Sunday, August 27, 2006
The following is the eighth in a series of letters home from my nephew. We are publishing them so that we may all have a better understanding of the young men and women who are placing themselves in harms way to protect us, and our way of life. They have been following him through his training, and continuing into his deployment. We do so with his permission, and the concurrence of his wife and son.
S/SGT Keith is an army veteran and civilian police officer who joined the active reserves after the September 11th attacks. He and ten members of his MP unit have been called up for deployment to Afghanistan to train U.S. soldiers and new Afghani police officers on arrest and detention procedures. All eleven are either police or corrections officers. This is the third letter from Afghanistan, describing his first training mission. We are withholding his last name out of courtesy to his family and simply thank him for his service to our country.
Hello All Aug 27, 2006
I just returned from my first training mission yesterday, and it is good to be back at Bagram Air Base. My first trip was to the Forward Operating Base, or FOB, at Ghazni. Ghazni is about 110 miles southwest from Bagram and it took us approximately 45 minutes to get there by helicopter. The trip started very early on Monday morning because we had to be at the hanger by 3:00 AM. The flight itself didn’t leave until 5:30 AM. So for that two and half hours we sat around the hanger, until we were moved to the flight line. We sat there until the flight crew was ready to crank up the CH-47. A CH-47, or Chinook, is a very large helicopter that has two horizontal rotors. It is meant for hauling fairly large amounts of cargo and/or troops.
The flight out to the FOB was very interesting. As soon as we cleared Bagram it was as if I was flying in a time machine. The further we flew from the air base, the further back in time we seemed to travel. For the first 10 minutes of flight or so, there was a fair number of buildings and small towns that could easily be seen. The reason for this is because the helicopter never seemed to fly higher than 1000 feet or so above the ground. Plus, the Chinook has a large ramp, for loading and unloading, in the rear of the aircraft. This ramp remained open for the duration of the flight with one of the flight crew seated on the open ramp manning a machine gun. There are also gunners on the left and right side of the aircraft. I was able to take some nice pictures and video from the windows and the open ramp.
As we neared the mountains that surround Bagram my journey back in time continued. The small villages were replaced by compounds. These compounds appeared to be made of mud brick, and were themselves surrounded by walls of mud. Inside these compounds I could see several buildings, none of which had windows, electricity, or indoor plumbing. But what struck me the most was that inside the compounds there was green foliage, trees, and crops. The different shades of green would jump out at you due to the contrast with all the sand, dirt, and rocks that were outside the walls. When we entered the mountains some of the compounds were built right into the side of them. Every now and again I would see goat herders tending to their animals. As we moved farther into the mountains the compounds were replaced with small groups of tents. Again, every once in a while, I would see people and animals on the sides of the mountains, or in the valleys.
There was a few times during the flight that when I looked out of the window, I was starring directly at the side of a mountain. The helicopters have to fly through the mountain passes since they are too high to fly over. Bagram is at an elevation of 5000 feet above sea level, and Ghazni is 7200 feet above sea level, and the surrounding mountains rise thousands of feet higher than that. If the helicopters try to fly over them, the air is too thin, and the rotors are unable to create enough lift.
When we arrived at the FOB we were met by a Master Sergeant who gave us a brief tour of the base. It was quite a brief tour since the FOB is rather small and really has nothing to offer. The Post Exchange, or PX, is about the size of a single car garage, and offers only the essentials. He also showed us where the Chow Hall was located as well as the tent where we would be staying. The Chow Hall was fantastic. While it was small and didn’t offer the variety of foods that they do in Bagram, the quality of the food was much better. The tent we stayed in, on the other hand, was not better. It was air-conditioned but it was situated right next to 2 generators that made it impossible to hear yourself think. It made it rather difficult to sleep as well.
On Tuesday we were not scheduled to teach any classes since the soldiers we were to train were out on a mission and not set to return for another day. We did have to conduct an inspection of the Field Detention Site, or FDS, which didn’t take very long. The FDS was in good shape and we only noted a few minor things that would be very easy for them to address. Wednesday we conducted our training session. We had a class of about 20 infantry soldiers who appeared to take a lot from the training. Our training was geared towards advising the soldiers how to better document the reasons for detention so a better case can be built against the detainee. We also discussed the collection and processing of evidence, as well as many other topics. Apparently our training session received a good review because we were asked to give an abbreviated version of the training to the leadership the following day.
