November 21, 2010 -- Darren Perron shares a compilation of his Mission Afghanistan stories.
From Vermont's most trusted news source, WCAX brings you your news makers, your neighbors.
This is "you can quote me."
Good morning everyone I'm Darren Perron. All summer and fall we brought you stories from the war zone in our series mission Afghanistan.
Photographer Lance McKenzie and I traveled to Afghanistan to embed with the Vermont the National Guard.
Our soldier's year‑long deployment is coming to an end.
A handful are already home.
And so we will be wrapping up our series next week.
Here is a look back at some of the stories we gathered from the battlefield.
>> Vermont guard soldiers left bag ram airfield on a convoy to a small Afghan village, getting there would not be easy.
Once again it is washed out.
We can't get there.
Rainfall the day before washed out the only road into the rural village.
Soldiers quickly came up with plan B.
>> Where did the captain go?
>>> The well protected vehicle stayed behind, guarded by a few gunners and Afghan national police.
The Vermont soldiers were forced to go in on foot.
As the soldiers began walking down the dirt road, the Afghan police received disturbing Intel.
Information that put everyone on high alert.
>> We have to stay vigilant.
If you don't you get hurt.
>> During this visit to a village the Afghan national police have warned that it could be particularly dangerous.
Vermont guard officials have said that there is a possibility of suicide bombers in this region.
They have told us to keep an eye out especially for teenaged boys.
Be vigilant with that flying kite.
You all see it?
two of them.
Even kids flying kites prompt warnings.
The fear is that they could be a signal to the suicide bomber that the troops have almost arrived.
>> Maintain security.
>> The Vermont guard troops spread out, looking over a mud wall, hyped trees, anywhere a terrorist could be hiding.
>> Terrorists lurking behind the wall, waiting to set us up for an ambush.
>> The suspected terrorist was never found.
>> Captain Richard La bar of dust bury finally made contact with a group of men who sends for the village elders.
They arrived a short time later.
The Vermont guard soldiers made the visit to inspect a 5 thousand dollar infrastructure project
>> We will check up on that and see how the project is going.
>> More than 180 locals were hired to dig trenches, channeling the only river in this area.
Four different ways to provide water to nearby villages.
And keep this village from flooding.
>> It is small‑scale projects that help in the immediate needs and they build the project and they get paid for it
>> Splitting the river worked well and now villages are no longer fighting over the only water source.
There is even enough to irrigate farm fields.
The vim an elders say the U.S.‑funded project is improving the lives of his people.
>> Because there is a full village, different village so each village need water.
So what happens, Mick it up.
One village has a lot and one doesn't have water, but the way we starting right now everybody has separate water so now every village have own water.
>> During the inspection of the new waterways, Vermont guard soldiers also handed out newspapers.
Along with windup and solar‑powered radios.
>> If you could share those as well so everybody knows about the radio station.
>> It is 100.1 FM.
>> Trying to help the residents here stay connected with the rest of their country.
As our troops try to win over the Afghan people, one village at a time.
>> We appreciate it.
>> The weather is usually predictable.
This time of year in Afghanistan.
Hot and dry.
But as Vermont guard soldiers planned a surprise inspection, surprising weather.
The soldiers faced a wet three‑hour convoy to the SALONG tunnel on a winding steep road through the Hindu curb mountains.
The unannounced trip was to ensure that Afghan nationals hired to guard the tunnel are doing their jobs.
The tunnel is the only major north‑south route in Afghanistan which remains open year‑round.
>> Today is a security check about once a month we will come up here, we will check on the security contract there.
>> Vermont the soldiers must use cautious en route to the tunnel.
Even a slight driving error could send a mine resistant protected vehicle over a clip and its crew to their death and there is always the threat of roadside bombs.
>> Attacks are possible along any of these routes.
>> And gunners watch overhead for insurgents who may try to toss a bomb inside the turret as they pass through some of the smaller tunnels along the way.
The tunnel is at the top of a mountain that is four times the size of Vermont's Mt. Mansfield.
The tunnel is about a mile and a half long.
The tunnel is the lifeline between the northern and southern parts of Afghanistan.
Keeping it safe and secure from insurgents and other criminals as well as passable is key to economic stability in the region.
>> If you can imagine I‑89 being significant to Vermont, this route and this tunnel is significant to Afghanistan on a daily and hourly basis.
>> An estimated 15,000 vehicles pass through the tunnel daily, the major trade route and a major short cut.
