The Last Journey

Article #22  Page Two”


23 August 2010, Camp Dwyer, Helmund province Afghanistan

After much traveling, I have arrived among the United States Marine Corps in Helmund province, Afghanistan.   It is worth the wait.  After several attempts, I was able to secure a seat, space available, 22 August, on a C-130 leaving Bagram Air Field for Kandahar.  It took me a few trips back and forth to the passenger terminal, with all my gear, but eventually, somehow, I got on a flight.  It was a welcomed sight.  I arrived in Kandahar in the late morning of 22 August and then linked up with the RC-south, public affairs office.  These folks assisted me expeditiously and shuttled me over to the helicopter landing zone where the USMC coordinates flights for folks such as myself.  I had missed my scheduled pre-arranged flight coordination by approximately 12-hours.  Getting stuck in Bagram is not unusual.  It happens, especially now with the influx of troops allotted for the current surge.  It is anticipated to be even more log-jammed in the coming weeks and months.


In Kandahar I was able to sign up for a space A flight destined for a place called camp Dwyer, which is in Helmund province.  It is a Marine base and the moment boards onto a USMC C-130 aircraft, the world changes to life under the Corps.  It is a change that is noticeable from the very first steps.  It is just a different cup of tea now.  I like it.  I always have.  Things get done fast.  Nothing is wasted time.  If one wants on this ride, saddle up and hop aboard.  This is what I have asked for.  I am at this moment, one stop away from my final destination on embed #2, on this, The Last Journey.


Upon arrival to camp Dwyer, I was immediately greeted by LCPL Crilley, a young man of 21-years old who picked me up in a humvee.  Crilley and I immediately became friends.  He offered to assist me with my luggage which I had been hauling around for the past 48-hours which was beginning to wear on me.  I told him I would be just fine, but thank you for offering.  I wanted this Marine to know I can handle it.  Once in the humvee, we proceeded to my quarter, a transient with several cots set up.  I came inside, placed my things on the cot and LCPL Crilley proceeded to acquaint me with my surroundings.  I was now in a new environment.  This base is big, but being built as I write.  Much has been done, but it is obvious, a whole lot more will be taking place. 

The first impressions I have are all good.  The flight line folks, all Marines, were sharp, up to speed, helpful and quite frankly down to business at all times.  I am most familiar with ground operations in flight line services so I can tell right away whether a place is up to speed or not.  As I expected, especially from past experiences when the Marines are in control of their own neighborhood, everything was geared for “getting the job done and  getting it done in prompt order”.  This was a welcomed sight after the pax terminal experiences in Bagram.  It is not meant to say that things don't get done well in Bagram.  They do get done, eventually.  It is just when the Marines do their things, it seems to get done quickly, because there is much more to do.


Crilley asked if I needed anything and then showed me where the chow hall was.  He told me to rest up and that in the morning, I was to go over to headquarters and the Lt and Capt would brief me on where I am , what's going on, and answer any questions I may have.  I told Crilley thank you for his assistance and I headed into the chow hall to grab a bite to eat and pick up some iced tea to give me a bit of a boost.  At this point, I was very tired and pretty worn out.  I basically had not slept in nearly 40-hours but was glad I had come this far and was now almost where I needed to be. 


After I finished chow, I went around my immediate surroundings and checked things out.  This is a “tent city” of sorts, but the tents are really nice.  I have not seen tents like this before.  I like this kind of tent life.  Whoever designed these got it right.  They have these showers that are really amazing and they have these bathroom facilities that are also very sufficient.  I would say it is on the lines of luxury type camping facilities, more or less.  It is not easy, but it is quite sufficient.  The dining facility is also a tent but it is also immaculate.  Is a matter of fact, everything here, where Marines are, is well kept and his hard not to notice such a thing.  Everybody picks up after themselves and that type of tidy environment is just contagious in a good way.  I like keeping a clean shop. 


