Welcome to Kandahar, now get in the bomb shelter
Thanks to an assist from the LA Times which apparently posted pictures of US Troops desecrating remains (I haven't seen it yet) the Taliban hosted quite the welcoming Fourth of July type ceremony for me yesterday when I got to Kandahar. No sooner had we made it to the theater-wide in-processing than the rocket fire began. The first one took me rather by surprise, even more so when I realized it wasn't just a drill. They had just given the briefing on what to do when incoming was coming our way when the sirens went off, and the announcement went out about "incoming rockets."
Just speculating here, since (understandable) briefing the Legion reporter isn't the highest priority, but I am guessing it was rockets set off a timer from rails. I heard a "whump" once, but it seemed fairly far off. We hit the deck, and then waited for the all clear. Once that came, we went out to the vehicle waiting to take us to the place to get the room keys when the second alert came through. So back we ran into the terminal area, and waited another half our or so. Finally we get to where we need to be to draw keys to our room (I am bunking with the PAO, the Chaplain, a finance guy, and intel guy and a JAG) and siren #3 goes off. Back into a bunker for another hour. Finally we get to our room, at roughly midnight after about 5 hours of this back and forth, and start settling in. I finally hit the rack around 1:30am and no sooner do I fall asleep than more rockets come in. So, at 2am I found myself in an accountability formation, so tired I could barely stand, and that was when I remembered how little I liked late night formations.
The unit here is treating me great, from the highest ranks (the Colonel, despite being a Yankees fan is a wonderful lady) down to the E3's, which there aren't many of. In fact, I bet there are fewer E-4's and below than there are Majors. Aside from my roommates, I've really hit it off with the G-6 (the commo Major) who is a fellow Citadel graduate, and the Doctor here (a LTC) who is one of the sharpest and nicest guys I have met. A West Point guy and doctor trained by the Army, he's regularly an oncologist, which probably won't be of much use here, but he's so upbeat that he's a pleasure to be around.
The unit is going through the early pains of any deploying units, not knowing where certain buildings are (the chow hall, gyms, appropriate bunkers etc) and is working through figuring out what happens in the immediate aftermath of these rocket attacks. In that way, I suppose the timing of the rockets was good. Any first-time deployers definitely got a quick wake up call on this not being the safest area to live in, and they got a real world test on how to do accountability afterwards.
My PAO is a stud. He's really squaring me away, not just with this unit, but making sure that I am all set to move on to the next unit that I am visiting. (More on that later.) And I've already nailed down the overriding story I want to cover on this embed. This unit (the 3rd Expeditionary Support Command) has two missions that are paramount: keeping the war-fighters in the field supplied with the beans and bullets, and starting to get a handle on how to do the retrograde action (i.e. how to get the US out of Afghanistan in terms of all the equipment here.) Meanwhile, the unit I am going to is out there kicking in doors, and taking the battle to the enemy for the last full measure before we leave.
I had some time with my former Battle Buddy here who is stationed in another unit here, and we talked about what we had seen when we were here 6 years ago, and where we are in this war now compared to then. It was A TON better than I had anticipated. He said that despite the rash of "Green on Blue" (Afghan Army soldiers attacking US Troops) that he had seen a vast improvement in both the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. He said that they clearly weren't where we wanted them to be, but that the strides in professionalism and aptitude seemed great.
That's it for now. I'm incredibly tired, but excited to be here. The unit is treating me like a regular Joe, which is about the nicest thing I could ask. I'll have more on the men and women of the unit and their mission here, but first, I need a nap something fierce.