Michael's Dispatches

Tracer Burnout


This Veloci-Chicken doesn’t seem to care about the firefight or the fire.


The fire is beaten down to a smolder.

After the fire drama subsided the family left in peace.  We moved to the compound next door. I saw Lieutenant Colonel Mike Katona up on a roof.  He said the family would be compensated for the losses.


Numerous firefights took place that day, but no others that included our element.  We could see and hear many of the scraps but we were not directly involved.

Night fell and we were resupplied by a CH-47 slingload.  The helicopter hurricane felt like it was going to blow me off the roof.  I wanted to sleep on the roof (we had machineguns and security up there) where it was cool, but CSM Charles Cook wasn’t good with that.  And so that’s the bottom line.  Our people get shot on the rooftops pretty often.  I had to slum it on the ground with everyone else.  During missions, you take orders just like the troops.


Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Mike Katona making plans in the improvised field headquarters.

2011-08-19-184428-3cc-1000Not superstitious: Soldier sleeping in body bag.

We slept on the ground.  Resupply had been dropped off in body bags called “speedballs” that had been prepacked by 4-4Cav before we left base.


Some Soldiers used the body bags as sleeping bags to keep the bugs off, though it had to be hot inside the moisture proof body bag.  Some preferred the heat to the bugs, while others preferred the bugs to the heat.  (I chose the bugs and am itching while writing this dispatch.)


Only the guards and I seemed to be awake when the fire from the previous day (in contiguous compound) rekindled and burst into flames.  The tracer bullet had started a fire that had not burned out.  There was nothing we could do other than hope that a ton of explosives were not hidden under the hay.


Back on the roof for a photo, I stayed low because the fire made a great silhouette.  All the hay in the compound burned from a single tracer.  The Taliban surely will say we punished a farmer.

And that was it.  The farmer has no hay for his animals this winter.

Please join my Facebook for daily updates.


+1 # Peter T 2011-08-22 15:02
Michael, this great reporting. Not strategic stuff, but up close and personal, the human drama. Michael, thanks for doing this. I know you could be back home, cooling your heals with a pina colada. We all owe you congrats.
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# shotgunner 2011-08-22 15:21
The army can buy this farmer some hay, right? Seems like a fair thing to do. And cheap. In the USA it's a hundred bux a ton or so. What can it be there?
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# phil childers 2011-08-22 15:29
Keep up the good work, my brother!
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# Violette 2011-08-22 15:31
for this poor peoples !

Can you "speed ball" some hay balls down there ?
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# Dan 2011-08-22 15:37
Mike, Note - PFC Brandon Longshore from Opelika, Alabama - I was also born in Opelika, and a bit of trivia, Col (R) Bob Howard MOH and DSC, was also born in Opelika.
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# MAUREEN 2011-08-22 16:12
Thanks for the photos. The poor chicken looks as if her feathers were torched. The women are brave to do what they do. Keep on Keeping ON, Michael
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# James S 2011-08-22 16:35
"I saw Lieutenant Colonel Mike Katona up on a roof. He said the family would be compensated for the losses."

They'll get money eventually, but if there was a lot of hay available, life wouldn't be so hard over there. Plus you have to think about transportation. Who's carrying around that hay?
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# Patrick Lasswell 2011-08-22 16:37
Hay is cheap...unless you have to haul it up a mountain into a hostile fire zone. How much would you charge to deliver a load of hay someplace the Taliban likes to shoot people who help the locals on behalf of the Americans? Also, the thing about compounds is that you can't just back your truck up and dump a load of hay, unless you're driving a CH-47.

For the cost of delivering a load of hay with a CH-47, you could probably send a kid to college...if you amortize the cost of lost helicopters into the mission. I'm not saying that it isn't worthwhile, but I am saying that enemy action makes everything more expensive.
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# Roch Thornton 2011-08-22 16:40
Military practicality and cultural context aside ... I find those headscarves colorful and attractive on American girls.

The traditional Vietnamese ao dai looked strange to me when I first saw it in 1970. But as it became familiar it also started looking graceful and attractive though very modest compared to what American girls were wearing at the time.
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# Wayne Philpot 2011-08-22 16:54
Mr. Yon, great dispatch once again. You can't get info like what you're publishing anywhere else. I have passed on the info from one of your earlier dispatches concerning the shortage of ladders to my nephew, who is in a National Guard unit likely to deploy there soon. Thank you for what you are doing, and please keep your head down.
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# Ryys 2011-08-22 16:59
That's pretty cool that women are fighting for the US of A. Are they Afghans?
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# Dan 2011-08-22 17:16
I wonder what a cammie headscarf would look like, or even if it was tried? Would fit in well culturally though.
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# Dan 2011-08-22 17:17
WOULDN'T fit in culturally
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# Bobby Wingate 2011-08-22 18:09
Enjoy your dispatches. Keep up the great work. Extend a much appreciated thank you to LTC Katona,CSM Cook all 4-4 Cav Troopers for their service to Our Country. Never Forgotten 24/7 365. Please thank PFC Longshore for his most quick reaction in saving life of small boy. Please maintain security 360 at all times. CTM God Bless All The Way
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# Leyla Najma 2011-08-22 18:15
It's too bad people are stuck in the middle especially their homes and way of life. You guys are the good guys and at least they had you all to help out.


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# Randy Hensel 2011-08-22 22:29
Michael, I would like to see you go out with A/4-4 sometime. Can you break away from the HQ section? CSM got you tied down? Your photojournalism is very important to us at home. I predict many more awards coming your way. Thanks. Randy Hensel, vet, Army ADA, Cpt.
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# Will Cushman 2011-08-23 00:21
Great dispatch. The photos are exciting and the narrative really tells the story. Keep safe and stay as safe as you can while completing your mission. What a fine bunch of young men and women we are blessed with over there.
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+1 # David Hustvedt 2011-08-23 00:25
As a wildland firefighter who has put out a lot of burning hay bales for Wyoming ranchers here is an important message:
You must spread the burned hay and put it out completely to avoid this kind of disaster. You might want to pass it along to the troops. Hay is extremely important to Wyoming ranchers and Afghanis.
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# Violette 2011-08-23 08:58
Has really BIG HANDS : strange, is she a he undercover ?

And VIVE OPELIKA,the boy was rescued !
Michael,I read with relieve that you had ladders ...
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# tj 2011-08-23 15:24
It is *SO* important to help the locals caught in the cross-fire. Almost no matter what the financial cost, it is a CHEAP way to get & keep them on our side, and shows the whole neighborhood we are the good guys. A pile of hay we give them or pay for today turns into TONS of life-saving intel in the weeks to come!
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# kyles mom 2011-08-23 16:18
Thank you for doing this!! There is a picture of my son in your article!! It is amazing yet terrifying to see!! I am so proud of him and all of our soldiers. Please be safe and may God continue to bless each of you and keep you wrapped in his comforting and safe arms.
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# Eric 2011-08-23 19:58
And thanks to you for raising such a fine young American, who's willing to risk his life to protect all of us and make a better life for the poor Afghans in Michael's report. I pray your son comes home safe and sound, with a big hug for his Mom!
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# Eric 2011-08-23 20:00
...pulling the unburned hay away from the smoldering pile will prevent the entire supply from going up if the embers reignite.
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# Jack E. Hammond 2011-08-26 06:54
The problem with hay in Afghanistan is first finding it. Then if you find it, transporting it. Transporting it by a helicopter like the CH-47 is very expensive. Bringing it in out of country is just way to expensive. The cheapest and safest thing to do is just pay the farmer for his cattle, then he can slaughter them and sell the meat and buy new cattle after winter.

But there is another problem which points to the USAF being a**holes big time because they are loosing pilot slots and will do anything to keep slots or steal slots from the other services. For a while the USAF was letting the US Army have fixed wing transports that were in the CH-47 size. A lot cheaper to use twin engine transport to haul stuff than a helicopter any day. The US Army has a small fleet of British made C-23 Sherpas that the USAF no longer wanted. But they are worn out from Iraq. The US-A was going to replace the C-23s and along comes the USAF. With C-23s they could load and shove it out.
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# cdkr 2011-08-26 13:36
Great read, thanks michael.
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# Karen 2011-09-05 08:35
I love to see how our troops help the locals in situations like this, especially Pfc Longshore's actions to save the young boy. Proud of them and also proud of our military who finds a way to compensate the locals for losses precipitated by combat. What other country does that (except maybe the Brits and Canadians -- maybe someone can tell me)??? Michael, your photos show us so vividly what it's like there and how our troops have to sleep while they're out on missions, how the females play a part, etc. Outstanding report! Also, glad to hear the censorship issue is resolved! You had me worried. We NEED your dispatches!
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# Aleric 2011-09-14 16:14
Last I heard we have a large number of Helicopters that could carry a load of hay. Load it up, fly it over, drop it in the compound, take off with the dors open, residual hay blows out, problem solved. I have transported lots of hay for my Step Dads horses, it isnt a hard task to gather up a bunch of round bales and cart them in a chinook.
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