Tuesday, October 31, 2006
My second favorite holiday is being celebrated at home while I sit here and type away in the dark hours of the night. OK, it's only 9:20 p.m. but I'm tired enough that it feels like 2:30 a.m.
If I were home right now, I'd be passing out candy AND scaring trick-or-treaters with my boys.
Here's a picture of me from last year. I actually went to work looking like this. Notice the eyes? Cool, scary contacts. I freaked out several defense attorneys, court clerks and defendants. It was fun!!
This next picture is of me on our front porch with our stuffed, scary dead guy.
Here's our front yard. The tombstones were made by the boys and me. We had a great time making them. I think we had 23 or more at one time. Wonder why the Atkinson girls don't like to come to our house to trick or treat?
The medics and a couple other of the female NCO's went trick-or-treating down the hallway of one of the buildings of rooms. They were knocking on all the doors collecting a pillow-case full of candy. They were obviously having a great time.
For Priesthood tonight, rather than have a lesson, we watched Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein. I love that old movie. It's so campy but so much fun at the same time. What made it especially fun was that Braxton had his own Halloween Party last week and they watched the same movie. He thought that was pretty funny that he and I ended up watching the same movie for a Halloween party.
The weather continues to get cooler. While it's still in the very low 70's during the day, it's getting cooler in the mornings. I've taken to wishing I was wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt under my uniform or have even contemplated wearing my fleece jacket. But, since I'm such a manly man, I have not. I wouldn't want anyone to accuse me of being a whimp.
Since I'm so tired, I'm not being very witty tonight so I'll simply sign off by wishing you all a Happy Halloween. At least I'll be home next year to celebrate!!
Friday, October 27, 2006
So with that said, thank you to Marintha Miles from California for sending me/us a box of 20 pair of little boy and girl shoes. When I first posted this I had received only one box. Tonight I got two more from Marintha. Thank you so much!!!
The thing that impresses me more than anything is the response I've received from people I don't even know. It's a testament to the attitude of being willing to help someone you don't even know. It's also a testament to the power of the internet. Had I not first posted this on my blog, I know I wouldn't have received the responses that I have. And on that note, thanks to my cousin, Russell Fox for getting the word out on his blog on Times and Seasons. I have had quite a few people e-mail me after reading his blog.
Again, a testament for the good that can come from the internet.
Let me tell you about some of the situations our guys have faced here. I won’t tell you their names because in some cases I don’t know who it happened to, in other cases, I know they don’t want you to know so you won’t worry. The other thing I won’t tell you is where these events are happening since some of you have loved ones there.
The most amazing story is about a true hero. The ANA were engaged in a fire fight with the bad guys, I’m assuming they were Taliban or at the very least were insurgents. The ANA were getting the worst of it. One of our guys was the gunner in his vehicle. He told the driver to move the humvee up so that they were blocking the ANA from the gunfire. As the gunner, he began engaging the enemy. In the course of the fight, he was shot twice in the chest and once in the helmet. Because of his body armor and the integrity of the helmet, he was not seriously injured. When you look at the area not protected, namely his face, it was a miracle that he was not hit there and injured or killed. Someone was looking out for that young man that day.
Those are the facts as I know them. There are different versions of the story circulating but I won’t share them as I don’t know what is true and what is fiction. Suffice it to say, he exemplified true courage and heroism that day.
On a regular basis other guys are getting shot at, have rockets fired in their direction, are having to return fire or are in a constant state of vigilance. I know, albeit not very well, the first Utah soldier with a confirmed kill. He too was involved in a gun fight as the gunner in his vehicle. He engaged the enemy with his crew served weapon and took them out. I don’t imagine that’s something he really wants to write home about.
I know of one soldier that was injured in a fire fight. Fortunately it was not a critical injury, but guys are getting injured.
So far, I have not had any of these experiences. On the one hand it would make life exciting and this blog a little more interesting but I imagine my wife would prefer that my blog remain the same mundane one that it is.
We hear about the living conditions of some of our guys and compared to them we are living like kings. It’s almost embarrassing how good we have it here. Some of our guys are living in 6-foot diameter holes with sand bags around the top and tarps overhead. I won’t even describe the latrine conditions. Would you like to wash your clothes in a bucket? Me either. How about having to cook for yourself? I can’t even imagine. It makes me incredibly grateful for the living conditions I live in.
So wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers and other family members, know that your soldiers that live like this are heroes. Know that those that are being shot at and come under harms way may not want to share that information with you. Maybe I’ve crossed the line by sharing it, but I hope not. But know this, we’re being watched over and protected. I wish I could say that we will all come home together, but I don’t know that. All I know is that we can feel of your prayers and are grateful for them.
Therefore, any time you want to leave a comment, you'll have to go through an additional step. I hope that won't discourage you as I love getting the comments, just realize I had to do it to stop the spam.
The other reason is that I love the snow. I know I’m crazy, but I really love it. I don’t even mind driving through it. Now my story might change if I have to walk through it, but I’ll reserve that judgment for when the time comes.
But for now, I can’t wait for the snow to come.
I won’t be able to tell it in a chronological narrative as it was told to us in a somewhat disjointed manner but you’ll get the necessary details. The thing that still amazes me about him is the positive attitude he has. He always has a smile on his face. He always makes me feel better inside after we meet with him. I can feel a genuine kinship with him. He is one of the men here that I wish I could share the gospel with. Instead we talk about the similarities in our beliefs; the five great Muslim prophets, Noah, Moses, Abraham, Jesus Christ and Mohammad, feelings on family, abstinence of alcohol, honesty and integrity as well as love of country. I hope that through our influence and example he will one day be ready to listen to the gospel; either in this life or the next.
So on with his story. As I said before, he was taken prisoner by the Russians. Well before that happened, there were a series of events in his small village that prompted his imprisonment. He was in the Army at the time but was not very outspoken about politics until this event took place. The Russians were in his village on some kind of search or rampage. Eight women hid in a wood storage shed. The Russians discovered them inside and instead of letting them go, they burned them alive inside the shed. A shrine was subsequently built in their honor and is still there. When he saw the barbaric nature of the Russians, he knew he could no longer stand by as a mute witness. He began to speak out against the Russians and their invasion.
At about this same time he had an 11-year old daughter. I don’t know if it was before or after his imprisonment but his daughter was captured by the Russians. They covered her with oil and burned her to death. Of course as he told this story he got very emotional. He said that if she were still alive, she’d be approximately 29 years old, married with children. I sat there with my mouth open. What a story.
He then told us of his imprisonment and the beatings and torture he would go through. He told us of how he received the injury to his finger. He said that he was being electrocuted; he had wires attached to his hands and feet. He said that he passed out from the pain. In order to wake him up, the Russian officer who had a steel plate on the heel of his boot, stomped on his finger, spun around ripping the fingernail off his finger and creating the scar tissue that you can still feel to this day. He said that the pain of losing his fingernail in that manner woke him up.
He said that while he was imprisoned, they would take them out onto a field or playground to take care of their bodily functions. He said that one day he saw something that made him realize that the pain he was suffering was nothing. He said that one day he looked down on the ground and saw a mustache attached to a lip that was no longer attached to a face. Yes, this man’s lip had been cut from his face and left there in a sewage heap. He said after that, the pain he had been enduring was suddenly bearable.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I didn’t want to believe it but I feel like he was telling us the truth.
I asked him if after all the things the Russians had done to him and his family, did he join the Mujahadim and fight against the Russians. He emphatically said, “No” stating that they were worse than the Russians. We were running out of time so didn’t get a lot of stories about that period of Afghan history. I didn’t even bring up what it was like under the Taliban but will one day ask. I only hope there are no more horror stories in his past.
He talks about death in such a non-chalant manner. He says that he will welcome it when it comes. I wanted to talk with him about the fact that he would get to see his daughter again some day but wasn’t able to get to that point in the conversation due to time. We did tell him though, that he still had a work to do on earth. That it was going to take men like him to turn this country around, and I believe it. If only there were men like him in power, this country would be so much better.
