Bad Medicine

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On Pharmacy Road

Captain Henry Coltart on Pharmacy Road

24 August 2009
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

The British soldiers of 2 Rifles had a mission:  clear and hold Pharmacy Road.

FOB Jackson is currently home to Battlegroup headquarters for 2 Rifles.  The area around the river is called the “Green Zone,” but just as appropriately could be called the Opium Zone.  During season, the area is covered with colorful poppies, whose 2009 products are probably showing up by now on the streets in Europe.  European money flows back here and buys fertilizer in the Sangin Market, which can be used to make bombs, produce more opium, get more money and make more bombs and grow more opium and make more money and bombs and grow more opium.  Sangin is at once an ATM and weapons bazaar for the enemy.  Nearly all fatalities in this unit have been caused by fertilizer bombs.  The decision to mostly ignore the drug dealers has been a strategic blunder.

This mission was about tactical exigencies created by the strategic realities.  Though FOB Jackson is small enough to walk from one end to another in a few minutes, it is the main base in Sangin, with smaller patrol bases spread around the Sangin area of operations.  Two of those bases are Patrol Base (PB) Tangiers and PB Wishtan.  Tangiers is an Afghan National Army (ANA) PB often used by 2 Rifles, while PB Wishtan is manned by C Coy of 2 Rifles.  (“Coy” is British for “Company.”)

From Jackson, one can often see or hear fighting related to Tangiers or Wishtan while tracers arc into the night, and illumination rounds cast long, flickering shadows as they float to Earth under parachutes.

Though PB Tangiers seems randomly named, PB Wishtan is named after the local area which the locals call Wishtan.  The main resupply route from Jackson to PB Wishtan goes through the Sangin Market, past Tangiers, and west along the approximate 1 kilometer of Pharmacy Road through Wishtan to PB Wishtan.

British soldiers from 2 Rifles said they had sustained approximately twenty fatalities and injuries in the area.  (More were killed and wounded in Sangin since this mission.)  The situation is reminiscent of so many roads in Iraq, such as Route Irish, previously dubbed the most dangerous road in the world.  The short stretch of Route Irish is situated between main bases in Baghdad.  Since we never had enough troops in Iraq, the route was difficult to secure despite that it was a short stretch with bustling military traffic nestled between huge bases.  A lot of people were killed and maimed on that short stretch—I have little idea of the numbers of casualties on Irish—but the total must have reached at least the hundreds.  Irish was eventually made far more secure by allocating substantial Iraqi and Coalition troops along with what must have been many millions of dollars’ worth of physical defenses, all augmented with frequent coverage from the air.  Despite that, car bombs, IEDs and small-arms attacks continued to occur on a less frequent basis.  I’ve probably driven Irish a hundred times with no dramas, but it was never safe.  Despite international infamy and the sharp political desire to secure at least one small stretch of road between main bases in Baghdad, Irish was never completely secured.  Pharmacy Road in Wishtan is a small-town redux of Route Irish in Baghdad.

Pharmacy Road was effectively closed by enemy harrasment, including a blockage caused by two blown-up vehicles (a “jingo truck” and a British tractor).  Resupply and troop movements were performed by helicopter, despite that a patrol could walk from Jackson to Wishtan in an hour, and straight driving would only take fifteen minutes.  A bypass route was made with similar results.  Captain Alexander Spry told me that Wishtan is like something from a Freddy Kreuger movie where bombs are planted in broad daylight and the enemy chisels small firing holes through the fifteen-foot walls and launches bullets down the tight spaces and alleyways.  The Afghan mud walls are so robust that the 30mm cannons from the air will not penetrate.  Dropping a 500lb bomb into the middle of a compound will leave the walls standing.  In Wishtan, our snipers are of little use because they can’t see or shoot through the walls, and there is no commanding terrain other than the air.  As with Route Irish and probably hundreds (thousands?) of other routes in Iraq and Afghanistan, routes cannot be secured without pinning substantial numbers of troops.  Life is far easier for the guerrilla than for the counterguerrilla, just as arson is easier for arsonists than for firefighters.

With the shortage of helicopters in mind (and the fact that an RPG was recently fired at a helicopter as it lifted out of PB Wishtan), closure of Pharmacy Road increased enemy freedom of movement while decreasing our own.  Though British forces continued to push into combat around Wishtan, battlegroup commander LtCol Rob Thomson wanted Pharmacy Road open.

