the pictures everyone wants (at least in my mind). The Marines are a hot topic at the weekly press conferences, so I can only assume the video is potentially valuable.
We are loaded into the back of an armor plated seven ton truck and begin the long journey to the Battalion Landing Team's HQ known as "Indianhead". First though, we must pick up Bravo Company, whose in the field conducting checkpoints.
After three long, bumpy, dusty hours, we find Bravo's bivouac and start the process of loading them into the trucks, which quickly become overstuffed with Marines and gear. The next four hours would be a miserable mix of the previous three.
Being the oldest guy around by several years, I couldn't help think at times about my time in the service, particularly my time at 29 Palms, California, which looks, smells and tastes a lot like this region of Afghanistan. The ride is long and uncomfortable, but two hours after dark, we finally make it to Indianhead where we lay our bags out in the sand near the command post, and fall asleep under the stars.
The plan for the morning is simple: Hook up with Charlie Company and go looking for the Taliban. I have a feeling the things I need to take pictures of to be successful are just a day away.
The night is absolutely beautiful. I saw more stars in the sky there than at any time in my life. I slept fairly well and was comfortable as I have a new sleeping arrangement because I found a company sleeping bag in which I line my with my summer bag.
The sun rises early, around 5 am, and so does the camp in general. Unfortunately, I am immediately told there's a change of plans and that some "things" need to be sorted out before we can go out, and that may take a day or two.
Being a journalist of pessimism, I assume that the Marines want to properly "advise" their troops of how to act around the press, which begins to annoy me. As it turns out, I was far from right.
A few hours into our wait and I am briefed that a patrol had been ambushed a few hours earlier and that there was a change of plans. It appeared as if those plans meant we were staying put. As we were being briefed, I realized that the troops around us were were hastily preparing for a mission, one I knew I should be on.
The Marines and the Afghan National Army were preparing to reinforce the area of attack, and they were getting ready to storm the villages where the attack occurred.
I asked to be a part of the assault and was granted permission. I was going in on the fourth chopper, once again with Bravo Company. I'd never trained for an air assault, but I knew how they worked. i was positioned on in the left column in the #4 position.
As we sat waiting for our CH-53, the excitement began to build. Then we could hear the choppers coming in and we started to get ready to mount. The giant choppers came around the mountain and swung in, raising the dust high into the air. As the birds landed, we covered our faces and dropped our goggles: It was showtime.
Finally the call came and on orders from the platoon sergeant, we ran in file to the chopper and quickly boarded, putting our gear between our legs. Almost as quick as we sat down, we were off. Around me 28 Marines ready for a fight. The men were excited and nervous, many of them punching fist to fist in the way men do before a football game. I just sat there watching and wondering what it was we were about to get in to.
The ride to the landing zone was short, maybe 10 minutes in all, but in this area of the country, it would have taken hours to cover the same ground. As the chopper landed....
Monday, May 10, 2004
Just got off of combat ops in Urzagun Province. Check back within the next two days with details which include my first airborne assault and dead Taliban!!
Tuesday, May 04, 2004
Specifically, my job is to do what I can to get combat video from wherever I can on the war in Afghanistan. That offers me a great deal of latitude. Unfortunately, being the over-achiever type, I want IHA do rule the country (market wise). So that's what gets frustrating. I just want to win and we don't have the resources or organization to get it done right now.
Our main problem here is a lack of structure. There is no one leader. Everyone is on their own frequency. We don't have morning meetings to discuss issues, so everyone generally sleeps until 9:30 -10:00, except me. My usual day starts at 7:00 with an hour of learning Farsi (Persian). Maybe two hours. I then write my blog and an email or two (which I save in my documents). After that, I head to the internet cafe, copy my emails, check mail and news, etc... From there I go back to the house and work on future ideas or rest, working to get out with a combat unit.
