This command reminds us why we#8217;re overseas

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

“Vader Convoy, this is Vader Leader, Chock 1 is rolling, all units hot;Chock 2 Lead advise when two clicks out from site”, I spoke into my hand-held tactical radio.

I turned to my driver, Kevin, an Air Force Master Sergeant and said, “Game on” as I locked and loaded rounds into my M4 rifle and M9 pistol.

Today was another VCR mission, this time providing Afghan people at a south Kabul refugee compound with winter clothing, blankets, shoes and coal. Prior to today I had completed 10 of these missions while I’ve been in Afghanistan, however this mission was different because this time, I was in command.

We rolled out one of the Camp Eggers’ gates and entered into the roadways of Kabul which is pure chaos. Immediately I was completely serious and “in the zone” as my situational and tactical awareness peaked. Because of the threat situation we face, any vehicle parked along the road is a potential suicide bomber.

Your guard has to be up as that vehicle might suddenly pull out, get inside the convoy or simply try to ram us, then detonate. We scanned for new piles of rubble in the road, careful to avoid it as it could be an IED or pressure mine.

We drove aggressively passing slow-moving Afghans that impeded our progress. Each time traffic slowed all personnel in the truck scanned a section of the 360-degree circle around the truck.

I found myself quickly scanning the bodies of people near our truck then looked at the faces of those people.

Did anyone look like they might have a vest of explosives on them? Was anyone approaching us directly with a determined look?

So as I’m composing this portion of my e-mail, I’m thinking back to June when I was driving the tail truck of a nine truck convoy returning from Bagram when an IED blew up behind me.

Having never been blown up by IED during my lifetime, I had to quickly snap out of the awe and “wow-ness” of that new event, forget about the shockwave, loud boom and the flying dust and debris to remind myself to take action.

I experienced all the same feelings a few weeks later when my convoy drove up on a roadside IED which, thankfully, did not detonate.

This is going to sound crazy but I’ve honestly never felt more alive than I have right after a near miss. I guess it’s just the rush of realizing what could of but didn’t happen. I’m trying to convey my thoughts so please understand that I do not have a desire to continue experiencing near misses.

So getting back on track with today’s mission, as we continued to drive, there were Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoints which we quickly drove through.

It was refreshing to know the ANP were out aggressively looking for bad guys in explosive filled cars. We dodged potholes left and right, while trying not to hit the idiots on bikes that were weaving in front of us. We even had to be cautious of the small children and livestock that meander on the edge of the roads as they were close enough to touch us as we past.

While enroute to the VCR site, we passed through the market section of downtown Kabul which has been alive with activity and energy, along with the recent attack against the Serena Hotel. That section of the city has actually improved greatly during my time in the country.

There are large numbers of people and cars, as well as an abundance of merchants and farmers selling their wares and goods. You’ll see shop after shop, improved hotels and restaurants getting lots of business.

We finally arrived at the refugee compound and more fun began as I disembarked the truck with the mission force protection team in tow to setup traffic control, an Entry Control Point (ECP) and perimeter security. Never mind the 15-degree winter weather (4 degrees with the wind chill), the adrenaline was flowing.

I had 10 trucks and approximately 250 personnel, which included the refugees, to keep safe and secure.

Though I was not directly involved in the distribution of goods, the mission was a complete success.

I had several little girls walk up the ECP to show off the new shoes on their feet. I had two boys come up to me to say “USA” and give me a thumbs up as they were warm in their new winter jackets.

I was surprised when several men on the street stopped at the ECP to thank us for what we were doing for the refugees. It was a good feeling today.

I truly feel blessed and privileged to be doing what I’m doing, not only with the VCR missions but also with my regular jobs and duties.

I couldn’t have dreamed of the things I’ve done here.

I’m not only doing things to defeat the Taliban insurgency but I think through the VCR program and goodwill missions, I’m helping to defeat the extremist ideology that is relevant in this part of the world and seeing its effects first hand is amazing.

I am glad to say I’m now under the 75-days-remaining in country milestone. It’s hard to imagine I have been here for over nine months, because it seems to have gone by rather quickly.

Don Wilson, a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy, is deployed in Afghanistan. He e-mails a letter home each week, and this is an edited version of that e-mail. His family lives in Ivor. His letters appear on Wednesdays.