March 12, 2004

A home-boy serving in Afghanistan

By John B. Dendy IV

KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan - The son of a San Diego couple says you have to pack heavy when leaving home to go fight the war on terrorism in this country.  The climate he’s in is bitterly cold, snowy and icy during the winter, while in the summer, it’s just the opposite — like living in a convection oven infested with vipers and cobras.

You’ll also need the tools of the trade — sleeping bag, assault rifle, ammunition, body armor, helmet and everything else you need to take out terrorists and former Taliban loyalists bent on your destruction.

Army Pvt. 2 Francisco J. Perez-Brito, son of Francisco and Silvia Perez of 48th St, lives at the eye of the storm in the war on terror as an unsung member of Coalition Joint Task Force 180, the lead military agency for operations in Afghanistan.

Some service members arrive here and never go beyond the concertina wire perimeter because their work revolves around supporting the people who do leave the wire to rebuild in Afghanistan or to destroy holdout Taliban and Al Qaida henchmen from a string of fire bases along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Each task force member contributes specific talents to the mission, said Perez-Brito, an artillery crew member at the air field.

“I am in the artillery branch of the Army, but here I provide security for civil affairs personnel who go out to the Afghani villages and work to rebuild this country,” said the 2002 graduate of Hoover High School. ”I protect them as we all go out into the communities to conduct daily humanitarian-type missions. The two hardest parts of this job are going out on the convoys and pulling guard duty at the camp sites all night long.  Also, every time I go out on missions, I know that for the next couple of days I will be eating pre-packaged meals instead of the good food I get at the air field.”

Located 15 miles from the city of Kandahar, this air field is one of the most remote, landlocked and desolate places the Army has ever tried to build a combat base. But it makes for a perfect hub for the coalition to go on missions into the mountains to battle the Taliban or perform reconstruction projects that range from digging a well for a village to setting the stage for national elections and ratifying a constitution.

Some troops helm firing bases with names like Shkin, Gardez and Oulet — areas Soviet invaders wouldn’t even go into against the mujahadeen 23 years ago - while others provide support in the from of supply, transportation, food or recreation services.  Everyone here brings something special to get to the end game in Afghanistan, Perez-Brito said.

“I really realized how important my job was when I was on duty for the opening of some of the first provisional reconstruction team sites run by civil affairs,” he said.  “Helping the people of Afghanistan is an important way to serve my country. We have to do whatever we have to do to keep the terrorists and the Taliban from coming back here.”

Most of the service members at the camp live in a tent city - complete with limited Internet access — built over a former Taliban mine field that was carefully cleared several months ago.  But there aren’t even tents at the forward fire bases - just sleeping bags, mountain ice, thin air and drastic temperature changes for the service members to deal with.

“The winter was very cold, especially when we stayed out at the provisional sites,” Perez-Brito said. “We wore all of our cold weather gear the Army gave us, but we still got cold.  The living conditions here could be better, but I know they could be far worse, too.”

Perez-Brito and his fellow service members packed heavy to battle the elements of this harsh country, along with a mix of anti-coalition militia that includes Taliban, Al Qaida, Chechen, Turk and Chinese terrorists. Judging from the results, they packed just right for the job.

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