Sunday, May 17, 2009 -- 3:00 AM CST
I'm on another planet.
People are waving their arms and running and screaming, dodging in and out of traffic, barely avoiding being hit by our wildly careening Toyota Corolla as we speed north from
On this planet there's no fear- unless you count me. To my right, my driver, Rohullah, grins and asks in Pashto if he can smoke, holding up a cigarette with the hand not gripping the wheel. I laugh and he lights up. For the first time in six years, I want one too.
We are flying. The
I'm rolling some tape along the way. I want to shoot everything I see, because I can't believe it. I've never seen such poverty before- and while I knew I'd see plenty of it here, I never imagined this. All I can think about is how tough you'd have to be just to live here. We drive across a flooded street.
As we bounce across the potholes on the other side, I promise myself I'll never complain about anything again. I'll break that promise three times by dinner.
Turns out we took the back way to Bagram. Later, a Master Sergeant from
Rohullah pulls over, yells something out the window.
See, things went a little off the rails today. Back in
Who could say no to that?
But when I landed- no escort, no soldiers- and the would-be dictator wound up hanging around outside the
It's a war zone. Things like this happen all the time and you just have to roll with them. If all else failed, the Army was expecting me at Bagram Airfield by 4:30 that afternoon- so at least I had somewhere to go. Enter Rohullah: cab driver from Hell.
The outskirts of the base are like a scene from a movie: blowing sand, razor wire, trucks and Humvees and guys with guns. The second we stop, a little boy shoves his head through my window and starts yelling in perfect English, his grimy face two inches from mine.
"Your friend will come for you! You must wait here!"
"And who might you be?" I ask, as I shove open the door. I need Rohullah's cell to call inside. He hands it over as I start to unload my gear, six or eight little hands reaching for my bags. I wave them away. The cell connects just as a short convoy of Humvees with big antennas passes by. The connection drops- as it always will when those trucks are around. I connect again and Sgt. Warren Wright of the
There's some change that keeps falling out of a pocket in my laptop bag. I get it out, hold it up, and the happy little boys turn into a pack of rabid little wolves, snarling and clawing over each other. All except Idris. Even when I try to throw him a quarter, he just shrugs and lets the wolves have it. My ride is here. We drive past the razor wire onto a base twice the size of my hometown.
-Tom Negovan, WGN News Special Report
Hello wgntv.com friends! Marcus Leshock here with my first
post on the official Leshock Value Blog. For those of you who have checked out
my other blog, I'm hoping this one will be equally as historic. Hopefully I can
look back thirty years from now when I'm filthy rich from all my internet
This blog is meant as a portal of my thoughts and random musings throughout the day. I have a strong background in entertainment with my work on "metromix on CLTV," so we'll definitely be talking movies, music, theater and more.
We'll also be looking at what's happening around Chicago,
eating some fantastic food, and trying to improve all of our social lives. Think
of it as an extension of all the fun, informative work I'll be doing on
So enjoy the Leshock Value, and don't forget to push down, THEN pull up on your lap bar. Don't be that guy. OK?
Hitting the road again, so one more entry before I go.
I've been trying to get close to the Pakistan border, south to the Kandahar region and east toward Jalalabad. I have opportunities to do two of the three before my embed is over- but I have to move fast.
Good Lord- a chopper just flew so low overhead the building shook. You'd think I'd be used to that by now.
Today was sort of a housekeeping day. I mostly slept, but I also got some laundry done and a couple of interviews shot.
There's something else I've been meaning to get to. I've been having trouble keeping up with people and news back home, and I don't really know what's going on with the website and my blog, but my wife sent me a few comments from it that stopped me in my tracks the other day. Here's one:
I think you are doing a great thing out there. Keep up the good work. You have no idea how many people who have loved ones out there are getting a little peace of mind. P.S. Tell my brother (CSM Mark Bowman) that we love him and "stay safe"! :)
Thank you again and praying for all of you! Kelly Bowman
Kelly might be interested to know that I've been spending a lot of time with her brother. In fact, he was on the road with me on the trip with the two Generals, as part of Gen. Huber's Command Team. Command Sergeant Major Mark Bowman's kind of a big deal around here. He's an amazing guy, and I'm sure Kelly's very proud. She should be. When I sat down for a one-on-one with the General at FOB Ghazni, it was Bowman I asked to tag along. Just Bowman. He's the kind of guy you want to have around-- a hard-core soldier with a sharp intellect and a calm demeanor. In Chicago, he's a teacher.
Here's another, and this one really got to me. I sums up in a nutshell what I'm doing here.
I have a 26 year-old son in camp phoenix, my oldest child. Your blog shows me his reality thru his eyes, and brings him home just a little bit. Of course if he knew I was reading it he'd worry, so we won't tell him. Thanks for putting your life on the line to bring us this report. I will look every day for your words. Julia dahlstrom
See, here's the thing: There's a war over here-- and whether you agree with it or not, it's happening, it's underway. If you don't want your countrymen in harm's way in Afghanistan- great-- neither do I. I don't want anyone in harm's way anywhere. But there are men and women from our city and state who have answered the call of our nation, are doing the bidding of the government you elected. Don't say you didn't ask for this-- didn't ask them to-- you did. What happens over here happens in your name, whether you currently approve or not.
If I wanted to get into the politics of this, I would have embedded in Washington. I wanted to let people know what's happening in Afghanistan, so here I am.
Am I having a good time? Do I like it over here? Do I miss my wife? Do I hate making her worry? Do I worry?
I'm sure you can figure out the answers. The bottom line is, as I keep saying, this is a huge story. It's a local story. How the US media is not doing more to cover it I do not understand. What I can tell you is that I have seen some things since coming over here that would blow your mind. Tomorrow I head downrange again expecting to see a few more.
Julia's email moved me almost to tears, because Julia understands. I came over here to bring her son home, just a little bit.
This is actually starting to turn into the multi-media experiment I hoped it would.
Since arriving here a week or so ago, I've been filing on-line, on WGN-TV via Skype and satellite.. phone for WGN Radio.. and now it looks like the Trib is going to pick up a piece I banged-out yesterday.
I'm travelling light, shooting my own stuff on a pair of tiny (and I mean tiny) cameras and doing some basic editing on a MacBook Pro. The resolution on those tiny cameras blows me away. There are issues from time to time that I won't bore you with, but I'm getting some great stuff. I can't wait to get it all back to Chicago.
Now, television isn't always pretty. And it sure ain't easy sometimes.. not from here. It's tough to make a reliable phone call where I am, much less do a live shot over the Interweb.
Satellite normally would not be an option- but some guys out here worked very, very hard to make that happen yesterday, so viewers of the WGN Morning News could connect with some of their loved ones serving in Afghanistan- and so I could get a little bit of this story out. Sadly, we couldn't see them- or even hear them- but I think we made a connection as best we could. That was a little rough, and honestly, I ended the day pretty frustrated. I'd been up for most of the three previous days, chasing a pair of Generals around southeastern Afghanistan.. and lemme tell ya- that'll wear you out.
Especially when it's these guys: Brigadier General Huber, a Chicagoan -who I mentioned in an earlier blog- and one General Wiszniewski, his charming Polish counterpart. Now, I don't have to tell Chicagoans about our unique relationship with the Poles-- and I don't have to tell them about you, either. In the past few days, I've visited Poles at what I believe to be the actual edge of the planet. They spoke little English. I speak no Polish. All I had to say was "Chicago."
I met a dead ringer for Ed Harris, who emigrated from Poland to the US many years ago at the age of 21. Settled in Chicago. Joined the Army. Today, Sgt. Gregory Danko serves alongside his fellow Poles, his language skills being put to good use. There's a Polish Army patch on his left shoulder, the Stars and Stripes on his right, and an expression of pride on his face as he serves his two countries. Danko's a great guy. I hope to introduce you properly in a week or so. He has a wife and a couple of kids in Chicago. He misses them a lot, but believes in what he's doing here.
America and Poland have a longstanding military partnership dating back to the end of the Cold War. The nuances are for someone else's blog, but suffice it to say that a connection evolved between the Illinois Guard and the Polish Army. They like each other- and when they can, they serve together. That's why at that base at the edge of the planet, where there's a fortress wall the British built 200 years ago and nothing but sand and nomads for miles around, there's a Polish base, 250 or so Polish soldiers, three US advisors- and all three are from Illinois.
That's how I wound up on a Polish helicopter with these two Generals, as they made the rounds and surveyed their troops.
Now, if you're still reading-- this is where I stop and say that I've been a reporter for a long time and I've never had access like this before. If anyone else tells you they have, they are lying to you.
I'm talking about unfettered access, in a hostile area, to two of the top commanders in the field and all of their soldiers. When many are from Poland and the rest are from home- I think I can get a story out of that.
But let's add one more element, and tell you this: These are the soldiers who will get America out of here.
The Illinois National Guard, with the aid of their Polish brothers and sisters in arms, are tasked with mentoring and retraining the ANP and ANA; the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army. That's the work which, once complete, will allow Coalition troops to withdraw. You know- "They stand up, we stand down.."
It's clearly going to take some time, but it's happening. You'll see. And I can't wait for you to meet General 'Ski...
A quick update-- my lovely wife just sent me some more of your posts. Thank you for them. I found the timing of this one pretty interesting:
Thank you for doing this. I can't tell you what a joy it is to have our soldiers being shown in such a wonderful light. These soldiers truly are doing a good thing, regardless anyone's opinion of this war.
You have traveled a bit with my husband SGM Jason Burris. We are so proud of Jason and the rest of the Illinois troops. As the NCO IG, Jason is dedicated to seeing this mission through and helping all of the soldiers there. We as a state should feel honored to have people like these soldiers living amongst us. They are willing to give up everything at a moments notice at home and abroad.
Please stay safe, and know our hearts are traveling along with you. Don't forget, Illinois is a big state and yes, there are Cardinal fans that watch WGN too!
I put Annette's husband Jason on a chopper out of Camp Phoenix not 15 minutes ago. He's doing great. He showed me some pictures of their son and daughter as we talked about home. Had a minute to check email and wanted Annette to know he got on that Chinook with a big smile on his face.
Have to go. Keep the comments coming-