Day 1 - The start of a 60-hour day.
Preparing for a trip to Afghanistan to cover Nevada's two Army National Guard troops is not the same as booking a flight, throwing some clothes into the suit case and driving to the airport.
A deployment to a war zone even differs for an individual compared to a unit movement and differs for a civilian compared to a soldier or sailor traveling to the other side of the world. Preparation takes months, especially waiting for one approval after another from both the U.S. military and the Afghanistan embassy in Washington, D.C.
A tentative time frame for traveling to Afghanistan must be established before applying and receiving a visa, and then the coordination among units and the NATO joint command at Kabul and the Regional Command East at Bagram, which by our standards is a short drive like commuting between Carson City and Reno, but in the scheme of a war zone, a thousand kilometers away on a dusty, windy road.
Then comes the invitation travel orders to enter the military's world in Afghanistan, a process that can take as many as four months. And finally, the individual preparation of clothes and equipment to include body armor. This is not the drill; this is the real thing in a world where people want to harm each other based on philosophical differences.
The question of "Why?" surfaces numerous times for my return trip to one of the most dangerous countries in the world where West collides with East on a regular basis, where the modern 21st century of a sophisticated army clashes with the nomads and warlords of a 13th century society.
This is Afghanistan ... Mysterious, intriguing, a land in transition ... a land unknown by many Americans.
Thus, comes the opportunity to tell more stories of Nevada soldiers living in a far away land undertaking dangerous missions. A Nevada helicopter company, for example, arrived in country in the spring and is ferrying equipment and soldiers across the barren desert terrain. Miles to the east, a Nevada Army National Guard transportation company runs convoys of some of Afghanistan's narrowest highways and also provides security. These are not jobs for the weak when the dangers of war face every man and woman on a daily basis.
As with the the narrative of the 1960s cop show, "The Naked Story," Leslie Nielsen said there were 7 million stories that could be told; likewise, scores of stories can be told of the Nevada soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
The 2011 missions in November differ from this year because the two units visited last year were performing their duties on post. This year, the missions performed by two different Nevada units will occur away from the friendly confines of their individual installations; consequently, the scope of the mission caused me to become more involved with the soldier tasks I once practiced on a regular basis before I retired from military service three years ago
What is a day like for the convoy drivers? How do women juggle war and their families who live 9,000 miles away? What emotions do the men and women have on Thanksgiving, probably the first holiday many of them have been away from loved one? How important is the support of Family Readiness Groups and how they make the soldiers' lives better?
Out for now. Germany will be the next stop before boarding another flight to Dubai.
Steve Ranson is editor of the Lahontan Valley News and is headed to Afghanistan.