Friday, September 29, 2006
As you've been reading, this first month has been marked by lots of different experiences. Some are good, some not so good. I think the best part is that it's gone by pretty fast.
We have a saying here that, "Every day's a Monday" and it certainly feels like it. I don't know how to describe it other than every day you go through that first day of the week, first day back to work, first day of forever feeling. While each day is certainly different, it still feels like a Monday.
Because every day is different, it helps to pass the time. Here are some of my little tricks. Janae sent me with my weekly medicine reminder. You know the kind, the plastic box with seven compartments to put your pills in? At home, we each have one and she puts our multitude of daily vitamins in them. Well I brought mine so every Friday I load mine up with my daily vitamin, my glucosimine with condroiton, my Vitamin E, my Naproxin, my fish oil (I hate that one), my garlic (I'm getting low and will have to have Janae send me some or order some on-line) and the myriad other little pills and vitamins I've got to put it. So when I take my pills, I can see the days dwindling down each week.
Then there's my work. I've got a schedule of where I go and when. I can't tell you the details for security reasons - you never know who's reading my entries and I don't want them to know my travel plans, but each day I have a different location and different legal officer to meet with. For instance, today I'm meeting with....Oh yeah, can't tell you.
Then there's the chow hall. Thursday night is Italian night. Thursday night last, we had spaghetti with really thin Prego spaghetti sauce - not very good, in addition to other things Italian. Friday nights are grilled steak and lobster tail - no kidding. Last night I had this big ole steak, some ribs, two lobter tails, a baked potato, salad and Baskin Robbins ice cream with chocolate and carmel sauce - and I wonder why I gain weight here?
Let's see, how else do we mark the passage of time?
Tuesday is bazaar day. The local vendors come in and set up a bazaar where they sell locally made things. Since some of you are going to be the beneficiary of things local for Christmas, I'll keep that quiet. What I can tell you they seel, since you won't be getting any of these things, are knock-off sunglasses and watches, bootlegged DVD's - they're the ones where people take video cameras into the movie theather and record the movie, copy them and sell them. The best ones are where people get up and walk out of the theater in front of the camera. It's pretty funny. They also sell rugs - none of you are getting rugs so I can tell you that. They've also got a tailor there who makes really great suits for a really great price. I actually bought one and it turned out really nice so I'll be buying a few others.
Then there's church. We hold sacrament meeting on Sunday nights and priesthood on Thursdays. Those are usually good days with good meetings.
So there you have it, that's how I tick off the days.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
We were discussing the corruption his country is faced with and the corrupt men that are in power. He talked about the days of the Soviet occupation and how bad that was. He talked about how repressive it was; no freedoms, constant fear – not a pleasant place to be.
He talked about being imprisoned for speaking out against the system. He would have to have been in the military at the time. I didn’t ask if it was the military that imprisoned him, but it was definitely the Soviets that put him in prison.
He told me about the torture that he went through; electric shock, the beatings. He told me that one time he was on the ground when a guard stomped on his hand with his boot. He held out his fingers to show me the lasting results; crooked fingers. He had me feel one of his finger nails where you could feel a definite ridge in the nail. He said it was scar tissue left over after all these years that continued to cause the nail to feel that way.
He then smiled and said that things were much better now. Even though he talked about the corrupt system and the challenges that they’re facing, he said “since you’re here” – pointing to me any my legal NCO – “things are going to get better.”
Here was a man who has seen so much – the Soviet invasion and occupation, their overthrow by the Mujahadeem, the rise and fall of the Taliban and now us. Even though he’s seen all this, he’s still positive that something good will rise from the ashes that Afghanistan is now. If he has hope, then I guess I can too.
Computers, typewriters and copy machines are hard to come by. They’re office equipment that we jus take for granted. In fact, I bet there are not many offices left in the US that actually have typewriters. Well all my legal counterparts have to hand-write all their documents. Then if they want copies, they re-write the original again. Can you imagine having to do that? I shudder at the thought.
I knew that e-mail about Joe's death would come, but I was hoping that it wouldn’t come that day or any day for that matter. Now that it’s come and gone, I’ve had some time to think about Joe and what his life and influence has had on me. Reflecting on him and his life this week and especially since last night, has helped me find a solution to a problem that I’m faced with.
For those of you who knew Joe, you already know what I’m going to say. You know what kind of a man he was. He was the kind of man I hope I can be someday. He was kind and thoughtful. He was a great missionary. He was a man filled with love for his fellowman. He loved the Savior and you could feel His spirit whenever you were around Joe. I never saw him discouraged. He was an example of how to endure to the end.
When I was home on leave in August, Janae and I went over to visit him and Vicki. I’m so glad we did. What struck me more than the physical signs of the cancer was the warm reception we got when we went in and sat down. Even though I could tell he was not feeling well, he tried not to let it show. He made us feel welcome. He told me that while I was gone he would make sure my family was taken care of. Here was a man in no position to physically care for my family and yet he was offering his services. That was Joe.
Janae told me about the last time he bore his testimony. OK, I don’t know if I can get through this. I’m having to blink back the tears. How I wish I could have been there. As Bishop Ashdown said, his very presence was an example to us all of the life he lived. I just hope someone can say that about me someday. I’m still too much the natural man.
Janae told me about his funeral. Again, I wish I could have been there.
