Sunday, October 29, 2006

Perverting Political Correctness

Perverting Political Correctness. I just love the topic, I don't know if I can do it justice, so this will be short.

Political Correctness tends to at its core try and do what the constitution attempts to do; which is provide equal rights for people, and ensure that one persons or group of persons actions do not infringe upon the rights of another group of people. It is important to be sensitive to other people’s feelings, and not infringe on other peoples rights. That should not be confused with being without opinion, or with being agreeable. I think that as far as that goes; it is not a bad thought. I don't believe in racial slurs or derogatory comments in general to describe a person who is otherwise unknown. Some people earn the titles they are given, but that is another topic.

I believe that perverting political correctness is a form of covering your ass, limiting choices to the degree that you can't be blamed for much of anything. There are many examples of this, and I could add to this on a weekly basis, but that might just be too much negativity.

The political correctness I am talking about is the over riding concern of what others will think. This runs the gamut from not wearing a set of socks with a Nike swoosh because it is a logo, with your tennis shoes, which all have logos on them. It makes no sense, but there you go; I watched a LTC in the 10th Mountain Division loose his bearing over a set of ankle high socks with blue on them, no logo mind you, but a blue reinforced heel. He was talking about logos, ignoring the Reebok logo on the shoes that housed the socks of the soldier he was yelling at. I really haven't figured out the sock thing, I am sure someone can fill me in, I hope it directly impacts how that soldier does on the field of battle.
We have a situation now where two factions are ready to (actually already have) picked up weapons to kill each other. Many of the weapons they have are illegal to own. We are prohibited from disarming either faction, as that would appear to be taking sides, as we can not do that simultaneously. So what we do is provide a presence to prevent an attack, kind of a buffer if you will a reason not to start shooting.

In this part of the world if Americans are in civilian clothes during Ramadan, we wear long sleeves and close toed shoes, Muslims in the area where comfortable clothing to include short sleeves and sandals. We do this because someone in the state department doesn't want to appear to be disrespecting the Muslim religion. Let me tell you, Muslims, like many other religions are certain that if you don't believe in God the way they think you should you are headed straight to hell. It really won't matter if you were short sleeved or not.

We don't drink Alcohol here, but the only alcohol I have seen or been offered has come from Muslim's. They drink it here, after it is imported. Fact not fiction. Why don't we drink? Other nations allow that, because again, we don't want to offend anyone, or / and because it fits someone’s thought process that soldiers just can't be trusted with alcohol.

AK, the man who was killed was known at all levels of the government to be the "Godfather" of the criminal and antigovernment activities in this area was also protected because he provided some stability. I have news for you, this country was far more stable under the Taliban, and had the Taliban not been stupid enough to provide aide and support to Osama Bin Laden, we would not be involved here. The Taliban would be providing a very stable and understandable form of government, although one that did not allow freedom of religion or speech. Hitler and the Soviet Union did a pretty good job of stability as well, the thing they all have in common was that they killed all who opposed them.

Enough of that.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Update from Kuwait

A couple of notes; I sometimes am guilty of free flowing thought while writing this, sometimes that is interesting (at least to me) and sometimes it results in not communicating effectively. The benefit of doing this in my own living space is that I can write, edit, reflect, reword and produce something that says what I want it to, instead of possibly something that is either close or not even what I intended.

I am in Kuwait, the bright side of this is that I am not digging a sleeping position, it is dusty and hot here, but that is fairly universal from what I can see. Lots of different services and nations here as well.

Previously in my perspective.... (you need to hear that in James Earl Jones voice to get the right flavor) I was talking about US Military culture. How I have had some difficulty connecting with people who serve in primarily the Navy and Airforce. I would like to say again, and I have proven it in the last day or so, that this is simply a limitation of mine. I have to work at it to have a discussion with these people, and the fact of life is, it is not the Navy or the Airforce that I have difficulty with, it is probably the multitude of other variations that come with living in a country as large and diverse as ours. In the USA the words may be the same from coast to coast, but there are nuances that change with states, and sections of the country. I had it nicely demonstrated to me in the last 24 hours that it simply takes more direct effort to have a conversation with folks you have almost nothing in common with, it isn't impossible.

