Jan 31 at 7:07pm by David Tate
As I patiently wait, the lady reminds me four times how late I am as she tries to get me booked: Won’t take the info, has to reenter the info, the printer doesn’t work and neither does the other one, the one in back doesn’t work either so I get a hand written receipt.
What? My bag is nine pounds over? “Yes”, she says. “You wanna take something out? If you don’t, it will cost you.”
In my head I’m getting frantic so I opt for the heavy bag fee: $80, or roughly $10 p/pound.
The fastest part was the bag check where the TSA agent and I struck up some Iraq stories and he breezed my bag through. Not the case up the stairs.
“Camera and laptop have to go through alone, sir”. Tick, tock.
Over the intercom: “Mr. David Tate, this is your last chance to board.”
“Ok, sir, your camera isn’t a weapons system (I made that up)”.
Before he finished I’d grabbed my bags and ran for Gate 3, and for the first time EVER, the place I was going wasn’t at the end of a terminal a mile away!! Thank god for the Roanoke Airport.
“I’m glad you made it, sir.” said the smiling lady at the gate.
“Had to pull my best O.J Simpson for that…”.
Oh wait, I can’t say that anymore.
Jan 31 at 10:10am by David Tate
I’m in my final hours before leaving and I’m just kind of in a trance. Mom has Davin for the night so Heidi and I could have a date night and sleep in. It was all very nice.
Afghanistan invokes good times in my life and bad times. The worst is that my prolonged time in Afghanistan, in 2004, broke the back of my marriage and we’ve been struggling ever since, with great hope. The best memories are too numerous, I enjoy this place.
It sure is wonderful to have such a good wife, though; letting me take off, for the fifth time in six years, to such a crazy environment? Too bad I’m a recovering asshole with relapse issues.
The coffee’s hot and it’s quiet as I sit here wasting a few more minutes before I have to get motivated. Just having a smoke as I watch Heidi sleep the morning away. One last internet poker game… just relax, because when Davin gets here, there’s no such thing.
I have too much crap packed, I can tell. It looks like more. My general rule is that if I can’t carry it, I can’t bring it. I think I have some work to do.
I’ve let the bills stack up so I can do them at once, giving me and Heidi some comfort knowing there’s nothing pressing. Just another thing on my list. Which reminds me: I still haven’t called any friends, my grandparents, or whoever, to say “goodbye”. Nor have I written out “the note” and financial instructions in the unfortunate case that I get killed or seriously wounded.
Hell, I haven’t even sent my parents, siblings and their kids the stack of Christmas presents sitting in the closet. I think I better get moving, my plane leaves in 6 hours.
Jan 28 at 6:06pm by David Tate
While I do keep open arms for anyone interested in contributing funds for this project, I typically end up paying for it out of my family’s hide… which is fine, my choice.
Unfortunately today I am faced with a bill I wasn’t expecting, at this time, and that is for my combat insurance.
Last time, The Long War Journal covered this expense… I’m not so fortunate this time (although making it available is a great service in its own). With that said, I am scrambling to come up with the $XX to cover it. So if you want to help, PLEASE contact me asap at this email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or, send your donation via PayPal to this address: email@example.com
Jan 21 at 6:06pm by David Tate
So far, the planning for this trip has been relatively flawless. A couple of mistakes have ended up costing me some extra money, but other than that, it has been pretty simple.
The one major problem I’m having is actually setting the embeds. Getting some time with USMC 3/8 was pretty easy, unfortunately, I only get a week with them. That leaves two open weeks with nowhere to go. Only getting a week, however, makes me a little skeptical of a dog and pony show:
(David Tate) I hope I get there sooner than later so I can get a few extra days in, because I’ll need it! To understand what I need, I would have to break it down by the different clients I work for; hence the need for the additional time. However, working with the hand I’m dealt, my main mission is taking historical archive footage, so I’m after as many different things as I can get pictures of. I could spend an afternoon in the hospital, with EOD, on a CERP mission, on a cordon and search, etc…
In priority, to satisfy the most clients evenly, I would put a cordon and search/air assault type mission at the top of the list. So perhaps I could be attached to the helo company or QRF for at least some of the time. After that I can take the rest as it comes.
(Marine response) From my records, my unit has not been doing a lot of cordon and search operations. We have conducted a handful of search operations in coordination with the , but kicking in doors is not what we do on a daily basis.
