An Embed Revisited

You and your fear are fenced in together. Nowhere to run to (Photo: Loesche)

A week after our return to Germany I’m still pretty knackered. Our embed with the Apaches in the dusty country called Afghanistan just lingers there, hasn’t completely sunk in yet. It was a physical and mental challenge, bigger than I had anticipated.

For now, I have found refuge in the microcosm of the work office, where things are orderly and clean and predictable. This is the settling back into “normal” life, the Western world wants the Afghans so desperately to share with us.

I like being back in Germany where people stand for five minutes at the red lights at the pedestrian crossing even though there are no cars to be seen for miles. On the other hand, I hear, the army sends their soldiers to some Mediterranean resorts to decompress for a week. I could have lived through that, no question!

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Anniversary Blackout

We spent two days under so called blackout conditions. The armed forces have a strict policy of shutting down all means of communication, from collecting mobile phones to capping the internet connection. They want family members to be informed about any killed relative by an official source, instead of rumors being spread.

We only got sketchy information about one service member being killed in Paktika late on Saturday. I haven’t been able to confirm any such news on the internet after it came back on this morning.


Saturday night fireworks, bring ya ear plugs! (Photo: Heimken)

On Saturday night we were standing right next to the mortar pit when they were firing illumination rounds out of their 120 Millimeter tube, lighting up the three Kilometre corridor between the base and the town of Sar Howsa. They shot at least ten rounds into the night sky – for show of force more than anything.

The assistant gunner steps to the mortar. The NCO tells him to “hang it” and the gunner will place the round into the tubes opening. After he’s commanded to fire, he simply lets the round drop into the tube. Where the rounds initial charge explodes and the grenade is violently propelled into sky. The loud explosion makes the area the pit tremble.

The illumination rounds break into half over the destined area. The part with the phosphorus substance glides to the ground on a parachute. They changed the direction of fire slightly once. Axel took some awesome pictures of the live firin exercise.

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Soiree with Rice

Dinner at the police chief"s compound (Photo: Heimken)

“I’m so full, I can’t breathe when sitting down“. That was my commentary after our first adventure outside the wire.

I had just finished my last blog entry when Axel turned up behind me at the computer booth with a piece of news: He had talked to Captain Perkins and we were invited to join him and two of his lieutenants for a meal with the local police chief in an hours time!

The problem was that we only just had dinner. Two man size burritos with loads of meat and sauce and rice. My first thought was that I couldn’t possibly go have a meal with Afghan dignitaries with the imminent danger of throwing up.

I went back to our hut and lay down to digest the burritos and prepare for some goats meat.
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Jokes on the Radio

The Afghan DJ in his studio in the combat outpost Sar Howza (Photo: Heimken)

Today, we did an interesting story on an Afghan DJ who runs a radio station on camp, for the population outside the wire. The station was set up by ISAF. Interestingly Iranian music seems to be all the hype. It’s what the 20-year-old plays a lot.

Apart from playing music he also reads out news he gets from the 3-66 Battalion headquarters in Sharana and he reads out jokes every now and then. It must be hard for him living on base with all the Americans, the only company he has are the interpreters working for the unit.

Lobster and Steak

Captain Perkins and his two platoons came back inside the wire, the outpost, from their five day mission yesterday evening. The company’s cook made them a special welcome meal – lobster and steak – to greet the men that were living without showers and good food for almost a week.
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Welcome to Sar Howza

Our location an a map (Photo: Loesche)

The sun’s out. It’s a little after 9.00 a.m. Axel and I spent our first night in our new home. We slept in a wooden hut without windows, the interior divided into smaller rooms with every compartment having their own door outside. Shortly before midnight we were told off by the one of the mechanics, we weren’t supposed to have our light on because of black out rules.

The combat outpost is about as a big as three football fields. It’s guarded by four Towers. They’ve got cameras on all of them. One of the towers is unmanned and has a remote controlled machinegun on its roof. The perimeter of the compound is made of so called Hescos, huge square blocks made from wire lined with fabric filled with rocks and sand.

Heavy Metal

Soldiers chillin out in COP Sar Howza (Photo: Loesche)

They’ve got everything they need on the base. A kitchen container, a dining facility, a gym where the soldiers were working out last night to heavy metal when I was sitting just outside the exercise room, on one of the computer workstations connected to the internet. They even have a laundry facility where Axel washed his T-Shirts this morning.

Three platoons of Apache Company live here, more than 100 men in total. I haven’t seen any women, like on the bigger based in Bagram or Sharana. The company commander, Captain James Perkins left the compound with most of his men late last week. So we haven’t seen him yet. They are busy setting up check points and observation posts at a vital crossing a few kilometers from here.

When the district governor is not in the provincial capital Sharana he resides on the outpost, the district centre is located on base. So when there are shuras the town elders come to the base to hold the meetings here. We’ve been told that after more than 100 insurgents were killed by US special forces in July just North of here in the mountains they transported the bodies here for biometric screening.


A mechanic (Photo: Loesche)

The soldiers who were left behind at the COP seem pretty chilled out. None of them are wearing their flak vests or helmets. The outpost didn’t get attacked for a while. That might change after Ramadan is over since last Friday. Everybody seems surprised there haven’t been any attacks or TICs, troops in contact – fire fights with insurgents.

Where Perkins and his platoons are setting up the posts the insurgents had established check points of their own they just gave up because most fighters went home for the holy month of Ramadan. It would make sense for the insurgent fighters to now come back and fight the infidels and the Afghan National Army (ANA) to regain control of the area.

At one point it looked like we might be able to join Perkins and his men and spend the night out in the field. A convoy with fuel was going to be sent out with resupplies. They didn’t drive out after all so we stayed on base.

Axel later pointed out that this was a good thing. Before we left Kabul we were talking to a first sergeant of the US marines. He had been deployed four times and his motto was: “Don’t get killed on the first day – and don’t get killed on the last”. This wasn’t the first day of our journey, but the first of our stay in Sar Howza. We need to settle in first.