Thursday, 21 August 2008

News of FOB Salerno

Almost every day the following thought crosses my mind; "I wish I was back in Afghanistan." This is particularly true when FOB Salerno is in the news, as it is again this week.

For those of you who follow the news out of Afghanistan, you know FOB Salerno was hit twice in two days with suicide bombers, rockets, mortars, small arms fire and finally insurgents planning to infiltrate the FOB and kill as many Soldiers as possible. Suicide bombers killed at least 12 Afghans in the first day's attack; That night, in an attack lasting all night, at least 10 suicide bombers attacked the base with the intention of infiltrating the base and blowing themselves up, undoubtedly in key areas such as the dining facility, hospital and airfield.

Here are just a few of the many stories about the incidents:

I know from experience that these stores are not complete, but that's the nature of the business. The "fog of war" makes it impossible to know exactly what happened so soon after the attacks, if ever. When I was in Iraq and Afghanistan I would often read about incidents I had personally witnessed and wonder where they got their information! However, I'm sure these articles capture the big picture, even if they miss small details.

I know families worry about their deployed loved ones, and when news from "down range" hits the networks they wait by the phone or the computer to make sure their special someone is okay. Since I've never had to endure the pain of wondering about a deployed family member, I'm not qualified to speak about this topic. I can, however, shed some light on what's going on down range and why those phone calls and emails don't come as quickly as the families would like.

First, although it's big news over here, in many ways it's just business as usual for those who are deployed. Over here we only hear about it when it involves Americans or an American FOB. Over there, they track every incident, whether in involves Americans or Afghans or any of our Coalition partners. And Afghanistan is a big country; an attack in eastern Afghanistan has little to no impact on operations in northern, southern or western Afghanistan. Families hear "Afghanistan" in the news and worrry, but when deployed Soldiers hear about an attack in eastern Afghanistan they just check their basic load of ammunition and get back to work.

Second, when something really big (or bad) happens in one area the Soldiers in that area are too busy dealing with the incident and the aftermath to call or email. During and immediately after an attack there is more to do than I can talk about here. I know in the hospital the workload following an attack like this goes up immediately, and stays up for days or weeks. Everyone on the FOB and in the area affected by the attack wants to call home or email to let their family know they are okay, but they are just too busy to take the time for even this simple task.

Finally, when something like this happens the Army limits communication from that specific area, if not the entire country. They do this for several reasons. Primarily, the bandwidth (on which all our phone calls and emails depend) is limited over there and what is available is needed to communicate official reports and orders and requirements to respond to and follow up on the incident. Also, if there are casualties, the Army wants to ensure families are notified of casualties (whether killed or injured) through official channels, not from a phone call from a well-meaning friend. The best way to do this is to limit the bandwidth available for phone calls and emails until they have a chance to sort things out and get the casualty notification process started, then they can increase the bandwidth again and let the unoffical process begin.

Not many days go by when I don't wish I was back in Afghanistan. The funny thing is, it's not just me. Whenever FOB Salerno is in the news I get calls from my former comrades in arms, wishing were still there, still in the fight, still taking care of patients. Time moves on and so must we, but I now understand my father and all other veterans who served and sacrificed and left a part of themselves in a far away land.

God Bless America.

Phillips, Out.