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