Saturday, December 29, 2007

Feeling Like Scrouge

Been an interesting week at work. A week filled with chaos and angst and frustration and sadness. Chaos because even in the midst of the Christmas holidays the wounded arrive, 3 times a week. Angst and frustration at some of my coworker and their lackadaisical attitudes. Sadness because the holidays are a time to be with family and many of us do not have that option.

Most years I LOVE Christmas. I love driving around neighborhoods to see which neighbors outdid each other with decorating. I love looking at the seasonal displays and singing carols at church. Going to see a performance of Handel's Messiah is my all time favorite Christmas event. This year though, I didn't even do that. I didn't really feel the connection to Christmas this year. It wasn't as if I was horribly depressed by it, I simply didn't feel the joy and happiness I usually do this time of year. People say Christmas has become too commercialized. They say it's more about the "true reason" for the season and what's in your heart. I'll agree with the first part being a believer but the second. . . . .well. . . .what if your heart's just empty?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Visit

Over the past couple of days the Commander in Chief has paid us a visit. Life gets very interesting when this happens. A hospital's daily routine is quickly interrupted and schedules are thrown into chaos. I think the one thing that disturbed me the most about this visit was the circulating rumor allegedly coming from a high placed hospital official. Supposedly while visiting the traumatic brain injured (TBI) patients, a couple of these guys did not recognize our CIC. So just to make sure this did not repeat itself hospital personnel were told to "make sure every patient knows who HE is".

Again I want to state this is all alleged but I think it's kind of ridiculous to to expect these TBI patients, many of whom don't even recognize their family members or know what day it is to remember who he is. Some of these folks are barely aware of their surroundings and probably would never expect this particular someone to show up in their hospital rooms. Someone clearly did not do a very good job at briefing someone else on traumatic brain injury patients!

I know this isn't the usual Clara story but I needed to vent! Please forgive me as I don't mean to offend.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Holiday Story

Thanks again to Keith for bailing me out. I had somehow locked myself out of this blog, I am sooo technologically challenged, I willingly admit that being the main reason I can never have a blog of my own! ;-) On another note I had quite the experience at work this past week and since I tend to write about things to help me process them here's the story:

Titled "Finding Santa" I hope you enjoy it!

“Ms Clara?” came from the tiny voice at my side.
“Yes, Jonathan Matthew?” I responded.
“Do you think Santa will find me and Thomas here?” was the earnest question.
“Most definitely Santa will find you!” I assured my small friend. That particular comment was met with silence as the 5-year-old boy at my side contemplated the answer. The son of one of my wounded patients he had climbed up to sit beside me as I sat in an alcove completing a chart

“Are you sure Ms Clara?” pled Jonathan Matthew. “I mean, I’m not asking for me, you know? I’m asking for Thomas because he’d be really upset if Santa didn’t find him. He’s littler than me and this is his first Christmas”. Thomas was Jonathan Matthew’s 2-month-old brother. “Do you suppose you could talk to him for me?” he asked. “Talk to who?” was my perplexed response. “Santa, Clara! Santa!!” Jonathan Matthew disgustedly exclaimed. I felt a lump start to form in my throat as I looked down into the earnest face of a small boy. Unsure of how to respond I was momentarily lost for words. Not getting an immediate response caused Jonathan Matthew to tell me “My mom says you’re an angel on earth so I figured since I know angels talk to God you’d be talking to God too. And if you’re talking to God you gotta be able to talk to Santa”.

Oh Wow! Holy Hooeee. What do you say??? Now I was truly at a complete and total loss for words and the lump in my throat had just grown to boulder size. Eyes burning with tears, I cleared my throat and as I was ready to speak I saw Jonathan Matthew’s grandmother turn the corner. The expression on her face told me she had heard the conversation we were having. “Hi, Grammie!” said this small boy “Clara and me were talking about Santa and I was asking her to talk with him about making sure he found Thomas on Christmas”, all his words ran together. “Cuz mom says she’s an angel here on earth so if there’s anyone who can talk to Santa I know it’s her. And since I know she already talks to God to help Daddy get better it should be easy for her to talk to Santa” he continued.

“Jonathan Matthew” Grammie started to say. I quickly held up my hand to stop her flow of words and said, “I’ll tell you what Jonathan Matthew”. My voice broke and I had to clear my throat before continuing, “I’ll make absolutely sure Santa finds you and Thomas”. “Cuz you’re an angel here on earth and you can do things like that, right?” was his question. “Well, I’m not too sure about the angel here on earth, Jonathan Matthew, but let’s just say I know the right people” was my assurance.

“Ok, Ms Clara, if you say so I know it will happen”. He leaned over, wrapped his small arms around my neck and squeezing said, “I don’t care what you say, you’re my daddy’s angel and I love you”. With that proclamation he abandoned his seat next to mine, grabbed his Grammie’s hand saying “Let’s go tell Thomas Ms Clara is gonna make sure Santa finds him”. Tears in her eyes she gazed at me, a silent “thank you” formed on her lips as she turned and followed Jonathan Matthew down the hall. Trust me when I say I will do everything in my power to make sure two little boys receive a visit from Santa even if I have to go rent the red suit and beard myself!

On that note, I wish you all a wonderful holiday season filled with many blessings! Best wishes for a healthy, happy new year!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Pearl Harbor Day Thoughts and Thanks

Here are a quick couple of thoughts, not particularly well connected, but they are timely....

This morning the flags were at half staff because today is Pearl Harbor Day, the day the America of the 1940's was called to defend itself and ended up defending most of Europe as well. Possibly the last popular war we have had. Thank you to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and those that served even when not in uniform.

I was up in Vernonia the other day checking on some soldiers who are helping out in that flood devastated community, and I am happy to say that the Oregon Guard still helps out in floods, fires, and hurricanes. The civil authorities seem to have things well in hand, and our help, while needed was not the main effort. Which is the way things ought to be anyway.

I stopped in at a local restaurant today and had a salad and ice tea, and before I could pay someone, I don't know who, paid my tab for me and told the waitress to say thank you for my service. I want to say on behalf of the soldiers that I serve with, Thank you for being aware of what is going on, and thank you for the good will.

Many of the people I served with in Shindand will be coming home for good (we hope) this next couple of months, and I am sure happy that they have been safe as well.

I hope you all have a great Christmas and a happy New Year.....

"Thank you FDNY" Written by Clara Hart

On a day darkened by issues, on going problems and irresponsible behaviors there was one tiny light in my pitch-black tunnel. Friday was, without a doubt, one of the worst days I have had in a very long time. Running around like a crazed person I barely had enough time to hit the bathroom and grab a quick on the run meal; a coke and a snickers bar.

Troubleshooting the needs of my patients, attend the committee meetings I had been sucked into, and helping a mother run the emotional gamut with her wounded son, I was quickly becoming depleted myself. As I hurried down the hall into one of the patient wings I came across one of the chaplains. He was surrounded by tall, fit men in navy blue shirts proclaiming “FDNY supports our wounded warriors” and a cart filled with t-shirts, hats and other mementos to hand out to the wounded. I must have had an “I’m having a really BAD day” look on my face because he stopped me and asked if I was ok.

“It’s been an awful day! My issues have issues and today it just goes on and on.” I wearily proclaimed to him. He hugged me and then with his arm around my shoulder turned to the men and said “You will never meet a harder working nurse in all your life. She helps me keep track of these patients and gives me a heads up when they need something.” Shocked I stood there, too tired to even say thank you.

One of the firefighters approached and without hesitation pulled me into his arms for a brief hug saying “thank you for what you do”. A wizened gentleman, his face lined with experience, he appeared as someone who had spent his life moving through the ranks of the fire department. Stepping back I looked at him and said “I lost friends on Sept 11th, I responded to the scene and I can honestly say I feel your pain and your loss and I am truly sorry”. His expression changed fleetingly from surprise to sorrow and then to understanding and he embraced me again gruffly saying “Thanks”.

As I readied to head off to next problem the chaplain attempted to round up the men. They would have nothing of him herding them down the hall and instead stepped in front of me and one by one solemnly passed by, offering their hands to shake mine and say “thank you for what you do”, “keep up the good work” “thanks”, “thank YOU”. Stock still I stood as 10 or more men filed past me and shook my hand. My eyes began to sting with dreaded tears and I choked out “you guys are gonna make me cry”. “Fine” one of them responded, “nothing wrong with that”.

As the last one slid past I hurried down the hall to address another issue. Many minutes later, on my way to help another nurse, I ran back into the firefighters. One of them had seen my approach and, breaking off from the others, came over to meet me as I drew even with him. As he held out a t-shirt he said, “If there’s anyone who deserves this it’s you”. Accepting the shirt from him, trying to mumble out “thanks” in my tear-laden voice I felt a hat being placed on my head, “here, you need one of these too” I heard from a second firefighter. While I was removing the cap to get a closer look at it a third man silently walked toward me. The same wizened firefighter who had earlier hugged me handed me a FDNY lapel pin saying, “Take this too, what you do means a lot to us”. Cradling my treasured gifts I could only nod and wish them a safe journey home as I retreated down the corridor.

