I don’t like to be right. It is easier for me when I am wrong. Some things are just unnecessarily complicated by people’s stubbornness to just think a tiny bit outside the box for a little while. Today I had to force some people to listen to me. It was unpleasant to do so, but in the end, it had to be done. There will be repercussions from it all, that I am sure of. But, at this point I just don’t care anymore about pleasing people that will not listen. I don’t care anymore about being liked or disliked. I just want to be able to go from point A to point B without a bunch of bullshit in-between. The more simple I try to explain things the more complicated the resulting issues become. I will just have to live with a bad reputation. I honestly don’t give a damn anymore.
I have been trying since September 21 to try and arrange exiting this country. It has become a logistical nightmare complicated only the more so by total bureaucracy that never takes into consideration the fact that an American patriot, who happens to carry a camera is just riding along on a seat that is authorized to him. Because I am not a member of the “elite” media and because I am something other than a famous reporter trying to get to the next really big scoop that will sell tons of advertising, I am beginning to be treated like the scum of the earth. Those who think they control my movement within Afghanistan think I really care how much they are trying to hurt me by making my life as miserable as possible because I’ve called them on the carpet and made them work. It is a crying shame that this has to happen this way because not everyone is bad, some are actually wonderful. But at the moment, those whom I have made “go to work” have made it their life’s goal to spread the word that “Jim Spiri is a problem”.
The situation is this. I flew into Afghanistan on military air from Ramstein, Germany. The rule is I have to go out the same way. The reason is that they do not stamp your passport upon entry because you’ve come in on military aircraft. Now, the system does not want to fly me out via military aircraft and they want me to fly out commercial from Kabul, which now will put me a tricky situation because I cannot prove I entered the country legally according to my passport. Now there is a HUGE fine for this and the public affairs folks that are making my life hell at the moment do not want to pony up and put me on the flight back to Germany. It comes down to “money” always, just like everything else in this country called Afghanistan. Doing the right thing has completely gone out the window but covering one’s ass according to budgets is all that is a concern in the middle of the so called “Afghanistan surge”. Every day, civilians fly on military aircraft in and out of Afghanistan. There are plenty of empty seats and one of them has my name on it. But, because of what is known as “pissing contests” there are some that are trying desperately to erase my name from my seat and each time they try to do this, I call them on the carpet for it. It comes down to money. No one wants to have my seat come out of their budget. But, they flew me in, they MUST fly me out. Even though the likes of Katie Couric can snap her fingers and demand two helicopters at her beckon call, I am being given downright shit for REQUESTING my seat which is due me. In the middle of all this nonsense, young Americans are dying in Afghanistan. For exactly what, only God knows, while middle level managers stretched throughout the system who never once have had a shot fired at them are making my life hell at the moment. It is ok. I have too much gray hair already to worry about it, but I will vent it in whatever venue I choose in the middle of my last journey. Whether they like it or not is of no concern to me at the moment. Getting more flies with honey rather than vinegar does not register in my thinking anymore. I’m getting the giant fly swatter out. Pesky little bastards only understand one thing.
I have now been told I have to wait here in Kandahar for another five days only to be flown to Bagram so “RC-East” can take care of me and fly me back to Germany. There are planes right in front of my eyes here that go to Germany but they are medevacs and they have empty seats on them available for space A pax as well as some duty pax. But, the system is so terrified that a man with a camera will be on the plane even though in the past I have flown on them and never taken a photo. Someone somewhere does not want even the slightest hint that there are wounded Americans going home from the war in Afghanistan.
So, I am stuck again. And to top it off I have requested to go into the hottest area here in Kandahar province and because I requested that, I am not allowed to do so. Each time I ask to do something I am told I cannot. So I am forced to just be here in a room figuring out how to come up with some interesting things to document from an historical point of view. And that is what I will do. The only thing they said I could do was go fly with the Afghan Army and it was said in such a way that meant, “if you trust them”. I said immediately, “sure”. And that is where it stands as of today. All of this was told to me in a room with the door closed and I was told that everyone up at RC-East is pissed off at me and will not accommodate me until the very last minute, which is just a slam in my face. It was also rammed down my throat that these guys here had to work really hard to make this happen. Oh gee, what a shame. The place I am staying at is called the media SUPPORT center. What part of SUPPORT did they miss is my only question. I am not CNN, CBS, NY Times so, I can just go to hell.
Now, I told these folks on several occasions that I was more than thankful for them actually doing their jobs and helping me out. But now I am the ping pong ball and bouncing me around this country has become a “match point” process to see just how much I will be able to take before I snap. I will not snap. But, I will remember everything that is being done to me and I will vividly relay it through my typing skills to whomever I wish to send it to. That is the way it works when people refuse to listen to me. And that is exactly how I get a bad reputation.
