Monday, August 21, 2006

We're Here!!

We made it. We’re actually here in Afghanistan. The trip was uneventful, safe and fast. We thought for sure that we were going to be held up in a couple of different places waiting for transportation in-country, but everything went really well.

So, within the limitations I have on what I can tell you about; let me tell you about our trip. We left Shelbystan at 0500 on Friday the 19th. Our flight left Gulfport around 1045 or so. We were told that we would be on a plane that would already have 50 passengers and with our 120 or so, we would fill up all but 3 seats. That was not a very pleasant thought. Well, when the plane landed, we discovered that it was a bigger plane than we expected, that there were no passengers on board and that there were 12 first class seats. Just enough for all the LTC and senior NCO’s. I’ve never flown first class before so I was excited. Realize though, that everyone got the same services so there wasn’t any difference there, but the room was great. I could stretch out and not have my knees banging against the seat in front of me. It was great. I can see why people fly first class.

We flew north to Newfoundland where we stopped and refueled. We were able to get off the plane, walk around, and get something to eat. The accent of the locals was fun to listen to. I had just enough time to buy a couple postcards and get them sent. The gift shop actually sells postcards with prepaid postage. What a cool concept. Something we should adopt in the states.

After a brief respite, we were back on the plane heading over the Atlantic to the Emerald Isle. Again, we deplaned and were able to get some more food, not that anyone was hungry, drink a few beers – Guiness was the brand of choice among those who partook, shop in the duty free shop and generally relax. Again, you could buy pre-paid postcards and since I had some more time, bought a few more to send.

After 2 hours or so, it was time to get back on board. There was another plane next to ours full of soldiers heading home. About 30 minutes or so before we got back on, we heard the announcer asking for the last passenger on flight XYZ to please get on board. Our plane left and there’s was still sitting at the gate. We decided that that soldier must have fallen asleep somewhere in the airport and no one could find him.

We then flew into Turkey. We weren’t allowed to get off the plane so just got to look out the window. By that time, I was so tired; I don’t really remember much about the stop.

After that, we flew into one of the “stan” countries, Krygistan or something. I can’t remember. There, we got off our plane and figured that we would have a long wait to get into Afghanistan. To our pleasant surprise, we were told that we would only be there long enough to transfer our cargo, get it prepped for flight and then we would be leaving. While we waited, we spent a few hours in the “clam-shell. (I’ll post pictures to this message later when I can get them off my camera.) I ended up going in the second group that left the country because my name was accidentally left on the flight manifest. At first I was a little upset, but then realized that I’d actually have a few more hours to try and sleep. The only problem with that was, even though it was 2:00 in the morning, my body thought it was 2:00 in the afternoon and wasn’t very sleepy. When we finally got onboard our flight, I was pleased to see that in addition to the jump seats around the walls of the plane, there was also regular airline seating installed for our flight. Since I was the senior officer in this group and the Group Commander, I boarded first to get everything ready so I got the pick of the seats. Of course, I got one with lots of leg room. (Again, I’ll post more pictures once I get them off my camera.)

We then flew to Bagram airbase. Again, we thought, and had been told, that we could spend up to a week there waiting for a flight or convoy down to Camp Phoenix but our pleasant surprise, we were told that we would be leaving within hours. We were excited about that.

That was where the real adventure began. We were told that we would be going in a bus and a couple of 5-ton dump trucks fitted to transport passengers. The 5-tons had Kevlar going about half-way up the wall, but it was open from about mid-sternum to the roof of the vehicle. The bus was not protected in any way.

Before we left Shelbystan, we were told that IED attacks were being increased and that we could possibly encounter them going from Bagram to Kabul. That didn’t make any of us feel very safe. But we didn’t have much of an option. So, we all loaded into the various vehicles and took off.

Aaron, Steve, Slag and several others were in the back of the 5-ton sitting on wooden slat benches. My butt is still sore from that ride. The road was “paved” but it was like riding on a bumpy, dirt road. It was really jarring and rough. But you don’t want to hear about the physical discomfort of the ride so let me tell you about what we saw.

The countryside looked what I imagine Utah Valley must have looked like before the pioneers got there. Mountains were all around this wide open valley. The ground was pretty barren, save for a few bushes here and there.

Leaving the city outside Bagram reminded me of my mission in the Dominican Republic. Thrown together buildings lined the streets with shops selling all sorts of things; fruit, vegetables, candy, soda and various odds and ends. Men, very few women and lots of children lined the streets. Trash was everywhere. The buildings were made from brick, made from the brown dirt that was everywhere, as well as boards, pieces of tin and anything else they could find. We passed a couple of streams and I shuddered to think that the people washed their clothes and may even drink from these bodies of water.

We saw lots of “jingle” trucks. That’s what they’re called here. They’re semis, dump trucks, moving trucks and other large trucks that are painted in these vibrant colors with all kinds of patterns. From the mirrors hang steamers and other decorations. The cabs are intricately decorated with brightly colored material and other hanging things. (Again, pictures will be posted.) It’s the custom here. Anyway, these trucks were hauling all kinds of things, mostly scrap metal that I saw.

