Saturday, January 8, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - River City

"He is fighting for his life and killing now for him is as much a profession as writing is for me!"
Ernie Pyle

I couldn't blog yesterday as there was a blackout.
Some things will have to wait to be told.

Yesterday, I was able to go to an ANA (Afghanistan National Army) camp and look around. It is very primitive. The soldiers are an odd juxtaposition of cultural differences. They look modern and official in their camo uniforms with velcro badges of rank, name and ANA along with Arabic writing and carry the right weapons and drive trucks around with machine guns, but inside their barracks is an ancient wood stove with the ubiquitous large nickle tea pot for brewing mint tea and their food is cooked in huge pots blackened by wood smoke. I don't know how many of them have seen an American woman, much less met one.

But, they were all respectful of me as I wore a scarf and didn't look anyone in the eye. At one point sitting down with the ANA 1st. Sargent using the interpreter I realized I was asking too many questions and getting too familiar. The Marine Gunny then made the joke that American women talked too much and we all had a good laugh.

A squad of Scotts came through yesterday and all the Marines had a chuckle over their berets with a feather. 

The color of camo and print is one way to delineate which faction of service a person is with. Names and rank are generally not displayed. This has caused me a little stress as when they wear beanies in the morning to cut the chill I wonder if I've actually interviewed that person yet. They all wear a black plastic patch on their right sleeve. This is an infra red square, so if the camp goes down they can identify them as a Marine.

Tomorrow, Sunday,  I begin the 5 day trek out of country. I take one convoy, two choppers, and 1 C130 cargo plane to get to Kabul.

I am meeting so many amazing people, some of whom I will miss. I met a retired Colonel who is now a contractor and believe it or not we have a mutual friend in Key West, Florida!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - Spenghar Shura

Yesterday the barber shop/salon was open by Post 5. Staff Sargent Sergio (Serge) Fernandez from NY specializes in the 'low fade' after Sargent Christian Flores did a high or low bowl cut depending upon the preference of the Marine. The Marines here are very particular about their looks and amazingly look fresh, clean shaven and showered everyday...when I know they aren't. Of course having me participate upped the rate of Serge who cut my hair in a stylish blunt cut...just before a Shura with the CO here and the CO of the ANA at their base across the road.

The Afghan CO was the real deal.

It's actually fantastic being a woman here because it's the equivalent to being a fly on the wall. I get to listen to everything and am totally ignored so everyone talks freely.

Again, at this Shura, the CO's talked about support during the Over Watch. The CO here was very clever knowing that everything in Afghanistan is a negotiation, but was forceful regarding the timeline.

Later, the Cook was busy starting dinner. He made 'Castaway Rice' as I am at the home of the Castaway's.

A bit later, one of the local Elders came to discuss the building of a bridge and the support of the other local Elders and whom to choose as leaders of the ISKI. Sitting in a small wooden structure that was used to train the ANA we drank green tea. There were posters written in Arabic of heroic men and padded benches which were a nice change from the hard wooden ones all over camp.

In just a few minutes I believe the water in my solar shower bag will be warm enough to take a shower. I'm really looking forward to this! It's about 40 degrees out now in the sun, the hottest part of the day; so I'm going for it. There's been a little action with the ANA and they've utilized our support so the camp is quiet, the best time to attempt this.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - Nawa District - Shura

Another amazing day! The days here are so filled with interesting things that they feel like several days have passed.

I didn't make it back to the camp I'm staying in for dinner because I was able to attend a Regional Security Shura. The major officals of Helmand and the Marines were in attendance.

It was held in a school. Later, when I asked where all the children were that attended school, I was told they had a holiday because of the meeting which they were quite happy about.

I don't know what room the meeting was held in but assume it was a general meeting room or auditorium. The 40 X 100ft room was covered with a large red carpet and surrounded by windows. Oriental carpets were in the center surrounded by red Bokara patterend pillows for everyone to sit on. During the speeches of committment from the Elders and Marines, tea was served by two boys dressed in traditional garb. They came out carrying large silver tea pots and poured tea for everyone.

After the speeches we all walked to the Bizarre for ribbon cutting ceremonies for the opening of the new shops. Then we walked to the new governement center. The Marines made an display of safety by having us all go slick, (no armour). After the walking tour we wound up back in the large pillared room for lunch. In came tray after tray of chicken, kabobs, meatballs, vegetables, fruit and rice with flat platters of naan. It was delicious and a feast. I felt guilty about not being able to finish mine, but it was enough for 3 men.

I met a lot of Colonels and Majors etc. Everyone was very upbeat about the success of the event. From my standpoint it was definitely one step forward in rebuilding Afghanistan.

I am impressed by the friendliness, consideration and concern everyone has for my well being and hope to return the favor by letting the world know that our presence in Afghanistan is appreciated. I saw this first hand.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - Geronimo

After one more flight on a C139 and two chopper flights I landed in Geronimo. What a difference! There are no lights so I was really disoriented when I landed and had to find my billet.

Thank goodness I bought a duffle with wheels. I have to drag this duffle while wearing my 25lb vest and 3lb helmet plus the 10lb backpack through heavy rocks and deep sand. After I got into my billet I went to dinner. It was only 1800 but felt like 0200 after all the travel. Their 'chow hall' is amazing!

I had a nice chat with a Marine who told me they don't generally like reporters. So I am calling myself a journalist...a huge distinction and they seem to like that.

After dinner I thought I'd try a shower. I am the ONLY woman so they reserved the shower trailer for one hour, 2000 to 2100.  I didn't want to rush the Marine taking a shower and so I waited, and waited and waited trying to entertain myself with the brilliant desert sky and multitude of satellites.

I wanted to be at the moter pool at 0800 sharp!

After a much warmer shower than in Camp Bastion I used my flashlight to get back to my billet.

Today on my way to the next camp in a M Wrap built for ied strikes we did watch as the ANA (Afghanistan National Army) pull an ied (jug) from the road we were traveling on. One prior had gone off and killed a man.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to have dinner with my Base CO Chris Richardella and a tribal elder...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - Leatherneck/Bastion

I can't believe my last post was the 29th! I've been traveling since the 30th and I'm still traveling. I'm in Camp Bastion, which is like being on the moon. Dusty and dust colored with look alike billets everywhere, landing at night in a C14 was very disorienting.

I won't have any computer access after this as I am moving out futher south...two more flights, chopper rides, not sure yet how I'm traveling but as of last night I have to wear my flak vest and helmet. I am determined not to be an inch shorter when I return.

The food is decent but we have to use porto potties. I took my first shower of the trip last night in a tent with cold water...really fun at 2:00am in 20 degree weather.

I have taken a few pictures but can't post them as I am using a computer at the USO and it's not compatible with Mac.

The soldiers here are very hospitable and friendly, but in their own worlds. You have to have a detached mind set as here you are in a bleak environment, doing the same thing everyday. It would be very depressing for the most part so you have to shut down a bit and be happy with the little things, not surpisingly.

I've met up with the press from the BBC and another freelance writer. I stayed in the media tent last night, probably like the Ritz Carlton, okay maybe Holiday Inn compared to where I'm going to sleep tonight.

I'll post again as soon as I can, but taking copious notes.