There have been so many things that have happened over the course of the last couple of weeks, but much of it I can’t write about for reasons of OPSEC (Operational Security.) That’s not a lame attempt to make myself sound more important, just a desire not to give away free intel that the enemy can use. Our enemy here is a cross between a Comanche and a teenage hacker. Most of them live in mud-walled khalats and have pretty simple lives, but between the few who are computer literate, the ties with Al-Qaeda, and the Pakistani help that they get, I never know if any information that I relate is going to give some tidbit to them that they don’t already have.
Someday I will tell the story from my viewpoint. I’ve been amazed a few times during this deployment. These past few weeks are a hell of a story. As we say here in Afghanistan, “You can’t make this sh*t up.”
That being said, I move on.
The Fourth of July was, in one sense, just another day in Afghanistan. We did get a brief fireworks show, but it was in the wee small hours of the night and was not put on by the Rozzi family. We joked that we had, in fact, gotten a fireworks show on the Fourth of July, so it had been traditional.
We were in the middle of working with a group of Afghans to train them in basic infantry combat techniques, and we were going to wind up leaving the FOB where we were staying and heading back to Bagram. We commenced our day with movement shortly after the unbelievably early Afghan dawn. The mountains were shrouded in layers of misty fog that gave them a postcard effect that happens on some mornings. It’s really beautiful in an Afghan way. We met with our group of trainees and secured a bunch of equipment and waited for the other part of our convoy to arrive. The temperature was already over 100 by 10:00.
The convoy route was becoming fairly routine, a combination of dirt roads perched on the sides of mountains with hundreds of feet of slope to the bottom and stretches through river valleys full of farms and family dwellings. We passed through the area where the kids always point to their hands as we pass, begging for pencils, pens, and paper. Some readers of this blog have sent comments to me offering to send some supplies, which I have distributed. The children of Afghanistan break my heart. I see my own kids in different circumstances, I suppose. Many of my compatriots do not share my soft spot for the kids, complaining of their begging behavior, but my heart just melts for them.
The other side of the coin is that when kids are around, the convoy is much less likely to be ambushed. The Taliban cannot afford that kind of affront to the local populace.
Some of the guys vociferously argue with me for giving stuff to the kids, exclaiming that it only encourages them. I have, on occasion, handed out pencils or a couple of sheets of paper and then told them, “That’s all I have for you today. It was good to see you. Good bye.” I shake their hands and wave goodbye, and they go. I think it’s just good PR. As a parent, I always take a kindlier view towards people who treat my kids well.
The farms are their usual, well-kept Afghan farms. They don’t look much like American farms. Americans rarely build mud fences, but every Afghan field has one. The guys kid that Afghans can make water run uphill to water their fields. They work very hard to make things grow and feed their families. The entire family works, too. I’ve seen four and five year olds herding the goats out into the countryside in the mornings. I’ve see women carrying enormous bundles of stuff on their heads.
Finally, we rolled into Bagram, the “Circle Dude Ranch.” We have learned that only 7% of the population of Bagram leaves the wire. They call it “the seven of spades.” The rest are called “Fobbits” or “Hesco Monkeys.” Many of them will never leave the wire for their entire tour. It’s a shame that they don’t get to see the Afghans, the labor-intensive farms, the villages, the bazaars with connex-become-shops lined up side by side up the road. They will never see the kids walking back and forth from school with their backpacks filled with books and school supplies that were likely donated by American families. They will never see the women walking in the famous blue burka, like Halloween Trick-or-Treaters dressed as blue ghosts back in the States.
We had our first decent meal in days and then we got a quick brief from the commander on what the next few days looked like and hauled our stuff over to the transient housing area and settled into a plywood “B-Hut” to stay for a few days. After the heat of the FOB, the air conditioning felt like heaven. O and I changed into PT’s (the Physical Fitness Uniform… shorts and a T-shirt with Army on them) and set out for the PX and Green Bean’s Coffee. We were tired of FOBcoffee and O wanted a MOAC (Mother Of All Coffees.) Our brief had included the fact that the Today Show was live from Bagram that day and that there would be a concert by one of O’s favorites. O and I attended… it turned out to be a rock band consisting of members of the 82nd Airborne Division Band. They turned out to be really good.
During the show that evening, there was a slide show on a screen on the left side of the stage. It was a continuous loop of scenes from the States. Part of it was a slide per state and territory with a representative picture and the state or territory flag in the lower left corner of the slide. The representative slide bearing the flag of Ohio was a view of downtown Cincinnati from across the mighty Ohio River. I almost lost my mind. It was so cool to see my hometown!
That was our Fourth of July. It started in the boonies of Afghanistan and wound up in a rock concert in the clamshell at Bagram.
I got a lot of email from friends and family wishing me a happy Fourth of July and saying that they were thinking of me on that day. I thought of them as well, and why I am here in this strange country dealing with Taliban threats, indigenous soldiers who require a lot of patience to work with, and high level leadership that leaves us hanging while they quibble with each other. Suffice it to say that the Fourth was a day to consider what America means to me… and it’s all about those people; my family, my friends, the people that I love. Yeah, the ideals and the flag and all that, too… but it’s really about the people and the places that we care about, know, and love.