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Sketching the Drawdown (part 5)

At a Standstill


Wednesday, December 12, 2012 @1839
Forward Operating Base Payne, Helmand Prov., Afghanistan 
Continued from pt4 . . . 

I spent the better part of the morning on post socializing with members of the guardforce. With virtually nothing else on the agenda, the day was all mine. I felt that this was the perfect time to reach out to some of the contractors and other folks on the base. An hour of my time was consumed at Post 2A, talking with a contractor named Brian Sullivan. Brian aka "Sully", a Boston native, is a prior Marine grunt who was badly rocked years ago by an Improvised Explosive Device in Fallujah, Iraq. He now works for Academi and spends his days counting the hours on post. The morning was bitter cold. Sully and his partner stood alert and on the lookout as I began sketching. Minutes later, three cups of coffee were brought up to us via another contractor. 

A sketch of Brian "Sully" Sullivan during his downtime (off post).

After leaving the Marines, Sully used his GI Bill to go to school. He chose contracting because it paid well. He's one year younger than me and is happily engaged to someone who also happens to be an artist. I felt compelled to give the sketch to him, knowing that I'll probably get another chance to sketch him (above).

Still early in the day, I took a stroll to the flight line at the Surgical Trauma Ward to see what was happening. I found a place to sit and proceeded to draw the two Blackhawk helicopters in front of me.

Blackhawks belonging to Surgical Trauma sit at the ready aboard FOB Payne. 

I could hear somebody in the distance say, "Who he hell is sitting on the flightline? Go see what he's up to."

Minutes later, I was met by two Navy Corpsman and, soon after, a Medical Officer (MO) asking for my reason being there. Knowing the wierd looks that I was about to get, I told them that I was a Combat Artist covering the drawdown. While explaining myself, I showed them my sketchbook. Impressed with my work, the tables turned and I was now the one asking questions. Directed at the MO, I wanted to know what their plans were for the drawdown (as far as providing medical treatment to wounded Afghan troops). The Lt. Commander couldn't provide much of an explaination, as he said that the next unit to relieve them will have a more accurate conclusion of the outcome. 

Typical officer answer.

I finished the drawing at around 1330. Bored out of my living skull, I dropped my kit off in the tent and headed to the MWR to check my email. After logging on, I discovered some bad news.  I found out my wife was just diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and had spent the past few days in the hospital to undergo testing. The MRI found lesions on her brain and spine, which will explain some of the vision problems she was having. The good news is that they caught it early and, with life-long prescribed medications, she can still live a fairly normal and healthy life.

Slightly shakened up from the news, I knew I had to get back to work or else I'd dwell on it. I found Post 1. This place literally looks into Pakistan. The Helmand River sits directly in front, with an Afghan Police station further in the distance. The fighting position sits on a small cliff with a steep drop. Thick green shrub canvases the ground beneath. I took a seat next to the edge and proceeded to capture the beauty in front of me.

Post 1 sits on a cliff next to the Helmand River.

The sun was beginning to set. Evening prayer could be heard from across the river. The setting was perfect. The word on the street has it that the Afghans neglect to claim anything south of the Helmand River, essentially making it "no-man's land". Even though Pakistan is actually 40 miles from the position, the locals say that the land in between might as well belong to them.


Page 16 of Journal

Cpl. Lenzo decided to join me. Here is a picture that he took of me next to post 1.

Photo courtesy of Cpl. Tim Lenzo, USMC. FOB Payne, Afghanistan.


Thursday, December 13, 2012 @0820
Forward Operating Base Payne, Helmand Prov., Afghanistan

Due to severe weather, our logistics run to Combat Outpost Castle has been postponed to this afternoon. Taking advantage of the time, I hurried to the C.O.C. to check on tomorrow's flight to Hanson. Apparently, there are no records of me flying out anytime soon and the folks running the show are trying to secure me a flight for the 15th. 


Thursday, December 13, 2012 @2040
Forward Operating Base Payne, Helmand Prov., Afghanistan

My flight on the 15th out to Hanson was pushed back to the 16th. The logistics convoy has been officially postponed for tomorrow. I'll need to be at the briefing tent by 1100. The plan is to depart friendly lines no later than 1300. 

To pass the time, I made my way over to the Surgical Trauma Ward to see if they've received any medivac's (medical evacuations). Nope, nothing; although, I did make friends with the Soldiers working there. I met the in-flight medic crew, including two of the Blackhawk pilots on station. The Soldiers, who come from a chex mix of National Guard Units, arrived here just 10 days ago. Ever since then, business has been slow and they say that's a good thing. The group of Soldiers are a tight bunch who work well together, considering they've only been around each other less than two weeks.

They were inviting and cheerful. We had coffee.

Army Sgt. Beth Britton, in-flight medic for F Co. 1-169th GSAB jokes with her comrads.

Army Sgt. Peter Davis, in-flight medic for F Co. 1-169th GSAB is absorbed in literature.

After visiting the with the Soldiers, I walked back to my tent to reflect on the embed. The Marines no longer carry out the type of operations that they use to. The war has changed and America is starting to sit it out. Logistically, we are still very much in it, however, the days of conducting offensive operations are over. As a military, we take the Afghans to the fight, then patch them back up when they're injured. Soon, our bases will either be torn down or occupied by the Afghans, and it'll be up to them to assume the burden of their own national security.


Continued pt6 . . .

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