So why am I writing this now. I guess I need a little inspiration right now to keep on with my job.
In an effort to keep certain things confidential, this next part may become a little vague or even cryptic. But, last night I met with a couple of men who are in a position to bring certain other “men” to justice. These certain “men” have committed atrocities and since I don’t want to offend anyone or give up information that’s confidential, I’ll not share it with you. These “men” are also being protected by other men. It is this protection and the threats of reprisals that continue to keep them in their positions of power. It is the fear of those reprisals that nothing is being done. Discouragement doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling. Remember when I said that I’m working with Gadianton Robbers, well that fact was made plain last night.
And then I thought about Joe. I thought, if anyone could affect these people for good, it would be him. I thought, “If Joe were here, what would he do?” Well the answer was obvious, he would love them. He would roll up his sleeves and get to work and make a change where he could. He wouldn’t let a little thing like this get in his way. He would find a way to make a difference.
So Joe, this is my tribute to you. I will roll up my sleeves. I will love these people (or at least try to) and I will work as hard as I can to make a difference in their lives.
And if in the next 10 months or so I can bring these “men” down, so much the better. OK, that wasn’t what Joe would have said. Remember, I’m still a natural man after all.
Anyway, he tells of kite flying here in Afghanistan. Kite flying in Afghanistan is a sport and not just a pleasant way to pass an afternoon. First of all, prime kite flying season is in the winter. My terp says it’s too hot to fly kites in the summer. I thought that was odd. Then I read about what they do to their string. They coat the kite string in crushed glass - it's crushed to a powder, glue and something like flour or ground oats. They then let the kite string dry. Once it’s dry, they roll it up on the spool and go out to fly kites.
But they don’t just fly them, they fight with them. The idea is to cut the kite string of an opponent and then send out your “kite runner” to catch your opponent’s kite. The last kite in the sky is the winner and if you can catch the second to last kite as well, you’re a true champion. People will actually display the kites they have caught in their home. It's also a village event. Everyone comes out to watch. They'll set up chairs on the tops of buildings to watch; drinking tea, eating, chatting and watching the kite fliers and their kite runners.
The object is to cross your kite string across another’s and then let the strings rub against each other until one string is cut. It’s against the rules to actually pull the string back and forth to cause the strings to cut, you just have to let the wind do it for you. Also, you can't run with the kite, you have to stand in one spot and let your kite do all the work.
As you can imagine, your hands get cut up pretty bad. Plus, if there are dozens and dozens of kites, these tournaments can go on for all day – in the middle of winter.
I asked my terp if that was true. He said yes and showed me the scars on his own hands/fingers from where he had been cut by glass coated string when he flew kites as a kid. Even now, that's how they fly their kits here. Oh, and they're not plastic kites. They're kites made of bamboo and very thin paper.
Think that would go over at home? I don’t think so either.
I must say that I’ve got the best wife and family. Janae is so good about writing me. I went 4 days in a row and got something every day from her. Mixed in was a card from Donna Durfee, my mother-in-law and cards from my boys. It was so nice.
When my first and only box, so far, arrived, it was like Christmas. It was actually the second box Janae had sent but she didn’t insure or register it as she didn’t think about it and the clerk didn’t ask. I’m sure that unregistered, uninsured box is out there somewhere, the only question is where. So, if you send me a box, be sure to register it or insure it. Apparently if it’s got some type of tracking system on it, it gets here faster. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but that seems to be the way it works.
Now for the real reason for writing this – if you have a soldier here and you haven’t been sending him any mail, write him a letter right now, put it in an enevelope and send it. I know, e-mail is instantaneous and that’s great, but there’s nothing like getting a real letter that you get to hold, knowing that your wife or loved one was the last one to hold it. If it smells like your perfume, it’s even better. My friend, Steve Esplin, will sleep with those letters from his wife that smell like her. I know, I think it’s weird too. Now if it was something else that was sent that smelled like my wife, something soft and silky, black or...OK, I’ll think of something else now.
OK DeAnna, maybe I was thinking of something else (mango), but I'll never tell!!
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Our conversation turned, as it inevitably does, to our work here. Only this time we talked about how we could compare our situation here to that of the people of the Book of Mormon. You've already heard me tell you about what it's like working with the Gadianton's so I don't want to bore you, but that was our first topic of discussion. I mentioned that I was going to skip ahead in my reading to read those chapters to try and gain some insight into what the Nephites and Lamanites did to purge them from their society. As I remember, it took the combined effort of the righteous people as well as calling upon the Lord to get the job done. That's what it's going to take here. There's a quote, and I don't have the exact wording, but it goes something like this, "for evil to prevail good men must do nothing" or something like that. I'm sure if I were to Google the saying, I'd find it.
OK, here it is, English philosopher Edmund Burke said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing." Or as another web page quotes him, "All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing."
Regardless of the exact quote the message is the same. Right now I'm praying that a few good men will do something. It will take those few good men as well as a lot of prayer to get rid of the cancer that plagues the Afghan government, military and society.
Merrill either read or saw on the news a piece about a church that teaches that if you follow the teachings of the Bible you will become economically rich. He related how he was reading about Alma and his mission to the Zoramites and how they were casting out the poor because they were poor. I then thought about the people who profess to believe one thing but their actions say otherwise. I thought of the people who do things in the name of religion but again, their actions are not in accordance with what their religion teaches - Islamic terrorists to be precise.
