Monday, June 18, 2012
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
As some of you may have noticed this blog has been sedentary for a few months, such is the nature of my freelance career. I feel like one who climbs a high mountain only to fall off once I reach the peak, but I do not despair there are other paths in life to take, paths far less treacherous. Just a few days ago I accepted a job as a reporter for the san Juan Journal in western Washington.
The wind hit my face. I reared back, surprised by the force capable of knocking my skull around in my Kevlar helmet. I wanted to lean out of the UH-60 Blackhawk’s open window overlooking the sand, the palm trees, the beige colored square building and the tiny figures playing soccer. I wanted to leap out and walk alongside the river snaking into the distance.
For two months I’ve lived in Balad, Iraq. I am working as a journalist with close to 100 soldiers from a Medevac unit based out of Salem, Oregon. We spend our days waiting for missions called in on heavy black radios strapped to our belts. Some days we sit and talk, tired from walking to the chow hall with heavy boots in heat reaching 115 degrees. Other days go by with the constant roar of the rotor blades spinning as pilots fly on and off the landing zone. Their skin smelling like hot earth and sweat trickling down their backs like a broken faucet is attached to their necks. There are days when an Iraqi mother wails because her daughter body is ravaged by burns. There are days when the medics see broken and limbless bodies. There are days when all we want is to forget. Then there are the days when the dust storms come in, the aircrafts can’t fly and the dirty fog stings your eyes and burns your throat. I have learned to stop smiling because the dust covers my teeth and gums like spackling paste.
We have an Olympic size pool here, large dining facilities and gyms, but we live behind great concrete barriers. There are no weekend trips to the freezing and wild coast. There are no old growth forests, no dark, organic soil to dig your feet into, no clear lakes to bury your head and listen to silence. I don’t complain out loud. I’ve grown familiar with the diesel fumes, the pits of burning plastic from the other side of the post and the aroma of feces as the port-a-potties are cleaned, but sometimes I want to get out. I want my old life of climbing trips to Smith Rock State Park near Bend, Oregon and nights camping in the grasslands.
At night I race my creaking bike around the airfield. Gagged by the dust and nearly losing balance I wipe particles off my glasses and wheeze. I wish that I could go uphill or downhill, but its flat, flat, flat. Inside one of the trailers near the airfield, soldiers are watching A River Runs Through It. I sit down for a moment watching the images flash across the large screen. I’m captivated by the river, the water running over rocks like tongues running over smooth teeth, the high grass in the wind like hair one could let down in a civilian world and the mountains rising in the distance remind me that there are some things humans cannot cover in concrete.
So I walk home watching the armored vehicles roll by like dinosaurs, their steps vibrating in my spine. In my trailer the wind throws gravel against my door and window. I have the strangest dreams of howling artic wolves outside the greenhouse door where tomato vines wrap around my legs. When I awake I wish I could have dreamed about rain, instead I close my eyes in the shower pretending I’m in Oregon in spring. If I step outside my wet hair dries within minutes, powdered with a fine dust.
I hang a worn map of Oregon in my room and stand facing it, running my fingers over those great green areas with only one road leading to the lakes. I feel like a child running my hands over my father’s face after he returned home from months of working on the oil fields far away from home. I was three. I knew him, but I had forgotten what he looked like. I had to feel his face back into my memory.
The best scenery here is untouchable; it is the colors in the sky. Strapped into my seat on the Blackhawk I crane my neck to watch the sunset settling against the pilot’s shadowed helmet. If you look straight up you can see midnight blue, then a bit lower there is deep ocean blue bleeding into shallow sea blue then gray-blue and a bit of pink and orange. As the lights fade we fly further into the darkness. These are colors we cannot replace with computer or television screen images. Colors that fade so quickly that we can still say, “Wasn’t that beautiful?"
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I traveled to Kajaki, where there is a large dam, river and vegetation. I covered the construction work of Oregon Marines. Within two days I was back at Leatherneck. I traded the vastness of the base for a five day mission with more Oregon Marines who spend their days and nights in the cramped quarters of an armored vehicle. I must say it is the toughest living conditions by far, but I was able to see first hand the sacrifices Marines make in this desolate place.
These stories can be found at kval.com
Now I am making the slow journey back home with feelings of indifference. I can't say that I want to stay here, but the feeling of leaving is like walking out into the darkness without a light. I will have to find another job, another story and what feels like another life.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Here are some questions I have been asked during my time in Marjah, Afghanistan:
Why did you want to come to Afghanistan?
My first motivation was Dan Morrison, a professor and friend from the University of Oregon, who initially wanted to make the trip. I thought if I was going to go to another war zone, what better way than to go with an accomplished photojournalist and maybe learn a few things. The second reason is that I believe that we as the American people have a right and responsibility to know what is going on in Afghanistan. Whether you agree with it or not we are a country at war and we should not let this fact slip away. As a journalist, I try to engage the civilian populace about the US military and all the good and bad of Afghanistan. I can only bring home a snapshot of Marjah in two months, but at least I can say that I went and I told the story. That gives me a sense of purpose.
What will you do when you get home?
I will continue to work on the information I have gathered during my time here. I have some long term articles and multimedia projects I have been working on. I will also do some speaking engagements in Portland and Eugene. In December I am heading to New Zealand for a family reunion and in January and early February I am traveling to Bangladesh. I will continue working as a freelancer.
How does your family feel about your job?
My parents are very supportive, although I can tell that this embed in Afghanistan is causing them to worry a lot. Firefights and IEDs will do that, but every parent worries about their child over here.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
During my last week in Marjah I decide I want to go south, far, far, south into an area without Marine presence. The mission was to search this area. "It's either going to be like the apocalypse or really boring," said one Marine. So at 7 pm I boarded a vehicle and went off into the desert. Nineteen hours later the desert looked the same, flat and vacant. No gunshots, no IEDs, just silence and some camels wondering across the land. So what did we do? We sat, we joked, we played cards and I tried desperately to stay awake the whole time. It's all about solidarity out here. But as fate would have it I managed to find a comfortable position, with vest and helmet, and I passed out for a good two hours. Or as the Marines put it, I was drooling, hardcore. So as the young Marines stared out into the desert I snored, but what can I say I am a freakin' civilian.
The low point of the whole journey was at about 10 am, when I first had to go to the bathroom. Luckily we were headed back to the base, but of course the convoy stopped midway for another hour. One of the lead vehicles found an IED and so of course that became the priority and I debated over whether I wanted to pee in a bag. Turns out I can hold it for a long time.
So there I was, in a vehicle, in the desert and am I sorry? No. You don't know what a mission like this feels like, until you actually go out and sit there with the Marines. And so I lived and learned and it was good.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
As my time gets shorter here, I long for more time to tell more stories, but when three months is over I think I'll be ready to take a break. Last night I lay in bed thinking about pizza and the image of a lovely slice kept me awake as I seemed to not be able to think of anything else. It seems the little things are what affect me the most here. I talked to another Marine last night who agreed with me. Just one real meal, or Internet or a phone call gives you another jolt of energy.
I am getting ready to head back to Echo Company and will be back at the District Center in Marjah to cover the elections.
New stories are posted almost every couple of days at KVAL.com