This was one of the most emotional days of the trip. We had to drive about an hour outside of Kabul, into the country. There was a pretty big group of us, because when a general goes out to check up on things, it's a big deal! Along the way we passed evidence of the difficulties that still face Afghanistan. Vehicles that fell victim to IED's are everywhere!
When we arrived at the school, the Afghan soldiers were already there, as were the construction supervisors, translators, tribal elders, and a few kids. We took a tour of the construction, and Gen. Hammond pointed out a few ventalation issues that remained in the construction. His concern was that the kids wouldn't be warm enough during the winter months. They also looked at the new well, and discussed the time table. Then it was time to meet the kids, who had already started to gather outside, as soon as they saw the 'American trucks' pull in.
The US soldiers that escorted me, had prepared boxes of toys, pens, chalk, and candy for us to give out. What surprised me, was that the Afghan soldiers, the little boys, and the little girls had to be put into separate groups. First, the soldiers were given some soccer balls to keep them from 'intervening' while we played with the kids. Soldiers in Afghanistan have 'on average' a 3rd grade education, which is part of the recruiting problem. The more people grow up uneducated in Afghanistan, the longer it is going to take us to get out, and leave the country to stand on it's own two feet. The most important part, is that we leave them as a ally, because we cannot afford to have Afghanistan raise another generation that is desperate, uneducated, and hating America! We all know what comes from that! So, once the soldiers were taken care of, the male US soldiers, started tending to the little boys, and LT. Sullivan and I were left to handle the 35-40 little girls who had bravely arrived. They are used to being ignored, or worse. So everyone thought that if American women spent some time with them, that they would come out of their shells a little bit. They sat quietly at first, organized in a row, and shy. I started handing out pieces of colored chalk, so they could write and draw. These girls will all be allowed to attend this school when it opens, since that is a requirement of the US military. All schools are open to all students in the community, even the girls! I wore gloves to hide my long fingernails, since my hair was enough for them to adjust to! They thought is was CRAZY! We handed out the pens, and then got to the good stuff... LIFESAVERS! They love them! Everyone got something, and they were so grateful for the smallest gift!
As we finished the line of little girls, the boys started to run over to us, and they were much more aggressive. They grabbed and demanded. At one point I was surrounded by kids, and the girls were starting to back away, giving in to the boys aggression! This made me VERY upset! I saw one boy, about 10 years old, hit a 5 year old girl, so that he could take what I had just given her... I SNAPPED! I grabbed the kid by the shoulder, and screamed at him. Even though he didn't understand what I was saying, he could tell what my message was. he looked at me, like "who is this woman telling me what to do"? and as you can imagine, that did not go over well with me! I grabbed the chalk, and candy from his hand, and pushed him out of the way so that I could return it to it's rightful owner. She looked at me with confusion and gratitude in her eyes. I don't think any woman had ever stood up to a 'man' in front of her before, and certainly not FOR her. I rubbed her hair, and face and tried to get her to understand that I cared. She took the candy and chalk, and ran for the safety of the larger group of girls. The boy, still dumbfounded, walked away glaring at me. He learned a valuable lesson that day! DO NOT piss off purple haired bitches from Boston! :)
As we were getting ready to leave, I approached the US soldiers, and talked to them about the incident. I asked if it could have a negative impact on community relations, and for that I was sorry. They said "Don't be sorry"! One soldier said "That little girl will never forget the day a woman stood up for her, and that little boy, the tribal elders, and the Afghan soldiers, will never forget seeing a tough woman stand up to a man like that... even if he was only 10" but, in Afghanistan nothing is easy... They also told me, that it was possible that the little girl will be beaten because of what I did. I cried the entire ride back to the base, thinking of that little girl. Progress is slow in Afghanistan for many reasons, but seeing that school, and those children gives me hope that someday things will get better!
Since I have been home from 'The Stan' as they call it... I've had a bunch of people ask me what our guys need over there? Well, my answer is... It depends on where they are! Some of the guys that I met stay on base, and have almost everything that they need, but could use some creature comforts from home. Some guys, go out on missions and are asking for things for the kids that they meet along the way. While other guys, are WAY out, and have limited access to anything. They are the one's we hear from the least, because they have limited access to the Internet etc. So, the point of this blog, is to make one long list of things, so that people looking to help, companies looking to donate, and soldiers who would like to make requests, can all be in one place! Please do not share personal info like APO addresses etc here. We need to protect the identities of our troops, and your personal info back home! If you have specific questions on who to send things to, if you don't have a soldier in your life, email me directly email@example.com This is what I have so far!
1. Dunkin Donuts coffee! Everyone asks for it, especially the seasonal stuff that they miss.
2. Cleaning supplies like Clorox wipes, disinfectant sprays, Swiffers etc. Everything is DIRTY over there, and being able to keep things kinds clean is a HUGE plus.
