Dispatch From Downrange March 17, 2012
In The Dark
down. Phones, internet, email, are all down. Communication with family and friends is impossible. Sabotage? The standard network outage we are all used to? Someone trip over a cable? No, this is intentional. This is the way things are here is the Paktika province of Afghanistan. We are at what is known as a ďDarkĒ forward operating base (FOB). That means after a certain hour of the day the phones, no matter whose service you use, goes dead. Why? Well there is a reason; there is always a reason for this sort of thing. The reason here is security. You see the local Afghans, as well as the local Taliban; use the same phone system we do. In fact the cell service is supplied by a local service. Yes local, but still controlled by the International Security Assistance Force or (ISAF) for short. As a matter of security, the cell system is disabled in the evenings. The evenings belong to the ISAF forces. With night vision devices and aircraft that can see in the dark, many operations and movements, even simple convoys, are conducted under cover of darkness where the ISAF forces have an even greater advantage than during the daylight. Operational security (OPSEC) being what it is, the cell service the local bad guys use gets shut down. This makes communication between them as to the movements of the ISAF forces even more difficult than normal and that is a good thing.
The cell phones going down at night is normal. It is something you get very used to. The internet going down is not. We depend on the internet so very much for our daily activities. The net, many times, is the only way to communicate with those back home. Skype, Magic Jack, email chats, Facebook, Twitter, the list goes on and on. We depend on the net to keep us connected and when it is not available, the feeling of being isolated can be overwhelming. This goes for us here in Afghanistan as well as our families and friends at home.
When the communication stops, those at home donít have any idea what happened. All they know is that the emails they are sending that normally get a quick reply go unanswered. Phone calls go to voicemail that is not returned. After a few days of this it is easy for someone that does not know what is going on to imagine the worst. When simple messages asking ďAre you ok?Ē go unanswered, it can be very hard on those at home.
Believe me, we would like to answer but we canít. We donít know what is being sent to us and we also worry about how things are at home.
Right now we have been without internet connectivity for a little over a week. Not long unless you are use to communicating every night. (Obviously this story will go out after the net comes back up.)
So what are the reasons for this isolation? The Military has set a policy that all communication from phones to internet will be curtailed in the case of an incident or a soldier being injured. Iím not talking about a sprained ankle either. This allows the correct authorities to make whatever arrangements and notifications needed without a family member finding out bad and maybe erroneous news through the rumor mill. All a family needs to hear is "Iím so sorry this or that happenedĒ when they hadnít been notified yet.
Where my hooch is, the helicopters fly directly over the top of the little building. The walls shake and everything is the room vibrates from the concussion of the rotor wash. This week there have been a lot of Medevac Blackhawks coming and going. That in of itself is not big deal at all. The Medevac Helos are stationed here and they fly every day for training. When that is the mission they land at their staging area. The Blackhawks come in by twos and sort of hang in the air. They slowly fly over the runway like they were a normal plane and follow each other to their landing pad. The Blackhawks coming in this week have been on a different mission. They come in hot and fast. One comes in and instead of flying slowly down the runway, they bank sharply and head to the helipad at the hospital up on the hill about 200 yards from where I stay. One comes in and sets down without delay as the second, they always travel in pairs, hovers and waits for the first Blackhawk to lift off and free the landing site. Then it swoops in and in a very short time both Blackhawks, clearly marked with a red cross on them, fly off in the direction they came from. These pilots are some of the best. It makes no difference about the weather, or anything else. If called, they go. I can tell you we all are thankful for the Medevac flights. I know if I need them or even if my partner Jack (my dog) needs them they will be there. I also know we hate to see them land there on that hill. We all know there is only one reason and that is to bring someone in that needs help.
We seldom hear exactly what happened or how bad it was but when the Internet and phones are turned off shortly after the delivery of the Medevacís precious cargo, we know.
We here in this dusty spot in Afghanistan are thankful for the Medevac pilots and crews. We are thankful for the jobs they do. We are all so sorry they have to do it.
From out here in the dark in Afghanistan
This has been another Dispatch from Downrange.