Friday, January 8, 2010

Happy New Years! ... I nearly forgot.

Happy New Year's dear readers! 2010 is here and so am I, in Afghanistan. It turns out that 365 days is long time. But it does feel good to be 8+ months down, with my 15 days of leave still coming, I have less than 4 months left in country!
We were really busy in December and January...flying tons, I logged over 40 hours of flying just in December and another 40+ in January. Our little Detachment of 4 guys flew more missions, carried more cargo to the fight and more soldiers to secure the country than the wing of 30+ advisors in Khandahar. Weird.... so the equation goes like this... 'more Air Farce dorks = less accomplished' vs. 'very few Air Farce geeks = tons of REAL work accomplished' ... hhmmmmm. But I guess we didn't produce as many powerpoint slides and have as many meetings about the meetings for that meeting and we don't have more meeting to tell each other what great things we've accomplished...without actually talking with and getting to the Afghans. It's strange what happens when you don't worry about making powerpoint slides, making sure that everyone wears the right patches, and taking credit for work other people do.... things actually GET DONE.

We got to fly a carcass (dead guy) to his village.... being Muslim, they have to be buried with in 48 hours or something or they don't get all the virgins, only a couple and it's fat ones. Anyway, we had this dead guy to fly to Chaqcharan. The base there is Lithuanian... so we took one of our Lithuanian friends. He is a giant like the rest of them. We also took Newjack the ONLY Dutch guy in Herat. Anyway, we flew up this HUGE river valley to the town of Chaqcharan. It's a nice little place, 7500 feet and a tad cold! That's the Lithuanian commando with the gun and Newjack (his real name is Ron or something), me and Mai Tai.

This minaret is really really old... and maybe muslim maybe not. It's in the bottom of this incredibly deep and rugged canyon. It is part of Afghanistan's crazy history... the Minaret of Jam...which has saved it from being blown up by those wonderful purveyors of peace and killers of women and little kids, the Taliban. We kinda don't call them that anymore, we have new name for them. I'll tell you later. Good job Mai Tai takin this picture!

We had a great Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day and New Years. I will never forget them! Christmas Eve dinner was spaghetti, smoked turkey (which was incredible) and all the lobster you could eat! Our Italians friends and the was awesome! These 3 guys in the pictures... are the best!

Christmas day dinner was with civilian contract cargo carriers. Their company is contracted to fly cargo and supplies around Afghanistan. The Italians and Spanish don't have enough helicopters in this area to meet the needs of the troops. So these civilian pilots fly an old Mi-8, all alone and unafraid to the same places we do. The same places we go but escorted by gunships. These guys are from all over... Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the Ukraine. Our Lithuanian giants hang out and speak Russian with them. They invited us over along with Newjack the only Dutch guy in Herat. It was pretty international...and amazing, former Eastern block commie countries, that weren't able to celebrate not that long ago. And it's pretty neat that this time of year, world over people gather together sharing food and time with each doesn't matter where you come from.

The best part about Christmas day dinner, was the phone call I received...from our squadron commander. All he said was, 'Merry Christmas, do you have a camera?'. I said 'yes' and he said 'give the phone to Mai Tai and take a picture'. It turns out that Mai Tai was step promoted to Master Sergeant on Christmas day! That is a very big deal! Then I had to make a satellite phone call to the United States to a General in Las Vegas, where Mai Tai is the General could congratulate him.

The Lithuanians were excited for him too!

We really like the Lithuanians. They shared a documentary movie with us about the Soviet/Communist invasion of their country. If you ever doubted the evil of communist totalitarian governments you've chosen to be ignorant and blind.

New Year's was really cool. We had dinner with the Italians, went to the New Year's countdown with the Spanish, and finished our evening with the Lithuanians. This is a Spanish tent, each squadron or unit has one...and the Americans have or allow, oh yeah, NOTHING LIKE THIS. And yet, it's so weird that the Spanish and Italians have better morale, better esprit de corp, ... and we have tv commercials on the Armed Forces network about getting help for suicide and getting counseling when you get home.

Back to the mission! We flew, and flew and flew some more missions. The majority of the missions were to Bala Morghab. There are lots of bad guys so that means we get to fly with the Italians! That's always a good time!

Thank you my friends, for keeping us safe.

If you remember, I told you about a really awesome US Army loser that shot a dog at Bala Morghab that belonged to an Italian. They adopted a new one, he doesn't mind helicopters.

