07/03/09 — Out of Afghanistan

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Out of Afghanistan

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 3, 2009 1:46 PM

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Photo courtesy of Air Force Reserve Maj. Shannon Mann

A decommissioned mosque outside of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Before our plane hit the Bagram Air Base runway, I saw Afghanistan as it has been portrayed in the media for the last several years.

It was simply another war zone -- with no perspective to offer other than the stories waiting to be told inside the wire.

I found no beauty in the brutal wind or dust storms.

The thought of one day returning was laughable.

But something happened yesterday that changed me.

Former 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Steve Kwast asked me to accompany him to Kandahar Airfield -- "Kandy Land," as it is affectionately called here at Bagram.

So we boarded a C-12 and took flight.

At first, I was scared.

I mean, at least at Bagram you have some sense of security. The base is surrounded by mountains. And everybody here is armed -- always.

But now, I'm in an aircraft half the size of an F-15E Strike Eagle.

And we're flying over the very places members of the Taliban dwell.

But then, something happened.

Col. Kwast told me to look out the window at the mountains below.

I was reluctant at first, as I half expected to see an insurgent launch a rocket at our aircraft.

Looking back, I wish I had looked sooner.

The Hindu Kush Mountains are truly a sight to behold.

And I can honestly say -- other than watching my fiancée and her daughter sleeping peacefully -- it was the most beautiful image these eyes have ever seen.

We got back to Bagram later that day and more images were waiting.

Members of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing showed me some photographs they have taken during their six months here in the desert.

Some of them are represented in today's paper.

Looking at them, you might gain the perspective I know I will carry with me the rest of my life -- that Afghanistan, while still a combat zone, is full of beauty and well worth the fight.

And many of the nationals simply want what we all hope for -- to raise their children without fear of the darkness and danger currently associated with the country.

I found that out today when I talked to one of them at the base hospital.

His young daughter had been wounded during a firefight between Taliban and Coalition forces -- so badly so that without topnotch medical care, she would have died.

Yet her father still sang the praises of United States soldiers.

They are heroes, he said, because they are trying to give him a chance at the life he wants.

That little girl's story will be told in Sunday's News-Argus.

But it won't be the last time I see her face.

I now know just why this country and its people are so worth the fight.

There is so much beauty here -- in the landscape and spirit of many of those who call it home.

I will never forget how a two-hour plane ride with an Air Force colonel changed the lens through which I see Afghanistan.

And hopefully, it will prevent me from ever judging something before I experience it for myself.