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Reflections On ‘Afghanistan: Embedded With Texas Troops’

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CBS 11 News anchor Keith Garvin and photojournalist Edgar Solis were recently embedded with soldiers in Afghanistan to see the U.S. war effort firsthand. Click here to read more of their stories.

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (CBSDFW.COM) - The last installment of Afghanistan: Embedded With Texas Troops ran Friday night on CBS 11 News at 10:00 p.m. (rerun this past Monday morning on CBS 11 News This Morning).  Nine stories over three weeks after spending 15 days on assignment.  People still ask me, “What was it like?”  My response continues to be, “Wish I was still there.  Can’t wait to go back!”

So much has happened since photojournalist Edgar Solis and I returned.  Four American soldiers have been killed in two separate incidents after protests were sparked after accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. soldiers at Bagram Airfield.  The White House, Pentagon, and State Department are doing all they can to make sure an unintentional slight does not wreck 10 years of progress.  Almost every soldier we came across, from commanders to the troops patrolling the streets, believed that a peaceful and stable transition was right around the corner.  I think everyone involved, including you the U.S. taxpayer, is hoping that peaceful and stable transition can still come to fruition in the near future.

A lot of people wonder why I would want to return to a war zone.  There are several reasons, but the main one is the same reason I pitched the story over a year ago: I believe the soldiers are worth it.

The country is understandably concerned about the economy, unemployment, soaring gas prices, and an upcoming presidential election.  Americans also are battle weary after two wars over the past 10 years.  But we can’t forget that we continue to pay a heavy price in human and financial capital to get things right in Afghanistan.   Our men & women in uniform are willingly serving our country at great risk to themselves and their families.  When I was in Afghanistan numerous soldiers told me that while they believed the majority of the country supported them, they felt most Americans simply weren’t paying attention anymore to their efforts in Afghanistan.  Others who regularly deal with the media admitted that it’s “very hard” to get American journalists interested in coming to Afghanistan to report on the situation.  Maybe because I come from a long family history of military service that dates back to World War I, or because military-related stories have been the most exhilarating of my career, or because for whatever reason I “get” our troops & understand their lingo I have a desire to tell their stories.  Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen firsthand the aftermath of their most sacred sacrifice on the battlefield.  Whatever the reason I believe their story should remain in the forefront of the public’s attention as opposed to the back burner.

Those are reasons I would return to Afghanistan.  Another reason I would want to go in the first place can be summed up in several emails I’ve received from military families since our stories have run.  They’ve been sent by wives & children who have thanked me for going to Afghanistan and telling their soldier’s story.  One wife told me that her kids were so happy when they saw their father on the screen in one of our stories that they started screaming with excitement!  That reaction alone made the entire trip worth it.

Another question I’ve been asked is what struck me the most about the trip.  My first impression after landing at Bagram was that Afghanistan was very cold!  Secondly, I couldn’t believe how beautiful the mountains were.  That may sound like an odd thing to remember, but when most people have thought about Afghanistan over the past 10 years most typically think of war and bloodshed.  You often don’t hear about or would even think to associate beauty with such a rugged, war-torn place.  But being in parts of the Hindu Kush visually was like being in the Rockies.

Do I have any regrets?  Only that we didn’t get there sooner and that we didn’t stay as long as I would’ve liked.  I also didn’t get to interact with the local population as much as I wanted to.  Usually when I travel abroad, for work or leisure, I try to spend some time & get to know some of the locals.  Our time frame didn’t allow us to do that so much on this trip, but that just gives me another reason to return!

But the most enduring image has to be that of Lt. Joseph Price, a platoon commander with the 164th Military Police Company.   Edgar and I spent two days on missions with the 164th.  When we stepped into the back of the MRAP armored vehicle we’d be traveling in, Lt. Price came around to meet the two journalists who were tagging along.  He didn’t say ‘hello’, he didn’t want to know if we were settled and ready to roll.  The first words he uttered caught us like a left hook.  “If I die listen to my driver.  If my driver dies listen to my gunner,” he said.  “If my gunner dies…  Well if my gunner dies we’re probably all about to be dead so let’s just enjoy the ride together.”

I’ve sanitized a lot of what the 1st Lieutenant told us in his opening statement, but he went on to say that if the convoy got attacked with RPGs or a roadside bomb be sure to listen to him and his guys (and a couple of gals) because they would take care of us.  As we spent more time with Lt. Price and got to know the 24-year-old a little better I learned that he was a young man who not only was happy to be serving his country, he actually LOVED his job and loved leading & taking care of his soldiers.   And we could tell they liked him a lot and greatly respected him.  They did so because he was keeping them alive.

Lt. Joseph Price embodies the fire, dedication, & leadership of the vast majority of our men and women in uniform.  They would much rather be back at home with their families.  But they willingly have stepped up to the plate to serve and protect our country.  They are the ones on the front lines telling us to follow them and that they will lead us to safety and continue to take care of us.  I’m happy to tell their story any day of the week.

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