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Altman: Reporter heads to Afghanistan for first-hand look

By Howard Altman
Published: May 13, 2013 Updated: May 13, 2013 at 10:20 AM
Tampa Tribune reporter Howard Altman writes about the events in Afghanistan, and now finally gets to visit.

Every week, I write at least one story, but usually more, about something happening 8,000 miles away in Afghanistan.

It's only natural. I cover the military and Tampa is home to several commands that pay close attention to that landlocked nation in the middle of Southwest Asia.

U.S. Central Command oversees military operations in that region. U.S. Special Operations Command provides fully equipped commandos there and around the globe. Special Operations Command Central reports to Socom about special operations missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. The Joint Communications Support Element sets up communications systems there and elsewhere and the 6th Air Mobility Wing and the 927th Air Refueling Wing have gassed up Afghanistan-bound aircraft, not to mention sent airmen there for security and other functions.

There are plenty of men and women from here who have had their boots on the ground in Afghanistan. And plenty of families who wait and wonder and worry.

Sometimes my stories are about women troops who serve with cultural support teams. Sometimes they are about the untapped potential of mineral resources there.

All too often, I write about Afghanistan when someone from our area suffers wounds, there, both seen and invisible. Or when a local son or daughter is killed.

But I have never been.

Soon, that will change. I will travel this month to Kabul for a short embed with special operations forces.

My goal is to get a sense, in this very compressed time frame, of the future of special operations. Because while many of the conventional forces there are in what the military likes to call “retrograde,” meaning they are preparing to come home by 2014, commandos will likely make up the bulk of whatever troops are left.

With the drawdown in Afghanistan and the increased focus on Asia and Africa, Special Operations Forces are undergoing what a retired Green Beret two-star general tells me are their “fourth major transformation” since WWII.

Adm. William McRaven, a Navy SEAL who commands Socom, is leading that transformation.

The lessons learned in Afghanistan will go a long way toward determining how that future will look, in Afghanistan and beyond.

I'll let you know what I find.

The Department of Defense last week announced the deaths of 10 troops in the Afghanistan war:

--1st Lt. Brandon J. Landrum, 26, of Lawton, Okla.; Staff Sgt. Francis G. Phillips IV, 28, of Meridian, N.Y.; Spc. Kevin Cardoza, 19, of Mercedes, Texas; Spc. Thomas P. Murach, 22, of Meridian, Idaho; and Spc. Brandon J. Prescott, 24, of Bend, Ore., died May 4 in Maiwand, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when their vehicle was hit by an enemy improvised explosive device. The soldiers were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas.

--Staff Sgt. Eric D. Christian, 39, of Warwick, N.Y., and Cpl. David M. Sonka, 23, of Parker, Colo., died May 4 while conducting combat operations in Farah province, Afghanistan. They were assigned to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Camp Lejeune, N.C. This incident is under investigation.

--Capt. Mark T. Voss, 27, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Capt. Victoria A. Pinckney, 27, of Palmdale, Calif., and Tech Sgt. Herman Mackey III, 30, of Bakersfield, Calif., died May 3 near Chon-Aryk, Kyrgyzstan, in the crash of a KC-135 aircraft. The airmen were assigned to the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron, Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

There have now been 2,204 U.S. combat deaths in support of the war in Afghanistan, the nation's longest.