The thing that is so remarkable about his life is that despite the atrocities that he has suffered, he is still in the military, still works with the government but most importantly is not a bitter, angry man. I think I would be after having endured all he has. But like I said in the beginning, he has such a sweet, cheerful spirit about him. He is truly a remarkable human being and I pray for him and his family on a regular basis.
So you can see why he is one of my hero’s.
Do your own problems suddenly seem not so huge or insurmountable? I hope so.
I was going to post his picutre here but didn't for two reasons. First, blogger is giving me problems uploading pictures and second I dont' want to publish his picture for fear one of the bad guys may discover my page, see his picture and do something really bad to him.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I've been in a creative slump lately. I've actually sat down to write a couple of different entries and have not felt inspired. "So what" you say? Why do I need to be inspired to write? Because I'm an artiste! (Isn't that how the French would spell it Braxton?) Since I'm so famous now (see how many hits I've had on my blog page since Aaron put the counter on for me last week and compare that to the whipmy numbers my competitors have!) I have to ensure that quality product is posted to this page. So, since I don't have any quality product at this time, I'm having to borrow from others (I actually wrote "lesser mortals" but since I want Ken to keep sending me his update, I changed the word). Ken writes a weekly update and has graciously included me on his mailing list. I especially enjoyed this one as I could hear him telling these stories. So, until my creative juices are flowing again, here's my "guest writer," LTC Ken Mundt...
I can’t believe it has been two weeks since my last update. The time is going very fast and every time I look up another couple of weeks has passed. The SOS candy and jerky has started coming in. We are handing it out to kids and they are appreciating it very much. The soldiers are also appreciating the jerky. It is nice to have a good supply here at Blackhorse as going to the store is no easy project. It involves putting together a convoy of armored Hummers. Basically you have to ask yourself if you are willing to risk your life for shampoo.
We are now in the middle of Eid, the three day holiday at the end of Ramazan. Eid is like Christmas, New Years and your birthday all rolled into one. Ramazan is grueling for the Islamic world. They can’t eat, drink or smoke until sundown each day. They can’t go to sleep until after 2200 and are up for prayers at 0300. They eat breakfast at about 0400 and don’t even get a drink of water after that until the sun goes down. Needless to say, the Afghans as a whole were very grumpy for about a month, especially the smokers. To be polite, we didn’t eat drink or smoke in front of them during Ramazan.
I know there are some of you out there that are saying “Ramazan? What the hell is that? Does he mean RAMADAN?” I asked Zubair about this. Why do some people call it Ramadan and some Ramazan? He looked at me like I was insane (the same look he gave me when he found out that Americans don’t marry their cousins) and told me that no one in the Islamic world calls it Ramadan and he has no idea why we would think there is a “d” in the word. I think he muttered something about “crazy ass white men” under his breath.
When Eid comes everyone feasts, exchanges presents and visits friends and family. The first day of Eid was Monday so Eid was officially Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. President Karzai gave the country Thursday off and Friday is a normal low optempo day so this is a nice series of days to get rested and maintain some equipment.
Monday morning most of the team had gone to Jalalabad on a special mission and the only ones left behind were me, Fairbourn and Anderson. We went to the BDE area and handed out some Eid gifts. We gave the soldiers candy and toys to take to their kids and brothers and sisters. The soldiers were very happy to get this stuff. We gave the magic tricks that came from Business Bank to the soldiers so the terps could translate the instructions and the soldiers could help their kids learn the tricks. We also gave out the remainder of MAJ Hubberts stuffed animals. It was funny to see these guys hugging a stuffed sloth in one arm and an AK-47 in the other. The magic tricks were a big hit and I’m not sure how many of them will actually make it to the kids as the ANA were fascinated with them.
The big thing that has happened since my last update is the addition of a mission for the 2nd BDE in a couple of provinces south of Kabul, Wardak and Logar. So now we are traveling all over the Corps Area of Responsibility (AOR). When we got here we assumed, because we had no fighting units in 2nd BDE, that we would not travel much. Instead we travel more than anyone but the Security Forces (SECFOR) and it is there job to travel. We are getting so good at convoys we are starting to be asked to do SECFOR missions. This means we are getting a reputation for traveling safely, not a small thing in this war.
I attribute this to a couple of factors. First, we take convoys seriously and we prepare carefully. We train constantly and make sure all of our equipment is 100% before we move. We also make sure everyone is in a position for which they are trained. We have taken our crew served and individual weapons out on the ranges and fired them and learned how they work on the top of a Hummer. Another and more important factor is the prayers of all of you. Steve Esplin says we travel in a “God Bubble” and you can’t argue with that. We travel roads that are attacked on a regular basis and have yet to see anything even remotely like action.
We say “every day is Monday” here because there are no weekends and you tend to do the same things every day. Now don’t get me wrong, working with the ANA brings some sort of new insanity every day, but the days tend to run together and the weirdness is very hard to explain unless you are here. As a result we tend to focus on the convoys because they are different and much more exciting. Blackhorse is about the size of the Bonanza Football field and you go a little crazy after a while. The convoys let us see quite a bit of the country, plus they are exciting because there is always the chance of getting shot at. Having said all that, the centerpiece of the last two weeks for me was a convoy to a place called Camp HFS.
Camp HFS is a remote outpost in the Logar Province. It is about a 5 ½ hour drive from Blackhorse. Much of the road is paved and one of the nicer roads I have seen in Afghanistan. The paved road is about 85 KM with the dirt road portion being about 30 KM. The paved portion takes 3 hours and the dirt 2 ½ hours. The dirt road was about as bad a road as I have seen in Afghanistan. If you want to know what the HFS stands for in Camp HFS you will have to email me separately and provide proof you are over 21 years old.
For some insane reason I decided I should be the gunner on this long old trip. We started out at 0530 (that is 5:30 in the morning for the civilians) and it was cold. We hooked up with the marines and some of the 1st BDE guys. It ended up being an eight Hummer and 12 ANA Ford Ranger convoy. We had Mark 19s (automatic grenade launcher), 240B machine guns and .50 cal machine guns. The ANA had machine guns and recoilless rifles, all in all, quite a bit of fire power. I was in the fourth vehicle so there was plenty of dust for me.
We drove through Kabul and a couple of other cities. It was nice being able to see the bazaars and people going about their business. Some of the most interesting were the butcher shops where the product was walking in and ended up on a hook. If you want to make sure your meat is fresh, shop in Kabul. Just before we got to Logar we came upon a huge hole in the road (see the attached picture). It was the result of an IED that had been placed in a culvert. It was supposedly meant for us but had exploded early. The ANA thought it was because water had started flowing through the culvert.
We stopped in Logar for a rest stop which consisted of gassing up and peeing on a wall. Then we were off to HFS. We soon turned off on the dirt road and started going through villages made exclusively of mud. There was a river flowing through the valley and so there was quite a bit of agriculture. It was nice to see some green in the middle of the desert. We started up into the mountains and were soon on a road just wide enough to drive a Hummer on and with gnarly switchbacks with sheer drop-offs. MAJ Hubbert and Zubair were ready to grab my legs and pull me down into the Hummer if MAJ Jonas rolled it. I figured this might be where Camp HFS got its name because all of us were saying HFS during most of this part of the trip.
When we finally got out of the switchbacks we were back in the midst of a bunch of villages. All the women were out washing all their rugs and clothes in preparation for Eid. The washing machine consisted of an irrigation ditch full of water and a big stick. The women were basically beating the heck out of the wash and then spreading it over bushes to dry. This was all well and good except for two things; first, the water contained a significant portion of raw sewage from the village and second, the bushes were right next to the road so we were throwing a huge amount of dust on them. No one seemed to worry about this so neither did we. When I got back to Blackhorse I did check the washing instructions on the rug I bought at the bazaar and sure enough, the tag said “take down to the river and beat with a stick, dry on nearest bush”.
We had to stop in two villages while the ANA generals talked to the local elders. These were not scheduled stops and none of the Coalition guys (I have to say coalition because we had a French Colonel with us) could not figure out what was going on. It turns out the two villages were at war and wanted our help to kill everyone in the other village.