Friday we began our odyssey of trying to get out of the FOB and back to Bagram. We had seats on a flight for Saturday but since we were done training we figured we would try to get back early. The trick with this is you never know when a helicopter is going to land at the FOB. This isn’t United Airlines, and they don’t follow a set schedule, for obvious reasons. So we spent about 8 hours on Friday sitting near the landing pads waiting to see if a helicopter would come in on its way to Bagram that had room for us. Several landed, but none of them had room for us, so we wound up spending another night in the tent next to the generators, sleeping on cots.
We spent the evening attempting to watch a movie on my laptop. Actually, watching the movie wasn’t the problem, it was the hearing part that was difficult. We were watching The Dirty Dozen of all things, when we heard and felt a large explosion. Due to the loud generator we couldn’t hear the warning siren, but we knew it was in-coming mortar fire. We made our way to the bunker and remained there for about 30 minutes before returning to the tent. Then, just like in Kandahar, as soon as we got into the tent another mortar round impacted near the FOB, so back out the bunker we went. We were later told that a total of 4 rounds were fired at the FOB, but none of them made it inside the wire.
Saturday we woke up early and made our way to the flight line so we wouldn’t miss our flight back to Bagram. While we were waiting I asked the Master Sergeant who had been our liaison if anybody was injured in the mortar attack. He stated that everybody was fine and that in his 11 months at the FOB they had been fired upon 30-35 times and a mortar round had never made it inside the wire. Never say never, right? Not 10 minutes later a mortar round impacted inside the wire approximately 200 meters from where we were standing, so off to the bunkers we went again. We only remained in the bunker for about 15 minutes because some helicopters were inbound and we were hoping they were our ride out. They weren’t, so we would have to wait another 8 hours before our ride to Bagram arrived.
After another 45 minute flight we were back at Bagram. I was very glad to be back “home”. I couldn’t wait to once again enjoy my lumpy bed, internet and cable service. I get Sunday off to unpack and get settled in before I return to work on Monday. I am scheduled to go out on another training mission in the not too distant future and am looking forward to it. Despite the generator noise and extremely thin cot, I really enjoyed the mission.
Well that is all for now. You’re probably all tired of reading this thing anyway. Upon my return to Bagram I was greeted with several pieces of mail and packages which was fantastic. I also have purchased a cell phone and have used it several times to call the family. I again thank all that contributed to the fund that was used to buy it. Time seems to be passing a bit quicker for me now and I hope the same is true for all of you. I am closing out my first month over here and hope that the passage of time picks up even more speed. I love and miss all of you and try not to worry too much. I am in good health and good spirits and hope all of you are the same.
Talk to all of you soon,
Friday, August 18, 2006
The following is the seventh in a series of letters home from my nephew. We are publishing them so that we may all have a better understanding of the young men and women who are placing themselves in harms way to protect us, and our way of life. They have been following him through his training, and continuing into his deployment. We do so with his permission, and the concurrence of his wife and son.
S/SGT Keith is an army veteran and civilian police officer who joined the active reserves after the September 11th attacks. He and ten members of his MP unit have been called up for deployment to Afghanistan to train new Afghani police officers. All eleven are either police or corrections officers. This is the second letter from Afghanistan, describing his first week in theater. We are withholding his last name out of courtesy to his family and simply thank him for his service to our country.
Hello All, Aug 18, 2006
Well I have been here for a little over a week now and I am starting to get settled in. My living area, while small, does offer some privacy which is something that can be in short supply over here. As I mentioned last time, I have been buying small items here and there in an attempt to personalize my area just a bit.
Our first few days here were spent going to some briefings and in-processing. Some of the briefings that we had to attend were on subjects such as protocol, uniform requirements, health services, response to warning sirens, and mines. The last briefing was probably the most important of the briefings, seeing how there are 50,000 mines located around Bagram Air Base. The best advice that they can give is, “Don’t walk off the roads or sidewalks, and stay out of the grass.” After we were done with the briefings I had some time to walk around the base and find out where things are located. Bagram Air Base is a huge facility that is home to over 10,000 troops and support personnel. Then during the day the population swells even more as locals, who have been cleared, come on the base to work. They are paid between $3-$6 dollars a day for their efforts. Based on the number of locals walking around, they are happy for the opportunity to earn money.
The base itself offers more than I thought it would. There are numerous gyms, one of which is only 50 yards from where I live. There are also 4 chow halls, so when you get tired of one you can just walk to another. If the chow hall food doesn’t appeal to you all you have to do is walk to the Post Exchange area. Over there you can choose from Burger King, Subway, Pizza, Italian food, and Green Bean Coffee, which is like a Starbucks. The Post Exchange, or PX, is a good size and offers just about anything you might need. If the main PX doesn’t you can walk to the North PX and see if they have what you need up there. If you make the walk, which is about a mile from where I live, you can reward yourself with some Dairy Queen. War is hell.
