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Cultivating Afghanistan: A Day on FOB Salerno

A look at a day in the life of the base which is home to the Indiana National Guard's 119th Agribusiness Development Team.

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The day starts early on Forward Operating Base Salerno, a fortified post close to the Pakistan border in violent Khost Province, Afghanistan. It’s still an hour before dawn when the mullah’s call to prayer drifts from a nearby village. The C-130 Hercules supply planes that fly in at night have already rolled down the gravel runway, back to Kabul.

The sun soon climbs over the Hindu Kush mountains, tingeing the murky gray air a pale shade of orange.

The swaggering gray-and-black jackdaws caw a territorial morning greeting.

A helicopter lifts off, headed for a mission over the province. A Short-Takeoff-and-Landing Plane, or STOL, part of the Blackwater-piloted mail fleet, flits into the sky.

As some of the troops retire from their clandestine nighttime missions, others emerge sleepy-eyed from their barracks, to sit dazed on stoops and benches. Some reach for cigarettes; others their cell phones to make bedtime calls back home, where it is 8½ hours earlier.

Forward Operating Base Salerno, or the “FOB,” is one of the largest military bases in Afghanistan. It is a highly secure, highly sensitive 300-acre post for a few thousand soldiers and civilian contractors. Established in 2003 with a sandbagged perimeter on a government farm, the FOB still has orange and olive groves. Most of the initial tents are now hardened masonry structures, designed to absorb direct rocket hits. The ADT’s Major Shawn Gardner said FOB Salerno is a big improvement from his first posting to Khost in 2002, when he operated out of a walled Afghan compound called a qalat.

“Here we’ve got hot water, we have a pretty good mess hall, a nice gym and the internet works 85% of the time,” Gardner said.  “So we’re living large here in comparison to the guys who might get a cold shower once a week and are eating MREs three times a day — that’s Meals Ready to Eat, prepackaged meals — which a little bit goes a long way. So we’re doing great here.”

With its comfortable barracks, mess hall, laundry, rec. facilities, university classes, offices, hospital, church and mosque, FOB Salerno is like an odd, very exclusive, gated community, albeit one with an extraordinary amount of security.

Without an electric grid in Khost Province, the generators scattered about the FOB are critical to its many amenities, such as the 24-hour Green Bean coffee shop, where espressos are a perfect pick-me-up after a hard mission into Taliban country.

Four young women from Kyrgystan are base barbers, pruning soldiers’ hair “high and tight” to the sound of Russian pop and Kyrgy love songs.

Physical fitness is vital in this mountainous war zone. Accordingly, the sprawling gymnasium with dozens of exercise machines is open round the clock, with ESPN playing on the big-screen TVs via the Armed Forces Network.

Basketball and volleyball are popular-particularly volleyball, a favorite among soldiers and Afghans alike.

While there are distractions and ameliorations, the FOB is dedicated to war. Armored MRAPs are ubiquitous. Firing ranges are in constant use for rifle, machine gun and automatic grenade launcher training.

Because of the number of insurgent attacks, FOB Salerno has long been nicknamed  “Rocket City.” Counter-barrages from the FOB’s artillery often provide the base’s evening background music.

In our next segment, a focus on the complicated Afghan insurgency and the anthropologists trying to understand it.

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  • http://NewsMatters.org Brandy Lacefield

    SIR,

    Jusy wanted to say thanks for the nice story on FOB Salerno my husband is currently at that location.
    GOD BLESS,

  • Tamara

    I too want to thank you for the story of FOB Salerno my son is currently there and I have been curious about the conditions.

    You are all always in my prayers

  • Kim Castleberry

    Thank you for providing a link for me to where my son is currently staying.

  • karen Stroud

    Appreciate your story as mothers & wifves seeing the camp ,hearing about the camp some how makes us feel closer to those we love. God bless you son & your men.

  • Jennifer Shields

    I am thankful you posted this story! My boy friend has just deployed to that location. This story helps me know that the one i love is in good company!

  • Dolores Harris

    thank you for this story. One of the young men from our church will arrive there this fall. Our church regularly prays for our troops, but as you can imagine, prayers will be going up constantly for FOB Solerno. We are thankful that he will not have to sleep in the sand with the scorpions all the time. Bless you and them for what is being done for those people and our nation.

  • Julie Stanford

    Thank you for your story. My son recently arrived there and it is comforting to have some vision of his surroundings. All those serving our country are kept in constant prayer. God bless you.

  • Bruce & Margaret Daniel

    Dougless,thank you for the information on Solerno, our son just arrived there. You have blessed us with your blog. I can now visulize where he is, it gives me more peace, thank you.

  • Wendy Naisbitt

    Just had a call to say my son is being transfered to this location, a little concerned as this doesn’t look as safe as his last base, but a great big thanks for all the information you have provided. All we can do is hope and pray for all who stay they a safe return home God Bless them everyone.

  • Lesa Wright

    Thank you so much for your blog. I will be deployed here in Feb 2010. God bless!!!

  • Amy

    Pretty good description of my home for a year (08-09). Accurate!

  • Johnny Johnson

    My son is there as a civilian armed only with a calculator. Thanks for the story and pictures. May God protect and bless all of our young defenders.

  • E. Cruz

    Thank you! I just said goodbye to my lovely daughter who is going to this location and it appears she’ll be surrounded by brave soldiers and she’ll get to shower! I’m sure she’ll like that. God bless each and every one of our sons and daughters who are fighting for our safety…Love you Sasha and I will pray daily for all of our children’s safe return home!

  • PFC BUTLER, STENNIS C.

    This camp oesnt seem like what people make it out too be. my unit goes there starting Decemeber 3rd BDE 187th infantry RAKKASANS theanks for the good info

  • SPC WARD

    THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS.MY FIANCEE JUST LEFT YESTERDAY TO HEAD TO THIS FOB. I 2 WILL BE JOINING HIM BUT IN LATER MONTHS COMING FROM 3RD ID. I WAS CURIOUS ABOUT THE CONDITIONS.

  • Marena Sheffield

    Thank you so much for your story and pictures. It was a great comfort to be able to see where my daughter is proudly serving.

  • karin corso

    thank you so much for the story and pictures abt fob serlano im glad i could see where my daughter is going to be proudly serving her country thank you

  • Martha

    My step-son just arrived in Selarno about 10 days ago so I will be forwarding your article to others in the family. Looks like one of the better places to be accommodated for a war.

  • NameDaniel Martinez III

    Thank You for the Article and pictures of the FOB at Selarno. My son Mario (USAF) Civil Engineer, just recieved his orders to relocate from Bagram to Selarno for the rest of his tour. He was at Camp Alli in Iraq last year. It's alittle comfort to get an idea of the area's that he's assigned to. We just hope he makes it through this tour. God speed.

  • SSG J.C. Monroe

    I would really like a download of the audio of this article. I was at FOB Salerno in 2006-2007…this article really nails the atmosphere.

  • SSG J.C. Monroe

    I would really like a download of the audio of this article. I was at FOB Salerno in 2006-2007…this article really nails the atmosphere.

  • Joe DeBenedet

    Outstanding article and series. I had the honor of supporting their mission, from January through August 2009, as a carpenter on FOB Salerno. Cultivating Afghanistan adds sight and sound to fond memories I have of the men and women of the 1-19th. Officers and enlisted alike, I have never worked with a better unit. Thank you and I wish you a safe journey home.

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