3. video games and DVD's because they just can't get enough of them!
4. small toys, candy, and simple school supplies for the kids that they meet. This goes a long way with the elders in the communities where our guys are working. The more the locals trust our soldiers, the more valuable intel on the Taliban they are willing to share!
5. simple athletic equipmant wiffle ball stuff, soccer balls, basketballs, street hockey gear, playing cards and poker chips... any distraction during your off time, is a good one.
6. Canned air to clean electronics, night vision, and guns!
OK, that should get you started! Comment on this blog to contribute to the list, and thank you to everyone who asked me to do this, and of course... Thank you to our troops! We're all thinking about you!
I only coughed 5 times today... That's down from my normal 20 or so, since I stepped foot in Afghanistan.
The cough started almost immediately and has been a reminder ever since that my trip was real! Every night, I get off of the air, and sit in my office, trying to figure out how to get what is in my head... out. How to describe to the people back home, what it is like for our guys over there. That was my mission after all wasn't it? I'm just having a hard time putting the emotions that I feel into words. Maybe I should have paid better attention in college!
The night before I left for Afghanistan, I had a terrible dream. I dreamt that I died over there. On the Friday before my flight, I questioned whether I should go at all, wondering if I was the 'moth to the flame'. Then I questioned my fate, and maybe if I canceled the trip, I would die in a car accident on 495 or something. I tried to write 'the letter' that most soldiers write and leave for their loved one's just in case... I couldn't do it. I couldn't decide what my last words should be. I didn't know how to put my feelings into words, kinda like now! So, I did what I do best. I sat in a recording studio, and recorded a message for my family. I cried the entire way through.
Of course I was running late when my airport ride arrived to pick me up. I was frazzled, and still hadn't finished packing. I said my goodbyes quickly, and was filled with anxious and excited feelings. The anticipation on the flights kept me from napping, and I couldn't wait to get there.
When I arrived, it was a assault on my senses. The frenzy in the airport, and the inability to communicate with anyone when my luggage didn't arrive. The smell in the air, the sights in the streets, and cramped feeling in the M-ATV on the way to the base, told me right away that this trip was going to be unbelievable.
You can't imagine the ping pong of emotions that I was feeling, going from smiling and taking pictures, to attending briefings, and discussing worst case scenarios. Every minute has the option of going from good to bad and vice versa. There is a lot of waiting around in Afghanistan too. Waiting for something to happen, and then rushing around in a choreographed frenzy when it does. Going from a Spades game, to gunfire in minutes. I was enjoying a hot shower, at 6am one morning, and reacting to air raid sirens the next.
It's sensory overload in Afghanistan. And our guys have to put blinders on, and only pay attention to the mission in front of them. Now imagine that those blinders must block out abuse, starvation, suffering, anger, violence, and pure hate. They must ignore physical abuse happening on the sidewalk while they drive by. They are too busy looking for terrorists who may be trying to bomb them. They must ignore begging children, and search for IED's. Just complete the mission, and get back on base. Live to fight another day! We all talk about living each day as if it were our last... Well, these guys actually do it.
People always ask me what they need... Well, they don't need much. They have many of the comforts of home. The PX is filled with stuff that they can buy. They have free laundry services, and the Chow Hall is open 24/7. They need distractions, like we all do. Movies, Music, and video games are great for that. The Internet however, makes it tough to download those things over there. Many of the guys send external hard drives home, so they can be filled with stuff and sent back. The number of songs in your iPod is like a badge of honor, and it's not all what you would think.
One of my fondest memories with the guys, was on the road in the truck and we were arguing over what to listen to in the headsets. We let the shuffle feature decide and we spent 4 minutes in a convoy singing 'Call Me Al' by Paul Simon, complete with the Chevy Chase horn solo! Please press play and listen to the song while you read the rest of this...
This song, combined with the terrible surroundings is quite the definition of contradiction!
