Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Well it's about time isn't it? The book is finished.

I know some of you have been waiting a LONG time but it is complete and should be ready for sale on Amazon in a week or two. Please look on Create space and see the cover and rate it.

Thank you all who have sent their thoughts of love and support it has been a long road.
I hope it has been worth the wait.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prologue to the Poor Bastards Club...


"In war there are no unwounded soldiers."
Jose’ Narosky

The heat, dust, loneliness and frustration, worry, lack of sleep and fear all play over and over in my mind like a maddening commercial looped for eternity. The endless nights on guard just watching, waiting for the stillness to be shattered by the sounds of gunfire and explosions can be maddening. You start wanting it to happen, willing it to happen and when it doesn’t your left empty and drained. The constant vigilance feels like slow bleeding…you wonder how far you can go and survive. How much more can I take and still be the man who left America and my family just months ago. Has it been that long? I feel so old and tired. It’s as though the very act of touching the soil draws the life slowly out of you with each step.

With the end of my tour in the Stan nearing what once seemed so intangible and far away may now becomes a reality. That day, that moment that will bring so many lonely hearts together in one place seems almost unimaginable. I have thought about that day in so many different ways it can be, at times, a source of maddening distraction.

Now the realization is that this last flight will be over and you won’t be going back to the places that caused so much pain and longing can be hard to fathom. I have watched my children grow in pictures and heard my daughter say her first words over a static filled satellite phone from eight thousand miles away. My son speaks in complete sentences now, always asking me how my soldiers are and if the there are any bad guys near. I wonder what I will tell him of this war when he grows older. What I can tell him about the things his Father has done to survive.

Will they understand? Will they be able to see the man who left a year ago is still here inside?

How will I react to those who are so blissfully ignorant to the war and all its obscenities of violence? Will I resent them for their apathy or will I understand that I am the one who’s changed and react accordingly? The nature of this conflict with its landmines and lightning attacks has kept us in a perpetual state of vigilance with explosive moments of adrenalin and despair. The Army gave me the Purple Heart award for injuries in battle but what do you get for wounds of the soul?

Being my second time deployed to war zone did not make it any easier to adapt at surviving on the home front. My wife has had to work and raise our children without a Dad for a year and a half and during those dark moments alone after the children have gone to sleep she wonders if I’m safe.

How has this war changed her?

I remember one of my first firefights where I was so fuckin mad at them for slinging rounds at me for months, waiting for the floor to explode under my feet and not being able to return fire because of civilians in the area or we were unable to positively identify a target that the act of squeezing that trigger and hearing those rounds hammering the enemy and seeing them fall was more exciting and more rewarding than your first porn film.

War, by its very nature, sometimes allows too much time in between the missions for deep thinking. If you dive too deeply into the pool of your own emotion you may never reach the surface again and find yourself descending into the darkness. And it is madness you see. This wafer thin veneer of societal normalcy we carry like a child’s cardboard shield will not ward off the ugliness and savagery of those to wish to destroy you.
In some ways I guess I was kinda lucky. My initiation into the suffering and death of others was gradual enough to give me some time to build up mental defenses but there never is enough time is there?

I know this; I will not allow this experience to shade the rest of my life with bitter angst. Being older this time I hope I have gained the wisdom to accept the path that has led me to the door I must now open and know I will be stronger for it. I have taken all the men under my command and returned them safely to their loved ones and I have prayed for the fallen.
God bless this rag-tag bunch of misfits I call my soldiers and God bless America the one true beacon of hope in this world.

This story is a recollection of my time and duty serving in Afghanistan. I have tried to be as honest and true to the events as they happened using my notes and columns I had written but as usual my minds eye sees things differently than others. All the quotes used are from my memory and therefore may be remembered differently from another’s perspective.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Some of Herat...

I wanted to place a coupla pictures I have taken of the children of A-Stan since I have been here in country. Not only are they insatiably curious but they happen to be the future of this country.

This is one of my favorites taken at the Herat boys school. There are 3,500 boys ages 6-16 here trying to get an education despite the conditions under which they have to study. The main building is an empty windowless shell givin to the kids by the Afghan national police. Behind it you can see the tomb of Alexander's daughter dating back to the second century with it's minerets stretching to the sky.

Upon seeing us arrive ,we caused kind of a stir, the headmaster called the school day over and the mob of children decended upon us like a swarm of locusts. Smiling and waving, shaking hand after hand and laughing like lunatics we basked in the love of these kids who just wanted to see the soldiers and their cool toys.

As I was trying to get back through the crowd a boy of about twelve turned to me and said "America...Yes, thank you...thank you." I reached out my hand and the picture was taken. We two humans, so different yet so alike. A finer moment I cannot recall. Bless them all.

Some of the others were taken at the girls school outside Herat at Jabra'il. There I got my first look at the young women of A-stan with out the manditory burka. These girls were fearless and walked right up to me and started asking me my name, age, was I married, did I have kids etc...typical about that! They were and always will be a wonderfully memorable moment of my time here.

Some of the elders who have lived throught he worst of the Soviets, Taliban, and the tribal warlords have the wisdom to accept the help and assistance of the outside international community but it is these children who dare to dream of a free land without the pain and anguish of another war.

It is my prayer that in some small way I have helped them to gain that goal.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Well this might be the last one in a while cause both blogging and writing the book can take up a great amount of time. However, I did want to comment on something another friend had said about "Fobbits" and their ilk.

"The American experience in Afghanistan varies widely. Some areas get no activity, some areas get excessive activity. The fobbits of Bagram may never leave the confines of that most august enclave for their entire tour.

The fobbits of Phoenix may only boast two conops in their entire tour.

Fobbits abound.

The young men out in Kunar* get shot at nearly every day.

The young men and women at Bagram and Phoenix get shot at never.


The major problem I had with some of the young Americans under my command was that most of them were scared, privledged, lazy, assuming, careless, disrespectful, harbingers of yet another generation of ungrateful black holes that believe everthing that gets caught in the tendrils of their gravity should be given to them on bended knee.

Kinda like the "I only joined for the college money." type.

Now I'm not disrespecting all of the tower guards and those who were forced by command to stay at Phoenix and BAF because a lot of them hated it and would be the pivot man on "Gay Thursday" for a chance to leave But, if you were there you could spot the fobbit a mile away. I actually had to "fire" i.e [send back to monster base] two of my squad cause they couldn't manage to play well with others. [see falling asleep on guard, dropping a 240 B off the roof and lying to the CSM about it, Drinking, driving a UAH into a river etc...] These were the types that were a danger not just to themselves but to all others around them for their carelessness and inability to spend the time and effort it takes to be a member of a team.
Some were released from "fobbitude" for a short forray into the wild , kinda like a catch and release program, they now feel that since they experienced war close up and were changed by it that they have the clout to pass judgment on others and their experiences. I got news for you boys…all the dead in Afghanistan can’t erase your guilt for surviving or end your grief. You must walk that path alone.

Many of these men hate me to this day for making them do the right thing but guess what...they may be alive today because of the things I made them do.

I'm getting out of the Army in a few months after 12 years and the war had a lot to do with my decision to leave but more to the point was the lack of heart and soul and sense of sacrifice from these young Americans I worked with.

Are all young men and women this way? Of course not. I have found many that I treat like my sons and would , if I had too, go back to war with. Alas, there are too few of them for me to stay.

* Kandahar, Jalalabad, Sangin, Zir coh valley, Farah etc…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

PBC continuation...The Road North...

We were given three men from the SECFOR element to act as guides on the ride up to Wolf but were told air cover was unavailable. The poppy eradication mission “Riverdance” has begun south of Lashcar-gah and Girishk and seems to do little more than piss off the general populace. The main problem is the MOD and the ANP are destroying the poppies but not compensating the farmers.
Last week we were operating out of Farah on a cordon and search when a guy drove into our area on a motorcycle with a six year old kid on the back. The ANA stopped him and went through all his shit and found a five pound ball of opium.
Now, I’m watching all this going on and the commander of the ANA comes over and starts a very animated discussion about the drugs and the Taliban and I’m thinking they’re gonna start roughing this guy up a little bit.
Instead, the man starts crying and begging the commander to let him go and tells him his whole life story and what happens?
He gives him back the opium and lets him go. At the time I was thinking “What the fuck, over? What are we doin here? I thought we were supposed to be curtailing the drug industry not helping it,” but later on the more I thought about it the more I understood why he let him go. This guy was just a little fish, and taking those drugs wouldn’t have made a piss in a rainstorm’s good to the whole drug eradication effort. He probably worked his poppy field for six months to get the only commodity he can sell.

The Road North

The morning of the 22nd we begin to prep for the run north to Wolf so I brought out the 240B and connected it to the pindel mount and set up the turret so everything is within easy reach. Travis walked over to my UAH and said “Hey Paul, looks like they’re adding a few vehicles to our convoy.

