The Last Journey

Article #18 “Relocating”


17 August 2010, Forward Operating Base Boris, Afghanistan


It’s Tuesday morning and it started out clearer than most days, but seems to be clouding up a bit.  I will soon begin to move in the direction of linking up with the USMC now in the south part of the country.  Getting there will be arduous but have to make th move soon to stay on the schedule allotted to me.  It’s all part of the process and I was aware of it in the beginning.  It is just not a fun thing to relocate.  It’s hard to get around in this country.  Lots of factors, lots of logistical hurdles.  Again, all part of the territory if one wants to do what I am doing.


I have enjoyed my time here at FOB Boris immensely.  The troops here and the rest of the folks have become friends.  There is always something to see and learn here and for sure experience.  It’s never a dull moment.  Each one person here has a story that is note- worthy to me.  From soldiers to civilian contractors to locals to ANA and many others.  It is just not something one sees everyday in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart.  I feel a better man for having come here. 


The days here are such a bland color, gray, that taking good photos is really a struggle.  I am so used to the excellent lighting conditions of New Mexico, that I have become rather spoiled in my taking of photographs.  It’s hard to make an ugly day look nice.  But I tried to capture daily life as I saw it.  Every day something goes on, whether one is stuck inside the wire or busy outside the wire.  Afghanistan is a huge project and will probably continue to be so in the years ahead, perhaps. 


Two soldiers here did something in regards to their career in the Army, yesterday and the day before.  One, Cpl Jimmy Robinson was promoted and the other, SSgt. Christopher Riley re-enlisted for another six years in the Army.  Both have been in the Army a while and both are tracking to go upwards in their careers.  I spent time with both soldiers taking their photographs during their ceremonies and audio recording their comments about their lives in the Army.  Both are committed to their unit and both have reasons to remain in the Army.  Both also have done multiple deployments, yet still want to remain part of the mission(s) in the years ahead.  SSgt. Riley, a typical Irishman from Boston, specifically mentioned that his reason for re-enlisting was based largely on how he feels being connected to fellow patriots in times such as these we all find ourselves in.  The audios are available to anyone who would like them. 


As I got to know the soldiers here what became apparent to me over the course of my time here, is that for the most part, a large majority of these soldiers deployed here were just young children and early teens when the events of September 11, 2001, transpired in New York and Washington D.C.  That hit me hard when I realized it.  For the better part of the first decade of the 21st century, we have been at war and a generation of Americans, the soldiers I see in front of me, know only a time in their memories of a nation at war.  This includes my own son, however, he was already in the Army a year or so prior to 9/11.  It is a sobering fact to realize that this generation knows war for a long time.


I was speaking to one soldier at lunch today who is from rural Virginia.  His name is Sgt. Bibb.  He is a dead-ringer for actor Tom Berringer and with his strong Virginia accent and southern demeanor, I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t discovered this guy yet.  We talked a bit about things like family, home, sports, the Army and past deployments.  It was here, past deployments, that I listened deeply to this man.  He told me of a book I must get called, “Jordan’s Journal”.  It is about a man, a 1st Sgt from one of Bibb’s deployments to Iraq in 2005-06.  He knew this man.  And he knew many others that paid the ultimate price as well.  It is more than likely that I saw their caskets come through the flight line while I was working in Balad during those years.  As I watched this man tell me a few things, I saw the country boy from Virginia side of him written all over his face.  In all honestly he looked to me like the 2010 version of a decendent of Robert E. Lee.  These type of soldiers have so much integerity and honor in a simple, but very profound manner.  We both just ate our pizza slowly and I mentioned a few things to him about my life.  I really enjoyed a story he told me of hearing over the radio one time while on mission, a school mate of his flying over head in an Apache helicopter while he (Bibb) was on the gun in a humvee on the ground.  Here were two county boys from Virginia, a world away from home, one looking out for the other.  It was one of those stories that you just had to be present listening to him describe it. Just another reason I come to this type of place.  The conversation is so good, so real.


In the past couple of days I visited with some of the local civilian contractors stationed here at FOB Boris.  A handful of them used to work for KBR, (a Halliburton subsidiary) and now have been assimilated by a company called Fluor.  Others are here with Lockheed and some other sub-contractors working on stuff, “way over my head”, so to speak.  And then there are the third country nationals that Fluor hires that are all easy going and pleasant to be around.  There are also some local Afghans who are from this area that work on the base and take care of many essentials for daily living here.  On such a small place, you see every face at one time or another, often.  One just ends up learning about each other.

At the moment, we are in Ramadan.  That changes some things around here a bit like work hours and eating times.  I never completely understoon Ramadan, but it is a kin I think to winter holiday times back home, like between Thanksgiving and Christmans.  By that I mean the gathering of family and the demonstrating of generosity to one another.  Eating in the evening time is a big thing, due to most practicing Muslims do not eat during daylight hours for the lunar month of Ramadan.  I tend to think it causes a little hypo-glycemic reaction in the enemy during the day.  That means the enemy does things during those times.


Yesterday, I had heard a base in the area was attacked by IDF.  Then I heard and saw jets circling over head in a pattern, low altitude, and then a couple of Apache helicopters came by, at very low altitude.  I was fidgeting with my longer lens and of course, missed the only really good photo of the day.  Got to remember to have things in 100% perfect order at all times.  This part always kicks my butt.  I do the dumbest things sometimes to try and fix an equiptment malfunction.  It is why I usually fix things at home with a big hammer.

I’ve had a roommate for the past few days, a contractor who came in who is part of team that has been here waiting for some supplies to show up so they can construct their facility and get their product up and running.  I was not excited about getting a roommate, but this man turned out to be a good brother and provided to me good fellowship.  He’s from Texas and we talked about many things, including the contracting world.  We had much laughs about how some things get done, or not get done.  He too has to be moving on soon and I told him I will miss his company.  Everyone that ends up here becomes part of this mission.  You just get connected without trying.  Another reason I come to these type of places.


Over the course of my life, I’ve moved around plenty, and at the same time have sat still in one location as well.  I’ve always looked at my current dwelling, wherever that may be as a stationary point of operation so I can move about.  I’ve been doing that on and off for decades now.  But New Mexico has always been home.  I will leave FOB Boris soon for parts unknown.  I know where I’m headed, I’m just not sure when I’ll get there, how I’ll get there, and what I will find once I arrive there.  One thing is for sure though, and that is, nothing is for sure. 


Jim Spiri Last Journey