Back on base, the guys and I had to decide if we have the 'energy' to call home and get caught up on the days events. Family and work drama like who's mad at who, and what didn't get done today, can really add mental stress that you can't handle when you haven't slept in 2 days, it's 100*, and you were just getting shot at. I wonder what is worse for our soldiers... to live through letters like they did in WWII, when you waited for them at the mailbox every month, or Skyping home to watch your daughter on the potty, and read her a story before bed, only to have her scream and cry when you try to say goodbye. My work emails, and instructions on the broadcast became background noise and it was nice to be able to say... "I'm sorry the Internet isn't working, you're going to have to handle it without me." Sure, it puts a burden on the people back home, but with everything else going on in your head, there just isn't room. You have to put your feelings in a box here, and lock them away. Emotions are too dangerous to have on a day to day basis. The guys were surprised at how I reacted to certain things, because I was still thinking like I was at home. I hadn't developed the callous of war that is required to survive a year long deployment, and I never would. I only had 2 weeks to cram as much experience as I could into it. The smells they said would go away in a few days, and they were right. You get used to the smell of burning poop in a few days, but you pay the price of not being able to smell anything. They've been there for 5 months already and the callouses were already there. They need them to survive the next 7 months. They can't focus on the birthdays, anniversaries, football games, bachelor parties, and quiet dinners with their soul mates that they will miss. They need to shut off their humanity, and just survive. Sometimes I think that I was a branch to that humanity, when I was one on one with them. They would let their guard down, and talk about their wives and kids. The guilt that they felt missing out on the small things. They talked about their mom's and the cards they would get, and how they would never be able to repay the sacrifices they are making at home, to help with the grand kids and the mortgages. They would talk about near death experiences, and fellow troops that didn't come home from the last deployment. I tried not to show too much emotion, and just sit quietly and listen to what they had to say. I would reach out with a hand on the shoulder, or a pat on the back, knowing that human contact over there is pretty uncommon. I knew some stuff already because of my Iraq trip, and thanks to my husband and his deployment experiences I've learned a little more. Sometimes it's easier to talk, when you aren't asked anything. The other person just has to be willing to listen, and not judge. The standards of conduct are different when you are at war, and they don't want to be judged on their actions. The blinders of war are necessary for survival. I know that none of those guys would drive by the things they have seen back in Massachusetts, but they are required to in Afghanistan. They are not eager to shoot people back home, but are ready, willing, and able to do it on a moments notice there. Even the definition of 'clean' is not the same there, I learned that myself. If you want to send them something, send them cleaning supplies. It's oppressive to feel dirty and disgusting all of the time. It's impossible to keep anything clean, especially your electronics. Being able to control something small like a clean room, makes you feel somewhat human.
The roller coaster of emotions that I rode for 2 weeks, is a tough ride to get off of. Fun one minute, fear the next. It's like I slammed on the brakes and I'm sitting in the middle of the road, unsure of what just happened, and what to do next. I went through a similar experience 5 years ago when I returned home from Iraq, but this time it's WAY worse. I spent more time with one group of guys, and I had WAY more interaction with the locals. In talking with the guys, they are all expecting to bond over this shared experience together, but are very aware that they will scatter with the wind when they return. Some of them plan on leaving the military, some are already talking about marriages and kids, and some plan on heading back overseas as a private contractor, so that they can make some 'real money'. Whatever they decide, those plans are going to take a little while to get going. They are all going to need time to downshift.
When I got home Sunday night, my family was waiting at my house, cooking a big dinner, and waiting to hear all about the trip. I just wanted to come home, take a shower, and sit alone in the peace and quiet. Of course I couldn't say that to them. The bevy of questions was too much for me. Where to sit, what to drink, what I felt like eating... these are not tough questions, but for me at that moment, they were. It was too much for me. I ate my dinner, unpacked my gross, dirty clothes and took a long and much needed shower. I found the disc that I left for my husband, and broke it. Thankfully he'll never have to hear what was on it. I fell asleep on the couch for a bit, but when it was time to go to bed, I couldn't sleep. Isn't that always the way? After a night of pacing around the house, it was time to go to work. I probably should have taken a few days off, but there was too much to do! I've been clinging to Skype, my email, and facebook waiting for updates from Kabul. The guys have been asking how we are doing, and sending us messages that they miss us. One guy told me that he "missed my face". He said I was a welcome distraction at the end of a tough day, and that he looked forward to our card games and ball busting. I'm sorry if these blogs seem melodramatic to some, or if people don't believe that you can develop this kind of love and respect for strangers in such a short time, but it's how I feel. I worry about the families of these men, who may not understand why they are the way they are when they return. These loved one's who haven't experienced these soldiers, in the way that I have. I don't know them at home, in their jobs, with their kids... I only know them in their dirty uniforms, planning missions and playing Madden. Just a small part of who they really are, but a part that the rest of the people in their lives don't get to see. How lucky am I, that I got that chance?
I fear that as the days go by, and the more my cough fades away, the memories of my trip will fade along with them. The feelings that were so strong, will slowly slip into distant memories. I don't want to forget one moment, I want to feel every emotion just as strongly as the first time. With the invention of 'Social Networking' and the 'friend counter' that we all have on our facebook pages it's not easy to make REAL friends. I think that this trip has given me some lifelong friends, and I look forward to seeing them at home, surrounded by the one's that they love. I just hope that the callouses will fade away, and the blinders will eventually come off. That day can't come soon enough, and the date is circled on my calendar. Until then, I hope that I don't stop coughing!
