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Veteran’s Day salute: Navy vet’s notes from Afghanistan

Navy Veteran Bobbi Croft while in Afghanistan in 2006.In the early 1990s, Olustee native Bobbi Croft was busy completing requirements for an associate degree from Lake City Community College.

She knew she wanted to continue with her education beyond that, but paying for it was going to be a challenge.

“I wanted to be a writer or something in communications,” she said. “That I knew for sure. I also knew I needed more school, but the money wasn’t there.”

So the enterprising Bobbi started looking for a way to pay for the completion of her education. Entering the military seemed the logical route.

It would be the Naval Technical Scholarship Program in advanced electronics that would make more education possible and help the young woman find her niche in communications.

In August 1991, with an associate’s degree under her belt, Ms. Croft reported to Naval Recruit Training Command Orlando for boot camp. The following November she graduated from electronics technician school.

The girl from Olustee soon found herself completing tours of duty aboard naval ships like the USNS Leroy Grumman and USS Mason. Her shore duty would include assignments in Great Britain and Manama, Bahrain. She retired from her military career in October 2010, returned to Florida and began working as a computer analyst at the New River Correctional Institution in Raiford.

While in the Navy, Chief Petty Officer Croft also completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2006. The following are excepts from her diary of weekly dispatches sent to friends and family.

May 21, Week 1 We arrived here on Sunday night after spending about a week in Kuwait. Myself and the one other female in my group were assigned to our B-hut (living quarters). It is a plywood building that has been divided in half and then again into fourths.

Denise and I each have a section that is about 8 feet by 6 feet. The only thing that was in them when we arrived was a bed frame and a mattress. We have bought several small rugs from the BX (base exchange — no Walmart yet in Afghanistan, but give them time). We also bought some plastic drawers to put our clothes and such in.

We also got a brief on the land mines that are here in Afghanistan.

It is crazy the number of mine fields that are still active here in this country. That is one of the biggest threats to the local population. Also, even when they think that they have cleared an area of mines, they might have an earthquake, which causes the mines hidden under the surface to rise up. There are literally millions of old land mines in this country from when they fought against Russia and most of them were left by the Russians.

June 11, Week 4 One thing that happened here this week is known as the Fallen Comrade Ceremony. I’m sure many of you heard about the two American Soldiers that were KIA (killed in action) last week.

When this happens, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines on duty in Bagram will line the sides of the Disney Road (the main road through the base named for the first American killed in the war in Afghanistan) and when the fallen soldier’s bodies are brought from the morgue to the airfield for their final trip to the States, they pay honor by saluting as they pass.

June 18, Week 5 We had three more Fallen Comrade Ceremonies this week — a lot for Afghanistan. Also, this week there was a soldier that died from a heart attack after exercising one morning. I was told that his body was on a flight back to the states that same day.

July 3, Week 7 I’m in the Kandahar area of Afghanistan to work on communications gear and get computers ready for our guys working here.

This area is very volatile with a strong Taliban presence. And it’s extremely hot. Never below 100 degrees during the day and as high as 130 degrees but at least it’s dry heat.

We were invited to eat with some Russian workers who built our permanent field team building and they had slaughtered a lamb. I took my Cipro (antibiotic for infections including anthrax) and said a prayer and headed to dinner.

During the meal there was an explosion which turned out to be a rocket that was launched by the Taliban. It landed on the main dining facility where I usually ate my daily meals. Ten people were injured.

July 28, Week 10 I was able to get out of Bagram this week with a short trip to Jalalabad. It’s 112 degrees with 98 percent humidity. The airport terminal is about the size of a shoe box and we were sent across the runway to wait for the plane to arrive. I was wearing my body armor and Kevlar helmet while carrying my rucksack, tool bag and M-16.

Then we got the news the flight was canceled. Jalalabad has no paved roads on the base, no PX exchange and a broken air conditioner in the women’s shower facility. They do have a store run by some local Afghanis and they sell some electronics, bootleg DVDs and Cuban Cigars!

August 1, Week 11 Had to cancel a trip to JAF as the #2 engine in our HELO (helicopter) went out.

On Sunday I sang a solo at a church service and participated in the Bagram talent show that night. I didn’t win but I had a good time.

August 9, Week 12 I’m currently in Salerno where I have been fixing computer problems since Friday morning. I never thought I would spend 14 hours a day for 6 days straight reloading computers, removing viruses and fixing human error.

I’m supposed to be on a flight back to Bagram tonight and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. I saw rain yesterday for the first time since coming to Afghanistan.

It really came down here. My office is actually just a tent with a plywood floor and the rain and wind made it nearly fall down on top of my head.

August 9, Week 12 My unit, TF Plaladin, has been setting up a field team office in Ghazni and came as part of the advance party to coordinate communications.

We’re at about 7500 feet above sea level and the nights are cold. The Chinook that arrived to fly us out only had room for four of us from Paladin and I ended up riding in the jump seat between the two pilots.

Talk about a view. And we were so high up in the mountains you could feel the air pressure changing as we descended. My personal computer’s hard drive crashed and I have lost two years of correspondence and photos. It stinks being over here and not having pictures of everyone at home to cheer me up.

September 12, Week 17 I was able to attend our command awards ceremony last Saturday morning and was one of five sailors awarded the joint Service Commendation Medal. Guess all this hard work is paying off.

Unfortunately the Suicide Vehicle Bourne IED that killed two soldiers in Kabel last week cast a shadow over that good news. You may have seen some of our guys on TV or in the pictures from CNN.com after the blast.

September 18, Week 18 Only 47 more days left in Afghanistan. Our unit has been in the news lately. Just remember when you see or read those articles that I am only communications and computer support. I am not a gunslinger going outside the wire looking for the bad guys. We leave that to people who are a lot better trained than I am for that sort of thing.

October 4, Week 20 Made it to Quatar for a much needed four day pass! After four months with no good fast food or eating establishments I was ready for Appleby’s. And the visiting the mall there. Since January I have lost 45 pounds.

October 24, Week 23 I’m very busy working on local area network connectivity in the new headquarters building. It was built by the Russians when they occupied the country and the walls are 3 feet thick. I’m drilling into concrete and it’s very trying.

October 30, Week 24 WooooHoooo!!! Last week in Afghanistan! My relief arrived on Sunday night and the turnover process is going pretty smooth. I moved out of my Plywood Penthouse and into open bay berthing. That’s one step closer to home. By this time next week I’ll be on a flight back to the United States.

I’m so excited about coming home. I’m actually looking forward to the controlled chaos I know I will experience. My cell phone will be turned back on soon and I can receive calls. Looking forward to seeing you all.

God Bless America!

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