Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our Equipment Works!

This past Thursday myself and three other guys from my team were able to join 10 German soldiers for a morning session out on the shooting range. I did not have a lot of confidence with the zero of my weapon, and that it was shooting exactly where I wanted it to. So I was very excited to be able to get out and put a few rounds through my rifle to test it out. The Germans that we were shooting with were very competent, and comfortable shooters, so it was refreshing not to have to spend more time going through safety briefs than we did shooting. They simply explained the limits of the range, objectives for the shooting, and general range safety. After setting up some hasty targets, shortly there after we were shooting. I originally thought I would need to spend most of the morning setting up a 25 meter zero target, shooting three rounds, walking to the target checking my placement, walking back and making any changes, shooting three more rounds, and repeat as necessary. As soon as shooting began it soon became obvious that this technique would not work. All the Germans that we were on the range with began shooting at targets at 100 meters. Generally it is considered kind of uncouth to move up and put yourself in front of other people who are shooting, as well as extremely dangerous. If I was to shoot my weapon I would either get to shoot it at 100 meters or not. Against the berm that we were shooting at were some brightly painted old ammo boxes. These boxes were relatively about the same size as a human chest. From 100 yards I was able to put a full magazine of rounds though the box. This was a bit of a relief, if I could put a bunch or rounds through a box at that range, my weapon is combat effective and I should be able to rounds center mass through of anything else that might threaten me or my teammates. After everyone spent some time refamiliarizing with their weapons, everyone moved up to 50 meters and trained on doing some reflexive fire. Which in some respects can be described like quick draw but with a rifle. For increased training and fun, we next trained with using both our rifle and pistol. Two quick shots with the rifle, simulate running out of rounds or a malfunction so we attempt to quickly transition to the pistol and fire two shots at the same target. Because of all the body armor, ammo pouches, other accoutrements on my body, and where I wear my pistol I found a quick transition extremely difficult. But it was still fun training none the less. After everyone had their fun of shooting, as well as testing each others weapons, and firing a few rounds of the German machine gun we had one last little training session. The Germans had an AK-47, and about 100 rounds of ammo in which to shoot. The best part of the was they brought out an extra ceramic body armor plate, and put it about 25 meters from our position. They asked the first shooter of the AK, to put a couple rounds onto the plate. The results pretty much speak for themselves, the plate stopped two rounds from an AK-47 at almost point blank range. Now just because it stopped the rounds doesn't mean that it wouldn't hurt like the dickens if I were to get shot, but I have the confidence our body armor would protect me and my fellow soldiers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Minnesota and Croatian Soldiers Assist Afghan Army in Securing Election

Minnesota and Croatian Soldiers Assist Afghan Army in Securing Election
September 18
For the elections of 18 September soldiers of the Minnesota Army National Guard, and Croatian Army assisted the 4th Kandak in helping to provide a safe and secure environment for voting in the Chemtal district of Balk Province. Chemtal district is a few kilometers west of the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Chemtal district and just to the north Chahar Bolak district, had the highest amount of insurgent activity in the regions immediately in and surrounding the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The soldiers of HHC 4th Kandak were stationed at the Chemtal Afghan National Police
station, along with their US mentors. The soldiers moved into the area
and started doing patrols about five days before the elections, and
their Minnesota National Guard Mentors moved into the field with them on
the 16th. The Minnesota Guardsmen began doing mounted convoy patrols
each day with their Afghan soldiers up to and through the election.
The M-RAP All Terrain Vehicles (MATV) of the American provided a real
show of force presence to help the ANA soldiers, as they worked to
reassure that the people of the Chemtal district that it would be safe
to vote on the 18th. The MATV is a very loud and large vehicle, and is
hard not to notice when it comes through an area. The Chemtal district
governor was very appreciative of the assistance of the US and Croatian
forces and said "That the presence of the Americans likely reduced the
number of incidents over the course of the election."
Unfortunately though the coalition forces were not able to be everywhere
at one time with their Afghan soldiers. The morning of the election the
leadership of 4th kandak received word that an attack had occurred near
the village of Jar Qala, which was about four to five kilometers
straight-line distance from the police station. The US MATVs tried to
drive to the small village to meet up with the ANA soldiers that they
were told were there. Unfortunately due to the size of the vehicles and
the confusion of trying to drive down small field roads made navigating
to the site without Afghans leading almost impossible. The Americans
returned to the small ANP police station in order to wait for Afghan
Army reinforcements. About noon Afghan Quick Reaction Force Commando
soldiers arrived to the police station, and a plan was put together to
go to the site of the violence.
Shortly after twelve thirty local time three Afghan Humvees along with a
Afghan Army Ford Ranger led a procession of five US MATVs armed with
machine guns and grenade launchers, followed by several more Afghan Humvees and Rangers. The traveling was somewhat slow going traveling to the site of the incident. The roads could at
best be compared to compacted dirt between farm fields in the states,
with deep ditches or tall trees on each side. Because of the size of the
MATVs several tree branches were knocked over or pulled down. The travel
became even slower, as the Afghan commandos decided to dismount and
begin walking after just a couple kilometers of travel, for fear of
driving into an IED or ambush.
The route to Jar Qala became confusing to the US forces, as their high tech moving map showed that they should have turned north to their destination instead the column of soldiers and vehicles continued west. One of the challenges with relying on translators, is that sometimes parts of conversation do not get conveyed properly or confusion in the translation, often through no fault of the interpreter. This was the case as the Afghans failed to convey that the destination was not the village of Jar Qala, rather another small collection of houses a couple kilometers west.
Upon turning back to the north and entering a clearing the object of the
mission became obvious. A burned out flatbed truck, which had obviously
been hit by a rocket propelled grenade. There had been some election
materials in the back of the vehicle but that was all burned up. Both of
the doors to the vehicle were wide open, and no one was inside, so
appeared that driver and any passengers may have made it out. Not
everyone made it to safety. Approximately 50 meters behind the vehicle
was the body of a ANP officer who had been shot by insurgents, most
likely in a firefight after the RPG blast.
The Afghan Commandos and soldiers of 4th Kandak did exactly what would be expected of an western infantry company. Upon coming upon to the vehicle they fanned out around to begin pulling security, and looking for other survivors or bodies. The Afghan soldiers requested the help of the US vehicles technologies. Some of the MATVs which were on site have a high tech weapon system mounted on top. The high tech equipped vehicles began scanning throughout the area to attempt to see if there were any survivors injured and hiding in the tall weeds. When no one could be found they turned their attention to scan the surrounding trees to see if anyone
was watching. A favorite technique of insurgents, just like criminals
watch the scene of a crime, is to watch from a distance and see if coalition forces let their guard down. It was obvious that there had been more than one person in the vehicle transporting the election supplies. The body of the policeman was the only body that could be found at the scene. There were unconfirmed rumors from the ANA soldiers that there two more ANP and possibly a
female election worker in the vehicle that were captured, tortured and murdered. There was also a rumor that two people were in the vehicle were shot and injured and made it to the safety of one of the nearby houses. Where they were later cared for and taken to a hospital. For as
much violence as there was around the vehicle it is easier to believe
that whoever else was in the vehicle met the same fate as the policeman
who found in the road behind the burned out wreckage.
Unfortunately for the people of the Chemtal District their election was not free of violence. The Taliban and local insurgents derive their power from fear and intimidation of the local people. If the people do not have trust in their government for their protection, they will turn to the Taliban for their perceived safety. Hopefully soon the Afghan Army and Afghan National Police will have enough capabilities to find and destroy the anti-government forces that would do harm to the peace loving citizens of Afghanistan.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Real Reason Why We Are Here!

