The Kingdom of Dirt
By Jim Friend
ust last month, much to my satisfaction, I was
approved to go to Afghanistan by the Army Public Affairs Office (PAO)
for a media embed via Regional Command East at Camp Hughie near Jalalabad.
My buddy from bull-riding school, Dave Disi, had sort of casually invited
me to come to Afghanistan sometime during the summer, and I had kind
of brushed it off, thinking it was probably somewhere in the realm of
unlikely. I can't even remember how we got started talking about it
again, but over the course of the fall, I applied to the PAO for an
embed. I gave it about a 50/50 chance. Even so and sure enough, a merciful
and gracious God saw fit to approve yet another amazing adventure for
me, which thankfully has become a common occurrence in my life over
the last couple of years. This, however, would top them all. This would
be the trip of a lifetime: Heading off into an active war zone, a place
where people like myself are hated just for the sake of nationality,
where the abducted of my ilk have their heads cut off with buck knives
because of the reprehensible colors of their country's flag, their religion,
the color of their skin, or wearing the wrong style of hat. A land where
the Taliban Dirt Pirates were birthed and the big skinny boy Osama bin
Laden cut his teeth on international treachery, and mentally whipped
himself into a religious psychosis. Excellent, let's roll.
Including layovers, it took about 35 hours to get to
Kabul. An interesting thing about going to Afghanistan is that if you
don't mind not being under the protection of the military, you don't
have to have any special approval to roll over there, you can just go.
You'd think if you were going to a war zone, you'd have to get some
sort of government sanction or stamp of approval, but no. And it's relatively
cheap. Only $1,800 currently separates you from being headhunted in
the streets of Kabul three weeks from now if that's what you want. You
can buy the tickets tomorrow. Although difficult to find, some ticket
agencies (like kayak), will book the whole round trip flight for you.
You're just one simple click of a button away from being a war tourist.
C'mon dude, let's roll. Buy me a ticket along with yours and I'll show
Getting ready for our night flight to Jalalabad.
After a really interesting couple of days in Kabul,
complete with a rather major Taliban assault on several buildings within
a mile or so of my hotel the day before I arrived (check the travelingboy
archive for that story), I finally made it to Bagram Air Base. Other
than the occasional mortar round and constant threat of terrorist attack,
life at Bagram seemed rather idyllic. By my estimation in my brief time
there, the 22,000 folks working on base generally seemed to be rather
stoked. There's even a pizza delivery service if you want it. After
a few days of delays in Bagram, I was finally off to Jalalabad via a
night flight on a Chinook. The automatic gunfire from the side-door
and rear gunner half-way through the ride under the warm light of a
nearly full moon didn't hurt the experience at all either. Way cool.
The next morning I was picked up by an MRAP and was finally off to Camp
Hughie. It took nine days and five flights to get there from Seattle.
Outskirts of Hell
Camp Hughie is a tiny droplet of America that leaked
from the screaming fire hose of US military might onto the outskirts
of the ghetto dust bowl slum that is Jalalabad. Jalalabad, or J-bad,
as the soldiers call it, is a place barely distinguishable from what
your mind would conjure up when thinking about an Old Testament heathen
village. This is a place where people still collect manure to hand-slap
into pancake sized crap patties, place them on their roofs to dry, and
then light them up to cook and heat their houses with. Filthy. Some
nights on base, the air is so thick with this shit-smoke-soup that the
few street lamps standing are visually fuzzy from just a hundred feet
away or so. Kabul is so full of this rancid fog that military stationed
there in the downtown ISAF headquarters get an automatic 10% pay hike
as sort of a pre-emptive disability payment. On the streets of Jalalabad,
whole slabs of meat hang out in the open air in front of the bloody
store-front slaughterhouses, waiting for the next paying customer to
willingly belly up to the bar for another round of salmonella roulette.
Known, wanted terrorists roam the streets as well. The Army occasionally
prints "Wanted" posters of sets of these villains, with half
blurred pictures of severe looking men who appear as if they were born
for the killing and maiming of others.
