Nov. VMO to Charkh Slide show

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Here are all the pictures from Rex’s recent village medical mission to Charkh.

 

VMO Part 2 – Insurgents Attack

ANA armed escort.

It was a brisk morning and the mercury was holding steady about 26 degrees.  We ate a hot breakfast and prepared for the next leg of our trip.  We met up with our US escort to finalize the details.  The route clearance guys (IED hunters) would go in front of us and actively search for IEDs implanted in the culverts and along the road.  As fast as the IED

Road leading to district center.

hunters dispose of the IEDs, the insurgents wait until they pass and reseed the road with these lethal home-made bombs composed of two types of fertilizer and diesel fuel.  The fertilizer is cheaper than a bag of flour and is abundant in country and available anywhere for resale.

We aligned the convoy and picked up additional ANA troops and vehicles

We got ourselves a convoy!

along with some commercial trucks transporting food and drink supplies for the troops at the Charkh District Center.  In all, we had over 30 vehicles in our convoy.  As we traveled down the dusty dirt road, our gunners were given an opportunity to fire the crew serve weapons at the mountain side to ensure the machine guns were functioning properly.  My gunner who is an AF SSgt enjoyed this part of the trip.

Village children by their house door.

The terrain was barren and desert like, but the IED craters in the road were a reminder that the enemy was somewhere in the vicinity and didn’t want us traveling to their town.  We turned off the dirt road on to an asphalt one that would lead us directly into the village center.  I was surprised to see the abundance of the trees and orchards that paralleled this road.   The village children came out of their houses to watch as our armed convoy passed by.  One small boy had a wood switch in his hand and used his other hand motioning for us to get out.  It was as though he wanted to whip us with his stick!  Look at the picture to see the seriousness on his face, it was unforgettable and made us chuckle at

Afghan boy who wanted to whip us.

the time.

As we approached the combat outpost, the road turned into talcum powder like sand.  This caused the tires to spin, thus creating dust clouds making visibility difficult.  I tried to capture this with my camera, but there was so much dust, you can’t see the vehicle in front of us.  We arrived safely at the camp and set up our gear in a nearby tent.  While eating our MREs, we heard a torrent of machine gun fire.  We were certain there was a shooting range nearby and they were practicing their marksmanship.  This was not the case.  Our escorts departed the FOB and drove about 1 kilometer and they were attacked by small-arms fire.  One of the US gunners was injured by shrapnel and after the fire fight was sent to the medical clinic at FOB Shank an hour’s drive away.   I was informed the soldier is going to be fine.

Outside of school.

It was obvious our presence wasn’t welcome.  This was the first time, the FOB had attempted a VMO and HA distribution since being set up earlier in the year.  But this wasn’t going to discourage us, so we walked next door to the VMO site.  It was a 2-story modern looking school.  An Army LT explained that the insurgents previously

Modern classroom.

riddled the school full of bullet holes.  Since then, the holes have been patched, windows replaced, new desks purchased, and the school was painted.  The villagers may have reached an agreement with the Taliban to permit their children to attend the school, because it hasn’t been attacked since.  The Charkh DC is composed of a 178 miles

Afghan women villagers in burqas.

of populated villages (pop. 40,000), orchards, deserts, and mountains.  There are approximately 30-40 hardcore extremists who try to control the district and about 100 other insurgents who seem to take turns attacking the coalition forces.  In addition, there are over 500 sympathizers who provide some sort of assistance to the

Carrying in school supplies.

anti-government militants.

My ETT team along with the ANA unloaded medicines, blankets, clothing, and school supplies from the 7-ton truck and stored them inside the school building.  The ANA doctors and US medics were busy setting up the pharmacy and the treatment rooms.  The

Afghan teenagers who hate Americans.

village women and children would be treated on one side and the Afghan men and boys would be treated on the other side.  After they received their medications, they would visit the HA center.

While the team was preparing the site, I ventured down to the entry control point to take some pictures.  There were several boys perched on top of the mud-brick wall motioning for my attention.  I walked over to them along with my interpreter Omid.  The boys were demanding “rawdios” and callum (radios and pens).  The radios are one of the most popular items we hand out, because it has a manual crank and doesn’t require electricity.  I didn’t have any radios or pens to hand out.  But I saw this as an opportunity to create some dialogue.  I inquired whether they liked Americans or not.  The oldest teenager responded and my interpreter was hesitant to translate.  I insisted he translate word for word.  The translation was “I hate Americans”.  At first I was a bit disgruntled and thought to myself, “You hate Americans, but you want our HA and medicines we give out”.  Instead, I told him, that I respect your opinion and wanted to know more.  Here is a generalization of our conversation:

Me:  Why do you hate Americans?

