Name: CAPT Marc Rassler
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back
Group photo after meeting with ANA and ANP at a Combat Outpost.
This past week my team and I helped out a couple of other small units and did a combined mission to Balk Province, in which the city of Pol-e-Khomri is located, approximately a three-hour drive west of Mazar-e-Sharif. We have soldiers on top of what is sometimes known as Cement Hill, which overlooks Pol-e-Khomri and the surrounding valleys. The artillery soldiers there are manning a couple of guns to pull security and provide overwatch of the valley. I am not sure how accurate they are as I have never been able to watch them fire, but I have been told that they hit the ground with every shot.
One-lane bridge North of Pol-e-Khomri
The day following our visit to the top of the hill, we assisted the NTM-A* team that accompanied us. Their goal was to visit some local ANA outposts and ensure that taxpayers are getting what they have paid for. That includes taxpayers of our coalition partners, as they have funded projects throughout Afghanistan.
Recently the ANA have been building combat outposts, to push out into areas that have recently been cleared of Taliban and other enemies of Afghanistan. Establishing the outposts should hopefully allow the ANA to maintain a foothold in the areas, provide security for the locals, and keep the enemy out. Since many of the outposts have recently been built, some with assistance and funding from coalition members, the NTM-A team needed to check the progress -- find out what supplies they may still need, and what their overall living conditions are.
With an ANA soldier at a small outpost in the town of Ayback.
One of the sites we visited was a combat outpost called Russian Hill. Driving to the location felt like driving through a scene from the movie Sleepy Hollow. All that was missing was to see a Headless Horseman pass us as we slowly traveled down the small country road. It was a very overcast day, and the road is lined with trees, the fields tended by hand. Other than our current trucks it felt like a drive back in time to early colonial America.
The area we called Sleepy Hollow.
Post meeting at Combat Outpost "Russian Hill."
One of my biggest impressions as winter has set in in northern Afghanistan is how the Afghan people are a tough and hearty bunch. Talking with some of the Afghan soldiers I was amazed that some of them are able to walk around with just a pair of sandals -- shower shoes at best by Western standards -- and a light jacket. The soldiers I know have at least been issued a pair of boots and a jacket. Many of the locals do not have much, and walk with poor shoes, and their protection from the wind and elements appears to be nothing more than a light blanket. It is a rare occasion when I've seen anyone wearing a pair of gloves.
Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is that no matter where we stop children will suddenly appear out of nowhere. It is not uncommon, as we are driving around any area, to see three or four kids out playing at any one time. But invariably as soon as we stop, get out of our trucks, and acknowledge the kids with a smile and a wave, 30 other kids will come out of the woodwork.
Some will know a couple words of English, others will come up to us and give a thumb to their mouth, signaling that they want some water, or a "raise the roof" motion with both their hands. They are hoping for anything that we can give them. Unfortunately for our safety and their safety we can't give them what they desire. If we stop and toss them some of our water bottles we would quickly be out of the water we need for our missions, as more kids would appear than we have water for on the trucks.
Nonetheless, it is always fun and refreshing to see the smiling faces of the many youngsters of Afghanistan. We are all amazed at how young they are when forced to grow up here. Two-year-olds or three-year-olds are outside playing along the edge of the streets. Nine-year-olds are acting like mothers, caring for their young siblings, holding their infant or toddler brother or sister on their hip. Every time that I am outside the wire reinforces for me the fact that it takes a strong person to grow up and survive in Afghanistan.
"Who wants to be an Afghanistan Millionaire?" A billboard that made us laugh.
*NTM-A: NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan