Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Aircraft Down

A helicopter has gone down near the Pakistan border. This has already been on the news, but there are some inaccuracies being reported.

CNN's website has a pretty sketchy report, but the picture of the type of aircraft is accurate. The picture on the Fox News website is NOT accurate but the story is much more comprehensive.

This is not a "Big Windy" Chinook, all of our Task Force Sabre friends are in Blackhawks and Apaches, and all of our LTF folks are on the ground.

There's not much more that can be said right now except that, as Fox News reports, there is reason to believe that this is still a rescue mission.

There are some very urgent and difficult actions underway right now and our continued prayers are with these folks.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Feast or Famine


Some might call it writers block, I call it lack of subject material.  When I go back and look at the posts I have put up recently, it looks like there is not a lot going on.  The reason for that is, well, there’s not a lot going on…here anyway.  It seems somewhat paradoxical to me, because from March to June, the work was overwhelming, if there was a moments peace we were probably forgetting something, and yet it seemed to slip the media’s mind that there were still people fighting and dying in Afghanistan.


Now, I’m finding myself with more down time and a more relaxed rhythm as we settle into our new roles here at BAF, but I’m also finding an increased sense of isolation and I wonder if it’s not self-inflicted.  I see the reports of enemy contact from the field, and it doesn’t seem to phase me but then I see the AP report that 178 Afghan rebels were killed in the heaviest fighting since 2001.  What am I missing here?  Have I become so desensitized to reports of fighting and casualties that the intensity of this conflict has escaped me?  I guess that may be part of it, but then again, the article also states that 29 US troops have been killed during this period.  Well, that “period” stretches back to March, and nearly half of those 29 troops lost their lives in a helicopter crash that had nothing to do with combat.  Yes, there are still brave soldiers and marines beating the bush and combing the mountains in search of the cave-dweller on a daily basis, and yes they are achieving a good deal of success in finding them.  The vast majority of the time things go very badly for the cave-dweller, and I guess it’s those reports that I tend to dismiss.  I am more concerned with the 5 troops that get MEDEVACed  from the field for heat exhaustion than I am with the 76 turban-wearing zealots who got an up close look at Raytheon’s newest version of improved conventional munitions.  I’m more concerned with the Afghan mine clearing technician who was unable to defeat the booby-trap on the anti-tank landmine, than the 56 “suspected insurgents” who are currently finding that in spite of all the reports of abuses, their standard of living increased by about half a millennium once they relocated to a US detention facility.


So either I’m a little out of touch with what’s going on around me here, or it’s just a bit of feast or famine with the news cycles.  I’ll consider myself duly warned regarding my inattentiveness but at the same time, I’ll choose to believe the latter.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Mr. and Mrs. Smith Posted by Hello

You Choose the Superstar Couple

Mr. & Mrs. Smith are a boring suburban couple who keep their lives as spies secret even from each other.  They end up with assignments to kill each other.


Mr. and Mrs. Stogner are dynamic couple based in Germany deployed to Afghanistan to fight terrorism.  They end up with airborne assignments with their 6 year re-enlistments. 


Saturday, June 18, 2005

Short the Great Feels the Wrath

I have come to make peace.  I hereby retract every evil, mean, or snide comment I have made about the Air Force.  I will hereby render proper respect to our Nomex clad brethren and will no longer use the term “Crew Rest” in a disparaging manner.  I now see the true mastery of their evil genius and stand in awe of their diabolical ways.  I truly did not appreciate the breadth and depth of the vindictive power of his unholiness, the Evil Flight Planning Voo-Doo Witchdoctor until I saw Short the Great wither, reduced to near madness at the stroke of a button.

If you recall, Craig was in the trailing element of our unit as we made the move from Salerno to Metropolis, in fact he was the one charged to ensure that the Air Force safely evacuated all our people.  Now charging MAJ Short to work hand-in-hand with the Air Force is like asking the Attorney General to fetch some fruit from the street side vendor for John Gotti, but Craig swallowed his pride and saluted smartly.  Two weeks later, after being driven to the very edge of madness, Short the Great and the trailing elements of our task force finally closed on Metropolis, but not before Craig publicly criticized the professionalism of the Air Force.  Now some, not me mind you but some, may consider this to be similar to the WWF publicly acknowledging that there is a bit of acting involved in professional wrestling, but it was a slight not taken lightly by the dark one and time was on his side; he would have his revenge.