On my first day back from Khowst, I needed to get some editing done, get my gear together, and black some tapes for my upcoming excursion. In the process, I decided to devour nearly a kilo of dried apricots. Very good. Nice fiber. No problem. Ahmed warned me about eating too many, but I ignored him and would pay dearly.
I was invited to a place called "The Ganndemack Lodge" for dinner with a British guy (Kiren), whom I'd met in Khowst. He was getting ready to had back and was in need on my Mac and my last blank DVD to copy some pictures. Of course I had to oblige.
Ahmed dropped me off at the place, which like most in Kabul, was in a nasty looking neighborhood. All the houses surrounded by walls with armed guards. I push open the iron door and it lets into a wonderfully green courtyard. Several small groups of people were lounging around talking, having drinks, etc... Definitely a stark contrast to what was on the other side of the wall.
I met with Kiren, who introduced me to some professional friends: Anthony - Stuffy old english guy with the wild stories of "the old days", Lou - Mine clearing engineer from New Zealand who talks without moving his teeth, and Justin, another English guy that works for a security assessment firm. He looks an awful lot like the younger blonde brother from the TV series, "Simon & Simon".
Actually, the character introduction hardly needs to be made. Imagine the fore mentioned talking about their tales on the frontier, while I grimace in pain from the cramps that have plagued me since I walked in. Now mind you, the fiber is doing me just fine, it's the fermenting by-product that is causing such concern and discomfort.
Outside it wasn't such a problem. At least there I could "go for a walk" that really wasn't too noticible. Unfortunately, my "contractions" were literally just minutes apart. So strong were they, that I needed near immediate relief. If not, the discomfort level would skyrocket like "gay" Pete's adrenaline in Ricky Martin's dressing room.
So of course it isn't long before we go to have dinner. It's the first "real" restaurant I've been to in a month and it looks great. Now the Ganndemack is a guest house owned by a freelancer here in Kabul. It has 27 rooms and is basically a "Bed & Breakfast" that also serves dinner to outside guests, primarily Westerners on this night. The place has to be making a killing and is becoming a journalist hangout in Kabul. Three networks call this home including Sky News and CBS. Which of course means Laura Logan is here. She and her producer, Cindy have just joined us for dinner: Fresh salad with blue cheese, leg of lamb, and chocolate syrup cake. It was soooo good.
Throughout the evening I have to dismiss myself four or five times "to let the steam out". Every time, prompting remarks like this from the manager, Katherine: "Oh, don't let my conversation chase you away." She was talking about circumcizing pigs. "Oh, it's not that, I assure you!". Or better yet, from Justin: "Whoa, I thought we were going to have to come looking for you!".
Needless to say, after just an hour, I let Kiren know that I was just physically too uncomfortable to stay. The dinner was nice, I just wish I could have been more social and not so much in distress of exploding.
I have to admit, Kiren at first put my bill on his tab, then I ended up paying for it myself. I wonder what the intentions were, because when I left, it seemed a little frigid. I wonder if he understood the magnitude of my discomfort, or if he he thought he and his stuffy conversation were too much for me. Either way, it was a night to remember at "The Ganndemack".
PS - Late note: My Red Wings have been knocked out. I'm going home to retire my hat and cry.
Monday, May 03, 2004
The day couldn't have been better either. The sun was out, it was properly cool, and few clouds in the sky. The only distraction from the scenery was the Apache that was flying escort.
From the air, Afghanistan is wild. It's like this vast, arid desert, that has island of green dotted throughout certain areas. As you fly, its topography changes quickly; from barren sand to snow capped mountains, all dotted with pitched valleys. The road system as the west would ever know it, just doesn't exist here. Minus the brand new "Ring Road" (phase one runs from Kabul to Kandahar), most of the country is horribly pitted dirt roads at the best. That includes main roads to and from main cities.
We watched the road as we flew from Khowst to Kabul. We've heard it's pretty dangerous. From the air it was slow going as the dirt road twist and turns through some rugged and rural country. We've heard of busses being shot up as they pass, with the assailants running off into rugged surroundings. Perfect bandit country. Glad I'm in an armed army transport.