We finally got to HFS took one look and said “HFS, is this it?”. I have enclosed a picture. We toured the camp and looked at the tree line where the Taliban hangs out with their mortars and rockets. HFS takes fire from the villages on a regular basis. The genius that built the place put the latrines outside the walls so every time you have to do your business you have to worry about incoming fire. The latrines are built over a dry gully so that they didn’t have to dig holes. HFS was one of the nastiest places I have ever seen. No running water, no electricity, no showers, no phones, no nothing.
We finally left and started back for Blackhorse. By that time my entire body hurt from being bounced around in the turret. My feet hurt and the machine gun had been jammed into my gut about 20 times. The body armor absorbed most of the beating but I was still sore. I was very happy to see the paved road. We had just blown most of the dust off of the Hummer when we made another unscheduled turn onto yet another nasty dirt road.
By this time we were getting low on fuel and tired. The ANA were very grumpy because of Ramazan. The roads were narrow as usual with streams of raw sewage flowing from the houses. I got a good picture of this that I have attached. As we were driving through yet another village that was not on our map we saw a road that went up into the hills and appeared to lead to absolutely nowhere. MAJ Hubbert joked about that being our road but that couldn’t be true because……. Sure enough, it was our road.
We finally got to a school out in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea where the kids came from but there were hundreds of them. Luckily we had candy with us and MAJ Hubbert had some stuffed animals. We were able to get all the kids some candy or a toy and they were very happy. SGM Hansen made sure some of the smaller kids got toys by handing them to their parents. We finally left and started on our way to Blackhorse (again). We hit the paved road (again) and blew off some of the dust. At this point the sun was going down and we were back in civilization (at least as civilized as you get in Afghanistan).
As soon as the sun went down the ANA stopped at the nearest bazaar and were buying food and water as fast as they could. This pretty much stopped the whole convoy dead in its tracks in a heavily populated area. You never want to stop moving and especially not in the middle of a crowd. We finally left the ANA there and moved on. By now it was dark and my goggles were so dusty I couldn’t see. I tried wiping them off but they were dusty on the inside too. I took them off to try and clean them which is when the bug hit me in the eye. By the time we got back to Blackhorse I had bugs in my mouth, nose and eyes. I didn’t get any in my ears because I was wearing my radio headset.
We were all glad to see Blackhorse. It is getting to be more like home and we are all thankful to be here. Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. All of you who are sending care packages, thank you, they are much appreciated.
One more thing before I end this incredibly long update, several of my team mates have started blogs. Their sites are as follows:
Andy Hubbert http://www.afghantigger.blogspot.com/
Steve Esplin http://www.skesplin.blogspot.com/
Bob Church http://www.jagman-tfphoenix.blogspot.com/
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Also, thanks to my Aunt and Uncle, Chuck and Merleen Fox for sending a box of fleece scarves that she made - they're hood/scarves - really nice and warm, mittens, lots of stuffed animals and school supplies.
Aaron says that we should be going out within the next month to deliver all your donations. As I keep promising, we'll take pictures and get them posted. I'm sure that you'll see the pictures here and on Aaron's page.
I can't tell you how much we appreciate you all for your time and donations.
Just to keep you informed on Luke's Eagle Project - he's gone through the initial approval stage and is in the process of writing up the actual project. I'm really proud of him as he's taken on a lot of the responsibility for getting this done. Several of you have been in contact with Janae offering donations to send and funds to help defray the cost of shipping. Thank you so much!! I'll keep you posted on his progress.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
My wife did. I love my wife. She is the most wonderful wife in the whole world. She writes to me everyday. Can you imagine the time that requires? She writes while helping the boys with homework, she writes while waiting for the copy machine to warm up at the Stake Center, she writes while sitting in the car. She's great. Others are jealous of me because of all just how many letters a week I get.
(Wives, I know e-mail is instantaneous but there's nothing like getting a letter from home. Especially one that smells of your perfume. Do your husbands a favor and write an occassional letter.)
She also has sent me a couple of boxes of great stuff. I love Symphony Bars with Almonds and Toffee. I have more than I could eat in 2 minutes. OK, it will really take me quite some time to eat them all but she's really good about sending me stuff that I love. Hostess Cupcakes come to mind as well.
So with that comment at the end of a post, I was hoping that she might get the hint and send me something soft and black, something that smelled like her. I think I included the word "silky" in my request.
Well she did see that comment and she did send me something. So here it is in pictures, her response to my plea for comfort...
(Yea, I got a box from home!! Maybe it has something black and silky in it that smells like Janae.)
(Mmmm...Hostess Cupcakes....my favorite!!!)
(Janae always plans ahead. Here's my Thanksgiving decoration. All the other guys are going to be so jealous!!)
(Oohh, oohh, she sent me something black!! I wonder what it is? Hmm, let me think....)
(A sock??!! That's not silky? Yes it's black and had a whiff of perfume, but a sock??!! We have this joke at home that we're going to give the boys stinky socks for Christmas. I guess I just became the butt of that joke!! And it's not even Christmas yet!!)
(Oh well. At least it was from my wife and was sort of soft.)
Friday, October 20, 2006
Verily this is a mission for a season, which I give unto you.
Wherefore, labor ye in my vineyard. Call upon the inhabitants of the earth, and bear record, and prepare the way for the commandments and revelations which are to come.
Now, behold this is wisdom; whoso readeth, let him understand and receive also;
For unto him that receiveth it shall be given more abundantly, even power.
I know this applied to the early missionaries out preaching the gospel but it applies equally to us as well. We are here for a "season." We are laboring in the Lord's "vineyard." While we are not "calling" upon the "inhabitants" of Afghanistan like a traditional missionary would, we are "bear[ing] record  and prepar[ing] the way for the commandments and reveleations which are to come." We do that every day through our example to the men we work with. Several of us have had our counterparts comment on how they feel when they are around us. They notice a difference.
I'm continually amazed how again and again I am reminded that we are here for a purpose. Last week in Priesthood Aaron taught about how the scriptures are a treasure and how as we search through them, we can find hidden treasures. With my lovely wife sending me this MormonAd with these scriptures on the back, she sent me one of those hidden treasures that I may not have found on my own. As I read the words of the Lord, I felt his confirming Spirit that our mission has just begun.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
I spent the entire morning with Subject A’s defense counsel and the prosecutor. The prosecutor told me to arrive at 0700 so we could go over and conduct the interview. He told me that it was the law that I be present. I had no idea where he was getting that "law" from but decided I wanted to go anyway. Well we (my terp and I) showed up at 0700 but no one was there. I guess the officers take a bus to get to base and it hadn't arrived yet, so we waited. The defense attorney showed up first and after a few minutes, the prosecutor arrived.
The defense attorney proceeded to tell me all the problems of his case. He kept pointing to the prosecutor telling me about all the rules that had been broken and why this was a bad case. He then proceeded to tell me his entire defense; that Subject A was only disciplining the soldier for being disrespectful, that he did not hit him but simply pushed him in the back, that the doctor at the clinic had not followed the proper reporting procedures, etc. I debated about telling him to be quiet, since he was giving away his entire defense but I didn't. I decided that I didn't have an ethical obligation to him, just a mentoring relationship. Did I rationalize that decision? Probably. I will certainly talk with him in private about not giving away his defense but I didn't do it then. The prosecutor was taking advantage of this gold mine of information. The entire time he was busily scribbling in his notebook everything that the prosecutor was saying.
We talked for almost an hour, maybe a little bit longer. The whole time he was telling me the problems with the prosecutors case. He said that he and his client did not like the witnesses the prosecutor had interviewed. I told him that I was not surprised, that the defense attorney and his client never like the witnesses the prosecution presents. He said that the witnesses were friends of the victim or had been told what to say. I thought to myself that that’s exactly the kind of witnesses Subject A will bring to court, but refrained from saying anything. I tried to tell him that he would be able to cross-examine the witnesses and exploit those weaknesses. He just looked at me with a blank look on his face. He then told me that the there were 48 people there and that the prosecutor should have interviewed a larger number of people. I explained that at some point it becomes futile to interview everyone and that I really didn't see a problem with the prosecutor only interviewing a sampling of witnesses. Again, I told him that was something he could explain or argue to the court. He wasn't getting it.
