The Last Journey

Article #17 “It’s Complicated”


14 August 2010, Forward Operating Base Boris, Afghanistan


As a young kid, I recall spending my fair share of time in the principle’s office.  It wasn’t that I really did anything all that wrong rather it was usually due to some remarks that I made from time to time that seemed to land me in the hot seat.  As an adult, that did not change all that much.   These days, it just doesn’t matter as much as it used to.  I stay out of trouble for the most part.  I don’t say that much and I’ve stopped biting my tongue because it hurts.  But I always think back to that guy who said, “the pen is mightier than the sword”. 


I was supposed to go on a mission last night but at the last minute my seat was not available.  Although I was disappointed I had only to say, “yes sir, I completely understand”.  It just happens that way once in a while.  I feel like I’ve failed not going on the mission but it was completely out of my hands.  In this environment, one must realize that I am a guest and here by invitation, not by demand.  The “media types” before me apparently did not get that memo.  They messed some things up for me.  One of them fell out during a mission and couldn’t hack it.  It causes problems for the next guy, which is me.  There will be more opportunities and as they come about, I will take them one at a time. The months of training I did prior to coming will be put to use soon enough. 


In times such as these, it is harder to write and produce something.  I received an email from a Lt. Col in the Army last night that strengthened me into my inner man.  His name is Jim Murphy.  I met him in 2004 while we both prayed over a man named Obadiah who had been critically wounded.  The wounded soldier was a spec ops person.  I had been told what a good man he was.  Jim was a Major at that time and was/is a chaplain.  He had been a warrior for much of his military career and one day the Lord called him to be a chaplain.  He laid it all down, stayed in the Army, and became the most profound chaplain I have ever met.  Simply put, he is just a brother.  I had been emailing him for some time and did not have a response.  I had given up but kept him on my mailing list for this journey.  Last night, after I had been informed that my seat on the mission was not available, I was down a bit.  When I checked my email, there was one from Jim.  It made me feel joy once again.  In short, his mission really is caring for the soldiers well being. I think I care for the soldiers well being on one level, but my eyes are on Jim’s care on a higher level. 


I rose early this morning after a long night.  I was up on the high place here that affords a good view of the morning sunrise.  I had a cup of coffee and watched the sun come up.  Unbeknownst to me a man appeared behind me.  He is the person who works in the MWR tent that assigns us computer and phone time.  He is a contract laborer from India.  His name is Nishant.  He is 27-years-old.  He makes $900 a month and works 7-days a week, 12-hours a day.  It cost him $2000 to get this job.  India and Pakistan have terrible relations.  Afghanistan and Pakistan have not so good relations.  India and Afghanistan have good relations.  Afghanistan is Muslim.  India is mostly Hindu, but has Buddhists and Muslims.  Pakistan is Muslim.  Kashmir is the battle ground always between Pakistan and India.  Both countries have nuclear weapons.  That seriously complicates things.


Back to Nishant.


He had never been up on this high place since being here at FOB Boris.  He was startled at the view.  He has been here now over three months.  He used to work in Iraq for PPI, Prime Projects International.  I knew many who worked for that company when I was in Iraq.  Most of them were from the Philippines.  I used to go to their camp and eat with them.  In Afghanistan, many who come to work in this war zone are from India.  Nishant saw that I was taking photos and he had this look on his face.  He wanted his photo taken to send back to his fiancé in India.  No one had offered to take his photo since being here.  I took several of him and then downloaded them to him on the computer so he could email them back home.  He was very thankful.  Later, I ended up eating lunch with Nishant and his co-worker who is a Tamil from India, not Sri Lanka. 


We spoke a bit about geography and Nishant asked me if I knew that Bobby Jindal was the governor of Louisiana.  I smiled and said, “yes”.  I told him he (Jindal) was first generation American and that his parents were from India.  He gave me this look like, “Jindal good man.  He going to top.  He is from India.”  I explained that he is first generation, but to my friend Nishant I think Bobby Jindal will always be if not from India, at least very connected to India.  Kind of like the saying, “local boy makes good”.  Caring for Nishant today put things into perspective for me.  Just being here on the FOB is good.  Getting out will be better, but being here is good. 


