NOTE: Ken included several pictures with his update. Once again though, blogger is not uploaidng them properly. I'll try to come back later and upload them. Sorry
I've been in a creative slump lately. I've actually sat down to write a couple of different entries and have not felt inspired. "So what" you say? Why do I need to be inspired to write? Because I'm an artiste! (Isn't that how the French would spell it Braxton?) Since I'm so famous now (see how many hits I've had on my blog page since Aaron put the counter on for me last week and compare that to the whipmy numbers my competitors have!) I have to ensure that quality product is posted to this page. So, since I don't have any quality product at this time, I'm having to borrow from others (I actually wrote "lesser mortals" but since I want Ken to keep sending me his update, I changed the word). Ken writes a weekly update and has graciously included me on his mailing list. I especially enjoyed this one as I could hear him telling these stories. So, until my creative juices are flowing again, here's my "guest writer," LTC Ken Mundt...
I can’t believe it has been two weeks since my last update. The time is going very fast and every time I look up another couple of weeks has passed. The SOS candy and jerky has started coming in. We are handing it out to kids and they are appreciating it very much. The soldiers are also appreciating the jerky. It is nice to have a good supply here at Blackhorse as going to the store is no easy project. It involves putting together a convoy of armored Hummers. Basically you have to ask yourself if you are willing to risk your life for shampoo.
We are now in the middle of Eid, the three day holiday at the end of Ramazan. Eid is like Christmas, New Years and your birthday all rolled into one. Ramazan is grueling for the Islamic world. They can’t eat, drink or smoke until sundown each day. They can’t go to sleep until after 2200 and are up for prayers at 0300. They eat breakfast at about 0400 and don’t even get a drink of water after that until the sun goes down. Needless to say, the Afghans as a whole were very grumpy for about a month, especially the smokers. To be polite, we didn’t eat drink or smoke in front of them during Ramazan.
I know there are some of you out there that are saying “Ramazan? What the hell is that? Does he mean RAMADAN?” I asked Zubair about this. Why do some people call it Ramadan and some Ramazan? He looked at me like I was insane (the same look he gave me when he found out that Americans don’t marry their cousins) and told me that no one in the Islamic world calls it Ramadan and he has no idea why we would think there is a “d” in the word. I think he muttered something about “crazy ass white men” under his breath.
When Eid comes everyone feasts, exchanges presents and visits friends and family. The first day of Eid was Monday so Eid was officially Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. President Karzai gave the country Thursday off and Friday is a normal low optempo day so this is a nice series of days to get rested and maintain some equipment.
Monday morning most of the team had gone to Jalalabad on a special mission and the only ones left behind were me, Fairbourn and Anderson. We went to the BDE area and handed out some Eid gifts. We gave the soldiers candy and toys to take to their kids and brothers and sisters. The soldiers were very happy to get this stuff. We gave the magic tricks that came from Business Bank to the soldiers so the terps could translate the instructions and the soldiers could help their kids learn the tricks. We also gave out the remainder of MAJ Hubberts stuffed animals. It was funny to see these guys hugging a stuffed sloth in one arm and an AK-47 in the other. The magic tricks were a big hit and I’m not sure how many of them will actually make it to the kids as the ANA were fascinated with them.
The big thing that has happened since my last update is the addition of a mission for the 2nd BDE in a couple of provinces south of Kabul, Wardak and Logar. So now we are traveling all over the Corps Area of Responsibility (AOR). When we got here we assumed, because we had no fighting units in 2nd BDE, that we would not travel much. Instead we travel more than anyone but the Security Forces (SECFOR) and it is there job to travel. We are getting so good at convoys we are starting to be asked to do SECFOR missions. This means we are getting a reputation for traveling safely, not a small thing in this war.
I attribute this to a couple of factors. First, we take convoys seriously and we prepare carefully. We train constantly and make sure all of our equipment is 100% before we move. We also make sure everyone is in a position for which they are trained. We have taken our crew served and individual weapons out on the ranges and fired them and learned how they work on the top of a Hummer. Another and more important factor is the prayers of all of you. Steve Esplin says we travel in a “God Bubble” and you can’t argue with that. We travel roads that are attacked on a regular basis and have yet to see anything even remotely like action.
We say “every day is Monday” here because there are no weekends and you tend to do the same things every day. Now don’t get me wrong, working with the ANA brings some sort of new insanity every day, but the days tend to run together and the weirdness is very hard to explain unless you are here. As a result we tend to focus on the convoys because they are different and much more exciting. Blackhorse is about the size of the Bonanza Football field and you go a little crazy after a while. The convoys let us see quite a bit of the country, plus they are exciting because there is always the chance of getting shot at. Having said all that, the centerpiece of the last two weeks for me was a convoy to a place called Camp HFS.
Camp HFS is a remote outpost in the Logar Province. It is about a 5 ½ hour drive from Blackhorse. Much of the road is paved and one of the nicer roads I have seen in Afghanistan. The paved road is about 85 KM with the dirt road portion being about 30 KM. The paved portion takes 3 hours and the dirt 2 ½ hours. The dirt road was about as bad a road as I have seen in Afghanistan. If you want to know what the HFS stands for in Camp HFS you will have to email me separately and provide proof you are over 21 years old.
