Monday, September 28, 2009

To Blessing...

Monday, 28th September. Kunar Province

My time in Paktia Province has come to an end and it was with a little sadness that I said goodbye to COP Herrera and the boys of Charlie platoon. The change in demeanour of these soldiers who has gone through intense combat in July is apparent and the ‘go-out-and-get-them’ attitude is now less evident. Self-preservation has become the motto and in the words of a platoon leader the combat loss of one of his man probably won’t hit home until they return stateside.

Being embedded also means that I get to meet a myriad of journalist, photographers and private contractors whenever I am in transit and they invariably always surprise me with their colourful characters. Take Richard, a seasoned 64 years old (yep, 64!) journalist who started off as a photographer and is now a writer. He covered the Iraqi invasion for over a year and was in Afghanistan in 2002. He was a joy to talk to, an inspirational character and living proof that at 64 one can still be a conflict journalist wearing heavy armor and go on missions with soldiers the same age as his sons. However, the price he paid is a bagful of medication for various symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Then there is Tony, a private contractor, working in Afghanistan for a security company akin to the infamous Blackwater. A man, who was in the British SAS for many years and dished out great doses of Brit humor which felt like a fresh breeze in the company of mainly Americans. The people you get to meet are certainly never your average Joe!

After countless flight delay I find myself being offered a place on a convoy going from Jalalabad to FOB Blessing in the Kunar Province. From what I heard it is the most violent province in Afghanistan but is probably now in the same league as Helmand Province (southern Afghanistan). It is also pretty green and wooded. As Lady Luck was smiling on me, I arrived without any incident although we had to stop off at an outpost because there was a firefight on the road ahead of us. Now I find myself in a pretty neat FOB surrounded by mountains on all sides and given one of the best room I’ve ever slept in since I arrived as an embed!

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