Yesterday we had more incoming and as I was in the bunker, I was able to catch it on audio.  Not too bad.  Most don’t get that experience.  Then I watched as the big guns of the artillery fired back in response to the incoming.  Got that on audio as well, along with a few photos of the guys doing their thing with the big gun. 


In the late morning I coordinated with a Captain who is in charge of civil affairs here at FOB Boris.  The local sub-governor, which is like a city manager job, kind of, was coming by to pick up gifts to take to the local towns people a few miles up the road.  During Ramadan, giving gifts of food and other things is kind of a custom of sorts.  Showing generosity is the idea behind it, so I’ve been told.  I spent some time with this local government worker as he and two Afghan police folks loaded up their ranger pick up bags of rice from somewhere, prayer rungs made in China, and simple portable radios and back packs also made in China.  This is the hearts and minds thing going on and I’ve seen it many times before.  The sub-governor puts his life in severe jeopardy by going out and doing such things in this area.  I inquired if I could go with him as he distributes these items.  The photos would be good and it would give me a chance to get out.  Of course, that is a no-go.  But I thought I would ask just in case. I don’t want to complicate things.


While loading up the goodies for the sub-governor, I watched as I’ve seen this show before in so many other places on the globe.  Earlier in the week when I interviewed some cultural advisors, they told me that there are other non Muslim nations that are supporting the Taliban.  The first country mentioned by them was China.  What struck me today was we the Americans, were giving the local Afghan population via the sub-governor, gifts for Ramadan to win hearts and minds, made by China who is said to be supporting the Taliban economically and making money off us, the Americans via the free enterprise system.  This seems very complicated to my simple mind. 


Right now, as I write, soldiers from here at FOB Boris are busy out in the field doing what it is they are trained to do.  They are very close to the Pakistan border.  Today, millions and millions of dollars from the USA is being directed to Pakistan for relief efforts due to recent torrential flooding there.  We, the Americans, seem to help Pakistan out a lot during such times.  It is no secret here that all the problems relating to the war here in Afghanistan these days seems to come out of Pakistan.  The Afghan cultural advisors will tell you emphatically that the USA is getting duped by Pakistan constantly.  We’ve given them billions of dollars and it seems that a fair bit of those finances end up coming right back at us here at FOB Boris in the form of IDF attacks.  That’s indirect fire for those that don’t know that acronym.  Simply put, that would be the rockets that were headed towards my tail end yesterday that I caught on audio.  Seems a little complicated to me.


We are winding things down in Iraq and ratcheting things up here in Afghanistan.  The logistics of this war are absolutely mind boggling to me.  What I know of the inner dynamics, which isn’t very much, is also extremely intertwined with ethnic, tribal, geographical and cultural obstacles that are very, very complicated to fathom.  I’ve only just barely scratched the surface of this land called Afghanistan.  On the right or east is Pakistan, a problem for sure.  To the east and south of them, is India, which is a problem for Pakistan.  To the west of Afghanistan is Iran which starts it’s nuclear reactor next week, according to news reports.  Iran, or Persia as it’s known here is a problem for Afghanistan, not to mention a few other places in the region.  To the west of Iran is Iraq where all kinds of problems were and are.  Back to Afghanistan.  Within Afghanistan there are 35-provinces all of are different from one another.  It would be like having 35-states all within an area about the size of Texas mixed with tribal and ethnic differences that run deep, very deep.


It’s just complicated.  Get used to it.  Maybe a ten pound bag of rice and a cheap Chinese made back pack will win enough hearts and minds around here during Ramadan to slow the flow of rockets being fired at FOB Boris.  I hope so.  This year Ramadan could end on September 11th. Right now in New York City, the $100-million dollar construction of a Muslim cultural center right in the vicinity where the twin towers once stood is causing a huge, complicated political problem back home.  It’s a complicated world we live in.


I’m glad I took Nishant’s photo today and gave it to him to email to his fiancé.  That was simple and it was free.  It kept me out of the principle’s office. 


Jim Spiri Last Journey