Camp Hughie at dawn.
Ever mindful of their fallen comrades, the Army named
Camp Hughie posthumously after a South Carolina Army Sergeant and medic,
Buddy James "Doc" Hughie. On February 17th, 2007, Hughie was
embedded with a contingent of Afghan National Army (ANA), on a joint
patrol near Kamdsesh, Afghanistan, in nearby Nuristan province. When
Taliban insurgents ambushed their convoy with small arms and RPGs, the
ANA dismounted their vehicles and scrambled after them. When two soldiers
were wounded in the pursuit, "Doc" left the safety of his
Humvee and covered several hundred yards of ground to come to their
aid. While providing medical attention, Hughie was shot by a Taliban
sniper, the bullet piercing just above his body armor and passing through
his heart. Such is the legacy of our brave men. When they perish, their
brothers' footsteps fall daily on soil that bears their name.
When I imagined Camp Hughie in my mind before my trip,
I had envisioned a sort of dusty outpost on the edge of the desert,
with hot winds blowing and ragged tents flapping in the wind, and indeed,
that's about where I ended up. Dave had recently been transferred from
Tagab, Afghanistan, where the conditions were just about that, and I
had originally applied to visit him there. Even so, as it was, this
new environment didn't seem much better than what I had imagined for
the other locale, and felt as if it were some sort of a civilized college
dorm hell, plopped in the middle of a third world country. Within the
thick walls of the small compound, the soldiers live in rows of spartan
wooden barracks, with only a few trees to break up the military layout
and functionality of the place. The main point of congregation is the
dining facility, which they call the D-FAC. Somewhere in the rows of
anonymous living sheds, there's a place with a number of very slow computers
hooked up to the internet, and also a chapel, but after that, I didn't
see many other options for free time. The Afghans have a few shops set
up at the entrance of the camps, but it seems that other than work,
there is not much else to do at Camp Hughie. To think about spending
all of my time there for a few months or a full year there was completely
less than an agreeable idea. That's what these guys do, all day long,
for up to a year.
That's what I call rollin' hard. Our MRAP convoy
for the hospital site visit.
My first day there, Dave gave me a tour of the camp
and we then immediately left the safety of its walls to walk over to
another nearby military installation, Finley Shields. Ragged children
wandered and played on the dirt streets, looking up at us with surprised,
concerned eyes, and then immediately would go about voraciously begging
for something. Destroyed buildings from recent and distant conflicts
lined the sides of the roads. The vibe as we walked around was tense,
like Something Bad was always looming just beyond where we were, trying
to make its way to us, and would reach out and touch us if it at all
could. Finley Shields was an old Russian base of operations during their
years-long vacation amongst the Pashtun. Burned out buildings and large
dirt walls loomed, and gunfire was heard from beyond the north side
of the compound. Dave took me to an old empty swimming pool where, after
the capture of the base by the Afghans, quite a few Russians were massacred.
The pool bore testament to that with its many bullet scars from the
slaughter, the marks still deeply engraved in the concrete of the pool.
At some point, for some reason, someone had taken the time to attempt
to fill the divots with white concrete patch.
Dave Disi chats with Colonel Oatfield while
George Roemer from USAID and an unknown soldier think it through.
Later that night, and safely back at camp, my accommodations
consisted of a giant tent that was designed to house about 30 men. As
it turned out, I was the only one staying there, which I liked a great
deal. Mercifully, the weather was excellent. Warm in the day time and
fairly warm at night too, much like Southern California. Before I had
turned in for the night, I heard a few stories from various sources
about the apparent savagery of the locals, and got a few warnings about
where to stay away from and what not to do. It was completely eerie
to hear the Muslim calls for prayer break out at the same time from
several nearby locations. It struck me as if it were a dirge, daily
announcing, several times, a reaffirmation of the long-standing and
continually-ongoing death of the nation of Afghanistan.
