-June 1, 2009
Just back from another crazy Afghan road trip.
Returned to Kabul late, and was looking at spending the night at the airport until a kindly photog from ABC took pity on me. No, not that ABC-- the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which is doing some great work over here. He had a serious, SERIOUS-looking private security team taking him into the city -i mean, armed to the teeth- and they wouldn't let me out of their sight until I was where I needed to be and had secured safe passage. Terrific guys. Fitting that I was mooching a lift from the Australians, because it was one of their Hercules transports that brought me back from Kandahar- complete with tactical takeoffs and landings--fast climbs and steep dives that bring you to the ground fast and hard.
We had picked up my Australian friend at a spot called Tarin Kowt. He had just finished filming an intense four-day firefight with the Taliban. I haven't been seeing that kind of action.
That's not to say it hasn't been an interesting few days.. but mostly, it's been the hurry up and wait ritual of travel in this country.
I wish I could cover more ground.
There are a lot of great hometown stories here -as I keep mentioning-- and word that a local reporter's in-country spreads surprisingly fast. Here's an email from a group near Jalalabad that I couldn't get to:
"We are a Chicago-based Infantry Battalion who deployed to Afghanistan late October 08...
...this is the first combat deployment
under our colors as The 1st Battalion 178th Infantry Regiment (from the GEN Jones Armory, 5200 Cottage Grove in Hyde Park) since world war II.
Our Task Force, TF Bayonet, not only supplies Security teams all over Afghanistan to the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) but we are also area managers over the Laghman Province.
Our element manages 2 Combat Out Post (COPs) and a Forward Operation Base (FOB) located on the outskirts of Mehtar Lam. We would very much like to share our experience here in Afghanistan with our families, co-workers and friends from the Chicagoland area.. "
...and I would love to help, but my time here is quickly running out. There are several other groups I just couldn't get to, although I tried very hard.
I did get to Kandahar, though, then south.. within 50 miles or so of the Pakistan border. Spent time with a couple of groups of Chicago-area guys. My day with Team 'War Hog' was especially interesting. While we were talking, and I was filming, there was this 'WHUMP' not far off that could only have been a mortar round. It was an interesting moment that I'm trying to feed back to Chicago right now. They're a pretty fascinating group of young guys -sort of an Illinois 'Band of Brothers'- patrolling the wilds of southern Afghanistan.. easily the toughest, most dangerous part of the country right now.
Back to work. Lots to do before I can go home- and a couple of other stories I want to share a little later on.
I'm away with family for Father's Day and a little break from all the work that's still going on around this story.
Ever since I got back from Afghanistan, I've been scanning the headlines for the story I hoped I wouldn't see. I saw it today.
From the Tribune:
Two Illinois soldiers have died in Afghanistan after their vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device in Kandahar, according to the Illinois Army National Guard.
Twenty-six-year-old Staff Sgt. Joshua Melton of Germantown and 43-year-old Sgt. Paul Smith of East Peoria died Friday, according to the national guard. Two other soldiers in the vehicle were injured.
It was Melton's second deployment after serving with Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2006. He graduated from Central Community High School in Breese in 2001 and enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard in November 2000.
Melton was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry based in Marion.
We're hard at work on a very special project that has me re-living my experience in Afghanistan. I've spent the past week trying to boil down the best of what I shot into a half-hour program that will air this Thursday night, July 2nd. The second half of our 9:00 news will be devoted entirely to the trip..and the troops.
It might be easier to do a full hour. I have so much amazing material- and so many great interviews. I'm thrilled we're getting a chance to give the story more exposure. While the big challenge has been getting it down to a half-hour, the great part of that is it leaves us with only the best elements- and hopefully a half-hour well-spent.
The special will run at 9:30 Thursday night and again on the 4th of July between 7:30 and 8pm CST.
Given the timing, expect something that strikes a patriot tone and incorporates material we couldn't include in the 6 earlier reports.
I really want to thank everyone again for their kind thoughts, calls, letters and emails. I'm a little overwhelmed.
Many, many people have asked if they can buy a tape or DVD, and while that's not really something that we do, we will allow the material to live on-line for as long as possible. When the half-hour show is complete and has broadcast, it will be available here as well. And it's free..