CBS 11 anchor Keith Garvin and photojournalist Edgar Solis are traveling to Afghanistan to see the U.S. war effort firsthand. In February they will bring back a series of stories about our troops there. While they are traveling, Keith is writing this blog for CBSDFW.COM.

BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN – Thursday, January 26:  If you ever visit Afghanistan & need to travel around this rugged country I highly recommend doing so courtesy of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter!  That’s what Edgar Solis & I got to do today as we accompanied Maj. General Dan Allyn on what’s known as a Battlefield Circulation (BFC).  That’s where a commanding officer takes a tour of his unit’s area of operations.  As the Commanding General of 1st Cav/RC-East in Afghanistan Gen. Allyn tries to visit his soldiers as often as possible.

The Cav has numerous outposts throughout the 43,000 square mile area known as Regional Command-East.  It’s roughly the size of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Today Gen. Allyn visited FOB (Forward Operating Base) Sharana in Paktika Province.  It’s a 45-minute chopper ride south of Bagram Airfield where RC-East is headquartered and where Edgar & I have spent the past 7 days. The ride was simply breathtaking.  We flew through several mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush, rising as high as 10,100 feet at times.  Bagram Airfield is surrounded by mountains on two sides, so we see them everyday when the skies are clear.  But to pass right by & over them was absolutely remarkable.

An aerial view of Afghanistan's Hindu Kush as seen from a Black Hawk helicopter. (Photo credit Keith Garvin, CBS 11 News)

The toughest part of the trip was dealing with the cold temperatures.  The crew flew with the doors open for most of the ride.  Anyone who knows me knows I cannot stand the cold, and believe me when I say I’ve never been colder in my life than on today’s helicopter ride.  But if they said we needed to make the trip again tomorrow I’d be right there on the flight line ready to go.

CBS 11 photojournalist Edgar Solis riding in a Black Hawk helicopter. (Photo credit Keith Garvin, CBS 11 News)

Despite what was somewhat of an adventure for Edgar & me, Gen. Allyn flew down to Sharana for serious business.  He was there to meet with leaders from Task Force Attack.  It’s an aviation unit that supports infantry & special operations units in Paktika Province.  A battlefield circulation is designed for a commander to get a battlefield assessment.  It’s also designed to give encouragement to the troops.

While Gen. Allyn led several meetings, Edgar & I spent time getting a look at the FOB, interviewing several soldiers, and then accompanying one of the Black Hawk crews on a mission to pick up and deliver an ambassador and two colonels to a meeting in another part of the province.

A U.S. soldier rides in a Black Hawk helicopter. (Photo credit Keith Garvin, CBS 11 News)

Riding on a Black Hawk obviously is pretty cool, but today gave me a greater appreciation for the work the helicopter crew has to put in to keep the birds flying in Afghanistan.  They weren’t necessarily designed to fly in the harsh winter conditions of Afghanistan, but the crews work their tails off to keep the Black Hawks, Apaches, and Chinooks in the air.  Their efforts have been rewarded with more than 50 engagements & 8,000 hours of flying since the Task Force arrived in June.  Only a few more months left before they head home to Fort Hood.