Michael's Dispatches135 Comments
- Published: Sunday, 23 August 2009 18:49
The British call guard towers “sangers” (a word the Brits picked up during a previous Afghan war). At the bottom of the ladder, I announced my presence to the ANA soldier and he waved me up.
The EOD were blasting just a few hundred meters away, and after every explosion, the ANA soldier would imitate and laugh, “BOOM, BOOM, hahahahah BOOM, BOOM, hahahaha.” He was like a big kid. He begged to have his photo taken and then wanted to stare at his photo and begged for another photo and another. Finally, he got behind the machine gun and acted like he was shooting. He was saying “gugugugugugugugugugugugugugug” like he was firing the machine gun. I walked over to make sure the gun was not aimed at any British EOD soldiers, who were in a different direction off to the left. The ANA soldier kept making the gun rattle, “gugugugugugugugugugugugug,” while laughing like a six-year-old boy, “gugugugugugugugugug.” Where were the 3- to 5-round bursts? He was wasting imaginary ammo. I said “No! It should be gugug…..gugugugug…gugugug. Not gugugugugugugugugugugug.” He wrapped his finger on the trigger and started to pull, but before doing so, a red LED seemed to flash inside his brain. He stopped. And there was a long pause, like on one of those old-timey calculators where you press “2” “+” “2” “=” … and then wait five seconds for the answer “4.” He checked the safety which, predictably, was on FIRE despite that a long belt of ammo was draped from the loaded gun. He clicked the safety on and pulled the trigger and kept going, “gugugugugugugugugugug.” Some men should not touch guns. He made me nervous that he might accidentally shoot someone, especially a British soldier, and so I distracted him with the camera, and started taking notes. Every time the pen hit the paper, he would lean over and stare at the writing, as if he were going to accidentally poke out his eye with the pen.
That’s when his buddy showed up with the dog. In Afghanistan mostly only villagers keep dogs, but the ANA are copying the British and adopted their own guard dog. Sometimes I wish all the readers could just come out here for a single day. Readers would never forget it. Look at that dog. What’s he going to do against Taliban with RPGs? He’s hardly got energy to bark. The gugugugugugugug man insisted that I photograph his friend and the dog, and then Dog Boy sprinted to the base of the sanger, tied the breathless guard dog to the ladder, climbed up breathlessly and stared at his photo and laughed and smiled and started jabbering on and giving the thumbs up, crawled back down, untied the dog and ran away laughing while the dog tried to keep up and they both disappeared around that corner.
The British and American soldiers often like the Afghans they work with; most of the Iraq veterans (British and American) did not make friends in Iraq, but most soldiers who work closely with Afghans seem to like them. The Afghans do some crazy, goofy things, but something about Afghans can be very likeable. Practically none of us want to be here, but nobody seems to have malice for Afghans. It’s difficult to explain.
Mud walls meet cinderblocks. Locals fill the cinderblocks with mud. If the people spent as much time building roads as they do building walls, this place would have more roads than California.
Sangin from the Sanger. The town of Sangin is not exactly Jurassic Park like most of Afghanistan. Despite that the British have been here since 2006, some people just a few miles from town still think the British are Russians, and the more enlightened ones seem to think the British are Americans. Most people seem to know who Michael Jackson is, but few have heard of Canada.
A couple days before this photo, British soldiers on FOB Jackson were firing large .50-caliber machine guns over my head, intermittantly, for about an hour. I thought they must be shooting someone, but this dispatch was a work in progress and so eventually the .50 caliber noise started affecting my concentration while I sweated over the keyboard. Finally, I pulled out the earplugs, walked outside and asked why the heck they keep shooting right over base?! There was no return fire. Turns out they were test-firing the machine guns, but every time the Fire Support Group launched bullets, villagers would see tracers and run toward the beaten zone where dust poofed up and rocks splintered through the air. Each time the soldiers fired the machine guns, the British soldiers would have to wait for the villagers to clear out, then fire again and the villagers would run back to the impact zone. The soldiers and I laughed at the absurdity. Iraq was almost never funny. Afghanistan can be like a war version of Comedy Central.
That man is walking on Pharmacy Road. Most of the the walls are roughly fifteen feet tall, though the walls behind him are shorter. There is no commanding ground—this is about as good as it gets—and the snipers cannot get long shots or observe far. The enemy are aware and use the labyrinth of walls nearly as effectively as if they were tunnels.
