Michael the pictures are really awesome.....i cant describe how much im enjoying them.
happy to have u there so u can keep sending us ur beautiful dispatches...this is just so cool.
America is proud of you...
11 April 2010
During a mission there is no “pause” button. It’s on until it’s over. Recently, Charlie Company 1-17th Infantry conducted a mission that included visiting villages in the Shah Wali Kot district of northern Kandahar Province.
The main threats in this area are bombs and mines. Many vehicles have “mine rollers” on the front that are designed to detonate the bomb before it gets under the vehicle. The bombs often are big enough to completely obliterate any tank or armored vehicle ever built. During the mission, a mine roller on a Stryker broke, causing Charlie Company to overnight in the desert.
After finding a suitable RON (rest overnight) location, the task was security and making a plan for the night. With a full moon rising the Taliban could easily slip silently through the folds and creases of the land and strike. The Taliban likely already knew our strength. Tracks from the heavy Strykers would show our direction of travel, as would villagers along the way. Of course, if the enemy followed the tracks they would eventually lead to a hail of devastating fire. Most of the enemies are too smart for such mistakes. More likely, the enemy would try to anticipate our next move and get bombs in front of our most probable routes. They had all night. Our people up that game by pushing out snipers and observers who might be watching the Taliban—even from miles away—ready to kill them on our routes. Winning and losing deadly little skirmishes depends heavily on expertise, and luck. We and the enemy have great advantages and disadvantages.
It was dark when the above photo was taken at 9:19PM local. The moon was bright but the camera lens seemed to vacuum in the light and brightened to look like nearly daylight. (Image data: 1649Z/2119Lima 50mm f4.5 30s ISO 800.)
With security out, SFC Olaf Munch made a schedule for the sentries while the soldiers dined on MREs and unpacked sleeping bags. Lights were hardly needed. Red filters were used because red lights are more difficult to see from a distance and they preserve night vision.
Actual data for the above image includes: 1650Z/2120L 50mm f4.5 30s ISO 800. The “Z” or “Zulu” suffix denotes GMT or Greenwich Mean Time. GMT is the time at the Prime Meridian—which runs through Greenwich —and so the image was made at 4:50PM on the 24-hour clock used by the military and others. The U.S. military deals with every time zone in the world every minute of the day. I adopted the military’s good idea by setting my cameras to Zulu. Leaving the cameras on Zulu, it’s not important to remember to change the camera time or wonder if you did. The “L” or “Lima” means local time. Troops might say that “so and so” will happen at “0200 Zulu,” or maybe “0200 Lima.” Our military has myriad moving parts in different time zones and cannot have everyone operating on local clocks. The Navy would show up early, the Air Force would show up late, and the Army and Marines would crash into each other. Imagine the Air Force flying through multiple time zones to parachute supplies to a remote base. The aircraft might have come in from a thousand miles away, while Air Force HQ might be in a different time zone, and the Marine HQ in another, and the target drop zone in a different zone. So our people work off Zulu time, and everyone shows up on time. Usually.
Soldiers who had guard duty crashed quickly. Some wear boots while sleeping; others dry their feet. The military sleeping bags have enough footroom to allow for boots. The sleeping bag zippers are designed to easily rip open. Soldiers can go from sound asleep to fighting in seconds.
(1657Z/2127L 15mm f6.3 30s ISO 800)
The soldiers don’t walk much in case of land mines or IEDs. We stay within a small area, dispersed enough for safety, yet close enough to communicate.
No flash is needed. Only moonshine.
The mortar crew quietly telling jokes after the long day.
With no clouds, the earth radiates heat to outer space and the desert chills quickly, causing the mortar team to pull into sleeping bags.
The M4 rifles must deal with this dust night and day yet the rifles function well.
The Stryker could be heard as the electrically operated .50 caliber scanned for targets. The only way the enemy could attack us while maintaining a pittance of survivability was with rockets or mortars, but the moment those came in, we’d call aircraft that could arrive in minutes scanning the folds with their thermals. We also had another Stryker platoon out there in the darkness and they had a 120mm mortar—a devastating weapon with uncanny first-round accuracy. Whatever the enemy might do, they would need to do without being seen. We camped in the middle of pure battlefield without the complications of city or village fighting. If the enemy attacks tonight, their life expectancy plummets to seconds. Long before we are within range of their weapons, they are within range of sudden precision fire from ours. The enemy might be able to slip into one of the terrain folds, but there was no easy approach and the thermals on the Strykers and the night vision carried by the men made a successful, direct attack improbable. And besides, most Taliban are poor shots even in broad daylight. At nighttime they’d be lucky not to shoot each other. The enemy is good at some things, but many of us were better shots when we were 14 years old. If the enemy fired, our men would turn on the invisible lasers on their rifles, peer through night vision that made the lasers appear, and shoot them. The enemy would need Harry Potter invisibility cloaks to sneak in on us.
During times when there is a good possibility of being attacked, it’s best to not take off more than one boot at a time to let feet dry. But with such a low probability of being surprised and being surrounded by combat soldiers, it’s fine to take off both boots and keep them close.
11:24 PM, or 2324L.
In the far distance, the artillery can be heard firing illumination before it floats down under parachute.
(1901Z/2331L 15mm f7.1 20s ISO 800)
The Battle for Kandahar has many faces. Some faces are difficult to understand. Tonight’s incarnation was simple.
Smoke trail from previous illumination.
We see illumination firing pretty much every night and I usually don’t know why they are shooting. Could be terrain denial, or to support operations, or something else.
They stop shooting. The night is quiet other than the robot noises from the .50 caliber machine gun scanning with thermal imager. Several times through the night, Strykers turn on motors for ten or fifteen minutes to recharge batteries.
Sleeping in the desert, even on rocks, can be like sleeping in a cradle. Desert slumber is better than most jungle sleep, and far better than in snow caves. The distant boom from a cannon wakes me, then the pop of the shell before the orange illumination, and then another is fired after the first burns out. Looking at my watch it’s 3AM and I chuckle thinking of the lyrics of a song, “It’s 3AM I must be lonely.” This sure has been a long war.
(2233Z/0303L 15mm f10 30s ISO 640)
On Saturday, 10 April, a message came from military that this embed has ended. No reason was offered. The troops here have no idea why. On Sunday a reason was given: overcrowding by journalists. Haven’t seen a journalist in weeks.
I had gone to great expense to be here with 5/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team and promised to stay with them until they leave Afghanistan. Then suddenly a nameless feature decided to pull the plug. The decision likely came from General officer level. It is a bad sign indicating that they think they are losing the war and don’t want anyone there to see it. Saw this in Iraq.
It has been said that between Iraq and Afghanistan I’ve spent more time embedded with combat units than anyone in U.S. history. I do not know if this is true but it sounds good. It’s been a long journey and fortune favored my every step. Many people have been killed or maimed and I am walking out without a scratch. I will continue to cover the war but will not give the military another chance to pull the plug. I will cover the war from outside the wire where it’s far safer. Many people erroneously think that embedding is the safest way to cover the wars. This is untrue. Journalists who are afraid or reluctant to endure long periods of stress and combat will brag that going alone somehow seizes the high ground of truth. There is no truth in this. In many cases the journalists are missing crucial information because they fear the combat and the difficult living. The infantry company on this mission has lost twelve comrades KIA during this tour, with others wounded for life.
It’s just as easy to accurately sense the direction of the war winds alone as with troops. The military media machine is playing games during a time of war.
My thoughts will always be with the combat soldiers. My body will be elsewhere.
A new day begins at 0531L. It’s time to check the boots for poisonous creatures, stuff the sleeping bag, and move out.