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Sean's Afghanistan blog

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S: Sean's Afghan Adventure

FC: Sean's Afghan Adventure

1: This is where it all begins | This book chronicles the misadventures, trials, tribulations and good times...of Sean's all-expense paid vacation to Afghanistan. To my family and friends, for the prayers and the packages...

2: So the buffonery begins... we were given our training dates a couple of months ago. 5 Jan to 26 or something at Ft Dix for Air Advisory Training, which is driving cars and shooting guns. I think we get to practice knocking over 7-11s and other drive-by exercises. Then we were slated to go to Ft Bliss (anything in Texas being called 'Bliss' is funny) for Mi-17 training. That was supposed to be from 5 Feb to March something...We were told um...maybe not Ft Bliss, we ran out of money so it looks like you'll be going to the Ukraine... They had until last Friday to make up their minds. They now say most likely for sure Ft Bliss, 6 weeks later? The guys we're supposed to be relieving are going to be relieved to hear we're gonna be late relieving them from Afghanistan! | January 13 2009 The First Training Event This is the drop off at the airport at the crack of dawn (usually we'd say the butt crack of dawn, but family members, little kids, aunts and moms might be reading this...) Kellie dropped me and Rod off on the curb, then went home and went to sleep. We flew to Philly... through DFW, where we waited for them to de-ice the airplane... in the rain? But doesn't the rain wash the de-icer off?

3: Jan 2009 PLAYING G.I. JOE AND STUFF They taught us some Army stuff...running around with guns, low crawling (that one sucks), high crawl, near and far ambushes. We had to wear our IBA...I think that stands for individual body something? Or integrated ballistic armor or... whatever, anyway the big bulky vests and helmets. And just so you all know, the junk adds a good 35 pounds in these pictures, just wanted to make sure that was clear. Then they gave us a couple of magazines full of blanks to shoot at each other. NO just kidding! That would be dangerous! (kinda like a bunch of Air Force power point warriors with some guns.) Stone cold killers... This is the big man (Rod) doing the low crawl...after the instructor gave some instruction that sounded like this..."how come you're the only one that didn't understand this." To which he said... "I CAN"T UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH."...it's all in caps because of the volume. None of us could understand him... the instructor.

4: Then I sort of had a 'moment' with the instructor...he said something about being 'in the circle' so I went outside the circle and he said something about 'outside the circle' and i said "I AM OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE!" And then he said 'inside'... so I said "WHICH IS IT?!?! INSIDE OR OUTSIDE?!!" Again all the capitals for the volume of the exchange. I had earplugs in.

5: This is the rest of 'Bravo Team' doing some killin'. That is Bravo Team (the big man) leader closest in the picture. This is more of the boys... Team Alpha. These are guys that are going with us. Some aircrew and some maintainers. | Here are some fat kids rolling around on the ground... all tactical style, don't forget the armor adds 37 pounds in these pictures, and I was wearing gortex pants and jacket OVER my regular ABU's. I didn't realize that I looked like Ralphie from the Christmas Story...

6: This is me getting into the back... We're wearing our kevlar helmets and body armor stuff with blue plastic guns, and of course safety glasses! You can see the guy sitting in the middle, the gunner's seat, his head is up through the top. | This is the commander... the bossman, he was the 'driver'. He had trouble getting his blue Nerf gun through the door. Now you can see why they gave us rubber guns. He figured it out, eventually. | January 19, 2009 More Army Stuff So far this training was the most entertaining. They put 5 of us into a Hummer and then rolled it over.....and over and over, ending with it upside down. The 5th guy sat between the two guys in the back on a little swingy thing, and halfway out of the top of the vehicle. It's the gunner position. These were up-armored Hummers with 750lb doors. Anyway, as the jeep thing rolled over, the guys in the back, me and rod, had to pull the gunner inside the vehicle and pin him down so he didn't flail around as it went around and around. This was taught by US Army types....Hoooyaaah. Or whatever they keep yelling after every statement. They mumbled a lot. We almost had a repeat incident of the "I CAN'T UNDERSTAND THE WORDS COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!". But we're getting used to understanding words with half the letters left out. | This the Hummer simulator getting ready to go upside down...And this where it stopped...upside down, and the big man on his head. Good thing they made us do Army calisthenics to loosed up before. Oh yeah, it was 6 degrees outside the tin building and 6 and half degrees inside. (the Army guys didn't know how to work the heaters). So those little Hooyaah Army stretches really loosened us up!

7: It all ended well... except for the gunner, Rod forgot to pull him out, right after I forgot to pull him out. Ooooops... our bad. I think he'll be okay though. Jan 26 2009 FIRST AID? THIS COULD HAVE GONE HORRIBLY WRONG... We've moved on from the language and culture training (though training us to have any 'culture' is arguably a lost cause) to Combat Life Saver... basically, we learned to put a tourniquet on anything bleeding , jam a needle in to a chest cavity for a pneumothorax to let the air out, and last but not least, we learned how to stick each other with IV needles. That last part was awesome! But this was just basic life saving stuff...until you can get your buddy to real medical treatment. We just wanted to be clear... we're not male nurses. The training was outstanding... the instructors were excellent. They told us no tourniquets around the neck, even for a bleeding head wound? REALLY? come on! They said it works for everything else! And the sucking chest wound...jamming a needle in there is pretty sweet. The dummies chest cavities even hiss like a beach ball letting the air out. But the best part of all, IV's! We were taught how to put in a saline lock... which has an outstanding secondary benefit- curing a hangover! Bet we had to give back the unused needles. But before that poking and stabbing stuff... we had to learn how to roll over a wounded buddy. Um... I'm not sure it's supposed to look quite like this. This looks a little male nurse...but since they are our roommates, we assume they must be straight!

8: This guy had a really bad day...looks like he might need a neck tourniquet. Or an orthodontist? This is murse Rod... administering some prime time combat life saving! That is a CAT5 that he pot on the arm of our casualty. This dummy was part of a medical simulator, one of 15 or so worldwide and it was pretty interesting. The casualties blink, breathe and bleed. | And then.. the very best part. Stabbing each other with needles and hooking up the saline lock! Rod stabbed me, Dona stabbed Rod and I stabbed Dona. It was s sort of mutually assured destruction pact... no retribution for the one that stabbed you! You just push till you feel it 'pop' into the vein, tape it down and then hook up the saline lock... there were only a few squirters.

9: Jan 31 2009 "HOW TO"... how to roll a 7-11, New Jersey style After we learned how to jam needles into different body parts, treat sucking chest wounds and severe arterial bleeding, they let us drive cars. High Threat driving they called it. It was awesome! We were taught how to get out of a car or SUV that was disabled in an ambush, how to rescue your buddies that just got ambushed and to cover each others movements getting away. Then we actually got to drive...We drove cop cars (retired police interceptors) and Dodge Durangos. There were several different drills, slalom, 90 degree turns at max speed, lane avoidance and K turns...and maybe occasionally, a wicked burnout! So between entertaining each other with smoke shows and replacing divots (the orange cones that were knocked over...that was other people not ME, Rod sometimes though) we learned some stuff. At the end we put it all together. The last exercise starts with ramming a car, pushing your buddies' disabled car through a lane change, then bailing out under paint ball fire into another car and speeding off through a slalom into another engagement (us getting shot at) and bailing into another car and speeding to another set of cone drills...all the while being chased by instructors in another car with their horn blaring and paint balls flying, to stress us... it was flippin' awesome! Basically... we SO learned how to knock over a 7-11! Or a liquor store?! Just kidding... that makes us sound like we didn't take it seriously... but seriously, we did! Totally! | This is the view from inside the car...Dona in the slalom, before the camera flew out of my hand. It was violent...this was after she got special instruction form Jack the cute instructor.

10: Rod piloting the cop car...he pretty much owned the driving exercises, he was the best in class. And he didn't break any steering wheels off, so that was good. But I'm pretty sure he used up more rubber than the rest of us. | This is 'driver down'... the only drill that an instructor rode with us. ('cept for when Dona got remedial training from Jack the cute instructor)...the instructor hammers the gas up to 40mph then simulates getting shot and the passenger has to jump over and take control. And that means flooring it and driving the car through the cones for whatever drill it was. That's Dona, all 115 lbs or so 'smashing' the instructor out of the way. I'm pretty sure it must have felt different for the instructor when Rod did the same thing... by about another 140 lbs or so. The instructors were excellent. | This is 'contact left'...and Jesse with his game face on. He said make sure not to forget beer, Stella Artois...I know seriously, seems like he'd want us to steal a tougher beer. And besides...I'm pretty sure you're not going to find that at 7-11.

11: This is Mai Tai...he's just reliving the previous night at the O Club in his mind...and the 'tree dance' he busted out with the big boned girls. He and Jesse were, uh...outweighed 7 to 1. The two of them danced with 11 well fed and 1 skinny girl...it was spectacular. | This is the kindler gentler Air Force...and the boss, he says pink is the new Army green. "How YOU doin', can I see your gun?" | This is recovery from a rescue drill...and 8 people crammed into a Durango. Rod bailing out, it was tight fit with gun and body armor.

12: Oh yeah...we got to shoot AK-47s. You want the AK for rollin' the 7-11...and then all you need is as case of hand grenades. The training was superb. And definitely the highlight of the trip to New Jersey. And I can speak for Rod and the rest of the guys including Dona, we hope to never go back to New Jersey...land of Dunkin Donuts on every single corner. Not sure why cars even come with left turn signals...you can NEVER turn left when you need to. It's awesome...and only adds another 17 minutes to your 15 minute drive. Brilliant!

13: February 18 2009 Hurry up and wait...and wait aaand...wait some more Well, despite the fact that the air advisor mission is THE priority according to what we've been told...the Air Force can't seem to find any Mi-17s for us to fly. Oh well...we'll just hang out until they do find us something to fly. In the mean time we're flying occasionally here at home, but more importantly, spending time with our families! ...and growing mustaches. That is a critical part of being a successful Air Advisor. | My mustache...it takes commitment to be seen in public. It is pretty dirty! It's weird, the more wifey tells me to shave it because it's so gross...the more committed I am to grown a serious 'stache! Um...I think the Big Man was told "NO WAY" by higher headquarters...so he is still looking for a 'stache.

14: March 30 2009 All the Good Stuff!! It's going to be AWESOME! & a mustache update. So...it's time for an update.We have class dates for the Mi-17 training. YEAH! It is supposed to be in Destin, FL. That should suck...El Paso seemed like a waaay better place. I mean beach, spring break time...El Paso in the middle of crappy land would have been soooo much better. RIGHT?! We just re-qualified on our weapons...it turns out the big man can still kill it. I'm getting some extra practice. It turns out that I'm at least partially we todd did and can't work a laser sight. So I was told that it's just gonna be my job to hand him bullets. Though, on the 9mm, I shot the head really well...weird. And we got some really good news, an update of sorts from the current squadron commander over there. None of the Mi-17 s we'll be flying have legitimate air worthy certificates. They have no real American maintenance oversight...oh and when we fly, there will not be another American in the helicopter with us...so we'll be all alone. Oh, and there is NO FLIGHT FOLLOWING, meaning no one will know where we are when we're flying....just the wing man. And the com system is so bad, you can't communicate with your non-English speaking crew, but hopefully the other one American in the other helicopter flying in the formation will be able to hear you. But at least the Afghan crew members have no body armor or weapons in case you do have to go down. Again...you'd be all by yourself. SWEET! Aaaaand it's tax free for nearly the whole year! What more could we ask for?!?! But, I did go to Moab a couple of weeks ago...for the annual ride, 5 days and probably only one broken bone? JUST KIDDING! It was awesome. The last two pics are from 5 miles of Hell. It's awesome...5 hours to go about 7.5 miles!

15: Okay...so I was off for a couple weeks...and some other stuff grew in too. But come on, the 'stache is looking GOOOOOOOOOD.

16: April 18 2009 Update from Florida...it's been rough, the living accommodations are sparse... We arrived in Florida for Mi-17 training last Sunday...the place we're staying at is on a highway and the noise is sort of constant. The weather is so so and we've been cooking for ourselves, too... So here are a couple of pictures of the place we're staying at for the month while we learn how to fly a Russian built flying dump truck. They build stuff a little...well, okay, a lot different than the non-commie type countries (like they did things to make it harder for pilots to defect back in the day...) anyway...the view and constant noise is oh yeah, the gulf surf on the beach.

17: and this is our completely hetero convertible? um...but we are in Florida so we had to rent it right? Okay, it's kinda metro... And the Mi-17 we're gonna fly...the guys that are going to teach us just picked this bird up a few days ago...so they're working the kinks out...and they flew by the beach condo for us....

18: Then this one...is all black inside with ALL of the switches in Cyrillic, and the Radios are ridiculous, but at least you can't hear them so you can't really tell how bad the sound is most of the time. Ah...the centralized planners, those little Commies didn't really want it to be easy to communicate with the outside world, and definitely not for all the crew members to know what was really going on, in that scary outside world! Like when other planes are going to land on you but you can't hear them. Oh yeah...this one also has a door to the cabin, to keep the riff raff out. This cabin door is where our Mi-8 (Mi-17s and Mi-8s are the same thing, mostly, usually like a lot of the time, for the most part, when drinking Vodka)...anyway, this is where it says 'EXPERIMENTAL'...read the fine print underneath: NOTICE THIS AIRCRAFT DOES NOT COMPLY WITH FEDERAL SAFETY REGULATIONS FOR STANDARD AIRCRAFT. I don't know what that means. But, I do know that we hold the door open with a couple of bungie cords. It lets a good breeze blow up into the cockpit. I almost forgot...the agricultural equipment, yes, this thing smells like a tractor, and the air brakes sound like big rig or bus brakes hissing and squeaking when you're driving around on the wheels. Here is a view down the tail boom...those little cables up at the top of the picture, go back like 50 feet (okay, not quite but almost) to the tail rotor. Those little cables are what work the tail rotor! That's it for today. I need to go shampoo and condition my mustache...I think there are Oreo cookies in there, and yes, they were double stuff. | April 28, 2009 Half Way done with learning how to drive Russian built agricultural grade flying machines. Alright...we're about at the midway point in the Mi-17 flying training part. It's a lot of fun, occasionally humbling and usually funny. One of my favorite characteristics is...no two Mi-17s are alike, which is awesome for learning how to drive them. Every cockpit is slightly different in switch placement, gauge configuration, radio compliment and translation of Cyrillic to 'engrish' on the little switch labels...but the operating manuals are super awesome. And those translations...well, there are quite a few engrish words I never knew existed and I have no idea what they mean. But that 's okay, because nobody really does...we just guess what the Russians were trying to say. Sometimes it's better to read it how it was written...as in half a bottle of Vodka later. To be honest with you dear readers...it's kind of our style, it's pretty vague, a little loose and at the end of the day it comes down to a good WAG. (that means 'wild ass guess' in case that was unclear). And that is pretty much how we fly...pretty much...'mostly like that', 'I'm pretty sure that' the switch/it's supposed to do that and 'close enough' are words to live by. Here's an occasionally 'typical' cockpit...the Russians had a whole lot of teal paint. They used it in the cockpits of everything. And all the gauges were made in the same barn...for everything, helicopters to Mach 2 fighters. It's a great way to save money and it works out okay since the helicopter goes like 240 Km/h. That sounds way faster than 134 knots...and jets go like 500+ knots. And the radar altimeters are sometimes in meters and sometimes in feet. The VSI or VVI is (vertical velocity indicator....it tells you how fast you're climbing or descending) in meters per second which is just like an American one, which is in feet per minute... it's all the same, i think.

19: May 12 2009 Em Eye Qualified...as in Mi-17 We're officially Mi-17 qualified pilots...after a mere 23 hours of training & 2 hours of evaluation. The best part was the extra 4 days we got to spend here, instead of at home...because the Air Force sent us here to fly with no idea who was going to give us our check rides. Good plan. So after bullying the company that was giving us our training into letting an evaluator from a competing company give us our check rides...we have our certificates for the refrigerator. (okay, he didn't actually work for the competing company, he just owed his GS-13 government job to them)...and four days late. | The company that provided our training was great. The instructors were outstanding, even if one of them was retired Army. The facilities were great, training excellent, maintenance was awesome and they even had a spouse flying training program... This is Kellie's first flight in the co-pilot seat of the MD500... This is Kellie flying over the water...Magnum PI style, no doors on the bird. She got to do some low level on the beach, rocket attack profiles, hovering practice and some loop-tee-loops. Thanks JT and James! So now she's ready to rock. The plan is...we'll keep the little bird (a nickname for the MD500) in the back of the Mi-17, so if we go down because...like if we ran out of gas or...something, we can pull the little bird out of the back and Kellie can fly us back to base... it'd look kinda like this.

20: Here are some good formation pictures... Down the beach in front of the condo...looking for sharks... & not bikinis. | Oh yeah...the check ride. We were given bogus information on the evaluator pilot...he told the guys here that he was just coming to an 'over the shoulder, make sure it stays greasy side down, spinny side up' kind of check ride. A gentleman's check ride...like as in EASY. I knew it was gonna be all downhill when the big guy was strapping in and the evaluator says, "So, tell me how far do the tail rotor pedals travel"... are you joking?!?! Then he asked how the pneumatic brakes work...we said 'air'...he only asked a few more questions and quit...when he realized we were lucky to find the right helicopter on the ramp.

21: May 25, 2009 1 down...51 to go The 365 day countdown has begun...358 to go! Should just cruise right by, I'm sure of it. We left families in Albuquerque at the butt crack of dawn. Because the US Air Farce, well, DoD travel geniuses, think it's better for us to take two flights & over 5 hours of flying, switching planes (with the possibility of our required luggage, like guns...because Delta Airlines never loses luggage in Atlanta, right?), a 7 hour trip to get to Baltimore... instead of the Southwest two and a half hour direct flight. Anyway, we got to Baltimore, with our luggage (we even upgraded to 1st Class for free... so I take back the bad stuff I just said about Delta). We got a flight on some made-up airline, World Airways or something, at 9:00pm and flew from Baltimore, to Ramstein AFB, Germany, on to Incirlik, Turkey and finally on to Manas, Kyrgyzstan. It was long...and World Scareways' DC-10, number 3 off the original production line, didn't really have cold air blowing. I guess they were just helping us acclimate to the hot environments we were heading too. Traveling in uniform is fun...& I was pretty sure the plane was going to crash, after my feet spontaneously combusted, catching the interior of the plane on fire. It almost happened, we landed with hot brakes in Manas...so we got an extra 2 hours in the hot, stinky, sweaty airplane on the ground...waiting to get towed in. More acclimating, so really we should have thanked them for leaving us on the jet while deciding if the hot brakes were going to catch on fire, with us all inside. You can see some of the spectacularly rugged mountains surrounding Manas. This is the Bigman and Petunia on the way from our super awesome tent to catch our plane ride to Bagram. The Marines are funny, they came in at 2:00 AM and the gy-rine in charge was yelling at the rest of them to "find a bunk NOW and BE QUIET, PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING!" We were sleeping...until he yelled at his Marines to be quiet. Good job. This is the same Marines loading into our C-17 to Bagram. They were part of the first wave of the Afghanistan surge. So they had some business to conduct. If you've ever seen them up close, all loaded up with their combat gear...well, they are a lot tougher than the Air Force dorks! We wish them good luck and pray for their safe return to families. Arrival in Bagram, in a thunderstorm...we had to wait to unload because there was lightening within 5 miles so the flightline was closed. At least this time the back of the jet was open and letting in actual nice cool air. Bagram is a complete train wreck...total chaos. We had to find a flight down to Kabul through a transportation office...the flight we were scheduled for when we left Manas, didn't actually exist. If you're transient at Bagram, it's a tent, a cot and not sheets...we wanted to ditch that place ASAP! So we wandered around...and found a different, non Air Force flight down to Kabul. The transportation people said a one star general had to approve us switching flights. yeah right, I'm still waiting to hear from the general. We went with Blackwater Airlines. This is the pilot sporting the obligatory biker goatee...the tactical approach into Kabul was awesome, nosed over and straight down into the runway. This is a shot of the countryside right out of Bagram. So today is Memorial Day...please remember why this is a national holiday. And those Marines, that will be hiking all over 10,000'+ mountains, loaded down with 75+ lbs of gear, looking for and engaging the bad guys on their home turf...keep them in your prayers, they are brave young men

22: May 29, 2009 Joy Ridin' with the Presidential Airlift We just completed the work week...today is our down day. That's Friday for the rest of the world. Thursdays are a half day and Friday is don't go to work day. It was a good week for some and a weak week for others ... like ME! It is still a mystery how this place operates...but we're adapting, which is different than 'understanding' but we have a place to sleep (and my bed has only come apart once while I've been sleeping) and food... but no ice. While we're on this subject, WHY DO the Europeans hate ice?What is wrong with them?It's not hard, you just freeze water. And yet so many silly Americans admire and adore everything European? | Okay...I'm a little guilty of that, they know how to build a bar here in KAIA. That's pronounced Key-YA. It's the airport...anyway, the Dutch built the Holland House, it's awesome and the Italians built a Beach Pit. The poor Dutch get a raw deal though, no real beer, and they get paid in dollars instead of Euros...just LIKE US! So back to the week in review....I haven't gotten a chance to fly...except for riding in the back...and that SUCKS, when you're not driving...I just sleot because after the brief, I was scared. This is the Americans briefing up...after we made 'adjustments' to his brief (he briefed he was going to fly at all the altitudes you're not supposed to fly at...unless you enjoy being shot at) This is me sitting in the back of President Karzai's helicopter. We were taking it for a joyride. It had a nice leather interior, some wood paneling and a tv...it's no Marine One but it's pretty nice for a Russian helicopter! | Beaker was scared too...it sucks sitting in the back and letting someone else fly. So like a good helicopter pilot, he maintained diligent vigilance...and hoped to wake up in Bagram in one piece. This is a good technique we use, called 'sometimes its just better not to see it coming'. We made it to Bagram and back safely. But it was best to do it with your eyes closed. The nice thing about flying into an airport in an Afghan Air Corp helicopter, everyone gets out of your way because they think pilots have no idea what they're doing...which incidently, described us pretty well. | And this is 'Mater, he's um...been working on F-16's, and breathing lots of fumes...and ate a lot of paint chips as a kid. He usually wears a helmet. To cross the street. But he can put his seat belt on by himself, most of the time! This is the bigman...in proper flying garb, 'cept for the empty magazine well on his GUU-5. Don't worry, we do have bullets, ...somewhere, I think. (just kidding, we traded our ammo for a ping pong table and a kiddy pool....okay, not really, it was for ice cubes)

23: May 30, 2009 Peek-chures I'd like to share some of the pictures of the spectacular and rugged beauty surrounding Kabul. The snow is melting quickly from the 12,000 foot peaks north and east of the city. And the green-ish tint on the hills is fading. The wind blows hard every afternoon, and the fine silt dust is either irritating or blinding. We drive to work every day from the south side of the base to the north side...the base is on one side of the road and Kabul is on the other side of the fence. It's vibrantly green right now in the low ground around the base, the wind blows ripples through little wheat fields and grape vineyards. The houses are for the most part mud as are the walls surrounding homes and gardens.

24: Everyday little kids run along the fence waving and yelling...so we throw candy and water whenever we see them. I've seen the Italians and Turks throw soccer balls over the fence. If it's windy...you have to throw with a good wind correction but be careful not to overshoot and have it land in the stinky water (sewage like) ditch! The kids actually ask for water instead of candy most of the time...we slow down and throw the candy over the fence most but sometimes we stop and pass bottled water through the fence. | We're not supposed to do it for security reasons. There is legitimate concern that the Taliban, the brave and noble purveyors of the 'religion of peace', might strap bombs to the kids and send them to the fence to blow us up. But those little faces tug at your heart strings. And to be able give them clean water and some gummy bears or chocolate...makes our day maybe more than theirs. Here are a few more from the flight up to Bagram...

25: June 12, 2009 Hurray for Herat! After 3 and a half weeks of living in the corner of the transient shipping container, I finally made it to Herat. The big man left about 3 days earlier for Kandahar...he was pretty sure he'd lose about 27 pounds in the first 27 hours and 13 seconds in that somewhat warmer climate. Some of us are blessed with more subcutaneous insulation that other folks...and we tend to perspire a little more in these warmer climes. So they loaded me on a Afghan An-32, a leftover Russian transport, with all my junk and a bunch of Afghans going on....vacation? It made a lot of scary noises but we landed in one piece and at the right place! | The best part of arriving at the right time and place was the two guys that told me to hurry up, we were leaving on a convoy. WHAAAT?!?! So much for my goal of NO as in zero convoys in Afghanistan! But at least it was on one of these monsters. Owned by the USN and driven by Indiana National Guard. It was only a seven and half minute drive anyway. | I showed up in the morning, stayed up until 11:30 planning for a last minute flight the next day. We got up at 3:30 in the morning to help the Afghans load ammo on the helicopters we were flying down to Farah in support of Afghan troops. The sun came up as we were loading...

26: This is the one we drove...a little newer, had kevlar floor mats and some armor around the cockpit, and a gunsight for rockets, when do we get those?!?! It was really hot so I ditched my helmet for this smooth headset...well I left my helmet in Kabul because I'm a moron...just kidding, I traded my helmet to an Afghan for 3 chickens, a camel and nice David Clark headset. But I'm really just joking, I borrowed an Afghan helmet, with no chin strap, a mike that I'm really not sure where it had been and it was about two sizes too small, but we made it work! And the dent in my forehead will pop out eventually. | The view from the rear view mirror.

27: June 13, 2009 Action Shots... Here are some shots from flying in western Afghanistan. These are some shots, low level over between Herat and Farah. Well, one is from Gardez. One of these pictures shows the air conditioning system...that little rubber fan on the dash. I think it's rubber so we don't hurt ourselves...like sticking a finger in there just to see what happens. This particular cockpit even had switches in English! Along with some other really cool features...like the gun sight for rockets (that we don't have) and a bombing computer and bomb sight. Um....bombs off of a helicopter? And tan velour seat cushions...with a nice floral pattern stitched in them.

28: Mai Tai has been cleaning his pistol...a lot lately. I think it's good that he's being so thorough. He talks to himself while he's cleaning. It doesn't make sense so I don't listen to him. | This is a nice juxtaposition ... an Afghan FE (that's a flight engineer) and our American FE. The US Air Force only sent us one FE. He is just a tiny bit overworked but I think he's handling it okay...just look at him. The icy stare of a stone cold killer. It's clear that keeping us (the pilots) out of trouble hasn't had any ill effect on his nerves. He's perfectly fine. Rhamatula in the picture above...and Mai Tai below. | This pictures reminds me of something....but I can't quite put my finger on it....

29: So there we were, 3 days out and some people call us and say get ready to do this big mission...super secret passengers. And then they called and said never mind, then someone else called and said 'plan for this big mission...but it's a secret'. Then they said never mind. Then some other people called and asked if we'd heard about the secret mission coming our way...and then they said never mind It was awesome. Less than 24 hours out...we got the 'for sure' call. So we went. In a three ship, 2 ANAAC and one Colombian registered Mi-8 contracted by the Army Corp of Engineers. We planned, briefed and flew it... | That's me and our Flight Engineer top left, he's happy now that I've promised to not touch any switches in his helicopter... We made it, all three on time and to the right location! The parking lot of the new border crossing facility. Me and the pilot. He's a good guy...but always serious looking. So I tell him to smile, at least 17 times a day. That makes him smile. | June 17, 2009 The Big Mish A few days ago we got to fly a really important mission with the Afghan National Army Air Corp. The US Ambassador to Afghanistan, his wife, Afghanistan's Minister of the Interior, the Provincial Governor of Herat and some other important people...and the press (they being the opposite of important.) The Afghan National Border Patrol was opening a new border crossing facility and the US Embassy wanted to highlight the ANAAC's success and the successes of the American Mentor aircrews. | Us and the Colombians

30: Mai Tai and our interpreter. We can't show his face. These guys put themselves and their families at considerable risk helping the Americans. They are brave men and crucial to our success in Afghanistan. | This is pretty painted water tower was a few hundred meters to our west...it's painted like a flag. | Oh yeah, that flag...it's the Iranian flag. So we flew a little too close to their water tower...and threw a ham out the window. It caused an international incident. Please send us food...and beer. | I didn't do it...crazy eyes here, he did it. Okay, just kidding...we were goofing around in the new Border Crossing building. They had jail cells for smugglers. We took turns locking each other up. I think the Ambassador assumed he had flown up with a professional crew. But hey! At least we landed on the right side of the border!

31: Our guys, the aircrews...we're pretty proud of them. It was a great day for the Afghan Air Corp. | This is Crazy Eyes checking out some of Gucci modifications the Colombians made to their Mi-8. We're going to use some their ideas...they set up there bird "The Black Pearl" really nice.

32: Pictures from the flight home. | The coolest airplane I've seen in Afghanistan. This is not your grandpa's DC-3. It's been pretty pimped out! Pratt & Whitney PT-6 turbo props, glass cockpit, flares and IR detectors, FLIR and smooth paint job!

33: June 21, 2009 5 Sheeps...with the Italians. We got to do a fun mission to Bala Morghab with some Italians. It turns out that the area around Bala Morghab has quite a few bad guys, so we have to have gunship support to fly up there. In this case, since we're on an Italian and Spanish base, that means the gunships are Mangusta gunships, made by Augusta. They don't have very many so we have to wait occasionally for the Mangustas to be available. This time, the Italians had a Chinook helicopter that needed to go up there too. So it was a 5 ship (or sheep, depending on your accent)... We had 1000 kg's of ammo, 250 kg's of money, 500kg's of watermelons, 500 kg's of cakes, and some colonel and assorted passengers. We planned our loading of our two helicopters based on weight, one of them has 1000 kg of armor on it so we have to split up the weight differently, since one is so much heavier. So in typical Afghan style...after we planned for a few hours, they totally blew off the plan and just started loading the birds...with complete disregard for the carefully laid out plan. Among our assorted passengers was a little boy and his grandfather. The little guy was from Bala Morghab and had been flown down to Herat for some medical reason...the Spanish hospital fixed him up so we were taking him home. This is crazy eyes and the little dude. | We loaded up melons and the money and taxied out to pick up our wingmen. Since the Afghans work from about 9:00 to 11:00 ...that's A.M to A.M., yes, two whole hours, our Afghan crew members did not attend the briefing with the Italians. The briefing where they told us they altitudes and airspeeds they were going to fly. We would be in the middle, with the Chinook out front and the Mangustas covering us from the back of the formation. It was awesome...English, Italian, Dari and some horribly broken Spanglish from the Spanish tower controller. What could possibly go wrong? Maybe the Italian Chinook could drag us around at 50 feet and about 50 knots....right next to the LZ (landing zone) where the bad guys are?...just the opposite of what he briefed? Nah....they wouldn't do that right? Then leaving the LZ...flying super slow away from the bad guys? Surely....they wouldn't do that? that'd be like giving them extra time to shoot at you!...um, okay, they did all that. It was awesome, Thank you! May I have another?!

34: There were hay bales between us and our wingman, and all around us....it dawned on me about 2 minutes after we'd landed and been sitting there on the ground...what a perfect place for 'Charlie' to be hiding! And pop out and start shooting! Fortunately, there are no VC over here in the 'Stan. | The dust cloud blown up by the Chinook, call sign 'Elephant', going into the FOB | The Elephant (pronounced with an accent...'Ela FONT')...taking off, the other Mi-17 ready to follow | Just another observation...how come we leave the land of Army green camouflage back in the states and put on desert camo and flight suits...but we gave the Afghans the woodland green stuff? I haven't figured that out yet....or where they came up with the 30 minutes that makes them 10 hours 30 minutes ahead of New Mexico?

35: We had to land in a place called Qa'al-E Now (say 'call Eee Now') for gas, the Mangustas can't go very far on a tank of gas. We stopped on the way to Bala Morghab and the way back...of course on the way back, we had to stop and have lunch too. My favorite moment was watching the Italian crew chief smoking inside the Chinook while it was getting refueled...seemed to fit the rest of the clown show I'd seen. | Graydon and Ahktar share a special moment in the flower garden...the birds were chirping, the sun was out, perfect company, a great time to hold hands! | We landed just after this guy...it's kind of a sketchy neighborhood. You have be careful where you park. Before you know it, your jet is on blocks, missin' an engine and nose landing gear. The runway is a road when not in use by landing or take off traffic. Afghans ride their mopeds up and down it like it's the Bonneville Salt Flats, pinned in 5th on their little Caspien 150's (motorcycles) doing at least 43 miles an hour. | So all in all...it was a good time. The Italian Chinook driver and crew were a little suspect, even the Afghans could tell. But at least landing back home wasn't a total train wreck, the Spanglish Tower controller kept telling us to report a 20 mile final...you know, tell him when we're 20 miles out for landing, after I'd already told him we were 10 miles out for landing. Even while holding at 100' in a left hand turn off the east side of the runway...at 1/4 of mile, almost out of gas, he told me to report a 20 mile final again. It was awesome...

