- 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? firstname.lastname@example.org And check out the site I'm working with: http://www.billroggio.com Support independent journalism!
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Combined Forces Command (CFC) was offering a quick day trip to a village near Bagram and had put out an advisory inviting the media along. Day trips are perfect: You get a chopper ride, a convoy, see the kids AND get back for dinner.
Planning on not going out again, I figured the risk factor here to be low, so I decided this would be the last trip... for sure.
We met at ISAF airport in Kabul for the 15 minute Blackhawk chopper ride to Bagram. At ISAF, I met up with Scott again. It was good since the last and first time I saw or met him was when I was sick as a dog the day after the elections in Kandahar. He had his girlfriend with him, who is also a still shooter. What a life... get to travel the world, take pictures, get paid AND be with your woman. He definitely has the set up.
The ride was unadventurous as was the pre-convoy brief. When all was said and done, I got the front seat of an SUV for the 45 minute, very bumpy ride to Kapisa Province. What we are on is a humanitarian drop, which is done all around the country on a regular basis. The idea for today's event was a massive and coordinated one day drop at 25 locations around Afghanistan to help celebrate the end of Eid and the holy month of Ramadan.
We made our way through the narrow streets of the villages and across the bumpy roads of the country before we came to a school yard, which like everything else here, is surrounded by a high wall. Inside the schoolyard were hundreds of people waiting for us. I immediately had the same feeling I had coming around the corner of my first medical brigade in Honduras. I had to just step back and say, "Whoa.."
I had warned the female soldier with me of the dirty, perverted things the children will try for her and filled her in on some of the customs, particularly concerning interaction between men and women. In a nutshell, if you are not covered and veiled, you are considered a whore. That simple. Of course within five minutes I have to chase a little pervert away from her that was doing just what I had warned the Lieutenant about. What they do is rub their finger in their hand. If they have a chance, they will grab your hand, spit in it and rub your hand in that manner. Rather disgusting and primal. I guess the age is what freaks me out. These kids I see do this are 8, 9, 10, etc... No wonder the birthrate is an astonishing 6.8 kids.
Everything seemed to be going well. The men all standing around a huddled see of blue bhurkas. No unveiled women here. In fact ALL the women were in bhurkas.
The army loaded all the stuff into a tent, which was soon packed to the gill with clothes, blankets, school supplies, etc. First some handicapped people came through, then some women and all was going fine. The whole time, men and boys that had surrounded the tent began sneaking under the tent trying to steal stuff. Time after time they would get hit with rifles and sticks, but they kept coming back. It was like a pack of coyotes finishing of a dangerous piece of prey. One would swoop in, make a grab and run. Twenty minutes in to the drop and I'm getting pictures from the outside of the tent as these guys are trying to grab stuff. I follow one in and almost get whacked with a stick. Just writing this I now remember the look on the guys face that was about to whack me. Glad he didn't. As soon as I got in though, all hell broke loose around me. Like a feeding frenzy, once a box was penetrated, it was on. I just stood in the middle and shot the carnage. Sgt. Weitzke was standing his ground in a corner to my front right and I could see Christie and Scott snapping away to my back right. Doctor, from APTN, was off to my left getting the high angle shot. Me, I was sitting on a box of stuff that was quickly shrinking beneath me. It was wild. People grabbing anything they could. Guards pushing, hitting, beating... you name it, it was on. Funny thing is, most people I saw had smiles on their faces. Very surreal. One guard came through with a 1x6 taking long swings and clearing out all sorts of people who ran from his attack. They'd just flank him though and go back to pillaging everything in site. Even the cardboard boxes themselves.
I know for sure a few people got hurt, no doubt. You can't just get hit by a rifle and not be hurt. That hurts, no matter what the movies show. The dust was incredible inside the tent. Orange light broke through the canvas showing the trails of dust as the people fought for anything that wasn't cemented to the ground. Of course they destroyed the school's desks in the process. Hell, the mullahs were so embarrassed that they left without saying a word.
