The last topic posted on this blog was about one of our new home advertising programs receiving a Silver Award (second place) in National Competition. Second Place is good…. but sometimes second place is simply not good enough. Such is the case with our nation’s standing in the world. Second place isn’t going to cut it.
For Veteran’s Day, I posted a letter from a friend and fellow Rotarian, Commander Neal Beard, who is still on assignment in Afghanistan. If you haven’t read it, please do:
Yesterday, I received an email from Neal, who plans to be back in the US sometime in late February. Although he will be greatly missed on this year’s Rotary mission trip to Honduras, what he and our troops are doing over there is far more important.
With his email was a brief power-point presentation. I relate to technology like Tiger Woods relates to a Monk, so I am unable to post the power-point here. Pictures will have to do, followed by Neal’s most recent written update.
Update from Afghanistan
29 December 2010
In emails and letters from friends back home, I’m often asked, “What are you doing in Afghanistan and what is it like?” Those questions are not easily answered in a brief email or even a letter. So, to everyone who has asked me that and who I have not already given a good explanation, and to anyone who might be interested, let me try to explain.
I’m serving with the United States Navy Seabees. The Seabee’s (Construction Battalions sometimes referred to as CB’s) were first organized during World War II and were an integral part of every land based operation in the Pacific Theater.
Seabees moved forward with the Marines providing contingency engineering support as they secured the littorals (a shore or coastal region) during the initial wave of invasion in the Pacific and continued to push forward as the Marines engaged the enemy and secured the beaches for further troop landings. They were at places like Luzon, Okinawa, the Marshal Islands and Iwo Jima. They pushed roadways inland, cleared jungle areas for base construction and built bridges, causeways and fuel depots.
They were the construction men who also built the airstrips and camps for the troop surges that followed. When the Soldiers and Marines pushed forward to engage the enemy, the Seabees were out front clearing the way. They would often have to alternate from working the blade controls of a grader or dozer to grabbing their rifle, dismounting and returning enemy fire. Thus the motto, “We build and fight for freedom.”
Seabees were there when American forces landed at Inchon during the Korean War. We were there through all the years of the Vietnam War. We were there during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm pushing inland with Generals Boomer and Schwarzkopf—at the time I was a Second Class Construction Mechanic assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24 on the move in the Northern Desert of Saudi Arabia as American and Coalition Forces pushed the Iraqi Invaders out of Kuwait.
Since that war, every armed conflict that America has engaged in has been a Joint Forces Operation and has included multiple coalition partners. Our Marines now find themselves fighting far from the littorals and their Generals are often the Theater or Battle Space Commanders. We are still there with them but now, more often than not, find ourselves supporting an Army Command as well as traditional Marine Expeditionary Forces.
A Seabee Regiment (where I am currently assigned) will normally only deploy when it has two or more Navy Construction Battalions in the field to provide Command and Control (C2) over. But the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has changed that. Today, our Regiment has responsibility for all contingency construction in Regional Command South and Southwest Afghanistan and includes Air Force and Army engineers. In Regional Command North in Mazar–e Sharif, we have one Seabee Battalion supporting that Battle Space Commander with engineering support. So, technically, we cover all of Afghanistan.
We are currently garrisoned within a NATO compound at Kandahar Air Field (KAF) on the outskirts of Kandahar City. Within the security fencing and barriers that surround KAF, are over 30,000 Coalition Forces (including Afghanis, Canadians, Brits, Australians, Bulgarians, and Czechoslovakians; troops from the Netherlands, Poland, Albania, Turkey, Arab Emirates, France, Italy, Germany, China, and probably some I haven’t met yet) and thousands of contractors from all over the world.
Elevated cameras, unmanned aircraft and huge helium filled blimps provide an optical view of the base and surrounding area. During the first few months that we were here, insurgents would sneak in as close as possible and lob in rockets—usually at night—setting off screaming sirens and multiple loudspeakers reverberating sounds of an English speaking Afghani or British soldier announcing “Wocket-ah-tack” as if his mouth were stuffed with cotton. (We had two incoming rockets on Christmas night and another on the 26th. Two Third Country National (TCN) casualties resulted.)
It is relatively safe here on KAF despite the occasional rocket attacks, though there is certainly danger all around us. The real danger is outside the wire (safety of the camp) where our coalition forces are taking the war to the enemy and are constantly subjected to small arms fire, indirect fire and the ubiquitous Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) along roadways and foot paths.
The base is laid out in a helter-skelter fashion with a few paved straight streets and several meandering ones of gravel. A skim of dust from vehicle traffic covers everything and often stays suspended in the air like an ever present fog. Sometimes the dust is so thick in the air that the razorback mountain, less than two miles away cannot even be seen in the background during the day, (a jagged rock formation, much like a dorsal scale plate projecting upward on the back of a dinosaur—the mountain divides the southern suburbs of the city and lies just north of KAF).
Kandahar City sprawls along both banks of the Arghandab River and was originally built by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. As we move from KAF to our Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) and Combat Outpost (COPs) we pass along Highway 1 and pass through the city which is the capital of the Kandahar Province. Kandahar city is the birthplace of the Taliban Insurgency.
Agriculture thrives along the narrow fertile valley that borders the Arghandab River. As we travel along the roadways we pass fields in different stages of cultivation; some awaiting planting (usually poppies) and some teaming with melons, wheat, corn, beans and acres of dark green marijuana dwarfing the fields of corn on either side.
The paved road leading out of Kandahar City, and through the barren desert landscape, is pock-marked with craters hastily filled-in with concrete, asphalt or gravel because of previous IED explosions. All along the shoulders of the road are carcasses of burned out or twisted automobiles and abandoned Russian military vehicles. Mud huts often line sections of roadway and an occasional hut will sit isolated in the distance of the desert sometimes surrounded by a short mud-brick wall.
We see herders with sheep or goats or camels grazing in the distance. Along the roads are men and boys heading to market or back towards home. People travel by foot, in open carts, or on the backs of donkeys, motor bikes or in cramped automobiles. We have very little contact with them.
There are few trees and very little vegetation—at least there is not much until the rainy season comes which will be soon. When the rains do come, every swale or low place will become a raging river or lake—here they call these low places “Wadis”. KAF floods in the winter.
Our days are now in the high 60’s and our nights are plummeting to the mid-twenties—no snow yet. Thank goodness.
Little seems to be changed from our understanding of life back during the days when Marco Polo, Alexander the Great, or Xerxes the Great passed through these regions. Life is harsh, the people are poor and, for many, their entire life has been lived in the middle of this desolation while war wages all around them.
Spitamenes (an educated son of a wealthy Persian, not a native to the country) and the leader of the Afghan resistance during another war back in 330 BC, once asked Alexander the Great, “Why are you here? Why are you fighting us? We are poor and have nothing of value. We do not want anything you have to offer.” Alexander could offer little in the way of an explanation other than that Afghanistan was on the Silk Road, a route between Greece and China, and Greece had to control that route.
Sometimes we ask ourselves if what we are doing here will ever really make a difference. I believe it will—I certainly hope it will. But sometimes I wonder if we could give Spitamenes any better answer than Alexander did!
Thank you Neal for the update and know that our thoughts and prayers for your continued safety, and safe return, are with you and all that are serving over there.
Trey Lewis is a licensed Real Estate Broker in the State of Tennessee with Ole South Realty, www.OleSouth.com, 615.896.0019 direct 615.593.6340. Specializing in new home sales in the Greater Nashville area to include Nashville, Murfreesboro, Smyrna, and Spring Hill, Tennessee