I don't mean to sound negative because that's not how I felt after our discussion. Rather, I felt a spark of renewed testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. How many times have we been taught and how many times have we read within its pages that this book was written for us. I can testify that it was. I feel like what I'm going through right now have direct parallels to what the people of the Book of Mormon went through. As I read it this year, I hope that I can draw out the lessons that I need to learn to be the most effective that I can be.
I never would have thought that being here would help increase my testimony of the Book of Mormon, but it has and I look forward to a continued renewal of that testimony.
Anyway, it was his birthday last month and while I sent him a card, I didn’t do anything else. So this is my tribute to my tallest son.
Seth is really good about not being as tall as Luke but I think somewhere down deep, it bothers him maybe just a little. I know it bothers me!! When I was home on leave in August, he was just about ready to be taller than me. He’ll tell you that he was taller, OK, maybe he was. He’s only 15 for cryin’ out loud!! His goal is to be taller than my youngest brother who is 6’4”. He just might make it.
Luke is a sophomore this year. He was telling me the other day that a girl said “Hello Luke” in the hall and he had no idea who she was. I told him that it was because she thought he was cute and was checking him out. He did not agree. Of course he will be angry with me for even talking about him much less telling you that a girl was checking him out.
So in an effort to make him even more mad at me, I’ll tell you a little secret. Now don’t tell anyone but he LOVES, LOVES, LOVES it when I kiss him on the cheek. Well maybe he doesn’t LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it, in fact he’ll tell you he HATES, HATES, HATES it but it’s a habit left over from when he was little.
Here’s my favorite picture of him. I think it’s Janae’s favorite picture as well. I love the mischievous look in his eye. Again, he’s going to hate me for posting this picture, but since I’m 1000’s of miles away, he can’t do a whole lot about it. Besides, I get to write about what I want and who I want so he’ll just have to suffer.
I don’t want him to hate me too much, but let me extol the virtues of my second son; he’s a great home teacher, just ask the Potters, he’s kind and thoughtful even though he’ll do everything he can to convince you otherwise, he’s got a great memory, just try playing those memory games with him, he’s always concerned about others, he’s extremely generous – the Reedy’s were having a yard sale when we first moved into the neighborhood, Luke went over and got us all presents. I still have the red tie and gavel (
Let me just say that Luke is a great young man and we love having him for a son.
Friday, September 15, 2006
My groupwise account, that I've been using, is accessed by a very slow internet connection. It takes a minute or two to load groupwise, then another minute or two to load the actual message, another minute or two to load the reply message.
This new address gets me the message instantaneously.
Every day at noon, you can hear the recorded voice of the mullah calling the soldiers to prayer. Every Thursday night you can hear the recorded voice calling them to prayer. Friday is their holy day so they get an early start on Thursdays. At Phoenix, we were right next to the mosque so you could hear the recordings blaring all night. It kept waking me up. Now, I only hear the recording on occasions.
Chai is made from a tea leaf, not an herbal tea like I originally thought. Merrill and I don’t drink it, explaining that our religion teaches us not to partake of certain beverages. So far it hasn’t led to a discussion of religion, but I’m hoping that it might open the door a little sometime, somewhere.
Each time we’ve been served our host has always had a “serving boy.” I think they’re the equivalent of a private or other junior officer but they’re very efficient. They’ll come in quietly, place the tea and snacks down and then leave. After about 20 minutes, he’ll come back and refreshen the cup and the snack tray if it’s been eaten down very much.
It’s pretty cool.
Dusty, Paul and I had the opportunity to meet with the Brigadier General of the Afghan Army JAG Corps. His name is BG Shir. His office is in the Ministry of Defense building in downtown Kabul. ‘We went there with our Navy JAG counterparts.
They took us to the various military bases in Kabul. We visited the Combined Forces Command – Afghanistan compound. It’s comprises several city blocks in Kabul. The military went in and rented the houses and buildings and turned them into living quarters, office work spaces, dining halls, PX’s etc. I finally got so see some green as there were beautiful tree-lined streets, fruit trees, flowering trees and bushes. It seems like a great place to work and live.
We also visited the International Security Afghan Forces compound. It’s not the NATO compound, we did see that, but it is a compound made up of many different nations. While there I saw soldiers from Canada, Germany, Italy, Croatia, France and a couple others that I didn’t recognize. Their compound had virtually no green and appeared to simply be a bunch of metal shipping containers thrown together to make a military compound.
After that, we finally got to go and meet BG Shir. His office was on the top floor/5th floor and there was no elevator. It’s an old building that is showing its age. Paint was peeling from the walls, the marble floors were cracked and there was that old building smell. But it was still pretty cool. In my minds eye I could see former British, Soviet, Taliban and other military types walking the halls. It was another of those surreal experiences I’ve been having lately.
The surrealism continued as I sat in his antiquated office. I mean, here I was, a lawyer from Utah sitting in a high ranking government officials office chatting with him, giving him advice and him actually listening to what I had to say. I know it’s a far cry from sitting in some bureaucrats office in Washington DC, but at the same time it was exactly like I was sitting in some bureaucrats office in Washington DC. I mean this is the Afghan government for crying out loud.
So here is the proof. It’s Paul, Dusty and myself with BG Shir. He’s a short man but he doesn’t come across as a short man when you’re meeting with him.