The one thing our Italian friends couldn't keep us safe from was weather...we did run into some cumulo-granite. We tried to get home but ran into this...

They way home was behind those clouds, covering the mountains...we made a run at it and barely made it back to Qali Now.

The sunset was nice... we ended up losing to weather twice, but the sunsets were scenic, and the Spanish took good care of us! Another funny thing I've noticed, when we get stuck on a Spanish base, they have blankets and sheets for wayward crews....Americans don't take care of their own. GO ARMY! or is it Army of One ...or Army Strong? Maybe Army sucks?...Anyway, the Spanish were good hosts, they have a pretty cool place.

Okay, it might have happened more than once. We also got stuck there when we ran out of daylight and couldn't make it home. The Afghans have never flown in the dark. So me, Mai Tai and a Marine named Screech got stuck again. It was cool though. That sunset was awesome too.

The whole sky was pink, eerily pink. It was smoke from the village and the setting sun. The next morning was hazy too....

This was all fog. This is a Spanish soldier shrouded in the fog , she guards the air field, the runway is actually the main street through town.

The weather cleared and we made it home...both times. These last two months have gone fast because we've been so busy. The three Afghan pilots here have come a long way. I'm proud of them. They are considered part of the Coalition. These guys stand shoulder to shoulder with the other nations fighting the darkness. Darkness is what the Afghan Colonel that I advise calls the Taliban time. My interpreter calls it the same dark times as well. They are completely disgusted with the idiotic US notion that the some Talib leaders should be engaged and brought into the government and made legitimate. They told me they will always know what these Talib leaders have done and the thousands who have lost their heads at the hands of these followers of the religion of peace. It is, in fact undermining US credibility with real Afghans.

The two greatest helicopters ever built!

I will never tire of the scenery. The rugged beauty of the landscape and the people are truly unforgettable.

The hills between Qali Now and Bala Morghab are blanketed in vivid green. I didn't expect that! Later in the spring the hills will be covered in red flowers. These picture are in response to the commonly asked question, is it a hot desert over there? Hope they speak for themselves!

Those are camels grazing above and sheep in the picture below.

My time here is winding down. Oh,yeah the purveyors of peace, the enlightened little girl killers, the Taliban... we call them just plan shitheads... please forgive the language...sorry mom! I miss my home, my family and friends. And I will miss this place and these people, they have touched my life. It will indeed be bittersweet to leave this land and to leave special friends behind, to an uncertain and difficult future.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Nativity and the 'Stache

I have neglected my bloggerly obligations, my apologies to those that get bored enough to read these nonsensical ramblings. Since the last update that had the Afghan Air Corp flying a few 'first evers' for them, we've flown some more rewarding missions, had some good times and some very frustrating times.

We have been flying quite a bit with our Italian friends. They have continued to fly with us...even when our radios don't work right, we can't use the briefed radio frequencies, or when we take too long on the ground unloading while they cover us.
They've flown some interesting cargo this connex, an hour and half flight dragging a big metal box!

The Italians bring midgets to hook the load up, no one else in their right mind would climb on metal box and hook it up under a 50,000lb helicopter hovering a few feet over their heads...except carnies. Look at 'em....little people!!!

The gunship drivers have mascot that flies with them....Jacko. His job is to wave at the bad guys as they catch 20 mm high explosive rounds in the chest. Just kidding! It's the carcass of Pinocchio....or it might be Achmed the Dead Terrorist, they keeeled heem.

Speaking of carnies...this place took a minute to wrap my head around...that's a ferris wheel at the Herat amusement park. There are slides, bumper boats, more slides, fountains, cotton candy and hot dogs on a stick. Okay...I don't know about the last two, but I'm pretty sure they don't have pork rinds there.
Needless to was closed down during the Taliban fun, joy, laughter, giggling, girls learning to read and write, were all banned.... if not blown up.

And speaking of mascots, this old guy is pretty laid back. He lives at Qali Now and wanders around greeting aircrews as they land, then takes a nap next to their helicopters. The Spanish have quit shooing him away as he seems to have learned how to stay out of the way of the running aircraft. He likes his ears scratched. I think he cruises around looking for food and scratching. The guys around the airport seem to like him.