Finally, after months of hard work, the time for MAJ Short’s R&R leave was at hand.  He packed his bag, took his leave form and made his way to the terminal at the appointed time to manifest for his flight back to Germany.  It was not going to be that simple.  To begin with, he was not going to be allowed to fly straight back to Germany, he must go via Kuwait and secondly, the forms were not filled out properly.  Didn’t matter though, the plane wasn’t scheduled to depart now anyway.  This was just a pre-manifest call to determine if you had the right paperwork and understood the procedures, kind of like a pre-rejection, rejection, so feel free to come back later tonight and try again.

Undaunted, Craig returned to the headquarters, obtained the proper paperwork, and waited for the manifest call.  At 1700 Dublin Pub Time, I drove him back down to the terminal, shook his hand, told him to have fun and I’d see him in a few weeks, all the time wondering what type of vindictiveness would be released on him when he stepped through the doors of the terminal.

A couple hours later as I was laying on my bunk reading, the door to Stalag 17 opened and true to our concerns, Short the Great, shuffled back in muttering under in his breath.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, not really surprised, “You’re supposed to be half way to Kuwait.”

“Plane was diverted.” He replied in a resigned tone.

He stuck his head through my door and I couldn’t help but note the shell-shocked look on his face.  Now I was worried, He should have been hopping mad right now, spitting fire, and cussing a blue-streak.  We had been through this drill before, there should be anger and indignation.  There should be copious amounts of profanity laced with intermittent challenges to the professionalism and the hereditary linage of anyone in an Air Force uniform but instead all I got was the sad eyes of a whipped puppy.

“Where was the plane diverted to?” I asked hoping a destination of obvious critical importance would relieve some of the despondency but the stunned look that he gave me before answering made me feel as though I was living that interminable moment between the pressing of the detonator and the explosion.

“Ramstein,” came the flat answer, “It was diverted to Germany.”

“You were bumped off your R&R flight because the plane was diverted to your final destination?”

He slowly nodded his head, then turned and shuffled down the hall to area of Stalag 17.

Craig finally did make it out the next day and is now drinking his hefeweisen and getting to know his new daughter, but having witnessed the enormity of power that can stun Short the Great in his tracks with such a diabolical deed, I am determined to absolve myself of all complicity in any form of Air Force bashing lest I fall victim to the same sinister plot.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Life at BAF

It occurs to me that since our move here to Metropolis, I haven’t really written about the day to day life on Bagram.


In many ways, Bagram is a lot like my hometown of Glenwood Springs, Colorado was when I was growing up.  There is one main street running north and south through town and everything of interest, the Dairy Queen, Burger King, and Wal-Mart (ok it’s really a PX) is located on this thoroughfare and the entire place is surrounded by mountains.  I would guess that the population is even comparable to Glenwood Springs circa 1970s.  So, in a lot of ways, if you squint a little, this place looks just like home.  Except for the land mines, I don’t remember any of those on the shortcut to school.  Other than that though..well, and the rivers.  Glenwood Springs has the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers running through it and all we have is a stinky little patch of swamp land along the north edge of town.  I can’t even squint that much.  We’ve also got some burned out Russian tanks, APCs, and Migs lying around and I don’t remember playing on any of those when I was a kid, although the neighbors at the bottom of the hill had an old ’39 Plymouth so if you use your imagination, well no maybe not.  I guess it’s really not that similar after all.


Bagram is divided up into little sub-divisions though, and they all have really catchy names like “Camp Lacy”, “Blackjack” and “Infantry Village”  Since the Marines were the first to occupy our little piece of paradise, we have the pleasure or residing in “Camp Teufel Hunden” which is German for “Devil Dog Town ” or  “Satan’s Little Helper Village”, but then that might be the Simpsons, I’m not sure.