Most of us tried to sleep the night before the mission, but there was much to do.  At one point, perhaps half a dozen 81mm mortar illumination rounds from another base were shot straight over FOB Jackson.  The empty casings, weighing perhaps 2lbs each, swooshed through the darkness, possibly at several hundred miles per hour, and thumped onto Jackson.  (Terminal velocity varies from object to object.)  One casing was heading toward a sergeant named Marty who runs Flight Ops.  Marty hit the dirt and the casing landed just next to him.

The mission began under cover of darkness.  Conditions were far too dark to focus and the soldiers were not using lights, so focus was done by trial and error.  A sniper team quietly sat beside a dog and its handler.  The dog seemed to take interest in the sounds of the camera.

The few who speak only whisper.  A soldier checks his night-vision monocular.

Flipping up the night-vision monocular puts it on standby.

The mission will be very dangerous and the soldiers, who mostly could not see me taking photos unless they were using night-vision gear, seemed lost in thought.

The friendly attack dog.  A dog handler recently told me he was urinating when an Afghan soldier tried to grab his willy.  The handler said the dog bit the Afghan soldier who needed a few stitches.

We set off down the market road.  Some folks believe such reports are “security violations,” as if the thousands of people living here do not know exactly where the bases are, or do not know exactly where we came from and went to.  Operations take place here every day.  Civilians are everywhere.

We made it to FOB Tangiers with no dramas.  Some Afghan soldiers were on guard while others seemed comatose.

The commander of 2 Rifles is Lieutenant Colonel Rob Thomson (right), who this morning was constantly studying maps or soaking up information by talking with soldiers whose ears were glued to radios.  Most soldiers did the smart thing and immediately began to fall asleep; experienced combat soldiers never miss a chance to fill canteens or sleep.  Meanwhile, the Commander’s work has just begun (despite my having seen him work late the night before).  LtCol Thomson has chided other officers and NCOs about sleep, saying it’s an advantage of growing older.  You just don’t need as much sleep.  Plus having children is good training for combat.

Corporal Mark “Axle” Foley (left) is the JTAC who controls air strikes.  Axle is a good-spirited soldier and funny to talk with, always cracking jokes though sometimes I have difficulty understanding his accent.  When Axle picks up that radio, a magical toggle-switch clicks in his head from “fun” mode to “all business.”  While Axle talks business with the pilots, one can only wonder how well the American pilots understand Axle.  Yet the pilots work with Axle all the time, and seem to understand him perfectly on the first go, and he understands them.  One night, I heard a Southern accent come down from an aircraft, which set the Brits to laughing and trying to immitate the accent.  Brits and Europeans often get a big kick out of thick Southern accents but all attempts to imitate the twang seem to fall flat. (Except by country bands in Germany who can perfectly imitate the patois as if they grew up next door to Willie Nelson.)

Axle, who often works with American pilots, says these A-10 and B-1B pilots are probably the best to work with because they come to Sangin so often that they know the terrain, the roads and bases, so they are easy to talk onto targets.

Sitting there in the darkness, Axle works the radio while watching the downlink screen.  As the A-10s approach at about 0314, the aircraft are still about 40 miles out, and a pilot starts listing off all the various sorts of weapons they are carrying.  They had more spells than Harry Potter.  As the A-10s close in on our postion, Axle picks up a downlink and suddenly he can see through the A-10 crosshairs.  Whatever the pilot is looking at comes on Axle’s screen.  Axle gives the pilot some reference points and each time the crosshairs instantly go to that point, and within maybe thirty seconds, the crosshairs slewed precisely to the spot where we were sitting.  Axle told him that’s us, which probably sounded to the A-10 pilot something like, “Ah roga, dat’s us,” and then Axle starts walking the pilot through to all the friendly locations so he can know where our guys are.

An A-10 was transmitting downlink but we were getting interference, maybe from the building or other radios.  Axle moved outside where Corporal Henry Sanday from Fiji came in.  Henry is a good man whom I got to know in Iraq, and sometimes we have lunch or dinner at FOB Jackson, where he constantly invites me on missions.  Henry is battle-proven and very good under fire.  When your life is at stake, Henry is a man you want to be with, as you will soon see.   This morning, his men were falling asleep, but as a section leader Henry kept working.  Major Karl Hickman (right) is the A Coy Commander, and while his men plopped down to sleep, Karl kept working.  I’ve never been in combat with Major Hickman, but his men say he’s good and steady under fire.  Axle as JTAC is a crucial link to this mission, which explains why when Henry and Major Hickman might be sleeping, they are checking in with Axle to keep their SA (Situation Awareness) updated.