I tried to explain the nature of the adversarial system. For so long, they have been used to prosecuting soldiers who had confessed. I told them that this was the first time that they would be presented with a case where the defendant denied any wrongdoing. I told them that they were both going to have to work very hard. Again, I explained that they were not going to like the evidence the other side was going to present. I told them that they were going to have to discredit the others case and that it would be up to them to persuade the judges to believe their version of what happened. I told them that this was a groundbreaking case for the ANA military justice system. They just weren’t getting it.
The defense attorney then asked me why his client was in pre-trial confinement. I explained that he was there because he was a dangerous and violent man. I told him of the rumors that I had heard. Because I wanted to appear that I was fair, I explained that sometimes rumors are based on lies so I try to take a rumor with a grain of salt. I then told him that at some point, a rumor has some truth to it. I told him that I’ve had over a dozen different people, ANA and Americans alike, tell me that he is a dangerous man and each one had a story to back up that rumor/opinion. I told him that I believed that his client was a violent man and a danger to the witnesses against him. Again, he didn't seem to grasp that concept.
At one point, the defense attorney stepped away for a few minutes. I then said to the prosecutor that he had just heard the defense’s entire case. He got this big grin on his face and made the “cha-ching” gesture with his arm. He then told me that Subject A had said that because he had been dishonored by being placed in pre-trial confinement, that he was going to commit suicide. I made the comment that that would make all our jobs so much easier. I don’t think he caught the humor in that statement.
We finally went to see Subject A. When you first meet him, he seems pleasant enough. Steve describes him as the classic movie bad guy. He’s just attractive enough to be a leading-man bad guy and just evil enough at the same time. For over an hour he told me that he had been dishonored, that he had been shamed, that he was being held illegally. He told me he did not like the witnesses the prosecutor had interviewed. He did not like this and that, he did not like what the prosecutor was doing. I sat there calmly listening to him. I knew there was no point in arguing with him. When he was finally done, I tried to explain the adversarial system to him. I explained that his attorney was doing a good job but that he would have to prove his innocence in court by cross-examining the prosecutors witnesses and presenting his own evidence. I explained that the court would have to decide if he was going to remain in pretrial confinement, not me. I tried to explain a lot of other things but of course he wasn't listening.
We then adjourned back to the prosecutor's office where we continued our legal discussion of the procedures of the case. We "argued" for another 90 minutes or so on a variety of topics, the biggest one being Subject A’s continued pre-trial confinement. The defense attorney just wasn't getting it. No matter how many times I tried to explain the basis for my opinion, he kept saying he was a general and needed to be respected and allowed to go home. We also talked about the prosecutor's responsibilities in regards to completing the investigation and filing the case. We then finished up talking about why the defense attorney was not appointed until several days after the prosecutor had begun his investigation. This was a topic that the defense attorney and I had discussed before. In the past, defense counsel has not been appointed right away. I explained that initially, Subject A wanted to represent himself and so that's why the defense attorney was not appointed until as late as he was. I don’t think he grasped that issue either as he kept arguing that the rules had been violated because he had not been appointed until so late in the game.
I was glad to see the other prosecutor arguing on our side. As I said on a previous posting, Subject A is Tajik. He beats only Pashtun’s. Big surprise, but he selected the Tajik defense attorney to represent him. The other prosecutor is also Tajik and he initially was on Subject A’s side. It made things somewhat uncomfortable when I talked with him about this case. But, this morning, he set aside his personal tribal bias and was “on our side” so to speak.
It was such an interesting morning. It was intellectually stimulating discussing these issues. It was interesting to try and explain the adversarial process to them. As I said, for so long, they have had defendants who have simply confessed to the crime and so the trial has just been an issue of how much punishment to give. I still don't think they grasp the significance of actually having to "try" a case. It will be very interesting to watch and see what happens.
So that’s the latest in this saga.
Did I tell you about that? Before I left, Seth helped me rip several TV series to MP4 format so I could watch them on my iPod. It helps me get through the week. As I write this I seem to remember that I did. Monday is Lost, Tuesday is 3rd Rock from the Sun, Wednesday was the Simpsons until I ran out of episodes so now it’s whatever I choose, Thursday is Dark Shadows (the 90’s remake), Friday is Wonder Woman (and yes it is totally cheesy, but Lynda Carter still makes me all tingly like she did when I was a teenager…oops, did I just say that?), Friday is Star Trek The Next Generation and Sunday is my favorite night, Snallville.
Then I go and lift weights. I have somewhat of a routine but nothing that would make it into any men’s health magazine. I used to have a partner, but he totally bagged out on me – see the next paragraph.
That’s another thing we talk about when we sit around eating or lounging, our personal fitness goals. Some of us want ripped abs, some of us want to lose our “man boobs,” some of us just want to lose a few pounds. Some of sit around and talk about it but don’t do anything about it. Some of us used to work out with others of us but those some of us have quit and become lazy slobs and are going to go home with their “man boobs.” Of course I won’t mention any names but you know who you are.
So ask your respective husbands who is the guilty culprit and tell them to get off their ever expanding butts and get back to the gym so I can have a workout partner again!!
So why do I love Fridays? Well I get to sleep in for one thing. At home I can never sleep much past 0700 or 0730 – there’s too much to do. Here I have no problem sleeping until 0830 or 0900. It’s great knowing I can lie there in bed and not have to get up immediately. For some young punks, hmm, Aaron comes to mind, he says he can sleep much later than that. He’s been known to sleep until noon or later. I don’t know how he does it. You’d think that someone as old and broken down as I am, I’d be the one who could sleep, but no, it’s the young kids who can do it.
After I get up, I go the gym and workout for 90 minutes or so. It’s great.
After that, I get ready for staff meeting at 1130. Because it’s Friday, it’s usually shorter than other days. After that, we go to lunch or breakfast as the case may be.
Because most of us have nothing to do the rest of the day, we can sit around and talk. Take today for instance, Ken, Steve, Larry Hansen, Jimmy Stewart, Ron Jonas and eventually Aaron and I were sitting there talking. We talked about stupid stuff. We talked about funny stuff. We talked about our families. Mostly we laughed. It was great just to be able to sit there and talk with friends. That’s about the only thing I’m going to miss about this mission, is the ability to sit and talk with friends, commiserate about our problems, glory in our triumphs and gossip about each other, I mean, tell funny stories. Case in point:
On Tuesday, Merrill and I attended a court-martial of a soldier involved in a traffic accident. Don’t get me started on the stupidity of this court-martial. Anyway, we had visitors. Paul Waldron, my good friend from home and one of my JAGs here in another part of the country was in Kabul visiting. He came down with our Navy JAGs to attend the court-martial. The Navy JAGs brought their interpreter. They also brought headsets so we could listen to the translator. Merrill was sitting next to Paul. Poor Paul, he was pretty tired and he kept nodding off during the proceedings. Well Merrill would reach over and turn down the volume of Paul’s headset. Paul would wake up, realize there was a problem and begin to fiddle with the wires on his headset. He didn’t notice that the volume had been turned down, even when he had to turn the volume back up to hear. He would then doze off again. Merrill would then turn the volume all the way up. Paul would wake up and continue to fiddle with the receiver not understanding why it was acting up on him. Apparently this went back and forth for quite some time. Finally Paul caught Merrill in the act.
At the next break, Paul told me the story, laughing as he did so. What made this story so funny is that it was so unlike Merrill to do something like this, or so I thought. I looked at him in a new light. Here was this quite, unassuming guy who we all never suspected was capable of such “sneakery.” As Paul told the story, Merrill turned red in the face. It was pretty funny.
So I shared that story and we all laughed because it was so out of the ordinary for Merrill. This is just one example of the kinds of things we laugh at and talk about. I could share other stories but don’t want to get in too much trouble with my friends.
Of course we talk about Subject A as we all know him and are familiar with this saga.
Laughing is the best part. We all get along so well that it’s easy to laugh at each other and at each others stories. And everyone has one. Boy does everyone have one.
After lunch the 2nd BDE guys go off and watch movies. I make an appearance in my office. I pretend to work but in reality I’m sending off e-mails, writing blog entries and even watching a movie here and there. COL Vitali expects us in our offices so I’m in my office.