Scrap in front of PB Tangiers.
The mercury rose with the sun. LtCol Rob Thomson gathered up some men and wanted to go see the EOD soldiers as they were clearing some of the most dangerous ground. Though they had just cleared this stretch, there have been many instances where soldiers got blown to pieces by ground that was just cleared. Cleared is more like “cleared.”
The EOD soldiers said this dog missed a big pressure-activated bomb and led his handler right over it. Luckily the team didn’t step on the device. The dog is better at finding shade than bombs, apparently. Probably should be a drug dog. I’m no expert on search dogs, but it is true that glaring sun can bake away scent. I had the feeling that the soldier felt like he let people down, but nobody said any such thing. Everybody knows it’s tough out here and sometimes you simply miss the bomb.
The “Wishtan 5” were killed on the Wishtan market road on the top left. Those five soldiers were killed in a similar attack wherein soldiers who survived the first attack were killed while rescuing their buddies.
We came into a compound that had been “cleared.” Without EOD, our losses would be far higher in Afghanistan. The EOD soldiers get special respect and earn every ounce of it.
LtCol Thomson checks progress.
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This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoHere's some pics (I believe) from the memorial service for Daniel Wild, Mark Hale, Matthew Hatton, et. al. from the Times: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6799892.ece?slideshowPopup=true&articleId=6799892§ionName=WorldAfghanistan
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoIt's been said that the first casualty of war is Truth. Thanks Michael for telling and showing us the Truth... the good, the bad, and the ugly. Your reports reflect the gritty reality of life in the field of combat and many in England and America depend on you while the major media in both our countries are caught up in the latest political scandal or shameless celebrity worship. But thank you most of all for bringing to light the brave and selfless sacrifices made by our British and American fighting forces. This is one Yank who is deeply grateful to the Brits for their willingness to stand with us in this terrible struggle. May God bless them! And may God hasten the day when wars will cease and our boys will come home. Until then Michael, may the power of God over-shadow you and keep you safe while you continue this most excellent work.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoSorry...I should have included all the UK, not just England.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoI would like to tthank all the men of our Brothers of the 2 Rifles fosr SMASHING the Taliban.
If Any Ever make it to NY visit any firehouse and tell your story you'll get a gerat meal.
Thanks for sthe reports Mike any if you get to NY look me up. email@example.com
911 rolling around again and there will be a great memorial at Ground Zero.
God Bless You All
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoAs an old Marine from Nam, I can only say i wish we had had some one there that would have told truth and not covered up what was really happening in our conflict there. As it was, we could not trust reporters, especailly Amercan newsmen to tell the story as we related to their questions. by the time it got home we were a sorry lot full of fear and had no way to win in that theatre, so we just clammed up and hoped that someone could get the story straight. My then wife was terrified by reports of bases were she knew I was operating out of being hit by horrendus firepower when all it was were a few sappers and maybe a dozen mortars and we were operational within hours. Then of cousre there was Walter Cronkite that gave the enemy the morale boost when he wrongly said we were totally defeated at Hue, when in actuality we defeated and destroyed the Vietcong, never to operate again. Only the NVA kept up the fight because of his statement and the anti-war element at home, the very same ones who now control our government. And here we are in a worldwide fight for survival with the radical islamics that have always been active since Mohammed. Politics as usual... The true nemesis of the fighting man put in harms way by the failed political whores
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoAxle said: “They only want to hear how sad we are.”
Well, heck, if you read the NY Times and listen to CBS, it's all about the victimized troops on this side of the water as well.
Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoMichael - thanks to our heroic troops and to you. The courageousness of all who have taken this battle to our enemies humbles me. Your dispatches and amazing photos provide reality and humanity to the horrors of this war. I pray that God protect you and all of our brave soldiers.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoAs an " trooper" from the Vietnam era, I applaud your type of reporting. It gives us Americans some good perspective about what its like to combat the narco and oil funded terrorism on its home ground. It really helps me get a feeling for the dedication of not only our troops, but our allies also. I commend them and you for brave service. Larry Kramer
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoOne lone voice telling the truth - yours. I note your comment not to trust the voices from London and Washington . We don't. It just grieves me that our fantastic troops have to rely on the sorry specimens of gordon brown and bob ainsworth. They deserve better, much better. Stay safe.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoMichael, may God bless you and all the troops; I appreciate everything that you're all doing. I pray you can continue with your work as it is invaluable. I enlighten people as often as possible. I work on an AF Base and see soldiers every day; we work with AF, Army, Guard, Marines and many others. We help prepare them for deployment and take care of them again upon their return. (I work at the base hospital here). Please keep your head down and stay safe. Again, God Bless you and all of the troops. Tell them there are many, many of us here who appreciate each and everyone of them; we do not take their fight in this war for granted; we know they put their lives on the line every day and we keep them in our thoughts and prayers all of the time. I cannot say enough about my appreciation for all the sacrifices. Does not matter if they are British, Australian, locals, we're all in this together and those of us here at home in the know realize that we wouldn't be able to continue in the fight without each other. thank goodness for those F15E Eagles and pilots and the chopper pilots and all the crews. Again, thank you all and God Bless you!
