To borrow a famous line from Ireland's legendary Michael Collins, "Can I have that hat?" That's LtGen Eikenberry himself, bidding farewell to one of the region's governors before we set off for the tour. Some of these photos, including this one, were taken by a combat camera soldier who I brought along for the whirlwind trip.
The ol' chinook...where would we be without this capable bird in the 'stan? It was again my transportation of choice for this adventure, along with most of the schmoes in the traveling carnival.
As for the VIP party of the carnival? They're in the blackhawk, swooping down overhead here...a split second before blowing dirt, rock and anything unsecured across the wide-open dust spaces of our first stop.
"It's like this, sir...we can build structures all day, but this will still be a desolate wasteland." The general gets the lowdown on the latest construction progress of a sprawling new Afghan National Army base we visited, from the engineers overseeing it. (Not an actual quote)
On your left is a low-slung military building, the type popularized...oh, everywhere in Afghanistan. Keep in line, please.
Hard hat or no hard hat, nothing quite rocks out like a good set of manjammies.
It was amazing to see just how much construction was taking place at once on the large base, which will hold thousands of ANA (Afghan) soldiers when it's completed.
Touring the gleaming white insides of some brand-spanking-new buildings, which would surely be looked at with envy by residents of a few of our current Coalition installations...
Heading now to our next stop, we passed over a good bit of farmland along with the usual endless miles of arid land. Our pilots shook us up with some evasive manuever and terrain masking, making it an enjoyable ride...
See the enjoyment? That's how happy Marine captains are in this country when they see another one. My friend Shannon was instrumental in helping me get onboard this little getaway at the last minute.
Heading towards the mountains that border Pakistan, and our next destination, FOB Tillman...named of course for Pat Tillman, the NFL star who quit football to become an Army Ranger after 9/11, and was later killed in Afghanistan.
Sandbag bunkers guard the entrance to this outpost, situated in Lwara, an area that looks desolate but is actually a very active border region. It was here that Kevin Sites was writing about on his blog a couple of months back...
Check out the tactical red ballcap on the long-haired Afghan interpreter in the front few...he made quite a pair with the pot-bellied police chief next to him.
The deep and heavily-fortified bunkers and mortar pits give you a good idea of what a frontier post this is.
Nothing like the top general in the land coming through your barracks to brighten your day, right? Honestly, I was impressed with how he took the time to greet each individual he came across, despite always-tight schedules.
Check out the crazy wiring! God bless 'em for employing Afghan labor, but yikes. The woman who seems oddly out of place in the background is CNN's Barbara Starr, also along for the trip.
The soldiers of Alpha Company, 2-87 Infantry - known as Catamount - assemble for the general's visit.
After recognizing a few individuals for their actions above and beyond the call of duty, the general, a former commanding officer of their battalion, addressed the troops. He praised them for the hard fighting they've put in, and spoke frankly about the work yet to be done.
An air crew member lends the CNN cameraman a hand by keeping him from tumbling out of the rear of the chinook while we fly back to Salerno.
Alas, another helo flight without the 90 degree angle I was hoping to capture. I did miss the best banks, but this one was decent at least. On to the next adventure...