Michael's Dispatches




Soldiers can be seen in the field moving closer to the IED.

At Brick 1, everything seemed fine; soldiers were cutting up, saying Perez the sniper couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

We walked to the roof of Brick 1 where Perez had his calculator out, doing the math for a long shot, and I wondered who he was going to shoot.  Turns out he was only preparing to fire at an IED that had recently been placed within direct sight of patrol base.  A patrol had moved out to get a closer look at the bomb.

Though December is dry and brown, the micro-terrain in the valley is like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak.  The enemy can still sneak around.  And so the area immediately outside the perimeter is likely to have a bomb that wasn’t there the day before.

A couple of helicopters could be seen in the far distance, doing who knows what.

A fat puppy slept on the roof near one of the machine guns, while a brown sheep was running around in the courtyard below.  Keeping dogs on base has been against regs since at least World War II, yet I have never been to a single base in Afghanistan or Iraq that doesn’t have at least one.  It’s highly doubtful that Secretary Gates or Admiral Mullen really care about the dogs.  At these isolated, small posts, dogs have probably saved a lot of American lives, but mostly they just make good pals.  Families send puppy chow through the mail and it’s common to see soldiers with bags of dog food and puppy chow.

On the roof were two interpreters.  One “terp” wore the nametag “Tarzan,” saying an American captain had given him the name and he liked it.  Afghan men tend to be fanatics for professional wrestling, so there was little doubt he tried to live up to his appellation.  He seemed very proud to be called Tarzan.

The soldiers and terps were joking, despite the new bomb nearby which indicated that someone in the neighborhood wanted to kill them.  Only the lone sheep seemed unhappy in his loneliness.  There was an explosion in the far distance.  There were no birds in the air, other than helicopters in the distance.  The day before, the Dutch had come in with a giant helicopter to FOB Frontenac and picked up one of their helicopters that had come back from a mission with bullet holes.  The Dutch took off the rotors, drained fluids, and flew it away.

Roof of Brick 1: Kandahar Airfield, and Pizza Hut is only about 10 minutes away by helicopter, though these soldiers go weeks eating MREs.  Everyone’s war is a snowflake; no two wars are the same.  One of Mullah Omar’s wives came from just a few minutes away.

Soldiers at Brick 1 said a mortar strike made this hole in their roof but that fight happened before they arrived. There is the saying that war consists of long periods of sheer boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.  Here there’s something pretty much always going on, though often we don’t know what it is.  You can hear explosions or firing, or see the helicopters or jets up to something, but you don’t know what.

1st Platoon prepared to depart Brick 1, leaving the current inhabitants nearby.

We moved through fields and four men were searched but mostly the soldiers just smiled and kept moving.

We didn't see girls or women during this part of the walk.

This soldier noticed that the wall on the left had been patched since the last time he was there.  The enemy often plants bombs in walls.

We walked for maybe another half-mile through a small village that Lieutenant Fadden said previously had been abandoned, but after soldiers had moved into Brick 1 and began regular patrols, families starting coming back.  This is a good effect of our work.  Creating safety for the local population is the basis of an effective counterinsurgency strategy.  LT Fadden’s statements are consistent with observations I’ve made elsewhere in Afghanistan, and also what we saw in Iraq in 2007.  Despite much grim news from Afghanistan, there is clear progress in some areas.

This same confusion was evident nearly every step of the way in Iraq between 2004 and mid 2007: clear progress in some respects with clear backsliding in others.  This is the nature of progress in face of opposition.  It’s like a ship whose engines are pushing one way, while the currents are flowing another, while the changing winds are blowing yet another, and it’s all happening at night, and there is no GPS.  You just have to wait for clear nights to check the stars, and, as it has been said, smooth seas never made a successful sailor.  This military has weathered ferocious storms over the past eight years, more than even they can remember, often enduring setbacks and tragedies, sometimes blown off course.  Over that time, there has been movement toward our goals, but not enough, and the enemy is strengthening.

Along the way, young boys wanted their photos taken, but girls were nowhere to be seen.

This village had water wells similar in form to what can be seen in many villages in Afghanistan.

The base of this water well indicates the Danish installed it back in 2003, when the world seemed to know that the Taliban were whipped and we decided to attack Iraq.

