Michael's Dispatches


Common Scenes & Common Thoughts


Common Days & Nights


A helicopter roars into FOB Jackson in Sangin, Afghanistan.  Medical tents are just next to the Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) so casualties can be quickly loaded.

05 August 2009

The helicopter pilot wearing night vision goggles roared in so fast it looked as though he were crashing.  The four green Cylums (Americans call them Chemlights) mark the HLS.  While the helicopter is above the dust cloud, it melts into the dark, but as it approaches the HLS, dust swirls high, setting the stage for an amazing light show.  The Chinook descends through the dry dust and the rotors glitter brightly, creating an eerie glow as if sparklers are attached to the rotors, which in reality appeared brighter to the eye than in the photo below.  If the helicopter were not so loud, the millions of static discharges might be heard crackling and popping.

Slow shutter speed causes moving helicopter to 'disappear' while the trace and sparks off the descending rotors is clear.  Heavy dust makes a sharp focus look blurred.  (ISO 1600, 50mm at f1.2, 3.2s.)

Dust begins to clear.  (ISO1600, f1.2, 2.5s.)

Air Cooler.


While walking across FOB Jackson to find Nepalese Gurkhas, this air cooler caught the lens.   After sprinkling water on the straw, evaporation cools the air.  Construction of air coolers has been taught in military survival classes, yet like much of those classes, the field craft is just part of daily life around the world.  In India, many hotels will advertise they have “air conditioners” when actually the rooms often use various sorts of air coolers which—though better than languishing and sweating through nights of Indian summers—are not the air conditioners that many people expect.

Nepalese Gurkhas took me on a mission in Sangin.

Annual recruitment for the Gurkha regiment is brutal, and I asked about the different “selections” they underwent.  One Gurkha said his selection started with 26,000 applicants, though only about 200 were chosen for the Regiment.  I have trained with Gurkhas in Brunei, and been to Nepal many times, but this was my first mission with Gurkhas that included real bullets and real enemies.

Gurkhas serving in the British Army have been rotating through Afghanistan.  They can converse with many Afghans, at least on a basic level, by speaking Hindi.  The Gurkhas also look like many Afghans (especially Hazaras), and in fact many Filipinos, Thais, Nepalese and Hazaras look very similar.  As British soldiers, Gurkhas travel the world and see many things and they also live for years in the United Kingdom and Brunei.  They travel to Africa, Central America, Europe and often America.  Add to this fact that these men tend to come from remote, rugged villages where the terrain will match or possibly even exceed any of the severe difficulties found in Afghanistan, and the insight created from this confluence of experience can be invaluable.  Gurkha impressions of Afghanistan are of particular interest to me.

ANP: Afghan National Policeman (ANP).

The young Gurkhas at FOB Jackson are working as part of a PMT, or Police Mentoring Team.  When the Afghan policeman in the photo above showed up looking pregnant I asked, “Do you have baby?” and armed man lifted his shirt to show the magazines of ammunition.  Just why he was carrying the ammo under his shirt remains a mystery.  You never know what these guys will do next.  The Gurkhas have good words for the Afghan Army here at FOB Jackson, but are wary of the police, who they say are lazy, inept, and lack initiative and professionalism.  The Police Mentoring Team works to the intent of Captain Toby Woodbridge, whose assessment of the ANP introduces context that the ANA here had roughly three years head start on the ANP.   According to Captain Woodbridge, the ANP respond favorably to consistent, long-term training.  “There is clear evidence that when you provide the ANP with adequate training, you create the conditions for development of a professional, motivated security force.  These guys have a hard life and do a difficult, dangerous job.”

The pre-mission briefing, delivered by a Gurkha soldier, was identical to what one would expect from another British soldier, or an American infantryman, only it was delivered with a heavy Nepalese accent.  Each important detail of today’s mission had been discussed in advance. So we headed into the Sangin market along with several ANP.  There was a fair chance that we would get into some sort of fight.

As we move into a dangerous area, two Gurkhas with a spotless machine gun take a roof to cover our movement forward.