Without it motorists traveling to northern Afghanistan must go 190 miles out of the way, adding about 60 hours to the trip.
The concern is that the Taliban or other insurgents may target the tunnel to disrupt the local economy.
That would be a huge setback for the U.S.
Taliban insurgents often recruit the poor.
>> Just by having a show of force here with the Afghan nationals and as well as the Americans and other coalition force, it helps solidify the security to again improve the economic development here.
>>> The Taliban has recently attempted and failed to attack the tunnel.
According to Muhammad MASSUM, one of the men who guard it.
>> The insure vents have ‑‑ insurgents have tried before and wanted to come and we have made lots of force too.
>> Hidden posts in the mountains allow them to spot anything suspicious and during the inspection the Vermont sole find that the hired Afghan soldiers are doing a good job.
Major John of south Burlington told them there is a new push to improve the tunnel.
It is in serious disrepair from avalanches, accidents and age.
It was built in the 1950's.
The U.S. may invest millions to keep it open, to create more opportunities for the Afghan people on both sides of the mountain range.
>> So as long as we can improve the road networks and improve the security, then the locals won't have an issue with actually getting to market or going further out into Afghanistan where they can sell their goods for either better price or even into areas where they haven't had sales in the past before.
>> Hoping the SALONG tunnel will continue to be an economic engine and a gateway to peace.
>> Vermont guard soldiers make a surprise visit to a remote village outside to check on the construction of irrigation ditches funded by the U.S.
>> It takes that many people to dig this much.
It is a lot of work.
>>> The the $5000 infrastructure project put hundreds of Afghan locals who live here to work.
For ten days.
The ditches dug by hand.
>> Will bring income to their family and their economy and the local government.
>> Staff sergeant Shelburne says that's because the irrigation system now waters a bumper crop thanks to agricultural advice from Vermont guard soldiers.
>> Try to help them build projects and improve their infrastructure.
But also we try to help give them ideas on different produce they can produce to provide their people.
>> Once empty fields are now filled with grapes.
But a bigger sign of progress in this village of 650 people are once empty schools.
Now filled with students.
Young girls who under the Taliban were not allowed to be educated.
Like this third grader named SOLIA.
>> She said because we have security we have no problem.
That's why we are going to school.
>> It is rare in Afghanistan to have a school for girls.
Why does this village have one?
>> Used to be a lot of Taliban here.
Once they kick them out, Taliban from this village, pretty much we have 100% security here and that's why we open school for the girls.
>> The the village elder says fear prevented them from sending girls to school before.
And even now barricades and barbed wire remain to prevent insurgents from entering school grounds.
Though the threat of a potential attack still exists, the village elder says the community feels safe enough to educate girls again and that the students may end up being leaders, moving Afghanistan forward now that the Taliban is getting pushed back.
>> Once the girl go to college, school you know that's how we are going forward and those girls can teach all those kids, how to get get an education an a future to become something and do something for their country.
>> And he says girls from surrounding areas, even travel here for lessons.
>> So this village is then attracting girls from other villages so they can be educated?
The most visited biggest school here and then there is a lot the of people coming from this different vim an, all the girls coming to study in this village.
>> Like this first grade here says she loves school.
>> What do you do in school?
>> Staff sergeant says this type of progress will be slow going.
It is a village by village effort in a country that's divided geographically and politically.
>> We got to start small and work our way out.
>> At just 11 years old, little SOLIA has big plans when she graduates.
>> She wants to become in the future become a teacher and a doctor.
That's why she wants to go to school
>> Some may say she's already taught us something.
And made us feel better.
>> This is the the opportunity to get out and feel like they are making a difference.
>> Captain Kathy CAPITA meets with Afghan women and children, waiting to receive free health care at the Egyptian hospital at bah gram airfield.
The captain is joined by other Vermont soldiers who to hand out toys to children.
And simply talk to the kids' mothers.
All of the Vermont soldiers are women.
In the 86 brigade's task force wolverines.
And they are the founders of the female engagement team called ‑‑
>> Just like the name itself of our team, en gaining.
it is just all about getting involved with the women and letting them know that you know they can talk to us.
>> That is important because the vast majority of Afghan women won't talk to men.
Even Afghan men unless they are family.
>> So for an American male soldier to come in uniform, with a gun, intimidating and they wouldn't discuss anything with him nor even look at him.