Having to leave our guys in Afghanistan was tough form Mike and I. We got to see some old friends, and make some new ones! It's amazing how close you can become to people in just 2 weeks. Maybe it has something to do with the close quarters, or the long hours, or maybe it's the life and death circumstance that you are experiencing together. We walked around the QRF shack, and asked all of the guys one simple question...
If you could have 1 drink right now... what would it be?
We got some interesting answers...
Jameson & Ginger for Noftle
Tangeray & Tonic for Tanguay
A 'Stunt Man' for McConvey (he's such a pain in the ass!) Just in case you didn't know what a Stunt Man is... It's a shot of tequila, but you snort the salt, and squeeze the lemon into your eye. Like I said... He's a pain in the ass!
Or the Brooklyn Hooker... Pickle juice and JD.
There were simple requests like the Rum & Coke for Torch, and the Jager bombs for Foucher, Dustin and Murphy!
My Spades partner Scot asked for a Capt. and Coke and so did Bourne.
There was the Johnny Walker for Ward, and the Guinness for 'Tall Murph', and the Irish Car Bomb for Farrell. I think he just wanted us to order that in London, so we would get arrested!
Bill just wanted a shot of Makers Mark, and Mussig just said "Something strong"
Vath asked for a Soco and Cran (which I thought would be gross, and was actually great!)
Valentin wanted a shot of Patron!
As you can see, the guys just wanted us to be a couple of drunk f*cks at the airport!
Guys... These drinks are for you!
May you all make it home safely, so we can enjoy a round of drinks together! We miss you!
How??? by Mistress Carrie,posted Oct 25 2011 3:34PM
A week ago, I was in Afghanistan...
I was hunkered down with 'my guys' while the embassy and ISAF HQ were under attack. I had guys, who were total strangers the week before, making plans for my safety and thinking of my needs before their own.
2 weeks ago, I was on my way to Afghanistan having no idea what lay in front of me. I didn't know that I would make lifelong friends, I didn't know that I would witness life changing events, or see the worst that humanity has to offer.
Today, I am sitting in my climate controled office, eating microwaved food, and watching TV. My guys...? they are sleeping. Well, I hope they are sleeping... it's the middle of the night in Kabul. If they're not sleeping, it's because bad things are going on!
It took 9 months of planning to get this trip together, and in 2 weeks it's gone like a blur. If it weren't for the pictures, I would question whether it happened at all. The people in the office, have been congratulating me (and Mike) on a job well done, and asking questions like "how crazy was it REALLY over there?" The truth? You don't want to know... The stories that we've heard from the guys, the things that we've seen are not things that your brain allows you to forget, once you've heard and seen them. We got 2 weeks worth, 'my guys' get a years worth or more, if this isn't their first or last deployment. After 10 years of war, getting out with only one deployment is lucky.
I've been told by more than one veteran, that it's easier over there. The mission is clearly in front of you. You know who the bad guys are. You know what you're doing, and where you need to be. You're trained, and ready. It's simple. That is NOT the case back home. It's complicated, and messy at home. It's trivial. Lines at Dunkin Donuts, traffic, office gossip, laundry... these are all things that seem like a GIANT waste of time.
2 weeks ago, we were strangers.
A week ago, I was asked by a soldier to pass along a message to his wife, if he didn't come back from a mission. Before I left on Saturday, another soldier asked me to visit his sick and pregnant wife in the hospital, because he wasn't going to be home to do it.
2 weeks ago, I was the DJ.
A week ago, someone said "she's not in the Unit" and the response from one of my guys? "She may as well be!"
It's impossible for anyone to understand what our soldiers go through when they are sent to war. We've all had the experience with a family member from WWII or Vietnam. We've heard the stories that they are willing to tell. We've witnessed the dark places that they go to find those stories. It's called the 1000 yard stare, shell shocked, or more recently PTSD and TBI. I would never say that I understand them, or what they have been through. What I can say is this... I have been allowed not once, but twice in my life, to see behind the curtain. I've been given this gift, to peer briefly into a world, that most people will never understand. As an Army wife, it's an interesting perspective that I know most wives will never have. I have a new found respect for my husband and every other person that has worn a uniform for this country, and had to defend it's honor, in the face of hate and evil.
How will they be when they get home? How will they 'get back to normal'? Is that even possible? How will their families and friends react to the new person in the old body? How will this generation change the direction of our country as they age? What lessons can be learned from their sacrifice? How do you say 'thank you' for what they have given up, because they signed a blank check in service to our country, and we cashed it.