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoMichael:
I echo the comments concerning the singular, outstanding work you're doing. It's above reproach.
Which is more than can be said for the people and what motivates them in the MoD and the abrupt cancellation of your embed status. Speculation about what caused it runs the gamut. It wasn't the Google Maps or the purported OpSec issues. You got too close to the root nerve: the MoD hasn't been doing its job for a long time and the situation there is beginning to show the soft spots. For instance, they MoD has not funded the necessary helicopter acquisition for the past 10 years. Now they're in a program of trying to do service extension life on the stuff that should have been replaced long ago.
I suspect many of our UK friends are coming to terms with the same kind of fundamental failure that the so-called "Health Care Crisis" has triggered here in the US. It's not a disagreement over policy, or methods, or political party platforms. It's much more basic. In fact, fundamental to our so-called "representative" democratic form of government. We simply can no longer trust the political class, or any member of it, to do anything but look out for themselves. Even the apparent Good Guys let us down every day by not telling us the truth about what's going on, about who, specifically, is responsible for the failures -- all under the cover of having to "get along" in order to be effective.
We simply can't trust them. Any of them. On any issue. For any reason. They're professional liars. We trusted them to go and represent us as best they could while the rest of us went about our lives. And while we were doing so, they hijacked "our" government and crafted every part of it to suit their own greedy purposes. Notice: the MoD decision wasn't about The Truth. But what else is there --- that's worth fighting and dying for?
And we're all still trying to figure out what we're gong to have to do to get back our own government that's been stolen from us
Our prayers are with you.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agothe dedication, professionalism and sense of and performance of duty by our troops in Afghanistan with the utter incompetence, deceit and mendacity of their masters in their comfortable London lives. To appreciate what they do in such awful circumstances, which you vividly illustrate in your riveting reports is to realize how low, how utterly disgusting, how completely beyond contempt are the politicians who would send our young men and women into harm's way, ill equipped, undermanned, with flawed strategies and where the aggrandizement and stock of those same politicians is the only end-game.
How good must they feel to be able to release a convicted Islamic mass murderer of 270 British and American souls on compassionate grounds or condone that act by not objecting, or encourage it with 'memoranda of understanding' with pariah, terrorist States over prisoner transfer agreements. How well they must feel they have served the British people by saving us the money required to buy our troops basic body Armour, camouflage kit, properly protective vehicles, helicopters and more helicopters. How righteous must they feel when pontificating about human rights for everyone and democracy for all and ubiquitous freedom from oppression. Great aspirations crafted for public consumption in glittering pantheons, safe for the protagonists to do battle with their enemies across those debating chambers.
But there are other pantheons, burial grounds for our unsung heroes. 210 dead in Afghanistan, not one welcomed back to British soil by any politician. Marked only by a minute at PMQs, or a very brief mention on the six o'clock news these extraordinary people achieving the remarkable by the hour are our great inspiration. In their dieing and in their service they achieve everything that eludes their superiors- they live for their Country.
Your posts have been illuminating, should be required reading for every individual of reading age in the UK. You have probably been one of the great proponents of UK/US relations, particularly in the US and we are grateful. You have been a valuable conduit for our troops' loved one's at home, so I really am appalled at the MOD's decision to pull your embed status. But you know it was not their decision. To suggest that their tactics were wrong on the drug trade, or that they were helicopter-light, or incredibly, to suggest that what the kids were doing was in any way exceptional just did not fit the politicians posture.
