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December 20, 2013

Nemitz: One small step

A foray to a village to search for Taliban weapons ends with an impressive parade of camouflage.

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

(Continued from page 2)

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Staff Sgt. Anthony Marson of Richmond waves to onlookers Saturday as the Maine Army Natonal Guard’s Bravo Company marches for the first time through the Afghan village of Chamkani.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn shakes hands with local boys.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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EDITOR’S NOTE

Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram columnist Bill Nemitz is reporting from the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Nemitz left Memorial Day weekend to join the 152 Maine men who make up Maine Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry. They are among the 94,000 troops currently in Afghanistan.

7:35 a.m.: After marching for a half mile across a patchwork of cultivated fields, Bosse and Marson's squad reconnect with part of Foley's element under a long row of shade trees.

There they wait for over an hour while soldiers under the direction of Staff Sgt. Benjamin Straubel of Hermon and Staff Sgt. Brett Johnson of Holden complete their searches of the other two targets.

The Afghan boys have caught up with the soldiers -- and one has brought along his handmade slingshot.

"Here," says Sgt. 1st Class David Frahm of Auburn, placing an empty plastic water bottle on a rock wall. "See what you can do with this."

The young boy reaches down, puts a pebble in the slingshot, pulls and fires. It misses.

He tries again. This time, the rock sends the bottle flying into the air with a loud "thunk."

The soldiers applaud. The boy beams.

Bosse, who's been busy taking pictures of the boys on his digital camera and then showing them the results, gives two of them each a pen.

"We win them, then we win," he says, motioning toward the enthralled youngsters. "We don't, then we lose." 

8:50 a.m.: The searches have all been completed. Alas, nothing has been found at any of the three sites.

But the mission is far from over.

Rather than march back the way they came, Bosse orders his men to hike back out to Route Chimpanzee, the paved road, and then march back to the base directly through downtown Chamkani.

For all the U.S. military convoys that have passed through the crowded marketplace in recent years, no unit this size has ever done it on foot.

The soldiers walk in two columns, leaving several yards between one another to minimize the risk of a multiple-casualty attack.

Once again, no Afghan women can be seen anywhere on the street, sidewalks or open doorways.

But the men and boys are everywhere -- and they all stop to watch this most unexpected parade.

Some smile. A few even wave. But most just stare blankly as the procession of camouflage, Kevlar and high-powered weaponry passes them by.

"It's different," says Spc. Chase Hinkley of Old Town as he walks along with his M-240 Bravo machine gun. "And a little nerve-racking."

"Some of them are friendly," notes Pfc. Jason Chapman of Hollis as he makes his way down the middle of the street watching the Afghan men and boys watch him.

"And some are like, 'Why the hell are you guys here?"' Chapman continued. "They see American and they think 'In trucks. Never come out.'

10:30 a.m.: The last soldiers from First Platoon walk through the gate back into FOB Chamkani.

Lt. Foley, the platoon leader, trudges up the hill and signs off his radio frequency.

No weapons or explosives found. One person detained. And an all-American, boots-on-the-pavement finale like this town has never seen.

Is he happy with the outcome?

"Yes," Foley replies.

How so?

"People know now that we're willing and able to walk into that area," Foley replies.

Company commander Bosse, who's shaken more hands today than a politician on Election Day, agrees.

"This was probably the biggest show of (anti-Taliban) force these people have seen -- ever," Bosse says. "Just being out. Just having these people see you try to do something. That's a positive."

The weary soldiers pile back into their armored vehicles and head back to COP Dand wa Patan.

Mission accomplished?

Only time will tell.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be reached at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

 

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Additional Photos

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Soldiers from Bravo Company's First Platoon and a member of the Afghan Border Police cross a rickety bridge Saturday near the Afghan village of Meydani.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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A young Afghan boy shows off his slingshot while he and his friend visit with Bravo Company soldiers Saturday outside Meydani.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Bravo Company commander Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn chats with a local elder during Saturday's search operation. No weapons were found, but a man suspected of Taliban ties was detained.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Photos by Bill Nemitz5 lines plz - Top photo: Staff Sgt. Anthony Marson of Richmond waves to onlookers Saturday as the Maine Army Natonal Guard’s Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry marches for the first time through the Afghan villiage of Chamkani. Inset: Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn greets a group of young Afghan boys Saturday as Bravo Company enters the village of Chamkani.

  


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