36: July 7, 2009 4th of July and the 5th, too. Happy 4th of July...or as our Italian, Spanish and Afghan friends say, "Congratulations on your Independence Day". Though we had to convince the Afghan's that American had to fight for it's freedom from the British government. They couldn't believe it or that it was only a few hundred years ago! | We started the day with a visit to the site where NATO is building the Afghan Air Corp a new building and we brought our pet Giant with us. We got a tour from the Afghan company that gives us gas for our helicopters. The manager is called, The Principal...he looks like Afghan mafia? They showed us where they store mason jar sized jars of jet fuel, in the office, on open shelves next to some dude's desk, not sure how that guy has any brain cells left! They showed us the storage facility...it was crazy!!! A tiny oasis and a duck! Who knew there were ducks in Afghanistan. The mom was sitting on her eggs, she didn't like the looks of our pet giant though! | Yes, that's a 25' or 8 meter (since we're in Afghanistan) fountain behind the giant.

37: We were invited to the Regional Training Center (US cops that are here training Afghan cops) for a 4th of July party! It was great...we even saw things like ice! It's been a long time since we've seen ice! Sorry, I got a little side tracked. I have list of things I miss most (the wife is first but she's a she, not a thing). First is real milk, second is toilet seats that haven't been peed on and third is ice. Anyway, again, sorry for the digression. | The cops put a really good show! There was a ping pong tourney, poker, darts and volley ball. And on a side note to that...the Afghans love volley ball...not sure when it started, our interpreters tried to tell us they've played it for years. If that were true, they should at least be able to beat a 6th grade girls' team, and I'm pretty sure they'd get crushed by the 6th graders. But I guess I shouldn't make too much fun of them, we lost to some Italians...even with our Pet Giant. It was pretty weak to get beat by Italians on the 4th of July, at least they weren't French! Just Italian dudes in Speedos. Okay just kidding, but that is a funny conversation when they try to convince you that a speedo is totally hetero. I told an Italian Colonel that was an argument he'd never win! We had cake...Graydon is showing us the 'cheese cake'? I think that was a layer of cheese-like substance between layers of white cake. And if you look close, you'll see what look like mushrooms in that aforemetioned substance. I abstained, as mushrooms are fungus, and fungus is the same thing as athlete's foot. I didn't want to take the risk.

38: We had to get up really, really early to launch out the Afghans on an all Afghan mission. We even loaded up 1000 kg of cargo...by hand. It was nice morning. | Then after the cell phone silliness of the Afghan scheduling system, this is what happened, and then we unloaded 1000 kg's of cargo. | Our Italian and Spanish friends asked us over to a couple of ... fiestas or whatever they call them in Italy. Our Italian friends were really good dudes, they went to Pensacola for pilot training. They told us that they don't wear Speedos when they go to the beach in Florida. | Our best Spanish friends... Frank and Fernando, we call the the old guys from the muppets. Their office is right across from ours and they take very good care of us! Fernando is a talented painter... artist and a gentleman. We had a good time with them and we will miss them when they go home soon! | This guy is an Italian F-16 pilot... he went to America for training too... that would be with the Tucson Air Guard. He learned a lot. Not just flying F-16s... the Guard guys taught him some other important skill sets. And like a good instructor, he teaches the lessons he's learned. In this case he's teaching fellow Italians how to shotgun a beer. I think he's on his eleventeenth beer by now. Go Guard!

39: July 18, 2009 Frank, Fernando and Farah Our best Spanish friends left for home the other day so we went out to eat at the Italian joint. We live under some stupid rule about not being able to drink beer. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND GOES TO WAR WITHOUT BOOZE?!!?. Oh yeah, only the United States. This sign on the way to the Spanish/Italian tactical operations center sums it up nicely...The Spanish guys felt sorry for us for being here for a year, so they took care of us and shared lots of food sent from home. Frank, Fernando and the Italian guy were good dudes. The Italian guy is still here and he still comes over to our office. Frank and Fernando handed out the pay to the Spanish troops. They have a copy machine in the back of their office for printing Euros. It's cool. And they always had a good time. | They really liked our pet giant, he spoke Spanish, G-man is what everyone called him. Well, the Spanish guys called him Esteban. He just left today, our translator is gone, we're screwed. Please send help...por favor! | Fernando was trying to take us from the Italian 'get-together' to the Spanish one...he put on his magic red hat but still got lost in the dark. We made it home safely with the Lithuanians. No problem!

40: We had a going away party, Stretch here is indulging in the second worst beverage I've had the misfortune of sampling here in Afghanistan. This is 3 Horse Non Alcoholic Malt Beverage...made in some silly, not allowed to drink real alcohol, country. It was as bad as it sounds...but the waif-ish one here liked it. I am compiling a list of things he has eaten over here that should not be eaten by anyone. I'll put peechures up soon... | This is Fernando with our Mascot, Laura Croft. She's famous all over our base...we get all kinds of help and goods from the Spanish and Italians if we promise them they can have their picture taken with Laura Croft. Fernando made this his screen saver. We could tell you her real job over here, but then she'd kill you, and not because she actually had too, just because she could. | They left us with this guy. He doesn't even speak real English. We have to remind him to use his big words when he talks to grown ups. Yes those are real bullets, but don't worry, we took away his guns. We told him he can use the guns he's pointing here in the picture.

41: This goes under the list of things you 'probably' shouldn't do...give your Afghan crew members your guns to pose with for a picture. It looks like a horribly wrong Charlie's Angels pose...This looks worse that it really was, okay not really, it really was as bad as it looks. Nobody shot each other and we made it all the way home without getting lost or crashing, it was a successful day! Too bad all we had to celebrate with was 3 Horse N/A Malt horse spit. (the author was intending to make a horse urine reference but did not want offend) This was from a mission to Chesta Sharif, our crews went into town and took my camera. Our interpreter actually took 3 pictures that didn't turn out blurry, this is one of them, the other two were of a goat. The other 63 weren't so good. Afghans love having their pictures taken...even though most won't smile...they love it. We flew to Farah on a pretty good mission, we moved a lot of different people and a lot of different stuff. We two American pilots usually fly in separate aircraft with an Afghan pilot. But this time we flew in one aircraft and took turns. The Stick Figure flew first, so I sat in the back and took pictures. I got to fly home. After we landed in Farah and got tricked into shutting down the aircraft. | This wasn't planned...they said 'we eat breakfast!'...then they said...'we're going into town to go shopping!' We said 'whaaaat?!?'. Then they said, 'uh, we mean we need to go into town to talk with the intelligence people'...this is code for shopping for paying customers to take back to Herat. We're a little slow but we're catching on! | This picture speaks for itself.

42: Oh yeah, the reason I flew second, it was really the Lean One's turn to fly the whole time, but the Afghan pilot told him that he has more experience than me (he's been here for 10 months) and I needed the experience. So we compromised and split the fight time...our pilot explained that I needed more experience because the Wiry One is 'more powerful'. He reminds me of this everyday. In the states we like to fly low level down the beach to look for girls in bikinis...it's the same everywhere. In Afghanistan they cruise low level hoping to see an ankle or a wrist peeking out from under a burkha. Our gunner below right...he's awake, and that's how we like them to be! | We took this picture so our mommies could put it on their refrigerators...and so our friends could use it as a screen saver on their computers, and I know some that already have...who wouldn't want to look at this picture everyday?!

43: July 28, 2009 Guns, bikes and giants...& weed Herat is still a relatively nice place in July...it's only 100 to 110 degrees, with a nice northerly breeze at 35 to 40 knots every afternoon. It has all the attractions, an old castle from Alexander the Great, restaurants and flower gardens. Another nice attraction is the airplane graveyard right outside the wire, behind our helicopters. It's all the MiG's left over from the dirty Russians leaving Afghanistan...they smashed them, shot them up and abandoned them. It's quite a sight! And it's not just MiG's, there are tanks, rocket launchers...and the guards that live out there. Yes, these guys live here...to keep somebody from stealing one of these gems. How cool must it have been to drive your MiG right into a T-72 tank...Russians being Russians, there may have been a bottle of Vodka or 16 bottles behind this story. So they probably don't remember it anyway. They left all sorts of treasure piles all over Afghanistan.

44: There are a couple of really nice ones in here, if interested, let me know, imagine driving your own tank! I can get one real cheap! Just a case of whiskey and a bottle of scotch...and the current owners will be glad to part with one or several. I picked out a nice MiG-17...just needs some bondo and couple of new tires. The giant picked out his favorite...he says size doesn't matter, it's how you use it. He's taking parts off this thing and sending it home in pieces. He'll be done in about 13 years. | And one day, we found another giant. He's not quite at big as our giant...but pretty close. And now that our giant has gone home, this new one will do, he's from a land of giants. He says he's not a giant, we're just little.

45: A while ago I mentioned the things I miss most (wifey is first, but she's not a thing). So that list started with milk, ice and toilet seats that haven't been peed on...so I've resigned myself on the first two but that last one is still on the list. We'll leave it at number one for now...and number two...bikes. I MISS MOTORCYCLES. It's so bad, I'd even ride one of these boat anchors...it's no KTM but it has knobby tires, but I'm not sure what the silly dork blinkers are for. Do you really use those when you're out and about in Herat, or on hills looking for those rascally followers of 'the religion of peace' that bomb girls' schools? Um....helmet laws? Nah...who needs 'em! This is the record so far, for people loading on a Caspien 150. By the way, I'll be taking delivery of my Caspien, VERY SOON! Local campaign bus...we think, I guess we could have checked into the website on the side... fawad_zaranghltd@yahoo.com. This little dude was pretty stoked to show off for the camera. My wife was in the Peace Corp, so she'll be able to identify this plant.

46: August 4, 2009 Wanna make a bet? It's been too long since that last update...things have been hectic aaaaand pretty stupid too! One of the things they forget to teach us when we went to 'How to be a Mentor' training, at Ft Dix, NJ (it sucked as bad as the name sounds)...where was I? Oh yeah, they tried to teach us how to mentor our Afghan counterparts. Fine, but no one told me I'd be 'mentoring' or advising Spanish Colonels and Italian Generals too! I'll get to that later....and the real meaning of ISAF. It supposedly means International Security Assistance Force....it really means I Suck At Fighting. Or Italians Suck At Fighting....let me say, we've met a lot of really good Italian dudes...but the General....uh, not so much. Every time we get rocketed here on base...it's by the same bad guys from the same location. There are some folks here, that specialize in 'fixing' those kinds of issues. Let's just say they are not European...they have offered to take care of the problem, permanently. The Italian General said 'no'....they don't want to upset anyone. Their answer? Pay the Taliban not to rocket our base! Nice! Until they raised the price.... | This same genius General ordered someone to drive a crane out into the airplane graveyard, which is on Afghan Air Corp land. This is outside the ISAF camp perimeter. With no coordination with the Spanish camp commander and more importantly without asking the Afghans...genius General orders someone to take/steal an old airplane wreck from the Afghans. He wanted to make a monument inside the ISAF camp. The Afghan Colonel that I mentor and advise told me that if the Italian general did not come to his office to apologize, he was going to hold a press conference and tell the media that ISAF was stealing Afghan property. The Italian general did not see why the Afghans would be upset that he was going onto their land without asking and taking whatever he wanted without asking. That's two and half days I'll never get back....but I did convince them to send a 'representative' with a bottle of whiskey to smooth it out, no press conference. The Italians do have a cool restaurants .... you have to make reservations even! This was the Chinese buffet night. Yes, the Chinese buffet at an Italian restaurant in Afghanistan. Afghan Chinese lobster... Tuscan-like restaurant .... things you don't see everyday.

