#8 “Simply Salerno”
August 2010, Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan,
Sunday evening…It is dark now and all the outside lights are off. It’s been a very long day and I’m
short on rest. But I must write to keep
the mind in good working order. It is an
exercise that must be maintained every day.
I am now at what is simply called, “Salerno”.
I like it here. A lot.
Nine years ago, I picked this spot on the map of Afghanistan and
determined that this would be the place to come to base out of if and when I
ever came to Afghanistan. In March of 2002, my son Jimmy, was a door
gunner with B-159, a Chinook unit
deployed out of Hunter Army Airfield, in Savannah, Ga. His unit was very involved doing troop
insertion and extractions during what is known to as, “Operation
Anaconda”. I remember watching
reports of what was going on at that time in the middle of the night while
living in Hawaii,
working at a helicopter company. Today,
as I gaze towards the mountains to the west and pinpoint on a map exactly where
I am standing at the moment, I realize that I am approximately 35-miles east of
where my son Jimmy was during that operation.
Looking at the map again, I realize I will be embedding with a unit
approximately 35-miles due south of that same area where my son was getting his
first taste of war at age 21. That was a
“hot” area then, and reports today that I hear from exactly the
area I will be going to tell me that it is still a volitile area. I also have located on the map that I will be
embedded approximately 25-miles southwest of the area where Pat Tillman was
Now I know approximately where I am and where I will
be. Amazing how I can take nine years to
pull off a plan to come see up close and personal terrain that I only could
read about intently during critical times for our family. I knew a long time ago I had to come to see
the base here at Salerno.
I had to leave the accomodations at Bagram last
night at 0130 in the morning only to be told to wait in the pax terminal until
0530 when my flight was scheduled to leave.
Getting around Afghanistan via air
these days is not an easy task for anyone, including all the soldiers. The pax terminal was jam packed with mostly
soldiers going here and there as well some civilians intermixed throughout the
area. In short, it was a real mess. I should have taken a photo but I was
hesitant to not upset the apple cart.
Better to ask permission for those kinds of photos. However, I can tell you that I saw literally
scores and scores of soldiers in full battle gear all crashed out on the floor
sleeping with no room left in the terminal waiting area. Then, out of nowhere, an Air Force person
came over the loud speaker and blarred out, “THERE WILL BE NO SLEEPING ON
THE FLOOR IN THE PASSENGER TERMINAL”, twice. Now, I heard that, and thought to myself,
These guys had been here for hours on end, just like me, we were all
tired and still had a long night ahead of us to wait.
Well, one by one, each soldier got up, rubbed
his/her eyes and began gathering their things that had been turned into
makeshift bedding supplies, and stood up against the walls like supports
holding up the entire structure . I will
not forget the scene in Bagram that night, July 31, 2010, between the hours of 0130-0530 when a lot
of people were trying to get to their locations they had been assigned to
during this “surge” in Afghanistan. Now I am no genius or war planner, but, I
would think someone may order a plane or two more to handle some overload
traffic of incoming soldiers into country to do battle with the enemy. I think
that’s probably an Air Force thing.
Going to bed down for the evening.
August 2010, FOB Salerno, Afghanistan, 0920
I woke up this
morning to the loud speaker blarring out, “STAY IN YOUR BUNKER, STAY IN
YOUR BUNKER”. That means from my
past experiences in Iraq that somebody is or was
lobbing some rockets or mortars into camp.
My entire sleeping area is surrounded by concrete blast walls and I
figured it was best to just stay where I was.
Besides, I really had to pee <![if !vml]><![endif]>and did not want to go
wandering around looking for a porta potty and then have some rocket land on it
and thus taking me out while urinating.
That would be quite embarrasing after all these miles. I’m thankul for empty water bottles in
my room which come in handy for such occassions!
After the all
clear sounded, I got up, coordinated my things and went walking towards the
chow hall as everybody does here in the morning. On the way I came across the place where the incoming
projectile had impacted. I had seen this
hundreds of times in the past in Balad.