See those five, seven-ton Internationals over there?” “Yea…” I said uneasily. “They just got flown in from Kandahar and they’re coming with us” He said. “Oh yea, who’s driving um?” “The ANA.” He said.
No, no, no, those guys can’t drive in a wet parking lot for Christ’s sake and you wanna put um in brand new vehicles fully loaded with shit?” “Jesus sir, odds were gonna get hit on the way up anyway!” “I know Paul, I don’t like it anymore than you do but that decision was made way over my pay grade…roger?” “Great…I said. “I’m glad I’m up here in the turret cause there’s no way to keep my boots clean with this much shit piling up!”
I tried to find a place to write in my notebook but I can’t put it down anywhere. All the metal surfaces are blistering.
The turret layout: L-R…. Lubriderm SPF-15, 2-M18 smoke grenades purple, yellow, Green star cluster, MK3A2 Offensive concussion grenade, baby wipes, M4/M203 grenade launcher, paint brush for weapon cleaning, Spit cup, [smells like it’s fermenting into something alcoholic, hmmmm I been gone too long….] 4 oz bottle CLP oil for gun, 18- rounds 40mm HEDP for the grenade launcher, cleaning kit, 3-bottled water, compressed air, Dragonov sniper rifle, another offensive grenade, plastic handcuffs, and finally the 240B machine gun with 900 7.62mm rounds made by the FN Company Belgium. [Thanks Europe, the only good thing to come outta there in years.]
As the NCOIC of the SECFOR team I manage all security issues both inside the FOB, providing for the defense, and on the road during operations. I put Joker on the fifty at the front of the column so he can reach out and deliver a formidable punch if necessary. Bevis and Repo watch the flanks of the column and therefore we have a 360 degree overlapping coverage for the element. As the gunner in the last vehicle my number one priority is rear security for the convoy. Our ROE states that no one is allowed to enter or trail the convoy too closely so I keep all traffic at least a hundred meters to the rear using hand signals, threat, intimidation, then finally force to assure our safety.

Our guides from the other SECFOR team told us about the many times they have had to disable a vehicle that has tried to pass the column or followed to close to the rear. A thirty to fifty round burst from a 240B does a good job at turning a Corolla or a mini van into a fine effigy of Swiss cheese.
We had barley gotten on to the ring road when we stopped for the first of a multitude of vehicle problems. One of the TATAs driven by the ANA had a flat tire and they were told to go back to base. As they passed me they were both smiling from ear to ear like they had won the lottery or gotten that last call from the Governor or something. I didn’t realize until later that they may well have received a reprieve from a death sentence.
As we were rolling through Gereshk a guy [single male no passengers] driving a burgundy colored SUV comes speeding up from the rear so I started waving my arm to get his attention then, held it in the “STOP” position but he just smiles and starts gaining on the convoy. He doesn’t heed the warning so I lower the 240B on him…no change in speed…I fire a dozen 7.62 rounds off his front bumper, the vehicle stops…then lurches forward again. This time he gets half the belt into the ground inches off his door panel. By now the convoy has stopped and everyone un-asses the vehicle and covers down on the driver. We motion for him to get out of the car or we will kill him where he sits. VBIEDs have become the weapon of choice for terrorists down here in the south and they have killed too many people in this country. He moves out of the car, arms raised, with this big shit-eating grin on his face. I’m thinking, this fucker must be insane but perhaps he’s just scared "shite’less."

We passed 611 and turned north into the desert along a small path sprinkled liberally with camel shit and rosemary. To this day whenever my wife makes some recipe using it I get a little shiver and say a silent prayer. Everyone seemed to be out in the fields tending the poppy crop. As we passed by a small group of children drinking from a puddle of filthy water one looked at me and slit his index finger across his throat and pointed north. I’m thinking these were not the happy little faces we used to see in Shindand and Herat.

This was the beginning of the “dead eyes.” A term I used to describe the length and true depth of the hatred these people had for us. You could see it in their eyes, black and empty like a endless void you could sink into until the very pressure of their loathing crushed you to the size of a pea. There may have not been any discernable facial expression but you could feel it as sure as Luke Skywalker felt the force. Twin black lasers burrowing into your soul, if looks could kill there wouldn’t be an American left alive in Southern Afghanistan.
We had already lost one truck and now the fun really begins. First of all, the Afghans can’t drive for shit and none of them as ever seen a license much less had any formal training on how to operate a vehicle. The drivers are usually chosen by who has the biggest hash supply with them.
After all, it’s hard to light your doobie in the back of a speeding Ford Ranger with all that wind so…that’s where the driver comes in.
These knuckle heads are driving these huge international trucks and every coupla hundred meters one of them gets stuck in the sand or takes a path up a gradient too steep for that monster and were forced to stop the convoy and pull them out. After a coupla dozen times of this shit I’m ready to shoot the bastards and drive the truck myself. Finally, one of them breaks a steering rod and we’re forced to tow it the rest of the way to the FOB.
All along the route there are burned out hulks of the vehicles hit by enemy fire and abandoned to the desert, a grim reminder to remain vigil. We have fired upon anyone who appears to be “enemy spotters.” Some of them just appear on the distant ridgelines watching us as we pass and others ride along on motorcycles pacing the convoy. This doesn’t last for long after we start shooting at them. Finally we were within 6 KM of the base and the one we had been towing could not be pulled over a steep incline. We radioed the FOB and asked them if they had anyone who could fix the damn thing but they didn’t have any parts for these new vehicles so we sent a small element forward to scout the approach to the base.
We could see the base from this spot we defended. Every time a chopper landed on the LZ it would throw up great clouds of dust visible for miles. It was getting near dark and this was not where you wanted to be after making so much noise earlier in the day. The prevalent opinion, mine for one, was to cut our losses and burn that sucker. Unload what we could and toss a thermite grenade in and let the dragon eat its fill, leave nothing for the enemy. Finally someone was able to charge the brake lines and we towed it in long after nightfall. I climbed down out of the turret sunburned and exhausted and Joker led us to an underground bunker where we ate some canned meat and fruit, got a brief from the commander on actions on contact, then promptly passed out in a Conex container they used as a shelter.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My war is gone…I miss it so.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What a crazy notion.
For what kind of madman would miss the war and all its ugliness? After such a hard and troubling assimilation back into a “normal” society you think I’d be happy, no giddy, to be back among the safety and the sanity of a place called home. So why do I feel so out of place sometimes?
Why does a smell or a sound bring me crashing back to a time best forgotten? In the beginning I figured out that instead of remembering those events as they happened I was actually reliving them and all the pain, anger and fear was twisting my guts and my mind into some cosmic pretzel until soon I was wondering which reality and which world to believe in.
The mind is such a strange and beautiful thing. The logical side kept saying “Look, we’re home, it’s all over!” but somehow the other…darker side, whispered of the things not said, the things not easily conveyed at cocktail parties and of the things that still go bump in the night. It was much easier to go back to Afghanistan than it was to return home. Perhaps it’s because we revert back to our roots of savagery easier then to this thin veneer of western twentieth century society.

An experience like war shine light on parts of the human mind and soul that are sometimes better left in the darkness. No matter your education or your proclivity for humanity and love of nature there is still nothing as beautiful as an explosion that rocks you back on your heels and sends tendrils of white phosphorus spiraling out from center like a flower blooming at velocity. Add to that the fact that the persons that were just trying to kill you won’t fit into a shoebox and you’re filled with joy and relief. You don’t think about his family, his ideology and beliefs or the fact he may be a father like you, you just kill him.

So much for all the good things I learned in kindergarten.

During one of our engagements we were covering the line of advance of one of our units that had been ambushed coming from the Kajaki dam and the enemy began firing at us from the valley below. I had seen them walking towards us from about three hundred meters and I was surprised when they opened fire being that unconcealed. It took just an instant before the sound of the rounds striking off stone and steel got my full attention and I remember hearing a voice yelling a direction and distance to the enemy then, the sound of my machinegun in response. I remember seeing my tracer rounds streak towards them then adjusting my fire until it converged with their bodies. Dust, flesh and blood danced a deadly ballet like a marionette on the strings of a drunken puppeteer. I feel no remorse or guilt. Hell, I think I was shouting and cursing them as they fell. There is no time for conscience thoughts on morality or the justness of my actions…survival was the key. If I could have I probably would have gotten out of my Hummvee and stomped their bodies into the dust too…am I a savage? Mad? At that time, after all I’d seen…probably a little of both.

You see…that’s the problem with war, in order to survive it you must become just like it. For if you rebel against it and you refuse to learn all its incestuous, beastly lessons you die. If I must admit, there were moments when I felt almost calm and serene in the midst of the carnage, for the temptation to play God can be a heady intoxicant. Think I can’t call down the thunder?

At the touch of my finger my 240 Bravo machinegun would spit 850 rounds per minute at anything that pissed me off.

Grab the radio hand mike and I can call an A-10 Warthog ground attack aircraft to hose down a compound with its 30 mm cannon.

Enter the coordinates into the blue force tracker and a B-52 on station will drop 1,000 pound JDAMS into a gopher hole from 30,000 feet.

Oh yes, Virginia that’s the sound of freedom.