Boy:  Because you are a non-believer.

Me:  (Recalling my conversation with ANA mullah)  I am not a non-believer, I just have a

different book than you do.  (Referring to the Bible for Christians and the Koran for Muslims)

Boy:  It doesn’t matter; I am supposed to hate Americans.

Me:  Why do you say that?

Boy:  Because the village mullah teaches us this way.  (In the interim, another younger boy interjects)

Young Boy:  (Talking to older boy)  Don’t tell him that because he won’t give us a radio or a pen.

Me:  Come here tomorrow when we are open and I will give you a radio and other HA.

Me playing volleyball.The VMO/HA site was set up and the doors were secured.  Afterward, I joined in a friendly game of volleyball with the ANA and ANP.  Despite being 44 and 7/8 years old, I was still able to block their spikes and hold my own.  Meanwhile my teammates went to eat and after volleyball I would do the same.

After chow, I was in the small computer and phone center.  Suddenly the windows rattled and a large explosion was heard.  An Army Specialist came running inside and yelled for everyone to leave and grab their gear because we were under attack.  I was in a bit of a pickle because my body armor, helmet, and my M-4 rifle were secured in the tent.  To get to the tent, I would have to pass by the Entry Control Point (ECP) where all the action was taking place.  Instead, I decided to take cover in the small concrete wall room along with two of my interpreters.  I was still armed with my M-9 pistol, so if an ambush would take place, I could still defend myself at a very short range.  The insurgents were using air burst Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) to try and take out the guard towers and the ECP.  The soldiers on duty opened up with a deafening reverberation of 50 caliber machine guns.  There were several large booms.  Admittedly, I was a bit scared and so were my interpreters as they hunched down low and took cover under a wood platform supporting a computer.  It was like everything was in slow motion.  The attack only lasted for 10-15 minutes, but it was agonizing.  So many thoughts flashed through my head.  My biggest worry was an errant RPG because they are inaccurate and unpredictable.  I thought about my lovely wife Liisa and about our future vacation plans in a few weeks.  I pulled out my gold cross she gave me and said a small prayer.  Then just as quickly as it happened the gunfire was silent and we waited another 15 minutes until an all clear was given.  Unknown to me at the time, my teammates were huddled in a bunker wearing all of their body armor.

Afterwards the Army soldiers were yelling “Hooah” and talking about the attack and previous attacks.  I recall one soldier bragging about #67.  It had been several weeks since they last attacked and it was obvious this one was meant for us and to instill fear in the villagers and discourage them from coming out to the VMO site.

We returned to our tent and I looked at the various expressions on my teammate’s faces.  I’m sure several of them experienced the same thing I did, but probably won’t admit it.  We settled down for the night and lit the wood burning stove.  This proved to be quite a chore since we didn’t have kindling and resorted to dipping the large wood chunks into diesel fuel.  The stove was too small to heat the large tent and the 2 foot flames being emitted from the flu might possibly catch the tent on fire.  The Army 1st Sgt managed to find a diesel fuel connector but the amount of heat it provided was dismal at best.  You had to be 6 inches from the stove to feel the heat.  It was freezing outside and not much better in our tent.  It was going to be a cold night.

Multi-Missions take a toll

I’ve been on multiple missions these past few days and have fallen behind with my writing and pictures.  My Internet connection has been spotty and today the server went down.  Friday for the most part we had off and I spent most of my time cleaning and organizing my room, doing laundry, and resting.  These missions can really drain your energy and my room looked like a hurricane came through it.  But now I have managed to restore order to my space and my Internet connectivity is cooperating a little bit better.

Yesterday after mentoring our ANA counterparts, we spent the afternoon inspecting our MRAPs.  We went over each vehicle with a fine tooth comb and identified all of the minor and major deficiencies we could locate.  The Marines were not gentle with these vehicles and they have some problems that need to be fixed.  I suppose in the areas where they traveled, a speedometer was not required.  But personally I like to monitor my speed when traveling on the highways.  I also wouldn’t mind if the horn was functional and reattached.

