Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Apparent End of the Holy War

Consistent with the ongoing trend of human conflict in which wars no longer conclude with grandiose ceremonies and treaties by which all abide, but rather fade away and die with a whimper; it would appear that the Holy War has ended...Jimminyhad is dead.

There was no apocaplyptic battle, no storming of the gates. LTC Langowski returned to his tent and exclaimed, to no one in particular, "Hey, a cricket.".....Stomp!

Nary a chirp has been heard since, but we await the rise of the insurgency.
Thank You to the Readers

I'd like to to thank everyone who has posted messages to this blog. It was initially intended only to keep my family and friends apprised of what was going on in my wayward ventures, but it is apparent that more and more people are tuning in to this voice from the wilderness. Thank you all for your support and continuing prayers.
And On to Uzbekistan

In order to provide logistic support to our entire area or responsibility, we had laid plans to disperse Forward Logistics Elements or FLEs to different parts of Afghanistan. Due to the disjointed nature of our flight arrangements into the country, this dispersal resembled less of the orderly transition and onward movement that we had designed and more of rats deserting a sinking ship when we landed in Bagram. Be that as it may, we now have our people scattered to the 4 corners of Afghanistan and beyond, each diligently executing their assigned logistcs mission with varying degrees of support from the civilized world.

One of these little mission focused nodes is located in Mazar E Sharif in the north central part of the country, an area which has already fallen under the control of ISAF, the NATO led International Stabilization Force. What was billed as a mission to provide some logistic support to the Jordanian Hospital there has morphed into a Jack-of-all-Trades mission for our 1st Lieutenant (promotable) who is running the show there. At last word he was doing everything from air traffic control to dining facility construction, and with the travel in and out of the area intermittent at best, I am now making a herculean effort to get to MeS not only to promote him to Captain, but also ensure that he has not transformed into COL Walter Kurtz and gone completely off the reservation.

In order to get to MeS, you have to start early, bring a thick book to read, and plan on traveling for a few days. I got out of Salerno on a CH-47 which was flying back to BAF empty after bringing in more replacements to our little piece of paradise. After Staying in BAF long enough to remember what Burger King tasted like (or at least a reasonable facsimile) it was a C-130 to K2. Karshi Khanabad is a former Soviet airbase in Uzbekistan heavily utilized by the Air Force and consequently, only technically in a combat zone. Life is good here. Paved roads, white lights at night, running water and flushing toilets in every barracks building. Don't misunderstand, it's still Spartan by most 1st world standards, but it is a veritable Ellysium coming from the dusty Khowst Bowl. More to follow including some great pics as soon as I can get back to the Bucksnort.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


The spring offensive has begun and the holy war is in full swing. As intelligence sources predicted, the arrival of spring has brought the combatants out of their winter quarters, refreshed, full of daring, and looking for a fight. Our enemies intelligence appears to be top notch as the first target of this daring insurgency is the hooch shared by the LTF191 Commander, Support Operations Officer, and myself. They slipped in undetected, quickly made their presence known as we drifted off to sleep. Here is a recap of the first night's actions:

Around 1630 Dublin Pub Time (9:00 P.M. Local) the LTC Langowski had finally had enough of the day's trials and tribulations and decided to turn in. I followed him out of the TOC about 15 minutes later while MAJ Short cleaned up a briefing to the new Marine contingent to be presented the following day. It should be noted here that the Marines are responsible for force protection on the FOB so they are under scrutiny. The quarters occupied by the SPO and myself consists of the rear half of the tent occupied by the LTF Commander. His half is designated as "The Commander's Tent", our half is designated "The Bucksnort Saloon". Upon entering the Bucksnort, I carefully positioned my weapon and radio for quick access in the dark, said my prayers, and closed my eyes. Then I heard him......."Chhhirrrrrp".

I couldn't believe it. A cricket had invaded our beloved Bucksnort. The dreaded Jimminyhad had slipped through our defenses and infiltrated our sleeping areas and the Cricket Holy War had begun.

CHHHIRRRP...CHIrrp..Chirrrrrp. I listened. There was no movement from the commander's tent. Had he been taken by surprise? Had he been overpowered? Had he fallen into cahoots with the enemy? Perhaps he was just lulling the enemy into a false sense of security. I chose to believe the latter and decided to follow his lead. I lay quietly listening to the harassment and interdiction waiting for the command to intiate the counter attack which would surely come when our commander felt we had the startegic advantage. Chirrrp....Chirrrrp..Chirp..Chirp

I waited with taut muscles and straining sinews, ready to pounce when suddenly the door burst open. Firepower 8 (A.k.a. MAJ Short, Mr. Rubble the town and salt the fields) had arrived in a cloud of freshly exhaled smoke interrupting Jimminyhad in mid Chirp. The sounds of combat ensued on the far side of my half of the tent. Chirp. Crash, the camp chair became collateral damage. Chirp. Stomp. Chirp. Whack. CHIRP. Whack!! Whack!!.

