More broadly speaking, our forces are spread to the high winds across desolate stretches of Afghanistan, sometimes in tiny “bases” with as few as a half-dozen soldiers. Last December, I spent some time with a group of such soldiers in Zabul Province, but hardly wrote a word about them, yet. They were deep in wild country and it took two days for us to drive out to a paved road. Those soldiers had no access to Internet, and said that on one occasion they didn’t even get mail for three months.
Until December, I used a satellite antenna called a “Regional BGAN” (R-BGAN) HNS-9101 to transmit dispatches from remote areas. These small, portable systems are expensive; during a fifteen-day period last year, I spent almost exactly $5,000. (Prices based on bandwidth usage.)
During late 2008, when I saw the group of a half-dozen American soldiers, out there in the boondocks, two days from a road and once going three months without mail, I told Mrs. Frankie Mayo, who runs Operation AC. Frankie and Operation AC had sent loads of gear to Iraq, including air conditioners and generators. When I told Frankie about the isolated soldiers, she got to work with Hughes to send R-BGANs to Afghanistan.
Lucky for me, with the old R-BGAN no longer usable, Hughes, through Frankie, shipped a newer model, the Hughes 9201 BGAN Inmarsat Terminal. Many of this year’s dispatches will come through the 9201.
Without such a terminal, large numbers of Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors will be without regular communications for much or most of their time in Afghanistan. The infrastructure is Spartan to non-existent. Life here is tougher than it was in Iraq, and the fighting will be tougher still. Yes, there are the gigantic bases—as in Iraq—where everything is available, but little of the war is being fought from the larger bases.
Extended battlefield journalism from Afghanistan is relatively non-existent. Broadly speaking, folks at home will not know how their loved ones are doing unless they can communicate directly. To learn more about the effort to send satellite communications gear to troops downrange, please see Operation AC.