The photo you see here was taken at Kabul International Airport (that's KAIA, because we'd never call it KIA) on the day we touched ground. Everyone is smiling just because after all the work-up, and then the long layover in Krygyzstan, we were finally there.
Yesterday, all of our unit got our right-shoulder patches (colloquially referred to as the "Combat Patch," even though it doesn't require actual combat, just serving in a combat zone.
The ceremony was a combined one, as our unit also used the opportunity to present some of the French soldiers with whom we serve here with some tokens of friendship to commemorate the storied linkages between the Massachusetts militia and the French military. As you might imagine, they go way back since before the United States was, well, just a bunch of rebellious colonies. Our slogan "First to Fight" has to do with the 26th Yankee Division commander deciding to bypass Army bureaucracy in 1918 and charter a ship with his own money to bring his soldiers to France. Our old slogan, "Ready to Move," dates back to the Yankee Division's service under Patton's Third Army in World War II's European Theater.
Since arriving here just a couple weeks ago, I've already noticed the French flag at half-mast in "Patriot's Square" (main courtyard area at Camp Phoenix). It was because one of their guys died in the Surobi District of Kabul Province, one of the worst places in the theater.
Fighting under a NATO mission.
Because the U.S. was attacked by extremists nearly ten years ago.
When I stop and think about how many French soldiers make up Task Force Lafayette, and the contributions they make to this effort, it reminds me of how stupid some of the reflexive anti-French humor that makes it rounds in the States sometimes can be.
I already did this to the best degree possible, but especially now that I've been here long enough to work epaule-a-epaule with a group of French soldiers, I am going to try to nip that knee-jerk France-bashing stuff in the bud whenever possible.