Monday, January 29, 2007

Some general information and a couple of thoughts

Over the course of the last couple of months I have received a lot of support from both people I know and will see again, and people I don't know, and will perhaps never meet. I have received offers of help for things that I have mentioned here, and received direct support for humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people in the area. I really appreciate it.

Things you can do for soldiers: I received a nice letter from a Master Chief in the Navy who is retired. He wanted to know what he could do for both soldiers serving here in Afghanistan, and children here.

Here is an abbreviated version of what I told him. To support troops: Soldiers here have more in my observation than they need in terms of candy, and various odds and ends. The best way I have seen for people to help soldiers is through the USO, specifically in three locations: Atlanta, Dallas and Bangor Maine. Most soldiers pass through these locations coming or going, and the USO there has care packages, Cell phones for use, drinks, sandwiches, and a host of assorted other things that soldiers can utilize during travel, it is probably the most stressful time traveling for two days by plane, and they are limited these days on what they can have. I would support the USO in order to support soldiers.

Young Children can use shoes, coats, hats, gloves. Those things in Afghanistan are great for winter for sure, and hats are good for summer when they have a bill. I have literally seen shoes held together with leather thongs, but most kids either have okay shoes, or none at all, kid’s feet grow so fast that they just don't have the time to wear them out most of the time.

I am temporarily the team chief of my group. We are getting a Major in soon, and when he gets here I will provide his name and address for donations of that sort. I expect to be out of here early summer, and want to make sure that anything I have received I have passed on. Right now I think we are well in excess of 1500 dollars worth of items out to the kids in the area, and in this area, with the type of things that have been sent, that covers a lot of territory, thank you again.

Other thoughts:
I was talking with one of my fellow service members here, a Captain out of the Inactive Ready Reserve from Georgia. He was plucked out of his job, sent to an abbreviated warm up, and sent as an individual augmentee for our deployment. He thought he knew what to expect as he was here during the initial invasion, when the fighting was house to house, or village to village. What he found on this trip is entirely different than what he found on his first excursion.

We were discussing the “Hero concept”, among other things; we all know here on the ground that we are not heroic, in any form or fashion. We are however responsible citizens who are trained to perform the tasks we have been given to undertake. We bond with one another, we protect each other, and we perform as a unit because that is the way we can both accomplish our job, and survive to go home to be with our families.

No one knows the cost of being away from our families more than we do; perhaps our wives and immediate family feel the loss in a similar fashion. Just as an example I have missed all birthdays this last year from February 24th on, excluding ironically my own, as I was able to be home for the holidays. Those are things that you can't get back. They are also things that my family has given up or sacrificed for me to be here as well, willingly or not. Most people do not presume to tell us what we are missing out on. I figure that they know we are aware of it. I appreciate all of the kind words and thoughts that I receive or that people direct our way on our behalf.

This Blog is an attempt to share what I see, I try to keep my political thoughts out of it, although I am sure they slip in; because my intent is to be more informative than opinionated. I have opinions; they just aren't relevant to the discussion very often.

This last week the Afghan Government decided to begin poppy eradication here in my area. So far only one IED has been laid in for the police who have to undertake the poppy eradication. Those are facts. Whether or not poppy eradication has proved successful in Helmond province doesn't have any bearing on the fact that it is happening here in my area. (It has resulted in the Taliban gaining ground in Helmond, and the British have a major fight on their hands there as a result.)

So, Mostly I attempt to keep pure opinion out of this. In the first place, writing something down gives it a hundred times more weight than speaking it out loud, people will be able to read this for months to come. In the second place, I have found that my opinions on techniques change over time as my knowledge base changes. Also based upon the tools that I am used to using, my thoughts on things will be different then someone with a different life experience.

Okay, that is all the politically correct way of saying that what I think today might change with time. You are supposed to learn and grow. I have been taught to try and do the right thing, even when it is difficult to do that. Some times my greatest obstacle is myself.

All my best, I hope you enjoy,


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thoughts on 24 Jan 2007

Well, timeliness is not the trademark of the Army Postal Service, but that isn’t the point for today. Last week our entire unit received a package from Harry and David that was accompanied by a card from Governor Kulongoski that was sent for Thanksgiving. It is a very nice package, with some of Harry and David’s goodies. So, thank you very much to the citizens of Oregon, Governor Kulongoski, and Harry and David’s. I appreciate the thought and effort that went into it.

My wife went to speak at Putnam High School where my son Chris goes yesterday. She told me this evening for me (Morning for most of you all) how it went. My son is a junior; he is a great kid, no bias on my part of course.

Many of the students there asked questions and a couple of points stuck out that I thought were worth highlighting.

War would be so simple if it were truly good versus evil. However, all engagements that the United States Military engage in are not truly wars. If it was truly peaceful here, then other organizations who have nothing to do with the military, and not much to do with the government would come in and conduct support operations here, the Peace Corp, and many other organizations that I frankly don’t know the names of would be operating.