Preying Mantis on teammate's ear.

Preying Mantis on teammate's ear.

After inspecting the MRAPs, we also inspected our armored HMMVWs and prepared them for tomorrow’s mission.  We are supposed to go visit a remote guard tower and if our teammate can’t get on the helicopter, we will drive him to the airport.  While inspecting the vehicles, one of my teammate’s found a Praying Mantis and it crawled up his arm and attached itself to his ear.  I also took a picture of one of the mountain peaks overlooking our FOB.

Mountain overlooking our FOB.

Mountain overlooking our FOB.

 

Helo mission to FOB Shank

Helo taking off with Tajbeg Palace in the background.It was another cool morning and our 72-hour assault packs were packed.  I was still feeling a little bit sore from yesterday’s mission.  I swear the Captain hits the bumps fast to see if I will hit the ceiling or pop the gunner out of the turret.  Anyhow, we went over to the Landing Zone (LZ) to wait for our inbound helicopter.  Off in the distance, some of the Snow on the mountains.mountain peaks displayed a light dusting of snow.  Winter is quickly approaching and government officials are worried that it might interfere with the election run-off on November 7.

Today we were going to escort the ANA colonel along with his two body guards to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Logar Province.  He wanted to inspect the troops and visit the Forward Logistics Element (FLE…pronounced flea).  We watched as a helicopter circled around the mountains and then landed at the LZ.  The helo blades create such a wind storm causing the temperature of the cold air to drop 10-15 degrees.  We were rather surprised when the crewman informed us this wasn’t our helicopter and ours was canceled.  Although the flight was canceled for a particular airframe, we were certain they would substitute another helicopter in its place.

ETT Team leader and ANA colonel.Our helicopter eventually arrived and our ETT Team Leader, AF Captain, and I along with our ANA guests boarded the aircraft.  Our plan was to make a quick assessment of the FLE and meet with key leaders at the FOB.  The helicopter flew through parts of Wardak and then Logar Province before landing at FOB Shank.  Due to the sporadic rain, it was difficult Isolated village in Logar Province.to take pictures of the villages we flew over.  Similar to the other provinces I’ve visited; most of the houses are constructed out of mud-brick and protected by thick walls.  Some of the villages seemed so isolated it’s hard to understand how they survive, especially with winter rapidly approaching.

Our party was met by one ANA Colonel inspecting the troops.of our teammates and some of the FOB leadership.  We departed by truck and traveled to the ANA side more commonly known as Mai-Wand.  Three of my ETT teammates are housed in the same complex as the ANA soldiers they mentor.  We toured the FLE facilities and then the ANA Colonel held an open ranks inspection of his troops.    Jordanian chow hall.Afterwards we discussed some business and then went to lunch at the Jordanian chow hall.  I was very impressed with the quality of the food and the cleanliness of the place.

We were only on the ground for a few hours and were scheduled to depart.  It started to rain and I thought our flight would be delayed.  But the clouds Populated village in Logar Province.cleared up enough and we left FOB Shank with a direct flight to our camp.  On the return trip I was able to take a picture of a more populated village.  This village had dirt roads leading away from it unlike some of the isolated villages I observed earlier.  After we landed I looked at the mountain peaks and all of the snow I seen early in the morning had melted and disappeared.

Helo mission conclusion

After dinner the Captain and I still had some unfinished business.  When we walked outside, it was pitch black.  There were no pole lights and very little illumination from the tents and b-huts.  We used our flashlights to navigate around.  Even then, I managed to trip on something and sprain my knee.  We took care of business and the Captain and I went our separate ways.  Without warning my fluorescent blue flashlight (for security we do not use white lights) died and I found myself in total darkness.  I stood stationary for a few minutes and allowed my eyes to adjust to my new environment.  It took me a few minutes, but I made my way back to our tent.

Gym at FOB Airborne.

Gym at FOB Airborne.

In the morning after breakfast, we explored a few more buildings on the post.  After a long walk, we found the gym.  It wasn’t anything too fancy, but there was sufficient weight lifting equipment and treadmills for the soldiers to maintain or enhance their physical state.  Admittedly I’ve avoided the gym because I get my workout from lugging around all of this gear, weapons, body armor, etc. on a frequent basis.  I’m not a spring chicken anymore, but I can “ruck” and keep up with this young guys.  The next day, I am sore and my body feels like a HMMVW ran over me.  I’m not 22 anymore and have finally realized my limitations.  Just don’t tell my guys this, because when I see they are tired and sore, I tell them to “suck it up” without revealing the difficulties I have in the mornings.

