Moved to another FOB

For the 2nd day in a row, I awoke before the sun had risen for a mission.  It was 0400 hrs and it was time to pack my final belongings and begin a new journey.  Part of my team is being relocated to another Forward Operating Base (FOB).  As part of General McChrystal’s strategic vision in emplacing the right resources at the right locations, the battle space in Afghanistan is being apportioned and coalition units are being reassigned accordingly.

The past few weeks my team has been busy with packing up equipment, supplies, etc.  Because of the move, I didn’t have much time for my blog entries.  At first, it was a bit of a shock because we had become accustomed to our environment and developed strong relationships with our ANA counterparts.  But being military, we also understand that the mission is very fluid here and we have to remain flexible and embrace the changes.  As a result, I presented my ANA SGM his gift of books and curtains early.  At a later date, we will return and have a ribbon cutting ceremony.

While at the vehicle packing the remaining bags, I watched the sun come up over the mountain peaks leading to the Jalabad Pass.  Afterward, I walked to the main gate to say goodbye to Liberty and Justice.  They were just waking up and going through their stretching regimen.  I’m certain they recognized me, because they came over to see me.  Unfortunately I was out of Pupparoni, which would accidentally fall from my hand on so many different occasions.  They inadvertently brushed my hand and then I returned to my vehicles for our final preparation.  I wonder if the new FOB will have camp puppies or dogs.

After an uneventful drive, we arrived at our new location and unloaded our gear into our new quarters.  The new camp is much smaller than the one we just left.  The quarters (B-huts) are constructed of double sheets of thick plywood.  Each cubicle is approximately 7’ X 8’ which is smaller than what I was accustomed and 8 people are assigned to each B-hut.  Perhaps the biggest inconvenience is the location of the bathrooms and showers.  They are strategically located outside throughout the camp.  Once winter arrives, I will detail what it’s like to trudge through snow to take a shower.

Getting ready for AF Fun Run

Getting ready for AF Fun Run

We unpacked our bags and our new hosts invited us to participate in events honoring the Air Force 62nd birthday.  The first event was a 5K fun up some steep hills and inclines.  My team passed on this event but we signed up for the volleyball tournament in the afternoon.  Meanwhile, we retrieved our other bags from the connex and continued

Air Force Fun Run

Air Force Fun Run

unpacking our belongings and setting up our rooms.  I was one of the lucky members to have an old metal wall locker to hang my uniforms in.  We plan to scrounge the base looking for any unclaimed furniture to add to our hooch.

In the afternoon my team along with a French member formed a competitive volleyball

Championship game against the French

Championship game against the French

team.  In fact, we were undefeated until the championship game.  Then the French team got their second wind and easily won.  Earlier in the day we defeated them but they were determined and won consecutive games in the loser’s bracket to earn a chance at the championship game.  Everyone had a good time and we all posed for

French champions and my team pose for picture

French champions and my team pose for picture

pictures.

Later that night, we had a special celebratory dinner consisting of spiced prime rib, lobster, shrimp, and corn on the cob, along with salad and macaroni and cheese. The DFAC decorated the tables and hung decorations from the ceiling in honor of the Air Force birthday.  My team was received with open arms and we each had an opportunity to introduce ourselves.  Following tradition, the oldest and youngest Air Force members cut the birthday cake.  But before they cut the cake I interjected and we had

Traditional cutting of the Air Force anniversary cake

Traditional cutting of the Air Force anniversary cake

an opportunity to croon out our Air Force song.  Since Fort Riley we have been singing Army songs.  Our host informed us that after we ate to return at 9:30 pm for a dance and a video of today’s events.  Despite being dog-tired, we went to the dance and stayed long enough to view the video presentation.  I couldn’t wait to return to my room and get some much needed shut-eye.