It is not so safe that unarmed people can come in and challenge the people’s ideas about how they should live, what they should grow, and how their women and children should be treated with out fear of reprisal. That is why the military is here, that and the fact that the Taliban is only out of this region, because we are here.

In my region of this country, which is the _Herat_ Province, down to the Farah Province most people here are very much like most Americans, or folks of any other country. The parents want to feed cloth and shelter their children. They would like for their children to have better lives than they have had, and they work hard with in their traditions and in their jobs to accomplish that in the best way that they know. Their exposure to the modern world is far less than what our children in the United States have been exposed to. Their education revolves largely around the Koran, which allows them to teach the language with out fear of incurring any party’s wrath, as the Taliban, and the government here both believe that teaching the Koran is good and proper.

Much of the bad stuff that happens in this area involving guns are truly the actions of criminals who are trying to keep their hold on the population through intimidation, and by virtue of their willingness to use guns to enforce their will. In our country, people who attempt the same thing do so under the cover of secrecy, because our police force is multilayered, and full time, and has the strength to bring the rule of law to everyone’s neighborhood. I personally must know 6 or 8 police officers of various departments in our local community. They are there to protect and serve.

In Afghanistan, the police are not necessarily there in the first place. They don’t have better weapons, they don’t have a better infrastructure and they certainly don’t have a judicial system behind them to house criminals for years at a stretch. In short they are impotent at this point in time. There are things being done to fix that, but that is where it stands right now.

95% of the people I deal with in the country are either friendly or reserved. Some men resent having foreign soldiers in their country, just as we would resent them in ours. However, this marks the 3rd year in over 25 years that most people live in a stable environment. More landmines are turned in to authorities than are emplaced by the Taliban in my region right now. That can change of course, but by and large, people are happy to be able to make a legitimate living with out fear of being shot by one faction or another.

To put it in perspective, things that have happened in the our country in the last 150 years have been enabled largely because there has been no conflict that involved a foreign Army on our soil in that period of time. Many of our families have no experience with anything outside of three states in our nation, and our most common hardship is if the electricity goes out for an extended time.

Afghans largely don’t have electricity. Washing is done by hand. Floors are made out of dirt in a house, covered by a rug. Sleeping happens on the floor with carpets as padding, with a foam mattress laid down each night. Closet space is almost nonexistent; Chairs are replaced by hard pillows that raise you up 4 inches off the ground. There is no toilet built into the house, and so outhouses are sometimes constructed, sometimes the world is their toilet. (When you gotta go, you gotta go). Water is scarce, and is not pumped into a shower in most places, so cleanliness and personal hygiene is a different task here. Schools are being built, but currently abandoned buildings may serve as a school for many students. I saw 80 students from 4 to about 12 in one classroom with one teacher with no chalkboard, and they attend class for a couple of hours each morning until it is not possible to maintain them in the class. That classroom would have housed 30 students and 1 teacher in our society.

I would say that I like the majority of the people I come into contact with. If they are in the military, I trust them to a fairly large extent, because they have demonstrated that they care for my safety as well as their own. If they are civilians, I am cautiously optimistic, but again, I am always armed, and have soldiers who keep the area secure. It is unfortunate, but in some ways it allows us to conduct business easier, we all know that violence is not a good option in the meeting, and I have never had it be chosen to date.

All of this said; it is merely my experience. Other soldiers in other areas have much more violent experiences.

I hope you enjoyed this post.

All my best,


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Extreme Statements: Good or Bad???

Before my thoughts, I need to say; agree or disagree, it is great that in our country both what Gov Lamm had to say, and my thoughts on that topic can be written and discussed.

I received an email this week that had the text of Colorado Ex Governor Dick Lamm’s speech that he gave in Washington a while back. It was the recipe for dismantling America. I read it, and then had to look it up to see if it was a hoax, because it sounds so radical and flies in the face of much of what is popular thought today in the United States.

It turns out that it is true; he actually said everything in what I received. I have spent a couple of days thinking about it, in my little vacuum of a space here in Shindand, and have concluded that many statements seemed quite extreme and the level of extremity does not determine if they are good or bad or even if they are correct.

At the time it was written the Declaration of Independence was extreme, so extreme that a powerful nation spent the equivalent of millions of dollars in today’s dollars to put down that level of thought. The Constitution again while built on ideas that went before it, was ground breaking. It offended nations that had more restrictive control on what people could say or do.

Afghanistan is officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Freedom of Religion is not among their rights in this country, and from that will flow a restriction on all types of media that can be deemed to be counter to the religion. I am not sure if Afghanistan will succeed long term as a “Democratic” nation, but that is truly up to the people of Afghanistan to decide, and we are and have given them a chance to be self determinant.