1 in 4 children will die in Afghanistan before the age of 5.
the average life span in Afghanistan is 48
A M-ATV up armored vehicle costs approximately $450,000
A new school costs $150,000
Digging a well to supply a village with fresh water costs $5,000
The war in Afghanistan costs $9.8 BILLION dollars a month
The average education of an Afghan soldier is the 3rd grade.
These numbers surprised me, for several reasons, especially the mortality rate of the children here. I'm not sure why I was surprised, after driving through the country and witnessing the things that I did.
Now I am not claiming to have all of the answers... As a matter of fact, I don't have ANY of the answers! But, I have seen many people comment on facebook saying that we should pull all of our troops out of Afghanistan, and just drop bombs... After looking into the eyes of this countries people, I can't imagine feeling that way. The children have such an innocence about them, and they're eyes almost beg for help. We saw a woman laying in the road so that she could stop traffic and get her kids to beg to the people in the stopped cars. We saw people buying raw meat on the side of the road from 'butchers' who were slicing in *100 degree heat, with no refrigeration or sanitary facilities. People just stop on the sidewalk and squat down to go to the bathroom. I've seen people do that while drunk, in an alley after a Sox game, but never like this. In this day and age, how can people still live like this? This country is such a contradition.
How can a military convoy get passed in a rotary by a guy on a donkey, talking on a cell phone?
How can people punish their infants by burning them, and then drop them off at the front gate of a military base knowing that the US soldiers will get the child medical care? Only to have the children returned home after?
How can grown men, who have sworn to protect their country, steal supplies from children that they receive from US troops?
How can women walk on gravel roads, with 2 small children, wearing full burkas, carrying firewood, and wearing HEELS?
In the last 10 years, the # of children in school in Afghanistan has increased 500% and the number of girls in school has tripled. I heard that part of the recruiting issue with the Afghan National Army is the fact that they are illiterate, and most only have a 3rd grade education. So before they can join, they have to learn to read and write. Imagine our country run by 3rd graders... Oh wait a minute, sometimes it feels like it is!
The only thing that makes me feel better about the financial drain of this war, is that education and healthy water is cheaper than trucks and guns... Maybe someday the nation of Afghanistan will have different problems, and maybe they won't, only they can decide their own path. But, after seeing what I saw, I can't imagine pulling our troops out of there and leaving that nation prey for the Taliban. They would never have a chance.
I still think about those kids every day, and I can't imagine how our troops will be coming home after a year in that country, witnessing what they have. If you think our country has problems, take a trip to Afghanistan...
The weather is amazing most days, even though it rained yesterday for the first time since we arrived. The scenery is unlike anything that I have ever seen. The mountains are majestic like the Rockies in the U.S. The fabrics and the clothing are so exotic and beautiful. There is a tangible optimism amongst the people that I've met, which would surprise most people back at home. Now, make no mistake... I am very well aware of the fact that I am in a war zone. This country is like walking around an episode of the Flintstones sometimes. The images of the dirty children playing in the streets rather than learning in school, the puppies that I know will never be loved like they would back home, the women in the burkas walking behind their husbands who are desperate for civil rights, and the buildings that were once beautiful, and are now blown apart remind me that the world is less than perfect. There is so much work to be done here, and it's going to take the Afghan people generations to move forward as a society.
But, the reason why I am writing this blog is our guys... Well, actually they are my guys now! I've been accepted into this group with open arms. As a woman, being allowed this kind of access to an Infantry unit in a war zone, is a special thing. They are not used to having a girl around. The long walk to the woman’s latrine is evidence of that. The guys were shocked from day 1, when they saw that I didn't pack suitcases, and that all of my stuff was in Army issue duffel bags. I traveled light here, since I knew I was going to be moving around a lot. I packed stuff that I knew I would need, and nothing more. 'Acting like a girl' is not going to win me any points here. I knew that before I arrived. It's a lesson that I learned 5 years ago in Iraq. From minute #1, they guys have treated me with respect, and have taken me under their wings. I'm always trying to stay out of the way, apologizing when someone needs to get by. I try to keep my stuff out of the way, and keep from making their lives any more difficult. But, I always here the same thing... "You're fine, you're not in the way, relax".
To the people back home who have loved ones over here, I can tell you this... You're loved ones are brave, well trained, hard working, and very special human beings. It's been an honor getting to know them. They miss home, and they long for the days that they can hang out at the bar and watch the Sox and the Pats... But they also love it here. They are understood here. They are surrounded by people who relate to them, and don't question why they do what they do. I try to imagine these guys, back at home, working 'regular' jobs and it's hard for me. I only know them this way. I know that reintegration is a tough thing for our troops that have seen combat overseas. The suicide rate for our veterans is scary, the divorce rate is well above the average, the incidents of alcoholism, drug abuse, and violence is evidence of this issue too. It's tough to imagine what they are going through, until you witness it firsthand.