Having trained with Gurkhas for a month on Brunei and reading battle citations from their tours in Afghanistan, I was confident that if there were any dramas, the Gurkhas would hammer the Taliban flat. The Gurkhas all seem to think that the Taliban are poor fighters, but Gurkhas say the home field is a crucial Taliban advantage. Many Gurkhas say the Taliban often are brave, though they perceive Taliban in Sangin as cowards because they mostly only hide and plant bombs. When the Taliban do stand and fight, the British soldiers tend to out-fight the Taliban and kill them.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mad Dog · 12 years ago
    Great stuff. Kudos to the G's and the Brits. It is worthwhile and the Afghani's deserve better. Maybe the ANA will help this come about after emulating these fine troopers.
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    Traci Wilberger · 12 years ago
    Thanks Michael for the dispatch. I love your updates, it really gives me a sense of what these fighting men and women have to live with, not only the environment but the constant stress and pressure, never knowing when the next attack will hit. Living in these kinds of conditions they must be very close. To stay focused and keep moving forward after a buddy have been severely wounded... incredible toughness! I am so sorry to hear Bowe Bergdahl has not been released or rescued. I too am praying for him, I keep his name on my refrigerator so I will not forget. I pray for your safety as well sir. Thankyou for all you do!
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    Ian Bach · 12 years ago
    Excellent photos and article. I hope those who can will donate to help ensure you can keep reporting from front lines and other relavant areas / events.

    We need this information to fight enemy propaganda. In 2007 insipred by the Afghan landscape and the fact the enemy propaganda machine was NOT concentrated on afghanistan made me concerned. I am mostly referring to how in 2007 we would have fox news saying here is a al qaeda video we found at YOUTUBE. It was regarding Iraq and the call to young disenfranchised muslims to kill americans in Iraq. That led me to believe al qaeda was worried they could lose Iraq and AQ was not worried about Afghanistan......So I read about Ahmed Massoud and counter insurgency history of the areas from all types of sources to get all angles, and stumbled on a terrorist web site. I spent that summer showing people how to fight them online. Now many people reporting those things and making the enemy have to work harder to accomplish goals. As you said in 2007 during that tiime "We may own the air, but the enemy owns the air waves." I will again start to help you by promoting your web site and try to increase readers and sponsers. The work you do makes all our jobs eayier and more effective.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 12 years ago

    I know this will sound dumber than h*ll, but just listen out:

    1> The problem with helicopters bringing in supplies. After WW2 the US had a bunch of assault gliders that could lift a jeep and an antitank cannon. Thousands of them in boxes. They were made of steel tubing, some wood and canvas. They were made for a one time use. Sadly we don't have them. They land on a dime, have no IR signature and at night coming in on NVG would be a lot -- LOT -- less vulnerable than a helicopter like the Chinook or Mi-26 for resupply. And what to do with them after they landed. Heck, give them to the Afghans or burn them.

    2> Use of Fertilizer to make IEDs. I don't know how to do it, but the British use to leave behind ammo accidently while on operations in Afghanistan in the late 1800s and 1900s. Only the rounds were way overloaded and the bullet was fixed to the casing. You can imagine the results when fired by Afghans who thought they came across a gold mine. To make sure the Afghan's did not think they were all that way they spread some that weren't only with the bullet modified (where it could not be detected) so it would not shoot straight. To wit, it would be neat if they could come up with something that they could mix with those bags of fertilizer that when mixed with diesel would cause some reaction. Explode being the best option. Neutralizing the second best option. Sort of like they mixed mustard seed with airplane glue to keep it from being huffed by teenagers today.

    Told you it was some crazy ideas.

    Jack E. Hammond

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    LadyLiberty · 12 years ago
    Just said a prayer for you and the troops and the good Afghan people, Michael. Come home soon with victory.
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    howarde12 · 12 years ago
    Never in my life have I seen such a day-after-day series of remarkable photos, and I began photography as a bobby in 19 2. The stories, the explanations, should be required reading in all of our high schools.
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    Peter Montbriand · 12 years ago
    Yon said the wounded Brit got to the hospital 5 minutes after the attack, that's good work. I'm in EMS, and we call it the "Golden Hour", that is, our goal is to get the trauma injured person off the scene, and to the ER within one hour. That young soldier has a chance, with what I know about the medical folks in Afghanistan, a very good chance.
    Yon glances over the fertilizer stuff, makes me wonder why we don't try to penetrate that market, get an agent or work on a bunch of the folks in it now. Might be some good intel there.......
    Mike, thanks for the regular writing. I wish I were rich, but I'll send what I can when I can.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken Van Tassell · 12 years ago
    Your view of this war make me feel like I have my boots on again and am with these brave folks. Praying for all minus the Talibuzzurds!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Zeno Davatz · 12 years ago
    Again excellent fotos and reporting of individual soldiers. Please continue your great work of real men and women!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lynn Keenan · 12 years ago
    Michael your dispatches really help relatives at home to try to understand what loved ones are experiencing - not that we'll ever really understand but you certainly give great insight. Your written and pictorial accounts are excellent. Without your bravery we would be non the wiser, I for one thank you.
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    a father · 12 years ago