Our accommodations here are 15’ by 40’ plywood shacks known as a B – Huts which have been numbered in sequence.  The commander lives in 16, so naturally, the Bucksnort Saloon’s replacement is “Stalag 17”  Craig and I picked up a new mate, Jeff Knight.  Jeff has been here working as the Support Operation Officer, Bagram, or SPO Bagram, or SPO BAF, or BAF MAN. Now that Craig, the original SPO, has shown up on BAF as well, we now have a title conundrum.  We’ve been working through some ideas like “SPO Major” and “SPO Minor” and after watching “The Usual Suspects” last night I think one of them may end up being “Kaiser SPOsae”


Stalag 17 has been recently renovated to create a little more room and one of the remnants of this semi-professional contacting work is a piece of two by four that sticks out from the wall right about forehead level to SPO Major.  This little bit of unfinished deconstruction has been dubbed the “Widowmaker” because of Craig’s repeated attempts hammer it through the back wall with his forehead.  We could just cut it down, but the entertainment value in Stalag 17 would diminish drastically, so we just put hash marks on the Widowmaker every time Craig whacks it. 


So life goes on and the days tick by and the longer we are here it feels that much more like home and we miss home that much more.

Help!! I'm Blind.

I have ventured into a new realm.  Blind Blogging.


In an effort to save band width, the sensitivity of the Websense system here has been significantly increased.  Unfortunately this means that I can no longer see my own blog.  I still have a workaround that allows me to post, but I can no longer see the site.  I would ask that people tell me if anything is significantly wrong but I won’t be able to see any comments that are left here either. 


I will continue posting to both this blog, and it’s soulmate, Firepower Forward (at Typepad)  I can’t see this site either, but I can retrieve comments through a backdoor.  So if you’re posting comments for the general audience, feel free to leave them at either site, or both.  But if this site is really screwed up or you think it’s important that I see the comments, please go to Firepower Forward (at Typepad).


Thank you to everyone for your continued support and interest.

Monday, June 13, 2005

From A Marine's Parents

I received this a little while ago from the parents of a 3/3 Marine in response to the loss of the 2 Marines in May.


you will never again see the dancing light of a morning sun or the soft, shimmering beams of a quarter moon.

nor will you feel the moist grass liquid on bare feet.

you will not inhale with eyes tight shut the sweet fragrance of grasses freshly cut...


your perpetual winter has begun and a sightless ebony blinds you as life no longer allows you to participate with joy and easy laughter.

dirt on wood with lonely stone sentinels overhead announces in stark relief a birth, a death and very little in between...


your rueful, crooked smiles stare silently at me as i walk in your garden of stones wondering what untold stories lie sleeping under this mantle of soft, brown earth that caresses the soles of my canvas shoes and the leather of this hardened heart.


i am humbled by your sacrifices as this uncomfortable walk ends and i sit with my back to an aging oak staring at the field of green that houses your shields of white stone.  i seek your presence and can only hope that should i ascend to heaven's gate my request to enter will not be denied by the ever vigilant guards of honor


Thursday, June 09, 2005

In the Blink of an Eye

The final vestiges of our task force finally closed on Bagram a few days ago, more than 2 weeks after we started the move. We have had people here prepping the ground for our occupation of camp Teufel Hunden (Devil Dog), one of Bagram's many subdivisions, for about a month now and even though all our people all of our people have made the move from Salerno, we still have a long way to go before it will feel like home.

There is a sense of sterility about Bagram, not in the sense of cleanliness, but rather it's safety. We know that we are still squarely in a combat zone, but there is a sense that we are watching an "R" rated movie that has been edited for network television. The only hostile activity we tend to see is that which flickers across our computer monitors or broadcast over video teleconferences. Even while seeing and hearing these constant reports, we watch them from a position that carries a sense of invulnerability. Living in this isolation, this no-mans land between civilization and the foxhole, complacancy comes easy. Our vast resources of technology and machinery can whisk us from this fortress into harm's way in a matter of minutes and it requires a significant mental effort to dissipate every shred of complacency along the way. It's not in the cave-dwellers best interest to provide reminders that your world can change in the blink of an eye, he would rather just ruin your day..or your life. We have to remember this and practice it whenever our mission requires us to catch a ride to some remote location. The aviators have to live it on a daily basis, their survival may well depend on this binary way of life being ingrained in them, and for that, they have my total respect.

