Northern Helmand Province – U.S. Marines stationed in Now Zad only have one link to home – a small wooden shack in the middle of their base. Inside, they crowd around five or six telephones and around eight computer stations. This is where troops connect with their families and friends, and find out what’s happening in the world beyond Camp Cafferetta.
While embedded with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines Alpha Company, it’s also where we go to call back to our desk in Atlanta or reply to emails – only, of course, when there is a free phone or computer that the Marines aren’t using. The tiny room is crowded - Marines literally pushed against each other to wiggle into the small spaces in front of the computer screens. One Marine is on Skype, with a grainy video image of his wife and kids on screen. His wife is telling the very young children to look into their camera back home, and “tell Daddy you love him.” Most of the younger Marines are pouring into their Facebook pages, their primary way to keep up with friends – and most especially girlfriends – back home. A few feet away, you can hear the constant overlapping chatter from four to five Marines on the phones, talking to folks back home.
And then – a gunnery sergeant bursts into the room and says “River City! We’re in River City, let’s go!” And just like that, Marines hang up their phones. Sever their Skype connections. And shut down their Facebook pages. There was maybe time for a very quick goodbye, but it literally takes seconds. Within a minute, the room is empty, and the sergeant takes out the bank of phones and locks the door to the Internet room.
Then I learn why it’s taken so seriously: "River City" means a Marine has been seriously wounded or killed. FULL POST
Camp Cafferetta, Helmand Province – Cpl. Christina Arana and Lance Cpl. Giada Witt check their weapons one last time, and leave the base behind. On the other side of the wire is … well, Afghanistan. The real country. It’s a long way from the relatively secure and well-supplied large bases – the places where most female soldiers and Marines are stationed. The two women are part of FET, or Female Engagement Team.
It’s a program started last year, when the U.S. Marine Corps realized it was only reaching half the population. The Marines mostly operate in the more rural, conservative areas in southern Afghanistan. There, men are not allowed to look at – let alone talk to – women. So the predominantly male Marine units were missing a chance to engage 50 percent of the Afghan people. FULL POST
Thirty thousand more troops by the summer. It's a daunting challenge laid out by President Obama, and it's now having the U.S. military scrambling to get it done.
Obama said Tuesday night the additional 30,000 troops would begin deploying early next year at "the fastest pace possible."
But before Obama's address, military leaders said it would be all but impossible to rush new troops to Afghanistan as quickly as they did Iraq.
A lot of it is going to be dictated by conditions on the ground: Can they build the new bases, the new roads, new infrastructure to handle this influx of troops?