Ghosts on the Road
The next day, we assembled in a patch of dirt just outside
of the camp to roll out in a column of MRAP's (Mine Resistant Ambush
Protected) on a site visit to a hospital in the Shinwar District about
15 miles south of the camp. Overseeing this trip would be Colonel Oatfield,
a medical officer from North Dakota, and George Roemer, from USAID.
This was a full-on convoy of Army vehicles, bristling with armor and
teeth. What a thrill. Along the way, the landscape was stark and destitute,
with barren dirt mountains stretching for miles off into the nothingness,
sometimes offering the sight of a small dirt road that led off into
the horizon, populated perhaps by a lone horse-drawn cart, heading off-to
or arriving-from whatever Abyss lay in the trackless wastes beyond.
The road we traveled was lined with poverty-stricken people of all varieties,
milling about and going back and forth to the street-side markets and
only God knows where else.
A column of MRAPs rolling down the road is Big Interesting
Business in Afghanistan, the people there are all about it, one way
or the other. From the safety of the back of one of these rolling fortresses,
unnoticed through the thick green plate glass covered by anti-RPG grills,
I witnessed scores of stoked children waving furiously with the largest
of smiles; and also saw many of the disdainful and mistrusting eyes
of those whose trust and hope extend only as far as the length of what
their fingertips can momentarily clutch. Crude cemeteries with only
dirt and rock monuments clung to a hillside. An old burned out Russian
tank sat along-side the road. Monstrous jingle trucks passed by heading
in the opposite direction, covered with bells and the most ornate of
painted decorations, carrying loads that towered over 16 feet tall,
apparently arriving from Pakistan. As we traveled along, I was told
that out of my view at certain intersection, a man was on the ground
being beaten by someone hitting him with a shoe. He sort of reached
out, imploring us for help. The soldiers thought that was funny. So
did I, sort of. What else can you do but laugh? After about 20 minutes
of some of the most purely abject and depressing scenery I could have
hoped to have witnessed anywhere, we finally arrived without incident
at an intermediate stop known as the Central District, to pay a visit
to a local sub-shiek and the chief of police.
George Roemer from USAID, and yours truly, getting
ready to roll out to the hospital site visit.
As we unloaded from the MRAP's, I had to pee. It was
time to go. As I took a look around to see where I could relieve myself,
I saw the cutest of puppies lumbering along about 40 yards to the west
of us. It was impossibly tiny, barely weened, and had that puffy white
fur we've come to adore in our smallest of canine buddies. About 15
yards away from him, as he struggled to make his way along, an Afghan
was throwing rocks at him. The man was using rocks about the size of
large strawberries, and was aiming carefully and throwing hard. We were
headed in the opposite direction. The dog stumbled along under the onslaught
and I looked away. I came to find out later that Afghans hate dogs.
There was nothing I could do.
As is apparently customary for this sort of trip, goodies
were brought along to distract all of us from the miseries of rampant
Pashtun animal cruelty, in this instance: radios powered by a hand cranking
device. Along the way to the meeting a short distance away, Dave looked
for a worthy suspect to unhand this distinctly American prize to, and
quickly was found an old man crouched on the ground who was certainly
just weeks away from his expiration date. Certainly the ownership of
a brand new radio would do nothing to shorten this man's grasp of his
mortal coil, so a radio indeed he received. He looked up quizzically
at the interpreter, as if being gifted a radio was the last thing he
could actually comprehend, after perhaps for the previous week internally
meditating on the tally of the total number of goats he had beaten to
death in his lifetime. He was a long way from being even 10% present
with us, but the impromptu Christmas party immediately attracted a whole
band of interested locals, who also wanted a radio. One fellow in particular
who didn't get a radio began to pester us for one, but we were fresh
Excuse me sir, have you heard of Bose Wave technology?
After taking quite a few pictures of this interaction,
I still had to pee, and headed over to the meeting with the local chieftans
to see if I could find a can. When I rounded the corner of the dirt
wall into the field where the proceedings were to transpire, I was shocked.
After all of the dire sights on the road on the way there, we had stumbled
into a veritable Garden of Eden. It was as if all the horrors of sight,
sound and smell of Afghanistan were briefly washed away in this place
and there was finally, somehow, just beauty and peace. Completely amazing,
it was almost spiritual. I shook the hands of the local poo-bahs and
sat down with the soldiers as they talked to them through an interpreter
about intelligence matters and news of potential importance. One of
the Georgia National Guardsmen in the crew there had told me that we
might be expecting The Most Delicious Chai of All Time to be served,
and sure enough, they brought the stuff out in some version of an ancient
metal pot, and dang; just as foretold, the stuff was excellent. The
chai also clearly emphasized to my spiritual and physical condition
the fact that I still had to urinate, so when I finally felt like I'd
satisfied enough of the relevant social requirements of that engagement,
I asked one of the soldiers with me about a place to go. He shook his
head ruefully and pointed to a small dirt structure over in the corner
of the compound, and I cautiously made my way over to it. The horrors
that flashed through my mind about what I'd see when I opened the rickety
wooden door of the outhouse flung themselves well into the category
of "severe." Thankfully, all that was there was a dirt hole
in the ground.
Once my physical requirements were thus satisfied, I
made my way back to the group. Soon after, we went for a walk for some
reason around the compound. It was beautiful. There were orange trees
and workers farming and people sitting on blankets eating lunch. For
some reason, the place was saturated with goats with testicles the size
of volleyballs. I am not kidding you. Much levity was rallied back and
forth over this fact, and it soon became apparent that these goats were
tame. Tame enough to take pictures with. After about 10 minutes of strolling
and picture taking and goat posing, we were off. As we loaded up to
go to the hospital, the man who previously had not received a radio
was still bugging us about it. Sorry amigo.
The Garden of Eden? Naaaaah, I guess not. Central
A Bench and Big Stick
Another 10 minutes of driving or so put us near the
hospital. The cool part about this excursion was we had to walk a stretch
to get onto the actual hospital grounds, so we had to physically hoof
it around scores of untrustworthy looking citizenry who would rather,
apparently, not have us on their patch of caliphate-destined patch of
Islamic earth. When we arrived at the hospital, we were greeted by a
party of hospital staff, and then taken up to a room where a meeting
was to take place. A few members of the staff were interviewed about
the needs of the facility and for some reason there was a really old
guy there who just stared off into space, saying nothing and moving
in only microscopic increments. I am somehow sure he was chosen to be
there strictly because he was so old that he was judged by doctors to
be only moments away from death, and that he'd make his eternal exit
to his harem of Completely Horrified 70 Virgins right there at the meeting,
which would act as an exclamation point of sorts to emphasize the neediness
of the institution. Despite their brilliant scheming, the old man survived.
After the meeting, there was given to us a tour of the
buildings and grounds, and boy did it last a long time. As an offset
to this sort of unusual boredom, many strange sights unveiled themselves.
George mentioned that while rummaging through some boxes, he found one
that said USAID, the organization he works for. Much to his surprise,
he said it was full of USAID condoms. Yum. In one building, there was
a small room with small sign above it declaring "Mental Health
OPD." In the room was a bench, and a big stick. I am not kidding
you. Next to this room was a cartoon-style poster of a disheveled man
with wild hair and ripped up clothes, a sort of information guide on
how to deal with mentally ill people. In one of the panels, there were
people throwing rocks at the mentally ill guy, with a big red "X"
over the panel. This made me acutely aware of my own shortcomings, as
it made me realize that I regularly engage in this sort of woeful behavior.
O, how wisdom tends to overtake us so late in life.
Dave looks on while members of the Georgia National
Guard throw down with the local wildlife.
No time like now to get down on a feast. Hey
wait, who's that dude?
As we left the compound, a decision was made to hand
out some more radios when we got back to the trucks. Dave jumped up
on to the trailer and started passing out radios, and no sooner did
he do so than a mob appeared. Kids and teenagers and adults alike appeared
out of thin air and a sort of bleak tension filled the air. It was crazy.
To keep people away from the vehicles, he threw a few into the crowd.
