Friday, September 29, 2006
A Major explained his thoughts on how a person’s frame of reference affects their view of the current reality that we share; how a person’s initial impression of people and events and places is colored by what has gone before in their life. When an American who abides by the law in our country arrives in Afghanistan, it is difficult to realize that our laws aren’t their laws; and as a result we may tend to judge people harshly. Afghans take care of themselves, their family, their village, and their tribe first, that is how they were raised, and that is their frame of reference. We see things that we label graft, illegal, and immoral in our country that are the norm here. People steal and sell gas. There are two guys in our jail here for that very reason today. The soldier doesn’t really think that he is hurting his unit. Or that the gallons that he steals might allow us to finish a mission, because that is not in his experience.
We spent a good deal of time initially fighting with the ANA over hashish usage; smoking hashish in Afghanistan is about as evil as drinking a Bud Light in our part of the world. Interestingly enough alcohol has probably the same percentage of usage here in Afghanistan as Hashish has in America. With the arrival of our new Company Commander we have all but eliminated hashish usage. It was prevalent on guard duty at night. (Doesn’t that make you feel safe?) Our security force would get so frustrated by it that they would complain for an hour the next day. The ANA First Sergeant had not ability to stop it, for whatever reason, maybe because he was using it also, who knows.
Soldiers go on leave, with very little warning, and no true concern for scheduling it in advance often without much coordination. They just put on civilian clothing, secure their weapon, and off they go, for as long as they want to be gone really. In our army we call that Away With Out Leave, and it is a chargeable offense. When a soldier volunteers in our army the soldier volunteers for a set period of time, and Uncle Sam owns you for that period of time. Here, everyday is a choice, if you don’t want to serve anymore you can leave and there is no repercussion.
I read about General Black Jack Pershing, the man who gets the credit for putting our American Expeditionary Force together for WWI. 90 years ago he did in the Philippines what we are doing today here in Afghanistan, which is building an army that will stand on its own and can deploy if necessary. I am curious as to how many parallels there are from his time to ours.
Today’s Headlines, some observations:
bin Laden is alive, last week he was dead, I think he is Hindu.
NATO extends mission to the east. Where they think bin Laden may be hiding, in Afghanistan. Interesting
Bush couldn’t get Karzai and Musharraf to shake hands. Hmm that either proves that they have enough integrity to admit to themselves at least; what Pakistan is doing with the Taliban is bad for Afghanistan. Or it just means that they aren’t as polished as the rest of our world leaders who would be eligible for an Oscar except that the category is too small.
Afghan-Pakistan Relations Tense over Taliban Presence: Let’s file this under hmmm shall we say “No Sherlock, Really??” Other than the fact that people come over the border from Pakistan and kill themselves and others in Afghanistan, I have no idea why they would be tense. (Pakistan must be very happy that they are not contiguous with Israel)
Musharraf Denies Pakistan is harboring the Taliban. That followed on the same day by this:
Taliban continues to rule the roost in Pak tribal areas despite peace deal. I know I already mentioned Lebanon, but really. The Taliban have set up governments in place of or along side the Pakistan governmental structural institutions, because they can. How can you put together an agreement in the first place with a group that has voluntary membership? Taliban is not synonymous with Pashtun. It is similar to our government striking a treaty with the Symbionese Liberation Army, oh, wait that didn’t happen.
Here is one last thought for you, I am sure I should stop already but here it is:
• A treaty is a binding agreement under international law entered into by actors in international law, namely states and international organizations. (Per Wikpedia anyway).
• Pakistan recognized the Taliban as either a state, international organization or an actor, (Oscars anyone?) when they entered into a peace agreement with them as a state.
• If the Taliban is a legitimate international organization, operating with in the borders of Pakistan, then either:
o Pakistan condones it, or:
o The state no longer has the ability to impose the national will within its own borders.
All my best,
Thursday, September 28, 2006
We are going to miss them, and I wish they were on the same rotation as I am, but that is not how it works here. So while we will remember and miss them, things will continue to go on and someone else will step up to fill in their shoes. That is the way of the world.
SFC Glasscock out of South Carolina held several positions in the time that he was here. When I arrived he was the person assigned to my company, so he and I did the left seat right seat rides together. LS / RS rides is a term we use to describe the train up on the situation that you are going into, some people call it a battle hand off. Any way if you think of driving a car, learning from the left seat, doing from the right seat, you will get the idea.