>> Because as you know our military is more male than female.
So what our intent is to eventually Doyles get female members of our brigade and soldiers out on missions so that there is that opportunity to engage the female population while all ‑‑ they are out engaging the rest of the male population as well. Since it is so segregated here as far as who can talk to who.
>> Many Afghan women still wear full Berkas covering most of their bodies.
To show modesty to honor their husbands, the Koran and their country.
>> Reputation is very important here.
>> This is a very rare look at Afghan women.
Most are usually unwilling to be photographed.
>> 52% of the population here in Afghanistan is women.
Yet, their religious beliefs and their culture have virtually kept them silent about what they think is best for their country.
The team hopes to change that with visits like this to hospitals across the base
>> We get to hear their side of the story.
And that's what we want to get.
We need to hear what the over half wants while they are building this country.
>> Women can vote here but many don't especially in rural Afghanistan and even if they want to, polling stations are segregated.
Though if there is no female‑run station in their village, women cannot participate in the process.
>> The Vermont guard soldiers hope this interaction can help give Afghan women a voice.
Now and for future generations.
>> It has been very rewarding.
>> We are back with more right after this.
>> Sergeant first class Pete Ferrell want help but smile.
When taking off in a chinook helicopter.
For a routine patrol around BAGRAM airfield in Afghanistan.
Even if it is enemy territory.
>> Anticipation of what you are going to do when you get up in the air.
>> And it has been a long time since his first time.
40 years ago today he was flying over Vietnam.
>> 40 years later this still excites you?
>> Oh, definitely.
I don't think I'll ever lose that thrill.
>> And that's part of the reason why this 62 year old veteran volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan.
He is one of three Vermont national guard soldiers over 60 serving in the war zone.
>> At 62 years old, why do this?
>> Well maybe I can say that god has kept me young.
I still feel young at heart, young at mind.
Try to stay in good physical shape.
I think aI lot of other guys will tell you that have been in for a long time.
The guard has been the family for all of us.
We go once a month, but you know after that amount of time you get to know everybody.
Just feels like a family.
I don't know whether you feel you owe it to the family or you just want to give back.
You just ‑‑ you know just part of having been in the guard for 30 years, that this is the final step.
>> Sergeant Ferrell carries a combat patch from Vietnam everywhere he goes.
And has for the last four decades.
To serve in a war zone again, he had to get approval from the pentagon.
And the national guard.
Then he had to get his wife Debra's approval.
The sergeant credits her with getting him through his tour in Vietnam.
And now the war in Afghanistan.
>> She was with me in '70 when I was in Vietnam so that's back when letters were written by hand.
And we didn't have phones to call home.
When you were gone a year you were gone a year.
She supported me then.
And supporting me now 40 years later.
>> Speak was your wife, how did you convince her that this was a good idea?
>> I don't think I convinced her it was a good idea but I convinced her it was something that I had to do.
I told her ‑‑ if I don't do this, I don't do this I will probably regret it.
I don't do this it will probably haunt me, you know?
and I don't know.
It is something I felt hi to do to complete my duty with the guard.
Complete my duty with my country, I guess.
>> Once a soldier, always a soldier.
>> I think I still got a little fight left in me.
>> No matter the age.
>> I just want to thank everybody for a great flight.
>> A few miles outside of the airfield, Vermont guard soldiers arrive at an Afghan village called COLONOSURU.
There is extreme poverty here.
After began I stand is one of the poorest countries in the the world.
If Afghans have homes, most of mud huts.
And clean drinking water is in short supply.
>> Got the some questions for them
>> Children rush the soldiers asking for food and other goods.
The soldiers use this opportunity to see if school supplies delivered weeks before were given out.
>> Did you guys get any of the backpacks or notebooks?
>> Few were.
And the children say the supplies only went to direct relatives of local leaders.
During this surprise visit, guard troops plan to address that with the tribal chief and the elders.
Just outside the entrance to the home, a young boy with developmental disabilities stood alone, after naked with no one else in sight.
Mortality rates for children here are second highest in the world.
Inside the estate, an entirely different world.
Elaborate the flower gardens, lined walkways, a bounty of grapes and fruit trees grow and there is even a pool under construction.
The contrast between the lush surroundings and the desperation on the streets outside is shocking.
But they are revered by villagers.
Vermont guard troops work with hem to find ways to create opportunities for his people to try to pull them out of poverty.