So they sleep well in their comfortable beds while our AFs bake in the sun. They elegantly sidestep difficult questions while the troops dodge bullets. They do battle with their adversaries in comfortable tv studios while our young men and women live cheek by jowl with a ruthless enemy that would blow them up, stone them, slit their throats in an instant. How brave they are to advertise for yet more spin doctors at £70K pa to explain their policies while denying our fighting forces an absolute standard of protection.
It is impossible to reconcile the different positions of the British Govn't. On the one hand we are fighting fundamentalism there, because if we were not we would be fighting it here, and we are releasing fundamentalist mass murderers on compassionate grounds because not to do so would be a victory for fundamentalism? Give me strength. But all this while the men and women on the ground are being shot, exploded, maimed, killed.
I salute our troops. I laud you and your work. But at the same time I have utter revulsion for the politicians. That they can imagine that they have done a good day's work when another few coffins touch British soil, beggars belief. That they can sleep easy in their beds, knowing that with a few less diversity projects they could have saved a few lives takes me here: I hate these people with such a passion! No words can now describe my revulsion. Their talking heads are an affront to common decency; I cannot wait to be rid of them.
There is no cost too high that is not justified by the the safety of our babies. Thank heaven our troops know this and heaven help us that our politicians do not. So long as we have a voice like yours we will be reminded of that. They may silence you now, but the message you have delivered is loud and clear, unmistakable in it's simplicity. When we need someone on our side, we would all have a sapper before a politician any-day.
While the MSM continues to be so cozy with the politicians, you are a breath of fresh air. While they all but ignore the grief, suffering, sacrifice and honor of our troops and their families, loved ones, friends most of the population of this Country are beginning to understand. The people are repulsed by the politicians; they are reviled at large. Pretty soon they will have their just rewards. I hope our troops get theirs.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoI love you honey I loved seeing you in your pics. Like a bear.
Am sure your para/commando/high threat/being married to me the worst nightmare has made you strong enough to remember you can do anything you put your mind to sexyass. Keep your head. Cant wait to see you in November. Proud of you as ever.
There maybe some richer bigger more decorated men in the world however I know what you do. Those men dont even almost get it - what it takes to do what and be close to who you are. Thats strength to me, real strength. Consistent loyalty and hard work is what you are. Thats rare hun unique even nowadys thats why I love you Schmid.
Your job and my job (here with L and Bo and my work in hospital) means we really do live in the moment for so much of our lives hope we can for once live in the moment with eachother for a change soon.
I am missing you it hurts and I get angry. All I can do in this passive disengaged country we call Britain is to be as English as I can be and respect you as much as I can while you are gone.
WIFE X X X
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agojust wanted to say that you have done more to keep the main stream media from "vietnaming" this war than just about any
journalist. i am a vietnam era vet and i remember how they did our vets and how we lost when we didnt before it was even over.
the brits are a darn good bunch. i remember them from reforger in germany. keep up the good work..
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoI must say, this is what real journalism is about! well done! your photos are great and I love the colours. What camera are you using? and how do you kee the dust out of the lens!
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoMichael - as a Brit, your website is the only source that gives me an indication of what our forces are doing and experiencing in Afghanistan. I cannot thank you enough, and I too am at a loss to understand MoD’s action. If it was OpSec, then a quiet word in your ear would sorted it ?
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoHey Michael..what a great job you did!As other said that is what journalism is really about!
Dear military men and women Thank you and lots of hugs and do come home safe soon!
Dear Afegan people wish you peace and prosperity.
Michael xoxo to you.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agobeen to pharmacy road a few times, great to see that such a good writer has worked with 2 rifles as well as 4 rifles in Iraq, my respect for you as only got bigger as i have now read 2 articles that you have written that i have taken part in.
Just for peoples imformation 'Team rainbow is a mick take of the old childrens TV show from England' i only know this becouse i know the man who made the name up for his team, Sgt shaun powell.
Once again great job and a pleasure to read
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoFrench Mirages, and Rafale will be upgraded with standard US Rover system, tested by AdA this summer.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoMy son is serving with C coy 2nd Rifles based at FOB Wishtan, without these pictures it would have been hard to imagine what his life has been like for the past 5 and a half months. As a parent/step parent you sometimes hold your breath when your kids are late home from school or lost in the shopping centre, after 5 and a half months of holding our breath our son is due home next week god willing (I don't actually believe in god, but I would try anything to get him home safe) I thank you for the despatches even though they have filled me with horror seeing how they live and work in those conditions but at least now when he tells of his experience's out there I will be able to put pictures to his stories and pretend that I understand how scared/hot/tired/homesick/angry/sad he was out there.