Later that evening as I vented to a friend I told him the story of the firefighters. As my voice trailed off I asked him “Does anyone care that our work day gets longer as we try to help everyone who needs us? Do you know how many people actually say thank you to us? The caregivers? Us? The nurses, the chaplains, the physical and occupational therapists, the clerical staff, the dietitians, the physicians, and all the rest who look after these injured warriors day in and day out??”

“Almost no one” was my response to my own question. My friend was silent for several minutes before he said, “Clara, I’m ashamed to say, but you’re right. I never even thought about all the people who care for these wounded folks.” “Yeah” he continued, “I’m always asking what the soldiers and sailors need or what I can do for the marines and the airmen but not you or your colleagues.”

Gazing at him silently I replied, “Not many do”.

Thank you FDNY for remembering, you helped brighten my day.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I have seen many things occur at work but none so completely sending me into such a total outrage as the ones I have witnessed in the past few months. People are stealing from our wounded troops! Yesterday it was a laptop taken while a soldier was in the bathroom, this particular soldier had lost a leg while serving his country in Iraq. Someone knocked on his door then brazenly walked in and walked out, computer in tow. This soldier, although unable, wanted immediate discharge from the hospital and I can not say I blame him one bit.

Most people do not realize it but laptop computers and internet access are vital to our wounded troops. The world wide web is a means for these wounded warriors to keep in contact with their fellow brothers in arms still in the battle. It is a way for them to communicate with the outside world while trapped in the hospital bed.

I have heard of food, coins, DVD players, radios, and even Purple Hearts being stolen. Someone swiped a portable DVD player being used as a temporary means of escape by 2 young children. Two children who sat with their mother at their gravely injured father's bedside.

I simply CAN NOT believe the audacity of our citizens. To steal from those who have given and lost so much! What is wrong with people? Someone please explain to me the mindset of those who would do such things because I surely do not understand! It makes me sick!!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Clara's Corner

Many of you know me, many of you don't. My story is easy, I'm a civilian nurse working at a military hospital. Many of the things I write about are related to my job and the patients I care for. Almost all of them reflect my interactions with war wounded troops and their families.

I have posted some of my experiences on Doonesbury's milblog called The Sandbox. Through them, much to my shock, even had a couple of my stories published in a book titled "The Sandbox; Dispatches From Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan". Course I've not been to either place but I take care of those who have so that seemed to qualify me! ;-)

I thought I would "re introduce" myself to those of you. Below is my first post to The Sandbox and it explains a little bit about what I do and why I do it. I hope you enjoy!

I thought of my own experiences as a civilian nurse caring for the war wounded. Idealistic as it may sound, I somehow wanted to help, to do my own "duty" for this country. To me, helping was not only caring for the wounded's physical injuries, it was caring for the emotional ones too.

I will always remember the evening I held a 19-year-old man in my arms while he cried because he had lost both of his legs. I will not forget the twenty-something man who rolled out of surgery so badly injured I was amazed he was still alive, and yet this man still cracked smiles at my off-beat sense of humor and my attempts to take his mind off his pain. I'll remember the woman who I helped calm after a book fell off a counter and the loud bang instantly transported her back to the day of her injury and who, from then on, always looked for me when she came out of the OR because she said she felt safe when I was around. I'll never forget my soldier who lost both legs and an arm, who I later watched get married, downhill ski, and, driving his big truck, head off to college. I'll remember the night I chuckled after one soldier, under the influence of pain medication, asked me to marry him and have his children, and the following day, when he was so worried and apologetic for "being out of line". For as long as I live I will remember the day I ran the Army 10-miler with nine amputees, five of whom I had taken care of.

There were so many times I held their hands, wiped their brows, their tears, and reached down into beds and stretchers to give them the hugs they so badly needed. I sat and listened to their stories of fear and horror because they needed to talk. And because I could do nothing more than listen, I would go home and cry for the ones who could not cry for themselves.

Mixed with the physical and emotional pain I have seen tremendous perseverance, courage, and determination. You have amazed me, you have made me smile, you have made me laugh and you have made me cry. I will always remember my time spent with you. To the many wounded I have cared for, I wish I knew where you ended up, how you are and how life is treating you. I hope and pray all the best for you!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Thanks to Keith

Many people have written and asked if I had a blog, they all mention they are eager to read more of my stories. Being as technologically challenged as I am and unable to comprehend why folks even wanted to read more of my writings I said no. More and more often, in these past few months I've found myself using my prose as self therapy and a way to vent. Still being IT illiterate I asked my friend Keith if I could perhaps have a corner of his blog. Thankfully he agreed and here I am, I hope you not only enjoy reading my posts but also learn a little about the world I live and work in.

Welcome to "Clara's Corner".

It has been a long time since I wrote....

A brief update on my stuff, I have started a business doing Loss Control and Risk Management for various clients, an insurance company, a broker, and some independent business owners. That seems to be going well, we will see as time goes by, it certainly comes with stresses of its own.

I am adding a person who will write on the blog here, her name is Clara, she is a nurse who writes for the Sandbox occasionally as well. Her opinions are hers, I possibly share them, but I will not edit them.

I will produce more on this blog when I figure out what I want to talk about, which may take some time.

I hope this finds you well.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Update from Portland 24 July 2007

I arrived home at about 2345 (That is 11:45 PM) on 17 June, Fathers Day. I was greeted by most of my family in the state, and Mike Francis of the Oregonian was there to greet me as well. We all were tired from being keyed up and not having a place to relax all day, so the day is somewhat of a blur, but I do remember my wife coming out to greet me, still in here warm up suit as that did not cause her discomfort from her operation. I got home with most of the people at the armory, and had the Full Sail Ale that Mike provided to me when I stepped off the bus (Thanks Mike…).

There was a group that lined the road, all off their Harleys with American Flags standing at attention as we drove by, there must have been at least one hundred of them if not more. I was touched by their patriotism.

For the first couple of weeks I reconnected with some people I had not seen, family and neighbors and friends. That was a slow process, people want to give you your space, and they want to see you as well. Let me just say, I have the best neighbors I have ever had, and I cannot really imagine my neighborhood with nicer people. I could wax on about this, but it sounds a little too good when you write it down. One of our neighbors put it this way to me, I get six months credit for being gone, but after that no excuses, this of course is the same lady who told me that “Yeah you went to Afghanistan for a year and risked your life, but your wife gave her kidney up, and she is the real hero”. I have to say that Michele (ONE L) is right; my wife is some kind of wonderful. My wife and I enjoyed time off together, she was recovering from her donation, and I was spending time with her. That really is all that was important those first weeks.

I thought initially that I would end up working with the Oregon National Guard in a full time basis, but that did not work out, and I have been exploring various opportunities for about 3 weeks now. Change in life is good, and I believe that good things will come out of my new focus and direction. For those that do not know; I have about 10 years now active time in the Military and another 12 years as a Guardsman or Reservist. I don’t believe that I will be making the Military a larger part of my life again, and in fact I hope to reduce its impact upon my family to negligible in the next couple of years. That said some of the most rewarding moments in my life have been as a member of our Military.

Of interesting note is that many American born citizens I have talked with still do not differentiate between Afghanistan and Iraq. My short answer about Afghanistan is that we need to station an army division there, and plan to stabilize the region for the next 60 years. Look at Korea as a template for that. The Afghan people that I have met have been very hospitable, and very Muslim. I would never say that Muslims mean harm to Americans or any other population. I would say that they have a radical, criminal element in the area that practices a fanatical type of the Muslim religion; they have guns and are not afraid to use them. American citizens who are from the Middle East are of varying positions on the conflicts, but remember that they have families there, and they are here in the United States, so they value freedom, and they value their families safety as well. Some of the most emotional and grateful people I have met for service are people who originate from the Persian area.

A short list of events that have transpired since my return:

  • My wife has returned to work, she is very well and her recipient is doing very well.
  • One of my fellow soldiers from Shindand was killed in action, a very sad event, he will always be remembered.
  • A friend of mine that I have had forever has essentially chosen to terminate our friendship.
  • I met Mike Francis, who treated me to a dinner and beer, and listened to me ramble for a couple of hours. That was a pleasure.
  • I have gotten a couple hours in fishing with my Dad and Father in Law, always a good way to spend time.
  • My son talked me into helping him finance a new (Used) Car; I am keeping his old one, as it was in great condition to begin with.
  • I am about 2/3rds of the way towards starting my own business or getting a good job in my industry, which makes me happy.

In short, overall, life is great, I am home, my family is safe, and the future looks bright.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Not Quite a month home updates

Well it has been a month almost since I stepped off the plane.
I was met by my family, most of them anyway, and I met Mike from the paper briefly.
My wife was in the process of recovering from donating a Kidney, and in my book that trumps being gone for a year. She is doing well, and things are going great for the recipient as well.
I spent about a week just spending time with my wife, and then got some bad news.

One of my teammates from Shindand had been KIA. He was a great guy, and it is truly a sad thing for all that knew him especially his family.

There are a list of honey do's that need to be taken care of here, but I am working on them. My daughter moved out into an apartment, even though I assured her I do conduct personal hygiene on a regular basis.

Today it is supposed to hit 100 or so degree's and my plans are to subdue the wild bass, then off to other things.

As of today, I don't know what unit I will be working with for the next while, there is a list of things that I don't know really, which I guess if not par for the course is what reality brings.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ft Carson Colorado Overall very good clearing experience

There has been lots of negative press about clearing at Fort Carson. We had a soldier earlier in the clearing process drink too much alcohol, and he assaulted a police officer in Colorado Springs. As a result, the powers that be decided no soldiers could drink. A little overkill, our chain of command addressed that issue and we were able to enjoy our two beers without fear of legal reprisal, Thank you.

Just a note on that; The guy who assaulted the police officer, should be charged with the appropriate crime, do the time, get out, be charged with the appropriate UCMJ charge, and be dealt with according to the rule of law.

We arrived at Fort Carson and turned in our sensitive items. Guns, Night Vision, those things that let us do our job in the combat zone. Then we were off to barracks. Yes the barracks are 6 miles away from main post. But there is a shuttle bus that runs every 30 minutes back to post, so it isn't a hardship. Colorado Springs is beautiful this time of year. I have lived here in the past, and if I were not going to live in Oregon, it would be one of my first choices. We had 2 very very full days of out processing. The hardest part was the lines that we sat in to wait. It just takes time to process a couple hundred soldiers each day. The staff in charge of getting us through did what I think was a pretty damn good job. They have been going daily for 3 weeks, and they managed to be pleasant and professional, quite the good combination.

Sleeping in barracks with 40 guys is quite an experience although not a quiet experience. It is a veritable symphony of rumblings, gurglings and sudden explosions in the night. Some of those guys need showers on an hourly basis. However..... The Barracks are brand new. The beds are brand new; the lockers are in great condition. The showers and American style toilets are also brand new. All of that is fantastic.

I had the opportunity to be taken to dinner by my cousin Heather and her husband Pat. We went down town to find a little spring’s festival going on, it was warm, the ladies were tan, and I kept thinking that it is truly good to be an American in America, over and over.... Flank Steak, Blue cheese and a little calamari... Thanks Pat and Heather wow.

Today, fully packed, ready for home, waiting, again with the patience.

A quick note though, I really appreciate the folks who have supported me through out this, I think a lot of the time it is harder to be concerned about a soldier who you worry might be in harms way, than it is to be the soldier. Thank you for keeping me and my fellow soldiers in your thoughts and prayers, I know it made a difference to me.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Kabul, Afghanistan, June 2007

I hadn't started to write about this adventure yet when I arrived at Kabul last year. So I will do a little description.

Kabul is one step closer to home for me and a number of my fellow soldiers.
Kabul is dirty. The air is foul with burning trash, burning fuel, and whatever else might be tossed into the fire. I recently saw a picture that was painted about one hundred years ago (I saw a print) and it was of the Kabul bazaar. It doesn't look that different now, although there were no hubcaps on walls in the picture I saw.
Kabul smells; In order for that to register, let me tell you I can not smell much of anything good or bad. A lady with perfume or a truck with garbage gets equally ignored by me if I can't see them.... So when I say Kabul smells, it must really be getting with it.

Camp Phoenix is a mostly concrete paved compound that is leased by the Government. Because it is leased, the improvements are sparse. So the buildings are all temporary housing, most made of plywood. Plywood is hard to clean, creates its own dirt, and is a fire hazard. The two other alternatives are Connex housing; Think about the boxes on the back of 18 wheelers; or group tents, where I am currently residing with about 80 or 100 other fine soldiers. Based on the way people overlap in country, we are living about as well as can be expected, unless of course you are in the Air Force or Navy, in which case we are truly suffering. I don't know why, but the Air Force has figured out how to take care of airmen far better then the Army ever will, it is almost a reverse snobbish attitude on the Army's part. I wish it would suck some more....

Anyway. Weather is 75-100, not bad. Rained the other day, that was nice.

The South Carolina Guard is here, they seem like good folks, of course, I / We stay mostly out of there way.

When I got here I had my Cholesterol checked, it was 162, one year later it is 188. That is still doing okay, but not as okay as before I arrived. Based upon plane availability and other logistic considerations we will be here around 4 days by the time we leave. Apparently those same logistic considerations will negatively impact our arrival date in the states as well, which is to be expected.

The hardest part of this again is the infiltration, and the exfiltration, or the coming and going. The doing is the relatively easy part.

Hmmm Okay, I think that is the extent of my information for the day.

Take care


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Herat Thoughts May 31 07

Transition into and out of the theater of operations is probably the most stressful for a me, and for many of the soldiers that I have talked with. While you are transferring in and out you are cargo, personnel who require actions, problems for other people who really are looking forward to your departure. Patience is the operative word of the day. Of course, I sometimes have that, and sometimes I don't.

Our Naval Lieutenant Commander (O4) / equivalent to a Major in Army life decided based on no good thought process that I can yet determine that my little group of 4 guys should live in a tent that was available. Never mind there were many many hardstand buildings with space for people, she had made up her mind and couldn't be bothered to care. One of her best statements was that we are army people and we can deal with it. Let me just say that the S1 is supposed to handle administrative details for the command, and her function is to support the command, service the soldiers and generally provide customer service. She of course being a female Naval officer will never see downrange, never wonder if there is an IED up on the road ahead, and really will never care that she won't have that experience. Patience...... must have Patience.

If you want another good laugh you should read this article here. I was in Shindand during this little exercise, and while I can understand that by Air Force standards it might be lacking, I can assure you we put these guys in a building, fed them hot meals, and provided as many beds as we had for them. No there wasn't cable TV in the room, no there was no room service and no the pool was not filled or heated. (By Air Force standards it did indeed suck!!!!) I won't bore you with the details as to why the plane was there in the first place, but Joseph Heller might have been writing about our experiences; Or not.

While I sit and prepare to return home, with luck in the same shape I am in now, a soldier waits to have his foot amputated in a hospital in the states. So, I will stop my whining, think good thoughts for him and say a prayer, and practice using my patience.

My best to all


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What to say from Shindand, last post from here.

Okay, I have been the 3rd oldest on this deployment in my area for quite a while, like all deployment, so it amazes me when I realize that Doonesbury has been doing his thing for 35 years, weird weird weird. But he does it well, it only took me a year to actually check out the Sandbox so I thought I would point it out to you all. Read the message from the nurse in the states, that ought to put things in perspective, it did for me.
This is the day that I am packing all my stuff. So the final picture of this place. I have worked with people from almost all over the United States during my time here. Vermont, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, and of course a little place we like to call Oregon.

Both the flags in this picture arrived at my location because Charlie and Joyce sent them, or had them sent. I am bringing the Oregon Flag back, as I am the last Oregonian here. The US Flag stays, because it looks great where it is. (How is that for flag waving???)

While it has been trying being separated from home for so long, I am reminded from time to time, that this is not the worst tour that happened this year. Some of they soldiers I deployed with a year ago have had significantly more hardship and danger. Some are not returning home with us. In Iraq US casualties are far more common than they are here. It always hits us when someone who we know is wounded or killed in action here. Fortunately that is not the norm in my area. In Iraq, we have men and women who face a certainty that someone they know will be injured, or killed, and they also know that the next day, they will have a mission that takes them into the same environment.

The people who have it the hardest however, from a daily stress perspective, are our families back home, who wonder if we are safe, when ever they think about us. I am really happy that that stress level will be able to drop soon.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Catching up on May, Big doings this month

To begin with, I believe every male relative I have from marrying my wife has a birthday this month. One could possibly draw from that point that relations in the August / September time frame result in boy children. Or you could decide that was hogwash, so many options are available.... In any case:

Happy Birthdays to Charlie, Bill, Steven, and Troy. Steven gets in because while he is technically a June birthday, it is so close you just have to include him, they range in ages from 13 to 71, and I will let them own up to that one.

