A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mountains of Kunar

Greetings all, after another lengthy delay. We suffered a tough hit this past week, when 10 soldiers died in a Chinook crash in probably read or heard about it, as it was the biggest single loss here since the Chinook with 16 onboard was shot down last summer. While I didn't know any of them personally, we all feel the loss, and are appreciative of all the thoughts & prayers sent out here, so thank you for that.

The crash occurred in a valley very similar to the ones you see in these photos, so you can get an idea of what it's like for these air crews to conduct helo operations in this terrain...just on our inserts during the air assault, there were tricky situations on where they could touch down - many wound up tumbling out of helos that night, into landing zones of jagged tree stumps and splintered forest.

We began our inserts, boarding the Chinooks the night of April 11 (I had to mention the date, as it was the 12th birthday of a certain effervescent soccer superstar, my sister/goddaughter Annie). By the time we inserted, hiked and traversed for most of the early morning hours, then caught an hour's sleep, this was the scene when the sun came up. It was incredibly invigorating to be in that thin, clear mountain air, although some java would have been nice. Thank heavens for choc-covered espresso beans, and you who have sent me supplies of my crack-like addiction...

This terrain was no joke. It would be tough climbing without gear, much less with a combat load and full pack. But the views were incredible, and the trees amazing. Later I'd be more familiar with areas that had been stripped for timber, but early on, I was fortunate to see how massive the trees of this region grew to be.

One of the few shots I have of the platoon on the move, descending a ridgeline, with Pierre the cameraman and his own full combat load. While he did present a nice blue target, it was impressive what he managed to haul, and film on the move.

Another mountain camera battery worked very rarely in the morning cold, so I couldn't get shots of the snow that was actually BELOW our elevation. We were up there.

Trying to give a sense of the angles that the Marines were constantly traversing through our movements in the area. Footing was tricky in some places, especially where trees had been cleared and the dirt was loose. Those inclines weren't too forgiving if your weight shifted and your balance shifted with it...

Marines navigating among boulders and huge fallen trees...sometimes it seemed like Land of the Lost or some other cartoonish place with some of the obstacles we'd cross.

We wound up spending that night on an incline like this one, after another full day and evening on the move. It left me wishing for grappling hooks and straps, or a hammock, or anything that wasn't at a 60-degree angle!

One of those don't-take-a-bad-step slopes. While on a similar move a couple days later, a couple of units had to MEDEVAC some Marines for injuries suffered after falls. Fortunately, that would be the worst news for the battalion on this op.

Some local boys are questioned as we pass them by on the mountain trails. They were the only Afghans we saw all day. This region is remote, but clearly some of the troublemakers were staying out of sight, especially since they were often picked up in radio contact, watching our movements.

This was some of the most even ground in the overwatch position we wound up in for the night. I spent most of the few sleep hours down the ravine with a couple other Marines, looking for gear of ours that had taken off down the nearly vertical mountainside. Not good times.

See the bent tree trunk on the right side of the photo? That was my cursed spot!

Sitting with Greg the reporter before stepping off. We had reached our first objective at that point, and the platoon was about to begin a search of a village known to shelter enemy fighters and leadership. More to follow...


Anonymous CoffeeAddictsAnonymous said...

I knew you'd become a coffee freak one day or another, Paco ... welcome to the addiction ; ) And tell those damn reporters in bright colors to STAY DOWN!!!

May 9, 2006 at 7:13 AM  
Blogger Father of 3 said...

We're glad you're safe, Captain Dan.

May 9, 2006 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger Major John said...

Very nice report. Gotta love the terrain, huh. Oh, AND THANKS FOR LEAVING US HANGING LIKE THAT!!!

Can't wait for the next entry.

May 9, 2006 at 6:00 PM  
Blogger Miss Army Wife said...

Thank you for mentioning the Chinook crash that took place. I am a wife of a 10th Mountain solider, who is currently in Afghanistan and was not to far from where the crash site was. Although it was not anyone from our unit, we all felt the loss for the men of the 3-71 Calvary of the 10th Mountain Division of the Army. They are still our men, our fathers, our husbands and our heros, not matter what unit or MOS you may fall into. You still see them every week at the P/X, you still pass them comming home through the gates, and you still think of them the night they get on thier planes to do the job that only a very select few can do. I, along with every wife in our division thanks you for this blog. We don't get to hear from our husbands often, and we have no internet access as of now to see pictures of where they are. You make us feel like they are all a little closer to home. You make the day easier for us, just by seeing what our husbands are doing on a day by day basis. Thank you for this, you are helping more than you know.

Mrs. Jennifer Borik

May 10, 2006 at 5:08 AM  
Blogger Skip said...

I'm the father of one of the troops of the 3-71st, my son was on that mountain, saw the crash, and lost some friends. I wish there was some way I could comfort him. I can only pray for him, the families, and the rest of the troops. Thanks for the pics, it allows those of us at home to see what a difficult job these men are doing.

Stuart Snell

May 10, 2006 at 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Susan Snell said...

Army mom said...
I am the mother of one of the soldiers who was on the mountain. I am a lucky mother whose son is still with us. My heart and my prayers go out to all soldiers, living and lost to death, and their families.
Thank you for giving us some pictures to put with the stories.
Susan Snell

May 10, 2006 at 2:45 PM  
Anonymous Agnieszka O. said... looks like Colorado. Amazing views...
I mail care packages to 3 units in Kunar province and was terrified by the news about that crash. My prayers go to the families...
Pierre is a walking target indeed - does he still speak some Polish ?(I was born in Poland).
If you need coffee :-) - let me know. I get coffee donated from a local store, no problem for me to mail it. I also record many TV programs and mail DVDs.
Stay safe,
Denver, CO

May 10, 2006 at 3:59 PM  
Anonymous BA Baracus said...

"Gimme a cup of coffee!"

"How do you want it?"

"In a cup, fool!"

Paco, I can't believe this terrain you guys have to traverse and sleep on. That's insane. These pictures are amazing. I'm anxiously awaiting further reports.

"It's time for Paaaaccooooo's Newwwwwws..."


May 10, 2006 at 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Jan said...

Glad you are safe. God bless all who fight in this beautiful but inhospitable world. My prayers continue for all of you deployed there and for the families and friends who suffered loss in the Chinook crash. For the families of the men who fight - you are in my prayers as well.

Stay safe Captain Dan.

May 10, 2006 at 8:59 PM  
Anonymous clarifying jan's comment said...

By "God bless all who fight", I trust you mean "all who fight in the name of peace and freedom" or something to that effect. Those who are fighting against those truths do not deserve God's blessing.

May 12, 2006 at 9:42 PM  
Anonymous Grimmy said...

So, in whatever school it is that journalists go to, they teach them that bullets are alergic to the bright blue color spectrum?

July 3, 2006 at 6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used one of your pictures for the Kunar article on Wikipedia. Please delete if this is not licensed for that use.

September 4, 2006 at 11:10 PM  

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