ANA Memorial Service

ANA preparing for memorial service.

No sooner did I wake up from my nap; I was informed about a last-minute mission.  We were going to FOB Airborne to observe a memorial service for 4 of our Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers who were killed by an IED.  This would be a first for me.  I have attended several memorial services for US military personnel, but was never invited to an ANA

AF TSgt and Capt prepare for mission.

service.  Our ANA brothers in arms have suffered much higher losses than the coalition forces.

So I packed my bag, readied a uniform, and then in the dark, myself and my Army SPC gunner prepared our MRAP for the mission.  Normally we like to prepare the day before and this way we aren’t rushed in the morning.

Army SPC getting help with gunner's harness.

But due to the late notification, we didn’t have a choice.

My alarm woke me around 0515 hrs and after a quick shave, brushed my teeth; I went to the chow hall to pacify my coffee tooth with a mocha mix.  While there, I was able to watch part of the NFC Championship between New Orleans and Minnesota Vikings.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see the whole game and New Orleans was leading by the time I departed.

We all gathered at our meeting place by the MRAPs and the morning sun glistened off the windshields.  The weather has been rather warm lately and the village farmers are worried about the continuing drought.  Due to a

ETT Team leader shares a light moment with the troops.

mild snowfall, they expect their crop yields to be 39% less.  Many farmers depend on the snow melt to irrigate their crops and this year has been a dry winter, except in the highest elevations where they are snowed in and won’t be able to leave their villages for another 2 months when the snow starts to melt.  One village received over 6 feet of snow in two days and is relying on airlift to feed the villagers.

Traffic was light until we entered the market area and we had to gently thread our bulky vehicles through the stopped cars and pedestrian traffic.  But before long, we were on the highway driving west toward FOB Airborne.  The tall mountains seen in the distance still had their peaks

Snow covered mountains in the distance.

covered in snow, but down below in the valleys, it was still dry and barren.

We arrived at Airborne in good time and parked our MRAPs and visited the chow hall for some more coffee.  The ANA appeared to be preparing for the memorial service, but due to poor communication nobody seemed to know what was going on.  So we

Figurines made from Lapis.

waited and waited and then received word that the service would take place at 2 pm.  Having a couple of hours to kill, a few of my teammates walked down to the local bazaar inside the FOB compound.  There are at least 2 dozen shops selling rugs, jewelry, pirated DVDs, scarves, figurines, and blankets.

In one of the stores, the vendor had a display of

Lapis and a ruby in their raw form.

gems still in their natural state.   As you can see in the pictures, these gems are still embedded in a stone.  The blue stone is Lapis Lazuli.  It is quite abundant in Afghanistan and has various uses.  The Great Masters would grind it up into powder and mix it with binding agents forming the bright blue colors still seen today in art masterpieces.  It has also

AF SMSgt tries on a new hat.

been cut into jewelry for thousands of years.  Liisa and I noticed the fireplace in the Linderhof Castle was constructed of Lapis Lazuli.  The stone was imported from Afghanistan.

I will let you guess what the other red gem is in the picture.  I will give you a hint; it’s commonly attached to jewelry and given as a gift on Valentine’s Day.  Only a diamond is harder than this gem.  For thousands of years it was considered one of the most valuable gems on earth.  Of course, I am referring to the ruby.  Rubies are mined in Afghanistan and are rather cheap.  A former teammate of mine stopped near a ruby mine while out on a mission.  A young Afghan boy sold him a large uncut ruby for 10 bucks.  When he

How do I look, Honey?

returned to the US, he had it cut and made into jewelry for his wife.  He had it appraised for almost a thousand dollars.  Pretty good investment, I suppose the IRS and customs still might want their cut too….lol  The vendor was asking $160 for the one in the picture.

While at the bazaar, my teammate and I found some interesting fur hats and couldn’t resist trying them on.  Even though we are in a combat zone, you still have to have some fun.

It was lunch time now and we revisited the chow hall tent for another meal.  After eating lunch, we were informed the ceremony had taken place inside a mosque.  Since it was inside a mosque,

Our convoy of MRAPs at FOB Airborne.

no US military is permitted to go inside.  So I’m still uncertain how they conduct their ceremonies.  I will have to ask my ANA Sgt Major for more details.

After lunch, the ANA general met with his troops.  Although they were in formation, the general put them at ease and in “squat formation” while he gave a diatribe.  Once again, we were

ANA 7-ton trucks at FOB Airborne.

informed the speech would last 10 minutes and to have the vehicles in ready mode.  The 10 minutes turned into an hour and we were growing impatient.

Eventually we departed FOB Airborne and drove back to our camp.  While on the highway we spotted some more overloaded vehicles.  This was the highest I have ever seen a

Bus stacked very high.

passenger bus stacked.  But what you can’t see in the picture is the SUV is also balanced on this bus.  Unbelievable!!  How they keep from rolling over is beyond me.  The other picture is a typical of a truck hauling some sort of goods for the market.  I have grown accustomed to seeing them, but the bus was a real surprise today.  The other thing I have grown

Overloaded truck.

used to are the massive potholes in the road.  Perhaps they are waiting for additional international funds until they repair them.  In the interim, they grow larger and deeper every day.

Traffic and potholes with Darulaman Palace in background.

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2 Responses

  1. the hat becomes you. 🙂 stay safe.

  2. Hats off to you, Rex!

    BTW, the author of The Kite Runner also wrote A Thousand Splendid Suns, also a very good and interesting read about life under the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    Stay safe.

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