47: Another highlight...the swine flu. Some Spanish dudes brought the pig flu to peaceful Camp Arena. Our Spanish and Dutch friends demonstrate the proper protocol to keep from spreading the porkish flu...while we were hanging out with the Lithuanians. | Ah...'The Principal' ...he just explained to us how women are respected in Afghanistan...which explains the look on my face. Okay...he actually educated us a little, the United States was the first country to officially recognize Afghanistan when it gained independence from England. | I learned some other things too... like missing a huge hunk of your tail rotor is, in the words of one of our Afghan pilots... 'no problem!' Seriously, there's nothing wrong with this right?! What could possibly go wrong with something that spins really fast missing a giant chunk of metal? | No problem...this guy climbed up the tail, like a spider monkey, in his underwear and socks. He totally fixed it. No problem.

48: This is Stretch and his ... uh, 'friend'. The Army calls them battle buddies. They like to take scenic rides on that completely hetero (about as hetero as a speedo) 4-wheeler through downtown Farah, stroll down the river banks and share watermelon in the moonlight. Don't forget, the Lanky One is the most powerful Mi-17 pilot in Herat, according to the Afghans. Someone in a movie once said 'that's like being the smartest person with downs syndrome'. | And thanks to the Air Guard....for the tornadic dust storm blowing crap all over our Mi-17. Thanks you guys rock. | And one of our friends here...eats more than the 4 of us put together, though Stretch doesn't really count as a whole person, he's a vegetarian....so make that 3 and half. Like any good friend would do...we sometimes say .... 'I bet you can't eat....' | Okay, she won the 'I bet you can't put the whole thing in your mouth all at once'....so the next bet was the whole bag of cheesy poofs...Afghan cheesy poofs...that's rough. Though we did discover the secret to her powers....she has no spleen. | This time...she bit off more than she could chew, the bet was the whole bag in an hour. The Giant called her a sally and showed her how it was done.

49: So we dove in after him and pushed it down to 50 feet when he made the first left turn, and all I saw was the top of his helicopter... because he was in a 90 degree left bank, I said 'I think that first turn is going to be kinda tight' We made it in...it was a Star Wars canyon, no room to turn around...just press ahead or pull everything you have and climb out. No problem. It was awesome... | August 25, 2009 Spreading Democracy...RPGs and why the Italians don't suck at fighting It started like this...we had to drop off election ballots in a place called Jawand. It lies at the bottom of a 1500 to 2000 foot deep canyon. The local area has some not very nice people, the kind that don't think Afghans should be able to vote for themselves...(and ESPECIALLY the women). So to make sure we made it there and back safely...the Italians escorted us with Mangusta gunships. That was cool, because that meant they did most of the mission planning and briefing for the flight. The run in to the target, the Landing Zone, was about a 6 mile run through the canyon. Tomahawk 1 led us into the canyon, diving over 2000 feet into the canyon...we pushed our dump truck's nose over and tried to stay with him. You can almost see the little speck in the lower middle part of the picture right above the river...he dropped like a rock...

50: We passed this quaint little scenic village along the beautiful river...as we flew over, I heard a really loud BOOM! Right outside my open window...I looked over at the other pilot, "Did you hear that?!" He said "I think it was the cockpit door slamming shut behind us"...I said "It was already shut!"...then we said..."OH MAN, was that our wingman crashing into the canyon wall?!?!" A frantic radio call confirmed Charlie 2 was one turn behind us and not a smoking hole. So we pressed on to the LZ. It was truly spectacular. We lined up for the approach...there were spectators everywhere! We landed and started unloading. The election officials were there to meet us and help with unloading. The Mangustas flew overhead, one low and one up very high out side the canyon keeping watch.

51: The Italian Colonel gave the village its own little airshow....we liked it too. Unloading was supposed to take 15 to 20 minutes....like usual, it took twice as long. It's always total chaos, even when you tell the Afghan pilots, we have to hurry, our escorts are running out of gas! I asked the Colonel to shoot a few rounds overhead to speed things up...

52: All the boxes, tables, chairs, and ballots were FINALLY unloaded. We called the Mangustas to tell them we were ready to for takeoff...they led us out, we followed Tomahawk 1 back the way we came. As we rounded a bend in the canyon, I said "that's were we heard that bang"...followed by two very loud BOOMs!!! We radioed to the formation that we were taking fire and climbed up and out of the canyon, Charlie 2 did the same thing, Tomahawk 1 immediately performed a very aggressive course reversal and dove into the area were we'd just been shot at...and the saw a 4th RPG being shot at us. So...oh yeah, the first BOOM we heard on the way in...it was an RPG air burst. ...ooooops. Just the cabin door slamming shut? He's the one that said it...'My bad!" | Guess maybe we should have picked a different route to fly back? Speaking of flying back...we still had another load of election materials to take out there. While we were eating lunch, gassing our helicopters and loading the second load of stuff...(well, by 'we', I mean the Afghans left to go eat lunch, and 'we' loaded the cargo and fueled the helicopters...our Afghan crew members tend to disappear when it comes time to load, no worries though, they show up right when we're done so they can tell us we did something wrong)...Anyway, while 'we' were loading and such, the Italian Colonel came over and said, with a swagger and a smile, "what a great day! only 4 RPG's...no problem! It was great, wasn't it?!" He meant it! He wasn't even being sarcastic! He said "but maybe we should go back in a different way? What do you think?" ...Yes please! And an Afghan Army officer came over to tell us "I told you not to fly that way!". Um.....right. He gave us a list of villages, written in Dari on a napkin and told us they were safe, it was okay to fly over them. That was one translation, the other was, these villages are dangerous, don't fly over them. | Awesome! We did not have our best interpreter with us that day. We pulled out our maps...90% of Afghans can't read maps...he fell into that category. Oh, and all of our maps are written in English. So we went with what we'd planned. Okay, Okay....he was right! We shouldn't have flown that way! So there we were, loaded up and ready for round two! There was a US State department official there at the airport we were using...she asked to come along, since she was a she, we said "sure, hop in". The Afghan flight engineer let her sit with him on the middle bench... The other pilot took this picture to the left...I was driving, don't worry I was still looking where I was going mostly. State Department chick rolled with us with no body armor and thought it was cool we'd been shot at. She heard the BOOM's too...and she was ready to back for the second time.

53: This is the crew...The Italian's gunship drivers are good stuff. So, in the last post we joked about the meaning of ISAF. I stand corrected...these guys are the real deal. Their Colonel is the old school kind of warrior that is rare these days. When we flew up for the mission to Qal-E Now, he flew the CH-47 Chinook, when we all landed (2 Mangustas, 2 Mi-17's and the Chinook), he climbed into the lead Mangusta and flew as mission commander and flight lead. It has been a pleasure and an honor to fly with these guys. They take care of us, watch over us and are extremely patient and understanding with the Afghan Flying Circus. The end of a long day...it's Miller time, or Tuborg and some crappy Non-Alcoholic malt nastiness.

54: Oh yeah....we checked for damage after the RPG attack and did not find any...until the next morning. There was a small whole in one of the main rotor blades. No problem, have Orange Fanta can and Super Glue, will travel... | September 2, 2009 Birds and the American Gangster This a highlight reel from the Afghan national elections. We flew several missions to distribute and retrieve ballots. Many, well, all the places we went to required gunships to go with us, because you know, those rascally Taliban a-holes don't want their countrymen and women to vote. Okay...a lot of them are not from Afghanistan, they come from other 'Stans and would rather the Afghan people return to the stone age and the public stoning of women age...blowing up girls' schools or just throwing acid on them and other such noble acts. Did I ever mention that my interpreter was beaten and thrown in jail several times for not having a beard? We did a lot of flying in that week. It was challenging, rewarding and a little crazy...but in the end, it was just plain fun. The Italians were awesome, except the they like to fly at 10,000 to 12,000 feet, that's waaaay scarier than the RPG's! The Mangustas have autopilot, they read magazines, drink coffee, Skype with wives and girlfriends, eat sandwiches as they relax in air-conditioned comfort...all while flying to fight. I think their seats are those really nice massage chairs. In the meantime, back in the Mi-17 we're just trying to keep it right side up and holding our breath so we don't get hypoxic at 12k feet.

55: This is on the way to a place called Pusht Rod. We got called in the afternoon to go pick up ballots before bad guys burned down the polling stations like they'd done in Shindan. Italian ground forces were supposed to retrieve these ballots but the road they were on was so littered with IED's (improvised explosive devices) that they could not make it to the village during daylight. We only had one operating helicopter and we always fly with two, a wing man that can pick us up. So the Italians sent a Huey with us and their gunships. It was awesome to fly 10k over bad guy country with a Huey and two gunships. We landed in a field next to an Afghan National Police headquarters building and piled the ballot boxes on board...and then the unplanned passengers. That's always sketchy! No one told us to pick up 'officials' but they were claiming they had to go with the ballots...but there were too many of them...making it unsafe for us to take off due to the weight. Oh, and we didn't have an interpreter with us. My copilot spoke a little English...no problem. The UN election workers told us later that they heard the insurgents showed up about 5 minutes after we took off from that police station. A week later our Italian escorts took fire right in the same place and they returned fire. A lot of it. And there are quite a bit fewer bad guys living in that village now. One of my friends had a round come through the cockpit and blow out one of his multi function displays in the instrument panel, he was flying in the gunner seat that day...The front seat, he told the pilot, 'we need to go back'...as in back into the same area. They had some cleaning up to do, and they did. Because Italians can only return fire if fired upon, they go looking for bullets and RPG's coming their way. That's pretty cool, even if they wear speedos sometimes. It almost cancels out the speedos. We took a couple trips to a scenic place called Purchaman. A quaint little village nestled into valley between some 12,000 foot mountains. We landed in a river bed. The Afghans sent two people to load ballot boxes into two Mi-17's...a lot of boxes. Good plan. Until we had to leave because it took 40 minutes instead of 20 to load all of the cargo. Our escorts were out of gas and it was time to leave...and that's when the other truck full of ballots showed up. Funny, we saw that truck driving away as we landed...how nice of them to come back right at take off time!

