Anticipating what's ahead

Posted: Sep 21, 2006 11:58 AM
Anticipating what's ahead

Editor's note: Jerry Newberry, communications director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and host of The National Defense radio show, journeyed to Iraq for the first time this past March. An Army veteran of the Vietnam War, Newberry is going to battle once again and expanding his reporting duties in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Newberry will be donning his battle fatigues for five weeks, beginning this week. We published his first report Tuesday, and his second and third reports are below.

September 19, 2006
Not Exactly a Ski Vacation...

The marching orders finally came through. I leave for my second trip to Iraq and Afghanistan on the 21st, arrive in Kabul a couple of days later and the embed begins the 25th.

This time, I’ll be embedded with the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment 10th Mountain Division based out of Jalalabad Air Field, Afghanistan for 14 days. Then it’s on to Iraq. I thought before I took off, I’d find out a little more about the company I’ll be keeping once I reach Jalalabad.

Turns out the 10th Mountain Division is a pretty elite group with a very interesting history... and a connection to all those luxury ski resorts you find in Colorado. Let me explain.

The idea for the division was born back in 1939 when Charles Minot (Minnie) Doyle, president of the U.S. National Ski Patrol, caught wind of a unique victory. Finnish soldiers on skis destroyed two Soviet tank divisions, shaming the Russian invaders. Impressive.

The first mountain unit was activated in 1941 and the 10th Division came into being in 1943.

When the division was disbanded after WWII, veterans from the 10th kept on doing what they did best – skiing. Ski magazines, ski schools and new ski resorts began cropping up. Vail, Aspen and Sugarbush are just a few of the resorts built by 10th vets.

The division was officially reactivated in 1985 at Fort Drum, New York. The 10th is designed specifically to meet a wide range of infantry intense contingency missions. They pack light for optimum strategic and tactical mobility and have been deployed more often than any other Army division.

Right now, they’re in the hot seat in Afghanistan. Patrolling the road that links the violent eastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan, right along the Pakistan border.

Some of the deadliest activity from highly trained militants is launched from the surrounding mountains … not exactly a resort situation here, folks.

I’ll let you know more when I know more.

September 20, 2006
Welcome to Jalalabad

Unlike most of Afghanistan – covered by deserts and desolate vegetation (if vegetation even exists) – Jalalabad and the mountainous regions to the north are verdant by comparison.

It’s a landlocked country connected by miles of dangerous, winding road to the provinces that lie to the north and east.

Why the geography lesson? I figure if I’m going to be humping around the wilds of Central Asia, I might as well know what the hell I’m in for. And it ain’t pretty...

Along with the wolves, jackals and vultures that prowl the mountains to the north, another type of predator also lurks – the armed followers of Al-Qaida and the minions of rebel warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The violence here isn’t like it is in the south of the country. Where NATO forces employ heavy artillery against organized Taliban offensives. It’s trickier... the bad guys are sneakier...

This is the part of the country known for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted along the winding byways the 10th Mountain Division is guarding. A place where the troops don’t know who their enemy is. They have to be prepared for the worst – always.

Some welcome, huh?

But this is what our warriors are facing every day. I’m honored to have the chance to be among them. My couple-of-weeks tour is nothing compared to the long stints these Joes have had.

More later.