Spc. Daisy Hernandez, with the Mehtar Lam Provisional Reconstruction Team, takes a spin Monday just outside the city of Mehtar Lam.

Spc. Daisy Hernandez, with the Mehtar Lam Provisional Reconstruction Team, takes a spin Monday just outside the city of Mehtar Lam. (Steve Mraz / S&S)

On Saturday evening, the troops at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam in eastern Afghanistan experienced a brief hailstorm. Distant lightning signaled the approaching storm, which, at first appeared to be nothing more than a strong rainstorm. As the storm reached the base, marble-size pellets of hail barraged the location for roughly five minutes.

Some of the pellets bounced their way inside the troops’ tents, prompting them to offer bets over who would eat one of the hail pellets. By the time the hail melted, there were no takers.

Tour de AfghanistanDuring their many visits to the Laghman province capital of Mehtar Lam, troops with the 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion out of Phoenix are used to dealing with hoards of children. In between flashing the thumbs-up sign and asking “How are you?” in English, the kids constantly ask the troops for pens and radios.

Spc. Daisy Hernandez, with the 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion, gave the kids a little more excitement Monday when she hopped on one of their bikes and took it for a short spin. The soldier, decked out in full battle rattle, had the kids running alongside her as she pumped down a dusty Afghan road on a bike that Lance Armstrong wouldn’t be caught dead on.

Joint flexibilityThe U.S. Coast Guard is the only branch of service not represented at FOB Mehtar Lam. Marines with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division out of Hawaii make up a majority of the population on this roughly square-mile forward operating base. Soldiers with the 492nd Civil Affairs Battalion, which is attached to the Mehtar Lam provisional reconstruction team, compose the Army contingent. A group of medics aims high in representing the Air Force here. And Cmdr. Frank Gutierrez, commander of the Provisional Reconstruction Team, is Navy all the way. If it were not for the fact that Afghanistan is landlocked, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a Coast Guard cutter at FOB Mehtar Lam — given its joint nature.

Dangerous repair workNational Guard soldiers with the 53rd Infantry Battalion out of Tampa, Fla., stopped by FOB Mehtar Lam on Sept. 17-19 to drop off a damaged Humvee that they recovered near the eastern Afghanistan town of Arcu. Troops with the logistics task force traveled from Camp Phoenix near Kabul to Arcu, known as a hostile area, to recover the disabled vehicle.

During their mission, the troops made it through two roadside bomb explosions without suffering a single casualty. Spc. Nico Atilano, a mechanic who volunteered for the mission, performed the repair work on the damaged Humvee.

But just making it to FOB Mehtar Lam didn’t mean the mission was over for the soldiers. They still had to complete the trip from Mehtar Lam to Camp Phoenix.

“We’re not clear yet,” Atilano said. “The mission’s not done until we roll through the front gate safely with all our men.”

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