Today I want to tell you about one change in Afghanistan: Now the troops have access to social network sites while previously the command restricted access under the guise of operational security. The donnybrook over this issue raged until the policy changed last year, due largely—or so I hear—to Chairman Mullen using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the troops. The thought probably was if the top uniformed officer in the services can tweet, why shouldn’t a Private?
The other evening I received the following message, “I’m at the Tillman Center in Bagram. Waiting for my flight out. Headed home finally!” I checked my watch, calculated the time zone difference (10 hours) and logged on my Facebook just in case he was still online. His chat icon was green.
“Hey brother, glad to hear you’re headed finally headed home.”
“Thanks man. And you, how goes it?”
“All is well on my end. You?”
“Unit is starting to flow north and we should be state side in 48 hours if the Manas birds hold out.”
“Where you at?”
“Tillman Center, Bagram.”
“Is Bagram still nuts?”
“It’s bursting at the seams. Traffic jams. But they still have Salsa Night. I don’t get it.”
“Sorry to hear about the losses your unit suffered.”
“Thanks. It’s been a tough slog this past year.”
“Were you in K-Valley?”
“No, P2K, Shkin and Tillman.”
“Still getting attacked constantly?”
“Yeah. There was no let up the entire time – constant TIC’s and targeting. Relentless. Some attacks were hours long. Tribal bloodlust I guess. But SOF has a better fight – they’re not trolling or static waiting for contact. They’re pure direct action. Probably about the only thing we can do over here.”
“Was Salerno able to sustain gunship and Medevac support throughout?”
“Most of the time. When they were maxed out we were able to get a lot of support out of Orgun-E.”
“Any improvements to FOB Tillman?”
“Some. More internet – some QOL type of stuff for the boys. A little more force protection. But it’s still a rocket magnet.”
“Any improvements with the local support?”
“ANA? Are they getting any better?”
“Only the ANA that SOF/ODA trains and employs. Conventional ANA units? Forget it.”
“Any new roads to facilitate access?”
“PRT’s and USAID are still working them. I think the it’s the same road-to-market plan we put together in ’05.”
“Any ground movement on ‘the road’ past Sperra en route to the FOB?”
“Just once. A GAC from Salerno to the FOB. The rest of the time was strictly via air. But, we still don’t own the terrain nor does the ANA. Just the tribes do. They still cross back and forth across the border with no respect for the boundary. The Pakistani Frontier Corps still let’s them cross the without disrupting their movement. They don’t consider themselves to be Afghans. They’re Pashtuns.”
“ Yep, that’s the problem. No national identity. Sounds like nothing has changed.”
“No, just a recycling of events. Same patch of dirt, same miscreants, same thing day after day after day. Gotta log off. I’ll keep in touch.”
“Keep me posted.”
I sat with mixed emotions after his chat icon disappeared. Happy and relieved on one hand that he was on his way home safe and unharmed. Frustrated on the other hand that after all these years nothing has really changed in Afghanistan. Same bad guys, different units, no positive results—year in and year out. The only real differences are the rising US casualty rates—and now our warriors can tweet.
I also couldn’t help but notice how many times we mentioned “Tillman” without considering his legacy. Indeed, a forlorn base or a comfort zone is worthy of being named in his honor, but the truth is still M.I.A. This isn’t the case with The Tillman Story, a just released documentary which recounts his killing by friendly fire, the cover up and the propaganda machine that peddled his tragic death to promote a failing war.
All of this makes me question whether we’ve forgotten Tillman’s ultimate sacrifice and those made by thousands of others like him. But why bring up a problem without offering a solution, right? Well then, here’s one idea: air the documentary at the Tillman USO Center in Bagram to troopers waiting for their flight home. You know, play the truth channel for a change. Let them know if it can happen to Pat, it can happen to them.