Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Meanwhile on Salerno...

Me and My .50 cal

I've mentioned in past posts that there is actually quite a bit to do around Forward Operating Base Salerno to pass the time. Today's update is going to be more of a photo essay format, in an effort to let the pictures speak for themselves...

Every few months, on days when we're not conducting agricultural training out amongst the populace, the Reapers of the 3-19th ADT often find themselves on the firing range. After some persistent persuasion, and of course my offer to bring a camera, the kind souls from our Security Forces Platoon allowed me to try my luck on a .50 caliber machine gun. As you can see in the photo below, I very much enjoyed givin' her hell!

.50 cals stir up just a bit of dust...
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) are making plenty of headlines these days. As a cost-effective approach to providing aerial surveillance of an area, the future looks very bright for those involved in this field of work. During my time here, I've enjoyed getting to know quite a few of the men here who operate the Silverfox, a UAV that the Air Force contracts through BAE Systems.

Lunch w/ the Silverfox crew at Aziz's
From L-R: Ryan, Ed, Ben, Jason, Joe, Rudder, and I (only the first four are with Silverfox)

Most of the operators of these UAV's are pilots in the civilian world, perhaps that was our initial connection. After learning that they too enjoyed the finer things in life (stogies at least once a week on their back deck and Peet's coffee on Sunday mornings) our bond only grew stronger. 

Applying the Henna
Always a fun group of guys, we've had a lot of laughs together over the last year. While several of the men have rotated out over the course of my time here, each replacement has also fit right in to the crew.

Earlier this month, as Jason and Ed were preparing to return back to their home base of Tucson, Arizona; a few of us convinced one of the more outgoing individuals in the group that it might be a good idea for him to look a bit more the part if he was going to wear a pair of man-jams (the loose-fitting, two-piece clothing sets that Afghan men wear) during his stay here on FOB Salerno. Within about 15 minutes of Ryan's agreeing to have his hair dyed with henna, I coordinated with Ziaulhak (one of our interpreters who has a beautiful head of henna'd hair) to come down and perform the tribal ritual on Mr. Ryan. After a few more laughs, the dying was complete and the fun was just about to begin.

On the day that Jason and Ed were scheduled to depart, we all met for lunch at the usual spot- Aziz's. To say Ryan had a little extra "spring in his step" as he left his quarters would be a drastic understatement. With his custom-tailored man-jams, matching hair and even an authentic beard (although we're cautioned that his ungroomed approach may cause some to mistake him for Taliban), he was well on his way to blending in. The only other step I can think of would be his application for Afghan citizenship, but I don't see the required trip to Kabul anytime soon.

Dangerously close to a native Pashtun
The weekend before last, I was invited down to the airfield to photograph a promotion ceremony. My friend Jennifer Bales (a name you might recall from the 4th of July Blackhawk flight post) was set to be promoted from 1st Lieutenant to Captain, along with several other members of the Task Force Tigershark Aviation Element.

As I approached the flight line, I was immediately greeted by two men whom I had never before met. Jon and Nathan Dyer, twins that originally hail from Maine, both extended a hand-shake as they introduced themselves. It's rare that I find myself in a crowd where I'm the shortest man, but that was very much the case that day as the brothers who were both every part of 6'6" dwarfed me on our walk out to the flight line.

The more I spoke with the brothers, the more interested I was in their backgrounds. While they both graduated from West Point several years, they have spent a bit of time apart. As a part of their Mormon faith, both set off on separate missions to spread the good word. As one headed to the Far-East to spend time in Korea, the other journeyed to Poland in an effort to enlighten others. Amazingly enough, before their reunion today on the occasion of their promotion from 1st Lieutenants to Captains, the two had not seen each other since early 2009.

The Twin Towers

After a few weeks of coordination, the two received permission from their respective commands to pin on their Captain bars together. While one brother is here on Salerno as an Apache pilot, the other is based in the northern portion of Afghanistan in Mazar-e-Sharif as a Combat Engineer. And I thought my mother was nervous having her only son in Afghanistan....

The Captains' Cheers

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