THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT!!!!
I have less than 20 days to go before I am out of the desert…man, it’s hot here (110 degrees yesterday)…but I wanted to share some thoughts with you and most of all to thank you for supporting me as well as the many men and women who are assigned here. It is because of your prayers and unconditional friendship that make serving our country easier.
Just like it was yesterday, I can remember getting on the L-1011 out of BWI headed for a small country called Qatar. They pronounce it like Ka-tar not Cut-Tar, like CNN does often just to see who is watching their programming…pretty smart marketing trick actually.
I was headed to a war CNN had advertised 24 hours per day and now I was going to be on the periphery of it at best, so I thought. That was some 75 days ago but if I blink slowly enough I can still see me locking my car door as I left my home in a rented taxi. I did not get the drivers name but he was driving a silver 1980s Lincoln Continental. Something my Uncle Tino would have driven while listening to an 8-track tape of the Isley Brothers in 1979. No, I take that back, Tino is a Cadillac Man. It rode like a smooth sofa and had room for eight people. We needed the room because I had packed all of the gear needed for a war in Europe and the Middle East. Actually, I only needed the desert gear but it is better to be prepared than sorry. When they gave me my Kevlar vest, I swallowed because I could only imagine what I would be using that for. I learned not to leave home without it, as it was the only protection I would have between my Land Cruiser and an RPG or AK-47.
After 13 hours and four country fuel-pit stops, we finally arrived at midnight to a place that jumped at you like a scene in a Star Trek movie. We were herded in the holding facility and in processed by some guys wearing crew cuts I thought only Hollywood conjured up in an “Officer and a Gentleman”. Louis Gossett, Jr. would have been proud of the First Sergeants as they yipped and yelled trying to direct everyone to the right country processing line. There was a sign waiting for me from my sponsors, the same ones I called and tried to get a delay for coming. They were not happy about that but my philosophy is “no” is not the only answer, so I asked. Of course, they said “no” but at Copyright © 2013. Letters from Qatar T. Dweylan Wilson All rights reserved. least I tried. They were more than happy to see me arrive, as they knew they would be going home after they briefed me on the missions in a day or two.
My assignment and responsibility was to manage the air traffic issues in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. If you think I am tongue-tied just remember there are three more “Stans” I left off. I have since learned just to say, “Pick-a-stan” for short. The hottest war torn cities are Bagram and Kabul. The means of travel is via military convoy. What that means is your tiny gun ain’t (excuse my Ebonical reference) big enough so the Army provides you some assistance by giving you a few guys that know how to use one or two and the bullet and barrel are more than enough to get you back home safely. I bring this up because even though you may have been praying for me, the real prayers go out to the men and yes, women behind those guns. They probably average the age of 18 or 19, sound familiar? Their names I don’t know, but their smiles of confidence let you know that home is not far away.
On one of my convoys from Kabul to our home base in Bagram (25 miles or 50 minutes by armored convoy) we had agreed to meet the Army guys on the outside of the gate. We decided on the outside because it was a hassle to go through a vehicle check again. Copyright © 2013. Letters from Qatar T. Dweylan Wilson All rights reserved. Anyway, at the appointed time my good friend Major John Esch and our driver, Mr. Jim Storie, parked our lonely Land Cruiser (very nice SUV to have in a war zone) outside the gate at 1500. We were to meet two humvees, which were mounted with 2.33 caliber machine guns and M-60 machine gun/grenade launchers. Very good riding utensils I might add. At 1455, I made a brief call on the radio to the lead humvee, “Red-dog #1 come in.” No answer. I made a second call with no answer so we decided to move outside of the gate so we would not miss them if they came roaring. We had been told they would not wait if you miss your rendezvous time. There we sat like sitting chickens in a precarious position on the outside of a well-fortified Belgian run security gate. Hmmm, I thought, “why in the world are we sitting out here when the Belgian is over there with two very nice barriers and a machine gun nearby?”
The local Afghans were going about their everyday duties of shopping and washing clothes and playing with the children. If you have ever been overseas you know the locals have no problem asking for a $1 or two if given the chance. The average wage is $10 per month. Sure enough, the kids started coming around the vehicle one after another. When I say kids I mean three or four year olds. They had their hands raised up using their favorite words, “one dollar please.” Their English is very good when it comes to the green-backs.