He knew everything about this post from how to make the electricity work, to how to get services down here from Herat. Besides all that the ANA loved him, and he taught me how to work with them. Have fun on the golf course SFC, I know you'll enjoy that.
SGM Elvington, also out of SC I believe, is also headed back home. He was the advisor to the Sergeant Major of the ANA Kandak and the senior enlisted soldier on the ground here in Shindand. He was another person I learned about Afghanistan from. He didn't get worked up about much here, which is the right answer from what I have seen. But he did make sure his soldiers did the right things. He set a calm professional example and was a lot of fun to talk with as well.
I am the self appointed picture taker, which sometimes results in me hearing things like what these two said to me from Herat, " Take the damn picture already" But you know, even though my composition isn't the greatest, I think that they will enjoy looking back on their last day in Shindand and their first day in Herat for out processing. These pictures were taken on the last day that they were in Shindand, just before we climbed in the rigs and moved north.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Mice unfortunately while cute, are a hazard that needs to be dealt with. We have one mouse trap on the post that I have found; here is a thought for you. When a mouse gets hit by the trap, at most it lives for a few moments, some are lucky enough not to even know what happens they just reach for the cheese, and find themselves talking to 72 virgins, or the mice equivalent. Glue boards have become popular, I am not sure why, but I can tell you they are not humane. The mouse doesn’t come close to dying instantly, or at all, and you have no idea how long he may have been stuck there when you find him. From a marketing perspective of course, they are great, buy stock in them, it is a one use and dispose of product. If I were a mouse I would rather get the trap then the glue board.
Okay, this is too funny; I was going to take this whole part out as to morbid, and besides, what would you think of how I spend my time. But then I read the back of a glue trap, tell me this is not humorous.
“HUMANE CONCERNS: Animals may be freed as follows: Release animals approximately one mile from home to prevent re-entry. Check traps daily or when noise is noted. Use heavy duty industrial rubber gloves to remove animals from traps, using vegetable or mineral oil and hold trap upside down over a 5 gallon bucket. With a pencil, apply light pressure to animal and release into bucket. For additional information please contact…..” Okay, that is a direct quote, I didn’t make it up. I am not naming the company because then they might get irritated. Please, really. Buy an 89 cent glue board, a 4 dollar- 5 gallon bucket, 2 dollars worth of industrial heavy duty rubber gloves, and a pencil; I think eraser end would be better by the way. Use some of your vegetable oil. Then take said mouse 1 mile from home. (You may find yourself near another home, but that will be on your conscience not theirs.) Release. Wow, if that is not priceless, I just don’t know what is.
Today started at 0300, That is “oh my goodness it is early” for most of you, myself included; when I have to wake up that early, I end up waking up at 0130, then 0200, then 0245. I really don’t think I need an alarm, but I have a cool one that works on my computer; there is nothing quite like waking up to Guns N Roses “Civil War”. We moved out and cordoned off the southern sector of a little town where a bad dude has one of his homes, another unit searched the compounds, and we did not turn him up. There wasn’t a huge expectation that we would, but I am sure he will get the message that about a hundred guys were in the neighborhood looking for him. I am sure that will raise his popularity with his neighbors.
I found out I might be moving back to Shindand, nothing for sure yet, but it is a possibility. That led me to reflect on how I felt when I found out I was coming here; I was apprehensive, there was no real intelligence about the area, and most of what there was I have found to be overblown if not out right wrong. It may have been correct when it was developed, but over time things change and it didn’t appear to hold true when I arrived. We started out with two officers here, and that changed almost a month ago, and now they correctly believe it can be done with one. So, when the next company rotates down I expect I will rotate up. That has its positives and negatives, the gym up there is much better, but here I was the guy in charge, things change, and I wasn’t really in charge down here anyway, just the one to be held responsible for actions down here. But you know I have an ego, and I did enjoy it while it lasted.
In its own little way, this experience has been much like life in general; facing new unknown situations, with eagerness for the challenge and apprehension of the unknown; developing information through experience, and forming a new understanding of life, which mostly means seeing how the tools you already had, fit the problems you didn’t know you had. I can’t speak for the soldiers, who are mortared and rocketed on a regular basis, but I have read some of their letters and notes, and frankly, we are not really good at living in perpetual fear of the possibility of dying unpleasantly. No one in the city on a motor cycle fears getting spread out on the pavement on a daily basis; if they did they would ride the bus. Soldiers become somewhat matter of fact about the risks inherent in dealing with their situation, I read one soldiers letter that basically could set her time by mortars in Iraq, and the biggest issue with them was that they interrupted a meal. That isn’t of course the entire spectrum of emotions, but you get the point.
I am too moderate a person( I can hear you laughing) to have long conversations anymore with people who have taken the extreme positions, particularly the “These people are _____ “fill in your own adjective here, extremes. Unfortunately our collective toleration for cultures other than our own is not particularly high. I have taken to discussing records with some of my soldiers, you know, the old 45’s and 78’s. I asked a couple what a 78 was and what a 45 was, and they had no clue at all; I asked them if they were insane, how could they not know what it was, it was so basic. Then I tried to get them to understand the parallels between their lack of knowledge of that aspect of music, which is just a generation or two behind them, and develop an understanding of how the people from this culture would have a completely different frame of reference. For those of you who have had to listen to me talk about budgets, or other things I get agitated about, you can feel the appropriate amount of sympathy for the poor unfortunates.
I don’t know if they get it, but I do know I think it is my job to challenge the narrow mindedness that can all too easily slip into bigotry.
Mostly these people have the same hopes and desires as we do, with a different set of circumstances to deal with. That doesn’t mean that they want to go on a cruise and will be dreadfully disappointed if they don’t get to. It means they want their families healthy and strong, their future clearly laid out as best as it can be, and they want to enjoy life. Many of these people would be ecstatic if one of their children made it all the way through the 12th grade. That would be a modern miracle. Some would be happy if the school was close enough that their child could darken its door.
Okay, I started short and ended long, and as Robin Williams would say, "thats good if your in Vietnam in the jungle, but not when your rambiling on".
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Ramadan started yesterday, it is a lunar month of fasting during the day during the 9th lunar month. Muslims who follow it, and in this area most do, do not eat or drink or chew gum during Ramadan. They do not smoke either. There day begins at 3 am when they get up to eat. They can not eat during the daylight hours, which fortunately for them, are shorter than they were a few months ago. The impact on this is that missions of both friendly and enemy forces get impacted in some way. Positive or negative depending upon your perspective I guess. When you eat and finish breakfast by 0400 in the morning, you aren’t much good after noon. No water is maybe the biggest significance of combat readiness. After darkness falls around 630 or 700 pm this month, they can begin to eat again, and they typically start out with a sweet drink or pastry to get some sugar into their system.
Early morning missions are good; I haven’t tried an overnight mission yet, but will bring it up, I am not sure if that is well advised or not. The reason for missions decreases as well during Ramadan, as like our Christmas, this is a time for introspection and appreciation of what you have, and your family. I say that knowing that the first ads for Christmas sales will soon or have already begun showing up.
Our last good mission was the route security for the weapons cache raid. Raid is a strong word; it wasn’t guarded, hidden but not guarded. I was happy to find out that we collected enough material to have made about 30 very effective IEDs; I have no idea if it was a recent or old cache, but I don’t think the explosives cared how old they were.
Fuel filters and fuel… wow, this is either really good for GM or I don’t know what, but the fuel we get here is such absolute crap that I have heard it described as containing traces of diesel. I know people are working on it, but meanwhile, a diesel engine which can run off of almost anything flammable, gets a bit more than 150 miles prior to needing a fuel filter change. It is crazy. And because the fuel is and has been so bad, the system has run short on filters, because everyone is using them at ten times the expected usage, But hey, no big deal!!
There are other ironies at work that you just have to learn to laugh at, because if you didn’t you would grind your molars to dust, or paste, or whatever. We train all of the time to be able to conduct logistics re-supply runs out to forward operating bases. In reality what happens is Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) send in convoys to get supplies from the central hub. In someone’s eyes that is how we should do it, as that is how it is being done. So once every week or so, I take every person up to _Herat which is 90 miles north. The folks from Farah do the same thing, but it is another two hours for them, and we get what we need. The risk manager in me wonders why the organization as a whole would rather travel 680 miles round trip for the three southern FOBs to be re-supplied, rather than running 400 miles of road time. (See there, I did it, if you think to logically here, you can get bound up about things that you aren’t going to change.) Then the next thing you know you are irritated with the guy who, like a squirrel waits until your danger close to try and cross the road in front of you. Pretty soon you wonder why more things aren’t the way you think they ought to be, and then you’re in one of those rooms counting flowers on the wall, playing solitaire till dawn, with a deck of 51……
Thank you to Kevin, Charlie and Joyce, and Amy and Darin, I received your packages last night, and while haven’t opened them yet, wanted to let you know I got them and I appreciate your efforts and concern.
All my best,
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
There are rules that cover bloggers in the military, they are relatively new, but they are designed to keep a guy like me from becoming a policy making Captain, or from endangering the lives of my fellow coalition soldiers. They make sense, I am not bitching about them, and it helps to keep people from willy nillying all over the written countryside. That's a good thing.
I have had this post up for about 10 days now, and it has been read in a lot of the states of the United States, and in the UK, Italy, off the coast of Africa, and in Karachi Pakistan. One other thing that you learn doing something like this is how un anonymous your internet anonymity really is, as well as how far flung the information you post may fly, so you have to be prepared to live with the spatter, you might get some on you.
I don't know if I am a typical Infantry Captain or not, but I believe that leaders need to be balanced in their approach to people and events. Not so balanced that it gets you killed, just balanced enough to allow people to understand that you do think about things prior to acting on them. Recently I explained to my two senior NCOs what I was trying to accomplish with our presence patrols in the area.
I want people here to view us either positively or neutrally, and I want them to be very reluctant to cause us to act in a negative manner towards them. For a couple of my soldiers that is interpreted as be as intimidating as possible. That is not the intent. Think of a Police Officer, and I have known a couple. They are great guys, with a wider than you might believe political spectrum, however to a person, I wouldn't want to cross them in the line of duty; they are trained, confident and professional. That competence in itself is intimidating to a segment of the population that is thinking about going astray, and that appearance or perception acts as much to police the population as does the officers actual physical actions, in fact it probably does more than what one officer individually can do.
My intent with this blog is to share as widely as possible with other people the things that we do, and go through here. It is not always safe or dangerous, it is pretty much never glamorous, I doubt seriously if I will ever meet the president of any country. It is often somewhat boring. The story here is about the people, both those who live here and those who serve here, that I will do my best to share on a somewhat regular basis. My personality does not really allow me to tell you all the minor annoyances that get blown up into political dust. The folks at the Government Accounting Office can tell you how we allocate assets between the locations we have the military active in the world, and it is beyond me. So I won't or I will try not to bitch and moan about things that will not change, and have been predetermined by someone with more information than I have.
I don't particularly like to kill things, I like to fish, and I like to eat fish, in fact on the whole I am a meat eater, I understand that some things must die to provide me food. I live in a building that is a prefab metal hut, it has holes in it that are big enough for field mice. As I am typing this right now, one is trying to decide if he can cross from the side of the room he is on to the door on my right. I have a snickers bar baited mouse trap in there. I both hope he gets caught, and think he is kind of cute at the same time. Regardless they are filthy animals who carry disease, and I will dispose of him as soon as he gets hungry enough to stop moving much.
I understand my mission here is to provide stability and support to this population. If that means I have to defend it with deadly force I will use the assets at hand to do that, but I don't intend to glory in that or probably do more than mention we got in a fight. Fortunately thus far that has not happened, no shots have been fired at, by or around me. For every guy like me who carries around loaded weapons and works with the Afghans in the field there are 3 or 4 who do things like work in a medical aid station, keeping track of appointments and treatments, or work in a supply warehouse ensuring the task force doesn't run out of 100 mile an hour tape, or 550 Cord, or post its. Some of the people in my previous company were truck drivers, male and female both. They are scattered across the country with different stories as well. Some of my female truck drivers have probably heard and seen more ordinance go off in the last three months than I ever will here. Life is strange, and you don't know what you don' t know.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
This is the desert north of the Farah River, river is RUD in Afghanistan. This looks very flat in the picture and in person. However there are gullies or wadis out here that swallow up a HMMWV quite nicely.
You can see for about 8 to 10 Kilometers in any direction in this spot, which is one reason it is more peaceful than the eastern portions of the country. There are far less places to gain cover or concealment.
This soldier is about 20, he is a pretty good guy, I don't know his name, but he has a good sense of humor and typically does his job in a fine fashion. He is holding a new rifle similar to the RPK that arrived the other day. We received a couple of these. No one here knew how they worked. They were shrink wrapped in plastic, and had never been fired. We fixed that. They feed from right to left, which is odd to me. It fires a 7.62 mm round with quite a lot of powder to it, similar to a .308 caliber machine gun if you will.
This is a Coochie tribe group of tents. It is about 1 kilometer from an established village, and in this case it is established enough that they have built permanent buildings in addition to their tents.
The stones may have been a bridge at one time I am not sure. This picture was taken from a river bed that has been dry for a couple of years now.
This is taken from the same spot as the previous picture but in the other direction. You can see that you can barely make out the mountains in the distance. Our mission here was to make sure our fellow soldiers could leave with out being mined on the way out. Unlike the desert which is mostly flat and needs no roads at all, this terrain is canalized and your movement is completely predictable
This is taken in the river bed. The ridge line shown covers approximately 500 meters on each side, so the two soldiers on the top of the ridge have secured quite a chunk of real estate.
This picture is the most water I have seen in one place since I arrived. it is a shallow 6 inch deep or less spot in the river bed. Apparently it has a good supply of water, as there are thousands of little fingerling in here jumping all over. I took this picture as we came back from securing the route to a weapons cache. Fortunately the day was uneventful from a violence perspective.
Monday, September 18, 2006
I woke up this morning and realized that the smell I smelled was my brain cells smoking.... It is really easy to over think life. Some of the happiest people I know are very much in a "take life as it comes" way of life. I suppose that can have its dangers too.....
Anyway, Happy Birthday to my wife, my mother, my grandmother, and to Kim J., (Does anyone else think it ironic that my wife, mom and grandmother all have birthdays with in a day of each other??? I am going to begin taking stock in florists in August and sell in October. Hmmmm
A couple of thoughts: We conducted a successful mission yesterday. We managed to capture some munitions with out having them fired in our general direction that is a big plus. On the way back we passed about 4 people moving through the desert and the ANA stopped them and searched each one. I was happy about that as I really didn't want an angry armed Afghan (alliteration anyone?? anyone??) behind us as we moved out with our munitions. It did make me wonder though how they feel about it, I have done that a lot with the ANA in the last couple of months, and the people are invariably pleasant. They don't have angry eyes, they typically are happy that the ANA is in the area to provide that stability.
Of course I wonder what my reaction would be, and in the US it would be kind of comical in a warped way. "Excuse me officer, are you illegally profiling me??” I am not sure that I would tolerate it with as much grace as they do. Of course we have no reason to have that happen. In this location they have seen so much violence in the last 25 years that every one understands the reason for a search.
We profile single men who are on motorcycles, and groups of men in Cargo trucks. And single men in Corrollas. That is just the way it is. The bad guys don't travel with their wives and children. We did not have any issues with the people we stopped, some store keepers with an overloaded truck, and three separate men on motorcycles. You will be happy to know that we don’t profile based on age, as the men who work with or for the Taliban have no age boundaries. The motivations that they might have to attempt to harm US or ANA soldiers can be as basic as acting out of fear of injury to their families, to getting an extra 1000 Afghani, ($20 US), and or a combination of the two.
There is of course a reason for the profiling. Drug and arms are shipped in overloaded cargo trucks hidden in a variety of means. We confiscated about 30 lbs of opium early on this summer, but did not arrest the men carrying it, as the system here has no way of dealing with them. 30 lbs of Opium Tar! I have no idea what that is worth, but I believe we probably ruined their post harvest plans. The people who plant IEDs like to travel in groups of single men on motorcycles, 3-5 in a group. You might say, well every man travels single on a motor cycle, but in fact there are as many as 3 people I have seen on many motorcycles. 3 people on a motorcycle have just one thing on their mind; getting where they are going, so they can get off the bike. These are not your Honda Goldwings or your speed rockets; these are 125 cc engines with 2 wheels.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
This is a delivery of mail addressed to me from people back home, it is primarily school supplies with some clothing thrown in for the smaller children. It is well received and appreciated.
Thanks Charlie and Joyce, Merri, Jeanette, and Pat. The nice thing is that we have other soldiers getting similar shipments which allow us to do good things for the children here, who again are the future of this country.
Life around here is beginning to be more stressful. I am not truly sure if that is just because we are past 90 days from being in the States or because things in the media are heating up, along with the stuff on the ground. I have received several communications from people back home in one form or another asking me how things are going over here and how am I coping with it.
I am not certain anyone really wants to hear my concerns perhaps least of all me. Life is what it is. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you deal with it as it comes to you in day by day, sometimes hour by hour segments. I can tell you one thing, our brothers in the eastern portion of the country have it far worse than we do in terms of violence directed their way; Which is why you read about Kandahar and Helmond province so often in the news.
I can say this; no one I know has joined the military with the idea that it was a safe occupation. There are many great things about the military, the people you serve with on a daily basis, the people who have your back and know you have theirs. The people who make sure you ate your meal, or got a bottle of water, instead of waiting for you to get it on your own. The people who take the initiative to make the place and your situation a better place, those are the people you may risk your life in order to increase the overall safety of the team. (A lot of people wrote about the whole “army of one” advertising campaign). I for one can tell you that it is truly about 3 to 5 man teams melded together into units that make a difference here.
These two, Gunslinger and Doc, or Holiday, it depends on the day and time I call him, are two of our team here. They are demonstrating their multitalented ambidextrousness, changing out the radiator on this HMMWV.
We have two teams of that size here and the two form our entire team of Americans here in our location. When we work with the ANA they have a similar system, and they are fighting for each other and to protect us as much as to project the political ambitions of the State. People join the military for adventure, service, personal improvement, because it fits their personality, because they want to see what they are made of, because they are experimenting with who they will become.
This was taken three months ago in Bagram air field, the significance is that everyone here graduated from Portland State or University of Portland ROTC. It is the same ROTC program, that moved to UP for some unknown reason. Just like all fraternal organizations, common ties bind. I would like to point out that I am not the oldest in this picture....
No one joined the Army or the National Guard without an awareness that potentially they could be called upon to serve in a foreign land. No one carries a weapon with out an idea that they may be called upon to use it. If it were a completely safe operation here they would send in Non Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) and that would be how they helped out. Right now the people of Afghanistan need the security of a strong army to ensure that their national government can control and provide for the common good in Afghanistan.
This group of men live in a village not to far from my location. This is actually an Elder, and about 5 of his sons, the youngest son is less than 6 years old, I have to guess that that means his latest wife is somewhat younger than he is.
This is a country where the national police are as young as 15-23 and maybe as old as 35 years old. They get paid half of what they earn when they get paid, and they are paid at some higher ranking guys whim. So they collect fees on the road, about 40 U.S. cents. In a country where good money is 2 dollars a day, if you work everyday, .40 cents is a pretty large chunk of cash to travel every 20 kilometers or so. If you don’t have the money or tell them no, you won’t pay you might be subject to the reasoning tools at an armed 20 year olds disposal.
They don’t appear to have a local taxation structure here. The central government hasn’t broken the code on how to pay the Afghan National Police, and the Municipalities (villages) don’t have a history of paying for them either. So police rob / tax / toll the road. It doesn’t happen everywhere, but it happens here. And it negatively affects the reputation of the national government. There is a plan in place to make that better, and we have good people who will help with that issue, but until they have oversight and the police are paid wages earned, it will continue to be at best a neutral point to have ANP in the area, and at worst it will be a negative point.
This operation is a Support and Stability operation. You have to provide stability to a region before you can begin to address support issues.
Okay that is all for now, it is late and I have a mission to take care of tomorrow.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
I added the location of Shouz on this map, in order to show you where it is. Approximately 87 Miles south of Herat on the Ring Road, or Afghanistan's Highway 1. This section is being built with US tax dollars. This Section stretches from Herat, to Kandahar. It is also 7009 miles, almost straight across the north pole, from my home in the Portland area.
I added this map so that you can see how the two fit together. Shouz is at the southern portion of the Herat province.
This area was so hot this summer it was just amazing.... It felt like being in the frying pan. 125 plus degrees at its worst. Oddly enough, you adjust to it, and by the time I adjusted, the highs for the day had begun to drop. Now it is down right chilly at 60 degrees around 4:00 am. We have conducted different types of operations in the area for a good month and a half now, and met many people. I will try and tell you more about them as time goes on. Hope you can read the maps.
All my best Keith
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Afghanistan Schools 2 each.
The picture to the left was painted by my sister, I hope she doesn't kill me for showing you and telling about the symbolism. It is fitting for this post both in timeliness, as she just finished it, and school is starting all over the world.. And because as she said, better than I will, the ripple effect of education is impossible to measure. I hope that the ripples that we help to create here do some good for years to come.
A Couple of days ago, it seems like a long time now, but in reality it was only 8 days ago tops, my crew of guys and I along with the ANA delivered about 140 packets of school supplies to 140 students, kids aged 4 on up. We gave a box of teacher supplies to the two teachers who taught these folks. The US Government did not buy the supplies we handed out, they came from people who responded to emails from me in this case, although others have supplies coming in as well. Our friends and families, and their friends have responded generously. We received supplies from people on the east coast and west coast as well as the Midwest, I have said thank you a couple of times, but you probably can't say that to many times.
It is interesting to me how my perspective has changed in 8 days on some of the people who were involved in this, some people have improved in my estimation, some have fallen in my estimation. What is also true is that those people didn't change, only my perception has changed. We are all good in some areas, and not so good in other areas. Over here knowing your companions and neighbors is part of doing business and staying secure.
The one thing that has not changed is that the children, all over the world are our collective future. I have some pictures I was not able to publish earlier I hope you like. These are two schools, one is a torn apart hotel, with no amenities other than walls, and the other is a 16 room new building built by a local man who has many roles in this community, and in my stay here.
This is 80 Kids with 1 teacher and 1 room. I really like this picture.
McGiver took these pictures, he is a Grandfather I think, and did one heck of a job getting these very shy kids to work with him.
The guys on the right in the background are village elders, they would like a well and building for this school. I can't blame them.
Kids are great, they are openly curious, and at this age have not got any natural animosity towards anyone.
I don't know what the graffiti means. I like the kid in the baseball hat...
This is the second school, These girls are shy and adorable.
I really don't know what they thought, or if they knew what to make of all the soldiers coming and giving them things.
The color in this country is mostly worn on little girls like this. Men and boys all wear earth tones.
Smiling and alert, open to being friendly.
I think if you took the ziplock bags out of the picture it could have been taken any time in the last 50 years.
This is a far cry from the school the other children are attending about 8 miles away.
We provided each child with a pad of paper, some pencils and pens, erasers, a couple of pieces of candy, the girls pretty much got the stuffed animals, the boys pretty much received the cars. They were both hits. We will do this again, if we have an opportunity and supplies. Hats and Mittens or gloves are a good choice, and they love soccer balls. I think that is all for now, but I appreciate your interest, and hope you enjoy the pictures. Keith
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
12 September 2006. Shouz, Afghanistan
This has been truly a busy day, the third busy day in a row. Unfortunately busy days here really mean busy nights. Which entail a certain lack of sleep. Sleeping is overrated anyway when you balance it against security. I work with a group of great guys. We have different call signs for each other to use on the radio, and I will use them here as well, to ensure we keep security. We have Doc, who we sometimes call Holiday, because well, he is a medic. He is a 19 year old young man from Oklahoma who plays guitar very well, has a good sense of humor and is capable of many of the tasks we require around here. We have Boomer from Oklahoma, who is tall and lean and loud, a former marine, who enjoys his baby 240 machine gun, carries about 6 percent body fat, and has intensity to spare. He also is the guy who makes sure to cover my back while I am talking with folks. We have Wings, who is the steady rock from Oklahoma as well, he mans the 50 Cal. These two provide overall security for our group of seven. Gunslinger is a man from Tennessee, he has the most combat experience in our group, as he has had two tours in Iraq. McGiver is the oldest of our group at 50, and he can fix just about anything that has been screwed, welded or bolted together. I am not inventive enough to come up with a good call sign so I just go by Mac, and I am the only guy on this Forward Operating Base from Oregon. That is really immaterial as we have grown together as quite a team. My job here is to get these guys home safely, and to train the Afghanistan National Army company that I work with here. These guys make it possible for myself and McGiver and Gunslinger to train our counterparts. And that of course is a good thing. My counterpart here is a Captain in the Afghanistan National Army. He is one of three very good officers I have worked with here. If he wasn't here this company would be a shambles by now. You kind of have to love the humor involved in some of our names, particularly Boomer and Gunslinger, people reading this in the states may assume there is way to much testosterone around here. And by our standards back in the States that might well be true. Our team however is the team that delivered 140 packets of school supplies to 140 kids in two schools. Everyone here is a husband or a dad, they are all motivated to do the right thing. Ice man is from Georgia, he is a Husband and a dad as well. That pretty much rounds out our crew.