We had the A-10s for only a few minutes when a radio call from a different net came to Axle to release the A-10s for a TIC (troops in contact) somewhere in South Helmand.  Axle radioed the pilots to switch freqs, and I recall a pilot apologizing and saying he looked forward to getting back up here.  Axle put down the radio and looked straight at me, saying, “That’s such a bummer,” as if his fishing buddy had to go home early, then Axle finished with, “However, the guys that get them will be well happy,” and started shutting down his gear as the sounds of the A-10s faded into the darkness.  While Axle worked, I asked about times when he “smashed” the Taliban.  British soldiers like to use the word “smashed” when talking about the Taliban.  When Axle would finish talking about one fight, I would ask about another.  Finally, Axle said, “You Yanks are great.  You like to hear stories about us smashin’ the Taliban but people at home want to know how much we miss our families.”  We both chuckled, and I asked, “Really?  They don’t ask you about smashing the Taliban?”  “That’s right,” then Axle said something like, “They only want to hear how sad we are.” Axle and I got along great because I didn’t care if he missed his family and he didn’t care if I missed mine.  This part is about smashing people who would help those who smashed the World Trade Centers and blew up people in London and Bali and Jakarta and Israel and Spain and the Philippines and anywhere else they can reach.  There is a crucial development and governance aspect to this war, and still a crucial smashing side.  Sometimes you’ve got to swap hats for helmets.  Mullah Omar is still alive, apparently in Pakistan, and he needs to be killed.  Just on 20 August I heard a Taliban singing over a walkie talkie that Mullah Omar “Is our leader,” and they were celebrating shooting down a British helicopter only twelve hours before just some miles from here.  There will be time to hug families later.  Now is a time for fighting.

We talked some more about smashin’ the Taliban.  When the A-10s turned toward some distant battle, nobody here complained.  Yes, we need more helicopters, but since I have been in Sangin, we never have been short on attack aircraft.   The JTACs are happy.  Air cover, since I have been in Sangin, is better than we could honestly hope for.  Axle talked about strike aircraft; “The F-15E Strike Eagles are brilliant,” he said.  The JTACs, if given a choice of the other fourteen types of piloted aircraft that come on station, seem to vote for F-15E Strike Eagles.

The F-15E package (weapons, electronics, and strike pilots) is particularly lethal for this fight.  When strike aircraft come onto station, the pilots declare their weapons load.  A typical F-15E declartion sounds like this: An American voice crackles over the radio, “Good morning.  I’ve got 4 GBU-12s, 6 GBU-38s, 2 GBU-31s, and 1,000 x 20mm cannon.”  [GBU-12: 500lb Laser Guided Bomb is the JTAC favorite here; GBU-38 is a 500lb JDAM and also very good; GBU-31 is a 2,000lb JDAM and too big for use in Sangin but there are many other fights in Afghanistan; 20mm cannon can destroy armored vehicles but bounce off the compound walls here.]

In total, the two F-15Es arrive with a dozen accurate bombs, a thousand rounds of 20mm, incredibly good optics, and a great downlink package so the JTACs can peer through F-15E crosshairs and coordinate with the pilot.  Most importantly, the Strike Eagle pilots are specifically trained for this mission.  Nobody on the ground complains about this package.

Whereas Strike Eagles are favored in Sangin, there are close runner-ups.  B-1Bs  are called “Bones” because B-One spells bone.  Bones were made for nuclear war with the Soviets and for carrying hydrogen bombs, and so they don’t carry a lot of different tricks for small battles.  B-1Bs do come with 12 GBU-38s and 8 GBU-31s, very good optics and Axle says the pilots are easy to talk onto targets.  When a B-1B runs low on gas, refuelers can fly to us.  One day, Axle could see Bones refueling directly overhead while continuing to track a target.

In all, about fourteen types of aircraft fly topcover, including American, Belgian, British, Dutch and French.  JTACs here say the least desirable aircraft of those fourteen are the French M2000D.  A package of two jets carries no cannon, no downlink and a total of only 4 GBU 12s.  The optics aboard the aircraft are not good, and the trail aircraft spots targets with binoculars like the Red Baron.  Also, the French and British have problems understanding each other’s accents.  The British who work with French forces refuse to say a bad word.  They say the French are good and ready—which can be surprising because the Brits and the French like to slag each other—but the French aircraft simply are primitive in comparison to the American jets.  An American unit in Zabul Province last year said that some French pilots probably saved them, or at least made a big difference, and so any words about primitive aircraft should be taken in light of respect for the pilots.