It was mayhem. In America, when a toy or piece of candy is thrown from
a float during a parade, for example, whoever gets the treat goes home
with it, right? Period. In Afghanistan, they fight to the death for
it. A kid would get a radio and hug it for dear life while everyone
around him, including those much older than him, would try to brutally
pry it out from beneath his arms. During one of the final technology
scuffles of the day, one of the radios flew out of someone's grasp and
tumbled down the bank into the water of a nearby canal. Scores of kids
clambered down the bank and into the water. The radio was no doubt rendered
useless, but the fight continued. Much to my surprise, our old Afghan
buddy who didn't manage to get a radio back at the Central District
had somehow turned up as well. Rewarded for his persistence, he was
one of the first to leave with his prize.
As it was, the whole point of the expedition was to
see what the needs of the hospital were and how we as Americans could
help. I know that USAID will likely have some input on that equation,
and it looks as if there are funds coming from some division of the
Army perhaps as well, where exactly they'll be coming from, I'm not
sure precisely. What I do know is that America is, as usual, trying
to help wherever it can.
Men of Many Hats
Dave Disi joined the US Armed Forces on last day of
the last millenium: December 31st, 1999. Along with that memorable entry
date, it's not every day you run into someone in the Army who has two
Ivy League master's degrees, one from Harvard and the other from Columbia.
That's pretty crazy. Even wilder, Dave left his emerging markets trading
desk at a major investment bank to sleep on wood sticks thrown hastily
onto the hard dirt in the wretched environs of Tagab in Eastern Afghanistan,
a place where fatal firefights with the Taliban occurred several times
a week. An Army Ranger, Dave showed me some pretty wild pictures from
that place, also playing a video taken by a French cameraman of one
of their engagements with the Taliban, and I will never forget it. Hostile.
This wasn't the first time he left a job most people would dream about,
as he also fought for the good 'ole US of A in the the dirty streets
of Iraq. Sheesh. Right on. After our sight-seeing foray to the hospital
the day before, our next Big Adventure would take place just the next
Don't mind the bloodstain on the sheet, we'll take
real good care of you.
This was reputed to be a pretty big deal. Apparently,
the Afghan Border Police were dedicating a huge facility just north
of Jalalabad. NBC, CNN, and The New York Times were planning to roll-up-hard-in-the-hood
also if the menacing snowstorm that had been capturing the attention
of Kabul over the previous couple of days didn't keep the airport shut
down. Ed Vowel, a State Department representative, would be Camp Hughie's
leading player there. In addition, this dedication would also include
a large shura (tribal meeting), where the local maliks (tribal leaders
and elders) would show up and decide what The Deal was gonna be 'til
the next shura. I should back up a bit and state that just a few weeks
earlier, the 1-108th at Camp Hughie had been instrumental in initiating
the first shura that had been held in quite some time, and there was
some satisfaction and even excitement expressed concerning the results.
At the first shura, the maliks agreed on a few agreeable things. Among
them... and quoted directly from the lamb skin parchment written in
"The shura proclaims that the Shinwari Tribe stands
unified against all insurgent groups, specifically the Taliban, as well
as all corruption and illegal activities that threaten the Afghan people
and GIRoA." (Btw, if you figure out what "GIRoA" means,
please write to me.)
"The shura proclaims the Shinwari Tribe will not
provide shleter or support of any kind for members of the Taliban. If
members of the tribe are found to have sheltered the Taliban, they will
have to pay one million Afghanis." (USD 20,000-23,000)
"The shura authorizes the burning of residences
of those found harboring Taliban. The shura authorizes the expulsion
of those found harboring Taliban."
"The shura agrees that no poppy will be cultivated
or refined in the Shinwari tribal areas. Those found guilty will be
subject to the same punishment as those harboring the Taliban."
Let's get out of here. The locals approve.
The shura went on to include things like requiring a
male of fighting age from every household in the event of Taliban activity
and the like, and also, interestingly, included a provision for a tribe's
"own version of reconciliation" in the event a Taliban fighter
related to those in an individual tribe wanted to reform himself. Most
important of all though, no doubt, was the demand requiring the return
of that golden statue from the Indiana Jones movie, which they have
long claimed as their own.
