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Friday, August 18, 2006

LETTERS FROM A SOLDIER #7 - WEEK 1 IN THEATER 

LETTERS FROM A SOLDIER #7 – WEEK 1 IN THEATER

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.

Love
Keith

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