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:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/08/19/asia/afghan.php?page=1

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/20/world/asia/20afghan.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7569531.stm

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.

8 comments:

mikentexas said...

Thanks for publishing this. I've read several articles on the attack, mostly because of your connection to that but also because of the apparent change in Taliban tactics.
Thanks also for the explanation of the comm limitations. Most folks don't understand the limitations as clearly as you described it.
In some ways (maybe many ways), I wish I'd still been around for this fight. I don't relish the separation or the danger, but I'd like to have done my part.

Haole Wahine said...

Thanks for the inspired post !

There is so little news for families and friends, coming out of Afghanistan. Every little bit helps. Your insights relieve more of the anxiety than we will ever be able to measure.

The reality of the battle field is hard for those not directly involved to totally grasp. We know about the bandwidth, about the black outs, and all that; but, we still become impatient.

We have so much "instant" news, that when we hear NOTHING, fear and imagination take over. We search the internet for any tidbit of information, and then the imagination pushes us somewhere we don't want to go.

We know things are busy, we know our loved ones are "taking care of business, and that most of the time "no news is good news", but we cannot wrap our minds around those concepts.

We come upon words like yours in this post, and your thoughts give us something positive to grab and hold onto for all we are worth. "Okay, LTC Phillips knows what he's writing about. Right, that must be what is happening. (Deep Breath) Bandwidth, busy taking care of business, first news does not tell the whole story. (Deep Breath) All the things we keep hearing are happening."

It helps to hear SOMEONE with experience putting it all together, instead of that voice in the back of our imaginations getting louder.

I thought about you and others I know from Salerno, when I first got the word.

Of course, my first thoughts were of those still there, and their safety. But then, for all of you who have been there, and are now redeployed. I could imagine each and every one of you immediately slipping into readiness mode. I've heard it from all of you too often. The things you would immediately be doing, if you were there, must have popped up in your mind. TRAINING KICKS IN ! ! !

How far did you get in your mental check list, before you realized you would not be implementing that check list?

Thank you for showing us the picture from "over there".

Thank you for hanging in there with all of us.

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/21/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Dave In Houston said...

Wow, I had read about this situation but had not realized that it was FOB Salerno! Thanks for the explanation of what is going on, the news summarizes a lot.

I am very glad to hear that the French (who have been our allies far more than they have been our critics) are fully engaged there. We can build a lot of bridges by shared sacrifices.

Paul said...

Hey, just stumbled on your blog today. Got a wife being deployed right now, and I appreciate hearing about the facts of deployment, leave, reintegration, etc.
Thanks for the blog, and thanks for all you do.

richard said...

Hi there, I just found your Blog while googling Salerno, as my son is currently home for a couple of days on his way from Mountain Home to serve at FOB Salerno, as a medic.

Great to see up to date info about the place.

~Diandra~ said...

I left there at the end of May 2008 and I want to go back already!! I would rather be there then stateside :)

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