I deduced that the SPO was implementing the Hammer and Anivil tactic of a dynamic manuver force driving the enemy towards a static defense, and I laid in wait to play the part of the anvil. Strangely. The sounds subsided. No chirps, no crashes. Had the Jimminyhad insurgency slipped away to it's safe haven? Was the SPO lying in ambush? Quiet settled over the Bucksnort and peace prevailed for the better part of a half hour when suddenly three loud bangs resounded from the Commander's Tent. The SPO with his amazing cat-like relexes had been circling back and forth from the Bucksnort to the Commanders Tent luring, prodding, and provoking the Jimminyhad insurgent back and forth across the border in tactics that insurgents inherently cling to, when finally he had gained a strategic position with which to rain down enfilading fire. The insurgent was designated with the flashlight in one hand and the other hand held the open Leatherman tool; the instrument of said poking and prodding. With the Holy Warrior distracted by the light, the Leatherman had descended...and missed...and missed..aaaannnd missed.

The Jimminyhad slipped back across the border and the dejected SPO returned to the bucksnort resigned to fight another day. He too strategically located critical items as he made ready to retire. The lights went out. Quiet prevailed.

BOOOMMM. "Bunker Drill", The siren sounded. We scrambled from our beds grasping for weapons and body armor. Stuffing feet into the first pair of boots available and dragging radios and clothes, I lurched out of the Bucksnort headed for the bunker. As the mighty SPO pulled his boots on and crashed out the door, he was bid farewell by a defiant Chiiirrrrrp.

The Jimminyhad continues.......

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Sometimes the reception is subject to interpretation. Posted by Hello

In all the different places that Pam and I have been, we play a game to find the word that best encapsulates and defines it. In Germany it was "Complicated", London's word was "Character", in Dublin it was "Depression" and in Italy it was "Warm". Afghanistan's word is "Violent"

I can't put my finger on it exactly but everything about this place seems to be violent. It's weather, it's history, it's terrain, even it's climate. It's as though God has allowed all the forces that govern earth to conspire in order to make this the most inhospitable place on earth.

The weather swings from a parching heat that bakes and cracks the clay-like soil, to brutal thunderstorms that turn it into lakes of mud. Eras upon eras ago, the cataclysmic eruption of tectonic plates thrust jagged and harsh mountains thousands of feet above any habital climate. These breath-taking spires now serve to collect untold amounts of snow and ice, store it through the harsh winter months and when the weather finally warms, generating hope for new life and sustenance, they unleash floods and mudslides which simultaneously devastate, commerce, transportation, and any realistic hope of viable agriculture.

The soils that permeate the region are historically reluctant to produce any reasonable quantity of food crops. Those that can be produced may be sufficient to provide for the grower's family if they were able to both store the crop and survive year round on the sole source of sustenance. The survival portion would be endured if the storage part could be managed, but the storage would require a building. Buildings require bricks, and he who controls the brick production controls the region. The crop could be sold, but that would require both transportation and roads in order to move the crop to any semblance of a market. Attempts to improve the roads are resisted and turn violent because that would loosen the local brickmaker landlord's grip on regional power. Additionally, any one attempting to cut swaths through open terrain for an improved road system risks unearthing or detonating any number of the landmines that have been buried throughout the recent history of this country. Rarely a day goes by here that I don't read a report of someone, usually a local national, and all too often a child, critically injured or killed by exposing a mine. Road construction is a dangerous enough occupation without the addition of sniper fire or buried explosives.

These factors would lead any logical person to consider would could be grown in small areas of cleared land which can be easily transported and easily sold. The poppy production is skyrocketing. Violence quickly follows any drug production, and the local farmer trying to make ends meet with his pitiful acreage of poppies is no exception. If it is only the finished product that is seized, the farmer can still try to raise his family living on poppies which explains why we see reports of sick Afghan children being treated with opium because it's all the parents had. When the cash crop is seized by local warlods or eradicated by police or troops, the farmer is then left with the same thing he started with, a family and a piece of clay that grows very little.

