Edd in Afghanistan: Day One
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    Edd in Afghanistan: Day One
    by David Benzion 09/22/2009 7:35 am

    LoneStarTimes.com is proud to bring you dispatches from KSEV morning-show host Edd Hendee, broadcasting live from Afghanistan.

    This is your daily, one-stop shop for information–links to key resources and articles mentioned on-air, written dispatches from Edd via email, and pod-casts of each broadcast for your listening pleasure and personal download. (Be patient; audio will be posted “later that same day.)


    Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties beyond our control, pod-casts of today’s show cannot be provided; we are taking steps to overcome the problem for future shows; thanks for your understanding.

    Just delivered, barely declassified report from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal; this is the core strategic recommendation that’s been made to President Obama; read it for yourself–you owe it to our troops
    Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan


    Monday – September 21, 2009: The pilot of Kam Air made the announcement: “We will be in Afghanistan Airspace in 15 minutes…” With those words the mood shifted starkly on morning Kam Air flight from Dubai to Kabul. You don’t get on this flight without intending to land in this war torn region – but the official statement that Afghan airspace was minutes in front of us made every passenger look at their watches as if marking the time would prepare them for what was ahead.

    This trip had taken months to plan – to embed with the US Marine Corps in the Hellmann Province (south central to southwest Afghanistan) – endless chains of emails, details, proposed itineraries and the constant disclaimer “things can and will change when you get in country”. It’s a privilege to embed as a radio journalist with the military in a war zone – and your schedule in that capacity is NOT a priority – you travel “Space-A” or space available. Journalists are non-essential, and their allocation of resources is necessarily a lower priority than the men and women who fight this war on terror. No one of character would have it any other way.

    First leg of this trip was a 15 hour flight from Houston to Dubai on Air Emirates – a giant 777-200 “long range model”. That airplane can fly for 20 hours on one load of fuel – so we literally flew through one day as takeoff was Saturday night after dusk and we landed the next night in Dubai. Aside from a bit of light coming through the closed window shades of the cabin – I never saw the light of day on Sunday September 20. The plane flew east for 15 hours and lost 9 hours of time zones – hence 24 hours of flight effectively.

    Dubai is a glistening jewel in the desert. Terminal 3 has just opened and it’s unmatched in elegance and apparent budget. The rich resources of oil have turned vast desert into a wonderland of architecture and unlimited opulence. Short night rest, shower, and change of clothes was all that was in store this night in Dubai as the wakeup call for Kam Air flight to Kabul was at 3:30am. The city was asleep as the cab slid through the deserted streets to the older terminal 2 for Kam Air – a reasonably dependable Afghani airline. The lineup of passengers was predictably native but intermingled were a number of European and American males – chiseled appearances along with short hair and professional demeanor described their jobs: military or private security a.k.a. Blackwater.

    Kam Air flight turned sharply on approach to Kabul to reveal the rugged terrain below us – vast deserts and magnificent mountains combined. It reminded me of Big Bend National Park in far West Texas – only much more rugged and foreboding. An occasional tiny farm with irrigated crops seemed lost against the lifeless backdrop of the mountains. The pilot masterfully wove the approach around mountains which were higher in elevation than we were. Touchdown was not the usual relief after a long flight – the view out the window of older decaying Soviet helos and other strange aircraft brought the realization home: Afghanistan is a very different place. For whatever reason – the time zone difference for this country is 9 hours ahead of Central Daylight Time. That’s right – 9 . A half hour time zone – another indication that Afghanistan would be unlike any other place I had ever been.

    Taxi? Taxi? This was a problem – my contacts hastily set up to meet me at the airport never materialized. As the last passengers departed I made the decision my family had not warmed up to: I got in a taxi for the 15 minute ride to ISAF Headquarters with a local native driver….no other options remained. When you read the State Department warnings about unprotected travel – then get in a cab with an elderly man who speaks no English – well it’s Afghanistan. Minutes later we were moving through a sea of traffic including bikes, carts, trucks, cars, humvees, and pedestrians – all moving and weaving together without lanes or traffic controls. I didn’t even see a stop sign – not that I could have read it. That explains why Hertz wasn’t available at the airport I thought.