The events that occurred in Kabul yesterday are a perfect example.
Yesterday the ISAF headquarters came under attack by the Taliban. I was there the night before, taking pictures and handing out T-shirts to the local troops that are stationed there.
When the word came down that the attacks were happening, the sirens went off on Camp Phoenix. The QRF (Quick Response Force) that we have been embedded with, were activated and told to get ready. 'My guys' started preparing for whatever may come their way. They began packing up the trucks with ammo, and water. They programmed the radios and cleaned their weapons. They had classified briefings to go over intel, and made plans based on possible scenarios. I was asked by one soldier to use my SAT phone, so that he could call his wife. He knew that she would be watching the news at home, and he wanted her to know that he loved her, before he 'rolled out'. He asked me to keep her number, and to call her if there was bad news. Remember that I just me him a week ago! I was told by Nick, my 'body guard' to get my stuff together, and stick close to 'the shack'. I'm safer around all of the troops and all of the weapons, than I would be in my room alone, Mike too. The guys were pacing around, waiting on the 'go ahead' to go and do their jobs. There is nothing they hate more, than sitting around when they know there is work to be done! They went through the training, and they want to be the ones to make a difference.
The war in Afghanistan is so different than Iraq. Here, they are fighting with a scalpel, not a machete. Most Afghans are good, and our troops are not here to hurt them, or destroy their way of life. They are here to root out, the select few insurgents that are hell bent on destruction and terrorism. This makes fighting a war very complicated. They have to worry about civilian casualties, and collateral damage, while hunting down and killing the enemy. It's a tough job, and they are doing their best. When innocent people are hurt and killed, it's used against the allied forces, to try and convince the populous that the troops are bad and that they don't care. Progress is slow. The guys waited around all day, 'all dressed up and no place to go'. The word came down that intel was sketchy and that while CNN was reporting rocket fire and attacks down town, it was possible that it was a plan to get the bases to deploy the fighting forces off of the major bases, thus leaving them weakened and easy targets. The question of how many resources to deploy, was the question to answer.
We passed the time with a card game, a movie, and video games depending on your poison. Some guys took the time to get a few minute nap in, while others just paced around counting the seconds until it was time to go. I just waited to be told what to do, and in the mean time... I took pictures. I figure that they guys would like to have these photos later on, to remember this experience.
They kept their senses of humor, and goofed around with me. Asking which weapon I wanted to take with me, and if I was ready for my first firefight. I knew very well that I would not be hitting the road with them, but if I could have gone, I would have been in that MATV so fast, it would have made their heads spin! I feel safer around them on the road, than I do on the base in my room alone. Its sounds stupid I know, but it's the way that I feel. I napped briefly on a chair in the middle of the chaos, and it was the best sleep I've had since I arrived.
In the middle of the night, some of the guys rolled out, leaving another team back on base 'just in case'. I was told to get some rest, and given specific safety instructions about what I should do if the base sirens went off again. While I struggled to get to sleep in my room, the guys in the shack waited to get the call, and the guys sent to ISAF earned their CIB's (Combat Infantry Badges) when they were shot at, and when a grenade was thrown at their vehicles. One minute they were joking around with me, and the next minute they had shrapnel hitting the sides of their trucks. That's how it is here... You never know what the next minute will bring, but whatever it is... they are ready for it.
I'm sitting here, trying to figure out what makes these guys tick. What makes a person run towards danger, when most people scatter away from it. They are not 'super heroes like in the comic books. They are mortal men, with flaws. They know that they are not perfect, but somehow together, when the sh*t hits the fan, they become perfect together. I am so grateful for the opportunity that they have given me, and I just don't feel worthy enough to accept this gift of friendship and loyalty that they have presented to me. I know that in a few days, I'll have to say goodbye and I don't know how I am going to do that. Soon enough, I will be at Logan, ordering an iced coffee, and heading home to my family, while 'my guys' are still here, waiting to go to work when they are needed. I'm not sure how I'll say goodbye, or how I'll feel. I just hope that I leave them with a little love from home, and the understanding that they have changed my life forever. One SGT. told me that I was 'breath of fresh air here' and another wrote home saying 'that the opportunity to just sit around and talk about Boston with someone from home was appreciated'.
It's not the scenery, or the culture, or the weather... it's the guys! That's why I love Afghanistan!
I've been spending a lot of time over the last few days, just hanging with the guys here in Afghanistan... It's amazing the conversations that you can have, while you are sitting at a picnic table praying to the internet gods! It takes so long to load pics, audio, and video that you have nothing better to do, than ask questions of anyone that comes your way. There is such a cross section of people here, it's amazing. There are over 15 countries involved in the allied forces in Afghanistan. The number of private contractors is amazing, and I cannot believe the number of locals that are walking around on base. Local Afghan civilians cook on base, they clean on base, and the build everything on base. Obviously they are supervised, but I NEVER had this kind of access to the local Iraqi's 5 years ago. It's culture shock times 10! Here are some of my observations so far.
