The Last Journey

Article #9 “Rainy Day Monday”


02 August 2010 Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan


It’s late in the afternoon around 1730 (5:30 PM) local time.  I’ve been taking care of some writings and reconfirming with my POC’s (points of contact) about my flight out of here tomorrow.  The flight itself is all of about 25-minutes via helicopter, however, it has been known around here to take over a week to get there when the rains come.  The rains have come.  Apparently just in time for my arrival to Salerno.  Once again stuck, but in a good place.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings, but for today, I’m enjoying the first rain I’ve experienced in Afghanistan.  To be sure however, I’m not out in the boonies yet, so, I may have a different perspective once it rains when I’m out there.  For now though, I’ll take the little pleasures life has to throw my direction and make the best out of it.  It is good writing weather.


Today I met one of the public affairs officers in this area and he informed me of some interesting potential developments concerning my embed.  Seems as though the folks I’m headed to embed with have just entertained for the past 60-days two “reporters” from the Ft. Worth, Texas area.  Turns out there have been two reporters in the exact location I’m trying to get to.  Some aren’t so excited all of a sudden to have another “media” type person hanging around in that particular location.  I explained that I had just come half way around the world to see a specific soldier and the main reason I’m here is to embed with his unit, company, platoon even his squad.  I’ve come to see this soldier and follow up on his deployment here after having seen him in Mosul, Iraq in 2007.  The officer acknowledged my circumstance and informed me he just wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to stay with the unit I had planned to be with at my desired location which apparently has also been on the receiving end of some IDF in the area as of late.  The plan now is to get me out there and just roll with whatever comes my direction.  I of course agreed to remain flexible.  I know of no other way to be these days.  Nothing is in my control other than my reaction to things.  That is what my wife has been trying to tell me for years.  Of course, living among all the soldiers and seeing all their toys, I tend to listen to what they have to say.  It’s all in a days work.


But….I know a few things that tend to make life difficult for me.  It’s always the same thing no matter whether I’m at home, on the road or attempting to embed in the war zone with a particular unit.  The people who go before me tend to screw things up for the next guy (which is always me) who comes to follow.  I’ve been travelling all my life, since the day I was born.  I was born in New Jersey, but was immediately taken home to Pennsylvania.  And it’s never stopped since.  I’m always on the road.  That is why I like Willie Nelson so much.  He sings one of the best songs ever.  On The Road Again.  I know how to adapt to on the road situations. 


Now, rumor has it that the two media folks ahead of me who just finished their embed with the Rakkasans, were, for lack of a better word, a bit on the demanding side.  I will use my words now, and, let me be very clear, these are my words only.  Basically they probably are a couple of (particular body orifice) who are typical media types that end up making life really difficult for people like me when it’s my turn to embed.  This is exactly the reason I have a disdain for some media types especially in the war zone.  It is why I am an historian who happens to have to mingle among the media types from time to time.  I will admit it straight up front from the get go. I do not like the media types and I know I will never like them.  But it is days like this that I just have to let off a little steam while the rain is coming down and things are just beautiful outside in the middle of the most dangerous region the world has to offer.    


It will all work out in due time.  It is the story of my life.  I tried pulling this journey off for the past nine years.  Another day or two isn’t going bother me.  Let it rain.


**Late in the evening of 02 August 2010, FOB Salerno** 


I’ve been informed this evening that due to the rain cancelling flights today, everything got pushed back a day.  That means, I will be here in Salerno at least one more day, maybe longer.  I’ll find something to keep me busy.  There’s a story around everywhere I look.  I learned today that a fair bit of the passenger transport helicopter flights are not done by the military, rather, they are contracted out to private companies.  In conversation it was told to me that more CH47’s are needed here, but they’ve all been tasked quite a bit in the recent past years keeping busy in Iraq and handling as much of the load as they can here in Afghanistan. Looks like my son Jimmy and his birds are needed more than ever now.  More evidence to me of just how much this place (Afghanistan) had been second in concern in the recent past years. 


I hear today that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates mentioned on the Sunday news talk shows that nation building never was the focus here in Afghanistan, rather, elimination of the terrorists was always the goal.  I’m not so sure what to think about that statement yet.  There is a hint of strategy shift in that statement.  Time will tell exactly what he means.   


I have come in contact with some of the locals here on Salerno.  I have found so far that these people are very intriguing.  They are not the people in Iraq.  This is Afghanistan.  There is so much to learn.  I had broken a pair of my dollar store reading glasses last night.  I went to the little bazzar that is set up here on Salerno.  They have lots of little shops set up like a flea market back home.  I went around to all the shops thinking I could easily find another pair of cheap reading glasses.  That was not the case.  Actually, these folks sell some nice gem stones as well as nice rugs.  They also sell some other things, but not reading glasses.  However, one man told me he fixed a pair of perscription glasses for a man that never came to pick them up.  He offered them to me.  I tried them on and they were completely blurry.  But, I had an idea.  I went back to my quarters, got my broken pair of glasses and took them back to the man.  He readily fixed them, and fixed them quite well.  He’s a jewelry maker by trade so fixing glasses he told me was not too complicated.  We spoke at length for a while about things related to his country.  He was quite a facinating person to me.  Last night I had some “chi” with some other locals who work on camp Salerno.  I was really intrigued with them as well.  One thing I noticed right away about these people.  The men look much older than their years.  All of the ones I’ve spoken with were born during the early years of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  All of them are under 30-years old.  However, they all look much older than that.  That is the first thing I’ve noticed.


I’m sure there will be other things to learn.  That will come in the days ahead.  For now, it’s still looking like bad weather on the horizon.  Perhaps I will get to know this base a little more than I had expected. 


Jim Spiri Last Journey