Trip to Gardez, 3-4 April 2005
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Background
Kabul
Driving in Kabul
Leaving Kabul
Roads
On to Gardez
DDR
Gardez Camps
Fortresses
Sp Forces
Marriage
Random Thoughts
Conclusion

 

Military camps at Gardez

After getting over the pass and driving through the city of Gardez (where we saw two ANA soldiers in uniform walking down a street; Obai said that would have been too dangerous just a year ago), we soon reached the military camps on the other side of town.  

Two camps are located side-by-side. One is an ANA camp where a brigade is headquartered and some of their soldiers billeted. The other is an American camp, where soldiers and marines mentor and train the ANA soldiers at corresponding levels of leadership.  

Both camps are spartan, just gravel spread over dirt, and except for an existing Afghan mudwall compound, seem recently built. Most of the structures are quickly erected plywood huts, wired and insulated and better than a tent, ubiquitous in the past 15 years wherever weíve deployed overseas. Large generators provide electricity for the camps. Though the camp has wells, one of the troops stationed there told me they shower only once a week, as the wells canít produce enough water.  

In the afternoon, the OMC-A officers investigated food service issues. They already knew the ANA was having a hard time keeping their cooks on the job. Iíd heard that more than half the cooks desert regularly, as no young Afghan male wants to do "womanís work." They all want to be infantry. Todayís inspection found prosaic problems: shortage of cook uniforms, low quality boots, pay problems. These are things we can fix. The warrior mentality will be harder.  

I accompanied CE1 G on his inspection of generators, where I hoped to get some photos and information to use in my power generation class at Fort Gordon. We also looked at defective plumbing in a manufactured latrine trailer.  

Afterwards we drove a couple miles to another camp, large and still under construction, and clearly intended to be permanent. Concrete barracks, not plywood huts. A modern electrical distribution system, paved streets and sidewalks, street lamps. I was told the cost of the camp will be $68,000,000. That seems high to this Home Depot shopper, but it will be money well spent if it helps the new nation establish security in the badlands.  

What the camp declares is that this area will have a permanent force of ANA soldiers to stand guard against both the Taliban and the regional warlords. Similar camps are being built around the country; the one I saw at Pol-i-Charki had the same type barracks. If this nation can develop a strong military, as also-Islamic Turkey has done, it may be the agent that binds together the many divisive elements trying to tear it apart.  

A UN refugee camp was built directly outside the wall of the new compound. Not good for the compoundís security, but probably a plus for the refugee campís. We only drove past the camp, so all I saw were some of the unfinished concrete-block 1-room huts where families live, made larger by lean-to shade outside a wall.  

Some of the camp dwellers have found construction work at the new ANA compound. Generally, their future is dim, especially if they remain in the refugee camp. Kabul especially, and other cities probably, is where the jobs are. This past harsh winter caused the deaths of hundreds of Afghans, many of them children, and seeing the refugee camp made it easier to understand why.  

We were invited to sit in on the eveningís Battle Update Brief. The US Regional Command Advisory Group commander, COL N, was briefed by each of his approximately 15 staff officers, and gave guidance as needed. A large, strong-looking man in his forties, he was firm but relaxed, showed common sense, and knew the details of everything discussed, from the number and location of the camp's portable toilets to the need to get the ANA Bde S3 out of that parade in Kabul in a few weeks.  

Capable as COL N was, I expected him to be in the active Army, accustomed to daily operations and leadership for decades, and sure to soon be pinning on stars. I later found heís a reservist, the head sheriff in a Wisconsin county. Afghanistan is fortunate having this outstanding soldier to teach them in these important early years of their army. We Americans are fortunate to have this outstanding soldier representing us.  

That night LTC F and LTC L announced our plans for tomorrow had changed. We would be going to Zurmat the next morning, and then back to Kabul by evening.  

The next morning at breakfast I was surprised to see a female MP Private at this isolated campís mess hall. Young, tall, slim, and pretty, she reminded me of my daughter Lisa at that age. She sat by herself. Probably a story there.

 

next: Mud-walled Fortresses