And the visits with the high ranking individuals continues.
I had an opportunity to meet with the commanding general of the Army in this sector, General Mengal. His office is in a building that sits up on a hill overlooking Camp Blackhorse and the valley. It was like walking into a throne room. Furniture is everywhere. Lots of couches, love seats and arm chairs. They are all very ornately carved and painted in pastel colors with gilt edges. It was quite old but comfortable and functional. His office overlooks the valley. The door to the balcony was open and a breeze was fluttering the drape so I could get a great view of the valley and the camp. Sorry, but I don’t have a picture of my meeting with him.
I had heard from several people that the flat bread they eat is quite good so I was looking forward to that. My interpreter explained that the meal would consist of rice, a meat dish, salad and fruit. He was correct. Go figure.
As we entered the chow hall I was surprised to see the tables laden with food. I’m so used to going through a line and having someone serve me that to see it all out on the table was a new experience. You just had to find a place to sit.
Big bowls of soup, plates of rice, stacks of flat bread, platters of grapes and apples, bowls of some yellow substance and bowls of some kind of meat that had been stewed in tomatoes and onions. Oh and a plate of plain yogurt. It actually looked pretty good.
We all started with the soup. My interpreter didn’t know what it was made of. The color reminded me of split pea, but not quite as green. It was also a little runnier than split pea would be. It had vegetables in it and it was actually pretty good.
We then started on the main course – rice and meat. I loaded my plate with the long grain rice. Even plain, the rice was good. I added some of the “yellow” stuff to my plate. I still don’t know what it was and my interpreter didn’t know what the translation was. It did have some lentil beans in it. Whatever it was, it was good. I spooned some meat onto my plate. I forgot to ask what it was. It was probably mutton or goat. When I actually got a piece of real meat, it was good. Unfortunately, I got the plate after most everyone had had a chance at it and I had more than one piece of “meat” that when I bit into it, I decided it was not actually meat. A couple of times, rather than spit it out or even try chewing it, I simply swallowed the “tidbit” whole. The yogurt tasted like plain yogurt. They spoon it on their rice and eat it with the other things. Salad completed the main course. Salad for them are sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions in a vinegar type dressing. Tasty.
The flat bread was sitting in stacks on the table and I think it’s considered rude to actually put it on your plate. I was trying to watch to see what everyone else did and not one person put the bread on their plates. They form the bread like you would a corn/flour tortilla and then place it on the hot baking rack. You can tell which side was hot-side down as it was darker than the top.
I made the mistake of eating with my fork. On my plate there was a large spoon and a fork so I naturally thought the spoon was for the soup and the fork for everything else. As I was eating with my fork, my interpreter whispered that it was rude to use the fork. I quickly put it down and continued eating with my spoon. Apparently they use the fork like a knife, since no knife was provided.
Oh, no napkins. The young soldiers who were sort of acting like waiters, placed large hand towels on the tables. One for every 4-5 men. Those where the napkins. After I watched several men wipe their hands and then pass it on, I decided I’d just wipe my hands on my pants.
For dessert, it was grapes and apples. I’d heard not to eat the fruit as it would have been washed in local water so I decided to pass. They did look delicious though. The men would peel the apples with a knife and then core them. They would then break apart the apple and share the wedges. I really then decided not to eat the apples since they’d been handled by several people before they got to me.
After everyone was done eating, they all made some kind of religious gesture with their hands. It was pretty cool.
I was honored to sit at the General’s table. At the head was the General of the 201st Corps, of which we’re a part. There were the Brigade commanders who are all Generals. The chief judge is a general and I was sitting near him. There were a couple of Colonels, but I think I was the lowest ranking officer at the table. There wasn’t a lot of small talk as I don’t speak Dari or Pashtu and they don’t speak English, but it was still a pleasant experience. Afterwards, the General approached me, shook my hand and said he looked forward to our next meeting. I met him my first day here.
Now that I’ve set up my mentoring schedule that will entail spending the entire day with the court personnel, I may get to eat there at least once a week. I was told to expect the food to react badly with my own internal system, especially the yogurt, but so far, I’m feeling fine. It will be an adventure though.
I thought it would be rude to take pictures of the table so you’ll just have to picture it all in your mind. Maybe next time.
What's nice is that you're never very far from bottles of water. They come into camp by the pallet load. They stack several boxes of water ourside our rooms. Stacks of water are in the latrines so you can use them to brush your teeth. Refrigerator fulls are in the gym and chow hall.
I was afraid before we came that clean water would not be readily available. While it may be for the guys down range, we have an endless supply.
I've never had so much water in my life. But that's a good thing and I'm not complaining.
The road we take between Camp Blackhorse and the KMTC (Kabul Military Training Center) is not paved. It’s just a dusty, dirty wide spot in the road. The dust is terrible. It’s a fine, powdery substance, much like talcum powder. It gets everywhere. Riding in a humvee I can taste it, feel it grinding between my teeth. I hate that, but it’s nothing like being the gunner. The gunner stands in the turret and gets the full brunt of the dirty, nasty stuff. If you don’t have a mask or a scarf, it can be miserable.
Such was Merrill’s mistake the other day. He forgot his mask and had not scarf. This is what he looked like after the drive between the two locations.
