Text Size

Mission Complete

FOB Shank | Day 35 – This is it, the final blog and the end to the greatest military experience of my life. Looking back I hope this project has not only opened civilian eyes to what life is like in Afghanistan, but opened military eyes as to the power of social media.

In many ways this project has been a massive success. I still have all of the rank I carried before this project started and none of my words have been censored in anyway. I had the complete freedom to write anything I wanted to as long as it didn’t violate operational security and was honest and truthful.  

When we first started, this freedom really scared me. I didn’t know how I was going to touch on topics like government corruption and the varying opinions on strategy in Afghanistan. I found that if I stuck to the truth, and kept those negative aspects within their place and talked about them honestly without sensationalizing, I could write a product that both respected my integrity while acknowledging the challenges that lay ahead in Afghanistan

I’m honored to have been part of this project and I’m even more surprised it even happened. While it hasn’t been a perfect path traveled, riddled with travel delays and missed opportunities, I can say Ken and I did the very best we could with the very limited resources available at our disposal. My simple hope is that huge organizations like NATO and the U.S. Department of Defense see this as a success and find some small way of incorporating our ideas into the various ways they communicate with their bosses, the taxpayers.

I would like to end this blog with a staple of military culture. Awards! Throughout our journey, we’ve come across great people and organizations and faced some interesting experiences. This gives us a chance to highlight some of the most memorable aspects of this project and also relive some of the experiences of the past 35 days. So here we go, the Official 30 Days Through Afghanistan Project Award Winners.

Most critical single person to the entire project
Sia Soroui. You have never seen him, but he’s the muscle behind the web site. I designed the thing, but he’s maintained its security since we left Kabul. Without him, the entire Web site, and the project with it, would have crumbled to pieces.

Most patient point of contact
U.S. Army Sergeant Bailey. He’s Public Affairs at Bagram Air Field and despite all of the travel delays leaving north and trying to get east and then ending up in west; he stuck with the project and believed in it. His patient professionalism allowed us a chance to finally travel from west to east unhindered and we truly appreciate everything he has done for us.

Best last minute helping hand
The 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs office at Kandahar Air Field. After some coordination problems, we arrived at Kandahar to the surprise of the Public Affairs office there. The 451st jumped right in, gave us a place to sleep and internet. Without them, we would have been homeless at Kandahar.

Unit that best optimizes counter insurgency
The Lithuanian led PRT outside of Chaghcharan, Afghanistan. While we never got to visit them during 30 Days, we really tried to because we know how good they are from previous experiences. We went out with them in January and they took us to a village to teach children about mine awareness. The entire trip they were waving and smiling and genuinely being kind to everyone around them. Once in the village they set up security and those within the “safe zone” took off their body armor and shared a great afternoon with the Afghans. That PRT was filled with true professionals and they worked at levels of counter insurgency we haven’t seen repeated anywhere else in the country.

Most interesting interview
We’re awarding this to three people because we couldn't decide between them. This goes out to the two college students and the grape farmer. The three interviews really amazed Ken and me. The college students were so full of hope and future while the grape farmer has seen too much war to believe in hope (taken from Ken’s vlog).

Best food
The Italian’s food in PRT Herat was on a levels of yummy words cannot describe.

Most exciting day
This one is easy. The day we found the IED in southern Afghanistan with the Canadians. Hearing those gunshots and then running down the road to catch up to the ANA was quite the experience. Then, seeing that ANA soldier pulling and tugging on the IEDs pull cord was really scary, until we were told the line was cut.

Favorite mode of transportation
Ken:
Canadian Chinook because they flew so low to the ground with smaller attack helicopters escorting.
Nathan: Canadian LAV because I got to poke my head out of the top and wave to the children and take some good photos of southern Afghanistan.

Most interesting sleeping accommodations
When we were at Camp Julien, internet issues prevented us from sleeping in the hut, so we set up camp underneath a table. Ken was sleeping away when Col. Agoglia walked in and asked us “What the hell are you doing sleeping under the table?!” He’s a rather scary man and Ken just laid there pretending to sleep while the good colonel showed me another room where we could lay our heads. Ken eventually “woke up” after Col. Agoglia left.

Most enjoyable experience
By far the Finish sauna in northern Afghanistan. The greatest part about the sauna was afterwards they had a “hot house” where it was basically a campfire inside a hut. They grilled us fresh food and vegetables and we sat there in our bath towels in the hot house eating fresh BBQ. The best part, it took very little resources for them to have these facilities, unlike massive operations like a TGI Fridays or Burger King. They built the sauna themselves and it was one location where all of them could get together and spend time together. It was awesome. 

Most likely place we’ll return to someday on vacation
Herat, it was too beautiful a place not to go back.

Best aspect of the project
No oversight of the project and no approval chain. Granted, my blogs were riddled with grammatical and spelling errors which a few people caught me on, but it was worth it. The freedom to say whatever I wanted gives me reason to stay in the military… to make sure everyone in our country enjoys this freedom.

Most rewarding aspect of the project
The comments, period. I’m not sure everyone understands just how much these meant to Ken and me. We literally waited on baited breath for the next one to come in and as soon as we got back to internet after missions, we would both run to the computers to see what happened next. Don’t tell Ken I told you this, but we both cried ourselves to sleep during the nights we didn’t receive any on our blogs or vlogs.

Most enjoyable interaction with our visitors
BUSES!!! With Dylan Matheson. I originally shot a picture of a bus stop figuring nobody would think of something like that. I was actually quite worried about my photographic reputation being ruined after taking those photos. Then Dylan questioned it and I was really worried until I asked some other question and he was genuinely interested in this small part of life here. So I took pictures throughout the trip of buses for Dylan and it’s been a great experience.

Scariest topic brought up by a visitor
“Question: Views of COIN, Eagle versus the Mole” posted by Erik Nemeck. Registered members can still see this one in the forums. It was the very first post on the forums and it questions the total overall strategy of ISAF in Afghanistan referencing a report titled “One Tribe at a Time.” Absolutely astounding question that I’m sure I didn’t answer completely. You really should read the forum thread and the corresponding report. I believe if it had been the strategy from the very beginning of international forces in Afghanistan it would have worked superbly, I talked with a few people throughout 30 Days and they agreed with the report also. But now, there are tons of politics and timetables weighing on the minds of world leaders which I believe prevent something like this from realistically happening. Now, we have to do the best we can to enable and support the Afghans to handle the security situation so the country thrives when we do eventually leave. I really like seeing how various aspects of that report are intertwined throughout all of the regions we’ve visited, such as the seven Canadian infantrymen living and working with the Afghan National Army in Strong Point Khyber.

The last award doesn’t have a name, but it goes out to the upper leadership of the ISAF Joint Command Public Affairs Office, more specifically U.S. Navy Capt. Campbell and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Inglin. Without their faith and trust in us as professionals, this project never would have happened.

Finally, I want to thank all of you. It has been an honor and a privilege to work for you. I wish I could express how much I truly appreciate all of your participation in this project. If there’s one thing I hope everyone takes away from this, it’s that the Afghans are good people worth fighting for. By securing their country, we help to secure the world by preventing one country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists. I just hope there’s enough national will within all of our countries to see this mission through to the end, because it’s the only way to honor the sacrifices made by our wounded and fallen brothers and sisters.

~ Nate, out.

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

Site Login