America on the other hand, has drawn people to it from all walks of life, from every country in the world. I think that that is a credit to the founders of the country, and to the people who have upheld the constitution. I am still left wondering however if Governor Lamm isn’t perhaps correct.

United we stand, Unity is critical to success, be that military, in marriage, business or in society. Diversity is allowed in the constitution by virtue of the freedom of religion and of speech. However in the United States the more we highlight differences and make decisions to increase the differences, the more we fracture our position.

How can we be unified when we have to define our version of life in America by our race, religion, primary language, sexual orientation, sex, color, size, legal status, party affiliation, and relative status in society? I believe that we have to identify ourselves as Americans; that we have the duty to pay attention no matter how painful or messy it is, to the events that our country affects around us. That we need to express our thoughts to our designated representatives, and to vote them out of office when they appear to have too much earwax build up to hear us. It truly doesn’t matter what your particular status is, in the United States, you either are living or are capable of living so much better than the bulk of people who do not live in Europe, Australia, or North America.

We are so busy trying to do better than our neighbors next door, that we forget that if we just managed what we already have, we would be fine. The other thing in my opinion that causes us problems in our country is the smaller family units, and the fact that extended families don’t work together. It creates more expenses. It is an entire thought process for another page, so I will leave it alone. But let’s say that Grandma and Grandpa are probably cheaper daycare for kids than the school daycare program as an example.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Busy return and some Thank You's that are over due

I love English Grammer er.. Grammar (See what I mean).... Many of you may be able to tell that it isn't my strongest suit, and I would guess that would be accurate.... Here is another shot at the title. Bz Rtn, and many Thank Youzzzz to many of Youz all. Okay, Hemingway I am not.

Well, I arrived and found out on day one that many things had changed while I was gone, and many more would change within the next couple of days, we are going to experience a huge personnel turnover here. Life is certainly full of changing relationships and roles. Anyway, on to the important things.

I have to say thank you to the American Airlines crew that flew myself and one other soldier back to Dallas. We were truly treated with great kindness. I wish I had caught some names, but I can tell you that the ladies who were working with us were very very helpful, both at the terminals, check in counters and on the plane itself. Way to go American Airlines, first time I have felt that way in quite a while towards an airline.

Thank you also to the USO personnel in both Dallas and in Bangor. I have to say they know how to be friendly and what the word hospitality means. Cheers to you.

Merry McNeilly, you and your family are awesome. I love the CD's Good N Plenty's are great !!! and it was a pleasant treat to come back from home to. You truly make our last name shine. We must really be cousins somewhere I am sure. LOL

Catherine Johnson, I have kids that I am giving the beanie babies to tomorrow, together with the other toys and things that I have for them, at a medical visit we are going to conduct tomorrow.

Pat and Family, you know I am giving that box out tomorrow, and thank you as well.

I really have to say, I have received so much support from people who read this that it is mind blowing. It makes me conscious of the fact that I am playing a role, one that other soldiers play as well, which is as an extension of our society, a representative of our country. Even though I am on the less diplomatic end of the spectrum, and am not elected I am aware that people view Americans through the lens that I help them to hold. I try not to let you down, just as the rest of the soldiers I work with try to work in ways that you would be proud of as well.

Alice, I am sorry to hear about your ankle, I honestly don't know if I knew about it previously or not, but I have to say, 3 weeks is enough, time to get up and get crackin... Or, you know maybe just rest, ice, compress, and elevate. I love hearing from you as well.

Okay.... I am sure I will have lots to say at some time in the near future, but now it is time for me to quit.

All my best.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Things that I think are wrong, a list

Okay, to begin with, just because I think this is funny, and while not strictly true, certainly within the spirit of truth:

Political Correctness. "Political Correctness is a doctrine fostered by a delusional, illogical liberal minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media,which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end."

Some things in life are not pretty, and are necessary for things to go on. Childbirth I know people say it is a beautiful thing, got it. Your child being born has to be beautiful. The amount of pain and pushing and stretching and pressing required not to mention the blood, water and pain (did I say pain???) objectively viewed, would not be pretty, certainly necessary however.

Soldiers who are trained to do unpleasant things don't always share good language, good personal habits, or the same ideas about what is and is not okay with the mainstream. Of course, sometimes they do.

Pakistan is not helping the US in Afghanistan. Thought you should know.

General Orders 1A and 1B needlessly create violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice because they outlaw any sexual contact between anybody other than married soldiers. Also because it forbids alcohol consumption at all. This is again, a politically motivated rule.

Let me be clear. What crap that is. It isn't logical, but it sounds good. "Our soldiers will go forth, be pure of heart and mind and body while they prosecute our war." "We are doing that so we don't offend the Muslims." Somebody thought it sounded like a way to demonstrate what good folks we are.