    I wasn’t prepared to see them – my defensive visual scan froze on the first one I saw. A burka. A woman in a full burka – medium blue Another one. Still another after her. Three or four to a block. So much has never changed in Afghanistan – so much never will. Back to my defensive scan of the streets.

    The 12 foot tall concrete blast resistant walls of the ISAF Hdqtrs were a welcome sight. Only a few days before a suicide bomber had rammed a car loaded with explosives into an Italian Army convoy – killing more than a dozen soldiers and even more civilians of all ages. It was the bloodiest suicide vehicle attack of the war on the Italians and a grim reminder of the dangers on the streets of Kabul. The safety of the walled compound was a welcome relief but it also was the beginning of the wait, wait, and wait longer part of this trip. After 3 hours I was credentialed as a journalist and later loaded into a secure transport back to the military side of the airport. Now a 6 hour wait for a C130 transport from Kabul to Bastion to meet my US Marine Corps hosts and get my final itinerary. Disclaimers repeated, space available, details subject to change – all the phrases came into play at the military terminal. My name wasn’t on the list for this flight – but a revised list would come out later. Meanwhile I’m on a waiting list for a different flight sometime tonight. That’s the deal on being an embedded journalist. But the honor of being with our men and women of any branch of service in a war zone is worth all of it. Look at the bright side I remind myself: I’m 9 hours ahead of what I’d be doing in Houston! Time for the chow hall – looks like there’s space available there. Good to go.

    Great news after dinner – I had a seat on a C130 headed out tonight to Khandahar and then on to Bastion (airfield adjacent to USMC Camp Leatherneck. The combined 2 leg 2 hour flight took 6 hours door to door. The C130 is a flying 18 wheeler – 4 massive turboprop engines and a HUGE interior space occupied by 32 passengers seated on nylon web seating followed by 3 huge pallets of supplies and baggage. I mean big big pallets. The unloading and reloading at Khandahar took over an hour which wasn’t bad – we watched everything from a 747 to an F16 taxi, take off, or be loaded by an endless army of ramp workers working without stopping. This was not a special night to them – just another night handling the immense cargo and personnel on the supply train to the front lines. At 3am I got a cup of hot tea and met my PAO at Leatherneck. 15 minutes later I quietly entered the “embed tent” of 2nd MEB using my red flashlight sparingly to keep from waking the other journalists. I crawled onto a mattress using a fleece for a pillow and got 4 hours of rest. It would be enough.

    Note: Suggested reading: Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. The extraordinary story of a band of U.S. Soldiers who rode to victory in Afghanistan. Newly released story tells how we got to Afghanistan and the battle that still has to be won. Great read – I’ve got the time now.

    Tuesday September 22, 2009
    Dawn’s early light over Camp Leatherneck revealed a sprawling tent city built on a foundation of gravel and dust. Heavy on the dust. Leatherneck was for all practical purposes a “virtual boom town” which had sprung up adjacent to an airfield. It was the “mothership” of Marine Operations in Helmand Province feeding bullets, beans, and Marines up to the front lines – the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) where the war was. Tent structures and cargo containers defined the architecture of this base. We slept in a tent with 20 bunks, showered & brushed our teeth and shaved in another tent, and used the “head” (toilet) in still another. This sprawling complex hummed with generators, passing vehicles, and purposeful footsteps of its citizens on their way to the day’s task.

    Plans change out here quickly so it came as no surprise that my helo ride out to a FOB was changed for a later flight tonight. My PAOs haven’t failed me yet so I thanked Staff Sgt. XXXX for the update. He’ll come get me tonight for the ride to the airfield. That means my day will be here at Camp Leatherneck. The tent is 20’ x 45’ approx so 900 sq ft. “cooled” by a 3 ton a/c unit humming away outside. By 11am the temp inside the tent is 90 with the a/c running. Outside? Over 100 and climbing. Yesterday in Kabul was warm but pleasant with a cooling breeze if you stayed in the shade. Kabul is at 9000+ ft altitude whereas Leatherneck is in the lower desert plains. The climate here is extreme in all seasons.