The Captain and I took over the blueprints for the future B-hut to our ANA counterparts.  We wanted to show them we had a genuine concern for their living arrangements.  The ANA officer wasn’t present, but we sat down with his NCO and detailed our plans.  He was very excited about his future living quarters.

Inside our helo

Inside our helo

Now it was time to leave.  We “rucked” all of our gear back out to the LZ and waited for our helo to arrive.  We met an Army Specialist who originally emigrated from Argentina before joining the US Army.  He explained that the FOB was pretty safe and they only had 50 rockets fired at it during his 8 month stint.  One of the rockets managed to hit the base and destroy

Me strapped in and flying over Hindu Kush mountains.

Me strapped in and flying over Hindu Kush mountains.

his work shop.  Shortly after this, he had a close call with a roll-over in a vehicle.  So now, he is required to fly if he wants to go anywhere.

We boarded the helicopter and were strapped tightly into our seats.  Unknown to us, we would fly around Wardak Province and visit several other FOBs before returning to the same FOB we took off from.  During this extended trip, I was able to take some more pictures of the villages situated in the Hindu Kush Mountain chain.  I’m still amazed to see civilization surviving in these remote mountain valleys. When I inquired about the new itinerary, I

Large village in Wardak Province.

Large village in Wardak Province.

was rudely asked if I would prefer to walk.  I didn’t want any conflict, so I decided to keep quiet.  We made it back to camp and “rucked” our gear from the LZ to our B-hut.  We didn’t have time to rest, because tomorrow would be another mission.  This time, we were going to retrieve the remaining team and bring them to our new camp.

Helo Mission – Part Two

ANA enlisted quarters

ANA enlisted quarters

After inspecting our future office and quarters, we went looking for our platoon of soldiers who were assigned here.  We were informed their quarters were outside on the side of the building.  As we turned the corner, I noticed a plywood shack with a poncho blanket serving as a doorway.  This was the officer’s quarters along with his NCO in charge.  He came out of his small shack and greeted us and then invited us inside for a customary cup of hot chai (tea).  We sat on a dusty floor mat and waited to be served tea.  In each corner was a cot with a thin blanket on the top of it.  I noticed the NCO’s cot was obviously broken as the end piece had an unnatural dip and the metal connecting bar was protruding from under the blanket.

The Captain and I discussed some small details explaining the purpose of our visit.  The ANA officer listened intently and seemed to welcome our presence.  It didn’t take long before he inquired if we could assist him in finding better living quarters for him and his platoon of men.  He explained that the weather is changing and winter will soon arrive.  He was concerned for the safety of his men.  They are currently living inside sand-filled barriers with a tarp pulled over the top.  Not all of the soldiers have cots and are sleeping on the ground.  The FOB is trying to help them, but they have a shortage of wood and contractor is behind on other projects.  The Captain and I brainstormed and have come up with several solutions.  One of them includes building a b-hut for them.  Eventually I will find out why the Ministry of Defense or the supply system is failing them.

ANA Fuel bladders at FOB Airborne

ANA Fuel bladders at FOB Airborne

Before we departed our ANA counterparts, we asked to see their resources.  They are responsible for 3 fuel bladders, 2 connexes of supplies and 5 vehicles.  The fuel bladders looked empty and the pump system appeared to be broken.  The ANA Lt said the shelf life on their MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) was expired too.  After closer inspection I

ANA MREs in connex

ANA MREs in connex

pointed out the date was only an inspection date.  I was rather surprised to see these Halal meals (kosher) were manufactured in the United States and was assigned a national stock number too.  I chided the ANA about proper storage of the MREs and requested they remove the acid batteries and petroleum products stored with the MREs.

DFAC at FOB Airborne

DFAC at FOB Airborne

Now that business was finished, the Captain and I explored the FOB to see what amenities it offered.  The gym wasn’t very large but seemed to have a variety of weights, treadmills, and equipment.  Just the walk there was enough of workout for me…lol.  So our next stop was the DFAC (Dining Facility) or still commonly referred to as the chow hall.  This DFAC reminded me of old episodes of MASH except this one was updated.  The DFAC was contained in 3 tents.  We had a choice of grilled food or two entrees.

