Friday, July 13, 2007

Letters From the Front: Update from LTC Turner

LTC Patrick Turner is in charge of the Army Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES) for CentCom. This is the group that supplies the PXs on bases. This includes convoys or helo supplying remote FOBs where the AAFES shows up once a month and allows the soldiers to buy toothpaste, shampoo, batteries, deodorant, etc. Of course, if they are out on a mission that week, they are out of luck unless a buddy back at base is tasked with purchasing necessary items.

While LTC Turner and his group try hard to provide for our men and women on the front lines, the realities of distance, supply, mission and resources of those on the base can mean that some do without. One pick item that is consistently asked for are sheets and blankets for the beds. This is one reason that Angels go out of their way to send regular packages to our folks "in the sandbox". There are the "wishes" and the "realities" and the realities mean some do without while others are living well.

There is a distinct disparagement between the central, large FOBs in Baghdad and Kandahar versus some little COP (combat outpost) in Iraq or remote FOB in Kowst Afghanistan. While some might wonder why that should be in this day and age, it is important to remember that this reality has always existed between those on the "rear echelon" and those in the field. Plus, as LTC Turner later notes, there is a distinct danger driving or flying supplies to such locations.

That's where Soldiers' Angels come in. We send packages through out the month that arrive there much more frequently than the PX AAFES folks since mail is considered (and is) essential to the morale and mission of the forces. Thus, mail is delivered just like here in the US: rain, shine, sleet, snow, dead of night, etc, etc, etc. We don't just think that mail is essential to morale, we know it is by the other letters from the front we received on a regular basis thanking us for reminding them that people care.

Please read LTC Turners' Update:

TO my friends and family:

Yes I know it's been over 60 days since my last email to most of you all but duty called. A number of you sent us in the cell here some items we are grateful to receive and share so it is truly heartwarming the level of support we get from our great American citizens. Examples: DVDs and books and magazines and some candies and so forth.

Received a great book from sister Maryrose called "Team of Rivals" about Lincoln during the War. It was sooooo good as I have a new respect for Lincoln-as if we all did not need one. Working on my diet and controlling other intake as always. My master sergeant went on a 4 day pass to Qatar which turned into a 9 day pass as his plane broke down. I was able to play in a scramble golf tournament where you hit off a green pad onto a "green" (a blanket" about 130 yards away. Problem was if you
hit the dirt in between it was one tough hole but I prevailed. Good citizens have sent me (fortunately) hundreds of golf balls I hit into Victory Lake near Al Faw Palace here in Baghdad. Even Toby Keith the C&W entertainer showed up for a hour long "concert" and I got a pretty good seat. [snip]

On 25 May it got up to 117 degrees and it was the hottest so far in the

On the 27th of May I was directed to go to Afghanistan and conduct assessments of various logistical processes going on there for 33 days or so. To get there, you have to fly to Kuwait first which is always a bummer, wait, then fly into Bagram, Afghanistan. Had two planes have mechanical problems in 110 degree heat at Baghdad Intl and spent 10 hours sitting there so by the time I got to KUW, was pretty well worn out but set a personal record for water consumption. With only a day wait, flew the 3.75 hours from KUW to Bagram which is the home of the 82d Airborne Division. [snip] The C17 plane was almost full and got there just before midnight. Was able to meet the next day the Command Sergeant Major of the 82nd ABN to get an idea of what they were doing there the next day.

A lot of the so called culture in AFG is different than Iraq. Bagram is at 4700 feet, on a relative plateau and is surrounded by mountains. A10 Thunderbolt planes and Prowlers seem to be continually screaming over the base and it's crowded in my opinion as they over 13,000 people there. I lived as you can see in the initial pics in what is called a "B Hut" which is all wood except for a corrugated roof but it felt like a fire trap so I made sure the fire detector worked. The weather was down to 70 degrees almost every night initially and did not get into the 90s during the day until I left on 1 July. A massive difference from Iraq, at least in the northern section unlike down south in Kandahar I later found out.

Was asked to join a "Pilferage Working Group" at Bagram, AFG since sooooo much is stolen enroute by Afghanis and Pakistanis. It is remarkable how much thieving goes on, from fuel siphoning, to door removal and seal removal, you name it. A regular cottage industry. We have lots of products coming in from the ports in Pakistan (Karachi) and their inventiveness at stealing is only seemingly exceeded by their love for Allah, I guess.

