First Blog Post from Kandahar, Afghanistan



Some of you may recall about a year ago when I did a couple TV reports for Montana’s CBS TV stations. Mike Overstreet, CEO of Corporate Air in Billings, decided to make a trip to Afghanistan, searching for contracts for his aviation business. While making the trip, the former US Marine decided he wanted to take a video camera along and interview Montana and Wyoming soldiers that he met up with during the trip. When he brought the video footage back to Montana, I logged the interviews and scripted a couple TV stories. This year, Overstreet decided to take another trip to Afghanistan, this time to Southern Afghanistan- and he asked me to come along.  

I am now setup at the Kandahar Airfield in Southern Afghanistan, a large base housing American, Afghan, and other Coalition forces. We arrived early Saturday morning, Kandahar time, following a very nice flight in from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 

Dubai was incredible to see. Overstreet and I left Billings Thursday afternoon, flying through Denver and Washington, DC before eventually landing in Dubai on Friday evening. In Dubai we were able to meet up with a woman who grew up in the Eastern Montana ranch country of Baker, Montana. Since her days growing up in Baker, Rebecca Dahl has worked as an educator and principal in schools all over the United States- from Indian Reservations, remote locations in Alaska and California, to serving as a principal of an elementary school in Kalispell, Montana. We’ll have more of Rebecca’s story and what she is doing with schools in Dubai later in the week. 

Dahl showed us around Dubai during our brief layover in the city. After landing, we hopped on the Metro train, passing by the world’s tallest tower- the Burj Khalifa (or the Burj Dubai)- and passing by the Mall of the Emirates, home to the indoor ski hill. We then made our way to the Marina which is where Emiratis and foreign nationals alike seem to flock for nice restaurants and Friday night shopping. Dubai, to me, is like the Arab version of Palm Springs, California. As we sat and ate international cuisine along the crowded strip of the marina you couldn’t help but people watch as the clash of cultures elegantly paraded in front of you. In one row, a group of young men in clean pressed white traditional Arab dress walked along, some wearing a traditional head dress, while others chose sandals and baseball caps. Then, behind that group, you might spot a group of Arab women- covered nearly head to ankle in black clothing, but with the fanciest purses and high heels you would see on any American woman walking in Palm springs, California. Then, walking opposite to both those groups, you may spot a small group of Europeans, scantily clad in mini-skirts and muscle shirts for the traditional Arab Culture. 

Meanwhile, the street in front of us seemed to feature a car show of Bentley’s, Range Rovers, Mercedes SUV’s, and every other high end vehicle you could imagine. Inside the high dollar vehicles, young Arab men would lean to the side and slouch down (some American kids may refer to this as “the gangster lean”) as they drove their friends down the crowded strip.       

After taking in some of the sights, Mike and I headed back to the hotel to catch some rack time for a couple hours before we had to head back to the airport at 4:00 AM. Rebecca Dahl was pretty impressed that we were flying out of the Dubai Airport’s “Terminal 2.” She has travelled all over the world and said she never flew out of Terminal 2 yet, so Mike and I got a laugh out of that. Terminal 2 is where all the flights to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and a few other locations depart from. Once we arrived at Terminal 2, I figured we were at the right spot as the crowds of people waiting to check their bags were wearing turbans, pakols, and the traditional Afghan clothing. When we stepped into line it reminded me of all of our meetings with Afghan tribal elders during my time at Combat Outpost Wilderness, Afghanistan. There were only about 4 Americans on the Ariana Airlines flight into Afghanistan, and I thought- heck it looks like I am boarding a flight with all of our old shura members. (A shura is a meeting of tribal elders in the Afghan Districts- think of it like a city council or county commissioners meeting.)

Surprisingly, it was a great flight into Kandahar. I was able to use whatever Pashto and Dari I remember to talk to some of the guys in line with us, and they could fill in some of the gaps with English. The Airbus 310 series aircraft was a great ride in- much smoother than the mountain turbulence during our Billings to Denver flight. Heck, Ariana Airlines even offered up a free breakfast of eggs, bread, non-pork sausage, and of course- chai. As we neared Kandahar, an Afghan gentleman across the aisle sat down in the seat next to me, and we discussed our families, religion, and he gave me all the info on his construction company in case I needed anyone to build me a building in Afghanistan. 

We then made our final approach into the Kandahar Airport, which is located with the American and Coalition base- Kandahar Airfield. It was a unique experience for me travelling into Afghanistan as a civilian this time, and not as a member of the military: no weapons, no uniform, no shave, and I stood in the same line as all the Afghan civilians making the trip in from Dubai. While we waited for our passports to be stamped, the Afghan National Police (I served as a mentor to the Afghan Police at COP Wilderness) stood guard with their AK 47’s. A bearded gentleman in front of us said hello in English with a big smile and asked us where we from. He introduced himself as Ibrahim, the Imam of the Long Island, New York mosque. Imam Ibrahim said his mosque attracts 600 followers in Long Island. He was back in Kandahar visiting family. He shared some interesting stories and without being prompted shared his thoughts on the Taliban, and how the Taliban needs “to show real Islam, not suicide bombings and attacks.” He says he often tells people how the Americans are not here in Afghanistan to rule the country. “What do you think they want- the dirt?” he asked. He added that if you want to control Afghanistan, you must control Pakistan. Seemed like a nice gentleman. Oddly enough, he has travelled through Montana before. He says he likes to keep things simple, so he once took Amtrak’s Empire Builder across Montana from Seattle back to New York. 

We then hopped a ride over to Kandahar Airfield, where we were able to link up with Staff Sgt. Jason Stadel, a life-long Columbus, MT native who serves as the RC-South Media Embed Coordinator. Since we are here as civilians, we would not have been able to get on the base without a military escort. Always good to have a Montanan helping you out. Stadel later played football for Minot State University with a good friend of mine from Glasgow, Montana. 

Since we linked up with Staff Sgt. Stadel, he has been connecting us with Montanans serving in a number of capacities. Our mission: find Montana service members- give them a chance to tell their stories, what they are doing, any thoughts they may have on the war effort, and give them a chance to say hello to folks back home. So far, we met with Major Michael Basta of Glendive, Master Sgt. Danny Thom of Billings, Private Jacob Young of Billings, and Captain Peter Olsen of Great Falls.  Soon, we will link up with more Active Duty soldiers serving in the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment as we make our way to the outlying Forward Operating Base’s (FOB’s) and Combat Outposts (COP’s). 

Earlier today (Sunday March 6th), we had a cup of chai (tea) with Capt. Peter Olsen and an Afghan National Army Colonel that Olsen helps mentor on medical operations. Click below to watch highlights of the visit.

Keep checking out the blog, listening to our Northern Broadcasting radio news affiliates, and watching Montana CBS TV stations to hear more stories of Montanans in Afghanistan, as we go back out on patrol. As they say in the military: more to follow.

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