Every other Friday the bazaar comes. Today was bazaar day so I walked over to see if an order I placed was ready. Can’t tell you what I ordered though, as they’re intended as Christmas gifts for a lucky few. I wish I could say that going to the bazaar is exciting, but it’s the same vendors as Tuesday bazaar with the same kinds of things. On a rare occasion, you’ll get something different but for the most part it’s the same thing. Despite the sameness, it’s fun to go over and just get away for a few minutes.
The weather was so nice today that Aaraon went outside to clean his weapon. It is a sight to behold. I think he’s a little OC about it but you have to hand it to him, his weapons are clean. I was sitting there talking with him when Steve came over. Then a few others showed up doing various other things and once again, we were laughing and talking.
Friday afternoon around 4:00 p.m. you can smell the aroma of charcoal and grilling steaks. Friday nights are grilled steak and seafood night. The seafood is either lobster tail or crab legs. They also have fried shrimp or fried scallops, but I don’t care of fried seafood. It’s also ice cream sundae night. There’s always huge tubs of Baskin Robbins ice cream, usually strawberry, pralines and cream or vanilla with all the toppings. I indulge myself on Friday nights. I know, we have it pretty rough and I don’t take it for granted as I know so many of my friends and fellow Utah soldiers have it far worse.
So those are a few of the reasons why I love Fridays.
Tomorrow is Saturday, the first day of the Afghan week and we’ll all be back in ANA land working with and mentoring our counterparts. And yes, we’ll work hard!!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
And no, don't ask me about black socks. Actually, you may be finding about black socks in a few more days.
First, let me tell everyone that we doing well. We're keeping busy and trying to keep up with the demands of everyday life.
Yesterday I had Service Experts come to service our furnace and get it ready for the winter. Well, the furnace has got to be replaced. I guess after 28 years it's finally had enough. There are cracks in the heat exchangers, it spews forth a roll of fire when it comes on (which is actually pretty cool to see, but not very safe), the gas valve needs replacing, the blower is shorting out, and probably some others things that I've left out. So I've spent the last 24 hours calling around, getting quotes, checking the internet for information, agonizing over what to do, etc. Not exactly what I had on my "To Do" list for today, but I certainly know a lot about furnaces. More than I ever thought I'd know. Life is never boring or dull, is it. I haven't made a decision yet, but will have to today because it's getting cold and I don't want to be without a furnace for very long. My parents brought over their floor heaters for us. They don't want their grandchildren sick. Neither do I. I writing this while I let my head unwind so I can make a decision.
Well, on a happier note (although, if you ask Seth, he doesn't think this is a happier note), Seth turned 18 yesterday. Seth isn't happy about it because he thinks he is old. We went out for lunch on Friday to celebrate. Mom and Dad came with us. That was really nice. We went on Friday because Seth's friends were kidnaping him on Monday. We had family over on Sunday evening for cake and ice cream. Seth even frosted his own cakes. I asked all of them to help with the dishes so I could frost the cakes. Seth said he would frost the cakes and then I could help with the dishes. What a nice son. The friends came on kidnaped him at noon yesterday. Seth wasn't surprised, he knew they would do something. They were going to go to the corn maze, but it didn't open until later and it was cold and wet, so they went bowling instead. Then they took him for ice cream. A couple of the friends came home with him and they worked on a puzzle and talked. He had another friend bring over a gift. She gave him some funny key chains and some other funny items. He had a couple other friends call, so he wasn't forgotten today. Luke and Braxton gave Seth a dragon knife that is really cool looking. Everyone else gave him money, since he couldn't think of anything he wanted. If you want to read more about Seth, Bob has posted an entry about him on his blog page. Although, he hasn't been able to upload the pictures yet, so you may want to wait a day or two to read it.
Seth went to Homecoming a couple of weeks ago. He had a great time. There were 7 couples in his group. He likes the boys' choice dances just for the fact that he gets to have a group of his friends. When the girls' ask he is in a group of her friends. His date wore a pink dress, so he was able to wear a pink shirt and his pink tie. He wore one of Bob's suits. It sure is nice that they are the same size as Bob. If my scanner were working I could attach the picture to this e-mail, but it's acting up right now.
Seth was inducted into the Orem Youth Council at the last City Council Meeting. This year he got four more of his friends to apply, so it will be even more fun for him since there are more of his friends on the council.
Braxton had a big French test the other day. The night before he spent a lot of time reviewing all his notes, practicing speaking, and having me help him with the conversations in his notebook. Then he came and announced, "I'm all finished studying for me test. All except for one thing." When I asked him what that one thing was he said, "Pray!" I love to hear words like that! The studying and praying worked because he got an "A" on his test. I, on the other hand, am going to fail French this term. I told you that Braxton is trying to teach me the French that he is learning and I just haven't put much time in to it. I'm still working on the alphabet and a few beginning words. He loves to tease me about that and we joke about how I'm failing French.
A couple of weeks ago I was awakened at 3:00 in the morning by Braxton calling my name. He wasn't calling like he was terrified, just a calm calling of, "Mom!" When I went to his room he said, "There are two of them. One for you and one for me." When I asked him what there were two of he said, "Will you get me a drink?" I went and got him a drink. He drank the entire cup, rolled over and fell back to sleep. In the morning he didn't remember any of it, not even drinking the cup of water. I guess I'll never know what there were two of, but I get one of them.
Braxton also came home the other day and told me about a t-shirt that a girl was wearing at school. I don't remember the exact numbers on the shirt, but this was basically what it said: Dumbledore dies on page 478. I just saved you four hours and $30. Braxton thought that was hilarious. He was also glad that he had already read the 6 th Harry Potter book so it wasn't spoiled for him. If any of you haven't read the book, sorry.
More news about Braxton. As you know (or don't know) Braxton loves yellow. His old jacket is getting too small. It's so small that it is tearing in places because of the strain on the seams. Well, he likes jackets that zip up the front and not ones that pull over the head. I haven't had success in finding a new jacket for him. One that he likes in a price range I'm willing to pay. Finally I found one on e-bay. It was a yellow and black fleece jacket and it was even brand new with the tags still attached. Braxton was standing next to me during the final minutes of bidding making me hit "Refresh the Page" to make certain we were still the highest bidder. It was a tense few minutes, but we won the jacket. Braxton was thrilled and jumped up and down. The first day he wore it to school, he left the house saying, "I think today I won't be putting my jacket in my locker. I think I'll be wearing it all day today." Glad he can find joy in little things.
I guess I have a lot to say about Braxton today. His honors classes have been on a couple more field trips. They hiked from the mouth of Provo Canyon up three miles to Bridal Veil Falls. I went on this field trip with them and it was a lot of fun. At Bridal Veil Falls they climbed around, we took pictures, etc. Then a member of the Grow family that owns the falls and surrounding land came and talked to them about the history of the falls and plans for putting the tram back in. It was interesting. Then they ate their lunches at the falls. The students are divided into platoons of four students each. Braxton's platoon decided to do a group lunch. One boy brought the dessert, one boy the sodas, one boy brought a Korean Dish and Braxton was in charge of the sandwiches. Braxton made Italian Panini Pizza Sandwiches. Their next field trip was to Geneva Steele. They were given a tour of what's left of the steel plant and told about plans for the future. The Desert News had a reporter there and so did one of the TV stations. Braxton was interviewed by the Desert News reporter, but as of yet we haven't heard whether anything was put in the paper. There was a big article in the Herald, but Braxton's picture of comments weren't in there. Although, it really doesn't matter. Braxton thought it was so cool to have been asked questions by a reporter. The reason they went to Geneva Steel is their honor's class is going to be writing a history of the steel plant as part of their honors work this year. Their honors group is called "The PUSH Team". The PUSH stands for Preserving Utah's ? History. I can't remember what the S stands for. So their field trips are all based around historical events and places in Utah. It is a really great program for these students that want more of a challenge and want to learn more than they would in a regular history and English class.
Well, I guess since I've been talking so much about Braxton I might as well continue. In Braxton's TLC class they had a unit on finances. Braxton came home all excited about it. (He gets excited about learning things – except for learning the piano, he's never been excited about that unfortunately.) Well, Braxton started telling me what we needed to do for our family finances. He was telling me about making two payments a month for your mortgage instead of one. He talked about have savings automatically withdrawn from you pay check. He mentioned a few other items. He was so excited about the things that I told him we were already doing. I think it surprised him a little that I knew about these things and I was doing them. I loved having him so excited about finances.