>> It is directly connected to the security of both American forces and security of their villages.
If we offer them more stability, they tend to keep any Taliban or al QUIDa out of their villages.
And let us know.
Give us the proper Intel so we can react to that.
>> Before meeting with a village elder, inside their home, when it is safe Vermont guard members remove their body armor as a way to say we trust you, you trust us.
Many Afghan people are extremely hospitable.
Offering food and CHM AAI tea to visitors.
Sugared nuts were served.
Another sign of wealth.
Then soldiers got down to business.
>> So he has a choice to decide which direction he wants to go.
>>> The village elders were offered $5000, money to be split between 1100 local laborers who will clear irrigation ditches.
>> Just like you want me to keep my word, I need you to keep your word.
If ‑‑ in ten days it is not finished, then I mean, what good is your work?
>>> The guard troops promised another surprise visit to check on progress.
>> Now on another subject ‑‑
>> Then they asked about the school supplies.
>> Every child should get the same thing.
No child regardless of who they are related to, should get more than the next kid.
>> The village elders claim the rest of the school supplies would be handed out within ten days too.
And instructed school officials to do so.
He says the soldiers' help has been greatly appreciated by most of his villagers.
>> Most of the people already happy from your guys from the coalition forces that, they are doing their stuff and good job.
But some people who are bad, I mean, they don't want them interfering in our ‑‑ their insurgents, they don't like you help.
Yeah, there are enemies.
Your enemies, our country's enemies, everybody's.
>> Are any of those insurgents still in this area?
>> Yeah, they are.
I mean, they are bad people and we have to fight against them together.
>> Channel 3 photographer Lance McKenzie and I along with half the other troops were then asked to leave the meeting.
So higher ranking soldiers could discuss classified information about the insurgency with the village elders.
Outside troops waiting in the garden played with the hand full of kids who had been allowed on the property.
Soon the group emerged with a deal in place.
Another step toward home for our soldiers.
>> Always good to see you.
Spread it out, guys.
>>Vermont's top commander in Afghanistan arrives at the police station in the valley to meet with guard troops stationed here.
All personnel to the ‑‑
>> It is called camp lion.
Colonel Roy is here to announce a change in leadership.
His trip from BAGRAM was secretive to ensure the colonel's safe.
But once here, safety is of less concern.
>> It is an example to the rest of the country.
One of the first provinces that will be turned over to self governance completely and it is a model for the rest of the country to try to follow.
>> This is the ROCA district in the pan sheer valley, one of the most beautiful parts of Afghanistan and the most secure.
And that's been the case throughout history.
Residents here were able to force back the Russians when they invaded and kept the the Taliban from taking over this part of the country.
And now residents here are allies with coalition forces.
>> These people are like a huge extended family.
And that they know the minute somebody is here, who is not supposed to be.
>> And the guard says enemies are immediately taken care of if they try to enter.
There is really only one way into the valley and one way out.
The steep and rugged Hindu CUSH mountains line the pan sheer river and the only main road.
The geography also helps in the fight against insurgents.
Just look at the scrap yard of Soviet military vehicles and weapons.
Collected and proudly displayed by the Afghan people.
>> The Russians never were able to stay this Val each the Taliban never made it.
>> But Vermont guard soldiers are welcomed here and it is safe enough for the soldiers to disarm when they enter the valley and shed body armor when they arrive at the camp.
They are working with the Afghan national Army and police, creating an information coordination center here and they are training them in map reading, GPS, and how to respond to emergencies.
>> It is a very unique part of Afghanistan.
But what they lack is procedures.
And we have been developing better response times, better communication packages so that if something should happen, there is no lag and then people can know instantly where and when to bring aid to whatever has happened.
>> The terrain is more of a threat here than the Taliban.
>> It feels confident, isn't it?
that's what all after gangs should feel like.
>> And an oasis in a war‑torn country.
But on the two‑hour ride back to a dusty BAGRAM airfield in Afghanistan, a dose reality.
A coalition forces vehicle is targeted by a roadside bomb just outside of BAGRAm.
>> We are still in Afghan stay, we are still in harm's way.
>> The the ugly side of a country with so much beauty.
Our reports from the the war zone wrap up this week.
We will bring you our final three mission Afghanistan reports Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night on the channel 3 news at 6:00.
And tune in to all of our broadcasts to see Thanksgiving greetings from our soldiers.
Thank you for joining us everyone.
I have a great day.