I’m back in the war zone. I
think it was my own personal welcoming barrage.
I ate breakfast
which was fruit and a potatoe cake, and a cup of black coffee. I’m good to go for the day now. Yesterday, I spent a bit of time walking over
to the shower area and getting a real good shower and cleaning up with no rush
to it. Then, I located the area where
one can do self service laundry which I found fantastic. I couldn’t believe it, a place where a
dozen free washing machines and dryers, with some free soap lying around, all
made available for people like me to get their clothes cleaned. Never before was I so excited to do
laundry. I only hope my wife
doesn’t know how much I can actually do the laundry all by
myself…! I’ve pretty much
got her convinced that I would break the $1000 front end loader we have at home
if I have to do it. Probably she knows
me well enough though and figures it’s just another one of my tricks to
get her to do everything for me. I admit
it, I’m spoiled. But I like it.
Here in Salerno, I have friend whom I
worked with for two years in Balad, Iraq on the flight line. His name is Anthony Brown. He’s my oldest daughter’s age and
is also an Army veteran. He’s a
smart young man but always picks the wrong NFL football team to follow. He’s originally from Philadelphia and I forever have razzed
him about Donavan McNabb and his “choking” ability in the big
games. Anthony takes his sports
seriously and when I razz him like that, he gives me this stern look that says,
“Mr. Spiri, you know better than to say that”. I really love seeing Anthony and talking with
him about world situations. He’s
one of the most informed folks that carries on a good dialog with me about all
kinds of domestic and international issues.
I’ve stayed in email contact with him over the years and had given
him an heads up that I would be passing through Salerno on my way out into the
Yesterday, I ran
into him at the chow hall after sending <![if !vml]><![endif]>him an email that I was on
base. It was really a good thing to
spend time with him. We ate breakfast
and stayed an extra hour just catching up on things. He’s doing well here and has hooked up
with a different military contractor doing some important work in an office
here at Salerno. At
33-years-old, Anthony has done very well and has become quite prudent with his
earnings and invested wisely. I fully
enjoy his company and felt quite a comradre just being with him. Another part of this journey seeing more old
friends as I pass this way. There is no
doubt that camp Salerno is the best place to be
working in Afghanistan as a contractor. It’s a small base that has everything
one needs and the scenery has all the other places that I’ve seen so far
in Afghanistan beat, hands down. Anthony had told me a while back in an email
that it was good here. I knew back in
2001-02, just by looking at a map that it had the potential to be the “perfect
place” to work. I was right. My friend Anthony convinced me of that.
In the newspaper
here, (Stars and Stripes) one of the headlines indicated that the Dutch are the
first nation in the coalition to decide to quit the mission here in Afghanistan. It’s big news to me as it will surely
send a signal to the rest of the coalition partners that it’s been long
enough doing battle here in Afghanistan.
That’s ashame to me, however, each nation has their own set of
circumstances to deal with. Obviously,
this is all part of our having neglected to a point, this area while we were
busy in Iraq. There is no doubt now around the world today,
especially after such an announcement by the Dutch, that for America especially, this is the
most decisive moment in time concerning our involvement here in Afghanistan. That is why I am here. People keep asking me, “what on earth are you doing there in Afghanistan, Jim?”. I get these emails constantly. I love to receive email. I’m going to answer this question
decisively right here on this forum.
Simply put, here in Salerno, a place where all kinds
of things have happened in close proximity, “ I JUST HAVE TO BE
HERE”. I feel a deep connection to
this mission even though I had the luxury to just armchair it all from my own living
room. I’ve done that before, back
in 2001-2002, when my own son was here for the first time as a door gunner
fighting for his country after the attacks on 9-11. As his father, I must see where my generation
sent him to keep us safe and free in our own living rooms at home.
This is what I
do. It’s simple. And I’m in Salerno. It’s got my name written all over
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