Day 4 - Linking up with aviation
FOB SHANK - Dusty, desolate, in the middle of nowhere. Close your eyes tight and open them up. You may think you are somewhere in the high desert of central Nevada, perhaps east of Rawhide and north of Gabbs.
Mountains surround the valley here, rising above the barren desert floor. For the men and women of Bravo Company, 189th GSB Aviation of the Nevada Army National Guard, this has been and will be home for a while. Plywood buildings and tents dot the base that sits in Logar Province, south-southwest of Bagram and Kabul, but man can make the best of any situation when the survivor instinct takes over.
Traveling to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank takes time and planning. A short, uneventful flight aboard a twin-prop airplane from Bagram Air Field (BAF) brought soldiers and me here within an hour.
Once here, it was little time for acclimation. In military speak, I had to hit the ground running since time is valuable during my short stay in Afghanistan.
Nevada helicopter aviators and their crews, as well as support personnel, have made Shank home since the spring. Soldiers from both Bravo Company and another company from Montana have bonded together as one supportive family, but this is common place for any National Guard unit I have seen, whether in war or in peacetime.
"They have their backs for each other ..."
I spent the afternoon talking to our hometown heroes ... many of them hailing from the Reno-Carson City-Dayton area, Fallon and Fernley. Two pilots come from Las Vegas. Once in country, though, there is no division of hometown. They consider themselves all Americans, all Nevadans fighting a war against a common enemy.
Mail call became a very special event today.
The fifth-grade classes at Riverview Elementary School in Dayton sent care packages with goodies and letters. Guardsmen packed the orderly room - many of them circling a big planning table in the middle of the room -- sifting through the contents and reading each letter with care. A letter from teachers Renae Ellis and Gina Musselman thanked the soldiers for their service in such a far away land.
Sgt. Thomas Kiernan's daughter is one of those fifth graders, and everyone in the orderly room could see the sparkle in the guardsman's eyes and the hear the pride in his voice as he talked about his daughter, her classmates and teachers.
Wishes from the teachers' letter told of how they combined their efforts as the classes thanked Nevada's soldiers for serving their country and gathered treats as part of their Veterans Day activities. Both Renae and Gina said families donated treats. They said the project "sparked a lot of discussion about the military."
Furthermore, they said "Students would love to meet you and ask you questions about your time in the National Guard."
Care packages from families and Family Readiness Support groups brighten the soldiers' day when mail arrives half-way around the world, and for the fifth-graders, their package meant even more by coming during the Veterans Day weekend.
As for day in and day out here, operations take on a 24-hour around-the-clock meaning. I have been approved to fly on several general support missions with the aviators during my stay and experience what they encounter every day of the week.
These are experienced aviators and crews, and I am ready for my mission to tell their stories to their fellow Nevadans.
Out from FOB Shank, Afghanistan.
Steve Ranson is the editor of the Lahontan Valley News and a retired Nevada Army guardsmen who spent 28 years in the military.