By Steve Jusseaume
Hampton Union, Tuesday, November 11, 2003
HAMPTON -- Two hundred days in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.
That's how Lt. Col. Tim Bailey described his latest tour of duty as a Marine reservist in Afghanistan.
"It's an atrocious place, dusty, hot ... an assault on your senses. And don't dare eat the food. Everybody who spends any time in the country gets sick at least once, usually more. You get this gastrointestinal virus that puts you on your back for days, no, weeks.," Bailey said this weekend, taking a break from raking leaves in the front yard of his Langdale Drive home in Hampton.
Bailey, who turns 42 Thursday, arrived home from his latest tour in September, after being called up in late January. Bailey is a 20-year Marine, having joined the Corps in 1982. He went on active reserve status in 1994.
His first deployment after Sept. 11, 2001, kept him "in country," setting up homeland security command in Norfolk, Va. He wasn't surprised when the Marines called him again in January of this year.
"When they need somebody, they'll find you. There's no hiding from the Marines," Bailey joked.
He started to negotiate where he'd be deployed and for how long. Bailey left the United States in March and, following a short stay in Bahrain, Oman, he found himself on a C-130 with a bunch of Navy Seals 10,000 feet over Kandahar "spiraling down into the city proper sidewards" because of the constant sniper fire surrounding the city.
From there it was on to Bagram, a city about 30 miles north of Kabul, where Bailey worked with an intelligence team for the duration of his stay.
Bagram is the center of a 12,000-troop strong intelligence community, separate from the U.N. peacekeeping body. The U.S.-led intelligence coalition is actively engaged in hunting down Taliban, al Qaida, and other anti government groups, including a militant wing of the HIG, an Afghani political party that is the fiercest element in opposition to the Western allies.
Stationed in a former Soviet air base built in the early 1990s and taken over by the Taliban in 1996, the facility is under constant sniper attack, but "is pretty secure overall. We have a tent city, sand bag bunkers throughout, but it's relatively safe."
Unless you leave the base.
"Eighty percent of the Afghani people are pleased to see Americans, but they are cautious. They fear we'll leave, the Taliban will come back in and punish those who helped the Coalition," Bailey noted.
Bailey regularly worked with Germans, Canadians, Lithuanians and Australians, all part of the Coalition. Some would leave the compound.
"We'd send them out to a fire base or to Kabul. You can't learn about the country until you've been out there and seen it," Bailey said, noting that his primary responsibility was keeping the generals appraised of the situation in the country. "We'd receive intelligence reports and analyze them daily," he said.
He said the Afghans who fire on the base generally miss.
"Somebody comes up to them and tells them to fire on us. They have to, but they calculate a little off -- they intentionally miss, I think. They know what we'd do if they hit us direct," Bailey said.
While constantly taking sniper fire at the base, Bailey recalled two serious incidents during his tour.
"During the first week I was there, one of our patrols got hit outside Bagram. A two-hour fire fight. Two got killed and four or five wounded," he said.
Then, on June 7, a military convoy on the road to Kabul got hit by a suicide bomber.
"It was a German convoy. A car drove up beside a converted bus and rammed it," Bailey said. "The bus rolled over off the road a couple times. Two were immediately killed and some more troops died later.
"The strange part is, Afghanis who practice Islam are not usually suicidal. Their religion does not allow suicide, it's not in their faith."
Bailey visited the countryside a few times to Kabul and to various fire bases. But don't eat the food, he said again.
"Most Afghanis welcome you. They offer food. One of my generals stopped by a roadside stand once and ate some lamb he was offered. He went down hard for a solid week. I never ate the food; you pretend to but you don't. A survey of the country found the groundwater in Afghanistan is the most polluted anywhere on earth," Bailey said.
He doesn't think he'll be called back any time soon, "but you never know."
This week Bailey planned to attend last night's Marine birthday party in town and today's Veterans Day services. And he'll celebrate his own birthday with family.
"I remember being told my father had my mother walking around constantly for days before she gave birth. He wanted a Marine birthday (Nov. 11) for me, but it didn't work. My mother was two days late," Bailey laughed.