    you are right on the money regarding the issues facing the coalition both on the ground and the national level. As for the fertiliser then control of supply and maybe the use of dye or adding elements to it seems the logical answer. We faced the same issues in Northern Ireland and found ways around it. In the end if not fertiliser though it will be something else so, we have to beat them on the ground and that will take many more boots than we have there at present. Recently an ex officer re stated the phrase " use more to lose less " and I suspect we will need to do just this to reach a stronger negotiating stance as surely we will end up at the table with some of our enemies.
    I have not read despatches before that give such an insight into the daily lives of our soldiers and it should be compulsary reading not just for school kids but also for politicos and all the people who inhabit our Ministry of Defence.

    thanks you
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    ex-Green Jacket · 12 years ago
    Great to see British and Gurkha riflemen at war, if I'm not mistaken Sgt Rob Grimes is one of the well-known Grimes clan from Liverpool,
    almost all of whom seem to have served in first, the Royal Green Jackets and now their descendants, The Rifles!
    A tough tour for the Bn. so far but I know they will make Terry pay.

    "Black and Green, the finest colours ever seen!"
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joseph Patrick Meiss · 12 years ago

    This is great reporting. We need to know what is happening in Afghanistan, and you provide the very best information.

    I am sending a small donation.

    We also are urging others to send money. We know it is needed.

    Take care of yourself. Keep your head down. We will send some prayers as well.

    Keep up this great work.

    FROM Joseph Patrick Meissner, LTC-RET,
    Editor, PSYOP Military Journal of PERSPECTIVES
    (Also Author of the book, "The Green Berets and Their Victories"
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CJ · 12 years ago
    ...that most of us will never have to experience...thanks to the brave men and women who fight on our behalf....

    God Bless every soldier of every nationality, fighting the good fight.

    Thank you, Michael for your amazing photos and your insightful reporting.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SGT G · 12 years ago
    This needs to be known and seen I will pray that your mission will be able to stay alive and that the world will see the truths that you present from us the soldiers.
    Thanks for all you do.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JB Coast Guard - Vie · 12 years ago
    I have been following you for years. I was an Army brat, and know that state side folks have a handicap when it comes to understanding the gravity of what you report. I thank God for people like you that bring unvarnished truth and reality to us with what you do. You are a rare individual, and very valuable asset to all of us "Ugly Americans".
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Kansteiner · 12 years ago
    I have just finished a book about the gurkhas by John Masters. The title is Bugles and a TIger. It is his expeiriences as a British officer in a Gurkha battalion. The description of fighting in the Northwest Frontier of India preWWII with the gurkhas are in some ways reminicent of today.
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    Frank White · 12 years ago
    Why do British people always give sing-songy endings to the names of their enemies? In WWII the Germans were "Jerry" and now the Taliban are "Terry". I guess its a British thing.
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    American by choice · 12 years ago
    Michael - I joned the US military as an 18 year old immigrant, but I needed a Green Card to do so - which I got via my Mom being born in the USA. I was suprised to meet other foreigners in US uniform during my service from Australia, Nigeria, South Africa and Scotland - I am from Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). But we all had Green Cards, or happened to be born in America and grew up elsewhere when Mom and Dad moved back to their country of origin, which allowed us to apply for enlistment.

    Unless something has changed since I enlisted in 1986, you still need a SSN and resident alien card to have a recruiter lie to you (snark).

    I do beleive that if we opened up the US military to qualified immigrants we would be blessed with standout troops in addition to our current, American born warriors - and considering where they come from we would benefit from their backgrounds too.

    Keep up the good work and stay lucky.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MADDY · 12 years ago
    Hey Michael, send an email to Petraeus and tell him you need more helicopters! He trusts you, right? Grest photos and commentary, as usual! Keep up the good work and stay away from those evil IED's. Sell those photos, Dude! God's speed to you and your soldiers!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mike Hall · 12 years ago
    Once again you have given us some breathtaking views of life on the field of humanity, and the eloquent descriptions to boot. Many thanks for your persistence and perseverance, and your experience. While we only get to see a small view of the conflict and its players, your world-view knowledge and background provide a far better explanation to assist our understanding of the trials and tribulations our troops - from wherever - go through. God bless you and them, and keep you safe.