We went to the rec center last week. The first time we've been since school started. First we hit the weight room. Then we went down to the track. In all the years of going to the rec center I haven't been able to get Braxton to run. He always walks on the track. Today, he took off running and ran the entire time. Since he has to run in PE this year, he's found that he can run and actually enjoys it. I've never pushed him to run because he has allergies and asthma, but now he is pushing himself. YEA! At the first of the summer he "ran" his mile in 25 minutes. Now he is doing his mile in 11 minutes. Now he needs to call the merit badge counselor and get his physical fitness merit badge signed off.
I can't leave out Luke's adventures of the past few weeks. Luke had a big history test two weeks ago. The night before I started quizzing him about the information in the chapters. He was able to answer all but two of my questions. I teased him again about memorizing the textbook. It's amazing that he knows so much, since he didn't actually read any of the chapters all the way through. He read bits and pieces to find the information for his study guide. He does have a great teacher that makes learning fun, so he learns a lot from the teacher. Well, he received a perfect score on the test. I guess memorizing the textbook really pays off. Now if he could get a perfect score on his Physics test. I think his physics class is going to kill both of us off this semester.
Luke has been working on getting his Eagle Project approved. It is hard to get a hold of people. As soon as it's approved, he will be sending out an e-mail letting people know how they can help in donating items for the children of Afghanistan. Hopefully by this weekend.
Luke and Seth helped me winterize the swamp cooler last Friday. We all climbed on the roof to do it. While we were up there I thought it would be a great learning experience to tell them how terrified I was of climbing on and off the ladder. Once I was on the roof I was okay, but the last step from the ladder to the roof and the step from the roof to the ladder scares me. I was trying to point out how I was overcoming a fear of mine to do this today. Don't you think that was a great teaching moment? Well, guess what the boys learned from my little story. As I went to climb down the ladder, they started shaking it. Such love they showed their mother. They assured me that they thought that would really help me overcome my fear.
I don't want to leave out Thor. I can tell he is getting older. He wants to be inside a lot more. He sits at the door with his sad eyes trying to guilt you in to letting him in and letting him go in the front yard with you and taking him for a walk. I'd let him in more often, but he is shedding so much that he leaves such a mess in the house. Thor gets fed every other day. He gets a scoop of food and five milk bone dog biscuit. Lately he has been burying his milk bone dog biscuit. He obviously digs them up later because I see him eating them. At first I thought he was really eating the dog biscuits quickly, but caught him in the act of burying them one day and learned the truth. Maybe he was burying them hoping I'd think they were eaten and I would give him more. It was his way of building up his food storage.
Star (the cat) has been staying inside the house more now that the weather is getting colder. He is sleeping on my bed right now. He is sleeping on Bob's side. He seems to prefer Bob's side. He knows that Bob doesn't like cats, so it's his way of showing Bob that he's in charge and to bug Bob. Star use to always sleep in Bob's chair at the dinner table, but he never sleeps there now that Bob isn't here. I guess he really didn't like the chair, he just like to bother Bob. He did sleep there the three days that Bob was home to visit, but hasn't been in the chair since then. You can't tell me that pets aren't smart.
I trimmed one of the trees in our front yard last week. When I went to put the garbage cans out I realized that the branches were so low that you had to duck under them when walking on the sidewalk. I figured if I had to duck that they were really too low. So I trimmed them back so people could walk on the sidewalk without taking their head off. If the tree dies, then I'll know that I did it wrong.
If you're in the neighborhood, come by and see the tombstones and Halloween decorations. The boys got them out and Seth put them up while I was at the Stake Baptisms at the first of the month.
Take Care and Happy Halloween! Janae
P.S. If you e-mail Bob or send him a letter make sure you ask him how his black sock is doing!
I understand that because of mine and Aaron's pages there are wives out there who pester their husbands for information based on our page - funny story to follow. As such, several guys in our group are now starting their own pages. I'll have to create links to their pages so you can read about their experiences here.
One of the things that I love about this forum are the comments that people leave. I realize that not everyone that reads my entries will leave a comment, but as Aaron and I and the other guys have discussed this type of form, we all agree that the comments are our favorite part. So, if you've never left a comment and feel inclined to do so, please do. It's really easy, simply click on the "comments" link below, type in your comment and it will get posted to my page and then sent to me via e-mail. I'm not as discriminating as Aaron. He's got the "Moderate Comments" option on as apparantly he has family or friends that leave comments best not read by the public, or something like that. So far, everyone has left fun, funny and appropriate comments. Please continue to do so.
So now for the funny story as told to me by Andy. He's our computer guy. He knows that I have a blog page. Last Sunday, he and some others from the team were on an all-day convoy. As they got back just before church started he decided not to attend. As he was talking with his wife, she asked if he was going to go to church. He said "no." She said, "that's alright, you can attend priesthood on Tuesdays." He had no idea what she was talking about. He said that we were not having priesthood but gospel doctrine instead. She said, "no, you guys have Priesthood on Tuesdays now." He asked her how she knew that. She said that it was on "Bob's blog page." He asked who Bob was? Since he's junior in rank to me, he doesn't call me by my first name. She said something like, "that church guy." Andy did not make the connection with me, rather thought she was talking about one of the guys at church. She finally said, "the JAG." It was then that the light went on. Apparently Andy's mother and wife have been reading my page since Shelby. Andy said his Mom stumbled across my page when she was doing a Google search for stuff on Task Force Phoenix and Aghanistan.
So like I said, I had no idea the number of people who are reading this. I'm flattered and pleased that you enjoy reading what I put out there. I know a lot of it is directed towards my family, but I'm trying to keep a record of what's going on around me and what's happening to the people I care about.
So Andy's wife and mother, did I get the story straight?
Monday, October 16, 2006
From the very beginning, Seth has been a tremendous example, not only to his parents but to those around him. He has always had a very strong sense of what is right and wrong. We have never had to worry about him making the wrong choices in his life, except maybe the time he let a girl, who is a friend, but not his “girlfriend” paint all his finger nails pink. I mean really!!! I can see maybe a finger here or there and maybe a toe nail or two, but all 10 fingers. See for yourself!! I mean, I would NEVER allow someone to paint MY fingers or toes!!! But seriously Seth is an example in all he does. He is faithful in reading his scriptures every day, praying every day and fulfilling every assignment he’s ever been given.
Seth has always loved being at home. Once when asked what his favorite vacation would be, he replied, “staying at home.” When we do have “forced family fun” we have a great time. But the truth be told, we love having him home and are grateful that he likes being home. Now Seth, despite the fact that we love having you home does not mean that you can live with us forever. Remember, once you become a dentist, Mom and I will be moving in with you so you can provide for us in the manner in which we deserve!!! If Seth’s future wife is out there reading this, you are put on notice!!!
When Seth announced that he wanted to be a dentist, at a very young age mind you, I was surprised. He was a kid who screamed when we took him to the dentist – but don’t all kids, he screamed when we cut his finger and toe nails and when he got his haircut. Once when he was only 3 or 4, we took him to a salon just for kids to get his haircut. Janae was tired of fighting him to cut his hair. The whole place was decorated for children. It was a great place. Well he would not still in the chair and began to cry. I finally had to sit in the chair myself, wrap my legs around his and the put him in a bear hug while at the same time holding his head still. You’ve never seen kid scream as much as he did. We actually had a lady walk in from the mall and tell us that we were abusing him. What did she know? But as I started to say, Seth wants to be a dentist and he’ll be a good one too.
Let me share a couple of pictures with you. Wasn’t Seth the cutest little Cub Scout? I love this picture of him. Seth has always LOVED, LOVED, LOVED scouting. OK, maybe loved is a little strong, but he has always done well. He earned his Eagle by the time he was 14 and has earned 3 palms since then.
This next one is a picture of he and I in the airport on a business trip. Once I knew that I was going to get deployed, I took Seth with me on one of my teaching jobs. We had a great time. He says I snore at night, but I think he’s lying!! I know I never complain about me snoring.
