Today is June 9th the 271st day since Al-Qaeda terrorists murdered more than 3,000 innocent people when they attacked America and sealed their fate.Quote of the month "Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory there is no survival" - Winston Churchill. I believe Churchill in his later years was berated for being drunk in public by an ugly woman. He then was quoted as saying, "Lady in the morning I will be sober, but you will still be ugly"I hope all is well with everyone back home. I have been busy and have not had the chance to write as often as I would have liked to. I would like to thank those of you who have taken the time to write. It is great to hear what is happening back in the world. Much has happened since I last wrote. I have seen the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, and the CENTCOM Commander General Franks. No I have not seen Elvis or Usama however I spoke very briefly with General Franks who told my guys and me that the army was going use us up until we had no more to give. I guess that means I will be doing the long-tour of Afghanistan. I saw Rumsfeld speak for about 15 minutes. He talked about Afghanistan and the war on terrorism and how the country must be rebuilt so it never provides a safe haven for enemies of the US and the free world. He told us that the Afghanistan is a testing ground for future operations."This is a momentous time," he said. "And you have a momentous mission.""Hoo ah!" the men shouted back. "You have been commissioned by history.""Hoo ah!" "When the war is over, and it will be over, you will be able to say I fought with the coalition forces in Afghanistan." "Hoo ah" I was even interviewed by CNN on my thoughts on Rumsfeld's visit. I don't think they used the tape I have not heard either way.For the past couple of months I have been doing plans and missions here and there. The planning job is very challenging. It involves planning the Civil Military Operations and Humanitarian Aid for Task Force Mountain for over 13,000 US/Coalition soldiers. I am like the guy in the Wizard of Oz behind the scenes trying to make things happen. I am only a captain telling colonels what to do with their units. I try to make them feel like my orders are their ideas. If that does not work I just use the Jedi Knight mind trick on them and that seems to work most of the time. On the off chance the Jedi Knight trick does not work I just send the tasking down as a Frago through the operations sections and they do it anyway. Some times its good to be the king.I am also involved in working with Psychological and Information Operations. I figure with all the experience I had experimenting with psychological operations on my sister I would be a leg up on most people. Below are some examples of messages that we are putting out.Expel the foreign rulers and live in peace. Stop fighting for the Taliban or die!Usama Bin Laden and his foreign henchmen do not want Afghans to live in peace with each other. Afghans need to free themselves of these fanatics.More bad news for the Taliban. Remember how they are promised 72 virgins when they die? Turns out that it's only one 72-year-old virgin. As you know we still have not found Usama but I am sure we will. It turns out he as taken a page from Slick Willy's playbook and does not sleep in the same place twice.I sit outside the land of the misfit toys (my hooch) in Bagram air base on the Shomali plains in north central Afghanistan each night. There are live-firing exercises a mile or so away and the rippling of automatic gunfire, swelling and dying away in the distance, it is as soft and reassuring as far-off waves. I can see helicopters on the airstrip about 70m away the great fat-bellied Chinooks, the squat Blackhawks, the vicious little Apaches. The Chinooks are closest and I can see the moonlight glancing off their huge, drooping 30ft rotor blades. The moon was full one night and it was huge and bright as it hung low in the Afghanistan sky. As I sat and talked to my team about our change of mission that was pending we could see several fat-bellied Chinooks silhouetted against the moon. It was a strange feeling talking with my men about the road ahead and enjoying a nice cigar. As we sat there and witnessed the Chinook pass we said nothing but it was understood that we all missed our friends and families but were glad at the same time here taking part in this operation doing our part in the fight against terrorism.The moon is bright enough to read by and the tents, the helicopters and the old steel stanchions that the Soviets used to mark the minefields cast hard-edged shadows on the dusty ground. Huge C-17 transport planes come in to land. It brings with it the Imperial 18th Airborne Corp. Fresh Meat for the grinder, newbees, or simply FNGs. If you listen closely you can here the storm trooper music from the movie Star Wars as they march conceitedly by pretending that they know what is going on. That could be the subject of my next dispatch from the desert. The sounds of Bagram are unique. The distinctive, familiar and fantastically evocative 'thwop thwop thwop' of the Chinooks, the sounds of ordinance exploding randomly through the day, the sounds of construction as we continue to increase the force protection, the sounds of generators humming, the low murmuring of voices out side the Royal Marines tactical operations center and the sounds of A10 war hogs taking off to do a little hunting. The ordinance exploding is controlled explosions well mostly controlled well sometimes somewhat controlled explosions by the EOD guys. American and Coalition forces in Afghanistan. It means Cheesy Nachos on the Shomali plains. It means sealed packs of beef teriyaki and bags of Hot Tamales chili sweets (The Patriot's Choice) in the mountains above Khost. It means Pop-Tarts and peanut butter in Kabul, Bibles in tactical camouflage covers, a patch work of allied flags proudly flapping in the harsh Afghan wind, the American and Empire State flag fly arrogantly over rows of dusty tents on a heavily mined, deforested, ruined plain that the Soviets fought for bitterly and never really conquered. It means T-Rats and A-Rats and disembodied words over a loudspeaker announcing 'the Large Voice' and QRFs (Quick Reaction Forces), M16s, SARs, 'friendlies' and 'jinglies' and 'bad guys' and the AMF (Afghan Military Forces) 'who are fighting alongside us in our righteous war'. Americans and Coalition forces in Afghanistan mean graffiti on the walls of the Porta-potties although not as good as it was at the APOD in Kabul put here is a small sample:Toilet 7: 'I was Death, Destroyer of Worlds'; 'I have become Bored, Destroyer of Motivation' Toilet 3: 'Though I walk through the valley of death I shall fear no evil, because I am the meanest #@$# in the valley.' Toilet 6: 'MARINE - Muscles Are Required, Intelegance [sic] Not Essential' Toilet 2 (women only): 'I miss my cat.' - (Don't ask it was dark.)One day there was a ceremony to name the main road through the base Disney Drive in memorial to Specialist Jason Disney, 20, who was killed on 13 February (the same day my team and I were flying) in a welding accident. It says his 'dedication, diligence and dogged determination mark him as one of America's finest and is reflective of the warrior spirit and warrior pride'. I have become an expert convoy commander. I have now taken countless trips outside the wire back and forth from Bagram to Kabul. I hold the record on the base for the most breakdowns. I am now up to 10. One of my most recent trips to Kabul I had bunch of newbees from the 18th ABC and two colonels form the Ministry of Defense. My vehicle got a flat tire on the spot. The American colonel in my vehicle ordered me to stop to fix the tire on the spot. I thought to myself about how nice it would be just to leave him on side of the road much like my last vehicle. He was almost smoking as bad as the last vehicle. I figured it would not be a good OER (Office Evaluation Report) bullet comment "Lost one gray van and one very angry colonel while on tour in Afghanistan". I explained to him through clinched teeth that it might be a better course of action to pull off the road into a larger area to set up a perimeter and not be in the way of the jingly trucks that would crush us like a little bug. Once we got to good area to stop in I was able to set up the perimeter only to find out that the jack that they give us was not for the same vehicle. At this point I had a bunch of the locals sounding the wide-eyed newbees, and two very upset MOD colonels who were now running late for a wedding. I thought with all the army training I have been through nothing has been quite like this. I took it all in and thought well it is time to engage my untested interpreter. I did have much of a choice because the few words I know in Dari would be enough only to cause more trouble. I had the interpreter explain to the shopkeeper whose property we were on that we needed a jack. He was able to obtain a jack and we were able to change the tire. At this point I was still debating on leaving the colonel but I was able to get the convoy back on the road to where we had to be. I thought I was done with entertainment for the day. On the way to drop the colonel off we stopped by a tire repair shop to have the flat fixed. I made the shopkeeper give us a quote and he did. We told him we would come back