Darulaman, Ruin of Lost Royalty
Driving along the Kabul River, we are an instant spectacle in this urban ruin. Two M114 Fully UpArmored Hummers, gunners up and loaded for bear, each vehicle over five tons of hardened steel outside and sardine can tight chassis on the inside. With a six and a quarter foot frame encased in its own fifty pounds of body armor, then stuffed into the driver's seat, it makes me look forward to a visit (or six) to my Portland chiropractor, Dr. Kelsall, on my return from this tour. I like to drive, both in general and while on patrol here in Kabul. I trust my skill, but it also gives me a sense of situational awareness with the ability to do something about it if that awareness realizes danger.
After splashing through pond-sized puddle after pond-sized puddle of muddy brown water we came upon it, the Rubbled ruin of the King's Palace. Built in the 1920's in a time of liberalization of attitudes toward the West, it was a target for three decades of civil war and particularly during the 1990's. Nothing but the frame remains in much of the structure, a ghost of its previous splendor. Further up the road, the Queen's palace is not much better, through from her perch atop a hillside, her violation is more clearly witnessed by the passing crowds.
It is beside this shell of "what once was" that one of the brigades of the Afghan 201st Corps makes its headquarters. Like a sentinel at a tomb, the expanding Afghan base develops every day, its views unobstructed from its perch at the foot of the mountains. The American trainers, although based at their own FOB (Forward OPerating Base) have the view at the left, every morning, an ominous reminder of Afghanistan's past grandeur and current plight, a state at war with itself.
At the end of our mission, my deputy, Capt. Dan Miner and I got some practical exercise in conducting "Afghan Intramurals." Seeing a game of Volleyball in progress, we walked over to inspect and were immediately pulled into the game, becoming the permanent servers for the entire game. Dan and I are trying to work with the Religious and Cultural Affairs Officer in developing an extracurricular activities program for the soldiers here at KMTC. From Thursday at noon until early Saturday morning, there is little for these young soldiers to do. Many do what soldiers do, talk, sleep or get into trouble with each other. We are hoping to offer them a few alternatives, from competitive soccer and volleyball to traditional music and dance instruction (The graduation dance is uniquely Afghan), to artistic competitions in painting murals in the common areas. we will see how it turns out, but we are off to a good start. These men want to know that they are our peers, ready to fight when it is time to fight and ready to play when it is time to play. Yesterday was a day to play and, championed by a lanky Hazara with an awesome spike and his set-partner, a teen aged Pashtun, my team won!
As we all said to each other as we high fived each other on the way off the court, "Yak Team, Yak Jang!" One Team, One Fight!