This day was particularly bad. We had to leave the main “road” and I use that term loosely. We drove on the shoulder through several inches of the dust. It was so thick, we could not see the vehicle in front of us. Poor Merrill was in the last vehicle with our humvee in front and a construction truck in front of us. It was a bad, bad day for driving.
Oh, did I mention that we’re told that there are like 49 parts per billion of fecal matter in the dust. Maybe it’s higher, I don’t remember. Lovely thought, isn’t it?
Even though these pictures are blurry and not very good, I hope they give you some idea of what the full moon looks like rising over the mountains to the East of us. It’s a beautiful sight. Reminds me of the moon rising over the Wasatch front.
The charge was unauthorized use of a military vehicle. The young soldier dropped off his commander, drove into Kabul and then drove home to visit his fiancé that night. He was stopped at a police check-point and they discovered that he had the vehicle without permission. He was arrested and taken to the Pol-e-charki prison/holding facility.
In all systems of justice, the degree of punishment usually depends on the soldier, his record, and the circumstances. The prosecutor even stated that he was a good soldier, no prior disciplinary problems, no intent to steal the vehicle and that he came from a good family.
So what kind of punishment would you deem appropriate?
OK, he did leave his commander high and dry without a ride back from his meeting.
OK, he did spend several hours in Kabul before heading home to see his fiancé.
OK, he did take the vehicle without permission.
In our system, he could receive everything from a counseling statement, a reprimand, non-judicial punishment (appear before the commander and be punished with potential punishments being loss of pay, reduction in rank, confinement, extra duties, etc.) or even a court-martial. Realize that in our system, court-martial is very serious and is the equivalent, in most cases, of a criminal court conviction.
Have you decided on a punishment yet?
Would you throw him into prison to await his trial and punishment?
Have I teased you enough?
OK, here’s what happened.
He was placed into pre-trial confinement. He remained in pre-trial confinement until the date of his trial. Under their new system, he would go to trial within 120 days. There was no similar provision under the old system.
At the trial, his commander was unable to be there but because he had signed a confession, that was used against him.
He and his defense attorney did not deny that he had taken the vehicle. They stressed however, that he had no intention to steal it, something that was never alleged.
He was found guilty at trial.
He was sentenced to the time he had spent in prison.
How much time do you ask? Eight months and change!! He spent 8 months in prison just for taking a vehicle without permission.
Now lest you think that too harsh, OK, it was too harsh, it was a fault of their old system. They didn’t have a non-judicial punishment system in place that should have been used in this type of case. That’s one of the things I need to do is work with the court system to get any of these old cases resolved so that young soldiers are not sitting in prison that don’t need to be. Some of the cases I need to get resolved through NJP. I’ve got my work cut out for me.
From my room to the chow-hall it’s a meager 136 steps. And if I continue on past the chow hall, it’s another 30 steps to the gym for a total of 166 steps from my room to the furthest point in camp I normally travel. Granted there are further points on camp that I go on occasion, but the majority of my day is spent within 166 steps from start to finish. The other offices that I interact with are within that 166 step bubble.
I bet your world doesn’t seem so small anymore?
“You took the good things for granted -- now you must earn them again. For every right that you cherish, you have a duty that you must fulfill. For every hope that you entertain, you have a task that you must perform. For every good that you wish to preserve, you will have to sacrifice your comfort and ease. There is nothing for nothing any longer.” George Washington
So what are you taking for granted?
Monday, September 11, 2006
Most of that reaction was due to what these misguided men did. Part of it was that they would do it in the name of God. My limited knowledge of Islam has taught me that this is not in accordance with true Islamic teachings. But like so many other religions, and I’m not excluding any, men will twist and distort the truth to satisfy their own desires. Bastards!
As I watched the events of that day 5 years ago unfold, I was transfixed by the normalcy of the day. People going to work, people getting on planes, people going about their every day business, and yet, this day would live in infamy. Ordinary people would become extraordinary due to the circumstances they were placed in. Who would have guessed? I thought of all the times that I’ve gotten on a plane to go somewhere, not expecting anything out of the ordinary. What I liked about the movie is that there was not a single actor of note. They all appeared to be ordinary citizens. I think that’s what made it so real.
I was afraid that if I watched the movie I would come out hating the people with whom I am responsible for working with. And I did. But I don’t.
I did because of what this place used to be, a terrorist training camp. I did because whether or not the men I’ve come to know were really here, they are now and they were guilty by association.
But I don’t because there are some good men that I’m working with. I know these men truly want to see their country move forward towards a democratic society.
What the movie did do, ironically, was confirm more than ever why we are here. We are here to fight terrorism!! If we leave now, the terrorists will win. If you have been watching the news, you know that the violence has increased. Am I scared? Of course. Do I still feel the comforting spirit of the Lord? Absolutely!! Do we have to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda and the other terrorists? Without a doubt!! I am now more dedicated than ever to do my best to help these people overcome the disease that plagues their country. We can do it. I know we can but it will take one step at a time. With the Lord’s help we can do it.
Should you watch the movie? That’s for you to decide. Was it well done? Yes. Was the language rough? Yes. But it was real. Someday I will have my sons watch it so we can talk about why their father had to leave them for a year and I hope they will understand.
As I wrote in an earlier posting, please pray for these people. Pray that good men will come to power who will be able to lead this country into an age of peace and democracy. Pray that the evil men will be defeated. Pray that their souls will rot in hell. OK, don’t pray for that…but…
In the end, today was a very emotionally moving, draining day. It’s a day I won’t soon forget.
