Mission to Afghanistan: Wrapping up my time at Shank

Observations in the heart of Logar Province

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHANK - The bonds of military service and cohesiveness can never be broken. I have seen it with the active duty services but more so with the National Guard and Reserve.

Rotations occur frequently on the active side of the military. A solider, for example, may be with a unit for only two or three years before moving on to another. In the Guard and Reserves, servicemen and women stay in a unit much longer, and because of that, the cohesiveness among soldiers develops more. In addition, each service has developed its own lingo, and certain segments, such as aviation, exhibit the closeness of family through their common "milspeak."

During my career with the National Guard, I never fully understood aviation, but I had several friends who worked full time at the Army Aviation Support Facility at Stead, and we would occasionally talk "shop." Spending a week with Bravo Company of the 189th GSB Aviation at FOB Shank, however, has given me a greater understanding and appreciation of what Nevada's aviators, flight crews and mechanics are doing in a war zone. Outsiders don't just visit the company; rather, individuals must prove themselves and earn their respect and trust.

Although my time with the aviation company is nearing an end, and I will be hooking up with the 593rd Transportation Company of the Nevada Army National Guard near Kabul today, I do feel some emptiness in leaving Shank; after all, I arrived here only a week ago.

During my time with the 189th, I have talked to soldiers from Nevada and its sister company from Montana. I have heard their stories of being away from home, their fears, their anxieties, but I have also observed their confidence and pride in serving their country in a land thousands of miles away from home.

They have included me in their day-to-day activities and allowed me to fly with them over some of the most rugged, yet spectacular terrain. It rained in the bowl last night but snowed on the mountain tops with white, cloud-shrouded peaks reaching into the sky.

I believe I have gained their respect in coming to Afghanistan to report on their accomplishments as echoed by the Task Force commander, Lt. Col. Chuck Rambo of the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Ky.

Rambo, a career military officer who grew up in Florida and has deployed four times, speaks very highly of the 189th's accomplishments. I see mutual respect between the 101st and its subordinate units whereas the 189th has assimilated under the big umbrella to carry out its missions in a professionalism manner.

I talked with soldiers from the 101st. I met, for example, Sgt. 1st Class Dionne Miller, the NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of the dining facility. I plan to write a story on their memorial wall and missing serviceman's setting at the dinner table. She is a very graceful woman - as is her staff - in allowing me to write about such a solemn, yet important part of military tradition..

Likewise, I am looking forward to spending time with the transportation company next week including Thanksgiving Day. These men and women also represent the best Nevada has offered to Operation Enduring Freedom, and I look forward to telling their stories.

• Lahontan Valley News Editor Steve Ranson is making his second trip to Afghanistan in as many years to cover local guardsmen in the war zone. Ranson spent 28 years in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve before retiring in 2009.


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