March 9, 2012 > Letter from Afghanistan
Letter from Afghanistan
Submitted By Colonel Garrett Yee
I don't know where January went. It feels like I just sent the last letter home. The big news for January is that Maria and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary half a world away from each other. Next year, we'll be together for our 27th. I also got 20 boxes from the Alameda County Blue Star Moms-this was a huge surprise! We forwarded the boxes to our team members stationed at various sites throughout Afghanistan. Thanks to the Blue Star Moms!
Much of this past month has focused on issues related to the Kabul area making short day trips to the various sites in the region. Travel in Kabul in the winter has its challenges-when the roads ice over, travel is tricky. This is in addition to the threat of attacks on the roads. Two of my flights out to forward operating bases got cancelled due to weather conditions-mostly snow. On Camp Phoenix, which is in Kabul and where I call "home," we have an occasional bazaar where local merchants come onto our base to sell their goods. So we had one bazaar in January and they always have plenty of carpets.
As we make our trips around Kabul, we see Afghan people going about their daily business. We see children walking to school, kids herding sheep around town in the middle of the road, merchants selling anything from food to automobile parts, police trying to control traffic, and lots of traffic. The traffic is horrible, especially on Friday when the local Afghan people take the day off from work. When traffic comes to a halt, kids come up to wash our windows and ask for money.
Kabul has a serious pollution problem, especially in the winter when the local residents burn almost anything just to remain warm. Did I mention it gets cold here in the winter? Temperatures are usually below freezing and the trip that I make to the bathroom in the middle of the night in slippers and shorts is really COLD. The snow we received in January helped to clear the air and place a nice blanket of white around Camp Phoenix.
My duties in Southwest Asia include working with commercial communications systems. It involves visiting sites around Southwest Asia, meeting with the units we support, and ensuring they have what they need so that they have efficient, reliable, and secure communications. I spent much of January preparing for our annual gathering in late January where I will travel to Atlanta, Georgia (yes, the United States) to meet with all of the various Department of Defense agencies and other organizations that support our mission.
In Mid-January, I began my trek down from Kabul down to Kuwait. Travel in the winter requires patience and so you have to start early to get to where you want to go. I was able to catch a helicopter flight directly out from Camp Phoenix to Bagram Air Base. On the way to Bagram, we had to stop and refuel at Forward Operating Base Airborne, which is in the middle of a mountain range. What a sight in winter! I took several photos of the snow covered mountains.
Upon arrival in Bagram, my team picked me up and escorted me back to our headquarters building. Here I had the honor and privilege to promote one of my officers, First Lieutenant Miller to the rank of Captain. Getting a promotion in a war zone does not happen very often so these events take on a special significance. While in Bagram, I spent some time with the team and checked in with some of the units we support.
The next day, I flew in a C-17 aircraft down to Kandahar Air Field. As we boarded the aircraft, no one missed the fact that this was a special flight carrying one of our fallen Warriors. Secured to the forward end of aircraft floor lay a metal casket with the United States flag pulled tight over the top. By choice, I sat next to the casket to help watch over this fallen Warrior during this short part of the long journey back home. During the flight I could not help but to think about whom it may have been, about the loss for the family, the loss for the unit, the loss for our Nation, about the ultimate sacrifice right there before me that recently took place. Before leaving the aircraft, I said a short prayer for the family.
The most striking difference in Kandahar from Bagram is the weather. In Bagram, the temperature is around zero degrees with snow while Kandahar does not normally get snow nor does it get as cold. Kandahar has a boardwalk area where local vendors sell rugs and souvenirs. It's something to do if you get some free time, which is not often. Captain Singhaseni is finishing his tour in Afghanistan and Major Ketz is taking his place as my engineer. While at the boardwalk, we had a short "ceremony" to hand the local Roshan cell phone from CPT Singhaseni to MAJ Ketz. Lieutenant Colonel Rinaman took the phone from CPT Singhaseni and handed it over to MAJ Ketz as a symbolic transfer of responsibilities.
I finally got down to Ali Al Saleem Air Field in Kuwait after a full day of travel, where a drive team picked us up to make the two-hour trek to Camp Arifjan. While at Camp Arifjan, we took a trip to the Kuwait Naval Base to look at a few projects underway. This is the first time that I've actually seen water along the coast-normally we just see lots of sand...
We spent a few more days down at Camp Arifjan prior to beginning our trip to Atlanta. Finally, after a delayed 14-hour flight from Kuwait followed by an additional 3-hour delay at Dulles, we made it to Atlanta. While in Atlanta, we spent our time working on future strategic plans with our U.S. partners. Here is the bonus: Maria came out to Atlanta. Although my days were filled with work, I did have the evenings off and so we were able to spend some time together. When it was time for us to part, it was a bit sad but we were thankful to have some time together.
Back in Soutwest Asia, my first stop included a visit to K-Crossing with one of my fellow Colonels, Larry Thoms. On December 20, 2011, the last vehicle out of Iraq passed through K-Crossing before closing the gates shut. As I said in a prior update, one can't help but to feel a bit in awe knowing that we are living through a historic period in our generation. Six months ago, many of us felt we would not be out of Iraq. COL Thoms and I arrived in Southwest Asia on the same day back in October so we have seen up close the end of the Iraq War.
At 8 p.m. on the last day of January, two days after arriving in Kuwait, our Master Sergeant came up to me and said that I had to leave for the air field in less than two hours to catch a 3 a.m. flight into Kandahar.