56: Oh yeah, they also love to put the ballot boxes right next to where they want us to land. And the Afghan pilots love landing next to really lightweight boxes full of paper...I heard something about confetti at one pick up site. Don't worry though, somebody waded in and rescued these boxes! At least when we went back the second time, they sent more people to help load, and this time none of the ballots went into the water! We do what we can to preserve the democratic process. We dropped the ballots off in Farah. It gets sorta hot there...like 115 or so. And the whole Rama-lama-dingdong fasting thing works really well for the Afghan pilots and crew...who haven't eaten or drank (is that right 'drank'?) since 4:00 in the morning. They are doing really well by 1:00 in the afternoon in 115 degree heat. Did I mention they're flying helicopters in that condition? It's totally safe to fly in combat that way. They turn into fatigued puddles of goo by about 2 in the afternoon. I try to get them home before then.

57: This day had a mission to Jawand, via Qal-E Now...we took off with two Mangustas, a Huey and a Chinook. It was a very nice cool morning after being windy all night. Six helicopters left Herat and headed north... Until we got to this...those are called clouds. And the Afghans are terrified by those harmless white fluffy little guys. The Afghan pilot that was flying with me saw them first....'Capt Sean, there are clouds, NO CLOUDS!' I said, 'No problem....we won't fly into the clouds, I PROMISE'... But...I said 'those clouds are low, we can go over them'...he said, 'yes, but NO CLOUDS!' "Right Right, no clouds, don't worry we will not fly into the clouds, I promise!' This conversation went on for another few miles...always ending in NO CLOUDS. I said 'it might be clear just on the other side...we'll make sure we can always see the ground okay?'...he looked at me like I was an idiot and said, 'Capt Sean, did you check the weather today?' Um....of course, I briefed with the Italians in the morning, they said weather was good! As soon as our nose crossed over the line of low clouds I suddenly felt a whole lot of left pressure on the cyclic (the stick)...my pilot was 'helping' me...so I told the formation lead the two Mi-17's were breaking out of the formation and returning home. Whew! the cloud monster almost got us! It was good though, the Afghans tend to crash when they come into contact with clouds or blowing dust. Aaaand, the clouds went all the way up to our destination....the Italians flew all the way up another 35 minutes...and had to turn around because they couldn't land. ooops. Oh yeah, I went by the weather shop when I got back, it's run by the Italians. The weather guy said, 'of course it was cloudy! We briefed this last night!' hhmmmmmm...No problem, we went back the next day. We all flew up to Qal-E Now to stage for two pick up runs into Jawand. That's the place we got shot at last time. The mission planning had several pre-planned routes in and out of the canyon. We briefed a pre-planned sequence for our two trips in and out. When I say 'we' I mean me and the Italians. The Afghans come to work from about 8:00 AM to 11:30 AM or so. All the planning takes place later in the day and the mission briefings the evening prior to the mission. They have absolutely no idea how much planning or work goes into coordination of these missions. Anyway...I briefed them in the morning on the mission sequence, they said it was a good plan. Qal-E Now is a Spanish run PRT (provincial reconstruction team). It's an airstrip that double as Main St for the village. It was busy that day! Spanish Super Pumas, C-130's and C295's were rolling through in addition to our Mi-17, Mangustas and the Huey.

58: This is the nose of an armored Mi-17, those little plates of steel or whatever they are, stop bullets or something. It seems like they should let us test it, I'd really like to shoot one just to see, who wouldn't right?! | These are our escorts getting gas. | One of my favorite things about Qal-E Now, besides the bomb drop toilets...which are really really tricky in a flight suit...is the local scenery, you never know what will show up on the runway! This herd of goats is cruzin' down the strip, lookin for some sheep to beat up. | These guys are some of our best friends here in Herat. They are a small unit that flies a Casa 295...or as they say, a Charlie Two Niner Five. They rip, it's fun watching them take off and land, it's like an airshow every time! | Spanish Army Super Puma's...or Pew-mah. We don't hang out too much them, but they are good guys too. If we were ever shot down our injured, they are the combat rescue guys. | Some of the boys posing in front of a Mangusta. These guys are some of our Afghan compadres. That's a spanish word right? Wait, that's an Italian helicopter though....ooops.

59: With everyone gassed up, we headed out to Jawand to pick up the ballots...on one of our sneaky pre-briefed routes. It's an awesome run, even narrower than the one they shot at us in. It was call the 'Pink Route'...they all had colors...not sure why the Italians picked pink....or why they wear speedos for that matter. Anyway, the gunships went in, swept the area and gave us the all clear...and dove in. This is the run in to the landing area, it was spectacular. We flew in on a left 270 degree turning approach to land next the the ballot boxes. And this time...nothing was blown into the river!

60: This mission took two trips to get all of the voted ballots out of the canyon. We dropped the first load back at Qal-E Now. Aaannnd it was lunch time. The Italians don't miss lunch time. And just like we briefed, we departed on the 'Blue Route'. Except not! Apparently when the Afghans said it was a good plan...they meant just fly the Pink Route 4 times in a row, instead of changing it up to keep the bad guys guessing! I missed that somewhere in the translation. Back out on the Pink Route it was...back to Qal-E Now for fuel for us and our birds. Yes...those are coolers in the Huey. I've said it before, the Italians and Spanish, too, go to war better than we do. Those are full of cold cokes and really good sammiches, a nice picnic really. The Huey goes with the Mangustas for missions like this to bring the picnic lunch and maintenance dudes for the Mangustas. They always feed us and make sure we have cold coke and water...so not only do they keep us safe from bad guys with their gunships, they feed us too...and they have really good coffee!!!

61: We usually need to help speed up the loading process, this is our pet Marine helping expedite. We were getting ready to take off...my copilot says 'Waaiiiit!!!' I asked why? He said 'there are 40 people on Charlie 2!' Apparently, 40 people had pushed their way onto our wingman's aircraft! that's 17 too many to be able to take off! They had a lot of 'officials' apparently. Many people, especially women, voted in these outlying areas under threats of torture and death. There are also places no one got to vote because the Taliban controlled the areas and it was unsafe to deliver the voting materials. But it's a beautiful country, the landscape is spectacular. | I almost forgot...the 'Birds', one of our American Flight Engineers taught the Afghans a code word for pretty girls. The code word is 'bird'. So on our Purchaman mission, we were refueling Farah when there was some bird watching going on. The US Army supplies the jet fuel for all the aircraft going in and out. We'd just returned to our Mi-17's after eating lunch...well, lots of ice cream anyway, when the refueling was getting started. There was an Army girl working the fuel truck, she had her sleeves rolled up, revealing the tattoo on her shoulder...one of my Afghan friends sees her and says...'I've heard of this, the American Gangster Woman'. Then she turned around, my dear Afghan friend almost fell over backwards...he bumped into the helicopter...that was the only reason he didn't fall over backwards. This led to the introduction of more code words.

62: September 12, 2009 NASCAR... Team Herat Sometimes, when we don't have a lot flying to do...we look for things to pass the time. It turns out the Afghans are big NASCAR fans, who knew?! I think it's kinda redneck stupid, but anyway...it's a good way to earn money to buy more chickens for our chicken coup. We race the Spanish and the Italians, though they are more into Formula 1 than NASCAR. The Italian Chinook is pretty easy to beat, it's just too big and doesn't corner that well, but the Mangusta gets us every time! Sucks losing to guys in speedos! The Spanish Cougars and Pumas are too polite, so they're pretty easy to beat. It's not just the Europeans either, we race the Tajiks...they're tough and they're sneaky. That one is Mi-17 vs Mi-17... The only rules are just No Flying! So we race 'em up and down the runway and around the helipad. It can be pretty tough on the equipment. This a main landing gear tire, my Afghan pilot was a little hard on the brakes... So it was into the pits for a tire change! The pit crew is part of any successful NASCAR effort and it's the same in helicopter ground taxi racing, too. And really, it's the teamwork that makes for a winning effort in the Pebsi Cup title. These guys are great...they work well together and communicate in several jibber jabber languages.

63: And now a word from our sponsor....Pebsi. They've won every Taliban taste test, 3 out of 5 Afghans prefer Pebsi to Super Cola, when the question was asked without an AK-47... | And here is just another example of teamwork...these guys are 'optically harmonised'...it says so on the side of the helicopter. Only, maintenance guys can't actually read, so we just tell them to work together...or we'll make them drink Super Cola. | This is an action shot...the spinny thing on the tail was a little wobbly so this guy is tightening it up, with a crescent wrench and putting a fresh quart of oil in the gearbox. You might be wondering why he's performing maintenance in his underwear...I thought it because he lost a bet, but it turns out he feels like those funny fire proof suits slow him in down, so do shoes. | After a tough day of racing, it's nice to relax in the pool. But there are rules for the pool 1. no speedos 2. you have to have showered in the last week So that pretty much keeps the Italians and the Afghans out, and the Spanish government doesn't allow their airmen to go near water. One of my Afghan interpreters told me that "a pool with out birds is like a $50 with the 5"...please refer to the previous post for the definition of 'bird'. He is the wisest interpreter I've ever met. And if you just by any chance doubt the dedication of the Afghan NASCAR fans...did you know they marry their first cousins? It's completely normal here! But only from the mom's side...you know, genetics they say....and yes, that's actually true.

64: October 14, 2009 Dungeons & Dorks...and a Pelican We had mission...to a castle. The Afghans kinda lost control of a border checkpoint in scenic little hamlet, a wide, lush green valley next to the Turkmenistan border. The evil Taliban horde was too much for the Afghan Border Police...or they just gave up after the Taliban cut off the police chief's head. Either way, the Italians had to come slay the dragon and take back the castle. So they could give it back to the Afghans. It was our job to resupply the Afghans after the Italians gave them their castle back. They were running low on supplies, it was our job to get them the supplies they needed...before they lost the castle again. (No one was sure how they went through two weeks of supplies in 4 days...they promised it wouldn't happen again...they promised not to sell everything in the town square?) The only problem was...well, the Afghan aircrews work less than the Spanish. They come to work from about 8:30...ish... give or take, and leave by 12:00. It's a tough schedule, I mean it's war after all. So we had the mission come down at 2 in the afternoon...no Afghans, just me and Stretch. And that wasn't the other 'only' problem...we have to have two helicopters for any mission. Mutual support....in unlikely event of a water landing, means the wing man picks us up. Since the Afghans' work day is over around 12:00...we had to find a wingman. The Italian Air Force 21 Squadron Tigre' said they'd be our wingman anytime. So we flew with Italian AB-212's...their version of the UH-1N, but way cooler. That was the first time...oh yeah, the Afghan 'Crew Commander', was mad that we flew the helicopter without them...never mind the mission was approved by his commander, and the Afghan Border Police needed supplies. So we did it again....me and vegetable...single Mi-17, but this time with Italian Army guys...a single Mangusta. We flew up the river...'Nam style, oh yeah, now I can say I've been to Turkmenistan, I didn't get my passport stamped though. The 'Crew Commander' was really mad that time...but the Afghan Border Police that needed food seemed pretty happy that we delivered the goods with waiting for the Afghan aircrews to figure out that the rest of us work past lunch time everyday.