On the morning of the building dedication, maliks galore
gathered at Camp Hughie to get the party started. They went into a room
and got some money apparently, and this time... This Time... it would
be different. This time someone would follow these guys around the market
as the money was spent, to ensure it was being spent on things like
food and supplies for the community. No more Rolexes! Anyway, after
that part of the bar crawl adjourned, we were all off to the building
dedication in the MRAP's. Somewhere along the way, as we rounded a corner,
I saw the coolest and scariest thing ever. As a part of our escort,
these black-hooded, muhajideen-looking fellows in pick-up trucks with
50 caliber machine guns were acting as our escort. It was Road Warrior
meets jihadi video. It was bad to the bone. Good for them. Whoever they
were, these guys have not given up on the shock value of the sight of
guys in tiny trucks with black rags wrapped around their faces running
around roughshod in the back of Somali-style desert technicals with
guns that have a recoil big enough to knock the trigger-puller, weapon
and all, straight out the back of the bed at 60 mph. Right on. That's
like a cartoon. If I were facing that, I would likely give up without
a fight just on the basis of the visual. Burly to the core.
Ed Vowel from the State Department greets arriving
maliks. How 'bout those hats?
Just as unusual as the countryside romp we took the
day before, Jalalabad was also full of wicked weirdness. It reminded
me of Kabul, which was so impoverished that I saw a kid on the sidewalk
with a scale, the kind you have on the floor in your bathroom, selling
weight measurements. That's all he had, just a scale he rummaged from
a dump somewhere. I also saw kids in Kabul picking through garbage piles
with sticks looking for stuff to eat. Unreal. Jalalabad offered similarly
strange sights: Lots of blue ninjas (what the soldiers call women in
blue burkahs, which were quite fashionable in that area apparently),
and conversely (or similarly) more slabs of uncovered meat of all varieties
hanging on hooks in front of street front butcher shops. A kid climbing
a scary ten foot tall fence to get to an orange grove. A guy herding
sheep through the middle of town, on a busy street. A school with thousands
and thousands of metal chairs stacked up on the roof, tangled and intertwined.
Somehow, unbelievably, there was even a sort of small carnival in the
middle of town, the culmination of the rides being one of those swinging
pirate ships. Dave called it "the amusement park from hell."
All of it was strange in a very depressing sort of way. Just gross.
When we arrived at the building dedication, I found
out what a big deal it actually was. There next to the rows of the large
brand new buildings of the compound were hundreds of neatly parked pick-up
trucks and hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers and police. We all made
our way into a building where the huge malik gathering and building
dedication were to take place. Up the cement path came an endless procession
of American and Afghan generals and other military types, who would
all greet each other warmly and then head into the building. In the
midst of that, tons of maliks and tribal leaders of all varieties rolled
up, each somehow wearing a different crazy hat, it was haberdashery
NBC interviewing a man who was obviously born to
be The Man, General George.
After we all filtered into the building, many, many,
many speeches were made, mostly in foreign languages. One American general
spoke, but the rest of the time, an endless procession of Big Hat Wearing
Tribal Elders made their way up to the podium, starting their speeches
quietly while slowly whipping themselves into an angered state, with
much finger pointing and other gesticulating occurring all the while.
The only entertainment available during the two hour Ramble Fest was
counting how many times the cell phones of the attending police and
soldiers punctuated the proceedings over and over again. Dave counted
24 separate interruptions. Wow. What a day.
Ed Vowel, our local State Department rep, spent long
hours after the meeting talking with the big wigs. Apparently the upshot
was that many more maliks got on board with the previous shura proclamations,
and of course, the building was dedicated. The local Afghans were now
apparently more on board than ever with the Taliban fight, and the military
now had a huge facility and many more vehicles by which to prowl the
surrounding landscape, looking for bad guys that hopefully we can give
up hunting someday. The event was big news, making the front page of
the New York Times and getting some big press in a number of other national
publications. The shura model, with all of its proclamations and penalties,
was something that, it was hoped, would translate well throughout the
rest of the country for acquiring the continuing and increasing cooperation
of the Afghans. And do I need to mention that that all of this started
with the efforts of the 1-108th at Camp Hughie? C'est vrai.