After I had pretty much gotten everything in order, Crilley arrived at my tent and said the Lt and Capt wanted to see me as soon as possible and that he (Crilley) and I would be heading out that night via CH53 to my next destination.  Wow...! That's great.  I got up off the cot and walked over to the command center with LCPL Crilley and met with Lt Raney and his Captain.  I knew I was going to like this place when I saw the New York Yankees banner hanging on the wall.  Yankee fans...!  This is great.  My favorite team. 


Lt Raney introduced me to the Captain and the Captain briefed me on my whereabouts and destination.  They asked if I had any questions and I just wanted to know what the spread was on the next Yankee game...!  They smiled and realized this new media guy (me) was going to be ok.  The Captain left and I spent the next 20-minutes speaking with Lt. Raney.  It was time very well spent.  As I talked I just knew I had come to the right place.  I felt at home once again.  It was like my FOB Boris experience had been transplanted down here to the south, Helmund province, only they were Marines now.  What I explain to people is this.  I split my time between the Army and the Marines for a reason.  One son was a Marine; the other is in the Army.  I loved both my sons.  I love both the Army and the Marines.  But, now, I am in the Marine experience.  And it is a deep experience at that. It is hard in the neck of the woods.  It is why the Marines are here.  It is like Anbar province in Iraq, only harder.  I've come to where it is hard, but I am in good hands. 


That night, around midnight, Crilley and I coordinated to meet at a specific light pole and a bus picked us up and took us to the rotary wing landing zone.  There we waited for a long time, perhaps four to five hours.  A dust storm was moving in and hour by hour the flight kept getting pushed until finally at around 0430 hrs, it was determined that the flight for this night would be cancelled.  That is the nature of aviation. 


During this night's wait, I met two Marines who had been wounded and were returning to duty and heading to their location.  I spent a great deal of time speaking with these two Marines.  One was 22, the other was 20.  The 20-year-old and I spoke at length.  He is from northern California and we chatted a bit about the Trinity River area between Redding and the coast.  This Marine kept my attention throughout the night.  He smoked a few cigarettes but did not seem to focus on the puffing.  He just smoked to keep the conversation going.  He is very soft spoken, but very direct and honest about his current life and what goes on here, on a daily basis.  This man, along with his fellow Marine next to him, are the front line ambassadors in this war here in province.  It is extremely serious here.  They did not speak to me in terms of “war stories”.  They spoke to me in terms that will help me.  They know where I am going.  I received a three hour education from front line experience.  I wanted to take a photo of this Marine, but I did not want the conversation to stop.  I let the photo op go.  It was too important to just listen to this Marine, this young man much older than his years.  This wounded warrior who going back into battle.  I have yet to meet such a 20-year old back in the states.  This again is why I come to these places.  It is extremely educational.  It is fresh and it is raw.  It is not a movie.  I am listening to ones that are doing what they do because they are told to do it and they do not know failure.  They only know how to accomplish a task.  And the task they've been allotted is a long row to hoe. 


How is it that I have once again found exactly the right folks? 


After the notification of the flight cancellation, Crilley contacted another Marine who brought a bus and took us back to your quarters.  Before I left I shook the hands of the two Marines I had been speaking to.  I thanked them and they shook my hand and said, “be careful”.  They assured me the unit I am hooking up with are good Marines.  I had no doubt on that.  I said good bye and gathered my gear and as I was walking to the front area the bus pulled up.  He got there fast.  No one wastes time here.  By now, I had been up way too long and my body ached everywhere.  But I felt good, in such a way that I remember how I always felt good after a long distance race in school when I was in high school.  I ached, but felt good that it was over.


I realized now that this part of my journey had already turned to page two right before my very eyes.  It is the next chapter and it is obviously going to be filled with much.  I feel very humbled again.  I am feeling that the further I go forward, the less encumbrances I have holding me down.  This race set before me requires much endurance.  I am drawing on reserves deep within.

Now begins the second part of this journey.  It is what I am calling, “Page Two”.  I have waited a long time for this.  It has taken nearly all my strength just to get to this point, and yet, I have one stop left to go.  I will get there.  I am coming to the mountain top, in the lowest part of this country. Amazing how things turn out.  Once the dust settles, I will be on my way. Welcome to Helmund province, Afghanistan. 


Jim Spiri Last Journey