Most of my problem was the things that worked there don’t work here and vice versa. Over there, threats, intimidation and outright violence worked. It’s as simple as that. Everyone was armed to the teeth and believe me…an armed society is a polite society. Carry a gun for awhile and the ability to use deadly force will change your perceptions on life. We controlled the population [as best as we could] and molded the rules of our existence around us into a cocoon of our own making and it kept our survival chances to a premium. For a year and a half my M4 carbine was never more than an arms reach away and weapons and ammunition were strategically placed all over the bases and vehicles we used. Then, as my feet touched the tarmac at Ft. Stewart Georgia they took away my weapon and said the war was over for me. Really? Over for you maybe, I’m still fighting it.

The simple fact is war can be monstrously impressive, both beautiful and ghastly at the same time.
I have seen: vast, empty mountain passes where the sapphire sky seems to melt into the cascading mountains and the clouds playfully dance and frolic with the surrounding peaks like some impish fairy high on pixy dust.

A sea of green and purple poppies so boundless and expansive it looks like God carpeted the empty desert floor so profound it boggles the mind.

Aquamarine rivers flowing though a cadaverous landscape that nourish only a few hundred feet of its banks assailing the arid badlands in a futile battle of wills.

The effects of 130 degree heat on the dead after four days in the desert.

The torture and mutilation of the living by Godless savages who claim the Almighty’s blessing.

Grown men weep openly and without pretension for the lost of a friend and companion and for the vacuum left by their passing.

Perhaps that is part of my problem. I haven’t cried for the lost men, the lost time and the lost hope of a nation. I think if I start, I may not be able to stop.

The truth is I don’t miss the war at all, what I miss is the way in which people behave while their in it. It didn’t take long to recognize that sad fact soon after my return. We lived for the moment; perhaps even the instant for any time our bodies could be scattered to the four winds. We also respected each other and honored the memory of the men who passed before us. No one lied or exaggerated, WORDS MEAN THINGS! Say what you mean and mean what you say. Sadly, I’m afraid; it seems this country has lost some of the same moral principals it pretends to espouse.

I used to think we had the attention span of a commercial now I see it’s more a sound byte or a popular catch phrase like “Right wing conspiracy” or “Gay rights.” Our “so called” leaders in both legislative bodies are so mired in their own personal battles over how much of my money to steal and waste it’s utterly pathetic and to tell me you’re “For the soldier” but against the war is pure bovine scatology. Everyone hates war, especially the solder that has to bare the physical and emotional scars from just surviving that ordeal.

I have now realized the war will always be with me. Like some jilted lover it hangs just out of sight until it spies a weakness in my defenses then, it strikes with more precision than a smart bomb folding me back into its silent, deadly embrace. I think about it every day. It shades the things I do and the way in which I live. I had hoped the war would make me smarter, braver and stronger but now I’m no longer sure it’s done anything other than leave me with a small nugget of hope for a planet so mired in evil and despair it waits on some ancient deity to change our collective hearts into one. I got news for you…it’s already there. Your choice to decide good from evil, love from hate and life over death.
Don’t let the memory of those who suffered and sacrificed, then, gave their lives be in vain. They may not have died for you, but for the memory of someone like you.

A husband, a Father, a brother and son I’ am. Do not forsake me.

It is not that present-day man is capable of greater evil than the man of antiquity or the primitive. He merely has incomparably more effective means with which to realize his proclivity to evil. As his consciousness has broadened and differentiated, so his moral nature has lagged behind. That is the great problem before us today.
Carl Jung

Coming Home...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

As this tour begins to draw to a close, what once seemed so intangible and far away may now become a reality. That day, that moment that will bring so many lonely hearts together in one place seems almost unimaginable. I have thought about that day in so many different ways it can be, at times, a source of maddening distraction.

Leave was such a whirlwind of activity it left few real moments to sit alone and consider that you were soon to be flying back in the same direction you left. Now the realization is that this last flight will be over and you won’t be going back to the places that caused so much pain and longing can be hard to fathom. I have watched my children grow in pictures and heard my daughter say her first words over a static filled satellite phone from eight thousand miles away. My son speaks in complete sentences now, always asking me how my soldiers are and if the there are any bad guys near. I wonder what I will tell him of this war when he grows older. What I can tell him about the things his Father has done to survive.

Will they understand? Will they be able to see the man who left a year ago is still here inside?

How will I react to those who are so blissfully ignorant to the war and all its obscenities of violence? Will I resent them for their apathy or will I understand that I am the one who’s changed and react accordingly? The nature of this conflict with its landmines and lightning attacks has kept most of us in a perpetual state of vigilance with explosive moments of adrenalin and despair. The Army gave me the Purple Heart award for injuries in battle but what do you get for wounds of the soul?

This being my second time deployed from a war zone may make it easier to adapt at surviving the home front. But I have no illusions that it will be easy. My wife has had to work and raise our children without a Dad for a year and a half and during those dark moments alone after the children have gone to sleep she wonders if I’m safe. How has this war changed her?

I know this; I will not allow this experience to shade the rest of my life with bitter angst. Being older this time I hope I have gained the wisdom to accept the path that has led me to the door I must now open and know I will be stronger for it. I have taken all the men under my command and returned them safely to their loved ones and I have prayed for the fallen.
God bless this rag-tag bunch of misfits I call my soldiers and God bless America the one true beacon of hope in this world.

Doc Thomas Stone rest in peace brother...

Saturday, April 15, 2006

“Why do we do it?”

There can be no reward large enough for these sacrifices. Are we making a difference with our blood and pain? Do they even care? I know we have talked about this but I can't talk to these guys here and I find heaviness in the center of my chest. “These questions I emailed to my platoon sergeant and friend Kevin Kj*******.
A few days earlier I had been on a mission deep in the Zerkoh valley looking for insurgents and trying to trap a bomb/IED maker in a cordon and search. While we were closing the gap the satellite radio piped up…”Clear this freq, TIC [troops in contact] in progress.” This is a message that never fails to get everyone’s attention. The caller began with a medical evacuation call or 9-line as we call it. This gives the medical team all the necessary information to start prioritizing the number of patients and care they may need.

“Be advised we have two KIAs and six WIAs for immediate dust off over..”

The radio dialog continued to follow and battle track the events of the firefight in real time as we stood by and wished we could help our brothers. It is an awful thing to hear, like 9-11 dispatching, knowing you cannot do anything to assist, and somewhere, someone has paid the ultimate price.
One of our FOBs to our south had been in contact with the enemy for over seven hours by the time this call went out. Using a Predator drone, we listened to the controllers as they followed a group of the enemy back to their safe house.

Only this time, there was nothing safe about it.

As the enemy entered the mud hut compound the drone fired a Hellfire missile into the center of the building and blew it apart. Then, as the enemy gathered around the ruin from adjoining buildings the combat air controller called in the A-10 Thunderbolts and finished the job. Dropping first a five hundred, and then, one thousand pound bombs they flattened the whole compound.
I can remember visualizing this encounter as it happened. In my mind, I was jumping up n’ down cheering as those bastards ran around, on fire, and screaming in pain…and I liked it. One or more of our guys had been injured or killed and I wanted them to suffer, I wanted to vent some of my rage for a year of loss and struggle, for the endless hours of boredom and the missions that never seem to end. For having to walk across one big minefield called Afghanistan and for daring to dream of a life after all this. And now, to know one of us will never have that opportunity,

I wanted their blood.

We finished our mission then returned to base to begin our pre-combat checks for a convoy run to Herat. While we were there the message came that one of our men was killed during the battle we had listened to that morning. Who was it? They had not been able to advise the next of kin yet so we waited for the rest of the day to find out. A very long day…you asked yourself who it could be. Who was down there? Then you think of your buddies and you mentally choose who you don’t want to be dead. This horrible, mental hopscotch played round in my mind for a long while. Then you find yourself picking someone and you feel guilty for this too, cause without knowing it, you may be hexing someone else….boonie grunt voodoo.

As the time continued to drag on I kept getting this gnawing ache. This pain that seemed to travel from my chest down to my stomach and then lodged along my spine where it tickled every fiber of my body. I couldn’t figure out what it was and being a paramedic, you’re always diagnosing you own ailments along with everyone else’s. I walked from one end of the compound to the other, went up to the roof and thought about it some more, tried to use all my skills and past experiences all to no avail.

Then it hit me, like a blow from a sledgehammer, I was afraid.

The sour taste in my mouth and the restless angst I couldn’t control was fear. I don’t know if I have ever been afraid. Not like this. It was like some alien, unknown feeling I have never experienced and I couldn’t shake it. I walked among my friends and fellow soldiers at my base I wondered if they could see, if they knew what I was feeling. I was hesitant to look them in the eye. I couldn’t talk to them or they may think I wouldn’t be able to do my job. It teased my brain with thoughts of missing some important sign of an ambush or noticing a small detail like all the children were missing from the area we’re working. It continued throughout the day and into the night and all I could think of was “My God I can’t spend the rest of this tour feeling this way…I’ll go nuts.” While I was on guard I thought I could feel the stares of the enemy from every dark corner and every building as they plotted my demise. It was a long time before I slept that night.
The next day, after a pitiful night tossing and turning, I knew what had to be done. I put myself in the gunner position on the next five day mission into the heart of Taliban country. I knew I had to beat this, this spectral ghost of soldiers past, or I would be an ineffective leader of my men.

