“The Last Journey” 

#1  Running on Empty


Jim Spiri  22 July 2010, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  Thursday morning.


For those of you that know me, most of you will not be surprised that I’m on the go one more time.  Destination…Afghanistan.  For those of you that are just reading me for the first time, hang on, buckle up and get used to reading the day to day stories of the life of a combat photographer/war correspondent, old school style.  This is the last journey for Jim Spiri.  I don’t know what awaits me but I’m sure this one will be a good one, as all the others have been.


It’s been a while since I’ve been “back in the saddle” so to speak, with camera and PPE gear in tow as well as enough supplies that could fit into one backpack to last a couple months or longer.  It will have been three years this coming October since I was here last, right here in Ramstein, Germany.  I had flown out of Iraq on a C-17 medevac from Balad to Ramstein.  The plane was loaded with wounded warriors from Iraq.  If all goes as planned, I will do this route kind of in reverse, hopefully catching an inbound medevac going to Bagram, Afghanistan from Ramstein, Germany to pick up a load of wounded warriors only this time from hostilities in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is the hot spot right now.  A lot has changed for everybody in the last three years.  Quite frankly, it’s time for me to go to Afghanistan and see what there is to see and follow up on some warriors I’ve traveled with in the past.  And, it’s time to tell all my loyal readers, and some new ones at that, just how and what our warriors are doing on a day to day basis. 


Honestly, I’m thankful to have this one final opportunity to walk the trails in Afghanistan with Soldiers and Marines, some of whom I‘ve walked some trails with in Iraq.  I also know, as usual, my inner timing is unfortunately spot on once again, meaning, it’s serious in Afghanistan right now.  Very serious to put it bluntly. It is why I’ve put all my eggs in this one final basket to see and report and photograph and audio record for history, what’s going on.  I’ve waited a long time for this journey. And now, here it is.


The hardest part of doing these journeys is just the shear fact of putting it together and getting everyone on the same page just to let me have access to get to the war zone. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working for the Department of Commerce, US Census Bureau, with my wife Candi, in Albuquerque, NM, where I reside.  The job has been a blessing and it’s been good to be able to work in the same vicinity with my wife.  My job has been winding down for past couple of months and finally came to an end Tuesday, July 20.  Candi’s position will remain through the fall, but, mine is over for the time being.  Time for a change.  Getting to Afghanistan would be that change.


As I saw my job situation winding down, I began inquiring with contacts in the USMC and Army about embedding with the troops once again.  They all remembered me and in short order, arrangements were being made on my end to prepare the lengthy ordeal of paperwork to be able to pull one more journey off.  This is the part that almost always breaks me in half and causes me to almost give up for shear lack of patience.  However, when the burden is so strong, such as the one I have now to be among the troops in Afghanistan,  I am willing to persevere through the mountains of paperwork and coordination that seems to change hourly.  I will say it again so all the readers will get what I’m trying to convey.  “The hardest part is getting there”.  Thank God for the phrase the Marines taught me.  Adapt, improvise and by all means, overcome.  I just could not give up putting this journey together.


Eventually, I got the Army to issue me orders, embedding me with troops of the 101st Airborne Division.  That took a little doing, but, not too frustrating.  Then, I got the USMC to issue me orders embedding with Marines from 2/6, whom I happened to have been embedded with in Fallujah, Iraq in 2007.  That also took some doing, but went well.  Folks both in the Army and the Marines went to great strides to “hook me up” as they say, and for those efforts, I am most grateful.  Then, there was the matter of being afforded the opportunity to catch an upcoming flight heading into Afghanistan from Germany.  These flights leave nearly every day, yet, it is not so simple to pull this off.  However, there was one particular SMSgt in the Air Force who worked extensively hard to accommodate me and succeeded in coordinating me, the Army, the Marines and with his help, the Air Force, in putting the final leg on the beginning of this last journey in place.  And that is where I am at this very moment, looking out my window of my room where I’ve been given billeting accommodations at an extremely reasonable rater here on Ramstein Air Base, at the flight line where C-17’s and C-5’s await to do their missions.  


I’ve been traveling now for over 30-hours and I’m pretty well burnt out.  I’ve been packing camera bags and backpack for over a month at home and hiking 8-miles a day with all my flak gear on for a couple of months, preparing for this trip.  Some particular friends and contacts from all across America have been supportive of my efforts to be with  troops again by writing letters and helping with supplies and other things.  This journey is by no means a one man show.  Rather, it is a collective effort by myself and others who feel a burning passion at this particular time of the war in Afghanistan to support the troops in harms way by simply telling their story one Soldier, one Marine, one day at a time. 


The beauty of this journey already is that I’ve proven once again, with enough perseverance and prayer, one person can make happen a situation where the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force, can all be made to come together in one accord and work with a civilian who happens to carry a camera to do a good thing.  I love the words on my travel orders that says, “Jim Spiri…is embedding…in the interest of improving the public’s understanding of ISAF operations”.    I like this responsibility. 


So folks, just to let you all know, it’s taken quite a bit to pull this one off.  It hasn’t always been fun, but it has already been rewarding in a deep way.  I left pretty much on a wing and a prayer, Tuesday morning not exactly knowing how it all was going to play out.  But looking at the flight line out my window at the big gray Air Force birds that I know will be bringing more wounded warriors here soon, I am once again convinced it’s important to go see what I’m going to see and report back to all those who surely care about supporting the troops, for reals. 


There are some really good people that need to be thanked for helping get this trip started.  There’s Hank in Kansas; Tom and Nick in North Carolina; Gary in Arizona, Kim in Michigan;  a Colonel in the USMC in 29 Palms, California, a Lt. Colonel in the USMC in Helmund province, Afghanistan, a SMSgt in the Air Force in Germany; a Sergeant in the Army in Bagram, Afghanistan; Terry in Clayton, NM; an artist in Tennessee; Melain and family in Oklahoma; Jimmy and family in Texas; Moriah in Texas; and basically all the people who have waited patiently over the past two and half years and stayed in email contact with me, encouraging me to keep pressing on.  All of them have always said how much I’m in their prayers. 


But most of all, that without the complete and full support of my wife Candi who has patiently stood by my side for the past 36-years while I take such journey’s to the other side of the world, none of this could have ever happened.  Her love and prayers guiding me all along the way, is what really makes these journey‘s possible.  She has worked with me in the  war zones in the past and she too knows that this time, it’s extremely important.


Coming into Frankfurt early this morning before sunrise I had a good sense of calm over my being.  For the past couple of weeks, I had pretty much been running on empty wondering how it was all going to play out.  Looking out my window at the flight line I know deep in my being, I’m being filled to overflowing amounts hour by hour.  It’s good to be on this journey.   


Jim Spiri

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