September 11, 2006. Where were you today? Do you remember where you were 5 years ago? Do you remember how you felt? I imagine that you do.
On September 11, 2006 we were in formation at Camp Blackhorse, within Camp Pol-e-Charki, Afghanistan. We were honoring and commemorating the events of 5 years ago. The day’s events would include a flag raising ceremony and presentation of combat patches. I’ll include the actual remarks that were shared at the end of this entry so you can know what exactly was said.
I want to share the emotion.
We stood in formation for a few minutes before we were called to attention. You could sense that this was going to be a special moment. After we were called to attention, the honor guard approached and raised the American flag. As it was being raised, so many thoughts and feelings came flooding in. The overriding one was a sense of pride in what that flag represented. Then our National Anthem was played. As the notes of The Star Spangled Banner played over the speakers, that feeling of pride only increased. I couldn’t believe that I was here in Afghanistan representing our country. To hear the National Anthem played on foreign soil was very moving.
I suppose some would say that we are conquerors. We’re not. We did not come to conquer the country but to bring peace and democracy. The fact that there are those who do not want peace in this country will not deter us from our mission.
After the American flag was raised, the flag of New York City was raised. I did not expect that and that brought a whole flood of different emotions. I thought of the men and women who died that day. I thought of the men and women who gave their lives trying to save others.
I then thought of the terrorists who planned and carried out the attack. I don’t know if I’ve shared this or not, but the very ground where we stood was an Al Queada terrorist training camp 5 years ago. Now they’re gone and we’re here. I hope that the things that this camp stood for 5 years ago will be permanently replaced with the values that we now bring.
At the conclusion of the prepared remarks, we had a moment of silence. All the thoughts and feelings I had had were reinforced as I stood there thinking of so many people who have had an influence in my life. I thanked my Heavenly Father for His blessings and for His love and for the opportunity that I will have to influence someone else’s life.
After the raising of the flag we all received our combat patches. When we first learned at Shelby what the 41st Brigade (they are our parent command) patch was and looked like, several were not impressed. Others did not want to wear it. I must admit I was not too excited about the “look” of the patch. Then, when we arrived at Camp Phoenix, we were introduced to the history of the 41st Brigade. (A brief synopsis of their history is included in the remarks at the end of this entry.) Suddenly the patch took on new meaning. I was in the back of the formation and as I watched my friends and comrades receive their patches I began to look forward to receiving my own. As it was placed on my shoulder, it hit me, I am a combat warrior. I am in a combat zone and I have earned the right to proudly wear this symbol of my service to my country. The small patch took on a huge meaning for me.
At the end of the ceremony, the flags were lowered. As the American flag came down, Taps was played. It was the most beautiful rendition I have ever heard. Two trumpets played. One was the lead, the other echoed. It was very haunting. As it was playing, it brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the countless men and women over the years who have given their lives to preserve the freedoms we now take for granted. And believe me; we do take them for granted. I thought of our families who are at home, carrying on in our absence and the sacrifices they make. They are as much heroes as we are, if not more so.
We then moved on to the individual flag raising ceremony. Some of us were able to purchase flags that we flew over Camp Blackhorse “in the face of the enemy” “on foreign soil” in commemoration of the events of 9-11.
As we waited for our turn to fly our flags, we quietly talked about the events and emotions we had just gone through. Our Sergeant Major, Larry Hansen, had tears in his eyes as he talked about the emotions he felt as he heard the National Anthem being played. He talked of his two sons who just returned home from Iraq and how proud he was to be able to now say that like them, he was a combat warrior. I had to look away as it brought tears to my own eyes to witness the pride and love and patriotism reflected in his eyes. Serving with men like this is such an honor and makes me grateful to be able to share this experience with them.
As I raised my own flag…well I can’t really describe the feelings I felt. It was just a very emotional, almost spiritual experience. As I was able to stand and salute the symbol of our country, the symbol of our freedom, I again reflected on past heroes and the sacrifices they made on our behalf. I just hope that I can, in some small way, measure up to their standards.
And then it was over.
Life returned to normal, or as normal as it is over here. We all returned to our offices and work spaces to continue with our mission of mentoring the ANA and helping them move forward to becoming the best they can be.
Comments from the ceremony:
Remarks by LTC Mitchell, Commander, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps
Welcome to today’s ceremony and thank you for coming. Today is Patriot Day as designated by Congress in 2002 to remember the events of September 11th, 2001. Today marks the fifth anniversary of this tragic event and we are here today to remind everyone of the great sacrifice and heroic actions of the police officers, firefighters and volunteers that assisted the casualties of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93. This event is also noteworthy because it changed many of our lives throughout these past years and has brought Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines together along with our coalition force partners from Germany to serve in support of the Global War on Terror.
In addition to Patriot Day, we will mark history by authorizing Soldiers to where the 41st Infantry Brigade shoulder sleeve insignia for former wartime service more commonly know as a “combat patch”. This ceremony will pay tribute to our lineage and record of your contribution to the unit history.
Following the combat patch ceremony, you will have the opportunity to participate in a flag raising ceremony and fly your own flag over Camp Blackhorse in honor of your support and sacrifice for Operation Enduring Freedom.