This is a picture that pretty much sums up, why we as Americans and other coalition forces are currently in Afghanistan.
This is a picture of a young man, from the Chemtal District of Balk Province in Northern Afghanistan after he had voted just a few minutes before. The blue on his finger symbolizes that he had just voted. Interestingly there is no absentee voting in Afghanistan. You vote in your home district, if your name and identification do not match you do not vote. After you vote you stick you finger in a blue dye, so that you can not vote again and corrupt the system.
This young man, who I unfortunately wasn't able to get his name, was excited to come up and talk to an American as he wanted to try out his English which he had been learning in school. He stated that his goal was to continue learning English with the goal of getting a good job so that he could provide for his family. I told him that is great and the education will help the people of Afghanistan. Through his broken English, from what I was able to understand, he asked what the coalition forces were doing here in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people? I explained to him that our job, and my job was to help train the soldiers pictured in the background to be better soldiers.
My unit and I were in the Chemtal district, helping our Afghan Kandak as they were helping to secure different polling stations in the area. The goal was to help ensure that the parliamentary elections were free of intimidation and violence. The soldiers pictured in the back ground were not the soldiers of the Kandak that we mentor, rather members of an Afghan Army Commando unit. There showed up to help our Kandak, members of the Afghan National Police (ANP), and our small unit of Coalition forces as we went to investigate reports of violence just a few short kilometers aways. A true multi-national joint operation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How you can help

Almost weekly I get a email or card from a friend, or random family asking if there is anything that I need or want while I am here in Afghanistan. I normally just say thanks as I have been really blessed while here and have received a lot of care packages, and for the most part the Army provides most everything I need.
I thought I would share an idea if folks want to send me anything. Actually it is something that I would like share with some kids in Afghanistan. The Sergeant Major in my unit has found a team on our base that occasionally visits local schools. We are coordinating that in October our small team will spend a day visiting a school or two. We would like to let anyone who might be interested in donating, that we would like to receive school supplies to give to local Afghan children. We will take anything that you think a kid from 1st grade up through 12th grade might need or use. Paper, pens, pencils, crayons, markers, glue, scissors. I don't have children, but I'm sure I have a much longer list of things that parents were recently required to purchase to send their little ones back to school. Additionally I'm sure we could find a way to send out any small toys that might be included. Believe it or not, flying kites is something we often see kids doing around here; so small kites or kite accessories I'm sure would be appreciated.  Keep in mind that while some of the kids may know a couple words of english, for the most part kids younger than high school age won't be able to recognize english writing. Additionally the one thing that I ask for any who might be tempted to send something is to not send any religious themed materials. Feel free to send God's love with the package you make, however I think that it will cause more problems than it would help if were to share with them anything Christian related.
It was interesting and exciting to see a bunch of children, mostly girls, walking down the street the other day as we passed by in our vehicles. What was interesting was that the young girls were all carrying small plastic chairs, what appeared to be a good distance. In talking to our Terps they said that some schools, especially girls schools, are so poor that if the children want to sit down they have to bring their own chairs to school. So everyday in addition to any books or supplies, they also carry a chair to and from school.
Education is the hope and future of this country. When children and later adults are able to read and write they will be able to understand the corruption or perversion of the groups like the Taliban or Al-Qaeda.
We plan to do a school visit sometime in October. The only bad part is that I may be on leave during that time period, enjoying my vacation. Should you decide you want to send a school supplies package please put somewhere on the address a notation indicating that it is school supplies. I will tell my friends that it is okay to open any box of my indicated as so. Obviously I will certainly write about and share pictures of any donations we hand out. Please send supplies to me at:
CPT Marc Rassler
Camp Mike Spann
APO AE 09368

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Shout out to the folks back home, and the Vikings

A couple weeks ago I came up with the idea for this video. I wrote the script for it, and with the help of the PAO on Camp Mike Spann we shot it this past week. I thought that it would be cool to send a Go Vikes message from Afghanistan during their first game of the season. If you see it played during one of the commercial time outs during the season opener, or for that matter any Vikings game please let us know. The public affairs folks did all of the work putting it together, and publishing it. We were just the pretty faces in front of the camera. Unfortunately one of our guys, Joe Christenson, is home on leave and wasn't able to be in the video

For those that have never been to a Vikings game before, the cheer we yell at the end of the video is Skol Vikes!

I hope that everyone enjoys, what I hope is a sneek preview video, and is able to see us during a televised Vikings game.