How about this “before” and “after” picture? The “before” picture is my favorite picture of Seth, Luke and Braxton. I have it in my room here. It was taken at California Adventure right before I got deployed. The “after” picture, well, it speaks for itself.
Seth has always had a mischievous side. He loves to sneak up behind you and scare you when you’re walking down a dark hallway. The reason the hallway’s dark is he’s too lazy to change the lightbulb. He likes to linger on the edge of adult conversations, listening very quietly, gathering information. When you finally realize he’s there, he just flashes his devilishly handsome smile. He also likes to throw ice, stuff leaves down people’s shirts, and generally cause chaos. He’s a lot like a certain parent in that respect. What, you think it’s me? I’m shocked and offended.
Just before I deployed, he, Janae and I had a very special and spiritual experience together. I won’t share the details as they’re not mine to share but it was confirmed to me just what an exceptional young man Janae and I were blessed with. Heavenly Father has some tremendous experiences in store for him as well as the blessings that will flow from his faithfulness. Just thinking back on that experience brings tears of joy and pride to my eyes. He will hate me for even talking about him this way, but I’m the Dad and the author of this entry so I get to say what I want.
Seth, I want you to know how much I love you. I want you to know how proud I am of you and how blessed and humbled I feel at being given the privilege of being your father. I know if I were home you’d let me give you a big hug and a kiss on your scratchy cheek so you’ll have to let Mom do that for me. I miss you and wish I could be there with you today but know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. Thanks for being the best son a father could every hope or pray for.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Tonight Sacrament meeting was, well, special but it took me a minute to realize it. Often times we have to make do with whatever type of “bread” we can find. Once at drill, all we could find was a blueberry muffin to use for the bread. That was a first. Tonight was another first. As the tray was passed to me, I looked in and at first thought it was wheat bread but then remembered that we never have wheat bread here. Then when I picked up a piece, I realized it was a muffin, an apple/cinnamon muffin at that.
Aaron and I got the giggles. We’re so irreverent. The guys administering the Sacrament also had the giggles when they realized what it was in the tray.
After a few minutes, I realized that it didn’t matter what was in the tray. It was what it represented. You know what I mean. At that moment, I felt a warm, wonderful feeling wash over me as I realized what I was doing and what this meant. I felt a deep sense of gratitude towards my Savior and for the sacrifice He made for me.
Aaron then shared a scripture with me, Alma 58:11. You’ll have to ask him why this scripture is special to him, but it resonated within me for a completely different reason. It reads:
Yea, and it came to pass that the Lord our God did visit us with assurances that he would deliver us; yea, insomuch that he did speak peace to our souls, and did grant unto us great faith, and did cause us that we should hope for our deliverance in him.
Every day I pray that I will be “delivered” from harm. Every day I pray that I will be “delivered” safely back to my family. Every day I pray that my family will be “delivered” from the challenges they face by having me gone. And every day the Lord speaks peace to my soul and grants me great faith.
I know why Aaron shared this scripture with me and I appreciated him doing that. I’ll even write a notation in my scriptures for the reason why, but for a completely different reason, I’m grateful that he shared it with me.
I meant to ask Steve for permission to share this experience, but since he shared it with us last week in Testimony Meeting, I figure I can share it with you.
He and several others of our command spent a week traveling in other parts of our command area. Before they left, there had been an increase in enemy activity so of course we were all concerned for their safety. Each day as I sat in staff meeting I would listen to see if there had been any enemy contact where they were and felt relieved to hear that nothing had happened.
Well as Steve stood to bear his testimony, he had tears in his eyes as he shared the experiences they had. He said that every morning before going out on a mission, he and the other guys on the team would gather for prayer. And it just wasn’t the Utah guys. He said that their security forces guys, Southern Baptists from Oklahoma, would also join them in prayer. He said that every day they would gather in prayer and every day they would return without any incident. He testified that the Lord watched out for them and protected them as they went about their assignment. The Spirit again, let me know, that our Heavenly Father is watching out for us and that He had answered not only my prayers but theirs.
See why I love Sunday evenings so much.
Friday, October 13, 2006
This is Afghan bread that our interpreter got for us. It's called naan. It's actually pretty good but in this picture, it looks like rawhide.
I think I posted a picture of me and Wais, my interpreter before, but this is a better picutre. It's on the parade ground at the KMTC with the mosque on the hill in the background.
Merrill took this the day of the flash flood. We were staning on the walls looking over the fence at the huge river of water that was flowing past. I posted pictures of that when it happened.
More pictures from the school.
These older boys are the "officers" of the school. They wear red armbands that say "officer" in Dari. They walk around with sticks in their hands and "beat" the kids to get them to move, do what they're told etc. A couple of them spoke a little English.
Merrill passing out candy.
The tent school room.
This is a picture of the German commander, LTC Fred Schultze. He was my roommate, along with Scott, when I first arrived. When he assumed command he moved out and got his own room.
The German's up-armored vehicles.
The school was composed of separate building with 1-2 rooms a piece. There were even a couple of tents set up to house the kids. The buildings surrounded a courtyard with a well off to one side. Boys and girls are separated into their own classes. As we stood in the courtyard, I first noticed all the shoes and sandals outside each classroom. I can’t tell you why the site struck me, but it did. I can’t explain what I thought or felt at seeing all the shoes outside. As I went inside the classrooms, I decided that taking off the shoes was strictly a cultural thing and not a cleanliness thing as the classroom floors were pretty dirty.
I then noticed the boys looking outside the windows at us. The girls, most of them, would not look at us. In fact, when we were inside the girls classrooms, several of them would hide their faces behind pieces of paper or use their scarves to cover themselves. It’s a cultural thing. In fact, one soldier later told Aaron that we needed to stop taking so many pictures of the girls. I don’t know if the soldier was joking or not but said that if we took too many pictures, the girls families would take us out back and kill us. I hope he was joking.
I walked up to one of the windows to talk with the boys. Of course I know very few words in Dari and they knew very few words in English. It was fun though to try to communicate. A couple of them got brave and shook my hand. That broke the dam. Several then crowded to the window and tried to pull me into the room. It was fun.
The senior officers of both the ANA and US Army were the ones to pass out the candy to the kids in the classroom. The kids sat in straight rows on the threadbare carpets on cement floors. The officers went from child to child passing out handfuls of candy. You could see the excitement in their eyes.
(That's the teacher in the background.)
The classrooms themselves are pretty bleak. Cracked and peeling paint, if they were even lucky to have paint on the walls. A couple had blackboards but most simply painted the wall black and wrote on that with chalk. No pictures on the walls, nothing interesting for the kids to look at. It was pretty austere. As I said, they sit on the floor. I imagine that it gets pretty cold in the wintertime, sitting on cold concrete. If I were to look at the buildings, not knowing what they were, I would have imagined they were abandoned. They just had that look. But then, most of the buildings here that are being used have that same look. Not a lot of money or supplies to keep things looking new.
As I looked at the supplies the kids had, it was not much. Each had some type of notebook with a few sheets of paper. I didn’t see what they were using to write with although later, a lot of the kids asked for pens. I didn’t have any to give and they seemed disappointed. I imagine paper, pens, folders, backpacks, and all the other things school kids need would be helpful. It was cool to see so many kids with American style backpacks. I knew that they had come from many people like you who had taken the time to send things.
Outside the school compound were several dozen kids. Since I wasn’t senior enough to be passing out candy inside I decided to go outside. Scott Flannery, my roommate, had given me a huge bag of Dum-Dum suckers. I stuffed my pockets full of them and passed them out. As you can imagine, I got mobbed. It was fun but at the same time a little disconcerting. I felt like I was in the middle of a feeding frenzy of sharks. So many little hands grabbing and snatching at the suckers. To get them away, I finally started throwing in the air, away from me. It was fun to watch them dash to grab the last sucker. It reminded me of kids chasing candy after a piñata has been broken open.
I knew that there would be a few little kids that didn’t get anything so I made sure to hide a few suckers in other pockets. Sure enough, I found some small kids that I was able to give suckers to. It was a lot of fun.