Elsewhere in Arghandab are plentiful signs, apparently erected by us, which today mock our ‘progress.’  People say that Americans, British and others are losing patience with our progress here.  It's reasonable that citizens at home expect demonstrable progress in 2010, after 8 full years. People at home have a right to know how we are spending the lives of our people, and our money.

We walked back to the ANA base without incident.  Some 82nd Airborne soldiers were preparing for a mission.  They had no way of knowing that an earthquake was brewing in Haiti and other 82nd soldiers would soon be swooping in there to save lives.

Tonight, 18 December 2009, their unit would take command of the area, and the 1-17th would go out to FOB Frontenac to take a different area.  Stryker soldiers from the 1-17th talked quietly about the Humvees, sadly predicting the loss of 82nd brethren, and then changed the subject to more lighthearted matters.

A few minutes later, I joined a different Stryker convoy for the several-hour journey back to FOB Frontenac.  We would travel through the area where five Canadians --four soldiers and a journalist -- would soon be killed.  This was shortly before the suicide bombing at a base that attacked CIA officers, killing eight people.  The CIA is out here working hard but they don’t get much credit.  That’s the way it must be.

As we crossed dangerous terrain, a helicopter from some unknown country swooped over the convoy a couple times.  The Strykers are bad about getting stuck in the desert, but are better than the heavy humvees, and so we crossed some wadis at 90 degrees.  Over my headset, soldiers talked about the high danger of this area.  Later that night, we got back to FOB Frontenac and learned that an 82nd Airborne Convoy had been hit in a wadi that we had crossed.  The humvees cannot cross wadis like Strykers can.  A ranking soldier explained that the humvee had driven in the wadi and been hit.  Two soldiers were wounded.  Sergeant Albert Ware, an 82nd Airborne soldier from Chicago, had been killed.  Albert was originally from Liberia and on his second tour in Afghanistan.  A story in Chicago would say the following:

“Tragically, the war monument in the Pullman neighborhood will soon bear another name, after a 27-year-old father of three was killed this week by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Sgt. Albert Ware died after his Humvee was blown up while he was on a secret mission…When Ware told his parents he'd joined the military after the Sept 11 terror attacks, they were angry that he voluntarily chose to go to war.

"I was afraid," said his father, Thomas Ware."

Sergeant Albert Ware died in service to the United States.  He is an American hero.  Since this mission, the Coalition has lost about a hundred more.  The war goes on.


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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kash · 10 years ago
    Great dispatch, as always. The pictures are priceless. On a different note, I thought SecDef Gates had cancelled the Land Warrior system.
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    David M · 10 years ago
    Great dispatch Mike. Can't wait to hear more, of the current operations.

    I've linked to this dispatch in the post: Patterns - Yon
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David M · 10 years ago
    Sorry for the second comment..the link above got zapped...

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    Hans de Vreij · 10 years ago
    A very interesting article! In one of the pictures I noticed something familiar: a yellow jerrycan, presumably filled with ammonium nitrate. See for the very same type of yellow can, transformed into an IED: http://bit.ly/80aIS5 (picture courtesy of the ministry of Defense of Australia).
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pencil Neck · 10 years ago

    Great to see a link to your site on Fox News! Keep your powder dry!

    Pencil Neck
    10th SFG (A)
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    Matt in Indianapolis · 10 years ago
    Thanks for the great pictures and write-up.
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    Colin · 10 years ago
    Looks like a Canadian Griffion helecopter
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    Eddy Williams · 10 years ago
    Thanks for the dispatch, Michael. A very interesting yet profoundly sad story.
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    A&N · 10 years ago
    Great to see you on Fox. You and Fox are our main sources of info on the war. Nobody can do photos better than you can and the extra details you give are all important to us. Thanks...be careful please...a silly request but a sincere one.
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    Susan Y. · 10 years ago
    My son is part of the 82nd that has replaced the 1-17. In reading your dispatches and looking at the incredible photos, I have a little better understanding of what he faces....as much as one can being safe at home in "the Land of the Free". Would love to see more pictures of the 82nd ABN guys as you find yourself in their company. Thanks Mike, I'm so glad I found your site....there is so much more information provided here than on any of the "official" sites that I have come across. Be safe, GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS.....
  • This commment is unpublished.
    kwgm · 10 years ago
    Michael, I don't know how you keep on going.

