Update from Afghanistan

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December 20th, 2010

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Two Mil Mi-35 Hind helicopter fires its 12.7 mm gatling gun during a training sortie over southern Afghanistan (Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force)

Lincoln, NE – Several hundred Nebraska Army National Guard soldiers currently call Afghanistan home. NET News’ Mike Tobias talked with the commander of this Nebraska unit about their mission and conditions in country.

Lt. Colonel Tom Rynders calls it overwhelming.

“It’s like breathing sulfur 24 hours a day.”

Rynders is talking about smog that constantly hangs over Kabul. The Bellevue native commands the 1-134th Cavalry, which is based at two camps in Afghanistan’s capitol. He calls conditions for most of the more than two million people who live in the city squalid.

No running water in a lot of their homes and buildings. Electricity for only certain periods of the day. Trash everywhere, and literally I mean everywhere,” he said. “Whether it’s on the sides of the streets or in the neighborhoods or businesses, just about everywhere you’d look, trash of some sort.”

In this environment, the Nebraska Cavalry soldiers took command of their mission this month. For most soldiers that means mentoring, training and advising Afghan security forces throughout the wide-ranging Kabul province.

“Now they’re doing anything from doing some initial types of law enforcement training where there could be vehicle searches or manning a checkpoint effectively, those are some of the operational types of mentoring and training we could do.”

“But we’re also getting ourselves involved in administrative things like logistics, personnel accountability, because they do seem to struggle, most of the Afghan National Police, in understanding how a proper logistics system should work.”

Nebraska soldiers are also involved with community improvement projects. A special fund allows Rynders and his soldiers to identify needs and hire local workers to build things like medical clinics, roads and schools.

“To me, that is probably the most rewarding thing about what we do here,” he said. “Because that’s the most visible and tangible contribution I think we can make is by building these things.”

In a country where nearly 700 coalition soldiers have died this year, there is always a threat of attack. But Rynders says so far his soldiers, quote “really haven’t seen much,” and Kabul has been a fairly safe place.

 

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