My first Afghan meal

The next morning we hit the ground running and inspected the up-armored vehicles that we would be responsible for.  Our training at Fort Riley familiarized us with them and now we will put our training to use.  The only difference is every time we leave the FOB, we will go “hot” with live ammunition instead of blanks.
After we received a small briefing, we visited our Afghan Kandak.  A Kandak is equivalent to an Army battalion.  I was informed my responsibility for the next year is to mentor the Afghan Sergeant Major.  Before we would meet and greet, we had to get a translator to accompany us.  The interpreters have a good understanding of our English language except for when we use slang or idioms.  They are too proud to tell you they don’t understand, so it’s important to observe nonverbal facial cues and provide clarity.
Initially the Sgt Major wasn’t in so we stopped by to greet the Kandak colonel.  My team chief was already inside his office when we arrived.  We were greeted and offered the traditional cup of chai (tea).  It reminded me of past deployments, especially in Kuwait when I made purchases for the government from local vendors.  Every vendor would insist on a cup of chai before discussing business.  I’m convinced by the end of that tour; I consumed a 55 gallon drum of chai!
Later on I met the Afghan Sgt Major.  He seemed impressed with the few sentences of Dari I was able to mutter.  Using the translator I explained that I was a writer and I wanted the American public to read and hear stories about Afghan life.   I quickly learned he has been a soldier for a long time and witnessed war first-hand.  My interest turned to the Soviet occupation era.  He explained that the Russians forced Afghan soldiers and citizens into their army to fight the Mujahadeen.  Recall the Mujahadeen warriors were being indirectly supported by the United States.  So in essence you had Afghans fighting Afghans.  Based on my short research of Afghanistan, I don’t recall reading about this in any history book.  So I am looking forward to exploring this subject in more detail.  If I were to draw a parallel, this would be similar to our Civil War.
Leaving Phoenix 004My team was invited to join the Afghan leadership in a specially prepared meal.  Immediately I panicked because I forgot to put a spare spoon in my pocket for this occasion.  As we sat down at the table I scanned it carefully and no flatware was to be seen.  Leaving Phoenix 005We would have to eat the meal with our hands.  The cook was stirring some sort of egg mixture in a steel pot on the floor.  It was equivalent to our eggs Ranchero.  On the table, the paper plates were filled with some basil leaves, Italian Parsley, small slides tomatoes and cucumbers and in honor of us they made some sort of French fries.   After watching our hosts eat, I mimicked them and followed suit.  The Nan bread substituted for the missing spoon for scooping up the eggs Ranchero.  We ate our meal, exchanged some pleasantries and then returned to our camp.

Tent living – watch for scorpions, cobras and Kraits

Leaving Phoenix 002Our team was informed we would have to stay in tents for the next 3 days for inprocessing before moving on forward to the FOB.  We arrived at our tent and off-loaded our bags from the trailer.  Leaving Phoenix 001Tent #4 would become our home for the next days.  Inside the tent there are two rows of bunk beds and the floor is made of warped plywood covered in a thick layer of dust.  Most of the lighting is intact and are systematically linked to each other like extension cords.  They are supported by binder twine affixed to the tent ceiling.  The gray metal bunk beds were probably constructed locally and are crude in nature and poorly welded.  We were all exhausted and dumped our bags on empty beds and on the floor.  I draped my poncho liner on one side of the bed and attached the liner on the other to create some personal privacy.  While lying down on the bed, it made a screeching noise every time I moved.  I wasn’t alone and many of my teammates had the same problem, but we were too tired to care.  Almost simultaneously we all crashed and fell asleep in our racks.

I woke up a few hours later to the sounds of a creaking symphony producing a bad tune.  It seemed all of the beds were creaking and in badly need of oil to quell this bizarre music.  It would have to wait another day until I would resolve the issue.  My body was still trying to decipher the time zone as my biological clock had been tossed for a whirl.  I didn’t even care that the crouching space under the bunk bed was smaller than what I had at Fort Riley.

