Monday, August 17, 2009

Thoughts from Afghanistan


My name is Dr. Barnstuble and I just returned from Afghanistan serving with a PRT unit. I find your stats kind of interesting and I agree with a lot, but from what I saw the AF may be supporting a lot of the mission there but is not sacrificing as much as your average marine or army individual. I don't know if we should be--is ground combat part of our mission--but from what I saw I can tell you we have it good.

My unit was made up of 1/2 army and 1/2 AF. We were 1 of 6 AF PRT's, so about 300 AF members total. We went on convoys daily, were deployed 9months in country, 3 months CST training under GO#1 living in tents.
Sure, there are >5,000 AF members in country but lets see the stats on WHERE in country they are! How many are stationed at BAF and KAF? How many go out on convoys where the risk is greatest? How many interact with the locals and form relationships which is the key to a COIN war.

I was apart of the 755 AEF group, and the latest figures I had was roughly 1700 Airmen were attached to that group. Out of that group, only 300 where on a PRT going out regularly. There are others, like medics filling ILO taskings going out and dangerous combat controllers, but even out of the 1700 in the 755th, most do not regularly go out.
Most AF billets are in relatively safe conditions compared to the Army and Marines. Most billets are 6 months with no CST. At BAF there is Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, gyms, movie theater, a nice hospital, etc. The same with KAF. Now look at the firebases scattered all throughout that country. There are army guys using piss tubes and burning there crap.
They eat MRE's daily and are in very remote areas. Treadmills, yeah right. BAF, KAF, and Kabul have them but I can tell you no one in the entire province of Zabul had a functioning one.

The AF has over 20,000 airmen deployed. It is amazing to me though that out of the 20-25,000 deployed there are 5,800 in Afghanistan and 1,700 in the 755th and less than that going out. The math: 1700/20,000 = 8.5 % and less than that that are doing equivalent army/marine type things.

I am an airman and I have seen both types of deployments. I don't think the AF's mission is to drive MRAPs and shoot 50 cals, but my only point is that we have it pretty good comparatively speaking. So, I would not be too proud of our numbers of troops "on the ground" when there are still over 100,000 troops in Iraq and now probably >50,000 in Afghanistan with the AF's footprint and risk small in comparison to the other branches. I served with those Romanian troops in Zabul province.
They were out everyday, driving less armored vehicles than us, taking as many casualties as the Army guys, and doing a damn good job. I would venture to say those 1,000 Romanian soldiers went out more than our AF in Afghanistan. I bet that those 1,000 Romanians had more risk than the 5,800 Airman over there. The UK troops are getting hammered in the worst province over there. How many UK troops have you heard recently die? It is every week you hear of some. How many AF folks? Not as many. The same is true with Canada. They have a small footprint but they have one of the highest casualties per capita in that place. More than the AF for sure. It is because they are in the second roughest province--Kandahar.

So, while I agree NATO needs to help more from its contributing countries, we should look deeper at our numbers, our locations, our types of deployments before bashing some NATO countries. Before I deployed, I was in a room of deployers of about 50 from my base. Out of that, about 5 were actually going to where the 2 wars were and only 1 going longer than 6 months. Have the same meeting in the Army and see where the hands are? Everyone is 12months and the vast majority are going where the wars are.

Just some thoughts from a physician who just got back.

Brent Barnstuble, CPT, USAF

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