Day One, Turbans, Ambassadors, Helicopters and Dust
But this morning, we arrived in time to eat at the dining facility at KIA. Very nice European breakfasts served with real flatware and plates. It was a nice way to start a very long day. After breakfasst we assembled on the flight line where we met tseveral members of the Afghan media as well as several other civilians and a few Afghan military members.
We were greeted by an escort officer, who gave us our flight brief. Just as he finished, two enormous CH-47 Chinook helicopters arrived. We boarded them through the rear door, suffering the blast furnace of its dual jet engines as is always the case when boarding these extraordinary beasts. Looking to my left, I noticed Major General Durbin, our higher commanding officer, the commander of the Office of Security Transition Command - Afghanistan (OSTC-Alpha), seated next to the German Ambassador to Afghanistan.
We soared out across the Afghan countryside, flying Southeast to the province of Paktia, near the city of Gardez. Gardez, was the launching point for Operation Anaconda, the major offenseive in the Tora Bora mountain range led by the 10th Mountain Division as we first entered Afghanistan in 2001-2002. The terrain was as treacherous as its Taleban inhabitants.
A great benefit to jumping into this on my first day was it enabled me to get out into the filed with both my deputy, 1st Lieut. Cathrin Fraker and my higher Public Affairs Officer, Maj. Bob Tallman. Cathrin has proved her mettle over the past few months at Camp Shelby and had coordinated to get me onto this trip. She is doing great work and is building the relationships that will get her the access she will need to go memorable work. Bob and I first met on the Gettysburg Battlefield several years ago as part of a officer's staff ride. He is a first class public affairs officer and rapidly becoming a great friend.
We landed about 45 minutes after our departure, and were taken to the ceremonial grounds, and enermous fest tent was erected with about two hundred Afghan visitors, most of them in the ceremonial turbans for the event.
The emcee announced several distinguished guests , many of whom spoke at the event. these included the regional governor of Paktia, the German Ambassador and the American Ambassador, as well as several local leaders and the regional member of the Parlaiment.
The American Ambassador made a bold announcement that was not anticipated by the audience. He, announced that the United States was delivering over a thousand pistols and other poice weapons as well as several score SUV for the police and this did not seem to move the audience as they anticipated as much. However, when he announced that starting this month the United States was making a $6M investment in building the freeway between Gardez and Khost, the entire audience applauded. The build-out will begin this month and continue through the fall of 2008. It was amazing to witness.
I think the following is one of the best images I have ever captured.
Frankly, the crispness of his gentleman's turban, enfolding the seriousness of his eyes, is something I find entrancing. I am honored to have shared time with this man, as someone who just gave him a bottle of cold water as I sat on the rug covered gravel close to him, shooting photos and video of the speakers. Then suddenly, after I had captured this photo and shared it with him on the tiny screen to his appreciative smile, he got up and gave the most passionate address to the audience, without notes, straight from the heart. This man in the most regal turban of the entire audience, was the elected member of parliament of this region. I thanked him in Dari on his return to his seat and he placed his hand over his heart and nodded acknowledgment.
After the speeches and the dedication, we witnessed the payoff for the months of training that had led us to this time and place. To witness these young Afghan men performing the functions they will execute as police officers with a level of expertise that you see typically only in the United States and Germany, was inspiring. It was another example of the dedication that this broad coalition has made to the peace and stability of the new, emerging Afghanistan.
Better still was to see this training being led by Afghan police officers who had been trained by American and German career police officers. Witnessing the product of this "train-the trainer" concept put into action was great as it was Afghans training Afghans with the back-up of the coaltion.
Within my first 48 hours within this nation, I feel so inspired by what I have seen: teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. Different people with different language skills, different tactics and methods, all working together to make a nation safe. It makes me wonder why more media don't pay more attention to this effort....