When you catch a ride on a one of Big Windy's Chinooks, there is an orderly and prescribed manner in which everything is done. Some hand and arm signals from the Crew Chief or Flight Engineer guide you to seats and ensure that you are strapped in. The overwhelming cacophony of engines, hydraulics, and rotor blades make the earplugs a necessity and you soon find yourself in a muffled aluminum cacoon whisking over the countryside faster than you could ever imagine that this ungainly beast could move. Crew members in flight helmets with visors drawn man the machine guns at either door and on the ramp while either a second Chinook or an Apache leads or trails nearby. The windows are open and the ramp is down to accomodate the gunners, and at this time of year the cooler air from the higher altitudes swirling through the cabin is a welcome respite from the overbearing heat. The swaying and vibration contribute a new but familiar aspect to the sense of security and you soon find yourself drifting into a slumber like a child in a carseat.

Perhaps it's the change in altitude, or the rotorblades cutting the air at a different pitch that stirs you, and though slightly disoriented you are fully aware of the Chinook's descent to a landing zone. You become aware of the heat again and as you shift in your seat to relieve the stiffness of your immobility you feel your T-shirt sticking to your skin. You know your t-shirt is saturated with sweat now due to the weight of your body armor. You feel persperation trickle from beneath your helmet but it dries to your cheeks and neck after being exposed to the constantly wamer air circulating through the cabin.

You try to shake the last remnants of slumber from your system as the crew prepares for landing. The door gunner and flight engineer are leaning out their respective passenger doors searching for any hazards to the sides and rear of the aircraft outside the pilot's field of vision. You know from routine that there will be personnel waiting by the landing zone to retrieve all the cargo tied down to the floor of the cabin. It will be rolled off, then you and the other passengers will disembark. There will be other people waiting to load additional cargo, and more passengers waiting for the crews hand and arm signals before boarding and buckling in.

Reading the reports as they filtered in from Shkin, I can imagaine myself leaning forward, elbows on knees, trying to ignore what seems to be the painstakingly slow progress of the cargo download, wanting nothing more than to step out into the open air, to a place whereI could rid myself of this ungainly armor. The prescribed routine is followed methodically though, and in routine we find security.

The thud, clearly audible but possibly unidentifiable over the continuing cacophny over turbines and rotorblades, accompanied by the vibration would have caused me to raise my head. A geyser of dirt, rock, dust and metal. People scrambling. Crew-members in antimated inaudible converstation through the intercom. The increased pitch of the turbine engines. Different vibrations. Unfamiliar but clearly urgent hand and arm signals would send me fumbling for the seatbelt, adrenaline surging. The whine of the engines rapidly decreasing. Stumbling for the ramp. Open air thick with dust. Bodies prone. Scrambling over uneven ground. Collapsing into a crowded bunker heart pounding beneath the armor.

I don't know the details of what happened at Shkin on Wednesday other than the Chinook carrying our people was on the ground when the rocket exploded. The pilot's immediate reaction to get the aircraft out of danger was thwarted by the fast action of the flight engineer who had seen shrapnel hit the aircraft. Staying on the ground was now the more prudent action and the aircraft was promptly evacuated.

Two who were waiting to load or unload that aircraft perished and more were wounded in that blink of an eye that takes us from routine to crises, but the passengers and the crew who were charged with their safety, emerged shaken but unscathed. For that we are thankful, but now comes the delicate, mental balancing act of guilt and gratitude for the safety of those we know and the loss of those we don't.

