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.