I haven't written anything for a couple of days as we have had a VIP in our area scheduled, and I didn't want to give anything away. President Karzai came to town to talk with the elders of the area about the recent fight in Zirco Valley. I was not present for the discussion, but he addressed well over a thousand people, and he asked them if they wanted the US / ISAF forces to be withdrawn from the area. They as a group said that they did not want that. They do want schools and hospitals, which we were in the process of building prior to the fight in April. Ironically, one of the buildings that were used as a firing point was the school that we built last August to the tune of 100k. It has some cosmetic damage, but is still serviceable.

About the fight, a couple of points: Mud Hut, as I have stated earlier in the year is a misnomer. These are Adobe construction, with 18" to 2 feet thick walls, with 12 inches of mud brick domed over head. Dogs, Men and donkeys have all been personally observed standing on the roofs of these buildings; I point this out because a rifleman in a building like that is impervious to most weapons carried by any infantry type force on the battlefield. Mortars are not effective against buildings like these. Well placed grenade rounds are effective, but that is about it. Conversely an uparmored HMMWV is not all the protection you might like when RPG's are being used, particularly if you are the gunner.

Regardless of the justification or right or wrong of the April fight, one by product is that the fight out here has taken on a hugely political facet. That means right now that military actions are approved by civilians in Kabul. That eliminates rapid response to threats. In essence it cedes the battlefield to the antigovernment forces for the time being, when this changes, and it will, it will be necessary to regain influence in the area.

Today two of my good friends and brothers in arms have departed for the first step in their journey home. It marks the beginning of the end here really, and I will begin packing my bags in earnest here shortly.

I received a copy of an article by retired Admiral James Lyons, and I have to say I think it is worth reading, so here it is.

I hope you enjoy it; I have a complete article in my head about the role of the military, but so do a hundred other folks.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Looking out I see.....

You know, with the events of Zirco Valley in the recent past, things have slowed way down around here. That is okay, Afghanistan isn't going anywhere, and I didn't figure America would be done here by the end of my deployment. It does make for a lot of time to think, read and consider of course.

Chris competed in his first District track meet yesterday, and took fifth in the Long Jump, with a 19' 10.5" jump. Wow, Congratulations Chris!!!

Mothers Day is right around the corner. Happy Mothers Day to my Mom, Barbara, Joyce, Joanne, and of course my wife. This is the second Mothers Day of this deployment. Fortunately a third is not scheduled at this time.

I read other bloggers out there. Badgers Forward is great, it lead me on to a couple of Military Wives Blogs which I hope that you take the time to check out, as they are funny, well written and tell a side of the story that I never could. I know my wife would understand these very well as she has sure lived through some stuff this year. So please check out these, I think you will like them. An Army Wife's Life, and Trying to Grok. In the course of reading that I was reintroduced to George Sinclair's 1973 broadcast to his listeners in Canada. So I read the transcript, then I found the link, and here it is. I know some may find it a tad jingoistic, some unpalatable. It wasn't written for our political times, but it sure does have some valid points.

Okay, I am off, kilter, base, and off the computer now.

Take care


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wednesday Morning

Today I got to hear a Colonel expunge whatever was offending his pallet this morning, it was his third visit to the porcelain god, and he was obviously in pain. Montezuma's revenge in Afghanistan might be called Akmeds Answer. I felt sorry for him, then I felt my stomach seize up, and began my own day less then secure in my faith in my digestive system. This led me to consider our food products that we ingest with frequency around here. Because I am considerate, I am not going to list them all, and after considering what we have I will not complain too long. However I will say this, after a year of mostly the same 5 or 6 meals for lunch or dinner, all meat products, except for bonafide steak like products cause my stomach to flip over prior to putting them on a plate. We have at least two mystery meat products, that remind me of the thoughts about hot dogs, eat and enjoy them, but don't watch them get made. For what ever reason, more than one person has had issues with intestines here lately, but that can well be a bug going around and not the food we are eating.

We have had quite a bit of excitement mostly stressful over the recent events in Zercho Valley. After much thought and fact gathering I have come to the conclusion that there are so many complications in this area that I will never really understand what goes on. Politics creates strange bedfellows is the appropriate cliche for this series of events. It really isn't even possible to intelligently discuss the events in the valley as it gives too much information away. Suffice it to say, read what is printed, take it with a grain of salt, and try not to come to to extreme of a conclusion, because from my perspective it looks as clear as mud. Enough on that...

Good News, Kathy Hilton is sticking up for her daughter Paris who is going to spend 45 days in Jail for violating the courts two year suspension of her drivers license for driving under the influence. Now if Paris has stock in anything, she will probably benefit from the event. Plus she might get some time for yoga. To put it in perspective, Camp Shelby Mississippi it ain't, and 45 days is not the worst that could happen. I am sure that Kathy Hilton is fuming that only in America do royalty get no respect, but it probably sounds like "If she weren't so famous this wouldn't have happened." She drives a Bentley for crying out loud, get a driver.

Okay, now I feel better, having gotten the drivel out of my system. I am not sure what I am going to do with this once I get back, as really I won't have much to add. We will see I guess. Thoughts?

Take care


Thursday, May 03, 2007

News from the home front

You know, I write a lot about what is going on here, and what I think about it. I typically do not write about my family directly or with names involved, for the simple reason that it isn't a good idea to put out information about my family to the mass public. So I don't use names, or locations.

My daughter pointed out that I never give her a shout out, so here is a shout out to Steph, who is doing very well in her studies, and has turned in to quite the young lady.

Also a shout out to my son Chris who recently had two personal bests in track. Apparently he is now ranked at the state level. Wow. Good job.

My wife has supported me mentally and emotionally through this entire fun filled coming up on 15 and a half months of time away from home.

Many of the readers of this blog have either sent me emails, made comments, or sent packages for the Afghans or myself or a combination of all of the above. I sure do appreciate your time and concern. It keeps me balanced.

Okay, that is what I had to say, take care, enjoy the spring, be informed and vote early and vote often. LOL


To Blog or Not To Blog... That isn't the question.

In April 2007 the Army republished its regulations on Operational Security, OPSEC, it is 530-1. There has been a lot of writing generated by it, much of it saying that the Army's intent is to squash Blogging by soldiers. I can not vouch for the intent of the powers that be. I have received a couple of communications in the last couple of days which point to the validity of concern on everyones part, and thought I would share. I received an email from an editor of a publication in Italy, reference my remarks about the Spanish Medevac. He has followed my blog for a while as a way to find out what is going on in an area where his country men are deployed. He is gathering intelligence. Harmless intelligence, but never the less intel.

This morning I received an email from a Stars and Stripes reporter reference my thoughts on the new regulation, so I red the pertinent parts and here is what I think basically.

Subject: blog regulations

Date: Wed, 2 May 2007 16:58:54 -0400

I’m a reporter following the story of the Army’s new regulations on blogs and emails -- I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to follow the issue, but it has created quite a storm today:

We’re trying to get some reaction from guys blogging downrange, so I was hoping you’d take a minute and send me some of your thoughts. I don’t know if this will have or as had any effect on your blog – I’m also interested if you feel the Army is sending the wrong message to guys who are trying to write about what they’re seeing and doing overseas. Many of the bloggers back stateside are petrified that the on-the-ground perspective is going to get lost.

Let me know if you’re comfortable being quoted (and your full name), and thanks for the help.

XXX XXXXXX xXx, Washington Bureau Reporter

Stars and Stripes

My response to him follows:

I guess I will keep my answer relatively short, and caveat it by saying I could be wrong.

The new regulations as I read Army Reg 530-1 updated April 2007, do not significantly change the rules of operation that I was under previously. Especially if you read the explanation here :

CFC A Policy Memo #030 Blog Policy was published on 18 September 2005, and signed by LTG Eikenberry. It required that blogs be registered, and monitored by the OPSEC Officer, IAO, and or PAO of the lowest organizational unit.

This is the question asked of MAJ Ceralde and his response:
Q: If a soldier has to consult his supervisor or an OPSEC officer every time he wants e-mail home or put up a blog posting, doesn't that effectively kill the practice? What supervisor is going to have the time to check all of that material?
The regulation says that a Soldier or other U.S. Army personnel must consult with their immediate supervisor and OPSEC officer prior to posting information in a public forum. However, this is where unit commander or organization leadership specifies in orders, policies, or directives how this will be done. Some units may require that Soldiers register their blog with the unit for identification purposes with occasional spot checks after an initial review. Other units may require a review before every posting. A private e-mail message to Family Members is not considered posting information in a public forum, but U.S. Army personnel are informed that unclassified e-mails can be intercepted and that they shouldn’t write anything that they wouldn’t say on an unsecure phone. While it is not practical to check all communication, especially private communication, the U.S. Army trusts that Soldiers and U.S. Army personnel will do the right things to maintain proper security when they understand their role in it.

