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The Rains Come With a Fiery Send-Off

After a restful night in our spot overlooking the Marine D.O. Platoon’s next objective, we headed down to the town of Kandalay. This was the place that was supposed to be full of terrorists using this region as a safe haven.

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Operation Mountain Lion
The first house we came across was chock-full of people. Just not the bad guys. Afghan men and women were dutifully grilled and searched by Lt. Desantis’ Marines and gleaned for any information they might have been holding. Some leads were obtained, some ammo was found in another house, and a few questionable folks were found roaming around the valley. But, again, the insurgents seemed to have headed for the hills. We did too, for our second try at extracting ourselves from the site and getting back to a base with electricity to send some of our video scenes back.
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Greg Palkot
By the time we huffed and puffed our way up to the top of the hill we were told once again that our ride had been cancelled. The next trip out would be tonight — maybe.

In the meantime, it rained for the first time during our trip. This just added to the difficulties of dealing with this wretched terrain. Emulating our Marine colleagues, we quickly got to work turning my poncho into part of a shelter from the storm. Along with the rain came the cold. There was nothing to do but add on the layers, get under the tarps and wait out the afternoon. And listen to the Marines talk about what most 20-year-olds talk about: food, girls, sports, and family.

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Operation Mountain Lion
These guys deserved some down time. They are a remarkable bunch of people. Officials call them the “9/11 Recruits,” i.e. the folks who volunteered for the armed services in the wake of the horrendous al Qaeda hijackings. They knew what they were getting themselves into and why

two times over.

In the last two years, these guys had invaded Fallujah to root out insurgents there and then in Afghanistan. As crazy and as dangerous as Fallujah was, they seemed to look back at that clash a bit wistfully (i.e. no mountains to climb over and an enemy easily in reach).

We were low on food and water as well. We were still waiting for a supply drop so we sent our trusty interpreter out for some real Afghan fare. Three hours and forty dollars later he came back. My dinner that night: Nain bread (sort of a big flat over-baked thing) piled high with beans. Yummy.

It was Good Friday, so Pierre and I decided to do what we call “shout-outs” with the troops the greetings and well-wishes to all the folks back home that FNC air on the holidays. I often think these things are a bit forced and clichéd, but I must say I was genuinely moved standing on that muddy mountainside listening to them. A lot of the guys wanted to say “hi” to their grandparents first, which I thought was nice. They all seemed really intent on making sure their families and friends weren’t worrying about them and that they’d get home okay. No one refused to do it, which said something about their emotional state as well.

FNC
Operation Mountain Lion
Night fell and it was time for Pierre and me to schlep up one more hill to catch our chopper out of there

except it had been raining most of the day and the hill had turned into a mudslide. What should have taken 15 minutes in dry daylight without gear took about an hour and half with a lot of effort.

During the five-hour wait through the night for the chopper, a firefight burst out behind the next hill over between our troops and insurgents. It was kind of like waiting for a bus and you’re watching a shootout at the next bus stop over. Mortars, machine guns, tracer fire, flares and then, just for good measure, an A-10 Warthog fighter plane. This plane sounds like a mammoth buzz-saw in the air when it rips up the landscape with bullets.

As soon as the fireworks started, they ended. And a few minutes later our Chinook arrived, whisking us over a series of mountains to the Asadabad Forward Operating Base and something we hadn’t had for five days — a shower.

NEXT: THE COMMANDER SIZES UP THE BATTLEFIELD

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Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.