On 28th July 2009, I flew out of Sydney bound for Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. It was to be the start of a fascinating trip into the Afghan war zone.

US soldiers launching an artillery attack in Kherwar. All photos by Gary Ramage

I embedded with the American 10th Mountain Division in Logar province, in the East part of the country. I was then shipped out to “The Tip of The Spear” as they called it, to the district of Kherwar.

The unit I joined was part of the Coalition’s blocking force against Taliban forces who are trying to use the area as an alternative entry point to the Wardack province and into Kabul.

The boys from 3-71 CAV were a great bunch of guys. They were highly professional and a determined group.

Most of them were on their third or fourth 12 month operational tour of duty.

On my fist day with the US troops there was a memorial service for a young soldier who was killed in action two days before.

I was lucky enough to be given unlimited access to the service. I decided to give the guys some privacy by staying well back and shooting on a long lens. I found it a really moving experience.

A memorial service for a US Soldier

That same night I was rushed to the helo pad in Altimar and boarded a CH47 Chinook helicopter which flew low level through the mountains to my new home for the next four weeks.

I would patrol with the soldiers every time they went out the gate.

A female US Soldier on patrol

Launching a mortar attack from an esky

Again, they gave me unlimited access on the patrols. It was by far the best access I have been granted on an embed.

On day three an injured Afghanistan National Army (ANA) soldier was brought to the aid post.

He had been shot twice in the chest. An Afghanistan National Army commander advised the US guys that he had committed suicide. As it turned out later in the day, a fellow soldier had accidentally shot him.

The young bloke died just a few minutes after being brought to the aid post.

The body of an Afghan soldier being prepared to be sent home

Permission was given to me from the ANA commander to photograph the body being prepared for travel back to his parents in Kabul. It was a solemn moment as the soldiers streamed through the aid post and paid their last respects.

Every night the US soldiers would “Stand To” and wait for the Taliban to attack them at the school on dusk. 

In one of the windows was carved the words that summed up the US soldiers feelings towards their attackers: “Fuck the Taliban”.

Indeed

An Afghan man demonstrating that he voted in presidential elections

A man arrested for having weapons in his home, he was later released

At the end of my time with the US troops I flew south and commenced a trial embed with the Australian forces in Tarin Kowt.


I have to say this was a very disappointing experience after the access that the Americans had granted me. 

The Commanding Officer of the Australian Task Force was risk adverse and denied us access to the stories on the front line.

It was an opportunity that the ADF has misjudged.

We are just not interested in the pro active spin that the ADF want us to cover during their hosting activities. It should not be called embedding, but hosting. 

It was only by sheer determination and our ability to tell the soldiers stories that we managed to get some very interesting picture stories out.

An improvised bomb found by Coalition forces

It was a frustrating time, being so close to the action and yet so far from it.

But nonetheless I feel to be given the opportunity to get out there and be with Australian and American soldiers’ on the ground, to see, hear and taste the same experiences as them in such a hardened country was indeed a privilege.


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22 comments

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    • Eric says:

      01:03pm | 19/09/09

      Thank you for this interesting article and the photos. It’s good to see a media report that isn’t biased against the Coalition effort.

      It’s sad to see that the Aussie troops are reluctant to be reported—but perhaps they might have good reasons of operational secrecy. It would be good to clarify this with our military leaders, since I’m sure that many of us would like to know what our brave soldiers are doing.

    • Dale says:

      02:02pm | 19/09/09

      Brilliant work there Gary, a very strong series of photos, the first photo is simply incredible. Such a shame about the ADF not giving you any decent access, would have loved to have been able to see the raw front line work being done by the aussie troops. It probably would have been easier to engage with the troops too. Ah well, next time mate.

    • mountglen says:

      06:07pm | 19/09/09

      Just brilliant stuff Gary. What great reporting. The photos are brilliant - every one tells a story. Maybe the ADF has a reason for not wanting any scrutiny ? Look forward to more of your excellent work Gary.

    • Kurisu Sonsaku says:

      10:16pm | 19/09/09

      An excellent article

      To our trops and allies, keep up the good work and godspeed.

    • davo says:

      04:15pm | 20/09/09

      It’s time to bring our boys (and girls) home from this godforsaken ungrateful s**thole! NOW!

    • Dan says:

      06:47pm | 20/09/09

      Ungrateful Davo? Yeh, I’m sure you would be grateful if your family were killed and your country was a war zone. As for it being a godforsaken sh**hole, you come across as such an intelligent guy. LOL

    • Mark says:

      07:10pm | 20/09/09

      I think we need to provide the people not only with military support and plenty of it, NGOs need to get into the places and provide the support to the people as well. Its dangerous etc but that the name of the game. We have to help, we didnt once the Russians rolled throught there and we cant leave them now.