It appears that MAJ Ceralde has updated 530-1 to incorporate various policies that were put into effect to secure information anyway. I believe that the existing updated regulations as I read them right now, are no more restrictive than the set I was operating under. I am pretty sure that someone in the Dept Of Justice reads what I write on a fairly regular basis, as I keep seeing their IP address.

I believe that Military Blogging done by soldiers, done correctly is a huge asset to the military. That does not mean that I have drank the kool aide and am regurgitating army thought. What it means is that the American Public and our Executive and Legislative branches deserve as much information about what actually happens here as they can get. It is a form of check and balance, there are rabid fanatics on both sides of the spectrum.

This may affect me in a negative way. Time will tell. Right now, I am registered appropriately, my organizational unit has a method to monitor my blog, and to the best of my knowledge I am in compliance with both the intent and letter of the law.


Keith McNeilly

Sunday, April 29, 2007

April 30 2007

There was a lot of noise in the hallway when I woke up yesterday at 12:30 AM or 0030 for those of you into military time. Some of our Afghan National Army brethren had run over a land mine on the way out to a check point and they were bringing in the casualty. Unfortunately two of the three soldiers died immediately. The third was brought in suffering from shock, burns and lacerations. We were unable to get a helicopter to come and land for various reasons. The excuse given the next day to the medical personnel in Herat was that the helicopters needed maintenance. The initial reason given over the radio was that because there were no US, Spanish or Italian injured the Spanish weren't going to launch the medevac. These are not interpretations on my part, these are the things that we were told. The fact is that no medevac was launched, and we ended up putting our soldier into an ambulance and hot footing him to Herat. When I say our soldier I mean that exactly that way. When you serve with a group of soldiers, American, Afghan or Romanian, those people have ownership of you, and you have ownership of them. It isn't a codified political thing; it is a group dynamic thing. It is embarrassing when the coalition member responsible for medical transport responds according to the nationality of the person injured. There is no way to legally express the frustration we feel as a part of this unit, knowing that if it were me or one of our US soldiers the bird would have flown immediately, but for our coalition Afghan soldiers it is not justifiable in Madrid. Yes the authorization has to happen in Madrid for Afghan nationals, be they soldiers or not.

Most events that I have read about in the news in our area, and there have been a few in the last couple of days have reported the event okay. There are varying degrees of truth in the circumstances, often depending upon the origination of the article. Tehran, Iran reports a battle with 50 Taliban, referencing a battle that I know had less than half that number. American press thankfully doesn't give any numbers in that instance.

This is a Support and Stability Operation. Support consists of building infrastructure, improving school systems, building wells and bridges, providing materials and labor to improve or build mosques, building roads, improving roads and water networks. This can only happen when the fighting has dropped to a low infrequent and insignificant level. For the last several weeks the focus in this operation in this area has shifted from Support, to Stability. Stability is creating an atmosphere conducive to Support. Stability includes all military operations you might normally think of to achieve a cease fire of sorts. Stability operations can be kinetic operations. We glorify kinetic operations, "Saving Private Ryan", "We Were Soldier's and Young" and "Platoon" are just a couple of examples, and we glorify them with reason. Those people did what needed to be done at the time, and many died in the doing. What is not glorious, but is equally important to sustaining peace is the Support operations that alleviate the needs for future conflict, and save lives of future soldiers by eliminating or reducing the conflict down to something that our politicians can handle with our resorting to using force.

Finally I want to pay my respect to the recent departed, both American and Afghan who died in service to their country.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spring In Shindand

Just a quick note, you ought to check out It is written by a talented Sergeant who has worked with me for the last 5 months. He is probably a better writer than I am; I enjoy reading what he writes.

I really miss spring in Oregon, but I will be home in time to catch all of summer, so I won’t whine too much. Spring in Shindand has arrived; I returned to Shindand from Herat a couple of days ago. I am sure glad to be back. Thousands of Grasshoppers have hatched this year and the Interpreters say they have never seen this many. Doesn’t seem like enough to have swarms of biblical proportions, but more than I have ever seen, it makes me wish I had a fly rod and a stream to fish with them. They lasted for a couple of days, then the ants began carrying them away, and they were replaced by butterflies, also in the hundreds, The grass is green where I am at, wheat fields are growing, trees and grapes are pushing out their leaves, the doves have returned in force and can be heard until midmorning and again in the evening. It is truly the most pleasant place I have seen in Afghanistan, although I am sure there are others that are as nice also.

SGT White, who writes, pointed out that we all seem to do these, now that I am leaving posts, and I guess that is natural. Here is a brief thought from me on that, and I don’t believe this will be my last post, but I will try and keep the sappy reflections to a minimum.

I am glad that I came on this deployment. Leaving your family for 15 months is quite a price to pay, but I have volunteered for every step of what got me to this point, from enlisting, to ROTC, and back into the National Guard, I have to say I have always know this was possible, and I of course asked for what I got.

The people of Afghanistan have benefited greatly from our presence here. That is what leaders of villages, soldiers, and interpreters tell me. Of course folks who do not agree may not ever talk with me. Even taking the fighting into account these last 5 years have been peaceful for the bulk of Afghans. The children entering elementary school now, both boys and girls have not seen a battle in their lifetime. Their parents are able to concentrate on building a better life for their kids and grandkids. I am proud to serve beside such good people.

America can not in good consciousness leave Afghanistan to its own devices for many years to come. The time will need to be measured in decades, not in years. That is not a bad thing, South Korea has had a similar situation for over 50 years, and South Korea is among the dominant nations in its area. If we do leave Afghanistan, trouble will come again to this country, from Pakistan, Iran, and people without a country who are opportunistic.

I believe that with peace secured in Afghanistan, prosperity will increase, education will increase, and in this time of greater international commerce, Afghanistan will find a niche that allows it to be successful, and it won’t be opium.

Of course that does mean that either the US will station a division over here, as they have in South Korea, Germany, Japan, Italy, Bosnia, and the Sinai, or they will continue to have National Guard and Reserve units together with Active units rotate through. That is part of the price we need to bear. There will be ongoing debates as to how to skin that cat.

No cats were skinned in the publishing of this post. All cat skinning alluded to is fictional.

Good day…..

Edward McNeilly

I would be remiss in not including this. Uncle Ed sent probably 10 to 15 boxes of school supplies and kids toys, he liked to send matchbox cars, on the principle that everyone likes them. He was right; I had soldiers asking me for cars for their kids as well. We lost Ed McNeilly this month. He was my Uncle and has 11 brothers and sisters, a daughter innumerable nieces and nephews, and of course the following generation from them. He was an admirable man. I believe he was generous to those in need, and he was able to disagree with people with out either abdicating his position or attacking the other party in a personal way. I did not know him well, ours is a very spread out family. I spent some time with my Father and Ed visiting Marie in Idaho the summer prior to deploying in the summer of 2005. Through Uncle Ed, I met Merri, who shares our last name, she lives on the East Coast, he lived in California, I live in Oregon, and while haven’t met her in person, I am sure glad that he co opted her into our part of the family as well. Probably the best thing that I can say about my Uncle Ed is that he did good things well, and he lived the way he wanted to. I hope that I do as well. I know we all will miss him.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Observations from a public phone room

Many of the people I am temporarily sharing this post with have been away from home for quite a while now. We have all types here, Navy, Air force, Army, Army National Guard, Reserves, Inactive Ready Reserve Call ups, men and women. Our ages go from about 20 to 60, and of course our relationships are in various stages of life as well.

Because our phone room and computer room are co located, and because people can use their laptops for communication via Voice Over Internet Protocol, VOIP we are treated/subjected to other peoples conversations when attempting to either talk to our family or when emailing. It is very voyeuristic at times, in an auditory way. On the one hand it is nice to hear when two people are obviously in love, and just exchanging greetings and catching up on the day or week. On the other hand, it is very uncomfortable to hear what sounds like the middle of the beginning of the end. "Do what you want" "You need to do what makes you happy" "I wish I could make it better for you, but it is the way it is" all have invaded my ears in the last couple of weeks. As an observation, the tone of calls seems to have shifted from passing time, to either very eager to get home, or going home anticipating conflict. In any case, I am sure we would all appreciate an ability to deal with our life with a little bit more privacy, but like showers and bathrooms in the same buildings as our beds, that just isn't likely to happen here for a while.

Farah hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit the other day, I believe I will find Shindand breaking 100 when I get there, and home is a rousing 57 degrees today.

Monday, April 16, 2007


My sister has a word of the year, or she used to. I keep thinking that Focus is the word to use...

I have a bit of time on my hands this week, and my curiosity keeps getting the better of me. I have things to do when I get home. I have to reestablish a relationship with my family. I have to do that in light of the fact that I may redeploy, or not, depending on what I find out upon my return.

There is a time when you can affect change, based upon information. Sometimes it is either not possible to get the information when you want it, or people aren't able to or willing to make your needs a priority. Generally when this happens if it isn't life or death it is called whining.

