The Last Journey

Article #23 “Dusty”


24 August 2010 Camp Dwyer, Helmund province, Afghanistan

The dust storm continues.  I've seen this type of thing before in Iraq and it could last for days.  At the moment, I am grounded here at Camp Dwyer until this dust storm subsides.  On the brighter side, it is not as hot as it usually is giving all of us here a bit of a break from the oppressive heat.  In my tent, things are just fine, air conditioning works great, even too good.  The cot I am on is fine and I was able to get a shower this morning.  So, I will figure out today as I always do.  One moment at a time.


At chow this morning I was sitting next to a young Marine who noticed in my conversation the word, “New Mexico”.  Turns out he is from Roswell, New Mexico, and later on today, I will go and speak with him and do an audio recording on him as I coordinate with the Captain who is in charge of public affairs.  It was an interesting turn of events for as I was praying this morning over my meal, with another person, I specifically mentioned to the Lord, “be this day Lord, arrange all my steps”.  No sooner did I pray that, then this young Marine just appeared and sat with us.  As things began to unfold, the civilian across from me whom I was praying with began to see how each and every one of my days develop.  He had just asked me after my prayer, how I do things on a daily basis.  Right before his eyes, he saw.  All I had to say was, “this is a typical day.  They all start out like this”. 


Being one step away from where I'm wanting to be is one of those, “chomping at the bit” experiences.  But I have learned these days to take everything in stride.  I will get there when I get there.  Just the way it is.  In the mean time I've been educating myself by speaking with many interpreters and linguists who are living in the USA but are from Afghanistan, and now working here with the military.  Here is where I get a wide open door of historical background on this place called Afghanistan. There are times I think back to my schooling years and remember trying to listen and learn things that were hard to grasp.  Here, it is never hard to listen and always exciting to learn.  But there is a boatload of things to learn.  This is a complicated place, Afghanistan.


In the north-east part of the country, where I had been earlier, most all of the local population is Pashtun.  Down here, I have met almost all Tajiks, who are more closely related to the Persians.  What I have learned about the ethnic breakdown here in Afghanistan is that according to some UN publications, at least 50% of the population in Afghanistan is Pashtun.  The same information source says that almost 25% of the Afghan population is made up of Tajiks.  There has always been a struggle between Pashtun and Tajiks for power in Afghanistan. It is still part of the power struggle going on here.  Depending on whom you speak with, is how one's view of this place will take shape.  Once again, it is not easy to understand, it is complicated.  Hamid Karzi, the current President of Afghanistan, is Pashtun.  His main rival for the presidency this last election was a man named Abdullah Abdullah.  (yes, he has the same name twice)  Abdullah is half Tajik and half Pashtun by birth.  That in itself would have seemed to be a winning combo.  The Pashtun majority however won out in the hotly contested recent elections.  It's a delicate balancing act.


In the recent history of Afghanistan, one must remember who the Lion of Panshir is.  Massoud, as his name is known.  He was the one who was killed by a pretend journalist-suicide bomber, on September 10, 2001, one day before the events of 9/11 that changed everybody's world.  He was the leader of what was known as the “Northern Alliance”.  The Tajiks here still esteem him in high regard.  From what I can gather, it seems that a “normal” Afghanistan must somehow mend any rift between Tajiks and Pashtuns.  Of course, that is and has always been a long-standing course of action that has yet to fully succeed.  One might have better luck building a bridge between Sen. Al Franken and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.  Differences run deep.  But in Afghanistan it is further complicated by the remaining other ethnic factions which I will not go into at this time.   And, some other remaining leaders who all fought against the Russians and now have taken sides with the Taliban who have severe influences from Al Queda.  If ever there was a place where, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” holds true, it would be here in Afghanistan.  In the mean time, where I am now, the Marines are right smack dab in the middle of Helmund province. 


Helmund province is a place that only some people back home hear about.  Those that want to hear about it are probably the ones that have husbands and fathers and sons and daughters here.  I wager that the rest of the populace back home could care less about this place called Helmund province.  Perhaps they are more interested in who won Miss Universe or what's happening on some “Survivor” un-reality show.  I will take it upon myself to put Helmund province in the spotlight for a few paragraphs today.  This is where the battle is at the moment, as well as many other places across Afghanistan.  I had to ask myself, “why?”  Why Helmund province.  From my first impressions of this place, and mind you, the first impressions are coming from within a camp full of tents, is that what could possibly be so valuable here in Helmund province.  All I've seen so far is oppressive heat and horrific dust in the air.  But there is something here that I forgot about.


It has been said that 80% of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan.  And most all of it comes from right here in Helmund province.  Wow...!  That's a lot of dope.  That has to be a lot of money.  That has to be a lot of power for someone somewhere.  Lately I've been concerned about how things in Juarez, Mexico have been going due to the drug cartels battling over turf.  I grew up relatively close to the border where Juarez is.  Thousands of people have been murdered in Juarez each of the past several years, recently.  I wondered how that situation got so out of control.  And now today, I find myself one stop away from the area where perhaps the most lucrative drug crop the world has to offer is cultivated.  It is also where the fight is.  It is where Marines are confronting the enemy from a variety of angles.  I can only conclude that part of this war on terrorism, right here in Afghanistan, must have something to do with the worlds most lucrative crop which happens to be right in the exact same locale.  I have now found myself knocking on the door of a very large world situation.  One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure things out.  Is a matter of fact, I'm not trying to figure anything out.  But, if one is going to “go camping” in this neck of the woods, it is advisable to know perhaps just a little about the surroundings.  For those of you that are actually reading what I'm writing, I have for lack of a better term, connected a dot from the global war on terrorism to the out of control situation in Juarez, Mexico, which is basically my back yard.  It's a stretch, but it connects.  And it is relevant to us all at some point in time. I hate drugs.  I hate them even more so now. 


Today when I interviewed Sgt. Dillon Hopper from Roswell, New Mexico, I took his photo in front of a memorial of sorts.  On that memorial hung the dog tags of fallen Marines since last October.  A time span of less than one year.  When I took the photo, I held the camera close to my eye for an extra amount of time to hide my tears.  I did not want to show my weakness.  I hesitated to show this photo, but I feel now I must.  There is a war here in Afghanistan and it is raging one stop away from where I'm going.  I don't know all the factors and all the reasons nor do I have all the solutions to make it stop.  But there is one thing I do have to offer.  It is a photo of a fine Marine from Roswell, New Mexico who is standing in front of a memorial that screams ever so loudly to all who will look and see.  I'm glad I was joined at breakfast by Sgt. Dillon Hopper this morning.  Without knowing it, his presence enlightened me just a little today.  He has no idea that a simple photo in front of dog tags pretty much woke me up big time today.  I enjoyed my audio interview with him today.  It had nothing to do with what I wrote about today.  But, the photo hit me hard.  It happens that way from time to time.  Visibility outside may be almost nil due to the dirt in the air.  However, I think I can see a little clearer through the dust than I did yesterday.  Perhaps I need just a little more eye salve.


Jim Spiri Last Journey