No mention is made of the Apache helicopters because Axle was talking about jets.  The Apaches seem to do most of the heavy lifting—for every jet strike I must have seen 5-10 Apache strikes.  Apaches are very effective.  We are too far out for coverage from Kiowa Warriors.   Predators are excellent but Reapers are especially welcome.

The A-10s were gone and so Axle headed to sleep but Corporal Henry Sanday keeps working while all his men are zonked out.

The following account does not pertain to Pharmacy Road, but pertains to Corporal Sanday, his men, Axle and others in these photos.  These photos were made on 09 August.  On 13 August, a bomb detonated at 0523, wounding Matthew Hatton and two others.  Sanday arranged to evacuate the wounded by helicopter but there were IEDs along the routes to the HLS (Helicopter Landing Site).

As Daniel Wild and Mark Hale helped the wounded Matthew Hatton, they were hit by a second bomb, killing all three men. In total there were five casualties, and call-sign “Pedro,” helicopters from the United States Air Force had come in to evacuate the killed and wounded.  Henry Sanday was acting Platoon Sergeant and wanted to land Pedro on a roof but the roof was too small.  He finally got the casualties loaded out.  After suffering three killed and two wounded, the men continued the mission though some of the men were very rattled.  Later that evening, when the mission had been completed and the soldiers were moving back to FOB Jacskon, they were hit by a third bomb leaving two casualties.  Sanday was setting up another helicopter extraction when a fourth bomb detonated and an interpreter turned into a “white mist” leaving only a leg.  The interpreter went MIA.  Sanday asked the Apaches to search for the body but they found nothing.  I’d seen this happen in Iraq and it took us a long time to find two of the bodies.  One missing body was maybe a hundred meters away.  The other body was farther.  It’s been a long time, but I think it might have taken an hour to find the last body, and we had dozens of people looking.  Sanday was down to four unwounded soldiers in his section and in Sangin the IEDs often seem to come in big clusters.  No matter which way you go, there is a high probability of more.  Two interpreters were killed in the strike and three were wounded.

Some of the men were in shock and did not react to Sanday’s commands.  They were seriously battle-affected and refusing orders, though others rose to the occasion and were the glue.  I’ve seen this breakdown happen.  Soldiers typically bounce back.  Two officers described to me their thoughts on Corporal Sanday.  “He is an absolute hero,” said one, and the other agreed.  Sanday’s name was mentioned with respect all the way back in Iraq.  Now in Afghanistan he continues to rise to the occasion, but now with more experience.  The next day, Sanday went on a combat mission in Sangin.  About 100 meters in front of him an IED detonated on another section.  Three soldiers from the Royal Regiment Fussilliers were killed.  During extraction to the HLS, a pressure-pad IED caused more casualties.  Again, I am told Sanday and others rose to the occasion.

The interpreter who disappeared was found in the Helmand River, about 20 miles south at FOB Price.

But those attacks were still a few days away.  Today, Sanday had more dangers to lead his men into, and through, and as they slept, he worked.

Body armor for a pillow.  Many soldiers buy those bracelets because they say the profits go to support wounded warriors.  Next time I’m in Camp Bastion, I’ll buy a couple.

“Axle” Foley, who was on that horrible mission with Sanday, went to sleep until more aircraft were scheduled to show up.  This photo was made at about 0517 and I put down the camera then my head down at 0521, just in time for the first explosion seven minutes later at 0528.  The explosion was close and powerful and literally raised some dust.  AFTER it exploded, someone said it was EOD for the first controlled detonation.  The Bang Boys were out there in the danger zone, cracking away.  I said a little prayer for them and put my head back down and that’s when the rooster started crowing—from inside the building!  Look at the halls in the photo.  A rooster is very loud inside here, as if he were crowing straight into our ears.  The ANA keep the rooster for fighting.  He was incredibly loud.  BOOM at 0540.  EOD was back at it, and at 0548, then 0558, then 0610 and 0612 and 0621.  The EOD soldiers were into a rhythm.  Between the rooster crowing inside the building and EOD blasting away nearby, sleep was hard to come by, so I got up and walked to one of the guard towers.  LtCol Rob Thomson seemed to be the last one working, and warned me not to get shot.  (During the bad morning on the 13th, LtCol Thomson saw some gloom on a few faces and he jerked those faces back into the fight.)