Centruroides sp. - Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Centruroides sp. - Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

The next morning we endured a long day of informational briefings.  We like to affectionately refer to this as “Death by PowerPoint”.  One of the safety briefings caught our attention about the indigenous hazards of Afghanistan.  We were informed about the poisonous spiders, scorpions, and snakes that call this country home.  There are 3 types of scorpions that possess the ability to be fatal with their sting.  In addition, there are cobras and Kraits.

Banded Krait - Photo courtesy - Wikipedia

Banded Krait - Photo courtesy - Wikipedia

The venom of the Krait is 15 times more potent than the Indian cobra.  Untreated, death can occur in 6-8 hours as a result of respiratory failure.  Just recently a Krait was found in a latrine at another FOB.  So we were briefed to look before we sit.

Later that night I returned to my tent to inspect my bed.  The bolts attaching the frame were finger loose and some of the brackets were missing bolts too.  I used a general purpose tool (Gerber) to tighten them and resolve the noise problem.  It also added stability to my bed and I no longer feared my bed of falling apart while I slept.

I made numerous attempts to contact my Mother for Mother’s Day.  Apparently half the United States was doing the same thing.  As a result the DSN telephone system was overwhelmed and unable to reach an operator.  I even tried calling using a commercial calling card and the operator said there was a technical error and to call back in 30 minutes.  I tried in vain for hours and was unable to make contact.  I will try again today and ask for forgiveness.  Twenty six years ago I departed for the Air Force on Mother’s Day.

Fort Riley Slideshow March-April 09

Fort Riley ETT training in pictures March – April 2009

Last night at Fort Riley

 

How we lived and slept at Fort Riley

How we lived and slept at Fort Riley

The following excerpt is from my last night at Fort Riley.  Our training is complete and all 4 of my bags and rucksack are firmly packed with clothes and equipment.  My bed looks bare without my poncho cover enclosing it.  For the past 60 days this enclosure was not only my bed, but also the place I sought refuge and solace in.  It provided me an environment to type my blog and ponder about the mission that awaits me.  Perhaps what I haven’t revealed is that I typed with no lights for 20 minutes and was unable to sit upright because I would hit my head on my upper metal bunk.  I’m surely not going to miss the snore triangle but I will miss the nightly camaraderie we established.  When you sleep this close to several dozen men, you can’t but help to overhear personal phone calls, conversations and converse with each other.  I learned a lot about my bunkmates and who they are, about their families and their colorful lives.  Despite our many differences we all share that common thread of being a soldier or an airman.   Perhaps this will be the last time we see each other, but should we meet again, I will be proud to stand beside them in combat.

 

It’s only fitting that Mother Nature would rain on our departure.  It’s really raining hard and the soil is absorbing the rain and creating mud that Kansas is famous for.  But nobody is really paying much attention to it because their thoughts are enamored with thoughts of going home and longing for the touch of their spouse, children and pets.  Besides we still have 3 hours until we have to wake up and drag our bags to the bus.

It’s 2:00 am and the annoying chirping of my alarm clock startled me.  I have 30 minutes to carry my bags to the designated pick up point.  It’s raining even harder now and all of my rain gear is tightly packed in one of the bags.  I opt to brave the elements because I am going home.  

2 days to go with training

Wed 4/22/09 12:32 AM

Today was a bitter sweet moment as we turned in our vehicle, equipment and machine guns.  These vehicles and equipment became an integral part of our daily training regimen.  It was one of our last official acts before graduation tomorrow.

Last night I was too exhausted to record my thoughts and fell asleep in my rack.  Even today, I managed to squeeze in 2 naps in attempt to rest my body from the continuous and arduous training.  Our training has finally come to an end and the only agenda items remaining are graduation and “bag drag”.  For Air force personnel, our graduation is set for tomorrow at 1100 hrs.  I really don’t expect much pomp and circumstance.  The Army already provided us our graduation certificates on plain white paper.  We will line up in some orderly fashion and an Army officer will give us a pep talk and then send us on our way.  Afterwards we will finish packing our bags in preparation for our flights home.