I have had some discussions with mostly senior NCO's and some Mid rank Officers, and the problem is that we have what we have. Any discussion about what we have, vice what we need rapidly turns off the audience. So my question is should you talk about needs or thoughts that are not exactly with in the decided solution? Is dissension really whining, or is it actually valuable information provided to the chain of command.

We are taught to do the best with what we have and not complain. Stoic. Great. I am stoic. Back to focus.

Things that need focus when I return. Family, Career both Military and Civilian, Future Options/Operations.

I also need to buy new boots and shoelaces. But that will be for my article on diffusion

All my best


Thoughts and observations from Herat

I have a couple of thoughts and observations from the vantage point of our Forward Operating Base in Herat.

In addition, I would like to direct your attention to an editorial by Mike Francis in this weekends addition of the Oregonian, I think he quite accurately describes the issues.

In my travels here lately in the main base area of Herat Province I have had occasion to visit the FSB run by ISAF, that is the Forward Support Base run by the International Security Assistance Force. It is a very nicely appointed compound that is protected from attack in the way that most of our bases are protected. On it the Spanish, Italian, and Slovakian troops conduct their business. They are in the process of paving the main street which has the Spanish PX (Post Exchange) where they sell various sundry items. They have a barber collocated with a masseuse, an Internet cafe, a short order cafeteria where you may buy coffee drinks, or short order items, and sit in a large open air conditioned area and relax a bit and discuss things with people while you are not either in a work area, a personal area, or in transition between the two. In short it allows a person to relax somewhat.

The Italian PX is about two hundred meters away in a different area of the base, and it sells a different group of sundries with some overlap. Of course, it doesn't matter what nationality you are, you may buy from either location. They even sell to Americans. "GASP".

My dealings with the Italians and the Spanish on or around the base in the Herat province have been examples of hospitality that is exemplary. They are courteous, and friendly. Truly I would actually enjoy and prefer being located on the same base with them, for the cultural exchange. We have both Italians and Spanish at the American Base in Herat as well, but as there is not a logical gathering point for people to cross paths when not engaged in business, other than the gym, I don't see much of them on our post.

After seeing the extent of the support for the Spanish and the Italians, I am left wondering why the American Army has not seen fit to support its soldiers in a similar fashion. I know that these same amenities exist in Kabul, and in Kandahar. Kandahar may be better appointed then Kabul. Bagram is certainly well appointed also.

I believe earlier in my writings here I expressed dissatisfaction with ISAF strategies, or perhaps I remarked that they are very different that US strategies. That is still true. However, think that perhaps ISAF strategies have a place here. It is not a requirement to have a direct fire victory over every person who opposes the government of Afghanistan, it is simply enough to create enough peace to allow the roots of democracy (Afghan style) to take hold and flourish. I am sure that as long as the world community does not give up on Afghanistan, then Afghanistan will continue to grow in both peace and prosperity, which will allow stability to be a sure thing.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Shindand, Herat, Shindand

I have been to the major western cities in Afghanistan, and so far the largest, is the freindliest. I am not sure why, but Herat seems to be a very friendly city. It is also very livable, with electricity and plumbing the norm rather than the exception, and that may have something to do with it.

We reenlisted a soldier today with the blue mosque as a backdrop. It is in a walled park, that has grass and trees, and fountains. The fountains are not working now, but it is a pleasant setting.

Farah down south is a good place to avoid dilly dallying around, most people are friendly, but some would like nothing more than a clear shot at soldiers.

Shindand is not friendly, but the people in Shindand are also not decided. Mostly they are annoyed by the intrusion in their lives, and those that do mean harm will attempt to hurt us with roadside bombs, not direct fire weapons.

In Herat, I felt pretty safe, as safe as I have felt this year around here anyway. School kids smile and want to talk with us in Herat, boys and to a lesser degree girls as well. That really rarely happens elsewhere.

Today we received word that the group I was pulled to start in Herat is now defunct, and we are all moving to different locations, some back to our original startpoint, some to other adventures.

I read in the news today that our unit is already slated for a deployment in 2009. I don't know how that will affect me for a number of reasons. I guess we will see.

I will quit for now, and add pictures as I am able.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Quick Short and Sweet

Well, we are getting down to it in terms of time. I tell the really short timers here that I will be happy to see them leave as that means I am next in the bucket.

We are moving along here, trying to get the equipment we need up to par in order to do the mission we have been given. It isn't particularly exciting, but it is particularly necessary.

I work with another great group of guys, most of us are in our 30's and 40's and we have a mixture of active duty, and national guard folks, which is a pretty good mix actually. The other day we did some familiarization firing with the AK 47, and the RPK, which is a longer rifle but fires the same round. In addition we worked with the pistols that the ANP has been issued. Under the heading that any day firing guns is a good day, (as long as your not being shot at...) We had a great day.

The weather here is heating up during the peak, but still is very livable during the bulk of the day. It feels a lot like southern california, and looks very similar to the deserts down there.

It is greener now than it ever has been since I have been here, which is also a nice thing for an Oregon guy to see.

I will stop with that, I hope you are all well.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Todays thoughts

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. I have been here in Herat for about 4 or 5 days now. It is truly a different world here then where I came from.

Irony, I finally received a box mailed on 19 October 2006. This was the day I started to make an official complaint about said box, and it of course arrived today, strange.

In the scope of things, right now things are pretty mundane here. I have nothing to brag about or complain about.

Take some time and hug someone today.

Friday, April 06, 2007

New Temporary Home

Well, the powers that be have decided that I should help stand up a new team. As a result I have moved to Herat, where there are more people, more rocks, less trees, no grass.

My compadres in Shindand will still carry on, and if you would like to continue to send humanitarian assistance to them you can send it in care of Douglas Barrett one of my replacements. He will gladly distribute them. School has just started again and the sounds of the kids in the play ground is a welcome change from the otherwise relatively sterile environment.

The good news about this move is that while I leave a great group of guys, I join another group of great guys, some of whom are from my state. That is nice, it adds a little spice to the last bit of time that we will be here.

I hope to have more things to write about as time goes on here, because I do like to share what is going on, the parts that I can anyway.

If you know Uncle Ed, please say a prayer for the return of his health.

All my best.


Monday, April 02, 2007

More on Reasonable

This is reprinted and while long, is worth the read.

The Conscience of the Colonel
Lt. Col. Stuart Couch volunteered to prosecute
terrorists. Then he decided one had been tortured
March 31, 2007; Page A1
When the Pentagon needed someone to prosecute a Guantanamo Bay prisoner linked to 9/11, it turned to Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch. A Marine Corps pilot and veteran prosecutor, Col. Couch brought a personal connection to the job: His old Marine buddy, Michael "Rocks" Horrocks, was co-pilot on United 175, the second plane to strike the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The prisoner in question, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, had already been suspected of terrorist activity. After the attacks, he was fingered by a senior al Qaeda operative for helping assemble the so-called Hamburg cell, which included the hijacker who piloted United 175 into the South Tower. To Col. Couch, Mr. Slahi seemed a likely candidate for the death penalty.
"Of the cases I had seen, he was the one with the most blood on his hands," Col. Couch says.
But, nine months later, in what he calls the toughest decision of his military career, Col. Couch refused to proceed with the Slahi prosecution. The reason: He concluded that Mr. Slahi's incriminating statements -- the core of the government's case -- had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law.
The Slahi case marks a rare instance of a military prosecutor refusing to bring charges because he thought evidence was tainted by torture. For Col. Couch, it also represented a wrenching personal challenge. Laid out starkly before him was a collision between the government's objectives and his moral compass.
These kinds of concerns will likely become more prevalent as other high-level al Qaeda detainees come before military commissions set up by the Bush administration. Guantanamo prosecutors estimate that at least 90% of cases depend on statements taken from prisoners, making the credibility of such evidence critical to any convictions. In Mr. Slahi's case, Col. Couch would uncover evidence the prisoner had been beaten and exposed to psychological torture, including death threats and intimations that his mother would be raped in custody unless he cooperated.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi attracted the attention of U.S. intelligence as early as 1998, years before he would be suspected of indirectly helping to round up future hijackers for the 9/11 attacks. Read more1.


Read a transcript2 of Mr. Slahi's hearing before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
* * *
Read the unclassified summary3 of the spring 2005 Schmidt-Furlow report presenting the results of a Pentagon investigation into detainee abuse at Guantanamo. The section detailing Mr. Slahi's treatment is headed "second special interrogation plan," on page 21.
* * *
Read a transcript4 of Mr. Slahi's Administrative Review Board hearing at Guantanamo Bay in December 2005.
* * *
See the Defense Meritorious Service Medal5 and citation awarded to Col. Couch by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in September 2006.
* * *
Read a letter6 Mr. Slahi sent to his attorneys, Nancy Hollander and Sylvia Royce, from Guantanamo Bay on Nov. 9, 2006.
Raised in Asheboro, N.C., Col. Couch, now 41 years old, was an Eagle Scout, a graduate of Duke and commander of his Naval ROTC battalion. An Anglican, Col. Couch says he counts among his heroes two men known for making a public commitment to their faith: C.S. Lewis, the academic and book author, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor hanged by the Nazis in 1945.
In 1987, Col. Couch joined the Marines to be a pilot before an assignment on the squadron's legal desk inspired him to enroll in law school. After graduating from Campbell University, Buies Creek, N.C., he was assigned to the team prosecuting a flight crew for a 1998 incident in Aviano, Italy, where a Marine Prowler clipped a ski gondola cable, killing 20. He still keeps in touch with relatives of the accident's victims.
Col. Couch left active duty but found private practice boring. After 9/11, he asked to return to the military. When President Bush issued his Nov. 13, 2001 order creating the first iteration of military commissions, he volunteered.
"I did that to get a crack at the guys who attacked the United States," he says. "I wanted to do what I could do with the skill set that I had."
Col. Couch began his assignment at the Office of Military Commissions in August 2003. Soon after arriving at the commissions' offices in Crystal City, Arlington, Va., he was handed files on several Guantanamo prisoners. The Slahi file stood out as the one directly connected to 9/11.
Mr. Slahi, now 37, is the eighth of 12 children born to a Mauritanian camel herder, according to his lawyers. He studied electrical engineering in Germany and later ran an Internet cafe. Before 9/11, U.S. authorities tried unsuccessfully to link him to the so-called Millennium Plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport. Mauritanian authorities picked him up after Sept. 11, and shipped him to Jordan, according to testimony he gave to a Guantanamo detention board.
The U.S. got a break one year later, when Ramzi Binalshibh, a top al Qaeda operative, was captured in Pakistan. He told the CIA that in 1999, Mr. Slahi sent him and three future 9/11 hijackers -- Mohammed Atta, Ziad Jarrah and Marwan al-Shehhi -- from Germany to Pakistan, and then to al Qaeda headquarters in Afghanistan. There, according to the 9/11 Commission, Mr. bin Laden assigned them to the 9/11 operation.
But beyond Mr. Binalshibh's uncorroborated statements, Col. Couch had little additional evidence.
In Crystal City, morale was sinking. Several junior officers complained that, in its rush to win convictions, the office was proceeding with shaky cases, overlooking allegations of abuse and failing to protect exculpatory evidence. Allegations of torture at places such as Abu Ghraib had not yet surfaced, but some officers were starting to express their unease in private. A handful of prosecutors would later quit rather than take part in trials they considered rigged.
Subsequent internal reviews found no criminal wrongdoing, but prompted a shake-up in which the then-chief military commissions prosecutor was ousted.
Col. Couch had his own misgivings. On his first visit to Guantanamo in October 2003, he recalls preparing to watch an interrogation of a detainee when he was distracted by heavy-metal music. Accompanied by an escort, he saw a prisoner shackled to a cell floor, rocking back and forth, mumbling as strobe lights flashed. Two men in civilian dress shut the cell door and told Col. Couch to move along.
"Did you see that?" he asked his escort. The escort replied: "Yeah, it's approved," Col. Couch says. The treatment resembled the abuse he had been trained to resist if captured; he never expected Americans would be the ones employing it.
The incident "started keeping me up at night," he says. "I couldn't stop thinking about it."
Col. Couch contacted a senior Marine lawyer who had been an informal mentor. The officer said: "I know there's a lot of stuff going on, and that's why we need people like yourself in this situation," Col. Couch recalls. "You're shirking your responsibility if you've got issues and you're not willing to do something about it."
"He was looking for a sanity check, asking: 'Am I crazy or does this smell bad to you?' " the Marine lawyer, now a retired brigadier general recalls. "My response was, 'yeah, this is a problem and you need to work this problem.' "
Col Couch's wife, Kim, a nurse, says her husband began to rue each coming week. "I called it the Sunday Night Blues," she says. "It got worse and worse."
Under the Pentagon structure, Col. Couch had no direct contact with his potential defendants, but received instead summaries of their statements. In late 2003, Mr. Slahi suddenly started corroborating the Binalshibh allegations.
"After a while, I just couldn't keep up with him because things were coming out every day," Col. Couch says. "He was giving like a "Who's Who" of al Qaeda in Germany and all of Europe."
The sanitized reports reaching Col. Couch made no mention of what spurred this cooperation. Intelligence agencies refused to share all the information they had on the prisoner.
A colleague let on that Mr. Slahi had begun the "varsity program" -- an informal name for the Special Interrogation Plan authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the most recalcitrant Guantanamo prisoners.
Col. Couch says he and his case investigator, an agent detailed from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, began an "under the table" effort to find out what made Mr. Slahi break. Col. Couch says he was suspicious about the sudden change, and felt he needed to know all the circumstances before bringing the case to trial.
"It was like Hansel and Gretel, following bread crumbs," Col. Couch says. The agent spoke to intelligence officers and others with more direct knowledge, pursued documents with details of the interrogations, and passed his findings on to the prosecutor.
What emerged, Col. Couch believed, was torture.
Initially, Mr. Slahi said he was pleased to be taken to Guantanamo. "I thought, this is America, not Jordan, and they are not going to beat you," he told his detention hearing. But after Mr. Binalshibh named him as a top al Qaeda member, "my life...changed dramatically," Mr. Slahi said.
The account of Mr. Slahi's treatment has been pieced together from interviews with government officials, official reports and testimony, as well as Mr. Slahi's attorneys and Col. Couch. Col. Couch wouldn't discuss classified information, including aspects of the Slahi interrogation involving the CIA.
Initially, Mr. Slahi denied having al Qaeda connections, frustrating his interrogators. On May 22, 2003, a Federal Bureau of Investigation interrogator said, "this was our last session; he told me that I was not going to enjoy the time to come."
In the following weeks, Mr. Slahi said, he was placed in isolation, subjected to extreme temperatures, beaten and sexually humiliated. The detention-board transcript states that at this point, "the recording equipment began to malfunction." It summarizes Mr. Slahi's missing testimony as discussing "how he was tortured while here at GTMO by several individuals."
Mr. Slahi was put under more intense interrogation. On July 17, 2003, a masked interrogator told Mr. Slahi he had dreamed of watching detainees dig a grave, according to a 2005 Pentagon report into detainee abuse at Guantanamo, headed by Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt and Army Brig. Gen. John Furlow. (Gen. Furlow later testified that Mr. Slahi was "the highest value detainee" at Guantanamo, "the key orchestrator of the al Qaeda cell in Europe.")
The interrogator said he saw "a plain, pine casket with [Mr. Slahi's] identification number painted in orange lowered into the ground." Three days later, the interrogator told Mr. Slahi "that his family was 'incarcerated,'" the report said.
On Aug. 2, an interrogation chief visited the prisoner posing as a White House representative named "Navy Capt. Collins," the report said. He gave the prisoner a forged memorandum indicating that Mr. Slahi's mother was being shipped to Guantanamo, and that officials had concerns about her safety as the only woman amid hundreds of male prisoners, according a person familiar with the matter.
"Capt. Collins" told Mr. Slahi "that if he wanted to help his family he should tell them everything they wanted to know," the report continued.
The same day, an interrogator made a "death threat" to Mr. Slahi, Gen. Schmidt said in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. According to records cited by the report, the interrogator advised Mr. Slahi "to use his imagination to think of the worst possible scenario he could end up in."
In his detention-board testimony, Mr. Slahi provided further details, as did other people familiar with the matter. Two men took a shackled, blindfolded Mr. Slahi to a boat for a journey into the waters of Guantanamo Bay. The hour-long trip apparently led Mr. Slahi to think he was to be killed and, in fear, he urinated in his pants.
After making land, "two Arab guys" took him away, beat him and turned him over to a "doctor who was not a regular doctor [but] part of the team," Mr. Slahi said. The doctor "was cursing me and telling me very bad things. He gave me a lot of medication to make me sleep," Mr. Slahi said. After two or three weeks, Mr. Slahi said, he broke, "because they said to me, either I am going to talk or they will continue to do this."
On Sept. 8, 2003, according to the Pentagon report, Mr. Slahi asked to see "Capt. Collins." Mr. Slahi corroborated the account of Mr. Binalshibh and provided an extensive list of other al Qaeda names.
In later testimony to the Army Inspector General, Gen. Schmidt said he concluded that the interrogation chief "was a rogue guy," a "zealot" who "essentially was having a ball." A Pentagon spokesman says the interrogation chief, who invoked his right against self-incrimination and didn't testify, was not court-martialed. The spokesman declines to say what discipline he received.
