The book "Warrior Police" by Gordon Cucullu and Avery Johnson will be published by St. Martin's Press in 2011. This blog contains background notes, informal interviews, and photographs gathered during the Afghanistan research phase of the project... click here for a little more background on this blog, and enjoy!
- Patrol to Sayyed Karam
- War zone tourism: Afghans on the FOB; shopping at ...
- Our Welcome to FOB Lightning
- Blackhawk Ride Over the Hindu Kush
- Almost "Club Med" at FOB Salerno
- Impressions of Bagram
- Bagram Arrival - and Tragedy
- Heading for Bagram, Afghanistan
- Finally Got a Flight Out of Manas
- Arrival in Manas Air Base
- In transit through Germany
- Preparing to Deploy on Embed
- ▼ March (12)
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Our Welcome to FOB Lightning
Minutes after we landed and emerged with full battle rattle from the Blackhawk carrying our rucks, we were met by Staff Sergeant Villalobos who we met in Mannheim, Germany before Christmas. It was great to see a familiar face!
He drove a four-wheeler gator, so we had to keep our ACH (Army Combat Helmet) on during the ride but were permitted to doff IOTV (Improved Operational Tactical Vest), what the Army has replace the IBA with, and ride in comfort.
FOB Lightning in some ways reminded me of FOBs I had been on in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Surrounded by desert not jungle, but with simpler construction and cozier living that one finds on the larger bases. When we entered the 95th MP Battalion TOC (tactical operations center) and saw Command Sergeant Major Henry Stearns we felt like we had come home after a long journey.
We are billeted with the battalion in B-huts that house from 4 to 6 personnel. Plywood dividers offer privacy and security of equipment. It was a great feeling after 10 days in travel, to be able to unpack and stow gear in what will be our home for the next several weeks.
Food here is good and plentiful. The DFAC (stands for “Dining Facility”) serves four meals daily – including a midnight meal for swing shift Soldiers or those returning from outside-the-wire missions. It is also open 24/7 for cold food – sandwiches, snacks and drinks.
The shower facilities are the nicest we’ve seen in country so far and as a very helpful touch include washing machines and dryers. I wasted little time in turning my smelly clothing into something resembling a civilized state.
Like FOB Salerno, Lightning is dark at night, enforcing light security as a preventive for possible Taliban snipers. The first night we have almost a quarter waxing moon, giving it a very exotic appearance.
South of the FOB, perhaps half a mile and three quarters of a mile to the south on two formidable hilltops but clearly visible, are two castles that – according to rumor – may date back more than two thousand years. They sit astride the famous Khowst- Gardez Pass road, a part of the ancient Silk Route that originated in Beijing and terminated on the banks of the Mediterranean Sea. We would love to visit the ruins and hope a chance opens up.
It is becoming clear from mission statements and a briefing we listened to at Salerno, that emphasis has firmly shifted from direct combat (although in places plenty of that still happens) to a population security-centric approach that is General Stanley McCrystal’s strategy for victory.
Soldiers salute and carry out the assigned mission to the best of their abilities. They are loath to criticize or second-guess commanders, so we have encountered the traditional military attitude of focus on getting the task accomplished.
One thing that we hear fairly consistently is that few believe that the magnitude of the mission will be completed within the short time span that President Obama has indicated. A 2011 pullout seems wildly optimistic to Soldiers working daily with Afghanis either in the security forces or the general civilian population.
Most Soldiers think that there is just too much work to be done and that it will be impossible to get to the desired state in such a relatively brief time schedule. When you consider the extraordinarily high illiteracy rate, primitive state of what is essentially an agrarian society, rampant corruption, and deep loyalties to tribe and family, not central government or nation, it does indeed seem to be an overly ambitious schedule.