Our operations are much more non-kinetic than you may think, focused mostly on enabling the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to provide the security, stability, services and aid: joint security patrols with ANP or civil affairs missions, etc. In fact, we are in the process of wrapping up a route clearance mission in which we are building a presence along a key road in our area so that the Afghan people can travel safely between two major towns there. EOD has its share of missions as well, so this MAY be an option (but it may be a lot of waiting until they are needed)., engaging key Afghan leadership within our districts, helping to train the ANP,
I’m sure you’ll be interested in what we have going on our here. I just don’t want you to come down with the mindset that we are kicking down doors and fighting the enemy head-to-head every day. We’re Marines, so we get our share of the action, but this is counterinsurgency work here: slower, methodical and very much people-based.
Counter-insurgency in the Afghan desert can be very boring with enemy contact coming weeks apart. I get it. That’s why I wanted a month. The only way to see the full picture is to spend decent time with one unit. I still say, a dozen or so platoons scattered around Helmand and Farah Provinces, there should be room for a three week embed.
The Marines say there’s a reason for this:
All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go
To fix that issue, I’m in touch with the the British Royal Marines at TF Helmand, Afghan National Army embedded trainers at TF Phoenix and 2/2 1st ID which is assigned to TF Kandahar (Canada). All three of these possibilities have been in the works for more than three weeks.
The best chance I have is with TF Phoenix. They seem very receptive, I just haven’t heard anything concrete.
As for the Brits: I’ve been waiting on their return email for some time, which finally came yesterday:
And then there’s 2/2. It took a couple of weeks for someone to finally get in touch with me regarding this request. Apparently, I’d been barking up the wrong tree. The problem is, 2/2 is attached to the Canadians and ISAF while the rest of the 1st ID guys are operating under US command in the east of the country (edit – actually, just heard back from Bagram and they say it is up to RC-South. So, back to square one.). One guy at Bagram told me to get with my Marine contact (in Kandahar), who never really got back to me regarding 2/2 after repeated inquiries… so after a bit, I sent a note to some other contacts begging for a reply. That was answered by a captain in Bagram, who has promised to expedite the request, however I have yet to hear anything (she emailed me shortly after this post to give me the news about 2/2 being out of her area.) . WHEW!
Communication is Key in the Communications Business
This issue is kind of indicative of a major issue that the coalition forces deal with regularly; the split command set up currently in use. There is a lot of concern about the fact that the US and ISAF forces, operating under different orders and different Rules of Engagement, are actually hampered in the execution of the Afghan mission because of a variety of inconsistencies and bureaucracy between the two commands.
In my case, the fact that I have to be credential with ISAF, then separately with the US, is costing me a lot of extra money and lost time. Sound familiar? Anyway, the US is pushing hard to consolidate the Afghan command into one by the end of the year. Hopefully, for my sake (and others like me), that will extend to the embed process as well. After all, I am coming to Afghanistan, on my own dime, to tell their story. I suggest that is something that should be in their interest and making it as easy as possible could be beneficial.
Jan 18 at 9:09pm by David Tate
Came across this gallery that I had totally forgotten about. Some of these pictures are posted elsewhere on this site, but others have never been put out there. Hope you like them!
Jan 18 at 11:11am by David Tate
For the third time in three days, an allied helicopter has gone down in Afghanistan, killing 14, including a top Afghan general.
US forces in Kunar Province, Afghanistan are investigating a downed helicopter that killed a service man January 17.
The US military says seven people were on the CH-47 when it went down amidst ground fire while supporting an ISAF mission. The military is classifying the crash as a “hard landing” and say the cause of the crash is still under investigation.
The day before, on January 16, a HH-60 Pave Hawk crash landed while on a medical mission. No one was injured. The chopper and crew are an Air National Guard Unit based out of Westhampton, New York. The chopper and crew is part of a 100 member deployment of the 106th Rescue Wing based out of Gabreski Airport on Long Island.
Updated at 1/18 at 1608 est.
Jan 10 at 1:01pm by David Tate
Just when I thought everything was sailing smoother than expected, the unexpected whacks me in the head. It is kind of my fault for buying my plane tickets before hearing from the Marines, but sometimes that’s how I work… and this time, it cost me.