    The supply line and military/stabilization mission for Afghanistan are parallel in many ways. Kabul is the trunk of the tree – home of the government and base operations for anything in Afghanistan. My flight last night from Kabul to Khandahar was like moving from the trunk of the tree out one of the main branches. The second flight from Khandahar to Bastion moved out to a strong branch connecting to the tiny branches at the end of the main limb. In this case – the FOBs and the units in touch with the Afghan people. As it is with the tree – the exchange of resources with the tips of the branch determine the health of the tree. So it will be with the war in Afghanistan. We’ll see the tips of the branches tonight – the FOBs and the Marines who are meeting the Afghanis.



  2. #2
    Edd in Afghanistan: Day Two
    by David Benzion 09/23/2009 7:15 am

    LoneStarTimes.com is proud to bring you dispatches from KSEV morning-show host Edd Hendee, broadcasting live from Afghanistan.

    This is your daily, one-stop shop for information–links to key resources and articles mentioned on-air, written dispatches from Edd via email, and pod-casts of each broadcast for your listening pleasure and personal download.


    Be patient; audio will be posted “later that same day.

    Just delivered, barely declassified report from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal; this is the core strategic recommendation that’s been made to President Obama; read it for yourself–you owe it to our troops
    Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan

    Day One.


    Tuesday Night – September 22, 2009

    Military Flight Operations are quite a show in the daytime and most bases back home “do business” in the daylight primarily. But in the war theatre darkness is a huge advantage hiding aircraft from sight – and from ground fire potentially just of the end of the runway. Even shoulder fired heat seeking rockets are ineffective if you don’t know where to aim them before you pull the trigger. So picture this airfield with C130s, F16s, and CH 53 Super Stallion Helos all sharing the airspace with the precision of the military. Now I watch a C130 on takeoff roll – landing lights flooding the runway, green & red identifying lights on the wing tips, and green markings glowing on the fuselage and tail. At 200 ft of the ground the plane disappears COMPLETELY. I can hear it – but I can’t see it even though the night is clear with abundant stars but no moonrise yet. It was lights out right after rotation for the big aircraft and it transitioned to a low tech stealth aircraft protected by the cloak of darkness. – you can’t shoot it effectively if you can’t see it. The enemy is low tech primarily so air ops at night give our military a huge advantage. But pilots and crews have to be good….very very good.

    We lined up for the giant CH 53 transport helo and waited…and waited. When the helo arrived we waited…and waited. Finally we boarded the aircraft to experience the most uncomfortable heated cabin I’ve ever stepped into. It was like a giant convection oven heated by the twin turbine engines on the sides of the body with the blades circulating the heat right into the cabin. This enormous helo became a giant convection oven which shook and shimmied as the machinery stood ready to lift us into that black night. Finally we began to taxi and I anticipated the first cool air which should sweep away this heat….but it never came. We flew for 45 minutes and the heat was relentless. When the bird landed in a cloud of dust stirred by its powerful rotor each man leaped to grab his bag and exit this flying oven. I looked on as 20 more stood ready to board for the next stop and wondered if they knew what they were walking into. One down and one to go – I have to ride that helo back out of here in 4 days. Instant weight loss.

    FOB Delhi is the home of the 2d Battalion 8th Marines – known as Americas Battalion. They have the job of stabilizing an unstable region. The Ops Officer – Major Murphy –patiently walked me through their maps of unit deployment marked with colored push pins marking locations of IEDs, Possible IEDs, and enemy activity. Lots of pins. Major Murphy sighed with some relief saying it has been quiet lately – a measurable drop of activity. Plans are being drawn up to repair irrigation canals, build roads, and give these native Afghanis a reason to trust the Americans and shun the Taliban. Would it work? It takes time – long periods of time – and success in all of the Marine’s programs for it to work. If it can be done – these Marines will be successful. You could see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices. They came here to win….and they had a plan.