It's nice to see him looked after...the Italians in Bala Morghab had a mascot dog that a US Army major shot and killed. The dog lived inside the camp, was loved and taken care of... that's 'Army Strong!' I've learned a little about the Army, like that they don't feel like they need to talk on the same radio freqs the rest of us do. They are too cool to use the same freqs going in and out of a HIGHLY congested Landing Zone. And they don't care about helicopter routes for us all to that we don't hit each other. They say 'we know were we are, why would we care where anyone else is?' They are the coolest guys they know. Army Strong! or is it Army of One?
By the way, the Italian who had adopted the dog...he went and found the US Army guy...and told him how he felt, without using words.

We had some good friends with the Marine Special Forces, and their buddies up there in Bala Morghab, are in desperate need of winter supplies for shelter. They tried getting the Italians to bring up some lumber...but the wood got bumped for beer.
Seems like a tough call, but... if the Marines could drink, they probably would have agreed...BRING THE BEER! So we dropped by Home Depot after spending a few hours at the amusement park, and picked up some lumber!

We also picked up some supplies to for them to make the walls around their camp...and figured out how to load those heavy suckers! These sections of barriers, called HESCO barriers, weigh about 660 lbs a piece!

And take a long look at this...the friggin' pilot unloading cargo. Are you kidding me?! We're not supposed to get this dirty! No problem though...'cept I'm pretty sure I just bulged a few more discs in my back! No problem...I'll just see the chiropractor, sometime in May.

Then there was Afghan cargo...I don't even know what these things were, rusty metal barrels with holes. We think they were some kind of heater or oven. Either way, they look TOTALLY safe for your tent!

And while that was super safe...this one, this one totally blew my mind. We were flying home to Herat one day and near the river we flew over this...that is a real live motocross track.

Yep...that's the site of the Herat Outdoor National Motocross. Host to Round 2 of the Afghan National MX Series. This ranks as one of the top 2 coolest things I've seen in Afghanistan. I'm not sure what I've seen that's cooler...but I'm leaving the door open by calling one of two.

As awesome as the MX track was, this next one is maybe the number one least top two! It is the season and even here, in Afghanistan there are signs of this special time of year. The Italians set up a Nativity in the main plaza. How could they be SO insensitive and disrespectful to all the Christmas haters?! Wait until the ACLU finds out, maybe they can represent the Taliban purveyors of the religion of peace in class action suit?
It warms my heart and make me smile every time I walk by and you can tell there is a touch of joy in the air around here. It also makes me sad that I have to come to Afghanistan, in the middle of a war, to see this on a military base. The Italians don't mind offending atheists. So it occurs to me to we fight to defend the freedom of speech or the the freedom from being 'offended' by scenes from a Jewish stable? Freedom from symbols of faith? Faith in a higher Being that so loves the world so much he sent His son?

So to the Italians and Spanish, thanks for remembering why this time of year is special and thanks for taking care of my little group American Airman.

And thanks to these guys, that have kept us safe so many times this year. This is the face of a fierce and relentless warrior...That's right they too know the secret power of the mustache! Merry Christmas and thank you all of you that love us, pray for us, send us packages and keep us safe when we fly into harm's way!


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


By now you've most likely read or heard about the second round of elections....the run off election. The law says the winner must have 50% of the total vote. Even with all the precincts that had more votes for Karzai than people living there (I think ACORN got here before us), Karzai still didn't have 50% of the total vote count. There were like 20 candidates. Most UN election folks here didn't think the run off was going to chang the eventual out come was to help eliminate corruption concerns, I know it sure made me feel better!

So onward we pressed! We delivered ballots out to the first two precincts on our schedule. Even after Abdullah Abdullah... uh...Abdullah Abdullah Abdullah there might another Abdullah in there not sure, had said he didn't want to play in the election anymore. Despite the challenger withdrawing...again, some felt it would legitimize Karzai's election, we were going to have an election! Whatever, it's not my job to make it make sense, we just delivered the ballots. It did take some convincing to get the Afghans to actually fly the ballots out for an election that was already decided. They thought it was silly....

And then, THEY (capital they, the UN election people) said....go pick them back up! WHAAAAT? I thought it would be better idea to just leave them out and let the Afghans burn them for heat in the winter? we went!
Uh....with a few hickups along the way...

Like a little weather...we were looking for sucker holes to get down the back side of these mountains....and by 'we' I mean me and him...two suckers.