So here we sit in Bagram, piecing this together as we read reports and desprately try to contact our people and wondering what sort of perverse mental attitude we maintain that makes us silently wish we were back in Salerno. I know it's nothing more than loathing the separation, not from the danger, but from the ability to directly influence the actions; the futility and helplessness we feel can be overwhelming. Be that as it may, that is our cross to bear, and we remain thankful for the professionalism and dedication of all these Army Aviators; all the Siegs and Purdys and Frazees, all the crew chiefs and FEs, be they Big Windy or Saber, Blackhawk, Chinook or Apache, anyone who can make going from one place to another seem safe and routine when your life is balancing tenuously on so many different levels, has my undying respect.
Anxious Hours

When we received word of U.S. casualties in a rocket attack in Shkin, there were some anxious hours until we could verify that all our people were unijured. Our prayers are with the units and families of those lost.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ramps and Colors

From where I stood on the flight line, I could see into the cavernous empty cargo bay of the C-17. Its interior lights illuminated the rows of Special Forces soldiers extending towards me from the base of the ramp, two ranks on each side facing each other forming a 200 foot corridor. To my left a color guard stood a parade rest trying to keep the staffs vertical as the warm stiff breeze tugged at the flags making the fabric ripple and snap. To my right, the line of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and civilians stretched out and disappeared into the darkness. Past the point where it was swallowed by the night, I knew this line stretched out in a circuitous route for more than a mile and a half on both sides of the street as service members lined up to pay their final respects to two Special Forces soldiers killed by a roadside bomb on Friday.

As we stood a parade rest waiting, my mind wandered. I marveled at the gargantuan size of the aircraft in front of me. I wondered how many bundles of humanitarian aid it had dropped over the past 3 years, how many troops it had carried into theater, and how many of these sorrowful trips it had made back out. A C-130 was parked nearby, and I knew that out in the darkness, the flight line was packed full of A-10s, EA-6s, CH-47s, UH-60s, AH-64s, and who knew what else. The firepower and cargo capacity represented was staggering.

Above the whine of the C-17's APU, I could still hear the flags snapping in the wind. Then, as the casket bearing vehicles approached the entrance of the airfield, the blue light of the MPs vehicle began to flash casting a kind of macbre strobe light effect over the long line of troops to my right. To my left, the generator powered light sets were illuminated casting giant shadows towards the vehicles carrying their sorrowfully honored consignment. As the vehicles approached, the line of troops to my right rippled as each in turn rendered tribute to those who passed by beneath the flags. As I dropped my salute, the vehicles had come to rest at the base of the twin ranked corridor. Pall bears moved forward to execute their privileged duty with a solemn crispness as the color guard moved forward through the corridor. In the methodical, halting footsteps used only in these somber settings, the pall bearers slipped between the twin ranks of soldiers towards the ramp of the aircraft and disappeared from my view.

The colors, moving at a full pace had ascended the ramp and halted as I measured the progress of the pall bearers by the ripple of honors being rendered by the former comrades of those making their final journey home. It struck me that during the indeterminate amount of time that it took the slow wave of salutes to reach the ramp of the aircraft, the stiff warm breeze from the north pushed our national colors straight out across the top of the ramp, the interior cabin lights illuminating them from behind.

Eventually the pall bearers rose from between the ranks of soldiers, slid past the color guard into the aircraft and disappeared from view leaving all eyes focused on the boldly illuminated American flag. Having completed their duty, the pall bearers moved to the ramp and followed the colorguard as it descended again towards the ranks of soldiers, struggling to maintain bearing and cadence as the wind angrily tugged at the extended fabric they carried.

It seems to me now, that this war will be won not by virtue of our nations ability to place these gargantuan aircraft, and the vast numbers of it's deadly cousins on the ground and in the skies over this desolate land, nor in the ability to house, arm and sustain the thousands of servicemen and women who had just rendered final honors to these heroes here in this remote and barren country. It will not be won solely by the actions of those who ascended that ramp beneath their nation's colors, though God knows they gave more than any has a right to ask, but by the heart of those who carry the colors back down the ramp, into the darkness of this hostile country having just said a final farewell to friends.

