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Reporter’s Notebook: Sparse and Quiet at Forward Operating Base Gardez

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE GARDEZ, Afghanistan, Feb. 11, 2009 – I’m not sure what the difference is between a forward operating base and a combat outpost, except maybe the size. The combat outpost I visited this past weekend was smaller than FOB Gardez, but in many ways Gardez is just as remote, and the conditions are only slightly better.

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U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Moy, far right, commander for Afghanistan's Paktia Provincial Reconstruction Team, travels by Black Hawk helicopter to a remote combat outpost with the provincial governor, police chief and a religious leader for a meeting with district leaders Feb. 8, 2009. The team works to get government leaders out to rural districts.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

I stopped by the base exchange. I was told it was small, but I really was not expecting how small. The exchange is housed in a small, one-room building, with an AAFES banner hanging loosely over the door.

It is open only a few hours a day and sells barely the basics -- cigarettes, shaving cream, protein supplement powder and a few other odds and ends. It has been open for only a few months. Only one soldier was there, and he seemed more interested in the used book library, also in the same room, more than anything for sale on the sparsely populated shelves. A suggestion list sets on the counter for items shoppers would like to see brought in.

The exchange was hard to find at first. No one I asked had actually been there. All of their necessities are shipped to them from friends, family and troop support organizations in the states. Others order stuff online and have it shipped here. Mail is infrequent, especially in the winter when flights are cancelled, but care packages come in all the time, and most have more comfort items than they need, some of the soldiers said. They have enough toothpaste to last them for years, they said.

It didn’t snow as expected today, but low clouds cancelled the missions planned by the provincial reconstruction team outside the wire. Most were thankful for the down time. The team works at least 12 hours a day, nearly seven days a week. On Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, few missions are planned, and it gives the staff and security forces alike a breather. Still, there is much to do within the staff preparing for upcoming missions, and it is hardly a day off.

The security force, especially, enjoys the down time. The infantry company has run more than 200 missions for the PRT since November. If only two PRT members need to go downtown to Gardez City see the governor, up to 20 security forces are involved in the mission.

Spring will be here eventually, the security force leaders told me, and the tempo will soon pick up. At the same time, so will the attacks by insurgent groups. Things have been quiet on the missions so far. Because they arrived in November, for the most part their work has been during the winter months, when the extremists are holed up or back in their home countries.

Come spring, that all changes, they said. They’ll take their down time when they can get it.

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