    Past midnight I unrolled my sleeping bag onto an aluminum cot and pulled out the small compressed camping pillow I had stuffed in my duffle. I must have been tired – the setup looked like a comfortable king bed with new sheets. Sleep came easy that first night in Delhi.

    Wednesday September 23, 2009

    Soft morning light washed over the FOB about 6:00am. I found the wash rack and cleaned up a bit. Now off for a self guided walking tour of FOB Delhi. The size of the new MRAP patrol vehicles compared to the Humvee is stark – the new MRAPs are 2 times the size of the Humvee. On the front of a couple of the patrol units looked like a giant trailer bed that was pushed ahead rather than pulled behind. The “trailer” looked like a farm implement you might see being pulled by a heavy John Deere tractor. But this was set up to be pushed ahead – not pulled behind. There was even a hydraulic steering assist to help around tight corners. One of the young Marines explained the purpose of the 8 wheeled vehicle was to detect and explode land mines or pressure plate IEDs placed in the path ahead of the convoy. The IEDs here are crude in nature – a “switch” consists of 2 pieces of wood with wire and a 9 volt battery that all compresses or closes the switch when a heavy vehicle rolls over the contraption. Explosives are primarily ammonium nitrate fertilizer with diesel set off by a primer in the form of a small IED or a landmine. These crude contraptions can blow the axel off the huge MRAPs totaling the vehicle. It’s happened. Good news is the MRAP is strong enough to protect the Marines inside. That’s happened time and time again. A lot of lives and limbs were lost to learn the lessons used by the Marines in clearing the roads.

    Waiting for coffee in the Hdqtrs tent I get another briefing on re-enlistment and family challenges on deployment. Marines who re-enlist while on deployment to Afghanistan can receive their bonus TAX FREE. With a potential bonus up to $50,000 that tax free clause can change these young Marines lives! The re-enlistment rates of some companies have been as high as 65%. Standing in the harsh environment of a FOB in Helmand Province Afghanistan – that statistic is breathtaking. This is not an easy life. Forget the bases you have seen, forget the handsome young men and poised young women in snappy uniforms. Life on a FOB is a campout from hell. The FOB has a mess hall, recreation tent, bunks, and a motor pool. But it’s in the middle of the harshest landscape I have ever seen. The temps today will be back near 110 – and they say it’s cooling off. I can’t imagine what that means. Death Valley CA is actually pretty – this area has the heat but no scenery. Just dust. And these Marines believe so much in what they are doing that they suffer the separation from family and friends, try to make relationships work via spotty email and an occasional sat phone if they are lucky, and then re-enlist to provide for their families and their future.

    Sgt. Major Breeden is the ranking enlisted man on the base and completes the team of CO Lt. Col Cabaniss, XO Major Garnett and himself. Sgt. Major Breeden extends his hand and asks who I am – and then replies – “Oh good – we’ve been looking for you. Glad you are here. I’ve been waiting for you to get here.” That surprised me. He explained that our Houston Marine Moms had been helping “arrange” my trip and he made the contacts to get me down to Delhi. To hear a Sgt. Major in a FOB tell me he’s coordinating my trip because of the efforts of support from the Houston Marine Moms makes me feel a lot closer to home.

    The afternoon consisted of an MRE lunch of penne pasta which was actually pretty tasty, and a tour of the FOB. We visited the motor pool where they explained the war against dust – the enemy of the vehicles. Only way to keep these vehicles running is to blow the dust out of every heat exchanger and filter almost every day. Next stop was the clinic and a great visit with the Navy Corpsmen and Doctor. They spend a great deal of time with native Afghani locals and the Afghan hospital. These men are making a difference in this country from a back room hovel of a clinic in a far dusty outpost. We finished the tour at the Afghan radio station on base – with music and a Afghan national radio host/dj. This is the information tool to get the word out to the locals that the Taliban are their enemy – not the US Marines. I’m scheduling Mashook (radio host) to be on our program this morning back in the states.

    Now to set up the sat phone for the radio show. Currently it’s 110 outside – and we are outside. Sgt. Major explains it’s cooling off now and that August is the hottest month. How hot does it get? He stopped looking at the thermometer after 120.



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