1. burning tires and poop is bad for your sense of smell, and your lungs.
2. the sound of a Blackhawk hovering over your bedroom is something that you get used to, and amazingly makes you feel relaxed.
3. people with purple hair (especially women) in Afghanistan get stared at constantly. It's actually quite funny now!
4. there is such a thing as a 'brass magnet' and I am that person! It's UNREAL! The guys in my unit think it's out of control. They can never relax, you never know when a General is going to pop out and surprise us!
5. there is no other place that a dedicated soldier wants to be, than with 'his guys'. No matter the injury or illness, they just want to get back to work. I've never seen dedication like I have seen here.
6. bureaucracy is everywhere, even in a war zone.
7. there are certain things that our troops cannot live without... video games, movies, music, and Skype. Skype is the greatest for these guys. I'm watching a few soldiers Skype with their kids right now, and it makes me want to cry.
8. if you are tired enough, you can fall asleep anywhere!
9. DO NOT leave your Facebook page open in a room full of soldiers! BAD things can happen!
10. ball busting is he same in any language!
11. you could make a fortune selling frozen margaritas here. I would pay $1000 for one right now!
12. Army coffee and hot chocolate is a great way to start the day... waking up at 0500 to drink it is NOT a great way to start the day.
13. it is possible that the biggest and toughest looking guy in Kabul, is an accountant. I'm not kidding, his name is Donald, and he is HUGE!!!
14. anything can become normal, even people carrying automatic weapons into the cafeteria to eat breakfast!
15. having a private security detail and up armored vehicles drive you everywhere makes you feel like the President!
16. you can tell 'dick jokes' in front of the pastor, and not feel bad. He may even laugh!
17. jello is awesome
18. It's a small world. We keep bumping into people that we grew up with! My producer Mike is going to run from Mayor of Camp Phoenix soon, he knows everyone!
19. grown men, no matter how tough, LOVE to make ice cream sundaes!
20. "If you can win a war with Matchbox cars, why would you use a gun?"
This is an Afghan interpreter, that works with our soldiers every day. He is from Kabul, and he's not afraid to speak out against the Taliban. What he is doing is very brave, but also very dangerous. This makes him a target. I told him that I would not use his name or take his picture. He insisted that I do both! He wants people to know what Afghan citizens think about the Americans, and the job that they are doing overseas. If there is a definition of bravery, his picture should be with it!
When we thought about putting the AAF to Afghanistan trip together, we had a clear vision of what we wanted to accomplish. We wanted our troops to know that after 10 years, we still support them. We wanted to make sure that they knew, that we recognized all of the sacrifices that they have made, and that their families have made. On that fateful morning thousands of lives were lost. Thousands more were changed forever, because they lost a loved one. We learned the true meaning of bravery when the first responders ran in, when everone else ran out. We also learned what a difference a few people could make when they banned together, to stand against a common enemy on Flight 93. Their American spirit has been felt every day since. The lives of many others changed that day too. The image of our beloved country, under attack, inspired thousands to enlist in the armed forces, knowing that war was soon to follow, and those who were already enlisted volunteered to extend immediately because they knew that they would be needed. In the 10 years since September 11, 2001 our nation has seen it's share of ups and downs. The economy has suffered, and our resolve has been tested. The one thing that has remained the same, is the spirit of our troops. They have endured multiple deployments, months and years away from home. They have seen the worst that humanity has to offer when faced with the enemy, and they have seen the hope for the future in the children who will hopefully grow into the generation that finally fixes the worlds problems. In my opinion there are no better human beings on Earth, than our soldiers. They work so hard, are not paid enough, they are used as political pawns in Washington, and they pay the price for the policies that they follow. They deserve all of of love and support, but they don't always get it. Today, I carry with me all of the love and support from the WAAF listeners to Afghanistan, where are troops are hard at work rebuilding a nation, and forging alliances with a people who will one day stand on their own two feet, and defend themselves.
Here are some of the pictures from the memorial service this morning, where members of all of the allied forces joined together this morning to pay tribute to every soldier who has died since September 11, 2011. Every name from every nation was read out loud. It took 2 1/2 hours just to read the American names. Another hour to read the names of the UK soldiers, and the rest of the day to go through the names of every other country involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation New Dawn.
The flags of the allied forces, at half staff in Patriot Square.
Members of the allied forces during the memorial ceremony.
The US and Afghan flags flying together.
General Hammond from the Mass Army National Guard speaking during the memorial service.
