Thursday, December 12, 2013
MORE FROM AFGHANISTAN
CATCH UP on all of Bill Nemitz's stories, see photos and read his blog.
By Bill Nemitz firstname.lastname@example.org
COMBAT OUTPOST DAND WA PATAN, Afghanistan - First and foremost, let me tell you about the picture attached to this column.
Maine Army National Guard Spc. Joshua Hager of Corinth describes this photo of himself at his post in Afghanistan as "majestic."
Courtesy Spc. Joshua Hager
Columnist Bill Nemitz is reporting from the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
One recent afternoon, as I walked down to the makeshift latrine here on this military installation overlooking the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, I heard someone call my name.
It was Spc. Joshua Hager of Corinth. He and a few other soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard's Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry, were hard at work filling sandbags for a mortar pit.
"Want to try it? It can be that kind of reporting where you do the whole, full experience -- you know, what's it called?" Hager said.
"You mean full-immersion reporting?" I asked.
"Yeah, that's it!" he replied. "Want to give it a try?"
Fortunately, deadlines beckoned. I begged off as graciously as I could.
But Hager was just getting warmed up.
"Hey, sir, I've got this picture of myself," he said. "It's really nice. Think you could put it in the paper? I mean it's good! Really good! It's ... it's ... it's majestic!"
With that, his fellow soldiers went to pieces.
"Hager, man, are you kidding me?" one said between belly laughs.
"Majestic? Did he just say 'majestic?'" chortled another.
"Hager? In the newspaper? That'll be the day!" guffawed still another.
Well, gentlemen, live and learn.
The truth is they're right. Spc. Hager is no different from any of the other 150 or so GIs serving on this rocky, dusty combat outpost 7,000 miles from postcard-perfect Maine.
The truth is every last one of them, from the company commander to the greenest private first class, deserves to have his photo on Page 1 of this newspaper -- and then some.
The truth is, most Mainers -- as they head for the lake or the beach this Father's Day or open a cold one by the backyard barbecue -- can't begin to grasp the sacrifices these sons, husbands and, yes, fathers are making halfway around the world.
You want something cold over here?
Try the enlisted men's shower.
You want a scenic vista?
Look through the coils of concertina wire at the mountains -- home not to the deer and the moose, but rather the Taliban and al-Qaida.
You want the way life should be?
In this tortured part of the world, you'd best set your sights on simply staying alive.
Watching these soldiers go about their duties these past two weeks, I've been struck how, to a man, they accept each day not just with stoicism, but also with a spirit of camaraderie more powerful than any I've ever seen.
It starts, as it must, at the top.
In Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn, Bravo Company boasts a commander with the essential mix of empathy and toughness that defines strong leadership.
One day over lunch, Bosse and I chuckled while a trio of young soldiers recalled -- with ever-escalating superlatives -- a recent mortar attack on a Taliban position from Bravo Company's Observation Post 13.
"Not too much testosterone in this bunch, huh?" Bosse said, beaming at his men.
A day or two later, I spotted a soldier wearing a black eye patch as he went about his duties.
Wounded in action?
The young GI had forgotten to wear his eye protection while traveling inside an armored vehicle. Bosse, wise man, figured a couple days seeing the world through one eye was an appropriate punishment.
(The soldier's two higher-ups also paid -- they had to write fictitious letters to a mother back home explaining why her son had lost his eyesight.)
(Continued on page 2)