Dispatch From Downrange

Hey!  Remember Us?

This is the normal bunker. Basically a few short t-walls setup in a rectangle with a way in and out.  These are about 5 feet tall so you have to stoop inside.  They are suppose to protect the occupants but we didn't have a lot of faith in them.  Other issue is, if you were a dog handler you were not suppose to bring your dog.  The thinking was, if something went bad and people inside were hurt, the dog would not allow medics inside.  That was the rule-- we ALL disregarded that one. Most of the time by the time the alarm went off the attack was over.  After the first couple of weeks, the rockets were so frequent that we just stopped going to the bunkers.  We figured if you got hit-- well-- you wouldn't really have to worry too much after that.




Sometimes it seems the public back home doesnít think about those serving very much.   The war in Afghanistan has stretched on for over a decade.  It has become our longest war and the end is not really in sight.  Yes, I know the timeline for the drawdown.  The timeframe is the end of 2014, and we will be finished with combat operations.  Support functions will continue. It is simply a name change to shift a combat operation into a support role.  Do I have any insider information?  No, but, I am not naive enough to think that in December 2014 we will be done.  Did you know the US has signed an agreement that will insure US military presence in Afghanistan for at least another ten years? The level of troops that will remain is said to be between 25 to 30 thousand. Who are these 25 to 30 thousand people?  They are your sons and daughters. They are your parents, your grandchildren and they all volunteered to do it.  Did you know that less than 2% of the US population serves in the military?  Less than 2% raise their hands and say when asked by a sometimes-forgetful nation, ďHere I am, Send me.Ē

Yes this has been a long war.  It has not been a flashy ďShock and AweĒ war.  Faceless enemies who choose mainly to fight remotely fight this battle in Afghanistan.  They would rather plant a roadside bomb that will kill anyone that comes along, soldiers and civilians alike. In a face-to-face fight, they do not prevail.  In fact, no enemy that chooses to fight the US face to face prevails.  In that type of a fight, there are none better than our folks.

This war is costly.  On average, we lose one soldier a day over here. In past wars much larger numbers were lost and those loses were seldom even mentioned.  Think of the battle in the Vietnam War where many soldiers were lost.  That didnít make the news.  Now, unless you happen to be watching Armed Forces TV, the losses here are not normally even mentioned.  Iíve written before about the ďFallen HeroĒ ceremonies that Iíve attended. They are pretty regular here.   I know every time the Medevac helos come in something went bad somewhere. They do a great job and risk everything to save a life.

Over here, there are all types.  There are Reservists, Active Duty, National Guard, and Civilians all serving.  All raised their hand. I know some may say itís just a job, but how many jobs include leaving home, family, friends, contending with heat, cold, bombs, gunfights, and a population that you canít understand and normally donít trust?  Just think about working in an environment where your security personnel are all armed and from one moment to the next, you are not sure whose side they are on.  That type of necessary situational awareness (SA in army speak) wears on the nerves after a while. 

Very soon, the press and the public will put this war on the shelf. After all, we are ending combat operations right?  As we draw-down, fewer and fewer soldiers will be here to staff the bases and to conduct all the missions that are part of that draw-down.  For those of us here during the reduction of US force size, the situation will be much more dangerous than it is now.  Before where a platoon of 30 or 40 US soldiers went out on patrol with the Afghans, the US numbers will be very few.  This will, in my opinion as well as others that study this stuff, be a very volatile and as far as the enemy goes, a very active time.  In fact that may have already started.

I was searching the mail facility with my dog, Jack, yesterday when I heard a buzzing sound and then the very loud crack of an explosion.  The rocket went overhead and impacted close enough for me to feel the concussion and shake things all around where I was. OPSEC precludes mentioning where it hit but I was a lot closer than I wanted to be.  What I want to get across is this.  Donít forget about the people serving over here.  Thank them when you see them. Think about the sacrifices they make.  As you worry about your schedule or who is going to take the kids to football practice, or whatís on TV tonight, remember we are concerned with our own little things.  Things like where the closest bunker is for incoming attacks, where the extra ammo is, where all our people are when something does go south. Our problems are just a little different, thatís all.

Yes, problems here are exasperated by the location and the way things are.  One example was the company truck.  I have a SUV assigned to me and it lost a lower front ball joint a month ago.  It has been sitting on the side of the road until today.  It took a month to get the Afghan mechanic to come fix it.  Holy month of Ramadan you know.  That ended for us with the rocket attack I mentioned earlier.  The first mechanic they sent was 12 years old.  He did not even get on the FOB.  The next guy came with a crescent wrench and a hammer.  I was amazed to watch this guy replace the lower ball joint on this truck while sitting on the ground in the rocks.  It took him a month to show up and less than an hour to fix it. He had brought the part with him and the truck was quickly back in operation.  Iím still shaking my head over that one.

On a happier note, Iíll be coming home in September for annual leave.  During that time the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce has arranged a presentation of a couple special things I have brought with me. Iíll be presenting them to Gonzales at a Commissionerís court meeting I believe.  Then, after reacquainting myself with my family and getting my Mexican food fix at Mr. Taco, Iíll be once again heading back to the place we call the Armpit of the World. You know it as Afghanistan.

Keeping one eye on the door to the bunker and one eye to the sky, Iím Jon Harris

And this has been a Dispatch from Downrange.