A member of the Canadian Army photographs members of the Mass Army National Guard during the memorial service.
The bunker gear tribute outside of the fire station on Camp Phoenix.
With members of the base fire department on Camp Phoenix
The patches from all of the fire houses that have been represented on base.
The third base that we visited yesterday, was by far the craziest.
Camp Bala Hissar has one mission, to monitor and protect the Aerostat balloon. It looks like a small blimp that hovers over Kabul, and is fixed with high res cameras and surveillance equipment that is operated by civilian defense contractors. This 'balloon' helps our troops keep track of possible targets, and allows an overview of the city day and night. I heard that it's a 25 million dollar balloon! You should see how big the helium tanks are for this thing!!!
This base is built into the side of a mountain in Kabul. The top of the mountain is protected by Afghan National Army troops, who work hand in hand with the US soldiers.
Let's just say, they are not used to having a woman around... Especially a woman like me!
The US troops that are in Bala Hissar right now, are half Mass troops and half from Alabama! This place is a cultural melting pot, and it works! They are very isolated fro the other bases, and are completely self contained. They build everything on base themselves, including the basketball court!
The hoop is a perfectly bent piece of rebar! These guys have skills.
The most amazing part of this base, is what it's named after. Bala Hissar, is a 1000 year old fort that was designed and built by Genghis Kahn, and the ruins of this fort still stand right above the camp! Check out some of these pictures. It's so amazing here. With the amount of unrest that this area has seen over the last 1000 years, it is unbelievable that these walls still stand! They just don't build things like this anymore!
We had to take the toursist shot! The views here are unlike anything that I have ever seen!
And even though you are surrounded by beauty, there are still obvious reminders of the destruction that this area has seen over the years!
This is where you would have lived, if you were a high ranking officer in the time of Kahn! Not too bad!
This is a lake bed, that is filled naturally at certain times of the year by runoff from the mountains. This entire area, was designed by Genghis Kahn himself. There is irrigation tunnels, and aqueducts that move the water around the village. And we spent 15 billion on the Big Dig???
And even thought this is a 'War Zone' the kids still play like every other kid, in any country in the world.
So, I finally had some time to sit down in front of a computer and try to explain what the last 48 hours have been like! In one word... CRAZY!
Mike (my producer and I) got to Logan airport at 6am on Saturday 9/3. We were allowed to park in the 'super secret' parking lot close to the gate. Our friends Tim and Barbara served as chaueffers, so we didn't have to take out a loan to keep our cars there for 2 weeks. We were met curbside by a "friend with a really awesome badge" who helped us navigate the check in process, and airport security. Our trip was a complicated one... Boston to London, London to Bahrain, Bahrain to Kabul. Total travel time 27 hours! We got upgraded to 1st class for the first leg of the journey, but after that... Let's just say Mike and I were close, very close in coach!
In London, we had barely enough time to get across the airport to make our connection. Those shuttle bus drivers are nuts. In Bahrain, Mike and I found an Irish Pub to toast the guys before we got into Afghanistan. Once we landed, we went through immigration in just a few minutes, and headed to baggage claim. It turns out that my bags were flagged by security in London because of the body armor, and they never made the Bahrain flight. I got the #'s for the airline, and headed through immigration. As soon as we left the airport doors, we were loaded into MATV's and driven through downtown Kabul, to Camp Phoenix.
Here are some of the lessons that we learned along the way.
Getting through security at Logan is a hell of a lot easier, when you are accompanied by a guy with a REALLY cool badge!
When checking bags, if you have military orders, present them in the beginning of the process. It will save you time and lots of money. (especially when checking body armor)
Savor every Dunkin Iced coffee, you never know how long you will be without one.
Flying First Class is awesome, PERIOD!
Jack N Coke at 9am is OK, when your final destination is Afghanistan.
Fruit cups RULE!
London drivers are FAR WORSE than Boston drivers.
In flight entertainment on Gulf Air includes Cheers, Happy Days, NCIS LA, and Barney... in Arabic.
Watching the sunrise over Baghdad from the window of a plane, is pretty damn cool.
People in Bahrain appreciate Linkin Park. It was playing in the airport upon arrival.
Fanny packs are all the rage in Bahrain.
Bostonians will find an Irish Pub anywhere one can be found. Even in Bahrain.
Malibu & Pineapple is good for breakfast.
There is NO ONE with purple hair in Afghanstan. Correction, there WAS no one with purple hair in Afghansistan!
The reason why we beat the Brits during the revolution... Their bags didn't make their connecting flight!
A BIG thank you to John Dennis, Dale Arnold, Chach, Meter, and everyone at WEEI for having me on this morning to talk about AAF to Afghanistan! Just in case you missed the interview, you can listen to it here!