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Troops in Contact

FOB Shank | Day 34 – There’s a very important portion of the Afghanistan story that I feel we haven’t told successfully. It’s the story of the troops living in holes next to the Afghan National Security Forces while fighting to secure this country.

I look back on 30 Days, and the only time we spent with them was at Strong Point Khyber. It was a great day, a great story with great people helping us to tell it, but I feel like we should have done more.  Yes, I feel mass media sensationalizes the amount of fighting going on. Yes, I do feel the global view of Afghanistan is skewed towards this place being 100 percent hell hole when it isn’t. But there is a lot of fighting going on here and Ken and I did everything we could to get out there to cover the story.

My dream photo has always been showing international forces  and ANSF fighting side-by-side with a fast mover rushing overhead in a show of force mission flushing the Taliban out of a village. There were opportunities for Ken and I to get in there, but we were either outright blocked from the opportunity, travel fell through or the operations were rescheduled.

Combat here is a strange beast. It seems to me there are two ways to come in contact. One, it happens out of sheer happenstance, such as when a convoy is driving and hits an improvised explosive device or a patrol is shot at out of the blue.

The second way is planned out operations. While these are planned, everywhere Ken and I went the plan either started two days after we left or happened two weeks ago. Other times, it was happening just down the road, but getting there in time was impossible or we were limited by our requirement for internet. We could have gone places, but we would have had to stay there for a week with no access to the internet.

It’s also important to note its wintertime. It’s not “fighting season”. The fighting here greatly reduces in the winter due to the cold and the anti-Afghan fighter’s lack of determination to fight in the cold. Had 30 Days been completed in the summer months, this could have been a completely different experience.

I’m not saying Ken and I have a death wish, we don’t. What I am saying is the combat story should have been told at some point during our journey.  According to www.icasualty.org, about 74 troops have been killed since we started this project.  In my heart, I feel 30 Days hasn’t done them justice. We weren’t afforded an opportunity to tell the story of those directly in the fight or caught in bad situations.  Although Ken and I only saw one IED and it was taken care of, combat operations are conducted every day.

I know my family has been worried sick about me being outside of the wire for the past month. The reality is, ISAF knows where the danger lies and they will never put their troops in harm’s way for no reason. I believe, they pick and choose their battles carefully and with forethought, so the risk they place their troops in will maximize the benefit for the Afghan people. It’s great really, but it sure makes telling the story difficult.

I guess I should admit, in a way I am jealous of “big media”. They place their requests in to embed with units in the fight. They go to those units for weeks on end and when something bad happens one day they write all about it. I just feel the other 13 days spent with those soldiers is equally as important as the “action.” Perhaps these media gurus are writing about the other 13 days and their stories aren’t being published, who knows. All I know is I don’t see much of it when I’m not in Afghanistan.

Within the first month of arrival to Afghanistan, I had the opportunity to sit on the Joint Operations Center floor. I basically answered media queries and wrote press releases while looking at these massive screens that outlined the war. One screen talked about the number of IED hits and finds, a long with the number of casualties. We had computer systems with every bit of information on what was happening. For three weeks, I knew exactly everything that happened in this country within minutes. It was pretty amazing to be honest.

I knew then, a TIC, or Troops in Contact, aren’t an everyday occurrence for the average troop but they are an everyday occurrence for ISAF. This is why it’s a topic that needs to be talked about. Although Ken and I never got to relay any truly harrowing stories, they are out there and unfortunately we have to rely on big media to tell them for us.

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