Let me say, it probably offends the hell out of the Muslims when we kill them with bombs, bullets or bb's for that matter. We didn't get invited into either Iraq or Afghanistan, many people were offended, many of them are now dead. Why is that more politically Okay? I will bet money that the Taliban don't care whether or not our soldiers drink or sleep with each other, they may be offended by the fact that America and Western Europe exist, or not you decide.

Afghans drink and smoke hash. Have a nice day. It is true, we won't go into happy Thursday's just because I haven't seen it first hand, because I make a point not to intrude.

Take men and women, married and single, remove them from their support structures, and leave them alone for a year or 18 months. Some of them are having sex. I promise. Why would you make it illegal and a crime punishable by the UCMJ? Here is why it is a dumb idea and this is a real example.

Joe is in one company in a battalion, Jane is in another company in a battalion. They are young and single and attracted to one another. They are caught several times alone, after much counseling, they are caught again, with more paperwork behind them, and perhaps with more going on. He receives an Article 15 removing a rank or two from him, with 45 days of pay taken by his commander. She receives a counseling statement from her commander. Let me point this out "THEY DID THE SAME THING, AT THE SAME TIME, TOGETHER" Because the court martial process is intimidating they didn't fight it. Because that would open them to a judicial punishment, read civilian record. It allows commanders to bully them into decisions that they may not other wise take. Just my opinion however.

Investigations into peoples sexual orientation. Like we don't actually believe don't ask and don't tell. I don't care if you are Straight, Gay or Celibate. Do your job, don't get anything on me. Thank you. Investigations have taken place into sexual orientation and activity, and guess what, they were paid for by tax dollars, and they were a waste of all personnel's time involved. When I was a commander I explained to my soldiers that their personal lives were not my concern. To the extent that they made them my concern, to that extent I would end up discussing their personal lives with them. It was fairly clear and simple.

Accidents are Accidents. We require soldiers to clear their loaded weapons in a clearing barrel after a mission. Sounds great. Accidental discharges happen in the clearing barrel. Low ranking soldiers get non judicial punishment, and higher ranking soldiers get a harsh look. Ask JAG Officers, they know this crap. It is true. Accidental discharges can be avoided by not touching the trigger. Thought you might like to know....

Roll overs, are caused by a combination of events by people who are trying to conduct a mission as safely as possible. Speed is a form of security. Those accidents are unfortunate, but ought not be punished again by article 15's.

Hmmmmm I think I have run out of steam for a while on this one. Have a great day.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Back in Bagram again

Wow, what a trip that was, I haven't had as much fun in two weeks in quite a while. Also had the wrinkle in time effect. I traveled with two folks for the bulk of the trip out to Dallas TX, and when I arrived back in Dallas there they were again, and we traveled back together as well. Other than the fantastic memories, it could have all been a dream. Same place, same clothes, same people, and here we are again in Bagram.

The military charters aircraft that have seats wide enough for people under 130 lbs, or for those without shoulders. It is really painful. I challenge anyone in charge of the chartering to travel for extended time in that fashion with two or three guys who are as big or bigger than you. Bus seats are better. Go figure. I know it all comes down to money, I get it, and I know I am lucky to have been able to travel.

The folks at the USO in both Bangor, Maine, and Dallas, Texas were fantastic, the hospitality that they provided was much appreciated by everyone I traveled with. Truly above the expectation.

I did get to see Chris play Basketball, which was a big deal to me. I had to miss his play in the Varsity game, but he scored 4 pts in 5 minutes, and that was cool. Lots of fun with the family over Christmas. I have a very cool family, and I was really happy to get to spend as much time with them as I could.

One thing that I talked with my wife about prior to getting home was that we were not traveling a ton, and we kept it down to two trips one for Christmas to my folks, and one down to my sisters and my folks again to pick up some sewing. I really wanted to concentrate on my wife and I getting as much time together as possible with our kids. That worked out well although I think there may have been some people who felt that I was being selfish or what not. I was, I admit it.

Our neighborhood threw the best new years eve progressive party I have ever had the opportunity to take part in. What a great group of people that showed up, kids, grandparents, and everyone had fun, no one did anything stupid. That is truly a great time.

My wife and I managed to stay in the day everyday we were together instead of focusing on the upcoming separation. That made our time together so much better. She is truly a fantastic lady, I am very lucky to have her in my life.

They managed to get our butts back in to theater faster than I would ever have imagined. It took two nights and three days to get us out of Kuwait, to Dallas. It took approximately 2 hours for me to leave Dallas when I arrived from Portland and we flew virtually nonstop until we arrived in Kuwait. 767's are better than what ever it was we had coming out, much longer range tanks.

I hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year. All my best wishes for the next 12 months.

PS To the Republicans who bought my dinner for my wife and friends... Thank you very much that was awesome, the company was better but the dinner was great.