December 19, 2013

Nemitz: Afghanistan Notebook

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

Mail from co-workers, ex-teachers helps make up for shipment lag

click image to enlarge

A package for Pfc. Anders Olafson of Madison from his former Madison High School English teacher.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

click image to enlarge

Pfc. Craig Ege of Sanford does some heavy lifting Friday during Bravo Company’s mail delivery at Combat Outpost Dand wa Patan.

Photo by Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Few things coming into Combat Outpost Dand wa Patan generate more excitement than the cargo that arrived via helicopter Friday morning: a small mountain of mail from Maine.

There was no shortage of volunteers to fall in on the pile of white U.S. Postal Service boxes, along with stacks of letters and other hand-wrapped parcels from the home front, left by the chopper at the edge of the COP's landing zone.

Much of the bounty, addressed to 1st Sgt. John Brooks of Glenburn, came from employees at Unum in Portland.

Then there were the individual care packages -- like the one sent to Pfc. Anders Olafson of Madison from Heidi Broomhall, also of Madison.

"She was my senior English teacher at Madison High," said Olafson, a Bravo Company medic, who graduated in 2008.

Staff Sgt. John Gunning of Washington, who oversaw Friday's mail shipment, said it was the first in several weeks. (The more combat activity, the slower the mail.)

It will take another chopper or two before Bravo Company is fully caught up -- and that can't happen soon enough for Gunning.

"What this means is that everyone will leave me alone for a couple of days," he said. "Let's see, this is Friday. So I should start hearing 'Where's the mail?' by Monday."

 

Early-rising platoon grabs chance for sleep once Taliban threat eases

The military is notorious for the phrase, "Hurry up and wait."

On Thursday, soldiers from Bravo Company's 1st Platoon experienced a variation on that theme: "Hurry up and sleep."

The platoon left COP Dand wa Patan shortly after 2 a.m. and cautiously drove about 15 miles through the predawn darkness to the town of Chamkani -- the site of a daylong "peace gathering" of tribal elders from six of Patkya province's 14 districts.

Concerned that insurgents might try to disrupt the event, higher-ups assigned 1st Platoon to serve as a quick reaction force, or QRF, to put down any attacks or assist with any emergencies.

The platoon mounted up once when reports came in that a district government center was under attack by 10 to 15 Taliban fighters about 20 to 30 minutes down the road.

But before the trucks could roll, military helicopters took care of the problem in short order and 1st Platoon stood down.

So what did the soldiers do during their 13-hour stay at Forward Operating Base Chamkani?

Mostly, they stretched out on cots and caught up on a lost night of sleep.

 

Soldier lauds those on home front for demonstrating their true grit

As far as Staff Sgt. Brett Johnson of Holden is concerned, Bravo Company's real heroes aren't anywhere near here on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They're the wives and families back home in Maine.

"They find themselves managing the house, the kids -- getting them where they have to be -- the vehicles, holding down a job. It's amazing," said Johnson, who works in his civilian life as a postal carrier in Bangor.

In Johnson's case, that hero would be his wife, Jesse, who's back home with sons Bryan, 16; Ian, 11; and Rowan, 3.

Dad misses you guys.

 

Remote location fails to faze Bravo, battalion chief declares

Lest anyone doubt all this talk about Bravo Company being way, way out there on the front lines of Operation Enduring Freedom, take it from their battalion commander -- they are.

"Every company kind of has their own flavor to them -- and these guys definitely have their own unique way," said Lt. Col. Robert Charlesworth, who oversees 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry, during a brief interview at FOB Chamkani last week.

And what is Bravo Company's "flavor"?

"They're a very resourceful bunch of men," replied Charlesworth, who lives in 3rd Battalion's home state of Vermont.

(Bravo is one of three 3rd Battalion companies in other states -- the others are based in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.)

"Battalion headquarters (in Gardez) is probably farther from Bravo than any other of my companies," Charlesworth said. "So they're really forced to do a lot of things on their own."

What's more, he continued, "They have a lot of skills in that company that you typically would find at a battalion headquarters. I'm really proud of the way that they've been able to adapt."

 

Where to send those packages, letters and Monster Energy Drinks

Several readers have asked where to send letters and goodies to Bravo Company.

The address is:

COP Dand Patan

B/3-172nd IN (MTN)

APO AE 09354

Attn: 1SG Brooks

Or, if you happen to send any Monster Energy Drinks, make that ATTN: Sgt. Nikolas Edwards.

"I'll pass it out to the other guys," said Edwards, who hails from Livermore. "I promise."

 

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