Last in country radio conversation

Rex with his MRAP on a mission in Afghanistan.

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is on his way home; he’s made it to Ali Asaleem, Kuwait. Before leaving his camp in Afghanistan Rex did one last “in country” interview with WUSF Radio’s Bobbie O’Brien about his deployment year, which aired last night in Tampa during NPR’s “All Things Considered” and again this morning during “Morning Edition.” You can hear the chat by clicking on this link

4-15 MLT Rex Heads Home

or if you’d like to read the entire transcript, it’s available here.

Radio interview on 8-11-09

Here is the link to the latest interview with WUSF Radio’s reporter Bobbie O’Brien which aired today in Tampa, FL during NPR’s All Things Considered. We discussed Marine Captain Matt Freeman and SPC Christopher Lowe. This report is slated to air again tomorrow morning during Morning Edition.

WUSF Radio: My Last Tour

Combat Heroes SPC Lowe and Captain Freeman

SCP Christopher "Kit" Lowe with ANA soldiers

SPC Christopher "Kit" Lowe with ANA soldiers

It’s not too often you get to meet a hero in person, but I’ve been fortunate to meet several of them since being here.  You won’t see this in the newspaper, because the media is narrowly focused on fatalities and this hero survived his wounds.  But today you can read about a hero I would like to recognize.  He is a friend and brother in arms.  SPC Christopher Santiago Lowe hails from Savannah, Georgia and is a member of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 108th BCT, 48th Brigade – he’s one of the Alpha Troop and I call them the “Georgia Boys.”

SPC Lowe looking for insurgents in Uzbin Valley in June 09

SPC Lowe looking for insurgents in Uzbin Valley in June 09

I met SPC Lowe shortly after arriving here.  Everyone at camp calls him “Lowe”, but his mom calls him “Kit.”  Lowe worked in the same building as I did, except our offices are separated by a plywood wall.  His primary duty was to manage the ammunitions and munitions for the brigade.  In addition, he would accompany his team on missions to the various villages and valleys.  DSC02235In earlier blog entries, I published some photos of him out on missions.
Note:  For OPSEC reasons, I have to generalize some of the facts.  On the early morning of 7 August 09, SPC Lowe was part of a 5-man team patrolling in the Kapisa Province area along with ANA and coalition forces.   While traveling through one of the village hamlets lined with thick stone walls and mud brick houses, the insurgents unleashed a furious attack.  The insurgents were well prepared and it was almost as they were informed and anticipated their arrival.  Approximately 60-100 Taliban insurgents fired RPGs, AK-47’s, PKMs, and Ditska (equivalent of US 50-cal.) and other weapons at the approaching forces.   Lowe along with his team sought shelter in a kalat (mud-stone house inside a walled in compound).  Marine Captain Matt Freeman crawled on top of the roof looking for advantage points and was fatally hit by a bullet.  “Doc” the medic was trying to provide assistance and recover the body.  Doc yelled out for some help and Lowe’s reflexes took over as he scrambled up a ladder to the roof.  Doc was tugging on Captain Freeman’s body and Lowe apparently sensed the danger.  He grabbed Doc and threw him down.  About the same time, Lowe took a bullet to his upper right thigh area.  Both he and Doc fell off the roof to the ground.  Doc apparently fell on top of Lowe’s leg and thought he broke it because Lowe was yelling “My leg, my leg”.  But when the Doc saw the spurting blood, his medical training kicked into high gear and he applied a CAT tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
The femoral artery was nicked, but Doc was able to stabilize the bleeding and Lowe was transported out of the battle space to a helicopter landing zone.  Meanwhile the fierce fighting continued until the Air Force F-15’s armed with a 500 lb bomb along with a pair of Army Kiowa Attack helicopters arrived.   The ANA counter-reacted by methodically blowing up the kalats where the Taliban was hiding.  The insurgents retreated and ran for the hills.  The next few hours were small tactical engagements as the Taliban disappeared.  Tragically that day during this 6 ½ hour battle, the ANA lost 4 soldiers, US 1, and the French had 3 soldiers wounded.  The body count of the insurgents was 6-fold including one prominent Taliban area commander.
SPC Lowe was flown to Bagram Air Field (BAF) where he underwent surgery to save his leg.  Although the details are a bit fuzzy, he asked if he could go back (meaning to his FOB) and the nurse responded, “yes, you will go back.”  But before the nurse could finish her sentence, Lowe gave a thumbs-up.  But when the nurse completed the sentence with “back to the States,” he allegedly produced a different finger gesture.  While SPC Lowe was being cared for by the finest military doctors in country, he was also awarded the Purple Heart.
I had an opportunity to speak with Lowe on the phone yesterday.  He had just come out of another surgery and was still pretty groggy from the drugs, but I was able to decipher his muttering.  I told him he was a hero!  He said, “Senior, I am not a hero, I was only doing my job.”   The doctors were able to save his leg and this morning he is on a plane flying to Walter Reed hospital in Maryland.
As a result of my blog, his mother Sandi has becomes friends with my wife and kept her informed of Lowe’s progress.  Marine “Master Guns” also talked with Lowe too.  It’s obvious he still has his sense of humor about him.  He is quoted as saying to the female nurses “I am single, I am sexy, and I am wounded.”