After a good 15 minutes, I thought push would come to shoot. One militia guy was chasing this other guy and he was relentless. He was going to catch this guy and when the one being chased realized it, he turned around and grabbed the guy's gun. That sent a wave through the crowd that brought all the gunmen running. I thought this was gonna be a gunfight. It wasn't (thank god), but one of the Afghan Americans that helped organize the trip became very worried that the police and militia where going to start fighting, so we loaded up and left.
We still had 50 goats to deliver, but had we done it at the school, it would've been a massacre. So we drove to the governor's house, talked, did some interviewing and left the goats there with the governor and the militia/police for them to distribute. I thought that was a bad idea and as we left, one of the translators said, "You just delivered the sheep to the wolf." How appropriate.
At Bagram, I got myself a haircut and a whopper and waited for the chopper. Again a Blackhawk. This time, the crew chief asked if we wanted the door open. Knowing this was my last chopper ride over Afghanistan, I was easy to convince and did I regret it. Must've been my seat, but the ride was horrible. I couldn't even look out the door it was blowing so hard. IN fact, I could feel my face wobbling around like in a wind tunnel with the occasional drool escaping and smacking into the guy next to me. Seriously, when we got to ISAF, the inside of my glasses were completely spattered in eye juice. And I thought I'd seen it all. What a warmup to going back to the house to ride out my time.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
My final day with 3/116th was on Wednesday, November 3rd. As we were getting up for breakfast, the returns from the US were just coming in, so I did a story of troops in Afghanistan watching the returns. Thought the story was more than apt considering how important the elections were and the fact that these men were still fighting in Afghanistan, the lynchpin of the war on terror.
Everything went well as the predominately Bush crowd enjoyed early victory which would eventually turn into the nail bitter we are all now familiar with. As the networks were trying to figure out Ohio, it was time for me to go, so I grabbed my gear and headed for the gate.
Before climbing into the car with Ahmet, the unit presented me with a coin and a certificate for coming down to do holiday greetings. Great gesture that definitely made my day. BTW, these "coins" are unit coins typically made up for units when they deploy. I also got one from the 22nd MEU, both of which will go into the memory drawer forever.
The ride back was ok. Ahmet and I haven't been talking so it was cordial, but quiet. He let me know that there has been some weird things in Kabul and that in fact, he was worried about his safety. That's the line I draw. That's when you know things aren't all that healthy in the capital. Not that it was dangerous, but that even the fact that long term locals had fear, definitely raised the awareness level again. Regardless, it was good to get back and Ii was looking forward to managing the bureau for a few weeks, lay low and see it out my contract.
Unfortunately things didn't work out so well, and like before, the office is still out of control. Our production has dropped significantly and the morale is out the window. I have no choice but to just continue doing my best, covering my beat, with the hopes Istanbul will recognize where the problems lie.
For the past month, it's been Ramadan, which means breakfast at 0400 because the guys all fast until around 1720. Needless to say, I was treated like everyone else and ended up on a tuna fish, egg and pomegranate diet, which is taking its toll. To make matters worse, the guys WAY overspent the food budget (which I do not control or have any say in) and at this moment in the month, we continue to nearly starve due to lack of funds and organization. It's really just gotten to the point where I wake up when the sunrises and go to bed when it sets. Since no one gets up around here until 1100 - 1200ish, it just works out well for me. I get 6 hours of peace.
If the professionalism lacking isn't bad enough, culturally things have also been falling apart. I live in a house where the guys cheer when US and British soldiers are killed and scream bloody murder when a mosque full of iinsurgents is blown up on the TV. I get to hear about how awful Hiroshima was and that Pearl Harbor never happened. I get cheers when Margrat Hussein was executed and cries for war when an insurrgent is executed. It's all, collectively, taking a huge toll on me and I can't wait to go home.
One thing I can say is that this is giving me tons of practice in anger management. In fact, one of the guys got angry with me and did the old "stick your chest out and get in my face" routines. In the process, he knocked my Mac 17' off the table, breaking my display. Not only that, but my Final Cut editor is out as well. Now, normally the resulting action would be a swift ass kicking, but that wasn't the case as I just gathered my things and went to my room to start plotting another mission with the military just so I could get outta here.
Monday, November 15, 2004
When the order came down to move out, I'd just finished dinner and tea with the ANA and was relaxing with some local help that, according to the interpreter, earned me respect among the troops. I have found this to be the case wherever I went and interacted with the the Afghans.