We have spent months preparing to deploy to a completely land-locked mountainous desert and within weeks of arriving we find that one of the assets most desperately needed is boats. No, you read correctly, You see, the sun has been out over the area for most of the past few days except for some short and spectacular thunderstorms that come through in the afternoon; just enough to keep a higher than normal moisture content in the non-absorbant soil. Then yesterday, the heavens opened. 10"-12" inches of rain, in the form of raindrops that seemed to be the size small plums, fell inside the span of an hour. The easily saturated soil soon reached capacity and streams with unnavigable currents formed in every open space. The water, rolling off the soil like a sailor' s oilskin, coupled with the already higher than normal runoff from the heavy winter snows quickly turned small streams into raging torrents which was soon washing away vehicles, livestock and people. In one location an island was formed surrounded by these muddy torrents trapping several hundred people and the water still rising. With the no place to land helicopters, and the water too high and fast to ford with vehicles of any type, we quickly deduced the last option to be boats. Unfortunately, the situation is still developing, I can't tell you how it turned out.

Tomorrow is another day. The sun will be out and the lakes will soon be mud. The jingle trucks will still be trying to move unmanagable loads across unnavigable roads brutalized by heavy snows and mudslides. The trucks that do manage the transit will face indiscriminate tolls and taxes by local landlords, or random violence at the hands of anti-coalition militia. Food crops will continue to be too hard to grow in the inhospitable soil and poppys will continue to spring up to garner fast cash in order to provide for families.

When at the end of the day it seems so futile, I realize that the people I see, regardless of the violence the now endure at the hands of the climate and the land, now no longer endure the brutal oppression they have known for as long as any living person has been here. If all we are doing here makes their lives just that much easier, If they can go to schools, or clinics without fear of religous persecution, if they can wear their hair or clothes as the please without fear of torture, then I can lay my head down at the end of the day, and know we are making a difference.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

"Ok, show's over, give me the camera back." Posted by Hello

A Narcissistic moment. Posted by Hello

The LTF 191 staff. LTs Tucker Mahoney, Kristin Burt, Trish Giera, and Melissa Parrish all under infallible leadership. Posted by Hello

Listening to COL McKenna's address. Posted by Hello

LTC Langowski and CSM Clark-Davis uncase the 191st colors. Posted by Hello

The Color Guard prepares to bring the colors forward. The 524th colors are in the center and will be cased, and the 191st colors on the right will be uncased signifying the transfer of authority between the two units. Posted by Hello
Transfer of Authority

Ok, it's official, Logistics Task Force 191 received the transfer of authority today from the 524th. LTF 191 is now in command of all logistics in this area of Afghanistan, and the 524th is headed back to Hawaii...I wonder who got the better end of this deal?

This 14 day overlap, referred to as a Relief in Place (RIP) or Left Seat/Right Seat has been an interesting experience and obviously an necessary one. While we were fully trained up in the doctrinal methodology of providing logistic support to manuver units, learning the local processes that are in place are a requisite piece of the functionality. The 524th were professional and comprehensive albeit eager and well-motivated teachers to their replacements. They have done good work here through the conduct of OEF V and in a way I am disappointed that we will not have the opportunity to remain in place as long as they did and compare our accomplishments to theirs on an equal basis. Be that as it may, I am eager to see what achievements we can complete in our time here.

Aloha, 524th and Mahalo.

191st, Let's put some lipstick on this pig and see if we can get it to sing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Another look. Posted by Hello

One of the better Jingle trucks I've seen here. Posted by Hello

Afghan National Guard post Posted by Hello

On the ground at FOB Salerno!! Posted by Hello
All the troops are moved out of the tents now and into the new brick and mortar buildings, but Craig and I are going to move into the built up tents next to the headquarters. Unfortunately, we can't do that until the unit we are replacing actually leaves which will be bit by bit over the next week. So, the two of us are still sleeping in the big 12 man tents. We have beds with matresses, and the tents are heated but the heater usually waits until the temperature would make a penguin shiver before it kicks in then it heats the tent to a point that your sleeping bag turns into a convection oven before shutting off again. We set the alarm for 1 A.M. Dublin Pub time (5:30 A.M. local time, but we don't use that, it's too simple) but you're usually already awake because you had to get up at midnight DPT in order to take your flashlight (red lens) and loaded pistol 50 yards through the dark to go to the porta john. Of course, on the way back, you have to stop and stare at the stars. This is the darkest place I have ever been. The moon hasn't been coming up until just before we get up and recently it's only been a sliver. There are no white lights allowed outside. If the village of Khowst has electricity, it's not enough that you can see it from here. Consequestly, the stars are so brilliant that it almost takes your breath away. I have seen the Milky Way for the first time that I remember since I was a child.

After about 5 minutes in the pitch black, your eyes have almost adjusted enough that you probably could make your way back in the dark except that there is no pavement, everything is all gravel and dirt. The dirt obviously is mud when it rains, then vehicles drive through the mud making ruts, then the rain stops, the sun dries the mud and now you have dirt with ruts, so you still need the red lens flashlight to find your way through the dirt ruts back to your icebox inferno.

