Friday, January 14, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes

I didn't get into Kabul.
After trying to book an airline ticket and buying a new bag, as mine got ripped and figuring out how to get to the airport from Abbey Gate, the gate to the base, it was 3:45 and snowing hard so I went to the transient tent and snuggled into my sleeping bag and read the rest of the day away.

The snow made everything even more earrie than the sand and dust in Camp Leatherneck.

Amazingly the taxi met me right when I got through all the checkpoints I had to go through to get onto the base to begin with...that seemed so long ago. Then going though a car search, then a body search, then a bag search I got dropped of at a terminal at the wasn't the terminal I was supposed to be in. I was directed to a bus.

Then another bag scan and another body search. The female body searches are done by other females in curtained off rooms. Luckily being a woman and practially the only woman, I was taken to the head of the line! Gotta love this country. I checked my bag and then headed to the gate.

Passport check, then another bag search and body search and into the gate...
Only to be asked to go back down to the baggage check because I packed my body armor and helmet in my bag. They said it was illegal to take into Dubai and I would be thrown in jail. I read an offical looking document saying as such. They wanted me to leave everything there. Wait a minute...isn't this what I was told specifially not to do by US Calvary? I said leave it in and I'll take my chances.

Back though the passport check, bag scan and body scan and into the gate again with about 30 minutes to spare, then an hour...6 1/2 hours later my flight took off for Dubai. Unfortunately, the snow also made it impossible for the planes to arrive from Dubai to pick us up in Kabul!...gotta love this country.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - travel in country

Finally, in Kabul after one convoy, two chopper rides and 3 C130 flights complete with Taliban detainees and evidence!

This has been an amazing trip. I have met so many interesting people. Last night on one of the flights a EOD contractor sat next to me. He was decked out in some pretty fancy gear and sort of a mercenary uniform. It's really interesting all the men who retire and then can't stay away from this life. I totally understand.

While I am on a base, not all the troops here are carrying. I got so used to eating, traveling and even taking a shower with troops carrying. I've always experienced a little culture shock with my foreign travels, but I think this could be very different.

The base I'm on now is a transient base. There are troops from all over. FYI France is our new best Ally. I was over in Bastion yesterday, the British side of Leatherneck and it came through on a direct brief while I was sitting there. I do not exactly know what this means, but politically here in Afghanistan, the Afghans love the US and do not like the British at all. It goes way back in history.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try and get off base into Kabul. I found a travel agency on this base, which no one else I've talked to seems to know about. You definitely have to be an experienced traveler to go to war as a civilian.

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - Jacksonville connection

I can't believe the people I run into. I remember reading that in Ernie Pyle's book "Brave Men", he was always running into people over and over again.

I seem to be making a name for myself. Today I hitched a ride over to Camp Bastion. It's adjoining Leatherneck, but that gives you the size of this place. The Marines I've run into think that is the book to write, hitching through Afghanistan during the war.

Today I spoke with Sargent Justin Soloman born and bred in Jacksonville, Florida and I had breakfast with Rob Welky Chief Petty Officer.  He plans on retiring to Jacksonville.

Here on Leatherneck there is every faction of the armed forces and quite a few women. The women here are generally liked. They are treated like sisters and seem to soften the environment.

One of the casualties of war and being deployed is marriage. There is a lot of divorce.

The sand has taken it's toll on this USO MWR computer, so I'd better quit while I'm ahead.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - reporter connection - Kamber

After an entire day of waiting I'm finally at Leatherneck. Seriously it takes 5 days to get in country and 5 days to get out. My chopper flight kept getting pushed back until it was finally called for mechanical problems at 2200. But, that doesn't mean it was cancelled, that call was made 5 hours later.

I wasn't slated for the next flight so I ended up sleeping in the A/DACG. The Marines were nice about it and totally understood and set up a cot for me. That way I was 1st in line and ready for the 0600 call for the first flight out. Of course that got delayed too.

After I got to Leatherneck there was no one to meet me so I hitched a ride into the main airport. I came in on the chopper field. You can't say this girl isn't self sustaining.

This is kind of amazing. I ran into Adam, another freelance writer and the NY Times reporter Michael Kamber . I only know one reporter at the Times and of course he knows him. He was in Baghdad with him! Small world. We're all going to try and have dinner together.

The base here at Leatherneck is huge and the shower is huge...guess what I'm doing next!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - statistics

About to chopper out for leg two.

The interesting thing about being in the larger camps is the statistics. Here they have 53 cooks with one Head Chef, Gopi of the Renaissance Company. The food is contracted out. They get fresh strawberries and go through 55 dozen fresh eggs and gallons of frozen scrambled eggs for one breakfast alone!

Food is very important to the armed forces. It's a basic creature comfort. You can live without running water and sleeping on the ground and being cold, but it's nice to have hot, decent and hopefully good food at least once in awhile.

I got to go the chapel yesterday, where Chaplain Potter calls home. He came to our camp and is a field Chaplain. He is only on base on Sundays. He leaves crosses of all kinds and Saints medals out for anyone to take. There were no Jewish Stars.

Marrisa Merchant tested the air quality. I was told by a Marine it was for fecal matter. But she said, no it was to test what was in the air. Apparently, in Iraq there were some things there that we aren't supposed to be's not true, what you don't know about can't hurt can.

I also paid a visit to the Battalion Aid Station run by Tommy Childress of Jacksonville, Florida. He was conducting a class for the ANA getting them ready for the 'Over Watch'.

The next base I'm going to has a Pizza Hut and a TGIF...I don't know if that's an improvement in the food or not.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - interpreters

My last night at camp I was treated to a cigar by the cigar club. It was really nice. I only made two inappropriate comments. I won't embarrass myself or worse embarrass the Marines I was sitting with that had invited me to join them. I know I may have given them a second thought or two.

I was also invited to dinner with the interpreters. It was very nice. They made a traditional chicken dinner in their hootch for me. I was very impressed. Of  course while talking it was revealed that I was the oldest person in the room. They are all college educated and want to get to the US.

I have just completed the first leg of my journey home. I thought that I might be bored and lonely but I have already met some great guys and one female Marine. The interesting thing about meeting Marines is that all the men introduce themselves by their last name, but the women introduce themselves by their first name.

It is a bit melancholy for me heading home and leaving a great group of men. I was very impressed not only with them personally, but what they are attempting to accomplish and accomplishing. We all realize it is one step forward and may be a few steps backward with the ANA and withdrawing from Afghanistan, but it has begun and it is impressive and exciting.