in 30 minutes "En sha Allah" (God Willing). When we came back to pick up the tire life got very interesting. At this point I did not have the Minister of Defense (MOD) colonels or the newbees with me. It was SPC Gajan, my untested interpreter Zia and myself. I told Zia to take care of transaction. The shopkeeper put the tire back on the vehicle and then the fun began. Zia and the shopkeeper started to talk, then each raised their voice, and it ended up with them yelling at each other. This went on for several minutes. People started to gather and I began to day dream about choking the guy who told me that the reserves was one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. In the mean time the shopkeeper started to take the tire off the vehicle and started to let the air out of the tire. I had to put the choking scene out of mind and finally intervened to discover the price went up from the quote that was given to us earlier in the day. The argument was over 10,000 Afghanis or roughly 27 cents. We decided to split the difference and pay the shopkeeper the extra 13 cents. I told him that he was going to be reported to the Better Business Bureau. If any of you folks happened to have summer driving plans in Kabul, Afghanistan, I would stay away from Hamids House of Tires. The land of the misfit toys is the name of my hooch as I mentioned earlier. The name was coined, as it is the only tent in Bagram without electricity or even heat this past winter. It was a transient tent for people passing through the area. It had no floor and would flood with each and every rain. They would routinely make us move the tent around but push came to shove last month. In the middle of the night during an incredible windstorm we had to collapse 2/3s of the tent and move it again. It was so windy that I swore I saw Dorothy, Toto, and the Wicked Witch fly by. It took us hours to make the move. Just before sunrise I could hear vehicles, snickering soldiers, and a strange humming noise that I had not heard before. Once I got out of the hooch I could see what happened. They moved the Radar dish next to us. They surrounded the hooch in barbed wire and put up big signs that said "Caution Radio Frequency Stay Away". This was enough for everyone to move out except Father Bob, SPC Gajan, Psycho Sam, and myself. Even the bugs and rats moved out. Psycho Sam is signal officer who says we "should" be fine and that he kind of likes the radio waves anyhow as they help him hear the voices more clearly. Talking about bugs. Wow! I have never seen bugs like they have here. The bugs are huge, enormous, gargantuan creatures. If I did not know any better I would have thought they filmed Starship Troopers right here in Bagram. I do battle with bugs everyday. I try to make it point to kill as many as I can. It is my gift to the people of Afghanistan. I as explained earlier I have done many trips out side the wire. Each trip begins with a convoy brief. I normally bring a crew served weapon with me. As I have said in my last email in Indian country he with the biggest guns is the boss. My gunner was out of the loop so I had to borrow one from another section. I could see that the solider was talking a big game in front of his buddies prior to us leaving. I thought it might be a good idea to make sure he knew what I expected of him so I focused on what I would expect of him if we came under fire. I made a point to appoint a back up gunner because everyone knows that he would be the second one that the enemy would kill after the convoy commander. I may have over done it I saw the poor kid turn several shades of red and he got very quiet. He got the 1000-mile stare in his eyes. I thought it might be a good idea to talk to him in private before we took off. Once I got the convoy lined up and did my radio checks I went to go talk to him and I noticed that he had moved his sector switch from safety to automatic. I told him to put his weapon back on safe and talked to him and settled him down. As I brought my convoy down the road we traveled through the Shomali Plains passing by the nomadic tribes whose life is no different now then it was 2000 years ago. We passed by people riding camels, shepherds moving their herds, children chancing the animals through the lush plains, people clearing land mines, convoys moving soldiers, and helicopters flying over us. In the distance I could see artillery rounds crashing into the in the impact area at the base of the snowed capped Hindu Kush mountains. I was listening to Lunatic Fringe on the tape player in my vehicle taking all this in when it occurred to me that I am one of the older guys over here. It also occurred to me that my new gunner was