As we prepped for this mission the word came down to us that Thomas “Doc” Stone, one of our medics, had been killed along with a Canadian soldier and another of our men had been injured.
Sometime in the early morning hours the enemy attacked their FOB with a heavy barrage of RPGs, mortars, and small arms fire. The base had not been occupied very long and the team did not have very long to build up defensive positions. Sometime during the battle one of our men, while moving from one position to another, was shot in the face. Another soldier began treating him and called for a medic. As always “Stoney” heard the call and got up from his covered position to aid the wounded man. He was struck multiple times by small arms fire and died within a few feet of the man he tried to save.

As I have been trying to make sense of the loss of my friend. I remember Thomas “Doc” Stone as an infantryman, a medic and a hard charging soldier of the finest kind. We worked together on a number of missions throughout the western area of Afghanistan and time after time he had proven not only his medical knowledge but his endless supply of optimism and empathy for the people of this country. Every time we would stop our convoys he would step out with candy and his medical bag to work with the children or adults that may need what care he could provide.
Doc by no means was new to the effects of war. He was 52 years old and had a prior tour of duty in Vietnam and was currently on his third tour in Afghanistan. Capt. Jeff Roosevelt who served with Stone on his second tour, in 2004 said

"He was all about taking care of the soldiers around him," "That's why he went on the three deployments: to take care of the soldiers who were his brothers."

The loss of a man like Stoney affects us all but, his unrelenting drive to help others and to try and make some sense of this war exemplifies the honor, the integrity, and the love one man can show for his brothers.

Kevin wrote back to me,

"Paul - Be well brother. You should feel this way; however, make no mistake: he and we are making a difference and not in a small way. It has always been apparent to me and it was confirmed at today's memorial service that we all touch everyone with whom we come in contact. The measure of the experience is not the end but the measure of our experiences is in the journey. Stoney has traveled all over the world in the military and in his civilian life; one tour in Viet Nam, three in Afghanistan; and he has touched countless people and healed many. He has loved and lived a powerful life filled with the experiences of other people. We offer that same opportunity to the people and future of Afghanistan. We have already made a difference simply by being here. And we are different too, because of these experiences. Honor his memory by going on and making a difference in other peoples lives. Remember him to people you meet who ask about your time here. That is how we go on. Be smart, stay safe and take care of each other."

God speed Doc, we love you too.

I can lose a friend like that by my death but not by his. -----George Bernard Shaw

Where were you on 9/11?

It has been said that my last column I was “down” or somewhat negative on our chances to bring about a democratic country after years of war and civil unrest. This may be true. Although I believe I stated for the record- “What I would like to bring to the forefront is the possibility of actually winning this war” in my last column. I have so far only given my “first hand” knowledge on the war on terror and the direct effects and influence on me as they have happened. I have tried to stray far from the normal media outlet sort of journalism and focus on my “Grunt’s eye view.

From down here in the dust and mud you can imagine my view is somewhat limited. However, through the use of my computer, my intelligence gathering for mission purposes and other sources I’m able to piece together a better grasp of the picture than some. It is by no means completely right nor totally accurate.
Accept then, that I cannot and will not be an administration cheerleader or a Liberal hack who throws in the towel after the first bloody nose.
The left liberal mantra emanating from across the Potomac, since most of them actually voted for the war, is that we should pull out and let the Iraqis/Afghanis stand or fall on their own. This endless litany is paraded up and down the halls of the Senate and Congress every time a bomb goes off in either country and American blood is spilled.

Is anyone there? War is a sad, horrible, tragic, display of man’s inability to accept the premise that the subjugation of one by another will not be long tolerated. Someone somewhere will eventually pick up a rock or a stick and bash their oppressor’s skull in.
Sometimes though, it is in our own best interests to stop the carnage before we get our feet wet. We are here now. To pick up and leave without finishing or at least giving them a fighting chance at their freedom and pursuit of liberty is to tarnish and trample on all of the good men and women who have given so much in this effort.

History is rife with the examples of these events. Normally, we are reluctant to address the slaughter until it directly effects us. As long as they are content to stay within their borders we will watch with a blind eye. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, Cambodia and Pol Pot, the Rape of Nanking and others just to name a few.
But 9/11 changed all that.

This was an unprovoked attack not only on our soil and structures but our innocence. At least Pearl Harbor was a military target. We as Americans are the loudest, tackiest, most inane people in the world. But we also give more to charity, create more medicines, end more wars and breed more entrepreneurs than the rest of the world combined. All while raising children, running businesses, traveling to space and visiting Disneyland while getting liquored up.

Ask yourself, where were you on 9/11?

On a lighter note we have been lucky enough to receive our new shipment of replacements to help augment our numbers until its time to GTFOD. [Get the *blank* outta Dodge] Unfortunately most of them are officers with NO combat experience and even less experience using that squishy grey thing between your ears. As happy as I’am to see them arrive, they bring with them all of their pasts filled with the joys and sorrows of too much time spent in close proximity [See danger close] to the Pentagon. After a few moments of this self aggrandizement and self promotion I’m ready to shoot someone, heck if you’re unlucky enough to be stuck near them for a guard shift you’d shoot yourself. I kinda make it like a game after awhile. Really, the first ten minutes you nod and say things like …yea, right, etc…then after a while you give up totally trying any semblance of decorum and see if they will prattle on endlessly without making even one valid point of interest. Kinda like you brain on internet pop-up ads until your main frame locks up…permanently.
Perhaps they sell a human virus guard program I can shove up my fourth point of contact and defrag my brain before I’m a drooling, babbling idiot. [Some would say I’m too late.]

During our last mission brief I heard more from a Lt. Colonel who had been here 14 days than the one I have spent the last seven months. He spent 20 minute of our precious time reciting what had to be the TTPs [tactical training points] manual they sent him back in Washington. I don’t think you could have wiped the look of unabashed incredulity off my face with a brick. After a few more of these I’m either going too purposely soil myself or feign another heart attack.

[I think they are growing suspicious of this one though and I’ve found I like the taste of nitroglycerin.]

At least I’ve found a use for all my paramedic skills.

As the temperature rises...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

As the temperature rises, so too do the incidences of violence here. As Afghanistan struggles for peace, the country's Parliament is packed with warlords, the drug trade is thriving, and violence is on the rise.

What was common down south nearer to the Pakistani border now has stretched its bloody tentacles northward into formerly peaceful lands. This however is not altogether unseen and has followed the normal pattern of seasonal fighting the Afghans has done for millennia. While the war in Iraq seems to dominate the headlines everyday we here are slogging along dealing with the same and in some cases worse episodes of mayhem and carnage.

It is not however, my intention to try and make some sort of scale in which we measure the flesh of the dead. No matter the location of the field of battle the blood spilled on it is still red.

What I would like to bring to the forefront is the possibility of actually winning this war. Due to the chaotic nature of combat, the battlefield is a poor location to try and plead for unity and calm between ethnic tribes that have fought for centuries. The compact built on the 2001 Bonn Agreement, which laid the framework for a democratic Afghanistan has left much to be done to overcome that war-torn country's tragic legacy. The need for renewed attention to Afghanistan could hardly be greater.

We have made strides here, but controlling the opposing militant forces and building much needed infrastructure is a heavy load. We have almost completed rebuilding and resurfacing the “Ring road”. This is the only artery that connects all the major cities. It starts in Kabul then runs south past Jalalabad, Kandahar, North to Farah, Herat, Mazar-E-sharif, then south through Konduz through the Hindu Kush mountain range. The rest of the roadway built by the Soviets has fallen into ruin and now poses more of a hazard than help. It’s funny.

When I speak to people about Afghanistan they almost invariably say something like, “Oh yea I been to Mexico, those poor third world countries.”

No, were living in the Stone Age here people. Mud huts, dirt floors, hot and cold running disease and pestilence. No electricity, no running water, no Port-O-Lets nothing! It still never ceases to amaze me I can watch satellite television on what happening in another part of the world then moment’s later drive out into Aziz Abad and step back in time a coupla thousand years.

The truth of this situation really resides in the ability of the rest of the world to first see, than react to another tragedy in our midst. The patient, Afghanistan, can be saved. The only thing left is whether we have the treasure, the will, and the patience to see the operation through to its end and not leave the O.R. in the middle of the procedure. The Afghan people are fiercely loyal, good humored and indelibly tied to the very land that caused them so much pain throughout the ages.

The massive scale of the challenges facing this country are many but not insurmountable. The Bonn process established the principle of democratic accountability, gave Afghanistan its first directly elected president, and provided a new Constitution that - approved after genuine debate and compromise - created a legitimate central government. It also paved the way for a Parliament in which over a quarter of the members are women - this in a country where, just five years ago, women were not allowed to leave the house without a male relative

Security, too, remains a serious concern. In 2005, more than 125 Coalition troops were killed, while suicide bombing emerged as a new and increasingly common tactic of the insurgency. Corruption is rampant, with government officials accused of cronyism and drug trafficking. Several members of the newly elected Parliament are known warlords with bloody records, Ishmael Khan, Ammanulla Khan, and General Waleed Dostem to name a few. With international aid poorly coordinated and the United States reducing its troop strength, many Afghans believe that the outside world is abandoning them…again.