      What Id like to know is when is Russia going to come back to the country and clean up the mess they left, provide hospitals and care to those they have injured through landmines etc. They are accountable but nobodys asking the questions.

    • Nick says:

      08:10am | 21/09/09

      The biggest foreign policy blunder committed by the Americans was their refusal to recognise the danger presented by insurgent militant Islam. In their blind hatred of Russia they were prepared to support any evil that was likely to embarras or drain the resources of the Soviet. Consequently, they aided and abetted the Taliban and the various warlords opposing the Russians. In many ways it could be said that the US gave the Taliban their hold. Now we are losing our young men in a country that is run by a corrupt government, largely in the control of corrupt warlords and their private militias, making their money from opium and US aid. The concept of a western style democracy is as alien to the tribal loyalties that divide the Afghanis as sharia law is to the west. Many invaders have tried and failed to quell or change the nature of Afghanistan, from the multiple attempts by Britain in the 19th century through the Russians and now the western allies. It is a futile war, will do nothing to halt AlQaeda (until the Islamic schools in Pakistan are shut down) and will continue to take the lives of our young men. Let the Afghanis solve their own problems: they always have, no matter how distatefull these solutions may be in Western eyes.

    • davo says:

      04:51pm | 21/09/09

      nick your spot on, and we’re still there handing out cash to these ingrates and propping up their dubiously elected government (karzia) and getting our boys killed for that scum, WITHDRAW NOW, I SAY (AS DO 60% OF OZ)!

    • Dan says:

      06:57pm | 21/09/09

      Davo, stop calling them ingrates! You are such a fool it’s not funny. In fact, I will go further; you are the scum!

    • davo says:

      12:42am | 22/09/09

      dan, dan dan dan dan, your obviously a booster for the war in the ‘ghan, have you signed up yet dan? have you a plan to put you LIFE on the line? for the warlords who pump the west with heroin? dan? no, obviously not! your a armchair right-wing mug are’nt you dan my man!

    • Jolly Swagman says:

      09:48am | 22/09/09

      Heroin does not agree with Islam. Dan, you are a misguided fool my friend. Brave? yes, smart? No

    • Dan says:

      06:51pm | 22/09/09

      Davo, I am not a booster for the war. On the contrary. However, I am sick to death of fools like you calling the Afghanis or Iraqis ingrates. Who are you to call anyone ungrateful?!!!

      Jolly, I am much smarter than you could ever be (at least I’m using my real name.)

    • Jim Hannelly says:

      07:01pm | 23/09/09

      Great story, not unusual to see that the Australian Military is still fairly uncooperative with factual, accurate reporting of activities.  Good on you for pursuing the professional photography, I remember having a chat with you on CALTROP 89 when we were serving in the Assault Pioneer Platoon with 6 RAR, I was a member of the Engineer attachment and even then you were wanting to join the Military Newspaper or photography unit. Stay safe at the pointy end and keep an honest eye out for the serving members.  Cheers Jim

    • Brad - ICAT 2006 says:

      06:32pm | 25/09/09

      Rammo, mate once again you have done us proud. Thank you mate. The Australian and American public will never understand unless they go and see for themselves, or good men like you and Ian, fight the good fight for us. Once again - Thanks Mate

    • Maree says:

      11:43am | 26/09/09

      Absolutely fantastic work!
      It is truly refreshing to read an article that presents the facts as they are, and does not ignore the incredibly difficult task that our soldiers are partaking in. We are so proud of your efforts and so very grateful for the sacrifice that every one of you makes to be there away from your family, friends and home comforts.
      And Mr Ramage, it is admirable that you as a civilian made the effort to actually go on patrol with the troops to tell their story. Everyone has a voice, and too often, that of the brave souls on the front line is not heard.
      Keep up the great work and god speed.

    • Pan says:

      09:23pm | 28/09/09

      Thanks Gary. Been watching your work for a while now. Thanks so much for bringing home the news and sharing it with those “civvies” who care about what’s goinjg on out there…

    • Kristen Riley Owen says:

      04:07am | 16/10/09

      Thank you.

    • Anjuli says:

      10:51am | 12/04/10

      This is such a good article what I have an issue here , why are there so many young Afghans fleeing to other countries ,instead of banding together like the French resistance during WW2 of which my Polish brother -in-law joined after escaping the concentration camp.the Soldiers most be wondering that to or are they to busy trying to keep alive to come home.

    • erica says:

      06:26pm | 13/06/10

      Great to see you can write a great article, and take the photos keep it up

    • Brett says:

      03:53pm | 09/07/10

      After the McCrystall debacle can you blame the risk adverse Australian commanders.

    • Budd says:

      09:58am | 17/10/11

      You really found a way to make this whole procses easier.

 

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