Military and law-enforcement officials started warning the Bush administration in 2002 that its unorthodox interrogation practices, which the president has called "tough" and "necessary," were hurting the ability of prosecutors to bring cases to court. Officials expect the concern to arise in particular with 14 "high-value" al Qaeda suspects transferred to Guantanamo in September after years of secret CIA interrogation. They include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man who claimed responsibility for planning 9/11. Some detainees, including Mr. Mohammed, have alleged they were tortured. Pentagon reviews documented cruel and degrading treatment, while declining to classify such abuse as torture.
"There's a serious question of whether they will ever be able to legitimately prosecute those individuals," if necessary evidence was produced through torture, says retired Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, who served as the Army's top uniformed lawyer, the judge advocate general, from 2001 to 2005.
Gen. Romig, recently appointed dean at Washburn University law school, Topeka, Kan., says within the government "there was a view that we have got to get intelligence out of these guys, and we don't care we if we prosecute them or not."
The military commissions trying the cases of foreign terrorists don't hew to the rules that govern civilian courts or courts-martial. The 2006 Military Commissions Act permits use of evidence obtained before Dec. 30, 2005, through "cruel, inhuman or degrading" methods, although it bars any obtained by torture.
Top U.S. government officials won't specify which practices cross the line beyond stating that prisoners should be treated "humanely." Such ambiguity has forced decision-making down the chain of command. Even Guantanamo's chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Moe Davis, says he's still not sure how the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment applies to military commissions.
A report into abuses at Guantanamo concluded that the "threats" made to Mr. Slahi "do not rise to the level of torture as defined under U.S. law" but did violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which governs the conduct of the armed forces. The Pentagon won't say how the report reached that conclusion.
By May 2004, Col. Couch had most of the picture relating to Mr. Slahi's treatment, and faced a painful dilemma: Could he seek a conviction based on statements he thought were taken through torture, as permitted by President Bush's November 2001 military commission order citing a "state of emergency?" Or was he nonetheless bound by the Torture Convention, which bars using statements taken "as a result of evidence in any proceedings."
The convention says "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" can be cited to justify torture, which it defines broadly. The 1994 federal statute implementing the treaty contains additional definitions, including the "threat of imminent death" or "severe physical pain or suffering," as well as the actual or threatened use of "mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality."
Col. Couch was uneasy over interfering with plans to try Mr. Slahi, given the detainee's history. He turned to others with his dilemma, including Marine lawyers he knew and his wife's two brothers -- one a Protestant theologian, the other a retired Marine infantry officer. Because of the classified nature of the information, Col. Couch didn't give them specifics about the case, and spoke only in generalities. Their advice conflicted.
"He wanted to be a good solider and yet on the other hand felt his duty to his God to be the greatest duty that he had," recalls Bill Wilder, director of educational ministries at the Center for Christian Study, Charlottesville, Va. "He said more than once to me that human beings are created in the image of God and as a result we owe them a certain amount of dignity."
Mr. Wilder says he agreed with Col. Couch's concerns. "Stuart, you need to pray about this," Mr. Wilder says he advised.
Briant Wilder, the other brother and a former Marine lieutenant, urged Col. Couch to instead consider the context of the war on terrorism, where obtaining intelligence could be crucial to protecting innocent lives.
"I have to also say that I don't agree with everybody's definition of torture," Mr. Wilder says. "If some of the things that people say are torture were torture, then I was tortured at Officer Candidate School at Quantico. And so was he."
In May 2004, attending a baptism at Virginia's Falls Church, Col. Couch joined the congregation in reciting the liturgy. The reading concluded, as is typical, with the priest asking if congregants will "respect the dignity of every human being."
"When I heard that, I knew I gotta get off the fence," Col. Couch says. "Here was somebody I felt was connected to 9/11, but in our zeal to get information, we had compromised our ability to prosecute him." He says, in retrospect, the tipping point came with the forged letter about Mr. Slahi's mother. "For me, that was just, enough is enough. I had seen enough, I had heard enough, I had read enough. I said: 'That's it.' "
In May 2004, at a meeting with the then-chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bob Swann, Col. Couch dropped his bombshell. He told Col. Swann that in addition to legal reasons, he was "morally opposed" to the interrogation techniques "and for that reason alone refused to participate in [the Slahi] prosecution in any manner."
Col. Swann was indignant, Col. Couch says, replying: "What makes you think you're so much better than the rest of us around here?"
Col. Couch says he slammed his hand on Col. Swann's desk and replied: "That's not the issue at all, that's not the point!"
An impassioned debate followed, the prosecutor recalls. Col. Swann said the Torture Convention didn't apply to military commissions. Col. Couch asked his superior to cite legal precedent that would allow the president to disregard a treaty. The meeting ended when Col. Swann asked the prosecutor to turn over the Slahi files so the case could be reassigned, Col. Couch recalls.
Through a spokesman, Col. Swann declined to comment for this article. Col. Swann retired from the Army in 2005. He continues, as a civilian employee, to serve as deputy chief prosecutor, playing a major role in commission operations.
Other trial prosecutors in the office say they respected Col. Couch's decision. "I thought his conduct was perfectly appropriate and I agreed with his approach," says retired Navy Cmdr. Scott Lang, now a state prosecutor in Virginia.
A week later, Col. Couch put his position in writing and asked that his concerns be raised with the Pentagon's general counsel, William J. Haynes II. The legal adviser to the military commissions office, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas Hemingway, says: "Mr. Haynes was not informed of the issues raised by Lt. Col. Couch nor did he expect to be told about all internal operations within the Office of Military Commissions."
Gen. Hemingway says Col. Swann "was aware the interrogation techniques used were under investigation at the time Lt. Col. Couch expressed misgivings about the information he had received. Col. Swann removed Lt. Col. Couch from the case to assuage his concerns."
In a written statement, the Defense Department says it "cannot comment on Mohamedou Ould Slahi because he is under investigation. It would be inappropriate for us to discuss ongoing cases that are pending prosecution."
In March 2005, Col. Couch considered quitting, frustrated by how the office was run. Lt. Col. Daniel Daugherty, one of Col. Couch's best friends, urged him in an email to reconsider. "Personally I would rather be fired than quit," Col. Daugherty wrote. "Being fired for your ethics is (in my view) better than walking away."
With the Slahi prosecution on ice, Col. Couch continued work on other cases -- including another "varsity program" prisoner, Mohammmed al-Qahtani, who, according to army report overseen by Gens. Schmidt and Furlow, had been made to wear women's underwear, leashed, forced to perform dog tricks and berated as a homosexual. Col. Couch refused to use statements obtained during these interrogations. But he determined the prosecution could continue based on a separate source of evidence compiled by the FBI before Mr. Qahtani's Guantanamo interrogation.
He was also one of the prosecutors who worked on the case of Salim Hamdan, Mr. bin Laden's former driver. Mr. Hamdan's case would eventually go to the Supreme Court, which used the case to strike down the administration's first attempt to create a military commissions system.
Col. Davis, the Guantanamo chief prosecutor, says Mr. Slahi remains among the 75 or so prisoners potentially eligible for trial. He says no one is assigned to the case and that it's unclear when Mr. Slahi will be charged, due to Col. Couch's concerns and a staff shortage.
Today, Mr. Slahi is detained in private quarters at Guantanamo Bay, with a television, a computer and a tomato patch to tend, according to people familiar with the matter. "Since 2004, I really have no complaints," Mr. Slahi told a military detention board.
He has asked to be resettled in the U.S., an option Pentagon officials have not ruled out. Col. Davis declines to comment on plea negotiations. A lawyer representing Mr. Slahi, Nancy Hollander, says that if charged with a crime, Mr. Slahi would plead not guilty.
In a September 2006 letter to his attorneys, Mr. Slahi joked about their request that he detail his discussions with interrogators.
"Are you out of your mind! How can I render uninterrupted interrogation that has been lasting the last 7 years. That's like asking Charlie Sheen how many women he dated," Mr. Slahi writes. He divided his time into pre- and post-torture eras. In the latter, he wrote, "I yessed every accusation my interrogators made."
Col. Couch had been assigned to the prosecutor's office for a three year stint. When it came to an end, Col. Couch decided not to renew his assignment. He says there was no attempt to remove him from office.
After he left, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld awarded Col. Couch the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for his work on Guantanamo prosecutions as is typical when officers move on to new assignments. The citation describes him as "steady in faith, possessed by moral courage and relentless in the pursuit of excellence."
In August 2006, he took on a new assignment as a judge on the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.
Col. Couch says he's still frustrated that the actions of the U.S. government helped ruin the case against Mr. Slahi. "I'm hoping there's some non-tainted evidence out there that can put the guy in the hole," he says.
Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@wsj.com7