The drive itself was fairly routine. The main exception was that I was behind the wheel again:
Before we were out of Kabul Province we got stuck in traffic next to this charming little ice cream parlor (and butcher shop):
Once we arrived, we unloaded our gear and sat down with the PRT's civlian director, Ms. Bohumila Ranglova. Busy as she was, she set aside most of her morning to answer our questions and tell us all about the numerous reconstruction and development projects they've been running in the province. She was fascinating to talk to and has a tremendous amount of experience with humanitarian relief work and reconstruction projects. As far as I know, she is also the only female PRT leader in Afghanistan so far.
Small though it is, the Czech PRT is doing a lot of great work. They've upgraded schools and hospitals from tents to stone and concrete buildings, they've built government buildings from scratch, repaired dams, and established jobs and provided technical training for countless local workers.
After a long and fruitful conversation we took a walk around the base. The PRT is actually located within an American-run Forward Operating Base (FOB) called "Shank." It's a big place with lots of folks stationed there and a constant buzz of activity. We ended up getting a great view of the whole thing from one of the lookout posts next to the perimeter. Here's part of it:
From here there were also pretty impressive views outside the compound:
Here's Greg Scruton in front of the obligatory sign with directions and distances to the hometowns of soldiers stationed here:
Of course all of the signs point the same direction because all of the towns are in the Czech Republic. That's also why all of the distances are in kilometers.
Having wandered around and gotten the lay of the land, we had some time to spare before dinner. Somewhere in there I snapped a self-portrait:
The food there turned out to be some of the best food available in all of Afghanistan. If nothing else, the US military is doing a really good job of feeding folks on US bases. Before you ask, the HQ compound I'm stationed on is not a US base.
FOB Shank was every bit as comfortable as any other FOB. What makes them fun is the little bits of silliness that you find when you look closely. Take for example the little stacks of bottled water pre-positioned all over the base:
On the plus side, I didn't have to sleep on the deck this time:
The next morning, Vic Vale and I mounted up with a Czech convoy carrying a couple of the civilian engineers out to check on some of the ongoing projects. Here's me about to climb into a up-armored HMMWV (pronounced "humvee"):
On the road I got the typical soldier's view of Afghanistan:
Still, there were plenty of interesting things to see if you kept an eye open:
Here's a run-down old house with a fairly new well in front of it:
Our first stop was at a nearby village where the PRT is funding and managing the construction of a girls school. Here you can see some of the Afghan locals at work:
A year ago classes here were being taught under a tree. Now there are several functioning classrooms in the building to the right and eight more being built in the building in the background. Because our convoy included men, we had to visit on a day when classes were not in session and none of the girls were present.
While we toured the facility, the Czech soldiers provided security overwatch:
The local children were very curious about us:
We also visited a local hospital, but I didn't take any pictures for fear of offending anyone. Suffice it to say that a year ago the facility was simply a tent and now it's a walled compound with several concrete buildings, electricity, ambulances, and running water.
During the drive back to the FOB I snapped a few more interesting pictures. Here's a local man crossing the street:
And here's an Afghan sporting goods store:
After a few more meetings with the various civil-military affairs folks working in FOB Shank it was time to call it a day. The next morning we packed up, took our time having breakfast and coffee, and rolled out. On the way back there was still plenty to see:
So taken for all in all it was a good trip. We got a lot done and got plenty of fresh air:
Of course as we got closer to Kabul, there was no mistaking the murky pall of smog clinging low to the ground:
Hopefully I'll get to leave this place soon.