We fly over Bagram that back out toward a mountain where the door gunners get a little trigger time on some old Soviet wreckage. We pass close to some camels who just check us out and go about their thing.
We land and a reporter from the London-Telegragh (Keron sp?),l get up to the fron t gate to meet Ahmed. We're 15 minutes late. So we rush up there. No Ahmed. An hour later, there's Ahmed in a beat up old car. I finish getting the number from some English-speaking young Afghan looking for work. At first he thought I was in charge of hiring at Bagram. I ask him, "Do you speak English?". He says back, "Umm.. eighty percent!". So I got the number of his "english-speaking cousin" and took off. The kid wanted me to promise to tell him I'll call him this week. I told him I was off to join the Marines in Kandahar. He said, "That's o.k., I'm ready!".
The drive back to Kabul was interesting. The car had major problems. Turns out the IHA car was dropped off at the mechanic and Ahmed borrowed this other car from a friend. Needless to say, they both need a mechanic.
The worst part about this car is that if you slowed down, it would stop. I t also had no desire to make it up a hill. The best part was the electric locks that kept locking/unlocking. Mix that in with some native music and the trip was interesting.
We made it home and I turned out a story, which we fed by five. I got my first shower in three days and I chilled. Didn't eat a whole lot, just kind of laid around and thought about the upcoming mission.
The house is becoming as normal as it can. Both me and the Turks are making extra effort to show there's no problems: Eating together, sharing things, etc... Anyway, that's a good thing. For the second tie Kamaal has said he is leaving soon. He's an ok guy, just not happy here and wants to go. Perhaps it's better so we can get down to business.
Well, another major valley is in front of my. My beloved Red Wings could be knocked out Monday night. They're against the wall, but if any team can do it, it's the Wings.
Unfortunately if the Wings are knocked out, I will be forced to retire my old Red Wings hat. The same hat that has travelled the world with me, will give up the guard to a new generation. The same fate I expect of my Red Wings after this season.
Finally, a shout out to my friend Brent English in New Zealand. He has finally decided to marry and convinced a woman to do it. They're set for August. I met Brent in 1986 when I was in the Marines. I was taking a bus from San Diego to Los Angeles when I met a kiwi family that had a young boy with them named Brent. I don't remember his age exactly anymore, but I believe he was less than 10. We have written off and on ever since. Congrats Brent!! It's awesome!
Saturday, May 01, 2004
The plan was to get to Salerno, do some patrols, then head back to Kabul for a day or so before going to Kandahar. That's the plan at least. I have learned much about patience and fluidity.
My in-country nemesis is a one Major Moon. He runs the press assignments out of Kabul and as big as a pain the ass as can be. He's quickly come to know me, and unfortunately, seems not to care much for me at all. Maybe it isn't me and it is IHA... who knows. I have given him no grief, at least not too much. A type of grief that shouldn't hinder me in getting to the field. Unfortunately that isn't the case.
After waiting a month to get to this place, Moon tells me that "I'm lucky" to have gotten here. I realize there's a huge line to do so, but the problem is much deeper.
I have made it as easy as possible to be deployed: I work alone, have little gear, and am former military. On the other hand: The people I came here with came with two tons of gear and was a huge logistical nightmare. For some reason, the logistical nightmare doesn't create a problem like me asking for assignments. To me this proves that the guy that has me by the balls, simply doesn't like. Me. Unheard of.
I've come to the conclusion that people in power to do not like people who are strong and independent. We're not talking about not following the rules, we're talking about simply being easy to deal with. I am convinced that because I am easy to please, I receive the shit assignments. Then the double edge of the sword comes when I say something to stick up for myself, I'm told to stop complaining and that "I'm lucky".