Hey, have you seen the other guy in the brown
hat? I've been looking for him all day. ABP building dedication.
Cursed: God bless America
I spent a few more days at Camp Hughie interviewing
folks and talking to people. As I left Finley Shields for Kabul via
a Molson helicopter flight on the last morning of my stay there, I had
a lot of time to think about what I was leaving behind. I was not sad
to go. Below our helicopter, shepherds herded their flocks on anonymous
hillsides, and farther up the mountains, Shangrila-type villages with
Nepal-style terra-farming hugged the upper reaches of the hills. Farther
upward, snow encased peaks not far geographically separated from the
Himilaya starkly contrasted the blue horizon. Strange depressions in
the dirt pock-marked the ground below, perhaps evidence of past artillery
or ordinance engagements. Meanwhile, the people below us went about
their daily rituals of abject poverty in what I can't imagine as anything
other than complete despair. The mountains were like a beautiful stage
backdrop to a horrific play taking place below it. Yuck.
Although at times beautiful, Afghanistan is, in my estimation,
nothing more than a wretched Kingdom of Dirt, occupied, by and large,
by a Godless, rudimentary, and nearly savage people who have scrambled
to survive by any means necessary for thousands of years. Their culture
is like a woven tapestry that threads back millennia, ruled by effectively
indecipherable codes and customs and undercurrents that could only be
partially explained by even the most educated native Pashtun. As is
well understood by now, major world empires have tried again and again
to simply show up and colonialize yet another exotic land for their
own purposes, only to be eventually thoroughly overwhelmed by a people
who push out by the strength of their ancient cultural weave any group
that believes they can merely unthread the first few millimeters of
this impossibly long braid.
Mmmmmm, smell the air, soak in the sights.
From the multitude of stories I heard while I was in
Afghanistan about how the people carry on there that made me literally
sick, to the vicious things I personally saw and experienced from the
people who live there, what I know is this: Afghanistan is under a curse.
The last words I uttered when I left there was, "This place is
cursed." Despite this, say what you will about America's involvement
in the affairs of wretched little foreign countries overseas, what I
also know is this: The heart of America is good. What other nation would
thoroughly destroy a wretched little country where its latest enemy
was birthed and then attempt rebuild it again from scratch for the good
of those who remained? While the Soviets, Afghanistan's most recent
colonialist johnny-come-lately, created toy bombs to drop from airplanes
to maim kids who happened to joyfully stumble upon them, we're sending
out good folks like George Roemer and Colonel Oatfield on site-visits
to Afghan hospitals to see what we might be able to supply. While the
British, the colonialists who came before that, denied even the existence
of their own invasion, creative Americans like Ed Vowel are organizing
tribal leaders in an attempt to push out the presence and influence
of the most serious of bad guys. To what effect all of these efforts
will be is unknown. Whether we as Americans can afford all of this or
not is also a virulently suspect quantity. Whether or not we'll have
the will to try to continue to steer this ancient culture in a direction
that benefits us over the long term can't be said either.
Honestly, it was very difficult to write this article,
I struggled to finish it. The impact of the things I saw there runs
deep. The most difficult part of thinking through the experience of
having visited Afghanistan is that I left thousands upon thousands of
Americans, just like you and me, who have to live there every day and
deal with that emotional monstrosity. Unbelievable. It makes me heartsick
to remember that so many of our guys and gals are still there having
to deal with that intense, sickening vibe and the strange temperament
of that unusual land. In summary, what I can tell you about all of this,
is that the heart of America has always been good, and remains so. In
this pursuit, our treasured men and women of the US Armed Forces like
Captain Dave Disi and the rest of 1-108th at Camp Hughie are keeping
watch over every last little bit of our expression of it. God bless
The view out back, Jalalabad. God bless them all.