65: The castle is ancient...so was this Turkmenistan airplane patrolling the border. That is an Antonov An-2. We totally could have shot it down...Vegimatic was afraid the burning wreckage might fall on a goat or vegetable patch. So we let it go...this time. | This is what the second 'most powerful' Mi-17 pilot looks like. In case you, the reader has forgotten, our genius Afghan 'Crew Commander' told us the guy built like a stalk of asparagus is the most powerful Mi-17 pilot...but I am in the captain's seat. I made him sit in the copilot's seat....because in this particular aircraft, the seat was really cramped, it was funny to see him all folded up in there and more importantly, I was comfortable. | If you look on the top of his right knee...that paper blowing around on his knee board from all the wind in the cockpit, is showing how when he flies...he's always out of trim, and HE's the most powerful Mi-17 pilot? | My office...and the tools of the trade. I can't read most of those gauges and switches...as it's all in Cyrillic and I still have no idea what a kgf/cm2 is...

66: Or....discussing the merits of a Remington versus Mossberg shotguns. Actually this kid is trying to sell arms to the Spanish. Okay, actually it's a toy gun that shoots plastic bb's. | We made the usual gas stop in Qali Now...the kids are kinda cute. Make that...SUPER cute. They hang around the airport and talk with the Spanish soldiers....exchanging paella recipes. | So unlike the Dungeons and Dorks fantasy game, with warlocks and whatever...this is a real castle, not sure how old, all the buildings are made out of dirt anyway. We landed inside the castle walls where they used to grow wheat....at least I think that was what was blowing through the cockpit when we landed. Though as old as the castle is...I'm pretty sure the Toyota Landcruiser buried in the wall at the left corner of the picture, isn't original architecture. We made the trip twice, me and Stretch...both trips were fun but the first one was the best, we saw camels swimming in the river, we flew with Huey's, saw the An-2 and the weirdest thing of all...we almost hit this flock of birds.... | FRIGGIN PELICANS?!?!! are you joking?

67: October 30, 2009 Driver's Ed Don't forget to set the parking brake....or put the vehicle in 'park'. I remember something about that from driver's ed class. Let this be a lesson, you don't know where your vehicle might end up. It could roll across the road, into your neighbor's front yard. It's really embarrassing when your vehicle rolls away, into a bad neighborhood. We had to fly down to pick up the passengers....that needed a ride after their bus rolled away. This town is pretty far south and not many Americans have ever been there. Funny thing, there was another wrecked air pane from 15 years ago...same thing happened to that one. | We were supposed to fly down, pick up the passengers and take them back to another airport. It was getting very late in the day, our boss in Kabul said "don't worry about it, there is a whole KANDAC of Afghan Army or Police down there, they'll take good care of you!" ...right, no problem, sounded like a great idea! Now, I'm not sure how many soldiers make up a KANDAC, or what it stands for or if I'm spelling it right....either way, I'm pretty sure it's more than 5 guys. Which is exactly how many Afghan Police we saw...one for almost each letter of KANDAC?

68: After we took some pictures and interviewed the meter maid that told the guy not to park there...it was sunset and we had no idea where we were spending the night. We don't fly at night, since the Afghans have NEVER flown in the dark. (and yet, so many of them think they don't need to learn anything from us?) I asked the crews if the helicopters were going to be guarded...'Oh of course! there will be two guards!". I said 'great!'...are we sleeping on the helicopters? My guys said "NO, of course not, you're coming into town with us!" ....ummm, so there we were two crackers (me and my Marine) headed downtown. Turns out we got to stay in the 'Freedom Hotel'...right next to the governor's palace. It was really nice! The inside was pretty clean, we even had a tv in our room! The beds were the hardest thing I've ever slept on, but the room was free and it came with meals included...drinks too, Pebsi. | The next morning we had to wait out a dust storm before taking off...this is looking down the road. The road coming in the compound...the road that went through a nice neighborhood. Our pilots said it's really safe, don't worry, the houses belong to the smugglers. Nobody will make problems in that neighborhood. The next morning they told us how brave we were...the first Americans to go downtown. WHAAAT?! they told us it was all good!!! We finally got out after the dust settled...we flew back to Farah with the passengers so they could get on another airplane. You think you've had bad airline experiences...the passengers had to find a place to stay the night after the parking brake incident, get on helicopters the next day then spend the night in Farah because it was almost dark when we got to Farah!

69: We had to convince an Afghan colonel, that runs around in a Russian Army General's uniform and likes to be called 'General', that it was a bad idea to fly the Mi-17's back to the dented up airplane right before dark. Genius. Oh yeah...on the way to Herat we flew by this really nice...unoccupied Afghan Army base. It was built under direction of a US Navy Commander, she thought she was going to get the entire city of Farah to move away from the river, to the middle of this waste land and live around this base. When it was finished being built, she told the Afghan Army, 'here is your new base'...they said 'are you outta your mind? why would we move out in the middle of a desert!?'. It's still sitting empty, and the city has not moved away from the river, how weird? We heard she went home and was promoted. | We finally got to fly home from Farah...on the way we received enemy fire. Well, the lead air craft did anyway... they almost returned fire but one of the pilots said maybe they shouldn't try to kill the shooter... | This was from a rock. Some dude in a field stood up and hucked a tennis ball sized rock at lead. They were flying 130knots and 50 feet. Seriously?!... what are the chances?!!? Right in the windshield! No problem...easy fix. All you need is a Red Bull can, some glue and contact paper! Yes, they flew again like this...

70: November 24, 2009 Happy Thanksgiving! By now you've most likely read or heard about the second round of elections....the run off election. The law says the winner must have 50% of the total vote. Even with all the precincts that had more votes for Karzai than people living there (I think ACORN got here before us), Karzai still didn't have 50% of the total vote count. There were like 20 candidates. Most UN election folks here didn't think the run off was going to change the eventual outcome but...it was to help eliminate corruption concerns, I know it sure made me feel better! So onward we pressed! We delivered ballots out to the first two precincts on our schedule. Even after Abdullah Abdullah... uh...Abdullah Abdullah Abdullah there might be another Abdullah in there not sure, had said he didn't want to play in the election anymore. Despite the challenger withdrawing...again, some felt it would legitimize Karzai's election, we were going to have an election! Whatever, it's not my job to make it make sense, we just delivered the ballots. It did take some convincing to get the Afghans to actually fly the ballots out for an election that was already decided. They thought it was silly.... | And then, THEY (capital they, the UN election people) said....go pick them back up! WHAAAAT? I thought it would be better idea to just leave them out and let the Afghans burn them for heat in the winter? So....off we went! Uh....with a few hiccups along the way... Like a little weather...we were looking for sucker holes to get down the back side of these mountains....and by 'we' I mean me and him...two suckers. Yep, they actually let us fly together in the same place...we were told that would never happen. Something about international incidents...with Iran so close and all. Oh well, instead we just did a couple of the most 'important' missions that Afghan Air Corp has done to date. And that was before we even picked up those ballots!

71: We did some cool sh......stuff. Like supported a bunch of 82nd Airborne troops with food and water (even though their Colonel TOTALLY CUT US OFF ON APPROACH!). We moved some critical stuff to some soldiers stuck in house fighting bad guys...we landed in the garden. Our escorts said we were getting shot at...and the big man had to have a talk with his Afghan pilot as the Afghan took off, leaving us in the garden still unloading. It went like this "You NEVER...leave your wingman". So while they were 'discussing' coming back for us, the Mangustas were almost out of gas...and someone was shooting. NO problem! ...and yes, our wingman did come back for us...he wanted to make sure that was clear as I left that a little bit unclear! | And along with the water and food...we moved some Afghan Commandos. They broke into the food in my helicopter, hiding in the back they stole some Army food and ate it...guess they were tired of rice and unrecognizable chunks of chopped up lamb. We also moved a lot of US Army 82nd Airborne troops, in fact the largest troop movement in RC-West history. We worked with US Army, Spanish and Italian aviation...the Afghan Air Corp did some good work in the first few weeks of November. | We flew a lot with the Italians and got some pictures of both Mi-17's for the first time...Task Force Fenice' flew Mangusta gunships, CH-47 Chinook's and AB-412 Griffon's with us. The Mangustas took very good care of us...like when they reported that we were taking fire, they were out of gas but stayed overhead to keep us safe. They barely made it back for gas! (and that same Army colonel said...'do me a favor, don't listen to the Italians)

72: November was a month of 'Firsts' for the Afghan Air Corp...we did the first FARP, which stands for Forward Area Refuel Pit...or something. Some Army word. Which by the way, reminds me, a lot of what we were doing was direct support for an Army operation to recover two soldiers that were lost in Bala Morghab. They fell into a river while trying to recover air dropped supplies and were swept away and drowned. Pray for their families. One body was recovered and one is still missing. This FARP was pretty cool, we hauled Italian fuel, yes, it's a little more stylish than regular fuel. But anyway, Qali Now, the usual fuel stop, was critically low on gas (the Army used it all up) and the Italians had a mission to fly to the Castle. They asked if we could haul their fuel...so we did. Two big rubber beach ball looking things full of Italian jet fuel. At Qali Now, we pumped the fuel into a Spanish fuel truck which pumped it into the thirsty Italian helicopter. Totally international! My guys with the Mangusta...everyone wants to take their picture with the Mangusta.

73: And another 'first'...a pilot refueling the helicopter...I had no idea what I was doing. | Then this one...kite string removal from the tail rotor. That wasn't on my helicopter by the way. I missed all the kites in front of me. Can you imagine the broken-hearted little kid that sees his only possession cut loose and flutter away? This was the big guy's helicopter, he ran right through the kites flying over the park. | This is just random picture of a fancy hotel...see the empty swimming pool? It was blown up by those peaceful purveyors of the faith, the Taliban. You know, those guys that some in our government want to bring to the negotiating table or in the latest bit of genius...pay them to be nice and not throw acid on girls that are going to school, or blow up little girls' schools. Maybe it's different if it isn't your little girl? My pilots tell me this was a beautiful fancy hotel, where families went to holiday. The Taliban, along with banning kite flying and other such offensive behaviors blasted the cities and towns into stone age rubble. My interpreter told me...'I've seen people hanging in the city, with their insides on the outside and their heads broken'...he was beaten several times and thrown in jail for not having a beard...So I know sometimes it's hard to articulate what we are doing here...but I know evil when I see it. I don't know how you change warped minds full of hatred. I've been blessed to meet some amazing people with amazing stories. Even in the midst of heart breaking stories and history, they still know how to laugh and they want a better life for their families. So at the end of the day, no matter what you think of the war effort, there is evil in the world and real evil right here, and your countrymen are here fighting it along side Italians, Spanish, the Brits, Canadians, Australians, Lithuanians, Slovenians, Germans, Dutch, Luxembourg, Albanians, Norwegians, Swedes, Croatians, Macedonians, Czechs, Bulgarians and there are more I don't remember right now. Happy Thanksgiving dear friends and family. We are thankful for your prayers and mail!