    Everyone else -- There is a "Contribute" button to allow us to assist in covering Michael's expenses in the field. It also has the ability to set up a recurring Monthly Contribution. I'm not rich, but I can add a little each month; if we all do that we will be able to keep reading the unvarnished, unwashed by some PC gatekeeper, truth. Please contribute. Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jic · 12 years ago
    Gliders landing on mountainous terrain at night? Seems like a recipe for disaster to me.
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    infantryjj · 12 years ago
    This has got be one of your best posts ever. Thanks Mr Yon.
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    john stallard · 12 years ago
    Well done mate. Balanced, thoughtful stuff, and a lovely fresh take on the Ghurkas. And I applaud your honesty to call the Taliban attack on a school , idiotic.It was .Keep telling it like it is... thanks and keep your head down!!

    cheers john
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marilyn Morgan · 12 years ago
    My son is serving close by. Your reports help me experience, in a small but very significant way, some of what he is experiencing. Please keep it up!!!
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    Roberta Buckler · 12 years ago
    These are amazing pictures. I am just a grandmother and have no one over there but, I was touched by this and am praying for all to be safe. Keep up the good work
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    Pam · 12 years ago
    Thank you so very much for your work and experience and informative reports that you send out. Our son is in Iraq on his second tour right now and may possibley be headed to Afghanistan in the near future. God bless you for reporting on "the true stories" over there. There are many that read your blog and look at you wonderul photos. We will work on getting you more financial support. Thank you for all you do... We are so gratefull
    Pam, Proud Marine Mom!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Wes Eklund · 12 years ago
    Thanks Michael for your dispatches. I have followed them through Iraq, as my son (Army Airborne) was there before and during the surge, and now in Afghanistan where he is redeployed again. You provide real and specific information on what is going on, much better than the general news dispatches which tell us little about the daily, gritty details of war. The many critics of our military fail to grasp the tremendous training, will, and fortitude our young men bring to the fight.
    Like all who go to work, they learn more as they go and do become creatures of their element. We can only hope that our overall strategy gets more well thought out, as modernizing this country and bringing enlightened thought is a long, long process in an archaic world.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    kenny komodo · 12 years ago
    My son is in the process of joining the U.S. Army. I've always looked forward to your posts but for some reason now they seem even more significant. Keep your head down and your spirit up.
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    gary · 12 years ago
    Hey Michael, In the pic of the little shop (the fellow looks to be chopping up a piece of chicken?) just what is the plant to the right side? Sure looks a lot like MaryJane - weed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    winston · 12 years ago
    Excellent work, as always
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    Jack E. Hammond · 12 years ago
    Quote> Gliders landing on mountainous terrain at night? Seems like a recipe for disaster to me.

    Dear Member,

    Many of the areas have 00 meters or more space. That is over half that is required to bring a glider in. All the areas are not like those bases you see in the mountains of Afghanistan.

    Jack E. Hammond

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 12 years ago
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    Heinrich Stamper · 12 years ago
    Your assessment of multi-generational commitment to right the ship in Afghanistan rings true. The question is will our leaders have the stomach for the full-on and sustained commitment necessary to get the job done. Recall that after the Soviets were kicked out in '89, Afghanistan virtually disappeared from the headlines and the collective consciousness of our leaders. The Afghan people were left to pick up the pieces and slug it out amongst themselves. It only reinforced the perception that we hail freedom and democracy during the initial struggle against oppressors but pack up and leave when the fighting is done or when the old leaders are tossed out. The reality is that the rebuilding effort is just as crucial as the fighting to win the freedom.

    A similar scenario is shaping up with the Taliban. If we are successful in taking out the Taliban, will we stay and help the Afghans in their re-building efforts that might take several generations? Or will we repeat the mistake of '89 and say "The Taliban are gone, our job is done, good night Kabul and Kandahar, and good luck"? Some of our NATO allies already hesitate in their support of the mission - both in terms of financial and military support. If that happens again, it'll be the return of the warlords slugging it out for control. Or, God forbid, another form of a jihadist death cult.

    And on a related note, a recent article in the August 8th edition of the Wall Street Journal asks if a centralized form of government in Afghanistan is the right way to go considering the reality of tribal divisions. Even prior to the Soviet invasion, the sphere of political influence extended only around Kabul and its immediate area. As you pointed out in your piece, the terrain plays a large part in preventing societal cohesion in Afghanistan. Only time will tell which form of governance will successfully take hold.
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    Jack E. Hammond · 12 years ago

    One of the reasons their is a shortage of helicopters was the USMC decision two decades ago to stick with the MV-22 Osprey come hell or high water, which meant the Vietnam era CH-46 had to continue in service way beyond the date it should have been retired. Now some Marines in the aviation community are now stating that the MV-22 is not a good mix for Afghanistan. One it is way to expensive in cost and prestige to risk.