I wish you the very best of luck Michael in your work/life and cannot express how grateful I and my family are !
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoIt was announced today that SSgt Schmid of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (JFOD) (I believe) was killed in action, while on duty trying to deal with an UXB/IED.
All our men and women serving out there are Hero's. Every last one of them. However, the men who tackle IEDs every single day are very special, and the words of his comrades spell this out better than I ever could.
Christina Schmid, wife of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid said:
"Oz was a phenomenal husband and loving father who was cruelly murdered on his last day of a relentless five month tour.
"He was my best friend and soul mate. The pain of losing him is overwhelming. I take comfort knowing he saved countless lives with his hard work. I am so proud of him."
ieutenant Col Robert Thomson, Commanding Officer 2 RIFLES Battle Group said:
"SSgt Oz Schmid was simply the bravest and most courageous man I have ever met. Under relentless IED and small arms attacks he stood taller than the tallest. He opened the Pharmacy Road and 24 hrs later, found 1 IEDs in one go on route SPARTA. Every single Company in 2 RIFLES adored working with him.
"I adored working with him. No matter how difficult or lethal the task which lay in front of us, he was the man who only saw solutions.
"He saved lives in 2 RIFLES time after time and for that he will retain a very special place in every heart of every Rifleman in our extraordinary Battle Group. Superlatives do not do the man justice. Better than the best. Better than the best of the best. Our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved family."
Today, a giant, legend and a hero of a man has fallen, may hell come to those responsible. Condolences to his family.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoOz's wife posted a message to him 8 posts earlier (see above)..... He was then killed on his last day in Theatre.
This is truely a sad, sad event.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoOz was a superstar and a firm favourite in BG(N). A top bloke who will be sorely missed.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoRIP SSgt Schmid, and (FWIW at this time) my condolences to you Mrs Schmid.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoMrs. Schmid,
I am sorry to hear of your loss. I cannot imagine what you must be feeling right now...you must know better then anyone how truly great your husband is. I will be praying for you and your family. Your sacrifice can never be repaid but please know there are many who are thinking about him.
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoBelated kudos but sincerely felt- awesome work. Thank you. And God Bless.
Emmett, Albuquerque NM
This commment is unpublished.· 12 years agoLegalize all dope. Profit margin goes to ZERO. Problem done.
Think again. It helps weed the gene pool back here in the USA. No sense trying to pretect the self destructive from themselves. All the better to let them move on to wherever it is they are going in the end regardless of our clumsy efforts to the contrary.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoHaving gone through the "devils playground" myself, I know how hard it can be.... this atricle pretty much sums up the feeling of isolation, frustration, feeling like you're chasing ghosts, and the sense of trepidation in working in this environment. But also the sense of relief when stuff comes off good!!! Thanks for writing this.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoYour picture of the soldier sleeping on his body armour is my brother! Couldn't believe it, but there he was, broke my heart a little to see that. The work your doing is extraordinary and in my opinion isn't as well known as it deserves to be. God Bless and stay safe (If that is even possible) Kate
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoKate, I just read this story, and was equally touched by the picture of your brother as well as the story. Also I wanted to send a message of gratitude to your brother and all his military buddies for their service... from a grateful Australian. I hope him he got home safely and knows that people around the world know of, and appreciate the sacrifice he, his fellow soldiers, and their families make for our safety and freedom.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoSome amazing photos which give us an insight into what life is like on the front line in Helmand. Full respect to you for being out there with true heroes. Keep up the great work.
This commment is unpublished.· 10 years agoMrs Schmid and family... I know this is a rather belated comment, but please accent my condolences, for the tragedy your family is enduring. I cannot begin to imagine how supremely proud you must be of him, for the incredible work he did, and also, the immeasurable loss you must be feeling. If it is any small comfort, I hope you know that on behalf of all those who enjoy the life free of fear and uncertainty around the world that men like your husband, work to create for us, my family and I will always be grateful for your husband's service and sacrifice.
This commment is unpublished.· 8 years agoThank you for the article, it's transparently refreshing to read. Love the comment about how families only sympathize without going further to understand what these men do to make the world a safer place. Their stand makes all the difference everyday even when it doesn't feel or seem so :-)
I'm in love with one & so proud of what his uniform stands for xxxxx SS
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