Right now I'm sitting in the back seat of an MATC--military all terrain vehicle. We're at a stopping point on our trip from FOB (forward operating base) Pasab to FOB Ramrod. So the frequent movement continues. Monday morning at 9:30 we got a knock on our door informing us we'd need to be ready in a half hour to check-in at the airfield in Kandahar for a blackhawk flight to Pasab. We packed the majority of our gear with haste and again left some non-essentials behind. We've still been consolidating and downsizing at every stop. Each location requires us to pack lighter so we're more mobile. We mistakenly thought our editing gear would be non-essential because we were told there would be few electrical and communicative amenities, but that info was wrong. We found out that we'll likely still be able to get wired internet at Ramrod and still be able to send stories, tweets, and blogs back. That's exciting news, because one of the main goals of our trip has been to make it as experiential and current as possible for viewers and social media followers. Our editing gear should hopefully be shipped out to us at Ramrod by tomorrow.
Mentally the trip hasn't been ovely taxing on me. The first few days I was pretty exhausted from working so many hours non-stop, but things have settled down a bit. We've made sleep a bigger priority for our overall well being; which I can attest to being a solid decision. For me there's been shifts between feelings of fragility and security. Even riding in the MATV and traveling down Highway 1 across Afghanistan hasn't felt that dangerous. It's a HUGE armored vehicle with anti-rocket netting around it. We're in a convoy of 6 vehicles. A gunner mans a weapons turret at the top of the vehicle that's armed with massive shells. Like all specified military vehicles it also has ECM (electronic counter measure) which is a signal jammer to prevent insurgents from remotely detonating IED's underneath the vehicle with cell phones. The rocket attacks on Bagram and Kandahar were a little unsettling. Similar to hearing a phantom cell phone ring from your pocket, I heard a few phantom rocket warning sirens in my head. The whir of an air conditioner or laptop sometimes registered in my mind as a warning from the basewide loudspeakers about rocket attacks.
The most bizarre feeling I got was last night while standing in the hallway, waiting for our briefing with Colonel Frank. On the wall were framed pictures of soldiers who were killed in aciton in the RC South (Regional Command South) area; some from the Striker Brigade who Jeff and I are going to embed with. As I looked at the framed pictures of each soldier I didn't just see the nicely staged photo with flags in the background. I didn't just see the smiling face and freshly pressed uniform. No, as morbid as it may be, I was unwillingly overcome with mental images of these soldiers' faces grimacing in pain, covered in blood as if they'd just been killed on the battlefield. I know that's not how they should be remembered, nor how their families remember them. But the truth is that when you're our here, despite a few things that distract you from the warzone atmosphere, you can't help but see the darker side of things. It's sorta silly to say that after being here 9 days and knowing I'm leaving in 9 more, when most of these soldiers have been through 3, 4, 5 deployments for 12 to 16 months at a time. But I guess I'm getting at least a little taste of what they see, feel, and experience. From talking to soldiers I've gathered that the pain of what they experience is rivaled by the pain of what they don't experience. Like Sgt Maul who is a medic on his 3rd tour of duty who hasn't been around for any of his 4 years son's birthdays. Or another Sgt who couldn't be around when her father left her mother and then her mother came down with a serious illness. It hurt me to hear about those experiences, so I can't imagine what it feels like to live through them. I'm guessing it's a quite helpless feeling.
Our MATV's are back on the road now. Better get buckled in.