The Last Journey
September 21-24, 2010 Kandahar Air Field
In a Jam
Part 5

September 23, the second day of Autumn and I’m in Afghanistan at Camp Dwyer. I will try to Space A myself to Kandahar at the suggestion of my public affairs office at Dwyer. I came into this country on a C-5 from Ramstein and landed at KAF (Kandahar Air Field). This is what I was told to do, go out the same way you came in. I know the rule is just that, you go out the way you come in. At least that is the rule until someone decides on a particular day that it is not the rule. So many rules that no one knows a thing. What most people know for sure however is how to cover their own ass. That is the name of the game in most everything relating to things other than front line fighting in infantry units.

As is my pattern, I awoke early this day and got cleaned up. Took another shower and headed over to breakfast at the chow hall. I was to be at the designated location at 1130 hrs so the bus could take me to the airfield so I could manifest myself out of Dwyer. That seemed to be the main order of business now for me. Head out of Dwyer and into Kandahar. RCT 7 would be gone in three days and RCT 1 would be fully in control. Major Chapin in camp Leatherneck decided to tell everyone I did not have what is known as, “Invitational Travel Orders”. On the first line of my orders, it clearly states in large letters, “Invitational Travel Orders”. Had the female major at Leatherneck taken the time to chat with me, she would have figured that out. She also should have known that no American media person is allowed to embed WITHOUT invitational travel orders issued by the department of Defense. Silly her, she should have talked to me on the phone she did not want to give me the number to. Oh well, time to move forward, but as of the last couple days, two steps forward puts me one step backwards.

I went over to the chow hall early and had some fruit and a cup of coffee. While there I noticed a Marine wearing a type of cammie that only the guys in the bush wear. I could tell right away he did not look like a POG (person other than grunt) or a fobbit (a person that only stays on large FOB’s throughout his deployment. I walked over to him and asked if I could sit down with him. He said sure.

I began by asking-telling him that he was not from here and was from out in the bush. He looked at me and smile and said “how did you know?” I replied, “it’s obvious Marine. I just came from the area you are from.” We began to talk at length while we both chowed down on our breakfast. Both of us felt a little out of place and no one else in the DFAC looked like him. I enjoyed speaking with this Marine whose name I don’t recall. But his face I still see. He just had the look. And the clothes which were not very clean. I’m beginning to think I only trust people in this area whose clothes are not so clean. I now can spot a warrior a long ways off. I said good bye to this Marine and we shook hands. Although he is young, he looks older than all the other nicely dressed people that morning at the DFAC on camp Dwyer. He will be going back to his unit shortly. He’s going to enjoy as much good food as he can and catch up on as many emails as he possibly can during his stay at Dwyer which will only last a day longer. Then it’s back to the war on the front.

I went over to the MWR and checked some emails. I followed up on the ones I could and left the rest to sometime later on in the future. By 1100 hrs I was back in my tent and my things were all gathered up and ready to go. I walked over to the designated place that the PAO had told me to wait and was 15-minutes early. I was met by Sgt. Agostino who also works for RCT 7’s public affairs office. He told me that the space A travel for today looked good and it was a good chance I would get out today. I shook his hand and got on the bus. The driver is a Marine. He dropped off his local passengers and then took me to the other side of the air field and we had a time to talk. We had a great discussion about how things are going this day and by the time I got off we were both laughing at one another’s dilemmas. Sometimes a little streak of rebelliousness is good for building character. Just as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.

I got off, took my things to the little office where pax go and gave them my ID and they set me up. The guys there told me that I’ll be good to go and I should get to Kandahar by sometime around 3:00 or 4:00 PM that afternoon. I waited in the holding area outside for about an hour and half and had some good conversations with folks going on the same flight as I was. Most were getting off on the first stop, which was Leatherneck, but a few of us were going directly to Kandahar. The C-130 landed, I could hear it taxi up to our location and in short order we were all taken out to the flight line and ready to walk on our bird. I would now be leaving Camp Dwyer and come to find out, I would be leaving what is known as RC Southwest and heading into RC South. RC stands for “regional command”. It had recently been divided into two areas right around the time I came into country. The problem that I would have now would become known to me once I got to Kandahar.

The C-130 flight to Leatherneck was quick and fairly smooth although I did see some folks get quezzy looking during the flight. The military pax got off and a whole bunch of fat civilians got on. I was going to Kandahar now. It’s like NY City for Afghanistan at least as far as military bases in war zones go. I was heading into territory that I did not really want to be going into. Now I really began to miss COP Turbett. I am feeling surrounded by a mass of fat, middle level managers none of which have ever had one shot fired at them yet they are working here in the war zone. It seems frustrating to me. All the support folks get all the luxuries and none of the front line folks are hardly ever afforded such pleasures not to mention some of them are actually looked down upon in a sense.

The next leg of the flight was ready for takeoff and in short order we were airborne. It was a bit longer of a flight and the combat approach into Kandahar was definitely more exciting, except for those that again looked quezzy. Eventually we landed and taxied up to where we would deplane the bird by walking off the back ramp. The passengers were all put in a holding area while ID cards were gathered and we were checked in for accountability purposes. Then, one by one we were given out ID cards back and everyone began to go their separate ways. I called the Media Support Center and told them I was here and needed to be picked up. This is where the new set of circumstances arose.

The media center here had no idea I was coming. That I almost anticipated, but, I thought at least they would have some tracking on me. Now, I had been here over a month ago and also two months ago. One month ago I was coming back through Kandahar on my way to embed with the USMC. At that time another change over was taking place and the new folks were from Ft. Bliss, TX, an area I know rather well. I made myself known to the new guys a month back knowing full well I would see them again. They did not realize that they would remember me, but I made it a point to talk directly to the incoming Major, whose last name is Taylor. He knew many of the folks I had worked with in Mosul in 2007 through the PAO offices who also were out of Ft. Bliss, TX at that time. So, in short, I made it clear to them that they would remember me. That was my plan a month ago. I knew they would be handling me on my exit out of country.

When the runners from the PAO picked me up, they immediately asked to see my travel orders, which I though strange. Now, I showed my orders to them and they said you are under RC Southwest. I told them I am on my out of country and they said, “oh.” Then they said to go ahead and get in and they would take me to the media support center and place me in a holding area for awhile until they sort things out.

Once we arrived, I asked to speak to Maj. Taylor immediately but he was not in but was coming in. The Sgt in charge began explaining to me that I’m in a jam and that I will need to fly out commercial. I explained to him that in no way was I going to do that, my orders explicitly state just the opposite. Now, it needs to be noted that these guys here, the Army PAO are trying their damndest to help me out. What has happened now is I’ve arrived in a new regional command sector and the orders I have are for the regional command sector I just came from. What has happened is that the female Major at Leatherneck, where all problems begin, managed to drop the ball so hard concerning me that she got me out of her sector and into another sector without proper orders. Now I was really in trouble at least on paper. But, it would get sorted out by the public affairs guys here issuing me orders embedding right here where I’m currently staying which is in downtown Kandahar Air Field at the media operations center. This is exactly what I did not want to have happen.

Now, these guys are trying their hardest to get me a flight that does not go to Kuwait but ends up in Germany. I know for a solid fact that there are several flights a week that go from here to Germany with wounded soldiers and Marines on them. The problem now is to convince everyone that on one of those flights, which ALWAYS has available seats in varying numbers on them, I need to be put on one of those flights. What is the sticking point is that the military is terrified of having a “media” person on a flight that has injured troops on them. I have made it clear to them all the way up and down the chain that I have ridden of medevac flights to Germany in the past and I have insisted that the rule be followed that being, you go out the way you came in. That is what has to happen. In the mean time, by the end of the day on September 23, 2010, I was stuck at Kandahar Air Field, at the media operations center, a place I’ve now been to three times on this journey listening to big planes land and take off all day and night long. Some of those planes are going to Germany and locations beyond including the USA and they have empty seats on them. I am trying desperately to get the powers that be to put me on one of those flights soon, or I will just rot away here in Kandahar.

They tried to tell me that I would have to go out commercial and I explained that I have orders that say differently. They have to take me out the way I came in. That’s the rule. Now, the rule is up to whomever wants to enforce it. They asked me about having my passport stamped and I explicitly explained to them that I came in on military air and did not have my passport stamped. This they knew but were asking because now I would have to pay an exit fee of over $500 US dollars to get out of Afghanistan if I fly commercial, which I do not have available. I told them now that I will go to jail here in Afghanistan before I do something like that and if they want a big story, that will be it. Now, I am waiting here at the media operations center hoping that somebody somewhere gets the picture that it is better to put me on a flight rather than not.

And that is the way things stood at the close of business for me on September 23, 2010 stuck at Kandahar Air Field because once again as is so often the case in this war on terrorism, the left hand just has no idea what the right hand is doing here in Afghanistan. It’s just that way for me dealing with so many folks that are not in the infantry. This war just sucks in so many ways.

Jim Spiri