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April 27, 2005

News from Afghanistan

Good news, MSG Keith will be coming home. Bad news - Castle Loses Correspondent in Afghanistan, and our potential correspondent in Iraq has had that deployment canceled. That said - here is the latest (and perhaps last) Dispatch from Kabul.

Howdy everyone. Thought I would send out one last update. It looks like I will be wheels up on 17 May, heading back to Ft. Benning. I tried to get an extension until December, but it doesn't look like that's going to work out. Since my trip to the Panjshir in March, I haven't been out too much. Just some boring stuff around Kabul. I attended two National Army Volunteer Center grand openings in April. One in Jalalabad, one in Mazar-e-sharif.

13 Apr. Jalalabad is on the Pakistan border, about an hour flight by CH-47 Chinook helicopter from Kabul. The Chinook has a ramp in the back that stays open in flight, with a gunner manning the machine gun mounted on the ramp [pic is a door gunner. ed.]. Just in case.... The J-Bad Pass was pretty cool scenery..not as beautiful as the Panjshir, but then nothing is....well, maybe... Anyway, what struck me was that as we passed over this ridge, everything turned green below us with farmlands and trees. It was like flying over somewhere in Florida. We landed at the US PRT base (Provisional Reconstruction Team) and took vehicles to the governor's palace. As we were leaving the PRT, we drove through a grove. I looked at the trees and they were blooming. The more I looked I realized I recognized the blooms. They were tangerine trees!! Tangerines are big here as dessert. It never occurred that they were grown here..(dumb American.) Anyway as we drove through town, there were lots of kids waving at us. And something I noticed, as well as the driver I was with, was how many girls were here. Most places only had a few or no girls. We got to the palace and went in for tea, then to the ceremony. Lots of locals were there, including a few women. They did the usual speeches, giving out gifts (I got a hat and turban), sacrificed a goat for good luck (the building's, not the goat's...) then back to the palace for lunch. Lunch was rice with meat, with tangerines for lunch. Then back through town to the PRT. Couldn't believe how many trees here covered everything. Definitely different than Kabul.

19 Apr. Mazar-e-shariff is up near the Uzbekistan border. Lots of history there. The northern alliance fought from there against first the Soviets then the Taliban then against each other. There's a big castle there. It's where the first US casualty in the war in Afghanistan occurred. The castle was being used as a POW holding area when some prisoners obtained some weapons and tried an escape. Mike Spann, a CIA operative, was killed in the fighting. There is a monument in the castle. The castle is big enough that the Soviets used to drive tanks around the top of the walls. We went out to the Afghan Regional Command Center to visit some troops and do stuff generals do. We passed an old abandoned Soviet airbase, look at the photo called, the Alamo. Lots of bullet pock marks all over the buildings. LOTS..... MES was a lot greener than it was in January when I was here, and a lot less muddy. We had lunch at a restaurant called The Wedding Club. Food was VERY good. Some of the best Afghan flat bread I've had since I've been here. And tangerines for dessert. Back to the airfield to load up on the C130 and back to Kabul. The flag photo was at KIA (Kabul International Airport) in the morning and the sunset photo was there when we got back. Long day.

I have 21 days and a wakeup. It's been fun. Wish I could stay longer. Hope I get to come back again someday.Thank all of you for writing emails, writing letters, sending cards, packages, and your well wishes. It is a great morale booster to hear from home. I highly recommend you visit, find a soldier there and send them whatever they are asking for. Believe me, it helps. See you soon. Some sooner than others.

For those who would like to, you can see all the pictures MSG Keith has sent us in this album here. Feel free to download them - if you publish them we ask only that you credit MSG Keith Johnston personally, and Castle Argghhh! generally. And say something nice.

A music video containing many more images from MSG Keith and others he's worked with is available here. I *strongly* recommend you right click and "save as" to view this video.

Keep clearing the Danger Areas, Keith! And thank you for sharing your tour with us!