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Sketching the drawdown (part four)

Taghaz, Taghaz


Monday, December 10, 2012 @ 2041
Forward Operating Base Payne, Helmand Prov., Afghanistan
continued from pt3 . . . 

3/9 Marine waiting to leave FOB Geronimo enroute to Payne.

I just left Geronimo and am now with with Weapons Co here in Payne. On the Osprey ride over, just before touch-down, I was able to snag a quick sketch of the guy sitting next to me, Cpl. Tim Lenzo; he's a Public Affairs Marine sent by Regional Command South West out of Leatherneck to cover battalion-wide operations. The ride went faster than expected, so I had to hurry and put my things away before getting "kicked off" the bird.

Cpl. Tim Lenzo, USMC Public Affairs, sits next to me on the Osprey ride to FOB Payne.

I was told that FOB Payne is the southern most U.S. base in Afghanistan. In fact, Pakistan is visible from the base (the mountains at least). Weapons Co. Gunny, GySgt. Johnson, was the first to greet me at the LZ. He walked me to my tent to drop off my things, then took me to the Combat Operations Center (C.O.C.) where I was introduced to the Company Commander and First Sergeant. Gunny Johnson and I made our way to his office where, ironically, the First Sergeant ended up making me coffee somehow. It was fantastic. Over coffee, Gunny informed me that the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) threat is huge in this area of operations. They either find or hit a handful of them weekly. He gave me a watered down scheme of maneuver on what we'll be doing for the next 2-3 days, including a mounted patrol tomorrow morning at 0700.

We had a mission brief at 1900 explaining in full detail what the tasker for tomorrow was. We are to escort the command west to Combat Outpost (COP) Taghaz so they can finish up their CMR. This was also an opportunity for the company to conduct a logistics run. Nothing sexy. We will be travelling 4 vehicles deep, and the trip, one way, is expected to take three hours. 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012 @ 1858
Forward Operating Base Payne,  Helmand Prov., Afghanistan

Wpns Co Marine preps his MRAP truck for the early morning patrol to Combat Outpost Taghaz

I woke up at 0510, twenty minutes before my "wake up call". Last night I asked the C.O.C. to send a runner to wake me up at 0530, but my internal alarm clock was on a different program. By the time the young Marine made his way to my tent, I was all ready to go. We were told to pack a "72 hour bag", meaning a rucksack and sleeping system. I packed that, along with my art kit and hauled it to the staging area next to the motorpool. Having plenty of time to kill, I linked up with Cpl. Lenzo and we ate chow. When we returned to the motorpool, Marines were conducting last minute vehicle checks in preparation to depart friendly lines.

We rolled out at 0700 on the dot, and they weren't lying when they said the ride would seem like forever. I rode in one of the MRAP's (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) trucks. These, and the MATV's (Military All-Terrain Vehicle), have officially taken over the role of the HMMWV's, as the old gun trucks were what we liked to call "tin coffins on wheels". Here's a drawing of an MRAP that I did of at Geronimo:

One of many MRAP's staged at FOB Geronimo 

While on patrol, I was seated behind the vehicle commander (VC), LCpl. Quinn, and at the feet of the turret gunner, LCpl. Hallbeck. My driver's name is LCpl. Tom NovoGradac ("Novo" for short) and, unlike the others in the truck, this is his first deployment. Quinn and Hallbeck were in Marjah a little over a year ago, so I'm sure Novo appreciates having the experience around him. The three Marines are a locked on bunch. They mastered the art of communication, as their state of alertness, along with the information being relayed between the gunner and VC, was clear and precise. I was able to record some of the intriguing dialogue with my audio device, figuring that my producer with The Story would like to review it for the radio.

We took small security halts whenever the lead truck found metalic hits in the road. Quinn and Novo dismounted the MRAP to sweep the area of any IED's.

LCpl. Quinn, vehicle commander, sweeps the road for IED's during a routine halt.

The patrol arrived at Combat Outpost Taghaz just after 1000. Free to do whatever I wanted for the next couple of hours, I took a quick tour of the area to find something inspiring to draw. In classic Rob Bates fashion, and without paying much attention, I parked myself at a small wall of hesco barriers lining the piss tube area. For those who don't know what I'm talking about, it's exactly what it sounds like. Imagine a row of PVC pipes sticking out of the ground. Now imagine Marines urinating in them. Nevertheless, I already started on whatever it was that I was drawing and there was no turning back.

I considered abandoning the sketch halfway through. Flies were everywhere and were beginning to impede on my progress. Marines probably thought I was sketching them taking leaks. The situation was flat-out awkward and I felt that this was one of the worst decisions I've made in the embed thus far. Cpl. Lenzo was kind enough to angle the camera just right not to include Marines peeing in the back.

Photo courtesy of Cpl. Tim Lenzo, USMC. Combat Outpost Taghaz.

The east end of Combat Outpost Taghaz.

Once I completed what seemed to be the longest sketch of my life, I found Novo hanging out by the trucks. As we started to talk, I opened my moleskine pad and began to draw him. Same routine as always: we chatted about home, college, and other components of our lives. We even talked about troop withdrawl and the state of the country.  

LCpl. Tom "Novo" NovoGradac talks about the downsize of US forces in Afghanistan.

"Despite progress, I don't believe [Afghans] want to live the western lifestyle. I also believe that their success will come down to how bad they really want it."

Continue pt5 . . . 




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Reader Comments (3)

Of course Mr. Bates would draw by the piss tubes. Good stuff bro keep up the good work.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRandy M.

Enjoying these journals a great deal. Looking forward to the next. The piss tube story is very funny, an unintentional error I would expect a civilian like myself to commit.

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVictor Juhasz

Robert William Bates, your sketches and commentary are day brighteners especially for the family of loved ones is a blessing to be connected ithrough art .. Your sketches are wonderful and speak volumes to this moms heart! Thank you!

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobin HALLBECK

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