Also by the PX are some merchants who sell local goods. They offer a wide variety of items like furs, rifles, jewelry, clothes, and of course rugs. On Fridays you can walk to the bazaar, which is set up near the main ECP or Entry Control Point. I walked up there, which again is about a mile walk, or you can catch the shuttle that runs up and down Disney Drive. On the way I passed by some bombed out buildings and the remains of an old Russian tank that sits in the middle of a mine field. The bazaar is rather large, containing dozens of merchants who are rather aggressive in their selling techniques. If you enter their area they will try to block the exit and start holding items up for you to buy. If you see something that you like, let the haggling begin.
Then we spent the next several days being brought up to speed on our duties, which will vary. I have already been named as a Team Leader for the Mobile Training Teams. These missions will involve traveling by air to FOB’s, or Forward Operating Bases, to train the personnel. These missions will last for several days, to several weeks, depending on the training needs. I will be going on a training mission in the near future to observe.
One day during the week I attended my first Fallen Comrade Ceremony. Last week 3 Americans were killed and the remains of all soldiers, American or Coalition, come through Bagram on their way home. Disney Drive, which is named in honor of a fallen soldier, as all things are here, was shut down to all vehicular traffic and everybody comes out and lines the sides of the road. Then a 998, which is like a Humvee with an open bed, drives down the road with a flag draped coffin in the back. As it passes civilians remove their hats, and military personnel salute. It was a rather somber event and I was glad to attend, but I hope I don’t have the opportunity to attend any more. It seems every time I “forget” where I am, something happens to remind me.
One of our training days involved going to the range. The range is located “outside the wire”, or off Bagram Air Base. This would be my first trip outside the wire as a member of a convoy. As we prepared, the reality of where I am was once again driven home. We climbed into an up-armored Humvee with your basic load, which is several hundred rounds of ammunition, not including the crew served weapons that top each vehicle. The best part of being in an up-armored Humvee is the air-conditioning. We moved out of the gate and entered Bagram Village almost immediately. I was immediately struck by the poverty. It was like going back 30 years in the blink of an eye. Also, there are people everywhere, but they know to get out of the way of a convoy, because we don’t stop for anything. We drive down the middle of the road as fast as we can safely do so. Vehicles also know to pull to the side of the road and allow us to pass. We exit Bagram Village and continue out into the county side. We pass by old buildings that have been bombed. Again, the scars of war are everywhere that you look. Little children run up to the side of the road from the tents that they live in and wave and motion for us to give them food or water. Some adults do the same, but others yell at us, or even spit as we pass by. Once we arrive at the range, sheep and goats are roaming in the area. The herders see us and immediately start banging long sticks on the ground to get the animals moving. We also fire a few rounds toward the mountains which gets them moving a bit faster.
The longer we stay in the area, the more the locals start to gather. This is amazing because we are in the middle of nowhere. There isn’t a habitable building for miles, and we are at the foot of the mountains. Apparently the locals gather to collect all the brass from the expended rounds which they will turn in for money. With all the .50 caliber rounds that we shot, someone is going to have a good pay day. After spending several hours out at the range we load up and convoy back to Bagram. Going through town I try to watch everybody, but it’s impossible. If an IED is on the side of the road, unless there is a big red arrow pointing at it, there is no way to see it because the streets are lined with garbage. The best sign is that the streets are very crowded with people. They say that if something is going to happen, many times the locals are aware of this and stay off the streets. Still, I am happy when we return to the safety of the air base.
Well that is all for now. I will send another update after I return from the training mission, as I am sure I will have much to talk about. Thanks to all who contributed money to the fund back home at work. It was unnecessary, but very much appreciated. I am going to use the money to purchase a cell phone. One of the merchants at the PX sells cell phones and calling cards for a Pakistani phone company. With it, I will be able to call home without having to wait to use a government phone, so again thanks to all.
I love and miss you all very much. I told myself that it didn’t matter whether I was away at training in the US, or if I was overseas. Gone is gone, regardless of the distance. Well, I was wrong. The miles do matter. Try not to worry too much about me. I am safe and plan on staying that way. I get the most comfort knowing that people are keeping my family in their thoughts. Talk to all of you soon.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
The following is the sixth in a series of letters home from my nephew Keith. I am publishing them so that we may all have a better understanding of the young men and women who are placing themselves in harms way to protect us, and our way of life. They have been following him through his training, and will continue into his deployment. I do so with his permission, and the concurrence of his wife and son.S/SGT Keith is an army veteran and civilian police officer who joined the active reserves after the September 11th attacks. He and ten members of his MP unit have been called up for deployment to Afghanistan to train new Afghani police officers. All eleven are either police or corrections officers. This is the first letter from Afghanistan, describing his transit, arrival and assigned quarters. I am withholding his last name out of courtesy to his family and simply thank him for his service to our country.
