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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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.

Travel Pt. II Kabul to Bagram

We boarded the C-130 Hercules at around 4.30 a.m. Our first military flight in Afghanistan. The palette with our luggage had just been loaded into the plane (Photo: Heimken)

The flight yesterday to Bagram – well, we didn’t make it. It didn’t take passengers after all – cargo only. The flight after that one – well we weren’t that lucky, they couldn’t take the usual pay load – it was too hot (I don’t know how the correlation works out). So we dropped off the low priority list for the flight: It’s all persons military first, then contractors, then journalists.

At the end of the day we were able to sign up for a 9:40 p.m. flight. We checked our luggage in and were sitting in the terminal watching the Boston Red Sox play on a flat screen. The lady from behind the check-in desk came into the waiting area and announced that due to maintenance work on the runway the flight was going to be delayed six hours.

We grabbed our sleeping bags out of our luggage which already had been put on a pallet ready for transport. Although this is a military airfield the terminal works in principle like any other airport, everybody still has to put their luggage through scanning, which seems a bit strange, because most soldiers travel with their guns at their side.

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