This war will be won through the knowledge that the warrior cannot be separated from the human, that we can no longer fight wars by separating all that is decent and humane from our actions in relentless destruction of those who mean us harm, but rather by the embodiment of decency and humanity in our warrior ethos in order to secure victory through peace.

The papers and the televisions will keep reporting the unfortunate and heart-rending loss of American life here in these distant lands like perverse box scores long after the American public or the world at large has become desensitized, but it will be that which is unquantifiable, that which comes from the recesses of the American warrior's heart which sparks and sustains beyond all reasonable standards, the willingness to sacrifice for the sustainment of freedom that will eventually win a long forgotten peace in this country and the security of our own.

De Oppresso Libre

Friday, June 03, 2005

A Day to Remember, a Day to be Thankful
Please bear with me, our communication is still a little sketchy as we continue setting up our operations here. My unclassified computer has been sent away to Bagram's Shaolin Techie Temple where it is being BAFtized in in order to exorcize it of all evil spirited viruses and corrupted files. When I finally get it back it will be a lean powerful machine with a calm and serene spirit. It will aslo be purged of every byte of usable data and totally useless. I would probably be a bit more serene if I could purge my memory once in a while too. In the mean time I am borrowing other computers as they come available to take care of important tasks like this.

I want to share a letter that my brother sent me for Memorial Day:

I just wanted to take a minute to say hi, and thank everyone there for theirsacrifice. I think that the best way to say thanks would to be to explainwhat I am thankful for. I am blessed to live in a country that is "of thepeople, for the people". The freedoms that I use every day need to beremembered and recited so they are not taken for granted.

When I attend church on Sunday, I am thankful for the men and women thathave put their lives in harms way to defend my right to express my beliefs,even when their beliefs may be different.

When I vote, I am thankful to these same individuals, that may or may notalign their political beliefs to their current or previous Commanders inChief, and for allowing themselves to be distanced by thousands of milesfrom their families.

I am thankful that I live in a country that allows me to keep and bear arms,for the purpose of defending myself, my beliefs, and my country. Thank youfor missing birthdays, anniversaries, and personal family events.

I am thankful for my ability to express my beliefs in the local newspaper,without worry of arrest. Thank you for missing the birth of your children,or the loss of a loved one.

I am thankful for the men and women that consider it a privilege to defendmy way of life, as well as carry that way of life to others.

Thank you for your years of training, moving from state to state, crawling in the mud,choking on tear gas, and being told to do something that every fiber of youbeing is screaming not to, like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Iknow you love it. Thank You.

Most of all, I am thankful for my family, for being able to watch mychildren grow and learn in a country that provides every opportunity forthem, for being able spend my life with the woman I love, and for theability to provide a living for myself and my family. I know that the onlyreason that I have these abilities is because of those that are sacrificing the very things I love. Thank You.


Thanks Glen.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Bright Lights, Big City

Well, our mission at FOB Salerno has ended, and we have pulled back to Bagram Air Field. After the reasonably spartan accommodations in Salerno, this is a veritable Shangri-La with its white lights and paved roads, multiple PX's, Burger King, and Dairy Queen. I suppose it still qualifies as a combat zone but it's hard to understand why. I know that the thrill of all the amenities will wear off quickly, and we will soon be left with the fact that it is crowded, busy, and dirty. I know that I will soon feel the pangs of guilt for my ease of accomodations here when there are so many still trying to better their meager existences in Ghazni, Tarin Kowt, Orgun-E, and a multitude of other microscopic little FOBs carved out of the wilderness. For today though, I still feel like the country bumpkin who moves to the city and gawks at all the tall buildings and modern appliances.

That said, here are the top ten lies told about FOB Salerno:

10 - It Doesn't get that cold here.
9 - A C-130 will land in 20 minutes.
8 - It doesn't get that hot here.
7 - A C-130 will land in an hour.
6 - Communications will be back up in a few minutes.
5 - The new barracks will be finished next week.
4 - A C-130 will be here today.
3 - It only takes a few minutes to get a haircut here.
2 - We don't get many rockets here.
1 - Of course the Air Force knows where FOB Salerno is.