View From A Gunner’s Turret

My view from the turret.

It has been awhile since I have crawled up in the gunner’s turret and took on the responsibility of a gunner.  On today’s mission, this was my position.  Admittedly, I don’t favor being a gunner because of my height and size (and age) because it’s very

My M-240 in the gunner's turret.

demanding and your team relies on your keen sense of sight and hearing to protect the convoy.  But our regular gunners were all tasked with mentoring the soldiers on shooting NATO M-16 rifles, leaving three AF qualified crew serve weapon operators for the mission.  So I agreed to strap on the binding gunner’s harness and be perched up in the turret for a day.

Being in the turret is a much different experience than being completely surrounded by thick bullet-proof glass and bulky armor.  It allows the gunner to view into the hidden mud-brick walled compounds and a chance to experience the various sights and scenes of Afghanistan.

ANA recruits fill up the road.

We departed the camp and the road was blocked by a new platoon of soldiers practicing their marching and patrol drills.  Everywhere I look at in ANA land, more and more recruits are being trained to combat the Taliban and the insurgency.  When I see them, I think this is one step closer in the strategic plan for   these soldiers to assume the

Old water wheel next to 14th century ruins.

security of their nation.  Of course they have a lot of challenges to overcome, but at least now we are heading in the right direction.

French vehicle.

Even though I have drove past the 14th century ruins dozens of times, I never noticed the small shack with what appears to be a water wheel attached to it.  I presume at one time water flowed through this desert terrain and powered the water wheel.

Did I mention today I would be the tail gunner,

Radishes anyone?

so everything I would see would be from the reverse angle.  My turret would be pointing at the 6 o’clock position, so the convoy would pass everything before I had a chance to see anything.  My responsibility was to protect the rear flank.

The first thing I noticed was my olfactory nerves

Restoration of blue dome mosque is coming along.

were sensitive to the various aromas, something I hadn’t really noticed when I was

Merchant selling banannas in market.

inside the MRAP cockpit.  The smell of pollution from traffic and wood-burning stoves was heavy in the air, especially after passing the Blue Mosque and entering the city.  But the city had some pleasing aromas I was able to identify too.  I detected a waft of fresh Naan bread being made and a whiff of fresh fruits and

Little boy enjoys orange soda.

vegetables as we passed through the market area.  Traveling along the river, I smelled the pungent odor of raw sewage that flowed with the dirty brown current.  When we passed the spice market, my nasal cavity came alive with excitement.  I tried to differentiate the variety of spice aromas, but the curry was

overpowering and the dominant smell.  In the more rural areas, I detected a faint smell of coniferous pine trees and the unpleasant odor of livestock manure.

It was also fascinating to see the Afghan citizens going about their daily lives.  One little boy was fixated on his bottle of orange soda while farmers were blocking traffic with their slow moving donkey carts and hand-pull carts.

Our first stop was the Kabul International Airport (KAIA) military terminal.  One of our

Plane warming up engines at KAIA.

teammates just returned from his 2 weeks of R&R.  He was lugging a big plastic box and we were all curious of the contents.  He decided to bring back his own personal forensics kit so he can better mentor his ANA counterpart.

We departed KAIA and then drove to Camp Phoenix to finalize some administrative matters.  We ran into some of our

Eagle statue at KAIA.

former guests there.  They were preparing to board helicopters for flights back to their FOBs.  The AF colonel and Lt Col thanked us again for providing a day of enjoyment and shooting.  Now they must go back to their walled in compounds and finish out their tours.  The chance of them leaving their confines and visiting a village or area outside a FOB is very slim.

Since I am still in the market for purchasing a rug, I stopped at the bazaar area to look at their rug inventory.  The owner sensed I had some knowledge of rugs because I was looking at the knots, signatures, and quality of the silk and wool.  Hoping to sell me a rug, he took

Cashmere rug.

the time to explain in more detail about rug variations.  But he shocked me when he revealed none of the rugs in his shops were made in Afghanistan.  He said they are too expensive and military members don’t want to pay such high prices for these quality made rugs.  Instead his rugs are imported from Pakistan, Iran, China, etc.  He had some beautiful and expensive rugs made in Iran including the cashmere one in the photo.  These rugs retail for more than $2000.  I found it interesting that most of the customers did not ask what country

Poppy Palaces.

the rug was made in.  Instead, they focused on a set budget and would choose a design.  In most cases, they purchased a Chinese-made one or a low quality one from Iran.  It pays to do your research.

The return trip was uneventful and I got a better glimpse of the expensive homes being built in the capital city.

Crowded day in the Kabul market area.

Many of these homes have been funded through direct or indirect proceeds of the poppy crop.  As such, they have been labeled as Poppy Palaces.  It still amazes me how present and former government officials and businessmen have amassed such fortunes in such a short period of time since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001.

Don't hit the donkey cart.

I also noticed a large mud-brick wall that trails up the side of the mountain.  I’m certain this is a historical ruin possibly from the 15th century based on its structure and composition.  I seriously doubt this was built in the 19th or 20th century and appears to be providing a barrier protecting the city inhabitants.   If one of my knowledgeable readers can provide some insight on this wall, it would be appreciated.  My interpreter is away on a mission for the next week and I am unsure who to ask.

I want to learn more about this wall.

As we got closer to camp, I took another picture of the Darulaman Palace (Kings Palace) which also seems to be in a constant state of decay.  I wonder what King

Watch out for people pushing carts.

Amanullah would say today if he could see his vision in such a state or ruin.  I also wonder had the Islamic scholars who pushed him into exile had been more receptive to his decrees permitting women education and free of wearing the suppressing burqas, what would have become of this country.  Instead, you have part of the

Afghan farmer working in the field.

country fighting to move forward and embrace technologic advancements to include running water, sewage, electricity, etc. and then you have the Taliban and insurgent groups who are fixated on returning the country to the Medieval Ages and practices.

Last night I read a tragic story about a woman who died because she didn’t want to marry her cousin.  In some places, it’s still a crime here for a woman to leave her husband and the police will charge her as such.  Due to the void of education, the people are so manipulated into believing twisted interpretations of the Koran and whatever a Mullah or religious cleric declares as law.  For more on this heartbreaking story:  LA Times: An unwilling Afghan bride\’s defiance leads to death


3 Responses

  1. Good photos. I was in Kabul in 2009 and was told that the wall going up the side of the mountain was built a long time ago because of a dispute between two brothers who owned the land around there and then split the land in half.

  2. Thank you for sharing; just got in from work/best thing I’ve seen & read all day.

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