That said, our military team would not be nearly as capable if we didn't possess the finest Airforce, Navy, Marine and Army forces on the face of the earth. (Wow doesn't that sound Jingoistic??? ) Regardless, it is true, not trying to sound brainwashed here. Each service brings a different skill set to the fight, be the fight a physical ground conflict, or winning the hearts and minds of the population, or being technologically more advanced than the next guy or gal.

Good news; chickens really do come home to roost. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a bad dude named Amnullah Khan, he was playing all ends against the middle, just prior to my leaving for pass, he put out a list of 42 people to kill in the area I live in. He was successful with the first man on the list and much of his family, (this is Afghanistan, not Columbia) fortunately for the rest of the free world, Mr. Bashir's family and friends did not appreciate that kind of attention, and provided him with a ticket to the next world. No news yet on if he has met Allah, or any of those 72 Catholic nuns with shotguns, but hey, what do you expect.

Anyway, with any luck I will be back in Shouz and busy again soon, I haven't really lost anything yet here in Kuwait, and the sooner they figure that out, the sooner they can have me stop looking for it.

All my best...


Monday, October 23, 2006

Enough already!!! I am ready to return

You know you are too old when.... Given that I am not that old. However, in the US military structure, 41 year old officers are typically senior Majors or Lieutenant Colonels, I am not moaning about my rank, I did the things that caused me to arrive at this rank at this time; (Nothing exciting mind you, just a good break in service) As a result, I don't have peers on this lovely little pass. That doesn't sound terrible, but the average age of the people on pass has to be about 24-26. I just don't quite fit in, neither am I as lean as these guys, although again that is my issue.

Another issue I have been introduced to, is that there is a complete culture difference between the Army, Airforce Navy and Marines. Mostly, Marines and Army are very similar there is no huge cultural difference there, particularly among the infantry soldiers. Grunts are grunts. In the Army itself there is a difference between Combat Arms, Combat Service Support, and Combat Support. Variations are often shaded by the distance from the actual battlefield, meaning that the further from the fight, the less reality intrudes, and the more efficiencies become important. Long discussion possible there. The Airforce has no grunts, they have people who fly, people who make it possible for them to fly, and logistics support. There is a small group of Airforce who mix with and support the other forces, and they typically are good folks. I just don't really understand the pilots, I find it difficult to understand the crews, that is probably a limitation of mine, not a knock on them. Navy..... I don't get the Navy at all. Nice enough, but again, no dirt, no guns, and in a ground war, familiarity with terrain and firearms is a prerequisite to survival. So, without going into what they do or if they should do it, let us just say I don't speak Navy well either. It has taken me two or three days here to realize that an older, married man, with ring on finger, just doesn't have much in common with the 95 percent of the rest of the population.

That said, Qatar has been fun. They have a very pool here, that is about 10 feet deep and I would say 50 meters long, good for cooling off, perfect weather for a pale Irish man. The gym is fantastic, I would kill for it back in Shouz or Shindand. Two Coffee shops, many books, a day spa where you can get a massage for about 30 dollars. (Deep tissue massage is not relaxing, won't be doing that again in a real hurry) Movies going somewhere almost 24/7 and no real hassles here. That is what makes it good. Units that send pairs or groups of soldiers should really benefit from their improved morale. Units that can only send one at a time, may benefit somewhat less although again, it really is what you make of it. We took a little day trip off post, during Ramadan, that meant that we had to wear long sleeves and long pants. The locals don't seem to be wearing that, but don't want to offend anyone. (Political correctness is getting old folks). Got to the beach, played volleyball, waded amongst the fish and jelly fish until enough of us had been stung, and then out for lunch, and the afternoon in the pool. Very nice conversation from a British lady who wasn't quite enamored with either Bush or Blair. She was there visiting her daughter who was getting paid handsomely by the local oil company to teach English to its employees children.
As nice and relaxing as all of this has been, I am looking forward to getting to work again in either Shindand or Shouz.

I would have pictures taken and posted, but they are very restrictive about what can be shown, so I will describe it instead. I am on a base that is maybe a mile or two long and wide, the housing is placed inside warehouses that are huge, I believe this may be where they preposition's weapons previously, but I don't know. In anycase, the warehouses have multiple rooms in them each room has 16 people possible to occupy. The permanent party I think share 2 by 2 or something. Because it is in the warehouse the temperature is constant, and the lighting is not natural. But, overall I would give it a good grade. I have seen one patch of grass that looked kind of bamboo like, other than that I have seen no natural vegetation. The resort had planted palms, and had grass, but I am sure that wasn't cheap. So pictures of this place would look a lot like a fuel farm and distribution center in the middle of the Nevada Desert, someplace where you couldn't see mountains though. The hard pan seems to be about 8 inches thick, and I am not sure why they break it up to lay down underlayment for roads, as it looks exactly like concrete. If you take a picture of a local national, they can press charges. If you take a picture of the chain link fences in the compound you can be disciplined under the uniformed code of military justice. So, I have left my camera in the bag. Trust me on this, you aren't missing much.

Okay, that is enough for now, Happy Birthday Jeff,

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bagram Airbase 20 October 2006

There are a couple of good things about Bagram; the gyms are great, it is a pretty secure post, although not as secure as say, Burns, Oregon. It is in a small valley that is ringed all the way around by mountains. It like most all of eastern and southern Afghanistan is not to far from Pakistan. After a week here I am truly ready to move on to Qatar, with any luck it will have some variety that will keep me amused for a couple of days. It is hard to be transient for long periods of time with very few people you know. A couple of observations, some may be repeats.

The 10th Mountain Division is the active duty Division currently working in Afghanistan. I have spoken to some young men who have seen more fighting in their lives than many I know. One young man relayed a brief story of how his Forward Operating Base operated. The 10th Mountain Division is really in the fight, they don’t have to take ANA with them to fight the Taliban. They position themselves all along the border with Pakistan, which is in the Hindu Kush. This particular young man relayed a story of daily/nightly fights with the “Taliban” or anti government forces anyway, who came over from Pakistan on a nightly basis. They fired upon the firebase from a position about 150 or so feet higher than the base and well protected from the base itself. Being good soldiers, the 10th had pushed out other fighting positions, so the fight was across a narrow valley, with the FOB down below the combatants. Regardless of what ordinance they used, the Taliban came back every night. This same young man briefly mentioned losing his Platoon Leader, who he liked to a double stacked anti armor mine IED. It struck me that while he appeared to be dealing with it in a decent manner; he has already seen more than I ever want my kids to.

Our soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division (I say ours, because they are yours and mine), are young, 22 years plus or minus 4 years, and lean, because when you are constantly humping a load up and down the Hindu Kush you probably can not eat enough to keep your weight up. The soldier from above was 22, had lost 30 pounds out in the field, and was trying to get it back. Hell of a diet plan. I remember when I was on Active Duty with the 82nd we worked with the Pennsylvania Guard one year, I was completely critical of them with all the experience and wisdom of my 20 years. I see some of that here, but I also see a Guard force that is significantly better off on average than the Guard of 1985. I wish I could say that I think that the 10th Mountain had a great working relationship with the Guard or other units here on Bagram, but I don’t get that feeling. One example is the fact that they eliminated the transient housing for Task Force Phoenix, (Which is and has been National Guard) from the previous location which was about 200 meters from the airport, and moved it a mile or more down the road. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but there is no regular transportation; and if you are transient in Bagram, that means at the least you have 100 lbs of equipment. The location that the tents were occupying sits vacant, with nothing at all on it, occasionally in the last week it has become a parking lot to stage out of. We have some soldiers here who transfer soldiers from the airport to the transient tents via pick up or bus, so that is handled. But that still puts our National Guard soldiers housing 1 mile away from the USO. I am not impressed with that apparent lack of consideration, but I am sure some one has justified it in some fashion. In the military of course RHIP, or Rank has its privileges, so what that means is that senior NCOs, and most Officers are treated differently than lower enlisted soldiers, and what that means is something like this treatment can be downplayed or ignored.

There is a decent MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation) building that shows movies daily, DVD/VHS, I caught “Shaft” again the other day, I just love that movie. Good music as well. Phones to call home are upstairs, and they have internet capabilities downstairs as well as a large, if poorly organized library. I think it is staffed by two or three people through out the day. The day here really goes 24/7 which is good as this post is doing something all the time. Well it is now 0130 local time, which is about 2 pm on the 19th in my part of the world. I have another couple of hours to go, but I am sure this is enough for one day….

I hope you enjoy


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bagram 17 October 2006

In two days I will be in Qatar, during Ramadan, enjoying the sun, (Like I haven’t seen it in a while LOL); I will swim in the morning and evening when the sun isn’t directly above, and I will issue a warning for those who forgot their sunglasses, to buy some prior to sharing the pool with me.

I am actually authorized to drink a beer or two in Qatar. This may be somewhat anticlimactic but it is certainly an option. Do you know that the only country present in Afghanistan that outlaws alcohol consumption is the United States? Very interesting, I am not sure if I agree or disagree on the premise; mostly because I don’t know the original premise. It could be that we don’t want to offend the Afghans as Alcohol consumption is proscribed by the Quran; if that is the case, I am pretty sure there are far more Afghans drinking than Americans in this country. It could be because the powers that be think it better to eliminate that demon rum, rather than require soldiers to also act as adults and monitor their own consumption. And additionally it could just be that in a stressful time, providing a drug that can be used as a coping mechanism is just not the preferred technique. In any case; there is no Swamp, you can’t have a Martini, and so it really doesn’t matter if it is shaken, stirred, olived or onioned. Also no Hawk Eye, but I have met a Pierce.

We won’t cover the prohibition on sex except to say it is prohibited, unless you are married to the person you are engaged in sex with. That pretty much cuts out all but maybe a couple or so. This again is to improve discipline, reduce legal issues, and keep morale in line. The results are that people are counseled informally (but often) for talking with someone. The fact of life is that healthy men and women, who are proximate, may tend to develop an attraction. (As opposed to those un-proximate people). I again, don’t know the right answer, but I can tell you I have certainly heard about the issue at camps where there are both sexes. I personally don’t have much to worry about, as last I checked, there were no women in my area.

Mail people here at Bagram work hard. That is a fact. They have to act as customs personnel as well as mail handlers. They work from about 0900 until 16:30 or so, might be later. There is always a line at the post office. I am pretty sure it is a stressful job, in that there is just no let up. The flip side of that is that it is much protected, and they could be doing their job in any state in the United States. The biggest danger might be a pulled muscle, or a bad attitude. Our mail person in _Herat Province handles mail for an area the size of Rhode Island roughly. Of course the amount of personnel is not nearly as great but the geography adds to the level of difficulty.

Things that go on while you are on deployment probably cause equal or greater stress for all involved than going outside the wire. It is really pretty simple to go out, you use an armored vehicle, wear much protective equipment, follow approved procedures to maintain security, be prepared to respond to any confrontation or assault of what ever variety they might have for you. Turn on Vehicle, Drive to destination in confusing manner, conduct mission, Return to Base. Simple.

Dealing with dogs, cars, grades, dollars, worries, loneliness, concern, vacuums, dentists, doctors, insurance, tuition, illness, trips, vacations, water pipes, and other neat day to day things is hard. Not because individually they are difficult, just because collectively I am not there to do my part. Other people (my wife for example) have to pick up the slack and do things that I would do. This is one of those, “there is no easy answer” things, I want to know what is going on. It ain’t always pretty. I have a method of dealing with it, it isn’t always the method chosen. Since I am not there, I have no business judging the technique. Thank goodness my wife who is stressed and dealing with all of the above and more is a patient, strong, good person. There are many soldiers spouses who choose this time as a time to break up the marriage or family. I have spent a lot of time with them, there is always a back story, it isn’t just a deployment, but that is when the strains of a deployment truly take their toll.

Okay, that is enough random thought for a day or two, I will write from Qatar, I will have pictures I hope, and if the internet is up there, I will post from there as well.

All my best


Friday, October 13, 2006

Observations on the way to pass

Hello All,

I am in night two of my stay in Bagram Air Force Base, BAF for short. It is in an interesting place, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines here, Egyptian, Korean, Polish, British, American, as well as Afghan soldiers in one area both sexes intermixed to some degree. I am here waiting for a flight to get to Qatar, and I will be here for a number of days as the flight schedule around the country can’t be counted upon. I am here so early because it worked like a charm for me, but that is not the normal course of events, and in fact, we stopped in Kandahar in order to get here, and I believe that was an unscheduled event.

Coming from a post of 100% males, and then being if not surrounded at least consistently in the presence of females is quite a change. Language and thought processes are completely affected, for positive and negative both I am sure. We did have a female Chaplain come out to our location for two days to talk with my guys. Chaplains always want to talk with soldiers, and I think that that is a good thing, they are typically trained in some battlefield psychology and they are not part of the chain of command so soldiers tend to tell them things that they may not share with their peers or people in their unit. She did a fantastic job, but again it is humorous, a nice married female chaplain, you should have seen they guys talk with her, myself included, I decided sometimes it is nice just to have someone other than a guy answer you . It was also interesting to note that she is the first Chaplain I have seen in my location, period, male or female whose stated intention was to minister to my guys. I will caveat the above by saying she was charismatic, appropriate and understood grunts, as she is married to one; I met him in Herat just prior to beginning my journey.

I went to the Bazaar today, and picked up a rock for less than 50 dollars, you should be impressed with my bargaining since the seller wanted 80. I picked up a nice relatively clear piece of lapis and have already sent it home, I would expect that I can eventually get it turned into some jewelry, although who knows if the ladies will like it. It is unique to this country so even if I just put it on a bookshelf, I will be able to point to it and grunt, got it in Afghanistan. It is kind of cool to look at.

Met a SFC from Kansas today who works with people that I worked with in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, at the same time have run into several people here from 141, also today I heard from a friend of mine, Michael, who I have known since about 1988 or 1989, all because of the military.

While it isn’t the same for everyone, and I don’t always approve of the way the military is used by the various administrations, the military in general has truly enriched my life, and as I move along I begin to appreciate it more.

Today just before dinner some of my compatriots decided we should go on a walk around the airfield. I thought no big deal, but at 4700 feet above sea level, 8 or 9 miles is a bit of a hike, and we didn’t quite finish before dark, but we did finish, I think today I am good for at least 12 miles for the day, which is 12 miles more than the last couple of weeks at least. I am not sure exactly what I will be able to share about on the trip to Qatar, and I really don’t know how Qatar is going to be as it is still Ramadan, and that apparently will affect what shops are open or not, but anyway you slice it, I am having fun so far.

All my best.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

8 October 2006

Have you ever wondered how long you could carry on a conversation utilizing quotes from movies? No deep thoughts here, just a question. It could almost be a code, might be kind of fun. Anyway, what brought that up was a completely funny book that my folks sent me. “Bloodsucking Fiends… a love story” by Christopher Moore. Damn funny. Who wouldn’t like a red haired green eyed recently vampirized vampire? Anyway if you have time for a little humor, not much of it politically correct, but quite capable of allowing you to finish the book in a day or two, I would recommend it. It definitely left me wanting to read the next book, unfortunately I don’t know if he continues that character set into another book or not.

I get to go on pass!!!!!! I have been here for three months, I have been feeling the need to get back away in order to evaluate things, and lo and behold, I am going on a pass at the end of this week to some other place in the world I have never been before. Too cool. I will almost be a world traveled traveler at this rate, I have been to Japan for 10 days, Korea for a year or less, Turkey, Afghanistan, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Hawaii, Mexico, and now off to some little country in the middle east. Wow. Obviously as an Oregonian, I should have been to Canada by now, that is an oversight, and I will strive to correct it as soon as possible. In a different cardinal direction, I believe I should also enjoy some Australia, both Canada and Australia without uniforms please. The pass is a four day pass but due to the transportation involved, it requires more time than that to take it. I have to say that is a good thing, it would take me two days minimum if everything worked to get from here to Phoenix (Kabul).

Things that happen at home while I am away; Chris may have gotten taller, I am sure he has gained a pound or two, maybe even five, so that would put him at 6’ even I would guess and about 140 on really good day, if he comes in out of the rain and steps right onto the scale. The dogs: Sam is doing her predictable calm stuff, she is getting old, and doesn’t like to be bothered with to much; Abby sounds like she has figured out her job is to keep Sam company; and Chloe has decided to raise as much discontent with our neighbors as possible. This has resulted in remodeled doors, new collars and many discussions, not to mention an anonymous phone call or two. Gotta love that. Steph has moved back into the house in order to attend Portland State University, which is great from all angles I would say; good school, closer to home, better jobs. There might be fewer college parties, however I would guess that since this is the old stomping ground her fun meter is far from zero.

Not all I write in here is going to be what happens here, as I have also realized that what happens here is only part of what happens to me and my family. Things happen because I am gone that wouldn’t. Or they happen differently because I am not there to take part in them. Some of that is good, some is bad, and most of it makes me want to be home to be a part of it. Not to get all homesick on you.

I have also realized that what I might be firmly convinced of this month or last may change 50 or 180 degrees by the time I get to come home for good. The question in my mind is; is one answer more correct than the other? Or are they both correct for different reasons? Much to ponder. Anyway I guess my point here is, I probably don’t have the school book solution to much of anything here, and I question if the school book was written with this in mind as well. So for the next little while we will move through doing the right thing at the time, hoping that it holds up over time.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The rest of the story......

For the past two months I have been down in Shouz with a segment of my company Weapons Company. I have worked with the 2nd Infantry Company in this battalion, and the slice of my own company that handles mortars and scouts as well as a recoilless rifle that is something to see shot.

As an Infantry officer I am perhaps in the most rewarding position I could be in; in a situation that grants me as much autonomy as I can handle, with support available if it should become necessary. There is a reason that this would be called living the dream. Each day our units conduct operations that are designed to add to the stability and confidence of the people in the area. This area has become increasingly stable; you can see it on the reactions of the children who run up to talk as opposed to run away to hide. I have had the opportunity to work with some soldiers who really should make their families and states proud, they are working to do good things for the Afghanistan National Army, and they try and do them as well as circumstances allow. I am very proud to be associated with them. We have a team with people of different skills; I am not the most aggressive person on the team. I don’t have the most combat experience. However it is my job to attempt to present a strong even hand to the people around us. We do that well. On our team we have guys at the physical peak of performance, we have people who can fix anything at all, we have people who provide for our collective security and do an excellent job of it. We have a couple of guys who do what ever needs to be done, when needed. You don’t have to look for them very far; they are where they need to be, doing the right thing. We have two interpreters who understand that they are part of the team, and act with a brain as opposed to just translate the words they interpret the intention, and as a result we have very good relations with the surrounding population.

Immediately following our cache find last week we had mortars lobbed at the position in Shindand, as well as other attempts to cause injury through more mine laying, so one thing is clear, we didn’t get all the mines in the country. That is too bad. The teachers went straight to AK and turned out to not be such great guys, and I learned that aggressive mistakes are better than passive mistakes again. It is very easy for me to see why people who are successful in conducting operations in a war also might have difficulty with the change when conduction civilian or even handed operations in any other situation. Our excitement level here is lower than it is in Kandahar, they may well compress what we have done in two months into 1 month, and as a result learn more rapidly out of necessity. While I thought that I was being reasonable with the teachers, and didn’t run into any opposition as to my handling of them, I have come to realize that I may well have let supporting players slip through our fingers, only to need to be caught again. In the interim, they may cause problems for us. Not a great thought. In some situations being cautious and prudent would dictate that you treat the civilian population with as much respect and courtesy as possible while maintaining your personal safety. In this situation, caution and prudence seem to me to dictate that while you treat people with respect, you detain them perhaps unreasonably until you can make the determination that they are okay. Some people reading this will think I am nuts; who cares what the teachers might think or feel? Some people will put themselves in the teacher’s position in their country, and be irritated at being stopped and searched for merely being within a kilometer of an event. Finally still others will not understand why it was necessary to stop them in the first place. I have taken all of those positions, but the one that I am going to take forward, is that it is easier to keep positive control of people in your custody if you just hang on to them longer, and ensure that they are okay to release beyond a shadow of a doubt. You only have to capture them once, so your risk is minimized, and your ability to potentially act on intelligence gained is increased.

I keep thinking of the song, “No More Mister Nice Guy”, people who have been in Iraq already understand that there is no place for him here on the field of battle. That doesn’t mean you become the opposite, just move the mark a little off center towards the more conservative end of the spectrum.
Okay, that ends today’s thoughts, one day older, hopefully a little wiser.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Living the dream.....

I have spent most of my life from the age of 18 involved in some form of Army Training Sir!!!! It is somewhat gratifying to know that it actually gets used, and for a positive purpose in this case. Many of my peers would be jealous of our latest fun travel and adventure.

We had a very productive day in the not too distant past. We were invited along on a little route recon in to the valley that is home to one of the men who play both sides of the fence in this country. Amnullah Kahn is supposed to be in control of everything that happens in this part of Afghanistan, and that is why he is not in prison. He professes to be pro Karzai and pro government, yet with in one kilometer of his house he watched as 6 of the ANA were killed by a mine blast, along with one man who they had picked up for making bombs, kind of ironic actually. In this country the men who control what happens have money and power, and only their conscience to guide them as to how to use both. AK is like many, very interested in what is good for AK, he has Karzai's ear though and that makes him more powerful. If you accept that nothing happens with out his approval, (the Sub Governor of this area had to be accepted by AK before he would work) then you have to understand that he is also directly or indirectly responsible for what happens in his area. No Afghan willingly wants to cross him in public, as he controls their destiny in large measure.

So when I say that we happened upon a weapons cache with in 1000 meters of his home, you can understand that it is there with his knowledge and more than likely his planning. The mines that we found were like the mines that killed the soldiers in July they easily could have come from this cache. When we arrived we discovered old machine gun belts lying in the dirt. After that, one thing led to another, and pretty quickly it became apparent that we were going to have a dig on our hands. Without going into all the details, we found munitions of every variety here. Mortars, Artillery shells, mines, machine gun ammunition, antiaircraft ammunition, and finally we found an anti aircraft gun, a double barreled 25 MM weapon that would have devastating effect on aircraft or troops. This was dug in with a back hoe, based on the size and depth of the holes, which lends further credence to the idea that AK had to know about it, because it was a major job to get this stuff, and to hide it, and no single farmer does that with out help and guidance. In the final analysis, we at least removed from the bomb maker's hands raw materials capable of creating 30 or so IEDs.
The ordinance here was hastily buried in the not to distant past, and includes anti personnel mines, automatic grenade launcher grenades, rockets, mortars, artillery shells, and various parts of all of the above.

This month is Ramadan, and Muslims are supposed to take nothing into their body from before sunrise, to after sunset, so by the time we got into this search many of our soldiers were already smoked, it is easy to do without food for that period of time, but no water when the sun is beating down on you is a recipe for a heat injury. I am happy to report that we had no heat injuries, or injuries of any kind here. Unless you count the blisters that we developed digging this first hole.

The second hole was just as deep if not deeper than the first and by the time we got done, looked like it was ready for a coffin, 6 ft long, 3 feet wide, and 6 feet deep. Again, The US soldiers took a good amount of time with turns digging here, and frankly we were hoping to find the bottom a lot sooner than we did, as this stretched on for quite a while. I would estimate that we moved about 6 cubic yards of dirt out of the two holes combined by the time we were done.

These three are teachers who are teaching in the $100,000 dollar school house the US put up to encourage education in Zirco Valley. They were driving along towards the compound that was being searched and we stopped and searched them for security reasons. This is one of those awkward parts of dealing with people, and it demonstrates the various complexities at work. I didn't keep them for the 4 hours we were working in the area, but I did take their cell phones so they couldn't call to people who might decide to come and fight or try and mine our way out. Once I released them they went straight to AK's home, where I am sure they gave him a full report, as best they could.

None of the men that lived in the compound were present and the women and children stayed in their homes while the search was conducted. There was one very old woman who was claimed to be blind, and some young children. The fact that there were no men is very strange, unless you realize that any men there would have been taken to jail; so essentially the men left their families to face the ANA while they drank tea somewhere safe. When ever I have gone into a village to visit, there have always been several men there, because it is not safe to leave your homes unguarded here, and because the work that they do is around the house, farming, herding, or working. This compound definitely houses people who are hostile to the government either Taliban or just Anti Government, who have the means and desires to strike out at the ANA or anyone else who is vulnerable to them.

What we did with the mines and unstable ordinance that we found was stack it up, add some explosives of our own and blow it up about 500 meters from our work site. Because of the miraclesles of digital cameras, I was able to get a picture as it went off that wasn't too bad. This is my second camera, the first having to be sent in for repairs.

In the final analysis, I have no idea the tonnage or numbers associated with how much we took out of the various hiding spots and two holes we dug up, however the truck to the left here, holds about 1/2 of everything we found. We ended up loading up the back of three rangers with more boxes of ammunition and of course there was what we blew up in the above picture.

This was a very long, and hot and tiring day, but it was well worth it, and I am sure that we did some good with our efforts. I hope you enjoy this, I am going to put together something on the women in the area, which may be quite the challenge, but we will see.