    Jack E. Hammond

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Drew · 12 years ago
    Fantastic pictures, thank you for sharing these - and more important thank you for your service protecting the rest of us at home. Be safe and come home soon.
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    Dom Hyde · 12 years ago
    Jack, your glider idea IS crazy - do you know the success rate for glider landings in WW2? Those things are death traps, and were only used because the helicopter hadn't been perfected yet, nor were sufficient paratroopers available.

    MV22 Osprey has nothing to do with the helicopter situation in Afghanistan. The 2nd MEB out there now has plenty of helicopters (the best ratio in the theatre at something like 1 for every grunts). They have CH-5 Sea Stallions, Hueys and Hueycobras. They're not using the CH-46 Sea Knight, so even if it were past it's retirement (and I notice that the equally old Hueys and Air Force Chinooks are still in service following similar mid-life updates), it is not an issue. Helicopters are not generally an issue for US troops, which is why they are able to loan them out to British generals ;-)
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    Reg Hanbury · 12 years ago
    My father fought on the north-west frontier of India (now part of Pakistan). So we know what tough and resilient fighters they are who live in these areas, both Gurkha and Afghan. My Regiment is out in Afghanistan at present. your photos and descriptions of Sangin give a good account of the conditions out there, for which many thanks.
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    maureen · 12 years ago
    I find it heinous that the majority of US journalists report negatively about the US military fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq. All you hear are the bad stories. You never hear of the great humanitarian works being done like buliding schools, roads , providing electricity and improving daily life in general, NOT TO MENTION GIVING THEM FREEDOMS THAT WE LIVE WITH EVERY DAY , AND MOST PEOPLE TAKE FOR GRANTED!!! Most so called journalists report to the public voicing their own personal views on the wars. If todays media reported on World War 2, Im sure they could come up with a slant on the Axis powers side. It is refreshing to find a journalist who reports the plain facts and doesnt use yellow journalism. I have been writing and supporting troops on both fronts for over 6 years now, and it hits my heart dead center knowing that these brave young men and women do so much for so little pay. and they never complain. GOD BLESS EM ALL!!!!
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    Cathi L. · 12 years ago
    Hi Mike! I just made a contribution plus a commitment to send more on a monthly basis. I fully support your mission and want to do what I can to keep you "safely" reporting from Afghanistan.

    Watch your back and keep the faith!
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    Art D · 12 years ago
    I have been reading Michael Yon wrote for a long time, and it never fails to touch something in my soul. I work for the Army now, as a government civilian, but I was an Infantryman and a paratrooper...a "Soldier Once, and Young"... for many years. I made three trips to Iraq and one to Afghanistan (in 2002)...but my days of being able to walk those kinds of mountains and carry those kinds of loads are over, I've gotten too long in the tooth. Still, reading this article and his others, makes me want to pack my ruck and get out there among those amazing soldiers, to share with them the old feelings and emotions of a rifle company. It was never easy, it wasn't always fair, but it was REAL, and it gave life a spice that once tasted can never be forgotten. Thanks Mike (do your friends call you that, or Michael?). Thanks for what you do for us all.
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    AJM · 12 years ago
    Oi Yon, dont try and poach any Gurkhas!- they are true pro's and all of the UK feel lucky to have their loyalty to the British Army. Long may the UK/ Nepal partnership continue.
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    nellie · 11 years ago
    A great read about the Gurkhas - there are deep rooted historical reasons why they serve with either the British or Indian armies; none of which centre on pay or conditions (they were treated for many years as second-class citizens by the British Army; lower pay and few rights to bring their families to UK - things have improved markedly in recent years) Their hospitality is legendary and if you haven't tried the goat curry and tea then you haven't lived! In combat the have reputation as fierce fighters and tradition has it that if the kukri (curved knife) is drawn, then it is not sheathed until there is blood on the blade - fortunately they don't get involved in hand-to-hand combat much these days!
    Keep the articles coming Michael
  • This commment is unpublished.
    gaz · 11 years ago
    Nellie, I don't believe Gurkhas have been treated as second class citizens by the British Army for a long time. By the British Government certainly, but not by the Army.
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    Leyla · 11 years ago
    Michael............you definitely are our eyes!
    Great photos, insight and information!

    Be Safe,

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    John Lunt · 11 years ago
    The gurkhas have been fighting with the british for nearly 00 years. they've ruled the world with us. definatly some of the most feared and loyal soldiers in the wolrd, that just so happen to serve in the best Army the world has ever seen.

    Us Brits respect the gurkhas and trest them as our own. same can't be said for our useless goverment and spineless silver spoon politicians.

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