Monday, March 24, 2008

Finally some photos from Afghanistan

One of the guys shared his photos from the first mission out with me. This what Farah, Afghanistan looks like, desert and mountains.

Looking down into Farah city during the first mission out.

Mountains outside the wire. Beautiful aren't they?

Me at 0200 in the morning, sitting inside a C-130 waiting for take off on the way to Kandahar. Yes, that's one of the new up-armored Humvees in the background. Notice my new, short haircut.

Me and one of the guys in front of Boyer Hall at FOB Farah. This was taken on Easter Sunday after all the excitement at the gate.

I hope you enjoyed the photos. I'll post more when I can.

Easter in Afghanistan

Wow, what a day!!! That's really all I can think of to sum up my feelings about Easter 2008 in Afghanistan.

It was our official change of command ceremony or as the Army calls it Transfer of Authority (TOA). Everyone was extremely busy on our little FOB preparing for the ceremony. We cleaned up the place and set up extra security measures, because we were visited by several high level VIPs. The governor of Farah, and a couple of generals and a full-bird colonel who are the top dogs in our chain of command, were some of the bigwigs who graced us with their presence. Everyone had a part to play, even me the S-1.

Because all local nationals who come onto the base must be searched, I was asked to assist down at the front gate by searching females who came to the ceremony. Due to the heightened security measures, I had to wear full-battle-rattle, in other words, my armor, kevlar helmet and weapons. Normally, we don’t wear this, but today we did. I searched the females as they came through and then was told to stay down at the gate, and help out with anything that might come up during the ceremony. We closed down the FOB and nothing was to come in or out during the festivities.

In a combat zone, if there’s ever a day when you don’t want anything to go wrong, it’s the day when you are responsible for the security of high level leaders. You become paranoid. Even the most routine situations must be questioned and scrutinized and treated as a potential threat. Basically, you just don’t want anything to happen or go wrong, but as luck would have it Murphy was working overtime yesterday.

We received a call that the Afghan National Police (ANP), were headed our way with two injured men seeking medical assistance. We weren’t sure if this was real or a ruse to get inside our security perimeter try to do some damage, so we locked and loaded our weapons. The sad thing to me is that we had to question the motives of people who were just bringing us their injured friends and family. But if you don’t treat every potential threat as real, you don’t come home safe.

We already had ANP and Afghan National Army (ANA) outside the gate waiting for the governor and chief of police, so they of course were very curious about the two men in the back of the truck. I helped with crowd control, because they all crowded the truck and it was hard for us to get into see what was happening with the casualties in the truck.

The men had been in an car accident. The ANP drive Ford Rangers around with rocket propelled grenade launchers (RPG) in the back of some trucks, but other trucks are used to carry four men in the back. These two men had been riding in the back, when somehow their truck overturned and they were thrown from the back of the truck. The younger man was drifting in and out of consciousness, but responsive to the medics. The other older man was completely unconscious and unresponsive to the medics. He had suffered sever head trauma and basically there was nothing that our docs could do for him. Now our docs are excellent doctors. But when it comes to head injuries unless you have the neuro skills there’s really not anything you can do to help them, and we just plain don’t have the equipment either. He was in really, really bad shape with barely a pulse and blood bubbling out of his nose and mouth.

Once our medical team got there, they moved both men out of the truck and began concentrating their efforts on the younger man who was less severely injured. They got him stabilized and called ahead to the Farah hospital to let them know to expect a patient. I’m not sure what his injuries were, but he was fully conscious when he left. Meanwhile the medics were making the older man more comfortable, by administering morphine and trying to control his bleeding. However, before too long his pulse disappeared and he passed quietly on.

It was a sobering, humbling experience to be that close to someone who died. I’ve never really experienced anyone dying while I am in the near vicinity. As he was lying in the back of the truck and I was helping to establish a perimeter to keep people away, my mind was wandering a bit. I was trying to concentrate on the job at hand and trying to keep an eye on the other men who were there. I wasn’t really thinking about anything, when I found myself singing quietly under my breath, “I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us from somewhere up above.” I stopped, realizing what I was singing. “They come to you and me in our darkest hours, to show us how to live, to teach us how to give. To guide us with the light of love.” (Angels Among Us, sung by Alabama)

There I was, with weapons loaded, at the ready, standing guard over two injured Afghan men, one of who was dying and I was singing Angels Among Us. I know God works in mysterious ways, and I know there were angels there that day watching over us and receiving the man who died into God’s presence. I was reminded in a very poignant way how much all of us are loved by our Father in Heaven. The song is familiar to me, but not one I sing when I need comfort or need to invite the Spirit into my heart. I can’t think of a reason why I would have sung it just then other than to say that the words were put in my mind for a reason. I needed some comfort in a very human, raw experience and God knows that for me music is my comforter.

Easter is such a wonderful day. I’m thankful for the reminders of Christ’s sacrifice and what it means. He overcame death for us, each one of us. This is his gift, his grace to us. He was the only human who could do it, and he deliberately chose to take our sins and shame upon him, and to give his life for us that we might live. Isn’t this wonderful!!

Interesting how God chooses to remind of his mercy and bless our lives. I hope you take some time to think about what Easter really means and the promise of life that Christ gives. I know you’ll blessed for doing so. As for me, this is one Easter I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Happy Easter to all.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I'm finally here

So, I've finally made it to Afghanistan and I'm sitting in Farah. Yay! After almost 3 weeks of traveling, we finally are all here. So, now I'm working with the other S-1 doing turnover and learning what job really is. The others on my team are doing the same thing.

There are beautiful mountains on all four sides and it's a lot less dusty here than in Kandahar. The FOB is pretty small, but a lot bigger than I had imagined. We have barracks that are 2 foot thick concrete barracks, with bathrooms attached. We are living in the lap of luxury! We have lots of other concrete buildings that house the engineering staff, the mechanics, the civil affairs and our operations center. I'd post some photos, but for some reason the internet connection times out when I try to post them.

Needless to say, my time is valuable and I'm learning a lot right now. Sorry this is short, but I'll be able to update more frequently now that I'm in Farah.