The Last Journey

Article #15  “Faces and Voices of Eastern Afghanistan






10 August 2010, Forward Operating Base Boris, Afghanistan  It only rained once today, but it was a bit of a downpour.  I’ve been on the FOB the whole time I’ve been here.  No one has gone out.  I don’t have a whole lot more time scheduled here but we’ll see what the days ahead bring.  I have kept myself quite busy.  There was plenty today to keep up on.  The rain subsided enough to make me think it could possibly clear up, but I tend to believe that is mostly hopeful thinking. In any event, I enjoy being here. 


This morning I decided to work out in the weight room and got into my walking routine on the treadmill they have set up.  Generally, I walk at a brisk pace 8-miles a day.  It felt good today.  I like it.  Then, I took a shower and was really feeling good after that.  While exercising, a voice came over the loud speaker saying, “OUTGOING…OUTGOING”.  I knew that meant the    big guns would be firing.  I was at an hour on my workout so I headed back to my quarters and got my camera.  I climbed up on the stairs that leads to an observation place where the Lt. in charge of the artillery folks views what’s going on and he and his assistant decide on adjustments.  The view was excellent and the opportunity to snap a few shots of the big guns in action was too good to pass up.  I watched as the projectile was launched and then watched as it impacted quite a ways away on the hills to the northeast of us.  I would not want to be on the other end of where the shells land.  Watching the artillery guys looks like an orchestra in action.  It is great symphony. 

Later on I had some lunch and ran into the battallion commander for the unit I’m embedded with.  He was visiting here from his location.  His name is Lt. Col. Harman.  During lunch, I asked him if he was not too busy if he would chat with me a while.  He told me he needed to take care of a few things and that before he left he would find me.  Sure enough, he did and we spent some time talking.  He gave me an excellent audio interview and I pressed him if I could return to his AO and he readily encouraged me to return after my upcoming embed with the USMC.  I told him I would be back and I mentioned to him that I had his invite on audio and we both smiled.  In every instance that I have had opportunity to deal with battallion commanders in the Army, whether here or in Iraq, I have always been given an open door and I really like that.  As I have said in the past, the Army always treats me well.  I also make it known that my son is a W3 Chinook pilot who has done five deployments.  They know I have a stake in this war.  They know my historical work.  They know I care about the soldiers and their families.


In mid afternoon, I made it a point to spend time with the cultural advisors here at FOB Boris.  There are several of them and they are all from this area and of course are all Pashtun.  They have the same job as my friend Sword in Salerno.  I went to where they all hang out and were on break at the time.  I asked to come in to their dwelling and they offered me chai (tea).  I love to have chai.  I took my shoes off, brought out my digital audio recorder and asked them to educate me on the situation here in Afghanistan.  It was a great opportunity and it lasted at least 40-minutes on the recorder when I turned it off.  Then it continued another 40-minutes.  This is probably the most informative audio I have ever taken.  In my opinion, it is just as documentary in nature as anything produced on NPR radio.  I encourage everyone to listen to it and I will make it available to all who inquire.  It is very, very good.  It is worth coming the distance on this journey, just to have that opportunity.  Every American should listen and inform themselves as to what is going on over here if they are concerned about American blood being spilled.  If not interested, then go back and watch another episode of Wheel of Fortune while America’s finest are half a world away making sure your living rooms are nice and comfey.  I learned quite a bit in this interview and much of it matches what many others here tell me. I spend a lot of time these days looking toward the mountains to the east. 


In the late afternoon, four humvees rolled up and battle parked right in across from where I stay.  I wondered where these humvees were coming from and who might be in them.  The closer I got, the more interested I became.  These folks were serious looking dudes.  I decided instantly that I would go and chat with them, however, language would possibly be a problem.  I have travelled with lots and lots of interesting people over the years and as I approached these soldiers, I flashed back to my time in El Salvador with the Army of the Republic of El Salvador.  I was twenty plus years younger in those days yet I was still older than most of the soldiers I was with.  But the leaders were my age at the time.  These folks that I was getting ready to meet were no doubt going to be interesting.  They were the roughest and most hardened looking soldiers I’ve ever come across in my days.  They also looked interested in me coming towards them with a camera.  Game on.


I’ve learned over the years to be low key and real and to speak from the heart.  It is the only way I know how to be.  It makes my life simple.  In short order I began speaking slowly inquiring if anyone spoke English.  Some spoke some English.  Then little by little, I began mingling with them.  After all, they were in “my front yard”, so to speak, and I wanted to get to know my new “neighbors”.  I had the feeling they were going to stay the night and occupy my “hotel” room which could have easily accomodated them.  That would have been interesting in itself and would have been a whole other story to write about.  Turns out these soldiers were more or less the PSD detail for a General Aziz.  These guys are all Afghan Special Forces.  They came from a place not too far from here.  I don’t even ask about that place.  It’s none of my business.  But I would love to spend a great deal of time with these folks.  I know the photo opportunities would be phenomenal.  Maybe one day I will get invited, but for now, I’ll just settle for today’s set of photo ops. 


I spent the better part of the next 90-minutes getting to know these guys.  I could not stop flashing back on my time in El Salvador.  I wanted so much to pack up my things and just go hang with these guys for the duration of my journey.  I would think this is who we are depending on to pick up the full battle responsibility in the days, months and years ahead.  If it were up to me, this is whom I would be banking on.  These are the kind I believe are willing to take the fight to the enemies of Afghanistan and understand what America is trying to do.  When I hear on the news back home that we must train the Afghan National Army to pick up the ball, this is who I have in mind.  I would make the entire Aghan Army full of these guys.  Then I would feel confident and know we are on the right track.  We’ll see what the politicians come up with.  But I think I know what will work.








As these soldiers began to pack up their things, their superior came walking up eating an apple.  He was a sharp, well built, disciplined looking individual, with a trimmed haircut, unlike most of the rest of his men under his command.  His name I was told is Gen. Aziz.  He is extremely well known in these parts.  You might say his reputaion preceeds him.  I introduced myself to him immediately and he was straight forward and forthright.  I immediately noticed that he wore an interesting arm patch in English.  It read, “IN MEMORY OF SHAHEED SARDAR KIA 26 NOV 2006 ORGUNE SUICIDE BOMBER” and was posted directly underneath his patch of the flag of Afghanistan.  This is why he is so serious.  He didn’t need to explain any more.  I got it.  I do things for certain reasons that are related to loved ones lost.  So does he.  We have a connection.  I asked to have my photo taken with him and he accepted right away.  I enjoyed my time with him and his men.  Perhaps somewhere, some time in the future, I will see them again.  Maybe not.  But on this day, I think I met the best of the Afghan soldiers.  I was impressed. 


It was a very interesting day all around.  I had no idea what the day would bring, but then again, that’s part of it all on this journey.  I never know what’s next and I spend very little time trying to figure it out.  I’m very much living in the moment and enjoying what comes my way.  I listened to many voices of Afghanistan this day and I looked deeply into the faces of those who have been in the battles from the eastern Afghanistan side of things.  It was quite an education.  I think I will keep showing up for this class.


Jim Spiri Last Journey