In the mean time, the journey continues and very interesting things happened to me today. While at lunch I met a CW5 from the Pennsylvania National Guard who is over here on deployment. His name is Mr. Ross and he is now a fixed wing C-12 pilot flying the King Air type plane. He is a former CH47 helicopter pilot and we talked about that because my son is one of those pilots. Now a CW5 in the Warrant world is like a General in the commissioned world. This particular man was a real blessing to me today. We talked and fellowshipped about many things and by the end of our time at lunch, I was feeling very good no matter how bad things were for me on the outside relating to me current status. That’s the problem with this place. You go through hell on one hand and get treated like crap but then out of nowhere comes a person that is just very genuine, real, simple and also happens to carry some authority. That is why I am willing to put up with the hard stuff to come across paths of people that are real warriors that have managed to overcome the bullshit of the system and maintain their own personal integrity. These are the hidden ones intermingled throughout the system that always gives me hope to press on.
Later that evening after all the hoopla about what was going to happen to me had settled down, I went for a long walk in the evening time. I ended up over at the MWR tent where the phones had line a mile long. I just sat down and waited after signing up and was just contemplating all the things I had gone through during this journey. Compared to others, it’s not that much. However, in relation to the everyday life of middle America back home, well, I think it might be a bit on the note worthy side.
Then out of nowhere walks by me a soldier whose face I recognize immediately. It is Sgt. James Butcher from the 101st guys whom I had been embedded with back in August at FOB Boris. He was at the same place where Sgt. Bryan Doyle was at. I could not believe my eyes when I saw him. The fact that first of all, he is quite a long distance from where we met in August is one thing but the fact that here at Kandahar, where there seems to be a million people everywhere, I just happened to bump into a guy I know. The chances of this happening are astronomical at best. So, as always, I just figured it was sovereignty arranged by the Lord.
James remembered me. We talked at length about things. What he is doing here and where he is going is not a topic for discussion at the moment. But what he told me about a soldier I knew stopped me right in my tracks. He informed me that 27-year-old Cpl. Jimmy Robinson from Cincinnati, Ohio, married with two small children was killed by indirect fire at FOB Boris. I was startled. I had photos of Cpl. Robinson’s promotion back on August 15 and I did an audio on him. I immediately flashed in my mind who he was. It took me awhile to remember exactly but upon my return to my room here at Kandahar later that night, I dug out my external hard drive and searched for Cpl. Robinson’s photo and audio. Sure enough I found it and looked at it and listened to his voice. The last thing he said on my audio was that he loved his wife and two small children. It was a short audio, but I know the family will want it. I will find them at some point in time and give them the audio as well as the photos I have. It is probable the photos I have are the last ones of Cpl. Robinson. Now I have some critical historical archives that are extremely important to some family members of Cpl. Robinson. This is more than a big story that CNN or CBS or the NY Times could do. This is something seemingly unimportant to some, but I know who it is important to. And I will find them and give it to them at no charge. This is why I do not sell things. This is why it hurts when people such as the ones I am currently dealing with won’t listen to me. I touch on things that are more important than 15-minutes of fame.
Walking back at night I was stopped by some MP’s who wanted to know why I did not have a reflective belt on. I explained to them that I had no idea that was a requirement. They asked me if my company did not issue me one. I said, “I am the company and I had no idea that was a requirement”. They asked me what I do and I explained that I am an historian. They said to me, “whom do you work for?” I tried my best to explain to them that I do not work for anyone. They said immediately, “show us your ID card”. I immediately did so and they said to me, “oh, you’re media. What company do you work for and why did they not issue you a reflective belt to wear at night?” At this I thought hard about what the hell to tell them. For the past month I was at places that wearing a reflective belt would give your position away and result in your death. Now I was being interrogated for not wearing a reflective belt that in my mind would give my position away. Here at Kandahar it is like a giant war zone mall and there are rules that are made for people that have never gone outside the wire in their entire life. There are also plenty of folks that have gone outside the wire here as well. But tonight, I just told the MP, I don’t have one and that I was sorry. The other MP asked me if I had a “torch”, in his British accent. Now I thought, “a torch?” What the hell is that going to do for me? But then I realized he meant a flashlight. Through all this, I wondered how all these countries here working the same war really get along. It all seemed like insanity to me. I turned my flash light on and they let me go about my way.
I picked up a Stars and Stripes newspaper and while thumbing through it I came across the names of 22 soldiers and Marines that had been killed in the past 9-days. One of them was the Marine from 3/3 stationed in Hawaii that I know was shot through the neck helping to set up a polling place in the Marjah area near where I had been for the past month. I remember writing about whom this Marine might have been. Now I know his name. 1st Lt. Scott J. Fleming of Marietta, Georgia. He was 24-years-old.
Now all these things of this day have added up to why it hurts when people do not listen to me. I am an historian just wanting to do my mission. The resulting delays have issued in me still having a unique experience even while here in Kandahar Air Field. Obviously, my time is not arranged by me. Rather it must be being arranged by the Lord from above. I must learn to just listen more. That is what I want other people to do for me, so I am beginning to see that I must myself listen to the things most cannot hear.
These are the things that went through my mind as the day of September 25, 2010 wound down to a close here at Kandahar Air Field where I am holed up in my room at the media support center. Before I went to sleep this night I emailed the mother of Sgt. James Butcher whom she calls “Jimmy”. I told her I saw her son like a needle found in a large hay stack. There are lots of “Jimmy’s” in my life. When I was a kid, they called me Jimmy. I pray that all the rest of the Jimmy’s in this war will go home safely.
I went to sleep starring at the photo I took of Cpl. Jimmy Robinson on August 15.