Enjoy this latest update from my cousin in Afghanistan. We can’t be reminded enough that a war is still going on, even if we don’t hear it on the evening news every night.

Another day, another $3.50, one step closer to emphysema from all the dust in the air, and one step closer seeing family back home. But I digress.

I wanted to start out by relating a story we all heard today at our pilot meeting. An Army Sergeant First Class came to visit us, and told of an experience he had in 2006 when the Tiger sharks saved his life and the lives of his team in the Tagab Valley just east of Bagram. He was out on a convoy enroute to visit with a local leader to work on cutting off Taliban supply lines in the area, and while enroute they came under attack six times. By the 6th time, they struck 2 IEDs and his convoy was simultaneously taking fire from both sides. They were out of 7.62, .50 cal, and running low on 5.56 ammo, with no way to get to the disabled vehicles and care for their wounded. Luckily, the battalion commander had insisted they bring an Air Force controller with them just in case they needed air. The sergeant said that he had fought his commander on it, but he has thanked him ever since.

That Air Force controller (called a JTAC) got hold of 2 A-10s, and within minutes they placed 500 lb bombs on both sides of the convoy. The bombs were so close that each vehicle was covered with dirt and debris, but delivered precisely enough that they hit paydirt on their targets. The aircraft followed up with 30mm strafe until the firing had come to a complete halt, and it was evident there were no enemy positions left to threaten the convoy. This sergeant could not tell the story without getting very emotional, as he considered where he and many in his convoy would now be had then been left to their own devices with nothing but their pistols and knives left against the concerted attack. He said that before that mission, all of his buddies in his troop had no good feelings for pilots, the Air Force, and anyone from the ‘other’ services, but those feelings have changed. I am just glad that he and guys like him are willing to do what they do so they don’t make me do it, so I can go back to complaining about my poor chow hall food and internet service after landing.

Many in the squadron sacrificed sleep to watch the Super Bowl live, and we had a great Super Bowl Party. The squadron was strongly divided about which blue-collar contender was the better of the two, but the real entertainment may have been watching Balz and GoFUR in their Steeler colors, with their animation for the game. Good thing we don’t carry guns on a daily basis here at the closing whistle, as we might have had to lock them up. Oh wait, we do carry guns. But no fear, the food coma was enough to slow down any rash thinking. Pothole once again cooked up a slew of steaks, brats and chicken, complete with every bit of junk food you can imagine for the game. I honestly think as the game went on, many became Packer fans just to stir the pot a bit with Balz and GoFUR. Harassment is surely in the job description of a fighter pilot.

Flying this week has had its ups and downs. The weather went from poor to worse, with system after system rolling in, bringing rain, snow, icing in the clouds, low ceilings, and completely socked in target areas and tanker tracks. I was flying with SLOP the other day, and decided to give him the lead to get us to the tanker and then to our next tasking. Stupid me, as the weather quickly deteriorated and I found myself on the wing in fingertip in the weather for about 40 minutes, trying to convince myself that we were not in 90 degrees of bank the whole time. The tanker guys are great, but every once in a while you get a crew that assumes you need the practice flying 10 feet off his wing inside a ping pong ball to test your inner ear and your ability to maintain any semblance of situational awareness. At least it was not at night. The night guys never miss going to the tanker, especially when there is weather, as the invisible flying gas station gives you almost no horizontal reference at night, and weather makes that even worse. The NVGs can often see through the weather, but that only gives you a false sense of security that you know which way is up, and for all you know you are flying into an anvil. But don’t worry, the guys are steady of hand, and never fail to get gas when needed.

Nestle and I flew up to our old stomping grounds yesterday, near Bagram. After many days of bad weather, the visibility was such that you could almost see the Hindu Kush Mountains as they climbed into Northwest Pakistan and China. The recent weather left a hefty blanket of snow on the northern half of the country, and I could almost feel the cold while at 17,000 above the terrain. As we over watched a foot patrol, I missed my kids as I watched some local children playing in the snow, sliding down a hill on some makeshift form of a sled. Despite the ever-present threat to the local Afghanis, and their lack of knowledge of life without war, so many seem to press on and live as normally as they know how. Leave it to children to ignore the realities of a harsh world and just be kids. I wish I had been on the ground with them, but then I caught a glimpse of our soldiers clearing the town, and was happy to have my bird’s eye view of the scene.

I don’t know when we will leave this country, and what the status will be when we leave. Ultimately, that will be up to the Afghanis, with the help of many committed soldiers out there securing towns, building schools, teaching kids how to read (and adults), and bringing some stability in the region to allow for the locals to hope. But I will say this—it may very well be that in the latest war in Afghanistan, 2010-2011 will be a seminal period, a turning point where the coalition showed sufficient commitment, and the locals embraced that commitment to actually dream of a future without thuggery, brutality and constant war. Politicians may talk, and if we ultimately do not leave this country a paradise covered with resort towns and cheap t-shirt factories, there will be many that will malign the efforts of the Afghani people and the soldiers out there helping them. We are spending a crazy amount of money here, and there is much room for improvement. But the efforts of simple 18-24 yr old troops on the ground, doing things their mothers would cringe about if they knew, are nothing short of amazing, and if we turn the corner, it will be because of them. We are just here to allow them to focus on doing those amazing things.

Hope all is going well at home, and the extended home stretch will be a good one for us all. We are still waiting on baby news regarding the Cavazos and then the Harts, and hope that both mothers-to-be are doing well, comfortable, and putting their husbands to work prepping for the inbound life-changers. And when those husbands complain about how tired they are, and how tough having a kid is, I’ll only say this—you’re not a real man until you are outnumbered.