Dave, I could offer you something earlier in the month, say Feb. xx-xx. Would this work for you? Do you already have your ISAF badge? If not, be advised that you will have to stop through to pick it up at HQ ISAF. Please let me know if this is the case and I will send you specific instructions. You’ve mentioned wanting to see a lot of things (MEDCAP, CERP, patrols); could you narrow down what kind of story you’d be looking to get out of your embed? That will help me focus our planning for it more. Thanks!
Detour to Kabul
Basically what that means is that I now face several new issues that will greatly slow me down as well as chew up a bunch of my financial reserves.
First, I had to change my tickets. After penalty and price adjustment, that cost an additional $65 (btw – Dubai is just $800 r/t!! Incredible vacation spot… so I hear!). Why Dubai? Because there aren’t many flights out of Kuwait to Kabul, whereas Dubai has daily 6am flights. The flight to Kabul and back is another $750.
Second, I have to make my way to ISAF headquarters in Kabul so they can fingerprint me and give me a retinal scan. You can only do this Monday, Wednesday or Friday between 10 and 11am, so timing is everything. Obviously, this all means I will likely have to spend a few days in Kabul waiting for a flight to Kandahar, which means more money. At least I will be able to add Kabul to my HD archive, so there is a silver lining.
Finally, I have to get a visa. It really isn’t a big deal, just another thing I have to do on top of the million things already needing to be done. Basically you just have to send your application, passport and passport photo to the Afghan Embassy in Washington (plus $100), and they send it back to you within a day or two.
So in a nutshell, this detour through Kabul is going to end up costing about $1,000 as well as about a week of time that I could have been using for embeds. It also means that by the time I get to embed with the Marines, I’m going to be exhausted. Oh well, nothing about Afghanistan is easy.
Jan 7 at 10:10pm by David Tate
The second you buy your plane ticket it becomes the real deal. Fortunately, the cost to Kuwait from Roanoke and back was just $1,300!! Seriously… I was expecting $3,000 with the way the world is these days. But the fact is, once you invest that nonrefundable money, you pretty much have made the call.
Unfortunately, by this time I was expecting to have somewhat of an itinerary for my trip. I was hoping to go the easy route, which was one embedment with one unit – in this case the goal is/was USMC 3/8, the combat element of the Special Purpose MAGTF (Marine Air/Ground Task Force).
The MAGTF essentially replaced the combined forces of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and USMC 2/7, which left the area for good in November 2007. Their area of operation is primarily central Helmand and Farah Provinces in Regional Command South. Fortunately I was granted permission to embed, unfortunately it is for only one week.
Greetings. I hope the new year is treating you well so far.
Regarding your embed, we will not be able to accommodate a month-long embed with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Afghanistan . February is looking very busy, but I could offer you a week long embed between the dates that you requested, probably after Feb #. Would Feb. ##-## work for you? Please let me know.
I look forward to working with you!
Busy? No kidding… that’s why I’m coming. I don’t want to be there when you’re not busy!
Adapt and Overcome
So that throws a bit of a wrench into things. The biggest problem is that I have the month of February and every day counts. I also need ITOs (Individual Temporary Orders) in order to come into theater with the military. In this case, I have learned I can fly to Kuwait then get a military flight straight into Kandahar. Definitely less comfortable, but no visa needed, no Kabul needed, no Bagram needed, less travel days and no goatee needed!
There are straight flights from Doha, Qatar as well, but again, I don’t want to deal with getting a visa and all that. Afterall, I really only have about three weeks on the ground as it is.
The downfall is that I don’t get to go through the more adventurous part of the trip; actually getting a hotel and staying in Kabul for a few days. My Dad certainly likes that better, unfortunately, I wanted to get pictures for the archive that show the people and the city of Kabul. A bit dangerous, but worth it.
The More Lines in the Water, the More Fish
So I have some time to fill and I need to get a plane ticket, which we all know, gets more expensive as the day approaches. I guess I’m just going to have to rely on some hope and good karma. If that fails, I could find myself in an overpriced hotel room in Kuwait City or a dusty tent in the Kuwati desert at Ali al-Salim for more time than I care.
I do have good leads with an Embedded Training Team, British Marines and maybe even Blackwater. With all that in mind, I did buy my ticket and can only hope it all works out in Kuwait.
Jan 4 at 12:12pm by David Tate
Details are just surfacing regarding a major coalition pre-Christmas offensive, led by the British, to take areas close to Helmand’s provincial capital long controlled by the Taliban. The three week long battle, which culminated Christmas Day, targeted four heavily defended positions in Nad-e-Ali, which lies just northwest of Lashkar Gah and to the southwest of Greshk and Highway 1.
