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, June 27, 2006

Into the Korengal

'Stand to' comes early in the field - it's the hour when all are to be up and on watch, guarding against a daybreak attack or other suspicious activity. It wasn't hard to be up that early when sleeping on a rock river bed anyway, so I didn't mind much.

Even the jingle truck drivers get bed head out here! Mornings were still chilly in Kunar at this point. A couple of these trucks would be part of my latest hitched convoy, from the Pech River to a just-established outpost in the Korengal Valley.

More jingle trucks! These colorful beasts, decorated as festively as possible, transport anything and everything for the Afghans and often for us. Check out the crown on this one...

King of the jingles, right here.

Meanwhile, the river crossing still continues, as some vehicles remained on the other side for security overnight. Soon though, the convoy was whole and ready to roll...

Naturally, in no time the local population had turned out to watch the show. Look at the feisty guy in the right. Buddy, watch where you're throwing those stones! (he was actually just chucking them into the field - probably undoing a project that we funded at some point)

Soon we were making our preparations to roll, after a convoy brief and threat assessment. Villagers had to be reminded to stand back from the vehicles about every 5 seconds, as usual. I can't blame them for being curious though - we were in one long train of vehicles.

I found my friend Al Andriotti on the convoy...this guy was a complete riot, raised in Sicily and later all over Europe, he was one of the unlikeliest Marines you'd ever come across. Naturally for a Sicilian, he handled payments to the locals.

At long last, we were underway...and driving literally up a river for a stretch. As noted before on this journal, sometimes that IS the road.

This is my favorite shot of curious passersby. It gives a pretty decent perspective on how wedged in between the banks we were.

A few tight twists and turns and we were out of the creek and heading up past large compounds into the entrance of the valley...

I was stunned at how close the Afghans would walk by our lumbering vehicles, although there were clearly weren't many options on these slopes. It was definitely their main route of transit also.

Sorry, sorry...coming through. In places they were hard at work, "improving" the road. How larger jagged rocks improve it, I'm not sure, but they sure were working back-breakingly hard.

The higher we went, the more gorgeous the views became. I'll admit that it became easy to be distracted by such scenery, so it's probably a good thing I wasn't driving or manning the .50 cal machine gun.

This road was no joke. I thought I'd travelled some harrowing ones before in this country, but this took the "Please watch the edge!" cake. On the passenger side, we'd guide to the rock wall until we were scraping it in order to avoid drifting the other direction.

As with elsewhere in the valley, terraced fields could be found way, way up there. How on earth these farmers get down to the river beyond sheer rock cliffs remains a mystery to looks dangerous as hell.

You take the high road and I'll take the low...actually we took the high while our jingles took the low when it split, so they had to climb back up to re-join the convoy. I liked how the roads just snaked away from this vantage point.

There's my trusty gunner and the vehicle that took me up this last leg. After a few hours we'd reached the lumber yard, where the Marine battalion had set up an outpost a couple of days earlier.

A view of the emerging outpost, looking up from the one flat area. It was a crazy scene, with shelters and lean-tos springing up all over the hillside, like an Old West mining camp.

The center of a sprawling lumber yard for years, this building was heavily reinforced for use as a command post. But it was an individual effort to go stake out a sleeping spot. In true wandering fashion, I'd be in a different location every few nights while staged out of there.

By the Grace of God, I was able to pull a building crew together to assist with my construction...that's the chaplain, his assistant and a combat cameraman with me, in between some heavy lifting.

Soon I was chillin' in my new digs, adjacent to one of the towering lumber piles of the hillside. That Kunar timber is extremely heavy, and they don't use machinery to cut or haul's done the same way it's been done for millenia here, by hand.

I'd spend the next few days primarily at the outpost, getting out only for a few patrols and missions in the surrounding valley, and will post some of that too. It's strange to be posting this all now that I'm leaving soon, but time and internet didn't allow for it sooner, so I hope you still enjoy the journey...


Anonymous Agnieszka O. said...

We enjoy the journey, don't worry :-)
I've read a lot about Korengal valley - hot spot, many fights. It's nice to see pictures. Is it much "quiet" this year?

June 27, 2006 at 4:53 PM  
Anonymous pwvtsfuy said...

Yes indeed we are enjoying your journey, getting so involved at times that time is lost!! But you made it and here I love the comment, "By the Grace of God, I was able to pull a building crew together to assist with my construction..." He really is looking after you!! Pretty good digs they seemed to be, too - sturdy!!

You snuck in a line right there at at the end, "It's strange to be posting this all now that I'm leaving soon," and since I know you probably cannot say too much about this it may be just that! However, if you are suddenly outa there, don't forget those who have "made this journey with you" figuratively speaking and get back to us when you are closer to the land you have served with such dedication. When you can. We will want to know that the "young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk" has been safely completed with the hero home. God Bless...

June 27, 2006 at 7:52 PM  
Anonymous Janet said...

No, Capt Dan, the prior comment is not a new reader called pwvtsfuy ??? just Janet somehow unintentionally incognito..

June 27, 2006 at 7:58 PM  
Anonymous Pat in MN said...

I've really enjoyed travelling this dangerous and beautiful country vicariously with you. You tell the story so well, with your wonderful words and pictures. Thank you!

June 27, 2006 at 10:12 PM  
Blogger BillyJoelhugefan said...

yes yes, falco- er...capt dan...
where DID u go to photography school?
i know you did the shading and ladscpae on purposeyou must have gone to a prestigious school like Boston U's center for the arts and photogs, yes?

btw those jingle trucks....thats good stuff, i'd like to drive one...that and a zamboni

ps.. keep that farmers tan rockin

June 29, 2006 at 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paco, you are an absolute crack-up! I love it when you comment on the crowds of people in manjammies and dyed beards, etc! I literally laugh out loud b/c I can hear you saying it. Love you, bro!
xoxo, Weez

June 29, 2006 at 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great pictures Major Dan. Now what got my attention and how I accessed this posting was b/c I've been searching for Al and Susan Andriotti. Al used to work with my now deceased marine husband, Top Weber. I would really like to say hi to them. I'm also curious about their daughter Vanessa.

Please tell Al and Susan hi for me. Thank you.
dee in Oceanside Ca.

May 3, 2008 at 2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dee, Very sorry to hear that Ron is dead, we're still leaving in Hawaii, Vanessa graduated last year from Hawaii Pacific University (HPU)she's a Psychologyst. I'm with III MEF and in few I'll be going to Afghanistan one more time. How can I get in touch with you?

June 14, 2008 at 4:26 AM  
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