Days remaining dip into the single digits; memories to linger

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2008

My days in Kabul are closing down and I’m now known as a “single digit midget.”

I have less than 10 days remaining at Camp Eggers.

The past week-and-a-half has been beyond busy. I originally structured a thorough turnover plan for my replacement Earl and me to follow, ensuring that every duty and project I was involved in was properly passed on in great detail.

My three weeks of emergency leave knocked that plan out of existence, and Earl and I flexed into a “shoot from the hip” or “follow the leader” type turnover process. In the end we completed the turnover and now Earl is the CSTC-A Knowledge Management Officer and CJ6 Operations OIC.

As I spent a night this week cleaning out my desk, storage areas and copying my personal data from my computer systems, I was amazed to discover just how much stuff I seemed to have collected and/or acquired during my year-long tour.

I arrived in Afghanistan with four Seabags of uniforms and combat gear, as well as one backpack of personal gear. I had originally purchased one large storage shipping container from the PX thinking that would cover all of my stuff in my office and in my room.

I was very wrong and I’m currently packing my fourth container and three small boxes. I can’t wait to see the shipping bill.

My thoughts are now more frequently drifting to what it is going to be like to be home. I am not the same person I was when I first left home more than 54 weeks ago.

I am different. I have admitted to myself that this year has changed me, and I will always carry some piece of Afghanistan and my deployment with me. I think the majority of my memories will be positive.

I will reminisce of the people I have helped, and the projects that I participated in to support the continued development of Afghan National Security Forces. My joys will be two-part.

First, there will always be Camp Eggers Volunteer Community Relations (VCR) missions. Those humanitarian aid missions brought about thousands of smiles from Afghan men, women and children as we delivered food, clothing, toys and school supplies to villages, makeshift public schools and refugee camps.

The holiday visits to the Children’s Hospital will certainly never be forgotten. The absolute appreciative looks on those children’s faces when we handed them a simple “Dollar-Store” stuffed animal, a 99-cent Matchbox car or a small packet of candy left a mark on my soul.

I have had the opportunity to truly help people in dire need. I have assisted to feed the hungry, clothe the cold and provide medical supplies for the sick.

Those times are permanently burned into my psyche.

There are other things that will forever be embedded in my memory. I will never forget certain people I’ve met over the last year. The bonds between “Battle Buddies” and friends from many nations were forged like steel during many incidents of high stress and times of extreme pressure. Names like KT, DJ Kramp, Mel, Simone, Dirk, Justin, Wahid, Brett, Hillbilly, Kev, Mo, Commo, Kevin, Brown Magic and so many others will bring about fond memories of friends made and lessons learned during the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Everyone who has spent considerable time outside of the wire among the constant threats and unbelievable sights undergoes some type of change, either for the good or for the worst. There are things back home that would be considered small and insignificant that are now very important to me, and vice versa.

I have an even deeper appreciation of how much our country and its freedoms and liberties mean to me.

My sense of appreciation for life’s simple things is stronger after spending a year in one of the poorest countries in the world. I know there will be even more changes once I get back home.

Ever since I completed my turnover process, I thought that missions off base would have grown thin or just stopped; however, our directorate has undergone a huge personnel turnover in the past 30 days that has left it short of qualified convoy commanders.

So instead of having routine and mundane days, I’ve been busy taking convoys all over the Kabul metropolitan area, supporting many different types of missions related to communications and IT projects.

Leading these convoy missions has kept me busy and given me the opportunity to see some places for the very last time.

My adventures included a sit-down chat and Chai Tea with the deputy commanding general of the Afghan National Army’s Training and Education Command, a visit to a former Russian Army Officer’s Club atop a mountain near Camp Dobbs, a scouting trip up to Swimming Pool Hill, VCR recon missions, and a chance to distribute the last of the toys my buddy, Mark, from Virginia sent.

The smiles on those kids’ faces said it all for me.

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.