74: December 9, 2009 Nativity and the 'Stache I have neglected my bloggerly obligations, my apologies to those that get bored enough to read these nonsensical ramblings. Since the last update that had the Afghan Air Corp flying a few 'first evers' for them, we've flown some more rewarding missions, had some good times and some very frustrating times. We have been flying quite a bit with our Italian friends. They have continued to fly with us...even when our radios don't work right, we can't use the briefed radio frequencies, or when we take too long on the ground unloading while they cover us. They've flown some interesting cargo too....like this connex, an hour and half flight dragging a big metal box! The Italians bring midgets to hook the load up, no one else in their right mind would climb on metal box and hook it up under a 50,000lb helicopter hovering a few feet over their heads...except carnies. Look at 'em....little people!!! | The gunship drivers have a mascot that flies with them....Jacko. His job is to wave at the bad guys as they catch 20 mm high explosive rounds in the chest. Just kidding! It's the carcass of Pinocchio....or it might be Achmed the Dead Terrorist, they keeeled heem.

75: And speaking of mascots, this old guy is pretty laid back. He lives at Qali Now and wanders around greeting aircrews as they land, then takes a nap next to their helicopters. The Spanish have quit shooing him away as he seems to have learned how to stay out of the way of the running aircraft. He likes his ears scratched. I think he cruises around looking for food and scratching. The guys around the airport seem to like him. It's nice to see him looked after...the Italians in Bala Morghab had a mascot dog that a US Army major shot and killed. The dog lived inside the camp, was loved and taken care of... that's 'Army Strong!' I've learned a little about the Army, like that they don't feel like they need to talk on the same radio freqs the rest of us do. They are too cool to use the same freqs going in and out of a HIGHLY congested Landing Zone. And they don't care about helicopter routes for us all to use...so that we don't hit each other. They say 'we know where we are, why would we care where anyone else is?' They are the coolest guys they know. Army Strong! or is it Army of One? By the way, the Italian who had adopted the dog...he went and found the US Army guy...and told him how he felt, without using words. | We were flying home to Herat one day and near the river we flew over this...that is a real live motocross track. Yep...that's the site of the Herat Outdoor National Motocross. Host to Round 2 of the Afghan National MX Series. This ranks as one of the top 2 coolest things I've seen in Afghanistan. I'm not sure what I've seen that's cooler...but I'm leaving the door open by calling one of two.

76: We had some good friends with the Marine Special Forces, and their buddies up there in Bala Morghab, are in desperate need of winter supplies for shelter. They tried getting the Italians to bring up some lumber...but the wood got bumped for beer. Seems like a tough call, but... if the Marines could drink, they probably would have agreed...BRING THE BEER! So we dropped by Home Depot after spending a few hours at the amusement park, and picked up some lumber! We also picked up some supplies to for them to make the walls around their camp...and figured out how to load those heavy suckers! These sections of barriers, called HESCO barriers, weigh about 660 lbs a piece! | And take a long look at this...the friggin' pilot unloading cargo. Are you kidding me?! We're not supposed to get this dirty! No problem though...'cept I'm pretty sure I just bulged a few more discs in my back! No problem...I'll just see the chiropractor, sometime in May. Then there was Afghan cargo...I don't even know what these things were, rusty metal barrels with holes. We think they were some kind of heater or oven. Either way, they look TOTALLY safe for your tent!

77: As awesome as the MX track was, this next one is maybe the number one coolest...at least top two! It is the season and even here, in Afghanistan there are signs of this special time of year. The Italians set up a Nativity in the main plaza. How could they be SO insensitive and disrespectful to all the Christmas haters?! Wait until the ACLU finds out, maybe they can represent the Taliban purveyors of the religion of peace in class action suit? It warms my heart and make me smile every time I walk by and you can tell there is a touch of joy in the air around here. It also makes me sad that I have to come to Afghanistan, in the middle of a war, to see this on a military base. The Italians don't mind offending atheists. So it occurs to me to ask...do we fight to defend the freedom of speech or the the freedom from being 'offended' by scenes from a Jewish stable? Freedom from symbols of faith? Faith in a higher Being that so loves the world so much he sent His Son? | And thanks to these guys, that have kept us safe so many times this year. This is the face of a fierce and relentless warrior...That's right they too know the secret power of the mustache! Merry Christmas and thank you all of you that love us, pray for us, send us packages and keep us safe when we fly into harm's way! PATTUGLIA BAFFUTA PATTUGLIA CAZZUTA

78: January 8, 2010 Happy New Years!...I nearly forgot Happy New Year's dear readers! 2010 is here and so am I, in Afghanistan. It turns out that 365 days is long time. But it does feel good to be 8+ months down, with my 15 days of leave still coming, I have less than 4 months left in country! We were really busy in December and January...flying tons, I logged over 40 hours of flying just in December and another 40+ in January. Our little Detachment of 4 guys flew more missions, carried more cargo to the fight and more soldiers to secure the country than the wing of 30+ advisors in Kandahar. Weird.... so the equation goes like this... 'more Air Farce dorks = less accomplished' vs. 'very few Air Farce geeks = tons of REAL work accomplished' ... hhmmmmm. But I guess we didn't produce as many powerpoint slides and have as many meetings about the meetings for that meeting and we don't have more meeting to tell each other what great things we've accomplished...without actually talking with and getting to the Afghans. It's strange what happens when you don't worry about making powerpoint slides, making sure that everyone wears the right patches, and taking credit for work other people do.... things actually GET DONE. We got to fly a carcass (dead guy) to his village.... being Muslim, they have to be buried with in 48 hours or something or they don't get all the virgins, only a couple and it's fat ones. Anyway, we had this dead guy to fly to Chaqcharan. The base there is Lithuanian... so we took one of our Lithuanian friends. He is a giant like the rest of them. We also took Newjack the ONLY Dutch guy in Herat.So we flew up this HUGE river valley to the town of Chaqcharan. It's a nice little place, 7500 feet and a tad cold! That's the Lithuanian commando with the gun and Newjack (his real name is Ron or something), me and Mai Tai. | This minaret is really really old... and maybe muslim maybe not. It's in the bottom of this incredibly deep and rugged canyon. It is part of Afghanistan's crazy history... the Minaret of Jam...which has saved it from being blown up by those wonderful purveyors of peace and killers of women and little kids, the Taliban. We kinda don't call them that anymore, we have new name for them. I'll tell you later. Good job Mai Tai takin this picture!

79: We had a great Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas day and New Years. I will never forget them! Christmas Eve dinner was spaghetti, smoked turkey (which was incredible) and all the lobster you could eat! With our Italians friends and the Marines...it was awesome! These 3 guys in the pictures... are the best! | Christmas day dinner was with civilian contract cargo carriers. Their company is contracted to fly cargo and supplies around Afghanistan. The Italians and Spanish don't have enough helicopters in this area to meet the needs of the troops. So these civilian pilots fly an old Mi-8, all alone and unafraid to the same places we do. The same places we go, but escorted by gunships. These guys are from all over... Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the Ukraine. Our Lithuanian giants hang out and speak Russian with them. They invited us over along with Newjack the only Dutch guy in Herat. It was pretty international...and amazing, former Eastern block commie countries, that weren't able to celebrate not that long ago. And it's pretty neat that this time of year, world over people gather together sharing food and time with each other...it doesn't matter where you come from. The best part about Christmas day dinner, was the phone call I received...from our squadron commander. All he said was, 'Merry Christmas, do you have a camera?'. I said 'yes' and he said 'give the phone to Mai Tai and take a picture'. It turns out that Mai Tai was step promoted to Master Sergeant on Christmas day! That is a very big deal! Then I had to make a satellite phone call to the United States to a General in Las Vegas, where Mai Tai is stationed...so the General could congratulate him.

80: The Lithuanians were excited for him too! We really like the Lithuanians. They shared a documentary movie with us about the Soviet/Communist invasion of their country. If you ever doubted the evil of communist totalitarian governments you've chosen to be ignorant and blind. | New Year's was really cool. We had dinner with the Italians, went to the New Year's countdown with the Spanish, and finished our evening with the Lithuanians. This is a Spanish tent, each squadron or unit has one...and the Americans have or allow, oh yeah, NOTHING LIKE THIS. And yet, it's so weird that the Spanish and Italians have better morale, better esprit de corp, ... and we have tv commercials on the Armed Forces network about getting help for suicide and getting counseling when you get home.

81: Back to the mission! We flew, and flew and flew some more missions. The majority of the missions were to Bala Morghab. There are lots of bad guys so that means we get to fly with the Italians! That's always a good time! | Thank you my friends, for keeping us safe. | If you remember, I told you about a really awesome US Army loser that shot a dog at Bala Morghab that belonged to an Italian. They adopted a new one, he doesn't mind helicopters. | The one thing our Italian friends couldn't keep us safe from was weather...we did run into some cumulo-granite. We tried to get home but ran into this...

82: The way home was behind those clouds, covering the mountains...we made a run at it and barely made it back to Qali Now. | The sunset was nice... we ended up losing to weather twice, but the sunsets were scenic, and the Spanish took good care of us! Another funny thing I've noticed, when we get stuck on a Spanish base, they have blankets and sheets for wayward crews....Americans don't take care of their own. GO ARMY! or is it Army of One ...or Army Strong? Maybe Army sucks?...Anyway, the Spanish were good hosts, they have a pretty cool place. | Okay, it might have happened more than once. We also got stuck there when we ran out of daylight and couldn't make it home. The Afghans have never flown in the dark. So me, Mai Tai and a Marine named Screech got stuck again. It was cool though. That sunset was awesome too. | The whole sky was pink, eerily pink. It was smoke from the village and the setting sun. The next morning was hazy too....

83: This was all fog. This is a Spanish soldier shrouded in the fog , she guards the air field, the runway is actually the main street through town. | The weather cleared and we made it home...both times. These last two months have gone fast because we've been so busy. The three Afghan pilots here have come a long way. I'm proud of them. They are considered part of the Coalition. These guys stand shoulder to shoulder with the other nations fighting the darkness. Darkness is what the Afghan Colonel that I advise calls the Taliban time. My interpreter calls it the same dark times as well. They are completely disgusted with the idiotic US notion that the some Talib leaders should be engaged and brought into the government and made legitimate. They told me they will always know what these Talib leaders have done and the thousands who have lost their heads at the hands of these followers of the religion of peace. It is, in fact undermining US credibility with real Afghans. | The two greatest helicopters ever built! | These are camels grazing .

84: I will never tire of the scenery. The rugged beauty of the landscape and the people are truly unforgettable. | The hills between Qali Now and Bala Morghab are blanketed in vivid green. I didn't expect that! Later in the spring the hills will be covered in red flowers. These picture are in response to the commonly asked question, is it a hot desert over there? Hope they speak for themselves! My time here is winding down. Oh,yeah the purveyors of peace, the enlightened little girl killers, the Taliban... we call them just plan shitheads... please forgive the language...sorry mom! I miss my home, my family and friends. And I will miss this place and these people, they have touched my life. It will indeed be bittersweet to leave this land and to leave special friends behind, to an uncertain and difficult future.

85: To be continued...

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