Take care.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

October 1 2006

Our mission here in Shouz is not a huge secret, we are here to stabilize the region and provide or allow the infrastructure to support the population here. Our role in that endeavor is similar to a knight on a chess board. We hold territory by virtue of our presence here. We are mobile, well armed, well trained, and reasonably informed. Our group affects an area that has 52 miles worth of highway in it. We are able to respond and stabilize about the population in that area. We don’t do that by being Billy Badass, actually I don’t even have a Billy on the team, or a William for that matter. Our function is to train and facilitate the success of the ANA. People in our area should feel good about our collective presence, or be neutral about it, that is my goal. They should also believe that getting of the wrong side of the law, and crossing the ANA in the area will only result in very bad things happening to them.
Really I know it is difficult to believe, but not only no Billy but no Robert as well, In this picture we have Connecticut, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Kabul represented, taken by a guy from Oregon. I really don't know the guys name in the guard tower, but I promise while it could be Fazil, it sure isn't Bobby.

We have ages of 19, 24, 26, 38, 21, and 50 for our US soldiers and 21-24 for our Terps in this Picture.

When we arrived, we found weapons caches in the area that were ideally suited to be turned in to IEDs. We responded to reports of citizens being beaten and or robbed, sometimes by the Afghan National Police. Opium was brought through the area with no real concern that it would be found or taken; families moved at night for fear of the bandits that operated even in the valley.

As of today, we have very little in the way of brazen disregard for the law or for the rights of this country's citizens that comes to our attention. People understand that they can come here to seek redress for things that happen to them. They know they can seek emergency care from either the US or the ANA, and that has happened. We have visited the schools, and had a positive impact, meeting many of the children and elders in the area; I can tell that the children remember us when I run across them later on in our travels. (Everything that we have given to the children of this area came from people who read this, and were able to send school supplies and small toys that the kids would appreciate.)

I typically will not show pictures of the ANA on the net, and I try to keep my Terps similarly off the net, as it is not healthy for them to be associated with our forces. Oddly enough soldiers and Interpreters both have been killed by the Taliban when they are found away from the Army on a bus or in their home village. That is the primary reason I do not show pictures of the people who are central to the missions success, the Afghanistan National Army, and for the same reason I do not list them by name in here.

I was told I don't show many photos of me in this, which mostly is done because I take most of the pictures you see. However if I was looking out for your welfare, I would limit your exposure to that as well, cause really, who wants to see me over and over.... This is taken up in a saddle on a ridgeline where we had to decide to turn around rather than take our group down the mountain. My NCO swears we could have made it, but he couldn't guarantee that all vehicles would have been in their original condition at the bottom. This gives you a good idea of what the terrain is to our west. While it looks like nothing grows here, a herd of goats grazes this area relatively often.

I lead in with all of the above, because our missions here are designed to see what we can see, and be seen by those who need to see us. The pictures that are in this entry were taken a couple of days ago, and help to tell the story here. I hope you enjoy it.
We tracked these guys back into the mountains following their vehicles tracks for a couple of miles, mostly because we didn't think that there was much legitimate reason to be so far off the beaten path with a truck. They are from the local town, and they had been gathering wood. This area used to have a good amount of vegetation, but the 10 years of drought has all but eliminated the trees in the area. They sell the wood for 15 Afghani per Kilogram. That is about 3 cents a pound in US dollars. The tripod that is in the right side of the picture is what they use to hold their scales. The reason that they camp here is that there is a spring that still has water and allows them to stay and work for a couple of weeks.

While we were talking with the group in the picture above, a herd of goats and a Shepardard came down off the mountain. Between the lack of water and the goats and sheep, it is amazing that anything survives to grow at all. There must have been 100 goats in this herd. Each one of them is worth approximately 100 dollars, if sold for meat. It was impressive to see that many move off the side of the mountain because it looked like they appeared out of no where.

This green bush also has some yellow leaves on it; we took the picture because it is the first wild growing bush we have seen that is green and the yellow leaves seem in line with the idea that fall is coming. In front of and beyond this bush is what we typically see in the rest of the desert. In order for the goats and sheep to survive around here, the winter must be the primary growing season. In fact while there has not been a drop of rain in this area in the time that I have been here, things have begun to green up, with the falling temperatures. That is a welcome sight for a guy from the Willamette valley. I guess come to think of it, this bush must also not taste very good, or be somewhat poisonous, as it hasn't been munched down to root stock by the animals in the area. I am sparing you the pictures I got of the lizard that came to visit, mostly because he is hard to see in the crack he hid in. He must have been about a foot long though, and moved over the rocks almost quicker than the eye could follow.

All my best to you all