Friday, October 28, 2005

The Lost AA Blogs: Special Reconnaissance

The last time I was in Afghanistan the Americas Army game team asked for soldiers to submit blogs about life in the Army. I answered this call and submitted some articles. It appears that their blog project had a low priority since it took a couple of months for each article to get posted and my last three articles were never posted. So, now that they have had 18 months to post them, I will make them available here.

If you havn't seen my previous AA blogs you can scroll to the bottom of my sidebar to read them.

Special Reconnaissance

Even after our failed attempt at a helicopter infiltration to our area, we still needed to conduct the mission. As a result, we spent 18 hours bouncing around in the back of vehicles while driving the distance that only took an hour to fly. I do not expect to spend much time in Moab, Utah or any other 4x4 territory since I managed to get most of that out of my system driving the nonexistent roads here. There are very few paved roads outside of the few major cities and those are usually very pot-holed. As a result, people here drive in dry or nearly dry river beds and any route they think their vehicle can traverse.

For us, the trails only got us so far and we ended up being dropped off on the edge of a small village and had to walk with our heavy packs up into the mountains under cover of darkness hoping that we would not be seen. It’s not that being seen would necessarily increase our danger but how can we observe certain behavior or activities if those who would conduct them know that we are looking for them.

After several hours of mountain hiking and some rock climbing, we finally reached what we thought was a secluded location just after first light. We set up our observation location and security positions and settled in for a long wait.

The police get coffee and donuts for their stakeouts but there’s no Krispy-Kreme here so we had to settle for what we carried up with us. In an environment like the Afghan mountains we have to make a number of trade-offs and judgment calls. We are required to carry our mission critical equipment like radios and weapons then we must add food and water and that becomes very heavy especially when you have to carry enough to sustain yourself for a week. After that we can take any comfort items like spare socks and sleeping bags. Many consider a sleeping bag a luxury and live by the adage “travel light, freeze at night.”

Our wait did not last long, a couple of boys herding their family’s sheep and goats were soon walking right through our perimeter. We stayed put the rest of the day and observed what we could but moved again once darkness settled. We moved further up the mountain and a few ridges over but soon learned that if we could walk there, so could the local goats and shepherds. We ended up doing the best we could to complete our objectives while entertaining or doing the best we could to ignore the locals who would occasionally walk up the mountainside to pay us a visit or check us out.

Regardless of how good the mission is, we always look forward to the exfil, especially after a week without a shower and eating only MRE’s. During our week we did manage to locate a semi flat spot large enough to land a helicopter but still had to clear if of large rocks and a couple small trees. On our final night we gathered near the clearing then for a few long seconds fought both the steep mountain and the rotor wash with our heavy packs on our backs while desperately trying to get onto the helicopter. A very long hour later we were back on the ground in Bagram looking for fresh food and showers.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A must read

LL over at Chromed Curses posted a letter from a Gold Star Mother to her notification officer. Just go read it.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Help Wanted!

Wanted: An intelligent liberal blogger who can try to challenge my ideas. Any applicant must be capable of thought beyond "Bush lied, Bush lied, Halliburton, Halliburton;" must write well and be familiar with effective debating techniques and procedures.
Job duties will include sharing a blog page with a conservative and posting controversial articles and rebuttals.

Any qualified applicants should enter a sample of their writing or link to a current blog in the comments section.



So it's been a while since I posted. I just finished an extended stay in UT doing a number of things for the National Guard and finally found my way home early this week. I havn't been in the mood to follow the news much and consequently have not had much to blog about.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

My Louisiana Tour

Two weeks ago I was enjoying a Mountain Warfare Sustainment in Utah with the National Guard paying for me to do some mountain climbing. I could not participate fully due to my recent accident but the short hikes into our climbing areas were very therapeutic and helped my ankle progress. The views from the Wasatch Front are always impressive, but in the autumn they are breathtaking. So, I had mixed feelings when our team was selected to help in the hurricane Rita relief effort.

Since we were already there, the Utah National Guard selected my team to travel south to Louisiana on a search and rescue mission. We were notified Saturday night that we needed to be on a noon flight on Sunday. None of us had the opportunity for much if any sleep that night as we packed personal and team gear for an extremely short notice deployment. I was very surprised when we packed, palletized, performed a readiness review (frequently a three day process itself), and traveled to Alexandria, Louisiana in less than 24 hours.

My brother is a Major in the reserve, he volunteered post Katrina and has been stationed at Ft. Polk. Since the Alexandria airport services nearby Ft. Polk, I contacted my brother and he was at the airport when we landed. Although I saw no signs of direct hurricane damage in Alexandria, my brother reported that the eye of Rita had passed next to Ft. Polk and had knocked out their power. Since he was there with transportation, we were able to avoid the staging area with thousands of soldiers packed in like sardines and stayed the night at the airfield with pizza and sodas.

We had established contact with a 20th Special Forces Group element in Lake Charles and left Monday morning to link up with them. The first sign of hurricane damage we saw was approximately 50 miles Northeast of LC and progressively worsened as we traveled closer. The city was officially closed and all the freeway exits were guarded by law enforcement or soldiers but there were still many people driving around town. It was obvious that if it wasn’t tied down and anchored it blew somewhere else; we even noticed some concrete benches blown over. Most of the buildings in LC were missing roofing tiles and a very small few had sections of their roofs torn off. Mobile homes in the area also faired pretty well with only an occasional one with a wall blown away. We drove out of town along highway 14 and had to avoid power lines as many of the poles had been knocked over. Even with the hundreds of utility repair vehicles parked at the local convention center, it will be a long time before they have power in much of the area.

Our work in LC wrapped up pretty quickly so we traveled to New Orleans in search of more work but didn’t find any. What we did find was a city struggling to come back to life. Relief workers in NO outnumbered residents and the ratio was even more extreme on Bourbon St. Friday night. On a street normally over crowded with pedestrians, there were vehicles from every imaginable relief or government agency parked along both sides despite signs saying no parking during the night time hours. I would estimate that a fourth of the Bourbon St. businesses were open and their customers were almost exclusively middle aged men. SF guys typically shy away from cameras so it was entertaining to watch what we did when confronted by three or four news cameras at one intersection; we were dodging and weaving with heads ducked from one camera after another as the seemed to appear from nowhere.

Although we saw little damage outside of the areas where the two hurricanes came ashore, the entire state of Louisiana is a disaster area. Any hotels not rendered uninhabitable were filled to capacity. Stores and restaurants were short on supplies and you often had to search to find a gas station with gas. We talked with one member of the Coast Guard with a home outside NO. He said his home was not damaged but would likely have to sell and move. All of his neighbors were selling their homes as twice their pre-Katrina values and he didn’t think he could afford next years taxes. Many of the evacuees have indicated no desire to return to NO and rightfully should not. So, my prediction is that Bourbon St. and the French Quarter will continue to be what it has always been and NO will continue to host Mardi-Gras, but NO will never return to what it was before Katrina.

Update: SPC Van T. at Camp Katrina is compiling a list of blogs and stories relating to Hurricane Katrina. He has a great sense of humor so drop in and see what he has to say.


Monday, October 03, 2005

I'm Back

I'm back from my tour of lower Lousiana. I'll post my report once I catch up on my sleep.

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