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    KellyC · 10 years ago
    Here's some pics (I believe) from the memorial service for Daniel Wild, Mark Hale, Matthew Hatton, et. al. from the Times: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6799892.ece?slideshowPopup=true&articleId=6799892&sectionName=WorldAfghanistan
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CEP · 10 years ago
    It's been said that the first casualty of war is Truth. Thanks Michael for telling and showing us the Truth... the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your reports reflect the gritty reality of life in the field of combat and many in England and America depend on you while the major media in both our countries are caught up in the latest political scandal or shameless celebrity worship. But thank you most of all for bringing to light the brave and selfless sacrifices made by our British and American fighting forces. This is one Yank who is deeply grateful to the Brits for their willingness to stand with us in this terrible struggle. May God bless them! And may God hasten the day when wars will cease and our boys will come home. Until then Michael, may the power of God over-shadow you and keep you safe while you continue this most excellent work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CEP · 10 years ago
    Sorry...I should have included all the UK, not just England.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Truckie117 · 10 years ago
    I would like to tthank all the men of our Brothers of the 2 Rifles fosr SMASHING the Taliban.
    If Any Ever make it to NY visit any firehouse and tell your story you'll get a gerat meal.
    Thanks for sthe reports Mike any if you get to NY look me up. cainm@fdny.nyc.gov
    911 rolling around again and there will be a great memorial at Ground Zero.
    God Bless You All
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Deane · 10 years ago
    As an old Marine from Nam, I can only say i wish we had had some one there that would have told truth and not covered up what was really happening in our conflict there. As it was, we could not trust reporters, especailly Amercan newsmen to tell the story as we related to their questions. by the time it got home we were a sorry lot full of fear and had no way to win in that theatre, so we just clammed up and hoped that someone could get the story straight. My then wife was terrified by reports of bases were she knew I was operating out of being hit by horrendus firepower when all it was were a few sappers and maybe a dozen mortars and we were operational within hours. Then of cousre there was Walter Cronkite that gave the enemy the morale boost when he wrongly said we were totally defeated at Hue, when in actuality we defeated and destroyed the Vietcong, never to operate again. Only the NVA kept up the fight because of his statement and the anti-war element at home, the very same ones who now control our government. And here we are in a worldwide fight for survival with the radical islamics that have always been active since Mohammed. Politics as usual... The true nemesis of the fighting man put in harms way by the failed political whores
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Oldpilot · 10 years ago
    Axle said: “They only want to hear how sad we are.”

    Well, heck, if you read the NY Times and listen to CBS, it's all about the victimized troops on this side of the water as well.

    Great photos!

    Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken · 10 years ago
    Michael - thanks to our heroic troops and to you. The courageousness of all who have taken this battle to our enemies humbles me. Your dispatches and amazing photos provide reality and humanity to the horrors of this war. I pray that God protect you and all of our brave soldiers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Larry K · 10 years ago
    As an " trooper" from the Vietnam era, I applaud your type of reporting. It gives us Americans some good perspective about what its like to combat the narco and oil funded terrorism on its home ground. It really helps me get a feeling for the dedication of not only our troops, but our allies also. I commend them and you for brave service. Larry Kramer
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    nell · 10 years ago
    One lone voice telling the truth - yours. I note your comment not to trust the voices from London and Washington . We don't. It just grieves me that our fantastic troops have to rely on the sorry specimens of gordon brown and bob ainsworth. They deserve better, much better. Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CDC · 10 years ago
    Michael, may God bless you and all the troops; I appreciate everything that you're all doing. I pray you can continue with your work as it is invaluable. I enlighten people as often as possible. I work on an AF Base and see soldiers every day; we work with AF, Army, Guard, Marines and many others. We help prepare them for deployment and take care of them again upon their return. (I work at the base hospital here). Please keep your head down and stay safe. Again, God Bless you and all of the troops. Tell them there are many, many of us here who appreciate each and everyone of them; we do not take their fight in this war for granted; we know they put their lives on the line every day and we keep them in our thoughts and prayers all of the time. I cannot say enough about my appreciation for all the sacrifices. Does not matter if they are British, Australian, locals, we're all in this together and those of us here at home in the know realize that we wouldn't be able to continue in the fight without each other. thank goodness for those F15E Eagles and pilots and the chopper pilots and all the crews. Again, thank you all and God Bless you!