Monday, September 11, 2006
I have already posted a number of blog entrys on my myspace page, but that really doesn't allow me to just get stuff down and include the pictures I would like to, that help tell the story, So here I am putting out a new name, and sharing with you all on yet another format. I hope you enjoy this format, and I am interested in what you think about what I say, as well as what questions you may have that I can provide some thoughts on. I should also thank a number of people who have influenced me to ultimately begin this little adventure. Jeff, who you can find at email@example.com, who raised the bar so to speak, Major Strong at MajorStrong@blogspot.com who I unabashedly copy in my security considerations so as to avoid problems with my life, and Scott Kesterson who is currently blogging away about our stuff here in Afghanistan at www.beloblog.com/KGW_Blogs/afghanistan. In addition to that I want to tell my wife that I love her beyond words, and I appreciate the sacrifice she makes to allow me to be here. My son and daughter who are both outstanding people in their own right, who support their mom through everything. I love you all. And of course I have a slew of people who support me in thoughts, words and deeds back at home and some not at home but they go under the heading of friends and family, and they are fantastic. I could go on.. but who wants to read that....
Today is 9-11-2006. 5 years ago today I was trying to get out the door when my father in law called and told me I had to stop everything, and turn on the news. What we all witnessed then stopped everything in time. I remember clearly talking to Leo on the phone, looking at my fence that needed a fresh coat of paint at a minimum, discussing how the world would never quite be the same for any of us. We were right. Jeff was stuck in Medford, Amy went down and got him, its only 300 miles one way. Alan Jacksons song about the day is exactly right. Because of 9-11 I stayed in the Oregon Army National Guard, I was a First Lieutenant at the time, and I was considering getting out. I worked as a risk manager in Salem, and spent a lot of time at ball games, basket ball, football, soccer, and baseball, as that is what you do when you have a son and daughter both involved in sports and other school activities. Life seemed to really move fast at that time. It really didn't seem that I had enough time on my hands to spend with everyone who matters to me. It of course still doesn't seem to be enough time to spend with everyone that really matters to me. I doubt if it ever will.
9-11-2001 our country pulled together regardless of religion, political affiliation, or lack thereof and realized that we are Americans. The great thing about America is that you can choose to be here or you can choose to live somewhere else. Most all of my friends and family come from people who chose to be here, I would imagine that is true for most Americans. If you would prefer some other place, no one here will work to hard to make you stay here, you get to opt in or opt out as you see fit.
Since 9-11 I have felt more of a pull to serve again in uniform. That really doesn't match what people think of me all the time, and I won't take a ton of time to explain it, but for me it is more about feeling good doing something that I feel matters. Since 9-11 I have put another 3 years service in uniform working for the Oregon Army National Guard. I enjoy working with soldiers. Oregon sent approximately 2200 soldiers to help with Hurricane Katrina efforts, we were there on average for about 3 weeks, some longer some shorter. From the time we got the word to go, to the day I stepped out on the tarmac in Louisiana, it was 4 days. We did some very good stuff in New Orleans, and I plan on visiting it, when I return, to see what it is like with people in it.
The 41st Brigade Combat Team, left Oregon in February as a whole, headed towards Camp Shelby MS to train up for operations in Afghanistan. We were there for slightly over 3 months. It was hot. And humid. Then we went home for a few days and then off to Afghanstan. We have been in theater for over 3 months at this point. 42 states, and over 1600 people are invested in this mission. That does not take into consideration the many other people who are affected directly or indirectly by our collective absence.
Everyone affected gives, some voluntarily, and some because they have no choice. I would like to thank those people who support me for giving me as much as you do. It means a lot.
SSG Nathan Bradley Lindsey was killed in action two days ago. He was an Oregon soldier, I have met him numerous times in the course of our jobs, he was a professional, he was friendly and in my experience he always had time to help another person out. He will be missed by us all.
SSG Fuga was killed in action in the same day. He was from the Missouri National Guard. I have never met SSG Fuga, but we owe him our respect as well.
If you pray, say a prayer for these men and their families.