Reminds me of a time in the Marines. Back around 1986 at Camp Pendleton, a Corporal Bowden would always have me doing the crappy jobs. One day I finally said, "Corporal Bowden, why do you always ask me to do these jobs?". He replied: "Because you don't complain when I ask." At that point I explained to him that in effect, he was punishing me because I did my job properly. I feel the same way here with Major Moon.
When I first got here, I told him that I would take whatever he had while I waited for the "plum" assignments. Unfortunately, that has opened the door for him to accuse me of complaining, when I realize I'm being screwed around.
Back to Bagram:
So I make it to Bagram at the usual time, actually, I got there 30 minutes early. I waited at the front gate for someone to pick me up for an hour and a half. At this point realize, that I'm being done a "favor" and that "I'm lucky" and I do not get to bring my cameraman, Ahmed. No problem.
90 minutes later and I'm still waiting. All of a sudden, two cars pull up, and it's FOX News. Greg P-something is the correspondent, cameraman is Pierre. Nice guys. Funny thing though, they unload literally two SUV's worth of equipment. I'm in near shock. Five minutes after they get there (an hour late), we get picked up. Sound coincidental?
Once at the barracks, I meet up with an Englishman working for Sky News. He is an editor, also with a ton of equipment. He's slated to meet TWO colleagues at Salerno just to edit. He's been in country less than a week. I know because we met earlier at the Thai restaurant.
There's also two guys from a London newspaper who have been in the country for a week, and they're going as well.
Does anyone see a pattern? If it isn't obvious there's a problem....
So we don't get our choppers to Salerno because the FOX equipment is so much(I'm told later). We're told we won't have a flight for nearly a week. I am ready to pull up stakes and head back to Kabul because I can't wait that long. I'm expecting to hook up with the Marines in Kandahar. My current fear is that I'll miss both. Decisions, decisions.
A few hours later, a new set of choppers are lined up (I have heard that it was to help FOX) and we have to wait until 7:00 pm to get the flight. The flight was my first on a Blackhawk which I thought was cool. Unfortunately, it was cold a can be. Took us an hour and a half, including a refuel spot in Gardez.
We got here and it was dark, so there wasn't much to do and we hit the sack. Morning came and the sun produced a firebase that is a mix between World War II, Vietnam, and the 21st century. Nothing but mud, sandbags and tents filled with high tech stuff.
We met this morning with the commanding officer who informed us we were leaving on Sunday, which was when the next patrol was to leave. So here I sit, enjoying my vacation to the Afghan/Pakistani border, "lucky to be here" and have nothing to do.
I told the captain that I would like to stay if Moon once again screwed me and my trip with the Marines was a pipedream. Of course I am told there are others waiting to come and that probably wouldn't be possible. So I'm expecting to hear not only that I can't stay, but that I'm not going with the Marines either. Any predictions?
In the meantime....
Man this is a good album, by Helmet if you don't know. In a literal sense, however, things are as up and down as it gets. Captain Dunigan, our main contact at Salerno, is trying hard to work with me. Still don't know how it's going to happen, but something will. Even if nothing does, I don't care, really, I get paid anyway, just not as much.
So I'm sitting in the internet area waiting to write this blog, and a sergeant comes in and turns tells the specialists to cut phones and computers. Evryone leave. Nobody questions.
An hour later the Captain comes to talk with us about the developments and I ask why the computers are down . He explains that a guy, about a miile from here, walked up to a convoy and blew himself up with a grenade, wounding two soldiers. Of course FOX was grabbed up by the response team, and you're probably watching the report as you read this. I have no luck. Luck isn't something I really believe in, but I'm starting to wonder if my old Red Wings hat is the root of all this misfortune?
So my options are:
A.) Acccording to Major Moon to Major Dunnigan, I am going with the Marines next week, May 5th or so.
B.) Captain Dunnigan has offered to keep me until Thursday so I can do a 3-4 day patrol along the Afghan/Pak border. If lucky, I can be in Kandahar by 5/6 and do both.
C.) Go to Kabul Sunday with nothing from Salerno, but ensure that I make it on time to Kandahar for the Marines.