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pete Hartwick · 10 years ago
    Michael:

    I echo the comments concerning the singular, outstanding work you're doing. It's above reproach.
    Which is more than can be said for the people and what motivates them in the MoD and the abrupt cancellation of your embed status. Speculation about what caused it runs the gamut. It wasn't the Google Maps or the purported OpSec issues. You got too close to the root nerve: the MoD hasn't been doing its job for a long time and the situation there is beginning to show the soft spots. For instance, they MoD has not funded the necessary helicopter acquisition for the past 10 years. Now they're in a program of trying to do service extension life on the stuff that should have been replaced long ago.

    I suspect many of our UK friends are coming to terms with the same kind of fundamental failure that the so-called "Health Care Crisis" has triggered here in the US. It's not a disagreement over policy, or methods, or political party platforms. It's much more basic. In fact, fundamental to our so-called "representative" democratic form of government. We simply can no longer trust the political class, or any member of it, to do anything but look out for themselves. Even the apparent Good Guys let us down every day by not telling us the truth about what's going on, about who, specifically, is responsible for the failures -- all under the cover of having to "get along" in order to be effective.

    We simply can't trust them. Any of them. On any issue. For any reason. They're professional liars. We trusted them to go and represent us as best they could while the rest of us went about our lives. And while we were doing so, they hijacked "our" government and crafted every part of it to suit their own greedy purposes. Notice: the MoD decision wasn't about The Truth. But what else is there --- that's worth fighting and dying for?

    And we're all still trying to figure out what we're gong to have to do to get back our own government that's been stolen from us

    Our prayers are with you.

    Pete
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ali stewart · 10 years ago
    the dedication, professionalism and sense of and performance of duty by our troops in Afghanistan with the utter incompetence, deceit and mendacity of their masters in their comfortable London lives. To appreciate what they do in such awful circumstances, which you vividly illustrate in your riveting reports is to realize how low, how utterly disgusting, how completely beyond contempt are the politicians who would send our young men and women into harm's way, ill equipped, undermanned, with flawed strategies and where the aggrandizement and stock of those same politicians is the only end-game.

    How good must they feel to be able to release a convicted Islamic mass murderer of 270 British and American souls on compassionate grounds or condone that act by not objecting, or encourage it with 'memoranda of understanding' with pariah, terrorist States over prisoner transfer agreements. How well they must feel they have served the British people by saving us the money required to buy our troops basic body Armour, camouflage kit, properly protective vehicles, helicopters and more helicopters. How righteous must they feel when pontificating about human rights for everyone and democracy for all and ubiquitous freedom from oppression. Great aspirations crafted for public consumption in glittering pantheons, safe for the protagonists to do battle with their enemies across those debating chambers.

    But there are other pantheons, burial grounds for our unsung heroes. 210 dead in Afghanistan, not one welcomed back to British soil by any politician. Marked only by a minute at PMQs, or a very brief mention on the six o'clock news these extraordinary people achieving the remarkable by the hour are our great inspiration. In their dieing and in their service they achieve everything that eludes their superiors- they live for their Country.

    Your posts have been illuminating, should be required reading for every individual of reading age in the UK. You have probably been one of the great proponents of UK/US relations, particularly in the US and we are grateful. You have been a valuable conduit for our troops' loved one's at home, so I really am appalled at the MOD's decision to pull your embed status. But you know it was not their decision. To suggest that their tactics were wrong on the drug trade, or that they were helicopter-light, or incredibly, to suggest that what the kids were doing was in any way exceptional just did not fit the politicians posture.

    So they sleep well in their comfortable beds while our AFs bake in the sun. They elegantly sidestep difficult questions while the troops dodge bullets. They do battle with their adversaries in comfortable tv studios while our young men and women live cheek by jowl with a ruthless enemy that would blow them up, stone them, slit their throats in an instant. How brave they are to advertise for yet more spin doctors at £70K pa to explain their policies while denying our fighting forces an absolute standard of protection.

    It is impossible to reconcile the different positions of the British Govn't. On the one hand we are fighting fundamentalism there, because if we were not we would be fighting it here, and we are releasing fundamentalist mass murderers on compassionate grounds because not to do so would be a victory for fundamentalism? Give me strength. But all this while the men and women on the ground are being shot, exploded, maimed, killed.

    I salute our troops. I laud you and your work. But at the same time I have utter revulsion for the politicians. That they can imagine that they have done a good day's work when another few coffins touch British soil, beggars belief. That they can sleep easy in their beds, knowing that with a few less diversity projects they could have saved a few lives takes me here: I hate these people with such a passion! No words can now describe my revulsion. Their talking heads are an affront to common decency; I cannot wait to be rid of them.