Thank you for joining me today in commemorating the tragic event of September 11th, 2001. The events of this day caused nearly 3,000 deaths and altered the lives of many Americans for time to come.
I’d like to spend a few minutes remembering the events of that day five years ago. At 8:46 a.m., a hijacked passenger jet, American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, Massachusetts, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
At 9:03 a.m.: A second hijacked airliner, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston, crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center followed by American Airlines Flight 77 crashing into the Pentagon at 9:43 a.m.
At 10:05 a.m.: The south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed and At 10:10 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 93, also hijacked, crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh. By 6 p.m. that day: Explosions were heard in Kabul, Afghanistan, hours after terrorist attacks targeted the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
We look back and many of us have painful images and feelings of disbelief as to what occurred. Most of you can remember exactly were you were and what you were doing and who the first person was that you called to make sure they were alright. This attack was not just an attack on the United States, it was on attack on the ideals and values we have, it was an attack on parents and children and their future and the way we live in a free world.
Today on Patriot Day, we honor the lives lost on September 11th and we share our sympathy with their loved ones. Equally important, we recognize the heroism and character of the American people. We remember the bravery of New York’s firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel who truly lived up to their oath to serve and protect. These heroes rushed staircases to save lives while sacrificing their own. This theme was consistent with servicemen and women at the Pentagon and volunteers throughout all targeted areas.
One year ago, we underwent another tragedy along our Gulf Coast in the United States after Hurricane Katrina demolished all the communities along the coastline. And we saw once again, the diverse cross-section of military and civilian, white collar and blue collar workers, international and American citizens, bonding together to save and rebuild these ruined communities. This only goes to show how we unite under the face of adversity.
Our military personnel have seen duty stateside and all over the world since September 11th protecting our national interests and protecting our way of life. We performed admirably supporting homeland defense as we experienced firsthand the changes in our Armed Forces and National Security Policy.
Today, I look out at all you and see the same diverse cross-section of American and International citizens like those that united on the streets of Manhattan near the World Trade Center, along the wall of the Pentagon, the crash site of United Flight 93 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania and the Gulf Coast of the United States during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
September 11th was a drastic turning point that altered your lives and the lives of many Americans forever. Because of that, we are all here together as one combined fighting force from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and German Army along with other coalition force partners. Both active duty and reserve component personnel bringing skills and experience to unite against the adverse conditions here in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Today is not complete without honoring your service appropriately. Thank you for all of your hard work, passion and commitment while answering your call to duty. You truly know that freedom is not free as all of you made sacrifices to be here.
I would like to close with a quote from President John F. Kennedy – “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but by the way they are honored and by the way they’re remembered and we remember them by a moment of silence”.
Would you now please join me in a moment of silence?
Remarks by CSM Roy, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps
At the beginning of our ceremony, LTC Mitchell mentioned in his welcoming comments that we will mark history today by authorizing Soldiers to wear the 41st Infantry Brigade shoulder sleeve insignia for former wartime service or more commonly know as a “combat patch”.
The 41st Infantry Brigade was activated as a division in 1917 and later served with distinction in New Guinea and the Philippines. The 41st spent periods of harsh jungle fighting and later took Basilian Island unopposed. This success lead to the unit nickname “Jungleers”, previously called “Sunset Division”. Currently, the 41st is based out of Oregon as a National Guard Brigade Combat Team. The shoulder patch is a semicircle of red with 12 orange rays and an orange sun with a blue base.
According to the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry, the moving of the shoulder sleeve insignia from your left shoulder representing your current unit to the right shoulder to represent former wartime service became common practice in World War II. Since then, the combat patch has become a mark of experience for service in a combat zone.
This small piece of cloth means so much to Soldiers because it symbolizes that they’ve been in battle. We have some Soldiers who have served an entire 20 year career and are now being presented with their first combat patch culminating over two decades of service to their country.
This patch symbolizes more than just another item to place on your uniform. It’s a reflection on the historical significance of the 41st Infantry Brigade and Task Force Phoenix. Many of you are not originally from the 41st, and are proud of the unit you deployed with, but make no mistake, from the 41st or not, today is about you and you are part of history. Most importantly, this patch represents your personal contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom along with your fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from the active and reserve component and our coalition force partners from Germany.
We have now reached the point in today’s events where you get to fly your flag over Camp Blackhorse. Many of you will raise a flag today so you have a memory of the time you spent here or you may raise it for a special person or organization back home. This is a great opportunity to raise a flag in honor of those who supported you most while you were deployed in Afghanistan.
As we get closer to the KMTC are several remnants of Afghanistan’s military history. First there’s the ranges, then come the “boneyards.” Like the “elephant graveyard” where elephants go to die, this is a place where tanks go to die. Acres and acres of old, rusting tanks lie everywhere. I’m not a tank expert, but I’m told that there are tanks from WWII and all subsequent eras and conflicts. Russian tanks are the predominant nationality. My artillery buddies just drool at the thought of being able to go out and wander among the relics. I would love to wander just from curiosity.
Right outside the KMTC are several buildings in complete ruin. You can see collapsed cement floors and walls, twisted steel beams and other evidence of destruction everywhere. They served as Taliban headquarters in this area and we took them out when we attacked 5 years ago. I have never seen first hand the effects of our weaponry. Now I see it every few days and it reminds me of the awesome destructive power we have available to us.