PX trailer

PX trailer

After lunch we visited the small trailer PX filled with hygiene items, tobacco products and energy drinks.  I wasn’t too impressed, but at least they have a PX or camp store, unlike my current FOB.  The MWR center consisted of a bank of 10 telephones situated next to each other and 20 computers for personal use.  The internet connectivity was extremely slow.  It took me 30 minutes to log-in into hotmail and another 10 minutes to send an email.  I exceeded my 30 minute time limit to do this, but fortunately nobody was waiting in line for a computer.  While I sat there, I observed the frustration of people on the telephones.  They were constantly getting cut off and having to redial to their loved ones.

Cafe at FOB Airborne

Cafe at FOB Airborne

The centerpiece of the camp was the Oasis Café and Restaurant.  The bubbling fountain caught my attention along with the misspelled words in the sign (Restaurant, Weelcome, and Caffe).  I didn’t have a chance to go inside, but the outside setting appealed to me.

By now the Captain and I were ready to relax in our VIP tent.  We were feeling a bit tired from flying and walking around the encampment.  This is probably the biggest FOB I have visited since being here.  We lay down on the beds for a minute and were rudely interrupted by the powerful shock waves of the 155mm howitzers firing every couple of minutes.  Despite being on the other end of the camp, the shock waves would vibrate the tent, bed, and me.  It took me several hours to tune out the blast before dozing off.

Horseshoes in the dark

Horseshoes in the dark

After our combat naps, we revisited the DFAC and had dinner.  Outside a group of boisterous soldiers were playing horseshoes.  They affixed two lights to illuminate the horse shoe pit.  Since there are no dartboards, pool tables or ping-pong tables, this seemed to be one of the favorite pastimes.

Returning to camp

A little bit of traffic congestion in Kabul

A little bit of traffic congestion in Kabul

Alas!  Our academic training on crew serve weapons had come to an end and we were scheduled to return to camp.  The original plan was to meet up with another convoy at 7 am.  This meant we had to start preparing vehicles at 6:30 am and further it meant waking at 5:30 am to shave, dress, eat, etc.  Like clockwork we were on time and then the

Afghan traffic control officer

Afghan traffic control officer

Captain received a phone call.  The convoy would be delayed an hour.  Also before returning to camp, we would escort my fellow teammates back to their camp.

While driving to my former camp, my armored HMMVW experienced a mechanical problem.  It wouldn’t shift out of second gear into drive.

Justice and Liberty staring at my Pop Tart

Justice and Liberty staring at my Pop Tart

[Later on we would discover the mechanics added too much transmission fluid].  The convoy speed would be lowered to accommodate my vehicle so we wouldn’t blow an engine.  We arrived at our former camp and it was like a family reunion seeing all of my geographically separated teammates.  We planned only an hour on the ground, but this was also changed to several hours.  This provided me plenty of time to visit with some friends and teammates along with some furry ones too.  Liberty and Justice sensed my presence or perhaps it was the Blueberry Pop Tart I was snacking on.  Darn it if that Pop Tart didn’t crumble and strategically land in their mouths.  The camp

Precious, the new camp puppy

Precious, the new camp puppy

puppies weren’t alone and a much smaller puppy was hiding under a bench by the guard gate.  Apparently the French have been transporting this little girl around.  Supposedly she was at another FOB several miles up the highway and managed to find her way back to the U.S. FOB.  Maybe she doesn’t like French cuisine.  Everybody was unsure of her name, so for now I am going to nickname her “Precious.”

We departed our former camp and headed back through the capital city.  The traffic had multiplied but seemed cognizant of our presence and gave us the right-of-way.  A traffic cop was directing traffic at one of those unmarked 4 way intersections.  We also passed a butcher shop and the fresh

Fresh meat for sale

Fresh meat for sale

carcasses of meat were being displayed for sale.  We weaved our vehicles through traffic and made it to the other side of the city.  Next stop would be our small camp.

It was almost exciting to see the tall Hesco barriers and concertina wire surrounding our encampment.  The only task left was to unpack our gear and return to our small cubicles.

That looks like a Coca Cola sign

That looks like a Coca Cola sign

Another successful mission and I can’t wait to sleep on my rock hard mattress.

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