only 19 years old. Last year at this time he was at the prom, during the gulf war he was in the second grade, and he was born after Ronald Ragan was president. I took my gunner to ISAF for lunch where we could get a good meal in payment for our journey to Kabul. I had to smile when the gunner told me those damn reservists don't know anything and that the infantry rules. I did not want to ruin the moment for him. I knew that he had his self-confidence back and was enjoying the moment. Well, in any case the rest of the trip was uneventful and ending up with my gunner telling his buddies as they all listened intensely how he saved the world from the bad guys and ate lunch with Coalition forces and special operations guys. My 35th birthday in Kabul was one to remember. I owed one of the SF (Special Forces) guys a favor. He needed me to take his supply sergeant in to the old market area of Kabul near the Blue Mosque to purchase some items for his teams. It seems that one of my extra duties is tour guide and shopping negotiator. I knew where to go so I agreed. Since Dan the SF guy had to be at meeting early in the afternoon it gave me some time to eat out in Kabul for the big 35. We ate the Golden Locust this was an interesting experience to say the least. We pulled up to the restaurant and outside it was typical Afghanistan street life beggars, women in burkas, all kinds of vehicles traveling in various chaotic directions, and your occasional farm animal running down the road. On the inside of the restaurant it was just like being back home. They had MTV playing on the TV, people sitting at tables talking on their cell phones, clean bathrooms, and ice cold coke. I walked into the establishment with my equipment, 9mm on my side, and M16 slung over my shoulder and asked for a seat so my back was against the wall so I could see everything in the restaurant. It was like a scene out of old western movie except the bad guys wear black turbans instead of black hats and use AK-47 instead of a Smith and Wesson. It was very interesting I was watching Brittany Spears jumping around on TV and only a couple minutes prior there were burka clad war widows begging for money on the streets. The lunch was very good and it should be for over 500,000 Afghanis or $14.00 (that was the cost of the three of us). Bagram was actually built by the Soviets as part of a Cold War aid package for Afghanistan three years before they invaded. It was carefully sited at an altitude of 5,800ft in the center of the once fertile Shomali plains 30 miles north of Kabul. The main road from the capital to the north of the country runs past the base before climbing towards the Salang Pass. To the northeast is the mouth of the Panjshir, the beautiful high mountain valley where Ahmed Shah Massoud held out against the Soviets and then the Taliban until his assassination on 9 September last year. To the west is range upon range of dusty, rocky hills. Beyond them, Bamian and Afghanistan's high, desperately poor central plateau. So the 10,000ft long airstrip, which the Soviets built large enough to take both an international passenger jet and their biggest military transporters, has big brown mountains on three sides. Even in June they are snowcapped and, particularly in the evening, very beautiful. Outside the gate of the base, a small market has sprung up. Half a dozen stalls selling carpets, traditional Afghan pakol hats, Soviet military belts, Uzbek vodka and local hashish. They also stock hundreds of pilfered ration packs, crates of maple syrup, giant tubs of Tang fruit-drink mix and boxes of Patriot's Choice Hot Tamales. Most have been robbed from the PX, the military mini-supermarket on the base, or salvaged from the sprawling base rubbish dump. In the evening soldiers will jog with their M16s on Disney Drive, muffled music will drift over the tents, the chow line will shuffle through the dust, the Royal Marines will play football, the soldiers on the gate will be bored, the distant sound of live firing exercises will ripple around the perimeter of the base, the occasional mine will go off with a dull pop, as the sunsets a royal marine will play his bag pipes, Father Bob (my roommate) will read from his Bible, I will look through Benjamin's photo album, we all wonder if this will be the night mortar rounds will rain in and if the clouds clear the moon will gleam off the long, drooping rotor blades of the Chinooks. Then it will be a brand-new morning in Afghanistan, bringing new hope for the people of Afghanistan and justice for the terrorists who now are on the run.'The hunt goes on. The war on terrorism in Afghanistan continues.'
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