Saturday, January 22, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - Nawa District

These are two pictures outside of Jaker in the village where we had the Shura. The first one is of the old bazaar. The second one is of the new improved bazaar that the US military built. There was a ribbon cutting ceremony with the US Military and the Elders of the community. 

The community was very excited and grateful for the new bazaar. Behind it is a brand new Government Center. Ironically, the largest building in the area, but they were thrilled with it and all the new construction going on throughout the area. 

It was very difficult to take pictures as there were so many people around. It was amazing to me that we were all walking around slick and I felt as if I was on a tour of Afghanistan instead of walking with the most important people in all of the Nawa, Gamsur and Marja districts from all factions.

I'm hoping to go back in the spring and take a picture of all the shops moved in to the new bazaar and the school with the students inside.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - Nawa District - Shura

This is at a Shura outside of Jaker Base at a school. We are sitting in the auditorium. You can't see, but the room is lined with Marines, Generals and Colonels and Elders, Governors, ANA (Afghanistan National Army) Commanders and ANP (Afghanistan National Police). There are a lot of very important people in this room. 

Outside there are a multitude of ANP, ANA and US Military guarding the structure. The rest of the school is empty, much to the joy of the students I spoke to outside. You will see no one is carrying any weapons and none of us have on any armor. We are all walking 'slick'. There have also been snipers planted for several days.

At this Shura Elders and the Governors have come from surrounding districts, Gamsur, Marja and Nawa. The talk is about the amazing accomplishments and how grateful the Afghanistan people are to the US Military for the reconstruction effort and strides it has made in unifying the people of Afghanistan against the Taliban.

The day before the Principal at a school in Gamsur was beheaded by the Taliban. This Shura is a testament to how the Afghanistan people are unifying against them with the help of US Military training and not letting them overtake their lives. They are no longer afraid to fight for the education of their children.

No matter what you've heard...the people of Afghanistan are extremely grateful for all the US military has done for them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - LATV & MRAP

This was my ride in Afghanistan when I traveled around Nowa the area I was at in the Helmand Province. It's an LATV...Light Armored Transport Vehicle. One of the few acronyms that made sense.

When traveling by convoy you usually have an MRAP sandwiched between two LATV's. An MRAP is 3,6000 pounds, 10,000 pounds heavier than the LATV. It can absorb an IED blast and doesn't need a mine roller. The convoy always has at least three vehicles. The first LATV has a mine-roller attached. In December they lost 28 mine-rollers alone. There has been an increase in IED activity. IED's are improvised explosive devices, homemade bombs.

Inside the LATV you have the Driver, the VC, Vehicle Commander who follows the route on a computer screen, a gunner who sits suspended in the center and pivots around with his machine gun and another troop. I would sit behind the VC.

The windows are very small and made of bullet proof glass. There was always at least one bullet hole disconcertingly right at the Drivers head or VC's head. 

Regardless of the bullet holes, mine roller and really heavy armored doors, I felt very protected and at times really enjoyed the scenery, like the graceful bedouin tents set against the orange and pink desert sunrise complete with camel silhouettes right off of a postcard.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - back in the world

Being home is a bit of an emotional roller coaster. I've suffered culture shock before when I've traveled to foreign countries and returned, but this is different.

I struggle with the words here because it seems crazy, but I miss the combat zone.

There is an intensity about it that I liked. It makes your life precious because it could be over in a heartbeat. The same is true of life here outside of the zone, but you're distracted by life. There, you focus on war.

There isn't a lot of talk except to discuss weapons or when you have to go out on patrol next and if you're carrying the SAW. You are mainly concerned with comfort, chow and your job.  Life is very basic. If you're alive it's good.

With technology and the outside world so accessible you would think that would help, but it doesn't, it detracts. You want nothing else in your life except the task at hand, surviving the war.

Survival is not as easy as it sounds because you could survive physically without a scratch, but you may not have survived at all mentally.

Yet the combat zone is addictive. I ran into numerous retired troops that could not stay away no matter what sort of trouble was going on at home. They needed to be in the zone. They needed the intensity and they craved the brotherhood.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Afghanistan Through My Eyes - back in the world

I'm home and it's as quiet and wierd as I thought it would be.

In Dubai I met Matt from Albuquerque, my home town where this all began with my first hero, Ernie Pyle. He also knew of him and told me his own stories of war.

My last night in Afghanistan I had the pleasure of meeting Maryel Nixon and Mary Graham, both Army Specialists and both from San Diego. Two angels that caught my attention as they walk, sing and chatter like the teenagers they are. Recruited from highschool, Mary only 17, with the temtation of a tunarific special from Subway, which they never got.

I could not help but think of my two daughters and wonder what their thoughts were and explicitly how they dealt with the idea of death...true to innocence, they are ready for it. They believe, just as it should be for a troop, that dying for our country is honorable. True to the creed that soldiers and combatants both civilan and military have a callousness about life. They have the unfortuante capcity of the human race to suspend the normal revulsion to death.

As I listen to the news in my now posh (in comparison to where I've been) living room I hear with concern about the deaths of civilians in southern Afghanistan from IED's. These are the devil stones of this country that will be maiming and killing for generations to come.

I will be posting some photos later. I took both digital and film, yes film...I felt the need to connect to my two heros of the past...hopefully I won't be disappointed with what images actually come through.

Afghanistan...I cannot wait to return.