John, a former security police starts to get nervous and he makes some interesting comments about what would happen if Red-dog does not come in a minute or two. I made another call with the same no response from the lead vehicle. Meanwhile, my door gets a tug from a little fellow no bigger than my nephews at that age and I see him and think this kid could have a bomb on him. It reminded me of one of those war movies of the 80s on Vietnam or Korea. I told him in English (like he can translate what I am saying) “get back; get back, no I don’t have a dollar!!!” He and his little buddy are now looking at me like, okay give me $2. I roll my window and I can hear John in the back cocking his 9MM and yelling at the kids on his side who are now trying to open his door
I made another call to Red-dog and could faintly hear him saying something scratchy. I said, “Red-dog what is your 10-20 over.” He’s like, “Roger, we are two mike out” which means “we are not there yet but we are close enough for you to wait a few more minutes while we either find our way or we will get there when we can.” John is tripping at this point saying things that are making me laugh and curiously get more nervous because he is concerned about the lack of security we have at this point and the kid who has now Copyright © 2013. Letters from Qatar T. Dweylan Wilson All rights reserved. plastered his face against the window. Jim is livid at this point because contractors cannot have guns so he is at the mercy of two Air Force officers with little baby guns.
All of a sudden, here comes Red-dog flying around the corner. At this point there are about 10 kids either pulling on the door or in front of the vehicle looking like baby Crips or something. They just wanted a dollar or two. Red-dog #1 swings around the corner with Red-dog #2 in trail beeping his horn and telling the kids to get the hell out of the way. I though he was going to run them over. The kids who are used to the military vehicles in the road are un-phased and just move to the other side of the street. Jim has been making obscene wise cracks as well, professing he’d run them over too if he thought they had a bomb on them. I was thinking, “if they had a bomb then we’d be dead.” Which means I’d be dead too. Nevertheless, Red-dog gets into position and Jim stomps on the gas and we are off again through the city with our gun in one hand and camera in the other. I am thinking, “We were just attacked by “Bebe’s Kids” from Afghanistan.” All I needed was Robin Harris to sort this thang out!
What a great experience to have. The U.S. is really trying to assist the war torn countries areas to the best of our ability. I cannot tell you just how difficult it is for the most senior leaders to somehow merge ideas as complex as tribal territories and warlord hierarchy into something called a democracy. On top of those challenges you have the issues of drug production and an economic necessity to feed and educate the masses while having stability in the region so your neighbors don’t run over you because you are economically and military weak. Not good for the side because First World countries like the U.S., Britain or France have to come in and do something or they just might blow each other to pieces.
Sure, I have simplified the concept but leadership demands a forward approach and stance on these issues so we limit the challenges we are certain to face in the future. For example, one of the U.S.’s biggest problems is dealing with the AIDS epidemic in India. Yes, India, a country of 1.2 billion people with the highest percentage and increase in AIDS cases per capita in the world. Their problem is even larger than the issues in Africa. Why does the U.S. care? Because if their standing Army continues to suffer from not having soldiers who are mission ready and able to defend itself from its neighbors then their weakness becomes a liability in the region and they can be over ran by their arch rivals Pakistan and others. Both countries have a nuclear capability and could destabilize the region causing anarchy and chaos and possibly a civil war. The U.S. and its closets allies are pumping millions of dollars into the region so that health care, jobs, food and education are paramount in order to ensure the region remains stable. Southwest Asia is very important to our global plan of stabilization. As far as Africa is concerned and its AIDS problem, that would be for another discussion.
One of my primary responsibilities is to help restructure the commercial airspace above Afghanistan so they can resume air commerce and gain a vital portion of their economic welfare back. When we moved in we had to first gain control of the airspace and control who was landing or taking off as well as who was over flying the country. Afghanistan is one of the poorest of the Stans and therefore weak and vulnerable to neighboring states wanting to invade and destabilize the region. We cannot afford to have our interest in the region in jeopardy this way so we are there to help. The idea of providing a formalized airspace transient system is because it is the #2 means of income for Afghanistan. The first is the production of drugs (Opium). Yep, you guess it!!!! Without drug production that country is doomed. You can fill in the rest…I just work here.