    There is no cost too high that is not justified by the the safety of our babies. Thank heaven our troops know this and heaven help us that our politicians do not. So long as we have a voice like yours we will be reminded of that. They may silence you now, but the message you have delivered is loud and clear, unmistakable in it's simplicity. When we need someone on our side, we would all have a sapper before a politician any-day.

    While the MSM continues to be so cozy with the politicians, you are a breath of fresh air. While they all but ignore the grief, suffering, sacrifice and honor of our troops and their families, loved ones, friends most of the population of this Country are beginning to understand. The people are repulsed by the politicians; they are reviled at large. Pretty soon they will have their just rewards. I hope our troops get theirs.



  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wife of Ssgt Oz Schm · 10 years ago
    I love you honey I loved seeing you in your pics. Like a bear.

    Am sure your para/commando/high threat/being married to me the worst nightmare has made you strong enough to remember you can do anything you put your mind to sexyass. Keep your head. Cant wait to see you in November. Proud of you as ever.

    There maybe some richer bigger more decorated men in the world however I know what you do. Those men dont even almost get it - what it takes to do what and be close to who you are. Thats strength to me, real strength. Consistent loyalty and hard work is what you are. Thats rare hun unique even nowadys thats why I love you Schmid.

    Your job and my job (here with L and Bo and my work in hospital) means we really do live in the moment for so much of our lives hope we can for once live in the moment with eachother for a change soon.

    I am missing you it hurts and I get angry. All I can do in this passive disengaged country we call Britain is to be as English as I can be and respect you as much as I can while you are gone.

    WIFE X X X
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    jayhawk · 10 years ago
    just wanted to say that you have done more to keep the main stream media from "vietnaming" this war than just about any
    journalist. i am a vietnam era vet and i remember how they did our vets and how we lost when we didnt before it was even over.
    the brits are a darn good bunch. i remember them from reforger in germany. keep up the good work..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Diabulos · 10 years ago
    I must say, this is what real journalism is about! well done! your photos are great and I love the colours. What camera are you using? and how do you kee the dust out of the lens!
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    ETJ · 10 years ago
    Michael - as a Brit, your website is the only source that gives me an indication of what our forces are doing and experiencing in Afghanistan. I cannot thank you enough, and I too am at a loss to understand MoD’s action. If it was OpSec, then a quiet word in your ear would sorted it ?
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    Nina · 10 years ago
    Hey Michael..what a great job you did!As other said that is what journalism is really about!
    Dear military men and women Thank you and lots of hugs and do come home safe soon!
    Dear Afegan people wish you peace and prosperity.
    Michael xoxo to you.
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    chris oldfield · 10 years ago
    been to pharmacy road a few times, great to see that such a good writer has worked with 2 rifles as well as 4 rifles in Iraq, my respect for you as only got bigger as i have now read 2 articles that you have written that i have taken part in.

    Just for peoples imformation 'Team rainbow is a mick take of the old childrens TV show from England' i only know this becouse i know the man who made the name up for his team, Sgt shaun powell.

    Once again great job and a pleasure to read

    God bless
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    JohnPlambert · 10 years ago
    French Mirages, and Rafale will be upgraded with standard US Rover system, tested by AdA this summer.
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    Jon Wilson · 10 years ago
    My son is serving with C coy 2nd Rifles based at FOB Wishtan, without these pictures it would have been hard to imagine what his life has been like for the past 5 and a half months. As a parent/step parent you sometimes hold your breath when your kids are late home from school or lost in the shopping centre, after 5 and a half months of holding our breath our son is due home next week god willing (I don't actually believe in god, but I would try anything to get him home safe) I thank you for the despatches even though they have filled me with horror seeing how they live and work in those conditions but at least now when he tells of his experience's out there I will be able to put pictures to his stories and pretend that I understand how scared/hot/tired/homesick/angry/sad he was out there.

    I wish you the very best of luck Michael in your work/life and cannot express how grateful I and my family are !
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    Darren Stewart · 10 years ago
    It was announced today that SSgt Schmid of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (JFOD) (I believe) was killed in action, while on duty trying to deal with an UXB/IED.
    http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/MilitaryOperations/StaffSergeantOlafSchmidKilledInAfghanistan.htm

    All our men and women serving out there are Hero's. Every last one of them. However, the men who tackle IEDs every single day are very special, and the words of his comrades spell this out better than I ever could.
    Christina Schmid, wife of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid said:

    "Oz was a phenomenal husband and loving father who was cruelly murdered on his last day of a relentless five month tour.