We as a country can only do so much alone. As I said earlier the “World” has to take notice then, act. Our military is tired. Tired and worn. We have shouldered the burden of two major wars running concurrently with honor and diligence but, we can’t do this alone anymore. There are some mornings I have awoken only to think

“This is hopeless.”

We are like the child who tries to save his sandcastle town from the impending high tide. Running one way- then another- shoring up one side only to see the water racing in another direction. So much so that I wrote this home:

"Reality has come fast and hard here and I now see the truth that has so far
eluded me.This mission, this country, is terminal and no amount of money can stop the hemorrhage.I have made it part of my being to never lie to another but more importantly never to lie to myself.This mission in its state as I see it right now--will wither and die on the vine like so many other lost causes we, as a country, have injected ourselves into.Sorry, I so much wanted to believe.
I so much wanted to be a part of something good.One day we will leave this country and it will revert back to the way it was before the sound of the last jet engine fades.All that is left is the honor of the men in it.

Then, my Brothers here give me a swift kick me in the ass and we start all over again. Crazy isn’t it?

What we need is the international community to start to bolster the country with
Projects and training that will multiply its potential—the Jesus and the fish thing. We desperately need to give them an alternative commodity to growing opium poppies and give the farmers something else to sell locally on the market with the same value. You can’t say

“Amhad, this is a bad thing don’t grow it”

if it feeds his entire family. You can’t just eradicate the fields that produce them. This would be the Agent Orange type fiasco all over again and gain the insurgency new recruits.

Judicial reform is another pressing issue. Currently, the judiciary is incapable of trying a case of petty theft much less of ensuring human rights. A Supreme Court dominated by conservative factions has selected judges and prosecutors, and Afghans have little legal redress in a system that allows local commanders, who hold sway over the judiciary, to act with impunity.

Without a viable legal system, which may be years in the making, foreign investment will remain elusive. Even expatriates worldwide, who have invested in regional and global trading networks, are reluctant to invest in their homeland. Yes incredible as it may seem with the wealth of oil and minerals this land has we cannot get the machinery necessary to extract it.

So, where does this all leave us you ask? That is the sixty four thousand dollar question. Do we have the political and civil will to rebuild another country?

Do we take it upon ourselves to; once again, carry the burden while the rest of the world fiddles?

Will the public stand for the seemingly endless stream of casualties out of both theaters?

Can we even make a dent in the radical Islamo-fascist movement?

Will we stay around long enough to assure them a decent future and a chance at a fledgling democracy?

We must, or this country will revert to civil war, tribal separation and the overt warlordism that has so far been kept in check by the finest veneer in the societal fabric.

I fear we don’t have the stomach for it.

Winter has set in.....

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Over the holidays the camp temperature hovered around 0 degrees and with a howling West wind it made for some interesting nights on the roof. The sun bleached mountains that once held the heat above the hundreds now lays grey and cold these long nights on guard mount. This however, has not entirely kept the guerrillas from launching a series of attacks all along the Eastern border with Pakistan and other places around the country. We had hoped that the cold weather would keep him huddled around the fire but this is not to be. Unfortunately, they seem to be taking a page out of the Iraq book and started using homicide bombers to wage their terror war to a new level.

Last week a bomber riding a motorcycle rammed a crowd in Spin Boldak and killed 22 people and injured hundreds at a public sponsored event. Almost spontaneously, many villages including Kabul, Herat, and MES {Mazar-E-Sharif} were hit by these same killers bent only on a body count and chaos. At this time they seem to be targeting ISAF [International Stability Force] and their own people.

Our rules of engagement provide us with the absolute power to defend ourselves and our gear however; the other international forces have adopted a “defensive” posture which leaves them vulnerable to attack. This in my view is an egregiously bad example of policy to which soldiers are left with “doubt” at that critical moment when lives are at stake of whether to fire or flee the area.

In the last week alone US embassy charge d'affaires Richard Norland said there was a "disturbing trend" of new enemy tactics, including suicide bombings -- one of which killed a Canadian diplomat this month, the murders of teachers and the use of improvised explosive devices. "When you have teachers being beheaded and schools being closed in part of the country, suicide bombers killing Afghan civilians and a Canadian diplomat, that's a disturbing trend," Norland told reporters.

You may asked yourself how in God’s name will we be able to stop or even curtail these people who have no longer have a fear of losing their lives. Well the only answer I have is to help them achieve their goal in the most proficient manner I can.

Even those of us who have to defend our bases know that being on the “defensive” makes for bad policy and bad tactics. In order to secure a static facility you still must patrol outside of the perimeter and clear the surrounding area within the minimum effective range of most weapon systems. This is the key to surviving in an area where the terrain, weather, time, and the ability to blend into the local population all are in favor of the enemy. With that in mind we have begun to aggressively recon and patrol our area of operations. With luck and hard work we will be able to keep them at arms length until we can bring our own bag of tricks to bear.

I wanted to say a little about my time on leave over the holidays. After traveling for three days and nights out of country then theater…..well it kinda went like this:
Convoy to Herat from [OPSEC]
Convoy to Herat Airfield from Camp Victory
Fly from Herat to KIA [Kabul international Airfield]
Convoy to Camp Phoenix
Convoy from Camp Phoenix to BAF [Bagram Airfield]
Fly from BAF to Qatar EL-AL-Udid
Fly to Kuwait International Airfield
Convoy from KIA to ALI-AL-SALIM Airbase [10 hour layover]
Convoy back to KIA
Fly to Frankford Germany [refuel] Over flying downtown Baghdad ….no I’m not kidding!
On to Atlanta Ga.
From ATL to Panama City then-----HOME!

I don’t sleep well sitting up so after 72 hours of this I’m a ZOMBIE. It’s about this time you start feeling like your slightly out of sync, you know –like when the movie soundtrack doesn’t quite match the dialog. You speak to others and you don’t recognize the sound of your voice kinda thing. So, to say standing in my front yard after being gone for so long was surreal was an understatement. But wait your not getting the whole picture, the wife and I have been building our house for ten months when I was deployed. Then, she finished it and moved in while I had been gone. So after all this time here I’m looking at this beautiful home I’ve never lived in.

I walk to the front door and turn the knob----it’s open---and I walk into a dream I had been having for so long. No one is home because I was not able to tell them when I would arrive due to security concerns and the availability of aircraft out of both theaters. [Both Iraq and Afghanistan]

I wander like a wraith from room to room. Seeing where my children have played and slept. The kitchen and the things that have made it though the move from one place to another. My favorite place, the back deck where you can lounge beneath the pines and listen to the whisper of the winds. Smelling my wife’s scent on her pillowcase and drinking it all in like a man who has crossed many a desert and found an oasis. And inside my head I’m screaming

I made it, I made it, I made it I’m really here.

To see your life move on without you is like coming back from the dead, then suddenly they arrive and I embrace my son and feel his breath against my chest and I know it’s real. I’m swept away in a tide of emotion for all the lost time comes rushing back and I’m among the living again.

To thank those of my friends and family who have supported me thus far would take up more space and time then I have here. Thanks, you know who you are. But, I must say I was fortunate to be able to meet Joyce Owen and her husband Richard before I left. [Both work for the Sun] I knew Richard for a long time as he seemed to show up “On scene” when I was working an especially bad call for the Fire Department. Joyce had wanted to see me before I returned overseas but respected my time with my family. So on the last day I called and they came over immediately. All I can say is what a lovely team. They both understood the hardships, the frustrations and the soulful longing that come from deployments to foreign soil. Richard was a submariner with the Navy and those endless tours they do were a match to my own. Thank you Joyce, for those notes of encouragement along the way. They meant a lot to know you understood what I was feeling.

To my wife Becky, my love, you wear your pain and suffering with the greatest of dignity. The way your able to tend to our children and bear the additional weight of my absence is nothing short of pure grace. But I see the worry and the fear for me in your eyes. Rest easy, soon it will be over and we all be together again.

Norman Schwarzkopf”The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

My Sweet...

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Today is Thanksgiving and I felt I needed to sit down and write out all of the feeling and emotion that have seemed to plague me all day. I find myself in a distant land surrounded by these dusty mountains that hedge in my soul. I cannot help but think of you and the children on this day, this day we will not be together. I hold you close to me, in here where it’s safe and no harm can come to you. By now I have almost gotten used to the sporadic gunfire, explosions and other unmentionable acts that play out in war.

Sometimes I feel like a maraca. You know the thing you shake and the beads make a rattling noise. Only, the maraca is me. And the noise inside comes from my heart and soul that have shrunk and now dance round aimlessly without you and the children to anchor them down. How hollow I’ am. I had been able, up till now, to keep so busy as to not have the time to think to deeply or reminisce for in that, resides the path to my madness.

We had a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings but in the midst of the meal all I could think about was you and how there would be an empty chair at our table at home. How could I have thought this such a noble cause as to put my family through such pain? Who am I to make you suffer so? By what right do I deal out this empty hand with hollow promises?

The Colonel gave a simple prayer for the meal and we sat down and ate but all I could see was that empty chair, that pause in the conversation that should be answered by me, and I heard the laughter of our kids. In my minds eye I’m there with you now watching over all of you. I believe we all make the choices that guide and determine the events in our lives. How we have arrived here in this place sometimes still stymies me, although it is all of my own volition.

