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Sailor's Story: Sept. 11, Rambo, And Daily Life
by LTJG. Ryan Petrosky

Oct. 4, 2008

Last week I passed my one month mark on the ground here at Camp Phoenix. The overriding theme has been the steep learning curve in my education about the Afghan National Police and their development. It’s been a little difficult for a Naval supply officer like myself transitioning into an operational staff position responsible for coordinating and tracking police operations for the Afghan police. The command structure here in Afghanistan is unlike anything I’ve seen during my time in the service. Basic chain of command was not easy to figure out in the beginning, but I have now started to grasp the unique organizational picture. That knowledge alone is vitally important in accomplishing the mission. The flow of information from troops in the field to those making decisions in higher command establishes operations that will make our time here successful.

Now that this experience has begun to sink in, I’m starting to realize that a year in Afghanistan will be over a lot sooner than I ever thought. This first month has already provided numerous experiences that I will never forget.

 The anniversary of Sept. 11 was a very heartfelt time here at Camp Phoenix. Our base is run by the 27th Brigade Combat Team out of New York. The events of 9/11 hit extremely close to home in a literal sense for the members of the New York National Guard working here. The ceremony on base involved all branches of the U.S. military along with many members of the coalition forces serving here with us, including Romanian, French, Polish, Spanish, Turkish and Serbian soldiers. It was a great way to honor the men and women who lost their lives that day as well as an impressive display of solidarity between many nations who have chosen to defend freedom in hostile areas around the world. I’ll never forget a specific part of the speech given by the Army Officer in charge of the base fire station. In his speech, he mentioned the number of New York City firefighters who died that day trying to save the people caught in the Twin Towers; 343 firefighters died in the collapse of the towers on Sept. 11.

In addition to Sept. 11, there was another important date to be honored that same week. Sept. 9 is a national holiday here in Afghanistan. That is the day the Afghan people celebrate the death of their national hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud. He is best remembered for playing the leading role in driving the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. Later in life, he rose to the position of Minister of Defense before the local government collapsed in 1992 and the country fell into the hands of the Taliban regime. He became the central leader for the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, the main opposition to Taliban rule. He was assassinated on Sept. 9, 2001, just two days before the attacks on the World Trade Center. There is belief that the Taliban, fearing retaliation from the US and allies in the region, chose to kill Massoud prior to Sept. 11 to prevent him from rallying the local population in rising against the Taliban and siding with the U.S. forces. During our drives through Kabul we pass through “Massoud Circle” and all along the way see pictures of him everywhere. It’s amazing to see how much the local people love this man.

On average, we convoy outside Camp Phoenix twice per week. There is always one thing that remains constant in our travels. The last person we see when we leave base and the first person we always see when we return is a local Afghan known by the nickname “Rambo.” I heard stories about this man from the first time I saw him at the front gate, but not until I actually did a little research did I discover the legendary events were not just fictional “sea stories,” as we call them in the Navy. Upon reading his story, I knew I had to include it in my next blog. His wife and one of his children were killed when a Taliban rocket hit his home. Rambo, his name protected for security reasons, came to Kabul in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime to try and better his life. Camp Phoenix was built on the property owned by the trucking company he worked for at the time. He chose to stay here ever since that time and vowed to help the Americans in any way he could. He became a local legend on Jan. 16 of last year. That day Rambo noticed a suspicious vehicle approaching the front gate. He instinctively grabbed the man through the car window and wrestled him out of the car before the man inside had time to detonate the explosives in the vehicle. A more thorough story on Rambo can be found at this link: Rambo gives the following quote in the article, "I made a promise to every American soldier, even if there is only one American soldier, I will be here to protect him.” I got chills just reading about this man and his allegiance to the U.S. soldiers here. It’s people like Rambo that make me happy to serve here alongside the Afghan people.

I would have to say that the most common questions people ask me about relate to the living conditions. The living conditions here are as good as it gets in Afghanistan. Our base is one of the largest in country and provides many amenities that Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) downrange do not offer. I lived in a “bee hut” for the first few weeks in country with 15 other guys. Almost all the “buildings” here on Phoenix are bee huts, very simple all-wood structures consisting of four walls, a roof, a floor and not much else. After a few weeks in the bee hut, I moved into my permanent housing. Officers and senior enlisted personnel are given an 8’ x 8’ connex box for a home. It provides enough space for a bed, a desk, and a wall locker. All the furniture in these rooms is handmade by the people who live in them. It becomes a lottery to see if the person who previously had your room was resourceful enough to make some good furniture or if you’ll be stuck trying to channel Bob Villa in order to make the place comfortable. I was lucky enough to have a bed, desk, and storage bins already installed. The walls in the room are paper thin (I was startled one evening when the guy next door sneezed) and I have to walk a little bit to the bathroom, but outside of that, there isn’t much to complain about in terms of living conditions.

I’m not looking forward to the winter months here, but so far the weather has been great. It gets up to the low 90s during the day and as low as 50s at night. During my first month in country I saw one day of rain for a total of five minutes; no exaggeration. I wouldn’t mind if that keeps up through the winter. I don’t like the idea of walking outside to the bathroom in the snow. Within a couple months we should experience what an Afghan winter is all about.

The dining facility is another bright spot on Phoenix. While almost everyone finds something to complain about from time to time, the food service operation here is excellent in my opinion. We have numerous choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the contractors running the operation manage to work in theme nights from time to time. This is my first time experiencing food service contracted out rather than run by the military personnel themselves. The limitations for a food service operation in Afghanistan are quite similar to those faced by the cooks on Navy ships out to sea for months at a time. In my opinion the Navy gives the contractors a run for their money.

I realize my article didn’t flow quite like an award winning essay, but in a way, that is a good reflection of life here in Afghanistan. Nothing is structured perfectly and you just have to find a way to make it work! That’s it from Afghanistan for now. I’ll be looking forward to writing another story in a month or so.

Go Illini!

LTJG Petrosky


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