Lowe undatedSPC Lowe will not return to Afghanistan and will undergo rehabilitation for his leg.  In honor of this brave soldier, friend and hero, I managed to gather some unpublished pictures (see photo slide show below for additional pictures).  I promised not to embarrass him too much.  Get well, Lowe, and Godspeed for your recovery.  PS…Your mom has invited Liisa and I to visit after my deployment.  Don’t be surprised if I show up on your doorstep.   I expect you to be able to run up the hill sides like you did on the last VMO mission.  Take care, my friend, and all of the Georgia Boys wish you the best!

Again, if you’d like to have the slide show move faster, click on the “+” sign in bottom left corner to reach desired speed. You can also click on “View all images” and look at the photos at your own pace.

ABC Nightline segment about Charlie Co. in Afghanistan

Nick Schifrin, ABC News correspondent

Nick Schifrin, ABC News correspondent

This was posted on July 9, 2009 – a very in depth story by Nick Schifrin, ABC News’ Pakistan-based reporter, responsible for covering Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Nightline: On the Frontlines

Safely back from first mission!

We just returned from our first mission outside the wire (OTW) and boy was it a memorable one.  Mission #1 001The massive mountains observed from our camp would be the same ones we would travel through.  But the best made plans don’t always go as planned and today would be no exception.  Our mission was to escort several ANA 7-ton trucks loaded with humanitarian assistance (HA) to a remote firebase in the mountains.  Mission #1 014The HA consisted of beans, flour, tea, fuel, etc.,  for the local villagers.  Note:  Some of the information I am writing is from second-hand sources and until I get settled, I can only make assumptions about the accuracy of the information.
We prepped our vehicles, loaded our equipment along with food (MREs) and water.  We were armed to the teeth with our personal weapons along with the crew serve weapons mounted on our armored vehicles.  We have enough munitions to be self-sustained to start our own little war.

As we departed the camp, we enjoyed the luxury of traveling on asphalt (hardball) for a few miles.  The hardball is not your typical road due to the numerous potholes.  New Jersey’s roads would be smooth compared to these roads.  In fact you have to make a decision to which pothole you want to hit and not which pothole you want to avoid.  Before long, the hardball turned into dirt and stone which made for a bumpy ride.
I might also point out that riding in an up-armored HMMVW is not a thrill ride either.  They were not designed for tall people with long legs.  I have much more leg room on an airplane in coach seating.  Imagine having your knees jammed against the seat in front of you while your feet are wedged under their seat for several hours.  Then tie a cinder block to your head so you can feel the weight of the helmet.  To add to the enjoyment wrap yourself in a weighted garment weighing around 50 pounds and place your weapon between your legs for additional pleasure.  Then set the A/C on low only to have it blow on your hips.  Of course your ride wouldn’t be complete without strapping on ballistic eyewear that carves a notch on your nose along with a communications headset and thick Nomex gloves.  Now prepare yourself for the bumpiest ride of your life as you feel every pothole, rock, or bump.
The temperature by now had reached 95 degrees.  As a “window licker” (dismount) I had the opportunity to look through the passenger windows and take some pictures and record some observations in my head.  We drove through several small villages annexed to the dusty roads.  Mission #1 010I spotted children holding sticks tending to herds of goats and ragged-looking sheep.  But what shocked me the most is that these children along with their families lived in crudely constructed tents.  These nomadic tribes are prevalent throughout the barren waste lands with little vegetation.  The houses I observed were primitive and constructed of mud, stone, and brick.  I can’t ascertain the age of them, but they look old.  Many of the houses are surrounded by protective 18 inch walls made of mud and stone.  These walls can stop our 50 cal and 240 rounds, which gives the enemy an advantage except when CAS is called in.  I couldn’t help to think how long it took to construct these massive walls.

Mud huts and the village wall

Mud huts and the village wall

Anyhow, our first stop was at Bagram Airfield.  This is an extremely large base with many gates, airplanes, and lots of Air Force personnel.  Here we loaded up with HA to begin our journey.  We had a little bit of down time, Mission #1 005so we decided to take advantage of the amenities the base offered.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.  They had Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Popeye’s Chicken!  They have a BX with everything you could possibly imagine for purchase.  Individuals were walking around freely in blue jeans, shorts, PT uniforms with no weapons.  The base also seemed crowded with uniformed military personnel too.  It was almost like we landed at a stateside installation.  They had numerous retail shops that sold rugs, jewelry, blankets, and other trinkets.  Mission #1 008In comparison, our camp store has 2 rows of wooden shelves that are sparsely filled with soap, toothpaste, and tobacco products.  They are living the big life at Bagram!  But hey, this is one of the reasons I joined the AF, because they take care of their people.  My teammates and I joked that they probably have hot tubs in their rooms too….lol.
As we set out for the mountainous areas, the topography quickly changed.  I observed trees, grassy fields, and acres of wheat being tended to.  Apparently the poppy eradication program has been successful here and has been replaced with wheat and other bumper crops.  In addition, I was informed they are going to start growing saffron as an alternate crop.  If this is the case, this is good news for culinary cooks like me who use this expensive spice.  Previously they introduced pecans (I think this was the correct type of nut) as a bumper crop and soon the world market was flooded driving down the market price.
One village we drove through reeked of raw sewage and was littered with piles of garbage.  I saw young children sorting through these piles looking for something of value that could be sold for money.  But despite their poverty, they would wave at our convoy.  I even witnessed one young boy raise his hand to his face and salute us.  I learned their friendliness wasn’t without motivation.  In the past, soldiers would toss them candy, water, and cheap ballpoint pens.  Now when they hear us coming, they rush towards our vehicles in hopes of scoring some booty.  Since then it has become a safety hazard, so only the tail vehicles are allowed to toss items to the little ones.  It breaks your heart to see the rugged conditions these children endure and live in on a daily basis.

Mission #1 011My attempts to take pictures were a bit futile due to the constant rocking of the vehicle as we maneuvered the dusty roads.  Mission #1 013We stopped briefly in a small village to wait for some livestock to clear the roadway.   One of our 7-ton trucks was losing large quantities of oil and it wasn’t long until it came to grinding halt.  We just passed through a village and stopping wasn’t on our agenda, but we had no choice.  Immediately we employed our security procedures and waited for the ANA to hook up the truck and tow it.  I wasn’t sure whether the towing truck could pull it up the rugged switchbacks as they were both fully loaded.  Mission #1 015It was a slow and torturous climb, but despite these big trucks spinning their tires, we made it to the top of the mountain and stopped at a remote outpost for mechanical assistance. On the way up the face of the mountain, we encountered a young boy who was hobbling with the aid of a stick.  It appeared his leg was amputated.  Our gunner felt sorry for him and tossed him a bottle of water.  The child picked up the water and after we passed by, he dropped his leg down.  We joked; our gunner was fooled by the ol’ “amputee leg trick” in hopes of getting some candy.
We arrived at the top and entered the outpost.  These outposts are extremely rugged and this one was no exception.  The French were the main forces here along with the ANA.  I might point out that the French military are not afraid to take the fight to the enemy.  In fact a few kilometers from our next stop, the French were engaged in an 18 hour firefight with the enemy.  After filling up with fuel, we continued on our journey.  By now it was already dusk and we were running out of sunlight.  Our anxiety levels were peaked as the light disappeared and we drove in the dark.
While driving through a small village a few children threw rocks at our vehicles.  Apparently they don’t like ANA or US personnel.  One of the rocks hit our gunner in the ear.  When he flinched and yelled an expletive, I was a bit excited, but he quickly recovered and we continued on our mission to the next fire base.  While at the firebase, I took advantage of our down time and used the facilities.  Unfortunately I forgot to wear my gas mask as the smell of ammonia was overbearing.  The toilet facilities here are much different than the ones I accustomed to.  I will write about these facilities at a later date.
By now we were completely enveloped in darkness and a command decision was made to drive back to our camp.  The trip would take us at least 3 or more hours driving on dirt roads, treacherous switchbacks, and over small bridges and canals.  These are quite dangerous during the daylight, but in the dark, your pucker factor tends to increase because of the threat of hidden IEDs.  We eventually made it back to camp around midnight.  Our first mission was a success, despite being OTW for 15 hours.

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WUSF radio evening report 5-15-09

Rex talks about preparing for missions

This afternoon Rex was able to call WUSF radio reporter Bobbie O’Brien.

Camp Phoenix Living Conditions

Today was another day filled with more informational briefings to prepare us for our ETT mission.  My team is anxious to depart here and get settled in at our new location.  Admittedly this camp has some of the finer amenities in comparison to other FOBs.  Although it doesn’t have the luxurious conditions like Bagram AB where 80% of my AF brethren are stationed and seldom even depart the base.  At least we won’t have austere conditions like they do at outposts and fire bases or other smaller FOBs.  At these locations, my military brothers have to endure the most rugged conditions, prepare their own meals, and internet connectivity would be a luxury.  So if it seems like I am complaining, I am not.  Instead I am just trying to point out the accommodations we live in and the some basic amenities to improve morale.
The showers here are rather unique too depending on which latrine you choose.  The latrines are segregated facilities from the living quarters and are strategically positioned throughout the camp.  The closest one to me is about 43 paces away and contains 4 showers, 4 sinks, and 2 urinals.  We are limited to 5 minute showers to help conserve water.  Some of them are European patterns, while others are US standards.  I’m convinced ours is the European flavor.  At least the shower head is positioned high enough I don’t have to crouch down to get water.  But I haven’t quite figured out the water adjustment.  When I turned on the water, the spray was as wide as the shower stall and I was barely getting wet.  I had to reduce the water pressure since I was unable to adjust the spray to douse my body.  The toilet cubicles are very small and my knees smack the door when I sit down.  These are ten times better than the tent latrines where the toilets are separated by cheap vinyl curtains on 3 sides that sway in the wind.
Last night I purposely went out looking for scorpions.  To much disappointment, I didn’t find any.  Instead I located some large strange looking beetles.  They had a hard black protective shell encasing their body.  Not sure what kind of bug it was.  It reminded me of my entomology project I conducted for my 4-H class when I was a young boy.  Except this time I didn’t capture them and allowed them to live in their habitat.
The food here is pretty good as is most KBR contracted facilities.  We normally have a choice of 4-5 entrees, salads, fruit bar, short order line, and half dozen flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream.  As I mentioned earlier, this is a great camp to be stationed at.  However, we will have to give up these amenities as we transition to our FOB and start our journey with the ANA.

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