Editor's Note: As part of an ongoing series “A Soldiers Story,” CNN's Jason Carroll follows Sgt. Randy Shorter and his unit as they head into Afghanistan. Catch their stories on our AMfix blog, CNN.com and CNN's American Morning in September.
I'm following First Class Sgt. Randy Shorter through his third combat tour of duty. Initially, he thought he would end up at Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan. But upon arrival his mission changed. He and the others would be moved to a much smaller location about four miles away called Forward Operating Base Rushmore.
We wanted to get an advanced look. So we headed out with some soldiers in the 4th brigade, who were already there. They took us on a patrol of the center of town outside the protective walls of the base. For security reasons we wore armored vests and protective helmets. As we walked through the bazaar, past vendors selling beads, small souvenirs, and flat bread, the people stopped and stared at us. Whenever, we stopped for a moment it didn't take long for small crowds to gather around and ask questions or make comments:Why are you dropping bombs on us? How long will you be here? I'm glad you're here; the United States military will not succeed.
The soldiers answered questions, and listened to concerns. Engaging the Afghan people is key to their mission. I stopped at the only school near the bazaar, Ali Baba High School. The principal came out and warmly greeted us. I asked if I could talk to a student, he said I was welcome to come inside but it wasn't safe for a student to talk to me. He explained if the student spoke out about insurgents while speaking to me, that student could face reprisals from the Taliban. He said insurgent sympathizers were in schools like these.
Most of those we met were curious, kind and honest about their feelings regarding the war. Even so, as I walked the streets wearing an armored vest, I still felt exposed. Reporters have a saying, "always trust your gut." and that gut feeling of exposure was tough to shake. As the patrol ended, we walked back to Forward Operating Base Rushmore and away from Ali Baba High School. I graciously thanked the Principal who was hopeful seeing U.S. troops in the village. I asked our interpreter where was the next closest school. He said there was another to the north not too far from us. It's named Jihad High School.
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Biden to mark transfer of U.S. command in Iraq
(CNN) - After more than seven years of American military operations in Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden will help mark the transfer of U.S. military command in Iraq on Wednesday.
The historic ceremony is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. (8 a.m. ET).
While the U.S. combat mission is ending, roughly 50,000 American troops will remain in the country until the end of 2011. Their mission will be to train, assist and advise the Iraqis.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is also in Iraq to help mark the transfer.
The U.S. combat mission in Iraq officially ended at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday. The drawdown and end to the U.S. combat phase is a new page in what has been a controversial seven-year conflict. Weapons of mass destruction, a major justification by the Bush administration for going to war, were never found. Saddam Hussein was toppled along with his massive Baghdad statue, but sectarian violence soon erupted.
On Tuesday night, President Obama addressed Americans about the transition in a televised speech. Read more
Another evacuation ordered as Hurricane Earl approaches U.S.
(CNN) - As Hurricane Earl continues to spin toward the East Coast, authorities in North Carolina are ordering more people to get out of the way.
But at least one bartender there insists on weathering out the storm on a sliver of land reachable only by ferry.
"A lot of times when [residents] evacuate, it's hard to get back on the island," said Brandon Benecki, who tends bar at Howard's Pub in Ocracoke Island. "It's simpler to just stay here and kind of ride it out."
Emergency management coordinators ordered the mandatory evacuation of Ocracoke late Tuesday.
The order, which was issued for all visitors and residents of the island, goes into effect at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, said Lindsey Mooney, interim emergency management coordinator with Hyde County Emergency Management. He added thousands of people would likely be affected by the decision.
As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, Earl was located about 130 miles (210 km) northeast of Grand Turk Island and about 910 miles (1,460 km) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.
The cyclone packed winds of 135 mph (215 kph) and was headed northwest at about 15 mph (24 kph). Read more
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