As the men around me started to quickly pack, I stumbled my way up the dark, boulder strewn hill, which proved to be much more difficult than usual. With no light, I made my way to my fighting position and quickly packed all my gear and waited for the order.
Our mission was to provide covering fire for Bravo as they pulled back through the valley and village which was the center of the action earlier that day. Many of the guys were grumbling about the order, but followed without hesitation. 45 minutes into the wait, Bravo finally began to move.
We followed the 15+ vehicle convoy with night vision as they snaked past the base of the hill were on. We had to wait 10 minutes before we could move, which made everyone nervous about IEDs.
After 10 minutes, we were off in a long convoy of our own. All I could think about was IEDs. 45 minutes later, we were safe and sound back at our base camp which was within the walls of a National Directorate of Security compound. There we all unpacked and most hit the rack. I spent some time at the fire can with Charlie before pulling up my bedding on a dusty concrete floor inside the main building.
Sunday, October 31st 2004
We spent the morning packing up the camp to get ready for the 100 km move south to the FOB at Ghazni. Somehow, I lost my seat in the Humvee and ended up taking the trip in the back of a full 5-ton truck. It really wouldn't have been that bad except for the fact that my truck was pulling a trailer full of 50 gallon fuel drums. Obviously, this gave me some rather nauseating thoughts. Not only were we the perfect IED target, but we were pulling fuel as well. My only comfort was that my death would be quick in the event of an attack. The ride seemed to take forever, primarily because of the cold as the thought of attack went away rather quickly and we pulled into FOB Ghazni with no trouble at all.
Later that night came word that there was an attack and we were very concerned it came on the scout unit that was still out in Parwan. When an attack happens with casualties, they shut down the phones and internet so word can't get out prematurely. The guessing led to the guys getting upset because the only unit out was the scouts and the process of elimination was getting the guys riled up, particularly because many thought we pulled out too early.
So as a reporter should, I went looking for answers and quickly found them. Turns out it was the Iowa guard that was hit in a neighboring province which killed 1 and wounded two. I let my source know that the guys were very upset which prompted the leadership to quietly pass the word that the 3/116th was intact.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
As we start down the road where, as usual, the Afghans are having a hoot that some random white guy has just jumped into their truck. The drive down has quick and bumpy and like always, dusty.
A couple of km down, we stop, turn around and head the opposite direction. We were out because Bravo was supposedly in contact again and we were going the opposite way.
We pulled up to the beginning of a clusters of buildings and fanned out while moving toward the village. There the Americans told the local police to start questioning the village elders about who it was firing on the coalition.
Which is always the case, the men all said they heard nothing about outsiders or fighters. In fact none of them heard the thud of HE rounds hitting the mountain. We did find one guy that heard the B-1 come over head and he said they were all very scared.
This is the biggest challenge these troops face out here and it's a simple matter of numbers. I truly believe that these people want to give the ACM up, they are just afraid of reprisal, which is always deadly. Because the coalition doesn't have enough troops to properly secure the country, patrols come and go with no consequence for what is left behind. Today there is security, but once Charlie and Bravo move on, it's up to the local police who are incapable of the job right now.
The alternative is giving the terrorists food, shelter or whatever in return for not being killed. Talk about a rock and a hard spot.
We push through the village and head toward a very steep, foothill to the range beyond. It's here that we hear a shepherd is supposed to be, but there is no sign of him and we start up the hill. By this time the agile young Afghans are quickly moving up, while me and the armor-laden Americans are pull up the rear. When the Afghans make it to a depression that looks like a cave, they stop. When they stop, we stop and just look at them.
The cave turns out not to be a cave and the Afghans want to continue to the ridge. Much to my delight, the U.S. advisors wave them down. I have to say, for men that had not trained together, they approached the village together quite well with police spreading out on the flanks keeping proper distance, etc...
On the way back in, we stopped a few more random guys and got the same story over and over. I've heard it a million times since I've been here and will hear it more, I'm sure.
Just as we were loading up to leave, the police came to the Americans and told them they had found someone who wanted to talk, but was afraid. So the soldiers acted like they arrested him and we took him off to be interviewed.