At 1:00, we turn on the lights, find our electric razors and shave before walking over to the headquarters building to turn in our weapons before PT. It's tough to run with a loaded pistol strapped to your side. After PT, you find your way back to the tent, pack up a dry PT shirt, because you don't want to pack up your whole uniform and you have to have something dry to change into after you shower, along with your shower shoes, shaving bag and towel. Now you have to find your way to the shower which is conveniently located a couple hundred yards away directly next to the Marine's living area. If you get there early enough, there is still hot water, and the water is filterd but not purified, so you have to make sure you have brought bottled water to brush your teeth with.

After you shower and shave (with a razor this time), you can go back to the tent, and put your uniform on. Then you go back to the headquarters building and collect up your weapon again and go to the dining facility. The dining facility is actually one of the hilights of the base. It's all contracted so it's civilians doing the cooking and stocking. They are fast, and courteus, there are always omelettes already made, and usually eggs made to order in various states. Always a choice of link sausage, patty sausage, and bacon, along with hashbrowns , gravy, etc, etc, etc, Of course you can bypass that altogether, and just get cereal, or fruit, or bagels and cream cheese. Coolers full of different juices, powerbars and gatorade everywhere. I've actually started eating cereal every other day because I'm just not used to eating that much.

After breakfast, you go to the headquarters area and we have a staff meeting every morning, which goes about an hour. That's followed by about another hour and a half of reading and responding to emails, which only gives you another hour or so to chase down any issues that have come up before lunch. I've started skipping the entree's at lunch and just making a cold cut sandwich or soup and salad.

Depending on which day of the week it is there are always more meetings to get to after lunch, more issues to chase down, more reports that have to be sent up and more reports that have to be collected from our units. Any number of issues come up during the day from needing another container at the Ammunition Supply Point for the Marine's ammunition, to how we get rid of captured enemy ammunition, to how we cover a shortfall of personnel at the medical treatment facility, to the artillery battery needing nitrogen for their howitzers to circut cards for the radar, fuel for the generators, tools for the mechanics trucks, people to search the jingle trucks, etc..etc..etc...

And suddenly it's dinner time. We walk down a road a couple hundred yards and make a right through the gap in the Hesco barriers. These are 5 foot by 5 foot by 7 foot wire containers lined with a heavy fabric and filled with dirt and rock. Two rows of these are then stacked two high and used to make walls surrounding different parts if the base. Anyway, if you were to make left instead of a right towards the dining facility you go into another compound where a group of people called "Other Coalition Forces" are housed. First of all, you don't walk into this compound, because you will immediately be escorted back out. There are quite a few military people here, but they are what we call unconventional soldiers, the special forces types. Along with them are people who wear some semblance of uniforms but their patches are usually attached with velcro, a lot of them have beards and they carry a vast array of different weapons. They don't say much, and we don't ask to many questions.

By the time you get out of dinner, you have about have an hour to clean things up before the 45 minute to hour commanders update that starts at 7:00 P.M. Local time and afterwards you can usually get out of the HQ by about 8:30 or 9:00 which by the time you find a flushing toilet, pick-up your laundry, or get anything you need from the PX gives you a an hour or so to yourself before you try to get comfortable in the icebox inferno for another night.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The road on which we least for now. Notice the concrete barriers designed to protect the tents from explosions. Posted by Hello

Typical bunker seen around the FOB in the event of rocket attacks. Posted by Hello

Craig is pleased with his purchase of the coveted Desperate Housewives DVD. Posted by Hello

The LTF staff carrying out resupply operations. LTs Burt, Parrish, and Giera returning from the local national bazzar. Posted by Hello

Some recent aviation operations. Pakistan is just over the ridgeline. Posted by Hello

Some of the "Jingle" trucks are more decorated than others. This is actually one of the more discrete ones. Posted by Hello

The infamous "Jingle" trucks. These local national trucks that we contract to move some of our supplies and equipment. Here they are waiting to be inspected before being allowed to get any closer to the FOB Posted by Hello

Some of the Local Afghanis who work at the FOB (Forward Operating Base) going through their prayers last Friday. Posted by Hello

Some of the local kids and their livestock at their family compound just off the FOB Posted by Hello

Craig makes himself at home in our new digs. Posted by Hello

Welcome to Salerno. Can't really show pictures of the camp, (bad guys have internet connections too), these are some of the family compounds surrounding the local village of Khowst. Posted by Hello

The infamous "B" Huts at BAF Posted by Hello

The new Morale, Welfare and Recreation center being built at BAF. Named for Pat Tillman, Ex Phoenix Cardinal turned Army Ranger, killed in action along the Pakistan Border Posted by Hello

Craig Short contemplates the impending C-130 flight to Salerno. Tucker Mahoney (left) seems to be taking it all in stride. Posted by Hello