Update #6 Aug 08, 2006
Let me start this off by saying that I have arrived in theater safe and sound as I’m sure most of you have already been made aware. It was quite an adventure that took me through several states, several countries, and 6 airplanes; but we made it. Those states included Texas, Maryland and Delaware. Then we proceeded through Germany, Qatar, and finally into Afghanistan.
The best of our stops was in Germany. I really enjoyed being back there, getting to enjoy some of the food, and of course, beer. We spent the night on a small army base not too far from Ramstein Air Force Base; in a warehouse that was set up to handle soldiers who are in transit. On the base was a small Kantina that served all the local favorites, and is owned by a German family. I was surprised at how much of the language I remembered, considering how many years it has been since I was stationed there.
After we left Germany our next stop was in Qatar before we moved onto Afghanistan. We flew to Kandahar Airfield which is in the southern portion of the country. Our intent was to remain there for only a short time while we waited to catch our final flight north to Bagram. While we were waiting our commander and another member of the detachment took the opportunity to meet with some of the people we will be working with down in Kandahar. While they were away our flight schedule changed and we were set to leave a few hours early. Obviously we could not leave two of our people behind, so I volunteered to stay behind and let our commander know what had occurred. Another member of the detachment also stayed behind with me as the rest of the detachment moved north. By the time our commander returned, there were no more flights going north for the night, so we had to remain in Kandahar.
I must say that when we first arrived in Kandahar, and I was walking into the building that acts as the terminal, I walked by a memorial that commemorates all who have fought and died during the war on terrorism; and also those who died on 9/11. When I entered the building that was the last stronghold of the Taliban, I immediately noticed how it had been scarred by war, and not just this war. I’m sure some of them were inflicted during the Russian invasion. I found myself feeling as though I should be quiet and respectful, almost like I was in a museum. After advising our commander of the situation, we were given a tour of the base, which is quite large. This portion of the country is no longer under the command of US forces, but has been turned over to NATO forces. As we toured the base I saw soldiers from countless other countries, and realized the enormity of this operation.
Shortly thereafter, we had some dinner and we were set up in quarters for the night. I was extremely tired. I probably hadn’t slept more than 3 hours at a time for 5 days, and was really looking forward to a good nights rest. Unfortunately, as many Generals have said, plans are fantastic, but the other guy gets a vote also. Well the other guy cast his vote at about 11:00 PM when he started lobbing mortars into the base. I didn’t hear the detonations, but I sure did hear the warning siren. We left our room and made our way to the bunkers until the “all clear” was sounded about 20 minutes later. We returned to our rooms and tried to fall back to sleep, only to have to return to the bunker after only 10 minutes, due to another volley of mortar shells that were inbound. This time we did hear the detonations as one impacted approximately 150 meters away from our bunker. Again, after about 20 minutes, and some return fire from the perimeter element, the “all clear” was sounded and it was back to bed. This is when I found out exactly how tired I was, because I fell asleep almost as my head hit the pillow. I would have thought that I would have lain in bed thinking about what had just happened, but apparently I was too tired to think about anything just then. I guess my body’s vote was to save it for the morning when I’m better rested.
The next day we were able to get 4 seats on an Air Force C-17, which is a large cargo plane, and made the final leg of our journey. We arrived in Bagram and were met by the rest of the detachment. We spent the rest of that day going to some briefings and moving into our new quarters. Now I know in conversation I have stated that I have my own room, but let me explain what I mean by that. I am living in a B Hut, which is basically a wood building that is housing 8 of us. The interior is separated into living areas by ¾ high walls that create some privacy. Everybody ends up with an area that is approximately 8 feet square. In that area I have my bed and a cabinet to hold my uniforms and other items. I went and purchased a rug, a fan, and a small television. We have access to cable television and internet in your individual area for a monthly fee, which I was more than happy to pay. Not sure how the wife feels about that though. I wish they made a television remote so I could change the channels at home all the way from here. I know she misses me doing that.
The next couple of days will include some more briefings, and we will begin on the job training so we can relieve a detachment of soldiers who are nearing the end of their deployment. I am looking forward to getting started as I feel time will pass faster once I am able to get into some sort of routine and start doing my job.