The man claimed that he knew the men who fired on the troops, what they looked like and where they lived. He also said that there were up to six Al Qaida in the hills led by a Pakistani that had come over the border just three days before.
Before long the intel guys showed up. Regular army guys that don't have to shave, don't have to wear uniforms and drive well equipped white SUV's. The Americans decide to split up, one team pushing up to Bravo , leaving one of the "agents" to interrogate the informant. By this point the man was truly scared and was not interested in fingering the bad guys in person. That's when the intel guy steps up, finger out, telling the guy he will cooperate or he'll be "held responsible".
For whatever the technique, it worked because eventually the guy was showing the informant the very darkly tinted windows of the SUV and he seemed assured no one could see in.
By now, I want to get up the hill and get my sleeping gear because if Bravo was going to knock on some Al Qaida doors, I certainly wanted to be there. So the ETT's with the Afghan Army agreed to take me up the hill. On the way up, though, I saw the column pull out without me.
At the top of the hill I let the guys know what was up and that got them excited and a bit pissed. You have to understand, these guys want to do their job badly and knowing there may be Al Qaida down there stokes the fire. Not only that, but they've been here 4 months and Bravo just arrived from Bagram and just like that, Bravo is getting more action in a week then Charlie has had since they got here.
Turns out the cordon and search was not approved. Not sure why, but it was. I also didn't hear all of the conversation of what was going on with HQ and the informant, so who knows what influenced the decision.
So with the sun going down I finished of my sleeping area, which actually looked quite comfortable. I was then invited down with some of the others to have dinner with the Afghans, which I accepted. They have fire afterall, and it was getting cold.
Dinner turned into tea as the soldiers asked me various questions about America and what not, which went on for about a half an hour when all of a sudden, the Afghans got up and started breaking camp telling me we were going to Ghazni.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Ever since I found out that the "Bedford Boys" were heading to Afghanistan, I new I was going to do everything my imagination would allow, to find a good excuse to visit with them. Afterall, Charlie Company is made of of many people from where I hail, Roanoke, Virginia.
So I finally got through the elections and slowed things down a bit so I could heal a wrteched back and wait out an embassy alert warning of a plot by terrorists to kidnap journalists, specifically Americans. Their plan was a promise to provide insurrgent video proving attack claims on American troops is underreported by the military. Since I have been in touch with such a contact I thought it would be prudent to lay low for a bit. Continuing the trend, the time off went through the election process with no problems with Karzai getting the outright victory and 55% of the historic vote. That discounts the need
for a runoff. So with everything simmering down, I decided to head down to Ghazni to see what the local guys were up to.
Once down there I was welcomed with open arms and was quickly given an empty room from one of the guys on leave. I wasn't there long though as I was punched out to Wardak Province to hook up with Charlie Company. That involved a 45 minute ride back toward Kabul where Charlie was encamped at a National Directorate of Security HQ.
The compound is a good sized walled compound that had all the scars of war: Pock marked walls, ammunition littering the ground, bunkers and worst of all, human crap. See, the Afghans have very little concept of sanitation. Their idea of a field bathroom is to piss on the nearest wall, and crap behind the nearest burned out vehicle. It is a constant reminder of just how dirty this country really is. No wonder I get sick some much.
Most of the guys were sleeping in one-man tents around the compound, usually gravitating around a fire. Most of the upper NCO's and officers were inside an unheated concrete building where they used portable cots and stretchers as beds. Once there I was hooked up with second platoon which had come back from the field to pick me up and we headed back into the lunar landscape of Parwan Province.
We travelled toward an area that the unit had been operating in before. Bravo was still out here and in fact had engaged in a small firefight a few nights before. The hill we picked to camp for the night was rocky and barren. Actually, everything on a hill or mountain is barren, but we had a good view of the valley below, excellent fields of fire with and no exposure to any type of ground fire except for mortars.
We joined an Afghan Army (ANA) unit which was camped 50 meters down the hill in a slightly more exposed position. The four humvee guntrucks we came with circled up and we set our camp for the night. Many of the guys slept in the hummers where they would ofteen turn them on to start the heater. The tradeoff was leg cramps. Each truck gunner kept an eye out through night vision with his machine gun trained downrange. I decided to sleep in a small "ranger grave" that one of the guys had cleared out earlier.
