02 September 2014

The Day I Got Arrested in Kandahar, Part 1

This is the first part in a three-part series.

It's time the story is told.

I found myself detained at the Base Operations Center at Kandahar Airfield in the custody of some Air Force security forces. The civilian cameraman who accompanied me was threatened with having his cameras' memory cards confiscated.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A lieutenant colonel assigned me to escort a pair of civilian media members to get imagery of the flight line. The flight line, you see, is where cool stuff happens on an air field. 

It's ridiculous, and a bit embarrassing sometimes, how much senior military professionals trip all over themselves to accommodate civilian media. And it's one of the biggest frustrations of Defense Department public affairs service members. The military trains us in imagery acquisition and writing, not to mention combat skills. they give us a weapon, access to sites, equipment, and secret clearances. Then they proceed to make it as difficult as possible to put out stories in which normal people would be interested. All the while they tell us how valuable we are to the fight. It's an information war, you know. 

Meanwhile, if a civilian reporter gets the misfortune of an assignment to cover Afghanistan (the cachet of reporting from a combat zone having long ago withered among the civilian press corps) s/he will get the red carpet and a bunch of green lights. High ranking Soldiers become star-struck groupies. All other PA operations grind to a halt to accommodate civilians journalists, whose stories cover the more interesting dimensions of our mission, and are not vetted by the command. 

So that's what happened here a few months ago. And it wasn't just any old civilian journalist. It was none other than Ricky Schroeder-- yes, of Silver Spoons and "Whiskey Lullaby" video fame. Everyone stands to attention and a battle-hardened light colonel becomes as giddy as a 7th-grade girl backstage at a One Direction concert. 

Ricky and his cameraman, who are working on a documentary about OEF, were given carte blanche. I was only there to follow protocol. As a combat-trained, secret-clearance-holding, flight line-access-badge-wearing, weapon-toting, DINFOS-distinguished-honor-graduating warrior, I was the man for the job. Plus I really like Silver Spoons. My job was to essentially get them onto the flight line so they could get cutaway video shots of C-17s, fighter jets, Predator aircraft, and other cool s--t.

Oh, and I also drove. In the military, driving is generally considered to be menial work, and these were the biggest celebrities to hit Kandahar since the actress who played the hot substitute teacher on Drake and Josh. So they got a driver.

As a Soldier who want to get things done, I drove up to the guard gate and explained the situation. I presented all of the proper papers, as they say in spy movies, and asked-- yes, asked!-- if I could drive on to the flight line so we wouldn't have to lug a bunch of expensive and impressive-looking documentarian camera gear all around.

The guard, whose job is presumably to act as a "gatekeeper" of sorts and decide who and which vehicles get to go through the gate that he was, after all, guarding, waved us through. "No problem," he said.

Well, no problem wasn't exactly right, as you will find out in, "The Day I Got Arrested in Kandahar, Part 2."



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