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Kandahar | Day 5 –The best thing about flying somewhere is sitting in the terminal.

I’m not a very shy person and I have the ability to walk up to complete strangers and start talking to them. While I do enjoy being a hermit, when I’m in a terminal, all I see are stories surrounding me and all I have to do is find them.

Today, I had such an opportunity when Ken and I were sitting in the terminal at the Kabul International Airport. We were catching a flight to Kandahar. The terminal at Kabul is actually very nice, they even have a little coffee shop were I can load myself up on the most powerfull energy drink.

Off I went, who could I talk to this time? There were all types of people sitting around from all types of different places. I could have chosen a Marine, a Sailor, Soldier, Airmen or civilians. I could have picked someone from Germany, Netherlands, the United States or even Australia.

I ended up talking with an F-16 pilot from the Netherlands, who talked about his experiences training against F-15E aircraft from my home base, RAF Lakenheath, England. The E-model F-15s are the U.S. Air Force air-to-ground bad boys you see weapons system video of on the nightly news. The video’s showing smart bombs being sent through a specific window. The Netherlands pilot was saying he kicked my pilots butt because his smaller aircraft made a smaller radar signiture so he could get in close… I’ll ask some of the pilots at home whether this is true or not.

Then I met a retired Army Special Forces soldier. His name was Erl Wemple. He told Ken and me all types of great stories. It really astonishes me to meet people like this, he retired from the Army after serving in Vietnam and a bunch of other countries I can’t tell you about because I’m afraid he’ll hunt me down, and now he has spent more than 4.5 years in Afghanistan mentoring the Afghans on intelligence. It’s incredible how much of a person’s life they can dedicate to their country and the freedom of others.

We told him all about the mission we were on to tell of you the Afghan story, and we mentioned how we’re still learning about the bredth of what counter insurgency means, and he said something very interesting. He said “We’ll never win this if we don’t get out from behind our T-Walls.” T-walls are these massive concrete walls they make to line everything from tents to bathrooms here.

It’s such a simple concept really, I know how easy it could be in places like Kabul, but would it be possible in Southern Afghanistan? I don’t know, but Ken and I will try and find out.

I’ll side track here a bit to explain something really personal, which I promise will tie in. Before I came to Afghanistan, I really didn’t know much about it. When I watched television, all I saw was Iraq and when I read the papers Afghanistan was a small box at the bottom of the page with a running counter of how many have died here. As I look back on those times, and really think about what I did see, I remember hearing all the time about how Afghanistan was the U.S.’s next Vietnam. So I asked Mr. Wemple.

He explained simpley, that Afghanistan is like no other conflict. It can’t be compared. There are so many different variables involved that’s it’s too complex to wrap up in comparisons. I thought about it and I really don’t see any substantial reason to compare wars, conflicts or counter insurgencies with one another. If too many people start comparing and contrasting this war and that war, it might twist their view of the current situation.

Soon after our conversation ended, the call came to board. Ken and I flew down here on an Australian C-130. These aircraft are the transportation backbone for much of the country. They can land almost anywhere and carry a great deal of supplies and equipment, and Ken and me on occasion.

People’s safety is important in Afghanistan, sometimes it seems like the various Air Forces here don’t care about that when they “land” it’s more like your on a roller coaster. Landing can be a pretty scary business here.  These mamoth aircraft S-turning, swaying, going up and down. If NASA ever wants to save some money on zero gravity training for their astronauts, send them over here and fly them on a C-130. The amount of aerial acrobatics these massive machines can do at relatively low speeds is incredible. But alas, the Air Forces aren’t trying to kill you, they’re doing this to make the aircraft that much harder to hit with rocket propelled grenades.

So here we are, sitting in Kandahar. I’m not sure if we’ve explained how a lot of this project is working, but we’re basically coordinating with the regional commands and then showing up. We don’t really have any specific schedule other than the fact we want to tell the Afghanistan story. It’s a very different concept than what the military is used to. This is the first time I’ve covered experiences versus an event of some sort. So the short answer is we have no idea what will happen tomorrow. When we wake up, we’re going for a walk and we’re going to talk with people. So if you have anything you want us to find out, please don’t hesitate to ask. I still have a lot of pages in my notebook to fill up with your questions.

 

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