Since we were traveling in a convoy, we are trained not to let any vehicles pass us or try to get in between us. That happened on a couple of occasions. When a vehicle tries to do that, we’re supposed to yell at the vehicle, use hand gestures and other signals to let them know not to get too close. A couple of times we had vehicles try to pass us or go around us and our gun trucks had to close in on them, yell and let them know they couldn’t get that close. It was a little surreal to see what we’d been trained on actually happening. I don’t think any of the drivers meant us any harm, they just didn’t want to get stuck behind a convoy that was traveling slower that they would liked to have driven.

As we got out into the countryside, you could see mud/brick walls surrounding very large areas. I wasn’t sure why they created these “courtyards” as I couldn’t see anything inside the courtyard. Later, we saw signs that said that, at least some of them were used as brick manufacturing locations.

We saw several burned out and rusting remnants of Russian troop transport vehicles littering the countryside. It was a very visual reminder of the legacy the Russians had left behind, that and the tens of thousands of mines that still scatter the countryside.

Sheep, camels, a lone rabbit, a donkey and a few dogs were the only real animals we saw. A few shepherds were seen with their sheep.

The little kids were fun to watch. For the most part, they gave us the “thumbs-up” sign and would wave. I saw a couple give us the “thumbs-down” sign, but then most of them smiled after doing so. Most waved. It was cool. We didn’t see too many women, which didn’t surprise me. Some were unveiled and wearing Western style clothing. Others were completely veiled in beautiful blue veils. The men looked exactly as I imagined, based on the photos we had already seen. Most ignored us or simply stared; others waved and appeared to be very friendly. I was somewhat surprised to see a large number of men without facial hair. The fact that men wore facial hair here was so ingrained in us at Shelbystan in our culture classes, that I assumed that everyone would have at least a mustache but that was not the case.

As we arrived at Phoenix, we were met by our advance party. They were excited to see us and we were excited to see them. We got assigned our temporary housing. None of us will be assigned to Camp Phoenix so we’re all thrown into tents. They’re air conditioned though, which is nice. We have a few days with nothing to do which will also be nice. It should give us plenty of time to get acclimated and over the jet lag.

The symbol for Camp Phoenix, is as you might imagine, a phoenix. Under the symbol it says “rising from the ashes.” I really like that considering the fact that Afghanistan is literally rising from the ashes of so many years of war. The Russians devastated the country during their time here, then all the years of the Taliban. It’s sad to see what has happened to this country, but I believe that we well be able to help them recover and over time become a stable, free country.

I can’t give a lot of details about the camp, but it’s pretty nice. Great chow hall. I could gain a lot of weight here but am trying to lose a few pounds before I come home so will have to watch what I eat. A fairly large gym, post office, laundry facility, Post Exchange, phone center, computer lab, showers, etc. are all here for our use. This wouldn’t be a bad place to have to serve. I’m told that the camp where I’ll be at is similarly outfitted.

And on that note, the “Gods of War” are smiling on me. Unless things drastically change, my team will be at the same camp as I am. That means that even though SGT Aaron and I will not be working together, we should be able to see each other almost every day. I’ll be able to see the rest of my team with the same frequency so I’m excited about that.

Actually, the true God in Heaven has been smiling on us. As we left Shelbystan, I thought I would feel a great sense of dread that would only get worse the closer we got to Afghanistan. That didn’t’ happen. When we were told about the conditions of our convoy, I thought I would be terrified, but I wasn’t. Maybe I don’t have any feelings left in me, but I don’t think that’s the case. That’s not to say that I felt nothing. Of course I was nervous, but it wasn’t this debilitating fear that I thought I might have.

As I’ve said in previous postings, the Lord has made it known to me that while this would be a hard deployment in many respects, He was watching over me. I have felt that on so many occasions. So as we were convoying under less that ideal conditions, I wasn’t too worried. Does that make sense? My only hope is that I don’t place so much confidence in that peaceful feeling that I don’t get careless. I hope that never happens.

Anyway, this has gone on pretty long and you’re probably getting bored so I’ll close. Three’s so much more I could say and I’m sure that over time, I’ll get it all said.

I should be getting my own computer issued to me in the next few days so that I’ll have more time to put some thought into these postings. Right now, I’m frantically typing in the computer lab trying to get it all said in less than 30 minutes.

Anyway, things are going well. We’re all safe and sound. And again, thanks for all your prayers.


DeAnna said...

I am so glad to hear that you made it safely. We all know what that peaceful feeling is....Heavenly Father is watching out for you. You have a lot of people here praying for your comfort and safety and well-being. He is in charge.

Please, feel free to put all the details you want in your blog. It is very interesting and you have a way with writing that doesn't make it boring. We are all interested in knowing what you see and experience.

We love you,

Anonymous said...

Hey Jagman,

Sgt Aaron sent me the "unposted" blog entry about the "boring class." It was great! They played that game at my house once and my wife didn't think it too funny.

On a different note, my business partner, Maj Gordon Behunin with the Utah Apache Batallion was in Afganhistan 1 1/2 yrs ago. His group painted the "Title of Liberty" on the side of an Apache. He always felt safe in that particular aircraft.

...5 minutes later...just got off the phone with Gordon. I guess you have spent time together. He says hi! He wishes he was there. Tell Graff & Rawlins (sp?) he says hi. I'm assuming they're in other parts of the country?

Anyway...the family clings to every blog post. Thanks so much.