Because Afghanistan (about the size of Texas) is centralized and bordered by five different countries it is a major thoroughfare for international travel. The size of Afghanistan is 251,825 square miles. Over flights are expected to increase by 30 per cent per year. There have been 10 additional airlines expressing interest in coming to Kabul to start up services for commerce. Kabul International Airport and other airports in Afghanistan will experience major growth in aviation and commercial activities. The local aviation services charge about $400 per over flight and a nominal fee for those taking off and landing. This equates to about $18M to their GNP. Not bad for a Third World country. Without this big chunk of change their future gets dim. I have been Copyright © 2013. Letters from Qatar T. Dweylan Wilson All rights reserved. assisting the U.S. leadership in providing ATC services so planes will not run into each other when they fly because they do not have the equipment or the personnel to control the traffic in a positive and systematic way. When I say that, it’s like driving without traffic lights or stop signs.
Currently, pilots fly only during daylight so they can see each other. If they did this in the clouds without ATC assistance, it would be disastrous. We cannot let that happen because the confidence in air travel and our ability to assist would be in jeopardy. My team of specialists is doing the legwork with some highly motivated coalition partners, including the French, to make this system work. I will be back home before it’s finished of course, but I feel confident in knowing we are making a difference.
What I found most interesting was even in combat, in order to get to work, there are still traffic jams. Sometimes it’s because of a flat tire or it could be because farmer Mohammed has sheep that have to get across the road! Yes the 9MM is cocked, but so is my HP digital camera. I would not want to miss the photo opportunity.
The Afghanistan region has some of the most remote and beautiful topography (mountains, deserts, low lands) on earth. The mountains in Kyrgyzstan are twice the size of the Rockies and the desert low lands rival those of the Mojave. The people are impoverished making as little as $10 per month however their hearts are as warm as the desert sun. There are bad guys. I mean they are fierce, hence the Russians pulling out with their backsides scared in the late 80s/90s. There are cities with promise like Doha (that is where I am), Bishkek (great Italian food from a guy named Walter) and KarsiKhanabad (I met a young kid name Hasan there. He followed me around and called me Mike Tyson all day). These cities are mostly stagnating (or stagnant) because of the communist or religious repression however they are making huge strides because technology today moves exponentially beyond the information flow of yesteryear. If we can stabilize the area and help educate and influence health care, they too will enjoy the fruits of democracy.
I want to thank you for your support and prayers. There is simply nothing like having family and friends supporting you. You have sent me care packages, letters, emails, made phone calls and even got a chance to IM me on AOL or Yahoo. Who would have thought you could do that in a war zone. Hey this ain’t yo mamas’ military! I once said, Copyright © 2013. Letters from Qatar T. Dweylan Wilson All rights reserved. “it is very remote for me to go to a war. If I do, it is because things have gotten so bad that I would be needed.” Well, here I am and I am not sure it will be the last time. I will pin on Lt. Colonel in October, which means more rank more responsibility and fewer people at that rank to do it.
I have saved all the letters and emails you sent. The items in the care packages I either personally used or donated the items to our local church or services organization. There are over 7,000 men and women here and some uncounted thousands that pass through here on their way downrange every 90 days or so. Even though the U.S government buys ink by the 2,000lb barrel and can build a metropolis in less than a year by hand, there is nothing like support from you. When I first arrived, there were donated items from others that I used so I was sure to give back with your help. I even received donations from Sony, Columbia and Epic records. I forwarded them so that the services folks would have CDs to give a way during their weekly entertainment contest. That was a big hit for sure.
As I close out these last 20 or so days, I personally want to say, “Thank Copyright © 2013. Letters from Qatar T. Dweylan Wilson All rights reserved. You” again. I will not forget your concern for the men and women here as well as myself. We are all in the same boat but you help us peddle to the finish line without a doubt. When I leave, someone will take my place and they too, will need prayer.
I am going to take a few days of leave in the Far East before I return to Boston. My goal is to put together a small book on my travels in the past 120 days of Globetrotting. My first stop is New Delhi to see the Taj Mahal and then hopefully end up in Beijing to see the Great Wall of China. I hope I can finish it and print it in a timely manner. It should be interesting to journal my travels. We will see where my fingers take me. I would love to share the experience with you as well.
I hope I did not ramble too much… just wanted to share some thoughts. 🙂
God bless you all.
Major Timothy D. Wilson
Al Udeid Qatar May 2004
Romans 8: 1-4