    "He was my best friend and soul mate. The pain of losing him is overwhelming. I take comfort knowing he saved countless lives with his hard work. I am so proud of him."
    ieutenant Col Robert Thomson, Commanding Officer 2 RIFLES Battle Group said:

    "SSgt Oz Schmid was simply the bravest and most courageous man I have ever met. Under relentless IED and small arms attacks he stood taller than the tallest. He opened the Pharmacy Road and 24 hrs later, found 31 IEDs in one go on route SPARTA. Every single Company in 2 RIFLES adored working with him.

    "I adored working with him. No matter how difficult or lethal the task which lay in front of us, he was the man who only saw solutions.

    "He saved lives in 2 RIFLES time after time and for that he will retain a very special place in every heart of every Rifleman in our extraordinary Battle Group. Superlatives do not do the man justice. Better than the best. Better than the best of the best. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved family."

    Today, a giant, legend and a hero of a man has fallen, may hell come to those responsible. Condolences to his family.
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    Bomb Doctor · 10 years ago
    Oz's wife posted a message to him 8 posts earlier (see above)..... He was then killed on his last day in Theatre.

    This is truely a sad, sad event.

    RIP Oz.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joe Power · 10 years ago
    Oz was a superstar and a firm favourite in BG(N). A top bloke who will be sorely missed.

    RIP mate.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Malcolm Smith · 10 years ago
    RIP SSgt Schmid, and (FWIW at this time) my condolences to you Mrs Schmid.
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    Fraser Clay · 9 years ago
    Mrs. Schmid,
    I am sorry to hear of your loss. I cannot imagine what you must be feeling right now...you must know better then anyone how truly great your husband is. I will be praying for you and your family. Your sacrifice can never be repaid but please know there are many who are thinking about him.
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    E. Dwyer · 9 years ago
    Belated kudos but sincerely felt- awesome work. Thank you. And God Bless.

    Emmett, Albuquerque NM
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    Freemon Sandlewould · 9 years ago
    Legalize all dope. Profit margin goes to ZERO. Problem done.

    Think not?

    Think again. It helps weed the gene pool back here in the USA. No sense trying to pretect the self destructive from themselves. All the better to let them move on to wherever it is they are going in the end regardless of our clumsy efforts to the contrary.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve · 8 years ago
    Having gone through the "devils playground" myself, I know how hard it can be.... this atricle pretty much sums up the feeling of isolation, frustration, feeling like you're chasing ghosts, and the sense of trepidation in working in this environment. But also the sense of relief when stuff comes off good!!! Thanks for writing this.
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    Kate.UK · 8 years ago
    Your picture of the soldier sleeping on his body armour is my brother! Couldn't believe it, but there he was, broke my heart a little to see that. The work your doing is extraordinary and in my opinion isn't as well known as it deserves to be. God Bless and stay safe (If that is even possible) Kate
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Debra. AU · 7 years ago
      Kate, I just read this story, and was equally touched by the picture of your brother as well as the story. Also I wanted to send a message of gratitude to your brother and all his military buddies for their service... from a grateful Australian. I hope him he got home safely and knows that people around the world know of, and appreciate the sacrifice he, his fellow soldiers, and their families make for our safety and freedom.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Simon Bereit · 8 years ago
    Some amazing photos which give us an insight into what life is like on the front line in Helmand. Full respect to you for being out there with true heroes. Keep up the great work.
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    Debra, AU · 7 years ago
    Mrs Schmid and family... I know this is a rather belated comment, but please accent my condolences, for the tragedy your family is enduring. I cannot begin to imagine how supremely proud you must be of him, for the incredible work he did, and also, the immeasurable loss you must be feeling. If it is any small comfort, I hope you know that on behalf of all those who enjoy the life free of fear and uncertainty around the world that men like your husband, work to create for us, my family and I will always be grateful for your husband's service and sacrifice.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Samsara · 6 years ago
    Thank you for the article, it's transparently refreshing to read. Love the comment about how families only sympathize without going further to understand what these men do to make the world a safer place. Their stand makes all the difference everyday even when it doesn't feel or seem so :-)
    I'm in love with one & so proud of what his uniform stands for xxxxx SS
  • This commment is unpublished.
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    Scotty · 1 years ago
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