Yep, they actually let us fly together in the same place...we were told that would never happen. Something about international incidents...with Iran so close and all. Oh well, instead we just did a couple of the most 'important' missions that Afghan Air Corp has done to date. And that was before we even picked up those ballots!

We did some cool sh......stuff. Like supported a bunch of 82nd Airborne troops with food and water (even though their Colonel TOTALLY CUT US OFF ON APPROACH!). We moved some critical stuff to some soldiers stuck in house fighting bad guys...we landed in the garden. Our escorts said we were getting shot at...and the big man had to have talk with his Afghan pilot has the Afghan took off, leaving us in the garden still unloading. It went like this "You NEVER...leave your wingman". So while they were 'discussing' coming back for us, the Mangustas were almost out of gas...and someone was shooting. NO problem!
...and yes, our wingman did come back for us...he wanted to make sure that was clear as I left that a little bit unclear!

And along with the water and food...we moved some Afghan Commandos. They broke into the food in my helicopter, hiding in the back they stole some Army food and ate it...guess they were tired of rice and unrecognizable chunks of chopped up lamb. We also moved a lot of US Army 82nd Airborne troops, infact the largest troop movement in RC-West history. We worked with US Army, Spanish and Italian aviation...the Afghan Air Corp did some good work in the first few weeks of November.

We flew a lot with the Italians and got some pictures of both Mi-17's for the first time...Task Force Fenice' flew Mangusta gunships, CH-47 Chinook's and AB-412 Griffon's with us. The Mangustas took very good care of when they reported that we were taking fire, they were out of gas but stayed overhead to keep us safe. They barely made it back for gas! (and that same Army colonel said...'do me a favor, don't listen to the Italians)

My guys with the Mangusta...everyone wants to take their picture with the Mangusta.

November was a month of 'Firsts' for the Afghan Air Corp...we did the first FARP, which stands for Forward Area Refuel Pit...or something. Some Army word. Which by the way, reminds me, a lot of what we were doing was direct support for an Army operation to recover two soldiers that were lost in Bala Morghab. They fell into a river while trying to recover air dropped supplies and were swept away and drowned. Pray for their families. One body was recovered and one is still missing.

This FARP was pretty cool, we hauled Italian fuel, yes, it's a little more stylish than regular fuel. But anyway, Qali Now, the usual fuel stop, was critically low on gas (the Army used it all up) and the Italians had a mission to fly to the Castle. They asked if we could haul their we did. Two big rubber beach ball looking things full of Italian jet fuel. At Qali Now, we pumped the fuel into a Spanish fuel truck which pumped it into the thirsty Italian helicopter. Totally international!

And another 'first'...a pilot refueling the helicopter...I had no idea what I was doing.

Then this one...kite string removal from the tail rotor. That wasn't on my helicopter by the way. I missed all the kites in front of me. Can you imagine the broken hearted little kid that see's his only possession cut loose and flutter away? This was the big guy's helicopter, he ran right through the kites flying over the park.

This is just random picture of a fancy hotel...see the empty swimming pool? It was blown up by those peaceful purveyors of the faith, the Taliban. You know, those guys that some in our government want to bring to the negotiating table or in the latest bit of them to be nice and not throw acid on girls that are going to school, or blow up little girls' schools. Maybe it's different if it isn't your little girl?

My pilots tell me this was a beautiful fancy hotel, where families went to holiday. The Taliban, along with banning kite flying and other such offensive behaviors blasted the cities and towns into stone age rubble. My interpreter told me...'I've seen people hanging in the city, with their insides on the outside and their heads broken'...he was beaten several times and thrown in jail for not having a beard...
So I know sometimes it's hard to articulate what we are doing here...but I know evil when I see it. I don't know you change warped minds full of hatred. I've been blessed to meet some amazing people with amazing stories. Even in the midst of heart breaking stories and history, they still know how to laugh and they want a better life for their families. So at the end of the day, no matter what you think of the war effort, there is evil in the world and real evil right here, and your countrymen are here fighting it along side Italians, Spanish, the Brits, Canadians, Australians, Lithuanians, Slovenians, Germans, Dutch, Luxembourg, Albanians, Norwegians, Swedes, Croatians, Macedonians, Czechs, Bulgarians and there are more I don't remember right now.
Happy Thanksgiving dear friends and family. We are thankful for your prayers and mail!