For some insane reason I decided I should be the gunner on this long old trip. We started out at 0530 (that is 5:30 in the morning for the civilians) and it was cold. We hooked up with the marines and some of the 1st BDE guys. It ended up being an eight Hummer and 12 ANA Ford Ranger convoy. We had Mark 19s (automatic grenade launcher), 240B machine guns and .50 cal machine guns. The ANA had machine guns and recoilless rifles, all in all, quite a bit of fire power. I was in the fourth vehicle so there was plenty of dust for me.
We drove through Kabul and a couple of other cities. It was nice being able to see the bazaars and people going about their business. Some of the most interesting were the butcher shops where the product was walking in and ended up on a hook. If you want to make sure your meat is fresh, shop in Kabul. Just before we got to Logar we came upon a huge hole in the road (see the attached picture). It was the result of an IED that had been placed in a culvert. It was supposedly meant for us but had exploded early. The ANA thought it was because water had started flowing through the culvert.
We stopped in Logar for a rest stop which consisted of gassing up and peeing on a wall. Then we were off to HFS. We soon turned off on the dirt road and started going through villages made exclusively of mud. There was a river flowing through the valley and so there was quite a bit of agriculture. It was nice to see some green in the middle of the desert. We started up into the mountains and were soon on a road just wide enough to drive a Hummer on and with gnarly switchbacks with sheer drop-offs. MAJ Hubbert and Zubair were ready to grab my legs and pull me down into the Hummer if MAJ Jonas rolled it. I figured this might be where Camp HFS got its name because all of us were saying HFS during most of this part of the trip.
When we finally got out of the switchbacks we were back in the midst of a bunch of villages. All the women were out washing all their rugs and clothes in preparation for Eid. The washing machine consisted of an irrigation ditch full of water and a big stick. The women were basically beating the heck out of the wash and then spreading it over bushes to dry. This was all well and good except for two things; first, the water contained a significant portion of raw sewage from the village and second, the bushes were right next to the road so we were throwing a huge amount of dust on them. No one seemed to worry about this so neither did we. When I got back to Blackhorse I did check the washing instructions on the rug I bought at the bazaar and sure enough, the tag said “take down to the river and beat with a stick, dry on nearest bush”.
We had to stop in two villages while the ANA generals talked to the local elders. These were not scheduled stops and none of the Coalition guys (I have to say coalition because we had a French Colonel with us) could not figure out what was going on. It turns out the two villages were at war and wanted our help to kill everyone in the other village.
We finally got to HFS took one look and said “HFS, is this it?”. I have enclosed a picture. We toured the camp and looked at the tree line where the Taliban hangs out with their mortars and rockets. HFS takes fire from the villages on a regular basis. The genius that built the place put the latrines outside the walls so every time you have to do your business you have to worry about incoming fire. The latrines are built over a dry gully so that they didn’t have to dig holes. HFS was one of the nastiest places I have ever seen. No running water, no electricity, no showers, no phones, no nothing.
We finally left and started back for Blackhorse. By that time my entire body hurt from being bounced around in the turret. My feet hurt and the machine gun had been jammed into my gut about 20 times. The body armor absorbed most of the beating but I was still sore. I was very happy to see the paved road. We had just blown most of the dust off of the Hummer when we made another unscheduled turn onto yet another nasty dirt road.
By this time we were getting low on fuel and tired. The ANA were very grumpy because of Ramazan. The roads were narrow as usual with streams of raw sewage flowing from the houses. I got a good picture of this that I have attached. As we were driving through yet another village that was not on our map we saw a road that went up into the hills and appeared to lead to absolutely nowhere. MAJ Hubbert joked about that being our road but that couldn’t be true because……. Sure enough, it was our road.
We finally got to a school out in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea where the kids came from but there were hundreds of them. Luckily we had candy with us and MAJ Hubbert had some stuffed animals. We were able to get all the kids some candy or a toy and they were very happy. SGM Hansen made sure some of the smaller kids got toys by handing them to their parents. We finally left and started on our way to Blackhorse (again). We hit the paved road (again) and blew off some of the dust. At this point the sun was going down and we were back in civilization (at least as civilized as you get in Afghanistan).
As soon as the sun went down the ANA stopped at the nearest bazaar and were buying food and water as fast as they could. This pretty much stopped the whole convoy dead in its tracks in a heavily populated area. You never want to stop moving and especially not in the middle of a crowd. We finally left the ANA there and moved on. By now it was dark and my goggles were so dusty I couldn’t see. I tried wiping them off but they were dusty on the inside too. I took them off to try and clean them which is when the bug hit me in the eye. By the time we got back to Blackhorse I had bugs in my mouth, nose and eyes. I didn’t get any in my ears because I was wearing my radio headset.
We were all glad to see Blackhorse. It is getting to be more like home and we are all thankful to be here. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. All of you who are sending care packages, thank you, they are much appreciated.
One more thing before I end this incredibly long update, several of my team mates have started blogs. Their sites are as follows:
Andy Hubbert http://www.afghantigger.blogspot.com/
Steve Esplin http://www.skesplin.blogspot.com/
Bob Church http://www.jagman-tfphoenix.blogspot.com/