Friday, September 08, 2006
When we first got here, I saw several of these presented to the officers we were replacing. They are obviously of great significance to the Afghans. I also saw several men being given flowers as gifts. It's very different than what we would do, but then, this is a very different culture.
The pictures don't do it justice. The Soviets hid/stored tanks in this cave during the war. A bombed out tank factory is several kilometers away. I'll try to get some pictures of it later.
Here's my caveat: since some of these items will be going to the school, if a heavy-duty, hand-cranked pencil sharperner were included, then pencils would be OK.
You'll notice, if your scroll through the entry asking for assistance, that I added pictures of the school just built and the children. Most, if not all, the children are wearing native style clothing. In anticipation of your questions, let me double check to make sure that they will want Western style clothing. I'll keep you posted.
I did forget to mention to not send shorts. No one wears them here despite the heat. They're not "modest."
Thanks for your help!
Scott, my roommate, went to the bazaar and bought a few rugs and covered almost every square inch of our room in rugs. He then bought additional coverings for the desk, table, book shelf, couches, etc. The only thing missing is a hooka pipe to complete the "opium den" look. What do you think?
Didn't realize the one picture was blurry. Here's my meager little corner. as blurry as it is. I'll have to take some more later.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
As we travel the road, we see lots of shops set up. Some are made of mud/brick and are close together and set right on the edge of the road. At times it feels like a person could step out of their shop right into on-coming traffic.
Speaking of stepping into on-coming traffic, that’s exactly what they do. It’s almost as if they don’t see the vehicles coming towards them. People will just step out into the road. It’s a little unnerving at first. When I was in Kabul last week, we saw very small children sitting on the raised median in the middle of very busy traffic. I couldn’t believe it. The thing that freaked me out was adults would walk by them and not do or say anything. We saw other kids walking in and out of traffic, on the edge of traffic and scaring the jeebies out of me by how close they would get to rushing traffic. It was unreal.
Anyway, back to the shops. Some of them are connex’s – metal shipping containers. They are converted into shops. All kinds of things are sold out of them. What piqued my interest and this post, is that the ones that are at the edge of the raised portions of the highway and held up in back by whatever they can find, rocks, stumps, 50-gallon barrels, anything they have that will support the weight. As you can imagine, they’re not always evenly balanced. I keep thinking sometimes a strong wind is all it would take to knock them over.
The president of the country, I’m told, is generally honest and a good guy, but in order to maintain control of the government, he has had to appoint as his ministers and advisers, warlords and former Mujahaden fighters. These can be very bad, evil, corrupt men. And they uphold evil, corrupt men at the commands where I work. I can’t and don’t want to give out details for security reasons but also because I don’t want you having nightmares, but the atrocities that happen amongst the soldiers is pretty sad.
I know the Lord can work miracles in this land. One of those miracles needs to be that good men get into positions of power. So please pray for that.
If you ever hear anyone complaining about our system of government or our court system, punch them in the mouth for me, drug them and put them on the next plane to Kabul. Let them live under this system for even a few days and they will gain an immediate appreciation for what a great system of government we have. I’m not saying that our system is perfect. In fact it’s not, but for the most part it’s fair. I wish I could say the same about this one.
Now, lest you leave this posting completely depressed, let me say this. The Afghans are working hard towards becoming a democratic society, the military in particular. Honorable men have spent hours writing and passing into law a brand new military justice code. It went into effect earlier this year. That in itself was a small miracle. It’s patterned after our own system of justice so is very easy for me to understand. Now, if we could just get it applied evenly to everyone we would make progress. My one goal, my purpose in life so to speak, is to bring just one of these Gadianton’s to trial. I truly believe that would be the beginning of the end of corruption in the military.
So as I said, pray for me, but pray for the people and pray that their government will survive.
My terp (interpreter) said that we’re past the hot season and are now entering the cool season. He’s not kidding. It’s getting pretty cool in the evenings and even chilly once in a while in the mornings. It’s so nice.
The day before yesterday we had a big storm come through that brought lots of rain and hail. Merrill and I were traveling back from another camp and I made sure to hit all the big mud puddles. It was great. A couple times our humvee was enveloped in mud. It was so cool.
Then yesterday another storm blew in. This one was even bigger. It rained for almost two hours and brought hail stones the size of big marbles. We were outside under a tin roof in a communications class and it got so loud that we had to move inside. Even then the pounding on the roof was incredibly loud.
We’re in a valley and where does water run when it hits the mountains? Down. There’s a dry riverbed outside our compound. We estimate that it had at least 25 feet of water raging through it. It was amazing. I don’t think the pictures will do the sight justice.
Our camp slopes slightly down so once again, the water runs downhill. But, because we’re surrounding by impenetrable walls, the water had no where to go. We had over 4 feet of water at the bottom of camp in the motor pool. Again, the pictures don’t do the sight justice.
The building I live in is on the highest point apparently as we did not have to sandbag around the doors to keep the water out.
Needless to say, it was an absolute mess. The chowhall had over a foot of water in it but to our amazement, the staff was able to get it cleaned out and serve a hot meal. We were really impressed.
So there’s my weather story. Oh, it’s supposed to start snowing in the mountains next month. Just like Utah. So if you’re ever wondering what the weather is like, just imagine Dugway or Tooeellee (sp) Utah and you’ll have a pretty good idea.
Here are some before and after the flood pictures.