Due to stormy weather up ahead, and with the foresight of knowing that I MUST make it back to Camp Leatherneck by the 18th for my flight out to Kabul, I decided to cut my losses and fly back on the 16th instead. Having done so, I mitigated the risk of getting left behind in a F.O.B. and ultimately missing my commercial flight back to the United States on the 21st. Luckly, I was able to Space-A with the 3/9 Weapons Co. XO and Cpl. Lenzo on an old Russian transport helicopter back to Leatherneck. The next few days were spent alone in the media tent scanning through the photos on my camera and reviewing previous journal entries. While in transient, I met a pair of jounalists from the Washington Post. The two live in a safe house in Kabul where Kevin, a staff writer, and his friend Lorenzo, an Italian freelance photographer were tasked with piecing together a story about MRAP's.
We flew back to Kabul on the 18th and were picked up by the same Public Affairs Officer (PAO) outside the airfield. Our first stop was at the front gate, where Kevin and Lorenzo were dropped off and greeted by their ride back to the city. I was then sent to the transient barracks where I was housed at the start of the embed. Getting ready for the trip home, I purchased a jacket and some souveniers from the bazaar, had my hair cut and face shaved by an elderly Afghan man on base, and shipped my body armor back to Mike Fay (the rightful owner). I felt like a new man.
I was escorted off base on the 21st where I met my new driver outside the gate. Prompt and on time, at 1430 on the dot, was Fazel holding a sign that read my name. Fazel is an Afghan local who used to serve as an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Kandahar. He receives daily death threats from the Taliban, both by phone and by flyer. During the cab ride to Kabul International Airport, I was able to capture part of our conversation with my audio recorder. For several years now, Fazel and those just like him have been fighting to get out of harms way and into the U.S. Everyday is a struggle for survival, and after many years of putting their lives on the line for America, our country has decided to leave them high and dry and left to die. This Washington Post article talks about just that, and at the bottom of the blog entry is my recorded segment with Fazel. Read the article and listen to the recording. Pass this around.
Moving on . . .
After getting frisked 10 different times by Afghan Police sentries, I was able to check my bag and get on the bird to Dubai and then back home here in Charlotte, NC.
Since I've been home, I've started a piece called Turret Gunner. This drawing is based off of a photo that I took of LCpl. Hallbeck, my MRAP gunner. Due to a heavy school schedule, I have no clue when this will get finished. Aside from art making, I've been busy debriefing my experiences with several radio and newspaper interviews, to include another interview with Dick Gordon on The Story: Sketching the drawdown in Afghanistan; with Mike Collins on Charlotte Talks: Combat Artist Rob Bates; and a Charlotte Observer article that will go into print sometime next week.
The embed was a success. I think I've seen and heard all that I needed in order to compose an accurate understanding of what is happening there. Afghanistan is in shambles and there is no fixing the damage that has been done. Yes, the country is safer now than it was 12 years ago---but that's only because of our presence. Believe me when I say:
It's going to get a lot worse once we are gone.
Click on AUDIO LINK BELOW: