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  • Audrey Cleo

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    letters from afghanistan.

    No, I’m not in Afghanistan, but my friend C. is a reporter embedded with the troops over there right now. When the Internet connection isn’t horrendous, C. occasionally sends emails about his “adventures” (or misadventures, as they may be) from his posts in Kabul and Kandahar. It’s hard to not get a heaping helpful of perspective after reading these, so I’m going to post up a few excerpts. C.’s messages usually detail the day-to-day difficulties troops and journalists, such as himself, are facing over there and it’s not pretty — not on email, and most definitely not in real life, one could imagine. Simple things, like showers, are both a luxury and an ordeal that involves running up to the roof of a house to turn on the water pump before stepping into one. And then there is the occasional machine gunfire:

    “Yesterday morning we finished up work around 2am, so by 5:30 I was dead asleep. Start hearing all this bang-bang-bang, guns firing. But it’s kind of sporadic – and honestly, back in Iraq you get used to gunfire as just something you constantly hear at night. So I rolled over went back to sleep. But then it keeps going another 10-15 minutes. So I throw some clothes on & go up to the roof – our cameraman **** is coming up same time. But it’s still just this sporadic firing. So we go back downstairs to go back to sleep. Not 10 minutes later, those guns start opening up – very intense, very frequent, all machine gun fire. So we go running back upstairs.

    Turns out it’s the Taliban attack on the United Nations guest house, and its literally a block down the street. We see one guy running like hell away from the house – or hobbling like hell, he’d been shot in the leg but was damn near dragging that leg down the street pretty fast. There are all these UN vehicles backing up fast – away from the building that’s being attacked. And then we hear some large booms and see black smoke just start pouring up over the trees. We’d find out later that those “booms” were when some of the Taliban blew themselves up inside the guest house. Afghan police start pulling up, we see groups of them start running up towards the building. All in all 5 UN workers got killed, including an American.”

    American troops are facing a unique set of problems as they train the Afghan National Police:

    At one camp, they [members of the Afghan National Police] had taken the metal plates out of their body armor and were using them to grill sheep on. The lieutenant patiently explained to them that no, body armor isn’t made for BBQing …and yes, having hot, bloody sheep roasting on top could potentially diminish the protective capabilities of the armor.”

    And during a 4-hour drive (a longer one than usual since C.’s convoy wanted to avoid bombs), an interesting observation about the troops:

    “They talked about Pop-Tarts, and the guy from California cracked on the other guy from Arkansas for being a hick. I never heard anybody talk about any of that big-picture stuff that’s always being debated on TV – like Obama’s troop decision, why are we there?, all that stuff. I heard soldiers griping because they didn’t get M&Ms or Jalapeno & Cheese in their MREs …but I never heard any of them complaining about any troop decision.”

    Regardless of political leanings, these illustrations and excerpts from the life of an embedded reporter is pretty powerful stuff. When these images and words are packaged into news stories on TV, the comfortable disconnect and distance we, as viewers, can watch with is a luxury to my friend C. Since Thanksgiving is only a week away, let’s give thanks to journos like C. who — essentially — put their lives on the line to make these stories real for us in sight and sound.


    Comment from Justin
    Time November 17, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Good luck C. – Stay safe!

    I have an old college buddy who is over doing the same thing as a video journalist. He says as crazy as the job is, he wouldn’t trade the experiences he’s had in Iraq & Afghanistan for anything.

    Pingback from Going Up Country
    Time December 2, 2009 at 8:55 am

    […] a decade with little success.  Soldiers regularly abandon their units, or use their body armor as a BBQ grill.  Do these people want to be trained to fight the Taliban?  Seems they assume the Taliban is […]