As I was eating I was thinking of my own prayer—and it goes like this. I see myself at the head of the table and I close my eyes and when I open them I say “I know there is a God, for you are all still here and this is not just another dream or momentary flight of fancy during the lull of the mission where I’m jerked back to reality by the sound of gunfire.”
I know our time here is limited by the useful life of these bodies but, the love that we share is the only absolute allowed. The only thing worth saving in this God awful life I love so well. And I do love it so. Never is any breath as sweet as one after a simmering moment of rueful indulgence into the Netherworld. Here you are afforded the luxury of seeing your own mortality on a regular basis. So you make a friend of the Reaper and all of his minions. “Laugh I the face of death” I believe is the overused phrase.
How apropos, and how incredibly simple.

Earlier in the day in had overheard one of the others talking to the Terps and trying to explain Thanksgiving to them. It really didn’t register then to me cause I kinda gave their holiday, Ramadan a sort of blow off and was too engaged to give it much thought. Then during the meal Fawad came by me and said “Happy Giving thanks” and it surprised me so. He caught me with my shields down and I didn’t know what to say. Here is a young man, about twenty, who is taking all the same risks we are and perhaps more. For they are looked upon as traitors to the enemy and we have received night letters that have stated they are actively trying to kill Terps [and have] who work with the Americans.

Thanksgiving—I guess I never had the right moment to try and decide what this meant. Is it thanks for all the gifts we have received? Whether by luck, trade, theft, hard work, peril or enjoyment? Is it the moments we harbor the notion that we are more than the sum total of our parts? More than the physical or emotional? Or do we dive right into the higher philosophical desires of the mind?

War does give one time to ponder the more simpler questions that seem to be the hardest to answer. It is hard work to lay bare the soul and look unafraid into the mirror. To judge so harshly the life one has led and to be responsible for ALL that has occurred. Therein lies the truest sort of self deprecation. The same test of the metal of the man that has transcended time eternal.
I despise the liars, the looters and the hypocrites who deal in the sale of salvation at the price of ones integrity, honor, and trust. I need no plastic neon coated God sold to me by snake oil salesman for their own devices. Theirs is a damnedable philosophy of stagnation where the thoughts and questions of the individual are ruled to be unnecessary and in fact dangerous to the group mentality. Where one shops, buys and accepts all the premises of the defacto leadership as gospel.
The harshest reality is that it is painful and trying to question.
To be the one left out in the cold, to stare longingly into the windows of those warm homes heated by a smug self deluded daydream.

Yet here is where I make my stand, like a willow in a windstorm. Free to make those choices-and be damned for them all the same. Know then, that you are never far from me and the lifeline you provide is the only salvation I need.

I love you….Always

Break it down again...

Monday, November 21, 2005

I was riding as a gunner on an up armored Hummvee, manning the 240 Bravo machinegun, as we approached our front gate at Shindand Airfield. There was a white minivan blocking the right of way into the camp.
“Damn it, I told those guys [the ANA] not to let anyone park near the gate!”
“Go see what the hell’s goin on.” I asked my driver.
He got out with this M4 carbine and cautiously walked up to the vehicle. I was adjusting my helmet intercom system when he turned to me and said “Fruit fly.” What? “What did he say?” I asked my vehicle commander. “I dunno I can’t hear him” He said. “What?” I yelled back. “Jedi” He said this time. “Aw hell, I can’t hear anything with this crap on.” I said as I pulled my headset off.
“Dead guy.” He said.
“Dead guy.”

By now a small group of ANA soldiers had begun to converge on the vehicle and we asked what was going on. A Small Afghan man was standing near the rear of the van among the others but somehow slightly alone in the midst of the gathering crowd much like a school of fish that parts around a hungry predator. As I rounded the front of the van I saw multiple bullet holes in the windscreen and grill along the passenger side. Inside was a young man in his early twenties, obviously dead. We asked our terp [interpreter] to find out who the driver was and what had happened here. He spoke over the din of the voices and the small man from the back of the van stepped up. He said that he had been driving up from Kandahar in Helmand province on business with his son when they had been stopped by an illegal check point about thirty miles south.

These “check points” are manned mostly by bandits or uncommon criminals who roam the uninhabited desert areas stopping vehicles and collecting some sort of toll or simple robbery in a land where any thoughts of “laws” or “rights” drop faster then pork prices in Kabul. He said that he had stopped at four or five of these check points and paid the toll of about fifty Av. [Afghani] at the last one he had slowed down when the bandits had blocked the road and his foot slipped off the brake and touched the accelerator. The van jumped slightly forward and the man carrying an AK-47 sprayed the front of the vehicle with automatic fire.

After firing they simply ran off, as if scared the noise of the rifle may bring down the surrounding empty mountainside. His son was hit multiple times. After trying to stop the bleeding, he raced off to try and find help. He remembered our base was near and his son’s best chance was with the Americans who he had seen tending to the wounded near his village. In route his anger turned to anguish when he could see his son slowly slipping into unconsciousness as his life blood leached into the beige upholstery. By the time he had gotten passed the front gate and the ANA guards his son was dead.
Fifty Afghani is about a buck.


Green on Green

I’m now the NCOIC [non commissioned officer in charge] of the SECFOR [security force] of the Shindand Airbase somewhere between Herat and Farah proper. This is the largest airbase in Afghanistan with a runway of 9,140 feet, aircraft revetments, a full tower and associated fuel points with multiple building used for maintenance and other tasks related to the running of major air operations. The Soviets used this airfield to propagate their air war against the Mujahedin during the eighties at the height of the Afghan war.

However, since the grip of the once great Russian bear has slipped the airfield has fallen into a sad state of disrepair and neglect. In their rush to pull out and save the Motherland from “Death from a thousand cuts.” They left an almost unbelievable amount of aircraft, helicopters, parts, engines, ammunition, mines, and electronics just lying all over this area. Right now there is MIG-21 fighters, Sukoi-22/17 bombers, MI-17 attack helicopters and enough engines and parts to keep them running for another decade just lying around the tarmac slowly melting into the landscape.

This area has been the scene of many battles fought by various groups who would wish to garner the prestige of holding the biggest landing strip in the country. Ishmael Khan, who was born here and now is the Minister of power and light in Kabul and Amannula Khan who is the biggest local warlord [AK to his friends-and you are his friend or you starve or get beaten or killed by his thugs.] have repeatedly moved up and down this valley in hopes of securing this area for their own personal gain.

However, were missing the point, with all the millions of dollars worth of machinery and aircraft lying around for the taking what do you suppose the Afghan’s want? PSP. Yup, pierced steel planking. The stuff the air force uses to make runways and taxi ways for the planes to ride on so they don’t sink into the sand. For some reason there is a big market for the stuff in Pakistan so…..every other night we find ourselves down at SHAF [Shindand Air Force base] running down the perpetrators of this heinous crime. They cut the wire and let in civilian trucks to haul the stuff off and line their pockets with what ever they can get.

Who you ask?
Well the ANA soldiers we’re training and the commanders they follow of course.
What? Balderdash you say? No. This truly would be just another bad joke in a place that has lost all sense of humor but, with all the participants carrying high powered rifles and machineguns I’m not laughing. So after our OP [observation post] called the other night and said they had about twenty individuals all over the tarmac we sprang into action and loaded up in the up armoreds [HUMVEEs] and took off like Rat Patrol on crack.
We picked up the OP team and each took a runway or taxi way and with night vision we found them in two different locations loading up their booty.

M4carbine/M203 grenade launcher…. $850.00
40 millimeter grenade flares…..$2.50
The look on their faces when that sucker lit up the area like the Fourth of July…..Priceless.

We had our group of seven down on the ground and zip tied when one of the other elements said they found a few more near the Northern edge of the airfield. My UAH went over to the area to over watch there position and to assist when one of the ANA soldiers chambered a round and raised his weapon to a firing position aimed at a US soldier. With two M4 carbines and a vehicle mounted machinegun with night vision sights trained on his chest, our TERP was able to convince this guy to drop his weapon. He may never know how lucky he was one cold night on a long abandoned corner of Afghanistan.

We loaded them all up and were returning to our base through the three gates leading into the main compound. When we hit the first one the guard must have been asleep [ANA guards] cause he jumped up out of shadow and yelled “Dresch” [“STOP!”] with his weapon aimed at our vehicle. Damn, this is getting old I thought. Well the Colonel had a talk through one of the TERPs to this guy though I cannot repeat what was said here in this fine publication. So….on to gate number two. We get there and guess what? No one’s there at all. By now the Colonel is pissed and he has to raise the gate himself, I’m looking down the with the night vision goggles and see two soldiers walking toward us. I told the crew and by now the adrenalin from the mission is fraying my nerves and I’m tired of seeing the business end of a AK. We get within twenty meters of them and one guy raises his AK and points it at me in the hatch. Well this time I was way ahead of them and I’ve got the 240 bravo [see BIG freaking machinegun] ,safety off, aimed at him and I’m yelling at the top of my lungs for him to drop his weapon. With the right encouragement you’d be surprised at the reaction you can get. He lowered his weapon and at that time I realized I had about three pounds of pull on a three and a half pound trigger.
Whoa Nellie. These things make for bad dreams.
I tell my men it doesn’t matter to your Mother or your wife whose barrel the bullet that kills you comes from.
No doubt.


My Absolution

I’m so sick and tired of listening to those faceless, nameless, Monday morning quarterbacks, political pundits and grandstanding pompass, congressional snotbags whine and bitch about the “Cost of the War on Terror.” or “Why?” we went to war in the beginning. WMDs or not, mass graves, torture, systematic repression, and famine used as a weapon are all valid reasons for an honest man’s desire to overthrow a corrupt, disease infested regime. Not to mention New York, Pennsylvania, the Pentagon and three hundred and fifty three of my brother firefighters.

We here in A-stan don’t have to concern ourselves with most of those convoluted questions asked by our brothers in Iraq. All we need to do is review the images of the twin towers falling and my resolve for justice is once again renewed. But, all those things aside, once you’re here and you see the children who line the road to our base looking for a handout your perceptions change. They’re barefoot, gaunt, and dirty from scavenging for food or things to sell in the marketplace in Azizabad a few klicks away. At our range where we test fire and zero our weapons, they lie in wait like a pack of hungry wolves in the shadows of a kill. Just as we file off the firing line there is a mass foot race for the expended brass cartridges left behind. They later sell these downrange for five Afghani a kilo.

They have polio, whooping cough, rickets, leischmaniasis, malnourishment, lice, TB, and a host of other ailments too many to mention. When you have looked into the face of a child too listless and weary to wave the flies that circle like vultures in repose, with eyes dull and non reflective. You wonder if the humanity has been drained from them like light from a black hole.
To what depths of the soul has man sunk?

Then you think about the Taliban and Osama. With their anarchistic message of hate and the twisted sense of savagery they have gleaned from the Koran for their own devices.
It’s then I find it much easier to put the stock in the pocket of my shoulder and put pressure to the trigger.

Evil is an obscenity that stains the observer. Ayn Rand

Flat Stanley and the Girls from Jibra’il...

I wanted to place a coupla pictures I have taken of the children of A-Stan since I have been here in country. Not only are they insatiably curious but they happen to be the future of this country.

This is one of my favorites taken at the Herat boys school. There are 3,500 boys ages 6-16 here trying to get an education despite the conditions under which they have to study. The main building is an empty windowless shell givin to the kids by the Afghan national police. Behind it you can see the tomb of Alexander's daughter dating back to the second century with it's minerets stretching to the sky. Upon seeing us arrive ,we caused kind of a stir, the headmaster called the school day over and the mob of children decended upon us like a swarm of locusts. Smiling and waving, shaking hand after hand and laughing like lunatics we basked in the love of these kids who just wanted to see the soldiers and their cool toys.

As I was trying to get back through the crowd a boy of about twelve turned to me and said "America...Yes, thank you...thank you." I reached out my hand and the picture was taken.

We two humans, so different yet so alike. A finer moment I cannot recall. Bless them all.Some of the others were taken at the girls school outside Herat at Jabra'il. There I got my first look at the young women of A-stan with out the manditory burka. These girls were fearless and walked right up to me and started asking me my name, age, was I married, did I have kids etc...typical about that!

They were and always will be a wonderfully memorable moment of my time here.Some of the elders who have lived throught he worst of the Soviets, Taliban, and the tribal warlords have the wisdom to accept the help and assistance of the outside international community but it is these children who dare to dream of a free land without the pain and anguish of another war. It is my prayer that in some small way I have helped them to gain that goal.

Published 10/11/2005

Flat Stanley and the Girls from Jibra’il

World traveler, goodwill ambassador, all around man about town, Flat Stanley has fast become an underground icon of grammar school children around the world. Not bad for a hand colored paper thin idol from the mind of Jeff Brown.

The book by the same name has started a national phenomenon since his creation in 1964. Flat Stanley is a boy who gets flattened by his bulletin board when it falls on him during the night. So, Stanley must learn to live as a flat boy. In some ways it can be a load of fun. Scurrying down the sewers looking for his Mom’s ring, sliding under doors, flying like a kite, and traveling around the country in an envelope are just some of the adventures he has had. When he wanted to go see his friend in California his parents just rolled him up and mailed him. The school project makes Stanley go on an adventure wherever the Child’s mind can reach. The sender is asked to let him spend some time and with them then write a little about his visit in their town.

What does Stanley have to do with the war on terror you ask? Well he’s here, that’s what.
One of our officer’s children has sent him to Afghanistan to see firsthand the Asian experience. So, as a good soldier does, Stanley was sent out into the Afghan countryside to visit other boys and girls in school. Once there we used our interpreter to relay his story and to take pictures of him with other children. The smiles and the laughter of these children who have virtually nothing is like balm to the soul. Herat, Farah, Shindand and other towns around our area have fallen prey to the magic of a child’s dream. For just a moment, you see their faces light up and all the possibilities for the heart of a nation and the future stand by for all to see. I hope to be able to see my son’s class do the same project and send my own “Stanley” on a trip around the world with me.

Within the same vein, we at Camp Victory have adopted a girl’s school outside of Herat so we may be able to bring them some of basic things they need to assist in their education.
This project really fell into my lap as we were requested from higher to have a security escort team ready for a trip into Herat. Our mission was to guide a CERP {Community Emergency Response Project} team out to a few schools in the area and speak to the Elders about the needs of the village.

The leader of the team is Major XXXXXXXXXX, a Vermont native who until deployment worked in the senior manager program for the I.R.S. at the federal level. Her new working title is the project officer of the civil military affairs branch for our FOB that encompasses four provinces: Herat, Ghowar, Farah, and Badghis. This collective area almost matches the size of her home state. She periodically visits sites listed by the team chiefs and commanders of our outer FOBs that may have a “need” for special attention. Wells for clean water, school buildings, supplies, wall construction for security, windows, medicine, clothing, and gear for winterization and general repairs are just some of the desires of the many. Yet the image I’m trying to convey is blurred. You see, Major Truman is a woman of great power and influence in a country where the future of women is as dark as the burkas they’re forced to wear. To see her “working” a crowd of hundreds of men who’ve lined up for assistance from us is nothing short of a miracle in Afghanistan. Many times after the meetings both men and woman have pulled her aside and spoke in hushed whispers how proud they are of her both as a leader and an officer in the US military.

It is almost unfathomable the “need” here. So, seeing the enormity of the task ahead we have decided to start close to ”home” and adopt a school here in Herat.

The village of Jabra’il is about five miles west of the city in a dusty patch of open ground near a dry river bed. The town is sadly indicative of the many of the places here in Afghanistan. Trash strewn streets separate the collapsed and crumbling buildings from the open sewers winding there way down the center of the roads. There, children of all ages run barefoot through the refuse pedaling soda and phone cards. It is hard, if not impossible, to describe this scene adequately. The smell alone will leave a lifetimes impression.

Yet as we drive our small convoy through the streets you would think we were bringing a combination of circus/parade/ice cream man all in one. The children run out and wave and follow the route on bicycles and foot all the while yelling their English phrases like chastised fans at a hockey ring. We met with a delegation from the village on what could be done to help with the coming winter then went on to the girl’s school. [Middle from grade 7-10]

The building is a three story red brick structure with poured concrete landings on each floor. The fa├žade is spackled with patches much like the adolescent faces inside. Most of the windows are installed on the second and third floor classrooms but the southern side of the building stands empty and unfinished. The classrooms are small, about 15 X 20 feet where more than fifty girls sit shoulder to shoulder trying to get an education. The basement is also used as a classroom sporting a bare earthen floor and hot and cold running wind gusts. The front yard is enclosed with a six foot brick wall to help separate the girls from outside distractions and to safety them from “undesirable” influences.

They study: Geometry, Chemistry, Physics, Math, Biology, Geography, History, Dari, English, Pashto, and Arabic. Also included are the Koran and other religious text. The books we will be able to buy locally for they are in the area dialect. If you wish to donate some supplies for the school they are firstly:

Any writing instruments:
Pencils, pens, markers, crayons, highlighters, dry erase markers, chalk, paper spiral notebooks, post it notes, 1” and 2” binders.
World wall maps, maps of Afghanistan and America, globes, Atlases.
Color pictures of the human body for anatomy/physiology. Skeleton for bone study.
Dictionaries from Persian to English-------English to Persian.
Chess, Checkers, sports Balls: Soccer, Football, Basketball, Volleyballs.

The easiest method for us at this time is to send the supplies directly to us and we will then take them out to the schools. If there is more than needed at one, we will give the overload to another. Believe me; there will never be too much. Just remember there is NO electricity in the schools and if there was it is in 220 volt, so no devices needing power.
These children truly are the heart and hope of this nation. Right now these kids lie upon the cusp of the past based on war, poverty and ignorance and a future filled with promise. If they are to help create a vision for a new Afghanistan they must have the tools in which to build new lives and a sound bedrock foundation starts with the basics.
Help us, help them.

A little historical perspective...

