Thursday, 31 May 2012

Reflections of 10 Months in Afghanistan......

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Well, its been a while since I wrote my last Blog, things have a changed somewhat in the meantime, firstly I’ve enjoyed a fabulous five weeks at home in Ireland with the family which was fantastic and secondly, I have now taken up a new appointment in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia…..

So ends the Afghan Adventure, though there is probably lots more that I will write on the topic as I am fascinated by the country and learning as much as I can about it.

I thought I would write this post about the stand out memories I have taken from my time there in no particular order, so here goes….
1-      The Weather
The first big impact last July was 52 degree heat and dust, dust and dust ! takes some getting used to, that contrasting to the snows of Uruzgan in January  followed by flooding in February and March and a memorable sand storm in Helmand in March where I couldn’t see beyond 10 feet and sand got absolutely everywhere..

2-      KAF – Kandahar Airfield
I recall coming down the steps of a Boeing 737 on to the tarmac at KAF, in 52 degrees heat on July 3rd 2011, and first seeing the famous sign “Welcome to Kandahar Airfield”, an opposing, intimidating place, everywhere were soldiers with loaded weapons, apache helicopters, fighter jets, massive amounts of Military Hardware, I also recall the arrivals area, which is know there as “Taliban’s Last Stand” with lots of bullet holes and damage to prove the point, the dust, the noise, the crowds of people (40,000 people in KAF), the many different coloured uniforms of the many different nations, the overnight rocket attacks, the first nights poor sleep…….

       3-      The Afghan Landscape

Seen through many flights around the country, the southern desert, the mountains of Uruzgan, the incredible sunsets, the green zone river beds, the mud houses, and flying over the snow covered mountains of the north, it is truly an amazing landscape.

4-      Military Travel

I first checked in with the Royal Australian Air Force at Kandahar Airfield on July 6th 2011, to get a flight on a C-130 Hercules to Tarin Kowt, there followed a full safety and security drill, and eventually a walk across the tarmac and climbing the rear ramp of the Hercules into its cavernous belly, wearing body armour, helmet and carrying all my stuff, accompanied by forty armed soldiers, a memory I won’t forget taking off and landing in Tarin Kowt, it would be the first of many similar flights taken with the army on board various aircraft including a Chinook !

5-      Missing Home
There’s no easy way to overcome this one, its damn hard to be away from the family, even more so in such an environment as Afghanistan, where they obviously worry about your safety, the reality was that the worry for them is greater than mine as they know less of the environment, however they were fantastically brave, well done in particular to my two young sons, Daithí and Oisín, though young, have the wisdom of youth !!. They were so proud of their Dad when I was away and in those parting moment at airports leaving, they were so brave, though they found it tough, and shed tears as we all did, I’m extremely proud of them. Laura also for her unwavering support through times when communications were down and dealing with the “home front” while I was away and of course being both a Mum and a Dad to the boys !

6-      Our Afghan Partners
In order to do my job successfully, I relied heavily on having a good working relationship with local Afghan Suppliers, I really enjoyed all the comings and goings and frustartions of everyday dealings with them. I was always “Sir”, everything was polite and they were always so grateful for the business, they would speak of their wives, children, politics and security and would always say “Inshalla” or “Mashalla”, to explain respectfully how something I needed would be many days late….
I admire them for their courage and dedication to their families and will miss working with them, good luck to you guys and may you see a better country in the near future, you deserve that much…

7-      Working with the Military
This was really a story of being “embedded” and working closely with the Military, primarily the Australian Defence Forces, but also the Danish, British and Lithuanian Armies.
Regardless of your opinion, surrounding the politics of this conflict, I have enormous respect for the men and women of the armed forces and the work they do. A lot of their work goes unnoticed , community projects, road building, water projects, education projects along with the more challenging aspects of conflict.
I met and worked with some fantastic officers, and soldiers over my time there and have great memories of achieving great results in very challenging conditions, real teamwork at its best !
8-      My Team
I’m a huge fan of teamwork and team building is a huge element of achieving any goal, no more so than in this environment, I had a super team in Tarin Kowt, from my Administration and Stores Man, my Foremen, Tradesman and the all important Chef and local help also, a combination of Danish, South African, Indian, Philipino, Kosavar, Romanian and Afghan team members, hard working and diligent people, thanks for the memories.

9-      Attack on July 28th, 2011,  Tarin Kowt !
One of my early Posts on this Blog, this was on reflection a very disturbing event, an attack on the Governor’s Compound in the town which is just a few hundred metres from the Base, a number of Suicide Bombers attacked and many lives were sadly lost that day including women and children, a sad memory, the attack was reported on BBC that day by their Pashtu Service and their correspondent , Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, was sadly killed that day also- personally, I found this day very disturbing and the closest I have ever come to war and conflict, something I won’t forget……more here……..

10-   The Fallen
Again, sadly, I attended a number of repatriation ceremonies at Tarin Kowt, which I have posted here before, extremely moving events, and I will always consider it an absolute privilege to have attended them, respect shown by their comrades, commanding officers and us the contractors standing slient on both sides of the roadway from the Military Gym to the Flight Line at Tarin Kowt to a waiting Hercules C-130, saluted by the Military of four nations and the bowed heads of the civilians like us, carried up the ramp of the plane, honoured by a fly-past of 2 helicopters, and to the hushed silence of the waiting crowd and the roar of the engines of the C-130, climbing steeply out over the mountains for the long journey back to Australia, probably the stand-out memories I have of my time in Afghanistan……