Troops pack up gear to ship out of Afghanistan
By Deb Riechmann, AP, Sep 17, 2012
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP)—It was nearly 2 a.m. when U.S. Army Pfc. Zach Randle jumped out of his bulky armored vehicle in southern Afghanistan for what he hoped would be the last time.
“I don’t want to see it again. It’s been through a lot,” Randle said of the 19-ton (17-metric ton) vehicle that was his ride—and sometimes his bed—during a six-month deployment to volatile Kandahar province.
“It protected us, but I’m just in a hurry to turn it in to be closer to going home,” said Randle, who has now left Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s drawdown of 33,000 U.S. troops by Sept. 30. The pullout—10,000 last year and 23,000 more this year—will be finished within days. That will leave 68,000 American troops in this country to fight militants and help prepare Afghan forces to take over security nationwide.
While some service members go home, others are busy preparing thousands of vehicles and other equipment for shipment. It’s a laborious task that’s more difficult than it was in Iraq because of landlocked Afghanistan’s tough mountainous terrain, lack of roads and its mountain passes that will soon be covered with snow.
Between now and the end of 2014, when most U.S. troops will have left, the Americans will move an estimated 50,000 vehicles, including tens of thousands of Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles like the one Randle drove into the equipment yard. They’ll also ship an estimated 100,000 metal containers—each about 20 feet long. End-to-end, the containers would stretch nearly 400 miles (600 kilometers).
Shipping has picked up in recent months, as base closure teams have spread out across Afghanistan to help soldiers sort, pack and load up their gear. As of the beginning of September, 208 U.S. and NATO coalition bases have been closed, 310 have been transferred to the Afghan government and 323 remain open, according to the coalition.
The packing up is going on as the war still rages. Just since Friday, insurgents attacked a base in neighboring Helmand province, killing two U.S. Marines and destroying six Harrier fighter jets. Afghan police gunned down four more American service members, and a NATO airstrike mistakenly killed eight Afghan women looking for firewood.
As American forces keep fighting, thousands of civilian and military personnel will continue prepping vehicles for flight, taking tedious inventory of bullets, night scopes, radios and even recreational baseball bats. They’ll also clean and crate tons of other gear, anything from bags of nails to generators.
Brig. Gen. Kristin French, commanding general of the Joint Sustainment Command in Afghanistan, likens the teams to “wedding planners” helping to organize the move.
Some equipment is taken by truck, train, ships or planes to military depots in the United States. MRAPS are rolled onto airplanes. Some Humvees sit in shipping containers for a test trip on a railroad leaving Afghanistan via Uzbekistan to the north. Other equipment will also go north through Central Asia or else be trucked into Pakistan—some of it down to the port of Karachi, where it will sail back to the United States or other destinations.
Various items will stay in Afghanistan to be used by the Americans troops not going home—yet. Still other materiel will be transferred to the Afghan government, tossed out, taken to a scrap heap or shipped to other countries for use by U.S. forces.
For now, Randle and several dozen other U.S. Army soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team 82nd Airborne Division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are happy to get rid of their vehicles and all the equipment.
The troops spent hours turning in their equipment and chatting about going home.
Pvt. Kevin Patterson, 21, of Carson City, Nevada, was craving his grandmother’s “famous tacos.”
He was also happy to be alive.
“Every night when you go to bed and you’re in one piece, you think ‘Thank God, I’m still here,’” Patterson said. “And when you finish and when you’re on your way home like this, you think ‘It’s amazing. I made it through.’”