Friday, September 09, 2005

A little historical perspective is a good thing to add to our discussion about war and its inevitable consequences. Without a good basis upon which to rest our assumptions we may cast about blindly like children chasing bubbles on a windy day. So, with this in mind we need some background on the Afghan nation. So after years of war it begs the question?
Is Afghanistan today merely the shattered remnant of a country destroyed by two decades of horrible war whose society is now struggling to re-create itself?

Certainly. Afghanistan today is one of the poorest and most troubled countries in the world. No longer can the mountain ranges that once separated and safetied the tribal regions guaranteed to hold back the masses hell-bent on raping not only the population but the land itself. Afghanistan once again finds itself a critical geographic crossroads. It began the twentieth century as the buffer state that separated the British and Russian empires; it now ends the century as the linchpin to trade and political development in Central Asia. Afghanistan may be the key to peace and stability, economic development and growth, despite its own reoccurring penchant for self destruction. Thus, it comes as no surprise that all of Afghanistan’s neighbors are deeply involved in manipulating its internal affairs.

Pakistan and Iran, Russia and India, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Saudi Arabia, even Turkey and China: all have significant interests in Afghanistan and most have supported at least one of the many parties contesting for power in that country’s interminable and devastating civil war. As you probably noticed we have yet to even acknowledge the Soviet intervention.

The Afghan War has been one of the deadliest and most persistent conflicts of the second half of the twentieth century. Nearly 2 million Afghans have been killed so far (as well as at least 15,000 Soviet soldiers during the 1980s), and 600,000 to 2 million wounded. More than 6 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, producing the world’s largest single refugee population since 1981, while at least 2 million more Afghans were internally displaced. Thus, more than 50 percent of Afghanistan’s indigenous population became casualties—killed, wounded, or made homeless by the war.

Every region of Afghanistan has been touched by the war. Even residents of the government-held urban centers like Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, and Mazar-e-sharif were not safe.
The countryside was ravaged, with widespread destruction of villages, fields, orchards, and irrigation systems. The Soviet army in Afghanistan and the Afghan communist government planted an estimated thirty million mines throughout the country, most of them completely unmarked and unmapped. These mines were mostly sown by air to drive the population into the cities. There they were easier to control by the Russians who preferred to build their bases close to urban centers. Then in the vacuum left by the Soviet withdrawal, the Taliban moved in and placed a political/religious strangle-hold on the people still reeling from the savagery of the last conflict.

The education system and other modernizing sectors of Afghan society were completely disrupted, and the struggle for control of the central government delays efforts to improve the situation. As the elections for Parliament draw near, we are finding the old hatreds and animosities are still very much alive. Political killings and the strong arm tactics by tribal leaders wishing to gain or keep power are daily occurrences. Afghanistan, a desperately underdeveloped country attempting to modernize throughout the twentieth century, finally caught up to the modern world—in high-technology warfare. The result has been the ruin of the country and society and very nearly the destruction of the people and their culture.

Another central factor limiting unity, which is lost on most that have never spent any time living here, is Afghanistan’s rugged topography, including some of the world’s most forbidding terrain. The Hindu Kush Mountains descend from the Wakhan Corridor and the high Pamirs effectively splitting Afghanistan into a northern and Southern plain. These mountains average 14,000–19,500 feet in the zone around Kabul, with some peaks as high as 25,000 feet farther northeast. In the center of the country the Hindu Kush broadens out into the high Hazarajat plateau, which descends and disappears into the western deserts on the Iranian border near Herat.

Although passes through the Hindu Kush and Hazarajat make movement between different regions possible, harsh winters and high altitudes have made interregional mobility almost non existent. Only the completion of the Salang Tunnel in 1964 made overland traffic between Kabul and northern Afghanistan possible during winter months. Many remote valleys exist that are virtually inaccessible to the outside world. Afghanistan also has only one major road, the “Ring Road” that begins in the north at Mazar-e-sharif and runs clockwise south through Kabul to Kandahar then on to Herat. After many years of war and virtually no funding for reconstruction, most of this road now consists of broken pavement or merely dirt and gravel.

My experience with travel along the “roads” here is more along the latter. Most of the roads stop directly outside of the city limits and continue to degrade the farther from the center you get. I was part of a convoy riding to Chagcaran [Che-cher-ran] to check on my teams there last week. Chagcaran lies almost midway between Kabul and Herat high into the formidable Hindu Kush. After doing a map check and seeking the best route [see the only available road.] We started off at 04:00 attempting to get a head start on daylight toward the 210 mile trip ahead. Using up armored HUMVEEs and light armored vehicles we began our trip by driving through Herat then heading east to a gravel path that would run near the Hari-rud [river] all the way to Chagcaran.

Herat itself lies in the basin of the Dasht-E-Yalan plains and looking East one can see the twin mountain ranges flow away from the river looking much like the wake of a boat going at a slow speed. As the convoy traversed the valley toward our destination the walls of the mountain range slowly close in until it may be no wider than 150-200 meters across. There you must finally cross the pass at the Kohe Syahcowas mountain range at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. I never made it that far.

While the journey is both beautiful and awe inspiring it is also treacherous. Numerous small villages dot the landscape wherever small springs enter the watershed. These small oasis’s from the desert land that surround them are like a step back in time. Starting at the edge of the perimeter lays the crop fields and open areas used to dry and separate the grain for harvest. Men and boys work under a cruel sun daily to chaff the wheat kept in large stacks the size of a small home. On into the center of town where large green trees line all the avenues to help keep the moisture from leaching out into the arid land. Near one of these villages on the outskirts of Chesht-i-Sharif my driver, who was looking out over the ledge at the river below, struck a bolder about the size of the right tire. It was large enough and heavy enough to stop us cold and knock the goggles right off my gunner up in the turret. Unable to stop and check the damage due to the precipitous location we were at, we drove another five to ten miles until the land opened up enough to handle all the vehicles in the convoy. There we checked for damage and found nothing out of the ordinary so we switched drivers [me this time] and continued up the mountain.

We were the last armored vehicle in line along with a truck with six ANA soldiers bringing up the rear. As we waited our turn to try and climb an especially steep pass, the sun was setting on a road that had multiple sharp curves like a serpent lying in repose waiting to strike. Up we went in low gear, engine screaming into a sky now tinted cherry red, along a narrow path better handled by donkey than machine. About halfway up, in an especially sharp left inside turn, my steering locked and I was just able to stop about a foot from the edge of a steep ravine. As I looked up the rest of the convoy rounded the next turn and disappeared from view. I began trying to test the steering by wrenching it back and forth with ever increasing vigor. All seemingly to no avail, it was stuck and more stubborn than the donkey I now wished I had. While one of my other soldiers tried to fix that, we now had a bigger problem. The convoy had driven out of line of sight and crossed a ridgeline so I was unable to contact them on the small handheld radios we carried.

As luck would have it my vehicle had the new Blue Force Tracker unit mounted inside. This marvelous little wizgigit, thing-a-ma-jig box is a GPS/Email/signaling/mapping wonder that probably makes Julian fries too. [If only I could find where to stick the potato.] However hunger was the farthest things from my mind as I watched the convoy icon on the screen continue to move away from us. I quickly sent an “E” message to the convoy commander indicating we had broken down then, I raised the hood to examine the engine compartment and look again for anything unusual.
Now, anyone who knows me KNOWS it’s a bad thing for Paul to go anywhere near machines. Motors stop running, computers glitch, satellite signals fail, as if I’m a walking electromagnetic pulse or something. [My tool kit is a ball peen hammer, duct tape and a bottle of aspirin.]

So I decided to take up the task of securing the perimeter.
By now the sun had set and the sky began to look purple and blue like the color of old bruises, intermittently dotted by stars born of some great celestial sneeze. My immediate concern was hum….let’s see: I’m broken down on the side of a mountain in the middle of the Afghani desert with one other American and a group of a half dozen ANA soldiers that don’t speak English and the only other group of friendlys within 100 miles are DRIVING AWAY!! Yea, I think that about sums it up.

Most of the Afghanis are young men and quite frankly, given there meager education and there penchant for superstition, began seeking comfort in numbers like small children on the playground the first day of school. This is dangerous and tactically unsound. So, first I got the ANA soldiers to form a small perimeter by scaling the steep draw on the South side behind us then sending a single guard on either end of the visible roadway as observation posts then, I get to try to restore order because by now every Hajji with a donkey cark or three wheeled vehicle is lined up trying to pass my HUMVEE on this one mountain pass in a million miles of God forsaken wasteland.

We let them pass by maneuvering the Hummer back and forth twenty times and gaining a little room to go around us. By this time the commander had gotten the message and sent a team in route to help us secure the area. I told my gunner to get into the turret and shoot anything that didn’t identify itself. The hours it took the team to arrive seemed like days and I must admit I was glad to hear another American voice.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The vehicle could not be fixed so we had to wait for two days on the side of that mountain for a rescue convoy to arrive and tow it back to Camp Victory AND since the others were full of gear and personnel we had to ride back with the rescue team. So, after all that we never made it to our destination but, we now have a clearer understanding of our limitations regarding the terrain we patrol. It can be as viscous and demanding as any enemy weapon.