According to at least three reports, the offensive codenamed, “Sond Chara”, began December 7 involving more than 1,500 coalition troops and was one of the largest operations launched by Royal Marines since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Danish, Estonian and Afghan troops were also involved.
Emerging details tell of pitched close quarter fire fights in ankle deep mud, that in some cases, dragged out over 60km.
Capt. Dave Glendenning, commander of the marines’ artillery support team, said: “Almost every day we were involved in intense fire-fights ranging from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms ‘shoot-and-scoots’ to four-hour battles with the enemy forces as close as 30 metres.”
The fighting has left at least five British troops dead, two who died in pre-operation intelligence gathering.
The primary mission of the operation was to secure enemy saturated areas close to the capital in preparation for upcoming voter registration drives.
The men killed in the offensive, according to the BBC, are Australian national Rifleman Stuart Nash, 21; Cpl Robert Deering, 33, from Solihull in the West Midlands; L/Cpl Ben Whatley, 20, of Tittleshall, Norfolk; and Marines Tony Evans, 20, from Sunderland, and Georgie Sparks, 19, from Epping.
The Taliban suffered more than a hundred killed, including a top commander for the area.
Dec 7 – Night time assault on Taliban positions in a village south of Nad-e-Ali. Troops encountered heavy rocket and small arms fire. Led by Danish Leopard tanks, the Taliban were quickly routed.
Dec 8-10 – Offensive put on hold in observance of Eid al-Ahda.
Dec 11 – Marines take key Taliban base in Nad-e-Ali. Shin Kalay, north of Lashkar Gah, also captured by British and Afghan forces.
Dec 12-18 – Taliban counter attack; Marines involved in near trench warfare as they push back Taliban fighters allowing Royal Engineers to build a Patrol Base (PB).
Dec 17-19 – Battle of Zarghun Kalay, described as the most “ferocious” fighting. Here Marines trekked some 60km, through deep mud, before assaulting the town which involved “360 degree hand-to-hand combat” against an entrenched enemy.
Dec 24 – Air assault on Chah-e-Najir, Taliban command post captured.
Jan 3 at 11:11am by David Tate
Preparing for a month abroad in Afghanistan takes a lot of time and effort. It isn’t as easy as buying a plane ticket and going.
Getting into shape is a priority. While at 41 I do keep in good shape already, however that’s with 175lbs on my bones and muscles. With a lot of time spent in body armor and kevlar, I need to get my body ready for carrying an additional 80 pounds worth of gear, and that takes time.
This month I’ll be adding those pounds to a three mile hill course that I have plotted out through the river district of Roanoke. That jaunt will be interupted by a series of wind sprints, push ups and crunches that will help build my stamina. In all, the workout takes about one hour. Now I just have to find the time (likely 6am).
Finding the time is very important. What many folks don’t realize is that if you are out of shape you put yourself, and the troops around you, at greater risk. The last thing I want is the blood of a Marine on my hands because my ass is out of shape. The Marines know I’m a former Marine and there’s no way in hell I’m showing up out of shape.
In 2004 while deployed with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Force in Oruzgan Province, an Australian journalist named Carmela Baranowska was also embedded with us. After a few patrols where she was dragging behind, the Marines pretty much kicked her off of patrols for safety reasons (she would later write that they did it to censor her). Point is, that will never be me, and when it is, I won’t be there in the first place.
Fact is, I hate facial hair, my wife hates it as does my daughter. Hate it, hate it hate it (on me that is). Unfortunately, part of my trip will be taking me into the general public of Afghanistan where a fresh faced white guy sticks out like a burqa at the beach. So, goatee on for a few months.
So I just remembered that Afghanistan is one of those countries that requires an early visa to get in. That of course requires a number of things: Have to find someone to process it for you, need passport photos, letters of proof, etc… A lot of what you need varies for what you’re doing. If you’re going for business, that’s one visa; as a tourist, it’s another. In my case, while I am a journalist by profession, I am coming to Afghanistan on my vacation time as a battlefield tourist of sorts. So while in Afghanistan’s general population, I’m a tourist, but when I’m with the coalition, I’m a journalist. I guess I will apply for the tourist visa and hope for the best. The whole thing costs as much as $250.
I do have a plan B in the event Afghanistan does not let me in.