We didn't do much that night, but it gave me a chance to get to know some of the guys as well as get some tea with the Afghans. Turns out many of the guys are Virginia Tech students yanked out of school in mid-year to go to Afghanistan. A lot were guys from other states that joined the guard just to get in-state tuition, only to be sent overseas. The rest were state troopers, fireman and postal workers. Good group of guys that I was really able to relate with because, a. They speak English and b. They're from my side of town.
The Americans, following light dicipline, sat on the top of the hill in the dark and cold, keeping an eye out for any sign of trouble. Below the Afghans had a couple of fires going in a small depression on the hillside. As the norm, I joined them for a cup of tea and to talk about how things were going in their army. I always try to get a unit's pulse. I figure out of all the ANA units I've had chi (tea) with this year, I have a good sample.
Just after the first cup of tea, the ANA guys started to quickly mobilize after we got word that Bravo Company was again in contact with ACM. Getting an excellent chance to escape the conversation, I head up the hill where the Americans are looking over the valley at the firefight across the valley and beyond a mountain. Of course while I was getting tea, all of this was happening, so the best I saw was a tracer or three skip up and over the mountain into the valley below.
Bravo was apparently camped near a school in the valley when ACM (anti coalition militants) started firing from the mountain above. Bravo responded with small arms, a couple of AT-4 rockets and 60mm mortar fire, all of which was lit up by flares. I'd later find out from Bravo soldier that was watching the fight through thermals that a mortar round hit within 15 meters of the ACM position, scattering them up and over the hill. When they got there, they found blankets, shoes and a tea kettle with hot tea. "I drank some." he said with a smile.
I don't know for sure, but I believe the contact this week is the first two direct contact fighhts 3/116 has had. Earlier this summer, not long after getting to Ghazni, two soldiers and an Afghan terp were killed by an IED. Those soldiers came from Alpha Co. which is mostly based around Winchester, Va. Regardless, I'm sure the fireworks on Halloween got the guys thinking. Just about everyone I talked to wants to get at these guys and are frustrated they are so elusive. It also show that the days of the Taliban have certainly grinded to a halt.
To cap off Halloween 2004, we got the call that a B-1 was coming. Sweet... maybe they'll light up the mountain? I really didn't think it woas going to happen because of the civillians and the fact that there weren't that many ACM, but who knows.
After about 20 minutes, you could hear it coming in a low roar/screech time noise. They came in relatively low, right across the valley. As it passed us, it kicked on the after burners which I'm sure woke up the province. If that doesn't send a message. Satisfied the fight was over and wanting to concentrate on trying to sleep, I climbed into my hole with my haji blankets and did my best to sleep.
Sunday, October 31st 2004 0500 Parwan Province, Afghanistan
I woke up in pretty good shape. The night was cold and uneventful. I'd describe it best as "restless". No matter. It didn't take long to decide what we were going to do, so after shaving, brushing of the fangs and burning the trash, we headed out toward where Bravo was.
After getting turned around a couple of times, we finally got moving in the right direction. As is usually the case, the kids were very receptive, most the men just stared and the women virtually non-existiant. I'm sure between the fact the U.S. Army with ANA soldiers was convoying through the area and our misdirection, we provided plenty of talk and gawk for the locals.
Eventually we made our way through the pass taking us into an extension of the valley that was home to maybe several thousand people. Once again, we drove up on rocky hill overlooking the valley. This time however, we were in a spot that could easily get lit up. It really isn't too much of a worry because at this point, Charlie is looking for a fight. Not only that, but the chances of encountering an element of Taliban that has any size to it is relatively remote. So from here we hung around a bit waiting on the word to dig in, which we finally got. Everyone dug small sleeping holes and ringed them with rocks. Some soldiers used heavy rocks for protective purposes, others, like me, used a wimpy pile to deflect the wind, not neccesarily bullets. I had still a ways to go on my position (which is on the line, unarmed, yipeee) when a QRF (Quick Reaction Force) was assembled. Bravo was in contact again. I ran down the hill toward the ANA 5-ton, jumped in the back and we were off.