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Stories straight from Afghanistan

October 30, 2009 - Frank Robinson
From time to time in this blog, I will be offering my stepson's first-person account of activities in Afghanistan. This is the stuff that no one hears about. Here is his introduction, followed by his blog:

About Justin Newman, in his own words:

"I was born in Warren and grew up there and in Champion. I left for the Marines when I was 18 looking for honor and adventure. They’re the pieces of character that lie across oceans, through deserts, atop mountains, and on battlefields. I left my work with the Marines in 2008 and have since found employment with a company that completely suits my tastes. I deliver cargo for U.S. and ISAF forces in Afghanistan on Russian helicopters, for a Swiss company. I don’t consider myself worldly, but I do like adventures. In these adventures I meet people, hear and learn stories that most never would. I’m proud to bring these stories to you and promise they’ll always be unique and exclusive to this blog."

Here is his blog: Thursday 29 October 2009

I flew to one of my locations in the Kunar Province, Afghanistan yesterday that I get to a few times a week. We landed and the LZ controller came over and asked me the usual questions about forklifts and payload. Once we got that squared away we started chatting and I noticed more than 50 boxes filled with wood. I made a comment that that much wood would be my stepfather’s dream. I told him I had to take some pictures, but that I would do so in a way that wouldn’t give an indication about where we were. (Like the Taliban is checking my blogs) Anyway, if you know my stepfather, you’d agree these pictures would line up perfectly with his idea of a perfect cold fall day as long as he had a log splitter.

So I asked Sgt. Prince what all the wood was for. He told me and it was just such an amazingly interesting story. There are two villages on the other side of the mountain separated by a forest. These villages need heat up in the mountains now that winter is coming and the only way to get it is to burn wood. But, since both villages claim the forest, and both need wood, neither side allows the other to procure firewood. How do they stop the other village you ask? Well, last winter dozens of people, women and children included, were murdered in raids by the opposite village which was antagonized when one side went to get some firewood.

Now, the U.S. and ISAF forces in the area have gone in not with tanks or infantry, but instead with chainsaws, axes, and bulldozers and harvested enough firewood to get these people through the winter. I thought the story was over at this point. NOPE! U.S. and ISAF forces also have to run patrols through the night in the forests to guard against, and this seems absurd to me, firewood black marketers. That’s right. I laughed out loud too when I heard that. Not only did I think the firewood would be a great project for my stepfather, but now I had found the perfect job for him if his current one doesn’t work out.

Not only is firewood black marketing a problem, but Prince told me the only thing that was illegally procured and traded more in the country was heroin. So, second only to heroin, firewood is a commodity sought after enough to break laws and murder here in Afghanistan. So, next time you think it’s as easy as calling that number on the sign by the off-ramp or ordering a couple truckloads for your fireplace, be thankful you don’t have to risk your life in a forest or do some shady business in a mud hut with a firewood black marketer.


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Justin Newman