I thought about packing tonight, but then I wouldn’t have anything to occupy my time tomorrow.  I’ve accumulated a ton of books on IEDs, COIN, TTPs, and language pamphlets.  I plan to read a few more of them while I am home before deployment.  Or at least I say this now, but I have a feeling when I return to sunny Tampa, my time will be well spent with Liisa, Sam and Charley.   I’ve already made my reservations to visit my family in Pennsylvania too.  Somehow I need to assure my Mother that I will be safe and everything will be all right.

Well that’s about it for now.  I just ordered 2 large pizzas and my teammates and I are going to eat and throw back some cold ones.  We just survived 60 days of Army training and a little bit of celebration of is in order.  It’s not like I am saying goodbye to them, because I will see most of them in 12 days after departing here as we start on the next chapter of this adventure.  I will probably write one more blog entry before departing and then I will give my keyboard a break while enjoying some R&R.

Ps…Last night’s entry was going to be about the live fire exercise.  We struggled initially, but after the 2nd round we made improvements and hit more targets.  Moving targets are much harder to hit and harder to hit when your vehicle is moving too.  I was one of the dismounts and had the opportunity to place my weapon on burst (automatic) and shoot at some of the targets.  It took me 30 rounds, but I managed to hit one of the targets at 400 meters.  This is why we use the big guns, 50 cal and M-240 to reach and touch someone at 1000 meters…lol.
On a tragic note, we lost another soldier in Afghanistan.  For an in-depth look, review the article below.  The NY Times reporter was embedded with the unit when the ambush occurred.  The reporter also included audio and video of the attack.  Tragically a young PFC was a victim of an IED.

Pinned Down, a Sprint to Escape Taliban Zone

Camp Life

Tue 4/21/09 12:10 AM

Today was one of the slowest days since coming to Fort Riley.  The day just seemed to drag on forever.  This morning I slept in until 0600 hrs and stepped outside to check the weather.  I was greeted by a chilly wind.  Once again the miserable weather that defines Kansas has returned.  Although later on in the day, the sun peeked through the clouds and it was a bit balmy (57 degrees).  Tonight the wind has picked up and I get the feeling tomorrow is going to be colder.
Despite having the day off to rest and relax, it was rather boring trying to find something to do.  None of my teammates have vehicles and we have to time the camp bus to get transported to the PX or outlet store.  After lunch I chose to board the bus and waste an hour walking around the PX.  My wife will tell you I am a good eye-shopper.  Today was no different either.  I found a replacement for my work watch and purchased it.  It was time to update my watch and oh by the way, I left my other one at home during the 4 day break.  A man can never have too many watches…lol
It’s apparent that we are nearing the end of our training.  Some members are already packing their clothes, gear and equipment in anticipation of graduation.  I’m just not that motivated today and besides I will need something to do on Tuesday and Wednesday to occupy my time and energy.  Sitting around doing nothing is a real moral killer.  You can only watch so many movies and surf the Internet for so many hours and then boredom sets in.  I managed to get enough connectivity to talk with Liisa on Skype and watch Sam and Charlie run up and down the hallways at her college where she teaches.  Normally the sound of my voice causes them some anxiety and Sam will normally lick the computer screen.  But today they were in their own world and were surrounded by students who provided them attention.  I really can’t compete with that since I’m unable to reach through the screen and scratch their ears or fluffy heads.
Tomorrow is our last live fire exercise.  Depending on how many teams have to process will determine how long our day will be.  According to other classmates, the gunners will have the most fun.  So it could be a long and boring day since I am a designated window licker who sits in the back of the HMMVW.  Either way I will be able to mark off another day on my calendar.  If my math is correct, I will have 3 days left before returning to home.  Despite the 4 day pass breaks, this has been a long 60 days away from home.  But I need to get used to it because now I am preparing for a one-year deployment away from home.  Fortunately this is my last deployment, thus defining the name of my blog…..Afghanistan My Last Tour.

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