    You have my prayers for a safe journey, and my thanks for keeping us all well informed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Johnson · 10 years ago
    Great stuff as usual. Thank you for your sacrifice and service for the brotherhood of arms, for America, and for freedom.
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    Mitch T · 10 years ago
    Mike, I appreceate teh hard work you and the troops are doing. Bringing news about what's really going on on the ground is important to me, though it's confusing.

    Stay safe, and pet those dogs for me!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Judah · 10 years ago
    How is something that is less sophisticated then a BlackBerry weigh NINE POUNDS!!!!. My Blackberry is tiny and never fails while our troops are stuck with outdated technology. Have the boys at RIM take a look at that device and they will have its perfected in no time.
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    John S. · 10 years ago
    Two things:

    This offensive has been advertised for months in advance. Why? That only serves to give the Taliban time to prepare and for the prime targets to quietly slip away.

    Second: McChrystal has called for a halt of the use of Hamir rockets after 12 civilians were killed by a wayward shot.WHAT IN THE DEVIL WERE THEY DOING IN THE LINE OF FIRE???
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mashkur · 10 years ago
    The problem with embedded journalist is that they have become mouth piece of US Army. They are great source of getting story about a soldier but not the war. They are another example of Pentagon Pandit Program.
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    jic · 10 years ago
    Does your BlackBerry display through an eyepiece? During your normal working day, does your BlackBerry get slammed to the ground, exposed to dust, water, burning sun, freezing cold? Is your BlackBerry secure to military standards? If your BlackBerry fails, what is the worst thing that is likely to happen to you?

    If you need highly specialized communications equipment, you can't expect it to have every single feature of the latest civilian versions. That doesn't mean that our troops are working with garbage, and the system will improve over time.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jic · 10 years ago
    Anybody who thinks that Michael is a mouthpiece of the US Army obviously hasn't spent much time reading him.
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    JColon · 10 years ago
    A blackberry has towers it can communicate with, all over in the US. It is about as useful as a rock in afghanistan, unless you are near a city.
    The LW system works by carrying its on "towers" in the vehicles that accompany the troops, essentialy a portable network. Most of the weight is battery and material to make LW survive in the harsh environment. My blackberry got one drop of water in the trackball and it no longer works right. I bet it takes a lot more water than that to deadline a LW.
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    Chris N · 10 years ago
    Mike, great story thank you. The photos are trully amazing. I worked in Iran in the late '70's and traveled to Afghanistan, but never did see vineyards. They really grow grapes for wine?
    My best to all our troops to stay safe and keep your heads low.
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    Leon C. · 10 years ago
    I have a special regard for B Company. I sent some packages to a squad back in fall 2009 until the SSG addressee was wounded. Small stuff, a frisbee, nerf football, pens and writing pad, baby wipes and even some twinkies. Hope these goodies from home and the Christmas cards helped a little bit. Wish I could have done more. I don't think any of us old vets can look at these photos and read the article without getting a lump in our throat seeing what these "warriors" go through every day of their deployment. America will always be in your debt. God bless every one of you.
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    KellyC · 10 years ago
    Great article as always Michael!

    Here's more info on what's been going on with the dead but somewhat resurrected Land Warror system: http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htinf/20090708.aspx

    What would be interesting, is if a miniaturized version of the Boomerang system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boomerang_(mobile_shooter_detection_system) could be developed for wearing by some (probably not all) members of a platoon who are often dismounted, far away from a vehicle, and in open spaces, when they come under sniper fire in Afghanistan. Integrate that with the LWS and you could almost have it automatically call in airstrikes for you ;-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott P. · 10 years ago
    First it is very obvious you know nothing about Michael. Second, you think this article is NOT about a war? Go back to reading the comics.....maybe you could understand that.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jic · 10 years ago
    A vineyard is just a place where grapes are grown, not just those used for wine. They could be grown as table grapes, or to be used to make raisins, jelly, juice, etc.
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    Cdn Helo · 10 years ago
    The aircraft is a CH-146 Griffon from TF Freedom, the Canadian Helicopter Detachment.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tankfixer · 10 years ago
    Great report, sad that some think that getting out the story of the soldier in the field is a "mouth piece"

    B 1/17 IN was my very first unit, so many years ago, Camp Casey ROK..
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    Salma · 9 years ago
    this particular dispatch is very interesting indeed.i love it and i have read it several times now.i can say i actually felt every moment of it.nice description of the whole situation.God bless you Michael yon.
    America is proud of you.
    To peace...

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