Well, that is all for now. I love and miss all of you and will forward another update when time permits. With internet access in my room it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Talk to all of you soon. Let the countdown begin!
Friday, August 04, 2006
The following is the fifth in a series of letters home from my nephew Keith. I am publishing them so that we may all have a better understanding of the young men and women who are placing themselves in harms way to protect us, and our way of life. They have been following him through his training, and will continue into his deployment. I do so with his permission, and the concurrence of his wife and son.
S/SGT Keith is an army veteran and civilian police officer who joined the active reserves after the September 11th attacks. He and ten members of his MP unit have been called up for deployment to Afghanistan to train new Afghani police officers. All eleven are either police or corrections officers. The unit is presently departing from a base in the Southwest, where they have been training with a Navy unit before shipping out. This letter was written after a 7 day leave to visit home, and prior to the communications blackout period while he transits to his assignment in Afghanistan. There will be a gap in this series during this blackout period, but will continue after he is established at his assigned location. I am withholding his last name out of courtesy to his family and simply thank him for his service to our country.
Hello All, 7/31/06
Well life down here has been somewhat mundane since our return from leave. Part of the reason we were able to get 7 days of leave was because our commander agreed that we would act as assistant instructors at the Detainee Operations training area for a week when we returned. The thinking being that our mission involves a training aspect so we would benefit from the experience. The real reason was that our commander, an E-7 (Sergeant First Class) went over and around a Major to a Colonel to get us the 7 days of leave, so the Major with the bruised ego was trying to get even.
The first day that we went out to the training area we spent a few hours in a classroom, by ourselves, waiting while the soldiers that we were supposed to assist train attended some classes. When it came time to conduct practical exercises, to practice what they had been taught, we were distributed among the trainers to assist with the training tasks. We did this for about 2 hours and then we returned to our private classroom to wait for the afternoon group, and do the same thing. If this is the Major’s idea of “punishment”, I can handle it. The next day we were sent to one of the weapons ranges to assist the instructors with shotgun training. We arrived early in the morning, 0630, and helped set up sun shades over bleachers and the ammunition point. We also removed the shotgun shells from the boxes, just to make it easier to hand them to the soldiers. Then we had to wait for the training company to arrive, which they finally did around 0930. When the range opened for firing we were all assigned an area, I was assigned to the range tower. The range tower is about 30 feet high, and contains a PA system. The person in the tower controls the actions of the firing line, and gives the firing line all of its directions. So I spent the next 3 ½ hours or so up in the tower acting as a second pair of eyes as to what was happening on the firing line. Oh, by the way, did I mention that the tower has air conditioning? I sure hope the Major that made me spend the day out here has air conditioning in his office.
The next day we were scheduled off with our final day to assist with training to be Friday. When Friday rolled around we didn’t have any transportation back out to the Detainee Ops training facility. I called one of the instructors at 0700 to advise him of this. When he got back in touch with me it was about 0900. This instructor, who thought it was silly to have us out there so close to deployment, told me that he would advise his boss at 1200 that he just got the message. One of the benefits, at least in this instance, to being in the middle of the desert is that cell phones don’t always work well. With that, the instructor told us to enjoy the day, and use the time as we saw fit.
The rest of our time here has been spent taking care of some last minute arrangements and getting packed. We are limited in how much gear we can take, so packing becomes very important. Every time you unpack your bags and repack them, there seems to be more room. I’m not sure how that works, but it does. Also, I have already limited myself on the number of bags that I can bring, because one of mine is my guitar. Wonder if I can fit the M-4 rifle in with the guitar? Imagine the look on the face of the TSA worker that opens up that guitar case and finds an M-4 rifle.
Now that all the training and administrative work is done, it is time to move forward. I am anxious and nervous at the same time. I have many questions that I will obviously not get answers to until we arrive in theater. Some of those include; what will living conditions be like? Will I enjoy the duties that I am assigned? How often will I be able to communicate with my family? And on and on and on. The time down here has been long and uncomfortable. Maybe they do that on purpose so you actually look forward to leaving and going overseas. Or am I giving the Army too much credit?
I do not know when I will be able to send out another update. Without getting into specifics, we are set to deploy in the not too distant future, and travel to Afghanistan could take some time. Be assured that when I have the opportunity to send an update out, I will. This communication “blackout” period will be especially difficult for my family, who are used to hearing from me daily. I know that you all will watch out for them while I am not able.
I will talk to all of you soon. As always, thank you for your continued support of me and my family. I love and miss you all.