I attempted several times to get to Kandahar from Bagram but the planes always seemed to be full so instead I flew on a helo to Jallalabad as a side trip. This is a about a 45 minutes helo ride and it is very warm. The ride I must say was quite spectacular as you start out in the desert, go up and down mountains about 300 feet off the deck, go over fertile valleys and water and return to the desert. If you were on a vacation you would pay serious money for this helicopter ride, believe me. Jallalabad was 111 degrees at 1130 hours so it was mighty warm. This is the home of the 173rd ABN Bde and these guys are fighters & killers which we need more of. The son of the unit's Command Sergeant Major had been killed in action the week before so the morale was kinda sorta down. Like in Bagram, all the Soldiers live in wooden B huts but they all have box air conditioners and the food was good. Able to even attend religious services that evening. The next day, flew back to Bagram on a short takeoff 2 engine fixed wing that could get to 25,000 feet which was fine by me as the temp went to 117 degrees and waiting in that heat is soooo oppressive. And I am not getting any younger.

A week later we went on a mission to deliver some PX goods via a CH47 double rotor helo to a unit out in the middle of absolutely nowhere as far as I could tell. They are helping build a road to somewhat I gather as they are engineers. Their spirits were good and it was nice to talk to these young men and there were several young women there also. [snip].

Drove in a motor convoy to Kabul from Bagram during the 30 some days I was there. [snip] This is a about a 40 minute ride as fast as you can drive and you see everything from women from Burkas over their face up and down mountains into the crowded city of Kabul. Since I am the only guy that is armed with a weapon in the vehicle I am what is called the Shooter. Its almost like some cartoon, weaving in and out of traffic, honking like crazy and again, going as fast as you can without rolling over. Rule number 1 is NEVER STOP. Rule number 2 is read rule 1 10 times and I can assure you I did not ignore the rule. As we got into Kabul, and I have a pic or two driving down to Bagram, there is a Afghan guard there at the gate named "Rambo". Rambo is known for diving into a car at that gate when a suicide car bomber was attempting to initiate a bomb and stopped him by punching him out. So he is a legend. Now he stands guard at the gate with an American baseball bat. The same day a convoy just west of us had a suicide bomber and killed two and the next day a bus got lit up and killed some 25. So I decided to helo the next day out of Kabul back to Bagram as its faster and safer-I think.

Needed to get to Kandahar but always could not get transport so I decided with my Major to fly to there thru Kyrgyzstan (Manas) and was able to do it successfully, being only 5 people on a huge C17 plane eventually to Kandahar. "K stan" is a strong supporter of the USA in spite of the fact that everyone there is Muslim and a lot of our employees come from there. In Kandahar it was 111 degrees at 0800 and ultimately it got to 126 degrees which is probably as warm as I care to have it. Was invited to a "Fallen Comrade" service at the base wherein 3 Canadian Soldiers were KIA and their caskets were escorted onto a C130 plane on the ride home and I was able to get one pic of it all. [snip]

I met the Base Commander there and NATO is soon "taking over" Kandahar so there was a lot of business to discuss as to the equipment and so forth. In our attempt to get back thru Kyrgyzstan, suddenly with all the combat and weather issues going on, I was forced to stay at Manas for 5 full days. Could not go off the base because I was a "transient" and had to sleep in a tent which lowered my morale for sure but these tents nowadays.

Finally flew to KUW from Bagram on 1 July and tried to fly to Baghdad on 2 July. I felt the trip was successful in that no military guys had ever engaged Command on issues that were important to my "client". I know a lot about equipment (rolling stock) and was able to organize it in short order after conducting a lot of technical inspections, meeting the Command and so forth. In short I tried to be a doer and not a consumer and looking back upon it we had some success but it will always require
follow-up. Well, in attempting to get from KUW to Baghdad, I had literally four planes go down on maintenance (or so they told us) in one day. Had to get up at 0430 and not get to bed until 0200 the following day and all I did was get shuffled from one place to another with little result as it turned out. Whoever said life was fair? On the 3rd of July however able to get to Baghdad finally and am almost caught up from my mission.

Scheduled to go on a pass to Qatar XXXXXXX 4 days and that will be my first time off since I started this tour in January. Am looking forward to playing some golf as they allegedly have two courses there and just chilling out and reading a lot of the books and magazines people send us here.

Thanks again to all those support us here in Iraq and Afghanistan.

LTC Patrick Turner
AAFES Military Operations Senior LNO
Camp Liberty, Iraq

- May no soldier go unloved