Oh, the candy we passed out – it came from several of LTC Ken Mundt’s friends and corporate folks he knows. He asked that Halloween candy be sent. His friends responded. One night he got so many boxes of candy, he had to get his truck to load all the boxes on and get back to his room. I bet we passed out 50 lbs or more of candy. It made me realize the generosity of those back home who are willing to take the time to buy and send us this stuff for the kids.
Kudos to you all.
This last picture is Merrill and I with the local village elders. They were there to discuss a humanitarian project with Ken. I don't think they wanted their picture taken either, even though they gave their permission before we took it.
Not only does the Leavaitt Insurance Group send out boxes, but so many other people in the states pack up boxes of really cool, useful, yummy things and send them out. In our MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) room, there’s a table with nothing but stuff that is sent to us. It’s really appreciated and makes me grateful to the folks back home who are looking out for us.
Subject A is a high ranking officer in the ANA and is a really, really bad man. Later in this entry, I’ll refer to him as the spawn of the devil. I may not have been too far from the mark in describing him that way.
Aaron has also been writing about this guy and what’s been happening. Be sure to click on “My Heros Blog” link in the right hand column so you can get his perspective on what’s been happening. Aaron uses the moniker of “Malfoy” to name our guy. In my correspondence with my fellow JAGs, we’ve been using the name “Subject A” so I’ll continue using that as a reference.
Since I took this entry off line, my friend Steve Esplin has started his blog. His first entry deals with this guy. Click on Trooper Man's Blog in the right hand column.
Looking back over the hours and days I took to write this entry and seeing the epic that it has begun, I’m now going back and editing it. Not for length. In fact, I’ve added to it. What I will do though, is try to break the saga into smaller, easier to handle parts. To that end, I’m going to break this up according to days.
Subject A used to be a commander at another garrison but was relieved of command for committing crimes against his soldiers. He would beat them. One of the soldiers lost a kidney due to the severity of the beating. He would rape his soldiers. He would steal from them. Those of a particular ethnicity/tribe (Pashtun) seemed to be the focus of his brutality. Despite his criminal behavior, he was never punished. He was simply transferred to here to the 201st Corps. The main reason he has never punished is because of his high, political connections. He was at one time a driver for Burger King, (not his real name) who is now is a high ranking minister in the Ministry of Defense. Burger King has been protecting Subject A from prosecution for many years.
I was recently told of an incident that took place several months ago, prior to his transfer here. There was a gathering of high ranking officers, including Burger King, MGM (our ANA Corps Commander, 2-star general), other ANA ministers and high ranking US Generals. At that meeting a soldier confronted Subject A and accused him of beating his soldiers. The soldier turned to the rest of the group and asked how many of them had been beaten by Subject A. Many in the formation raised their hands. Did anything happen to him? No. I don’t know if it was because of this confrontation, but shortly thereafter he was transferred and reduced from Brigadier General Rank to that of Colonel. He continues to wear the General rank though. He’s that arrogant. In the mind of Burger King, Subject A had been punished enough. Nice system of justice, don’t you think?
I heard about Subject A the first day that I met with the ANA and US Mentors. We were doing turnover and I sat in on a turnover brief. One of the US soldiers said that Subject A was a high ranking officer that needed to be taken out back and shot. He proceeded to tell us many of the details I’ve outlined above. The first day I met the ANA SJA, I was told about Subject A. He confirmed the stories that I had heard from the departing Americans. It became my personal crusade to get Subject A prosecuted.
The SJA had the results of the investigation from Subject A’s previous command. He had over 30 witness statements detailing the atrocities committed by Subject A. I kept pressuring the SJA to refer the case for prosecution but he was reluctant. He kept telling me that Subject A was too powerfully connected and that nothing could be done. Yet at the same time, he was constantly lamenting the fact that the problems in his country stemmed from the fact that everyone at the top was corrupt; the top meaning the Ministry of Defense on down. I kept telling him that we needed to start somewhere and the case against Subject A seemed to be the perfect case to start with. While he agreed with me, he would not do anything more about sending the case to the prosecutor for prosecution. He wanted MGM’s approval.
My boss, COL Vitali, arranged a meeting with me, MGM, my boss and the SJA. During that meeting, I presented the case of Subject A and why it was a good case for prosecution. For almost an hour I made my case, outlined MGM’s role and responsibility and urged that he be prosecuted. MGM kept agreeing with me and I thought I was making progress. When I was done, he began to tell me about his country and how powerful men get placed into positions of power. He said it was based on a person’s tribe and how loyalty ran, not to the country, but to the tribe. That’s when I first realized that I was dealing with the Gadianton Robbers. (I’ve used that term in the past. For those of you not familiar with that term, and I apologize for not explaining it sooner, but the Gadianton Robbers were a band of men that lived in the ancient Americas. They sought for power within the government, made oaths to protect each other from detection and used murder and crime to achieve their ends. They ultimately proved the destruction of an entire nation. If you’d like to read more, you can read about them in The Book of Mormon.) He told me of the corruption and how it is rampant throughout the military. As he continued to talk, I knew where this was going. He smiled, looked me in the eye and told me that I needed to be patient. He also said that there was nothing to be done at this point. He thanked me for my concern, shook my hand and escorted me from his office.
Well that was a couple of weeks ago. And with that ends the prologue to this story.
On Saturday last, Subject A beat up one of his Pashtun soldiers. He beat him severely enough that the soldier ended up being taken to the hospital. We found out about this when we were there waiting to link up with several ANA soldiers to go on a convoy to the school. You can read about that adventure in another posting.
Before we left the Brigade headquarters, LTC Ken Mundt, the US senior mentor for 2nd Brigade, had a meeting with the Brigade Commander (Boss) to discuss the case. The commander hadn’t heard anything about it. Subject A was called in to explain what had happened. Of course he lied through his teeth. He said that all he did was grab the soldier by the nose and maybe he grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. When asked why the soldier had cuts and bruises on his face and why he had to be taken to the hospital, Subject A said that was a lie and that did not happen. I wonder who the liar was.
When we got back that afternoon, I found out that the case had been referred to MGM. MGM had ordered a preliminary investigation into the incident. Lo and behold, the truth was that Subject A did beat the soldier severely enough to send him to the hospital. The question now was, what do we do with him?
The next day, COL Vitali informed me in our morning staff meeting that I was scheduled to brief MGM regarding ANA military law that afternoon. I had already prepared several presentations to use to teach the ANA regarding their new system of justice so just gleaned the highlights of each presentation. When we got there, MGM told me that he’d scheduled me for the end of the day because he that I would take a lot of time. I didn’t know if that was an insult or not but I laughed when he told me that. (I think what he really meant was that he knew that this subject would take a lot of time. I mean, come on, I’m not that verbose.)
I used Subject A as the background for my brief and I actually got through my material in 37 minutes. I was quite proud of myself. The remaining two and half hours were spent arguing, no discussing, Subject A. When I got to the portion of my briefing regarding pre-trial confinement (PTC), I told MGM that he had to confine Subject A in PTC. Subject A is a threat to the soldiers and will continue to be a threat if he remains free. He is also a flight risk. If he realizes that we mean business and are going to prosecute him, he will flee. A silent concern I had was that he would flee and join the Taliban but I didn’t’ say that.
The ANA SJA, COL Karim and I disagreed on who had authority to place Subject A in PTC. My version of the code said that any commander with authority could place him in PTC. Karim said that once the case had been given to the prosecutor, only the prosecutor could place him in PTC. COL Vitali asked me who was right. I told him that based on my interpretation of the code, I was right.
Karim then showed me his version of the code. The translator translated it and we discovered that I had something different than what he had. I was sure that I had the latest version but could not understand why our codes were different. I asked the translator if the Dari version didn’t say what my English version said. He said it did so that only added to my confusion.
Because COL Vitali thought I was right and because he didn’t have a lot of respect for Karim, he said some very direct things to MGM. He said that his JAG didn’t know what he was talking about. He said that his JAG (me) was a real lawyer and a judge and that my interpretation of the code was the right one. Off line to me he said, “that guy needs to be fired.” I’m so glad that statement was not translated. I sat there thinking, “I have to work with Karim for 10 more months and you’re saying these things to his boss? Thanks for nothing.” Fortunately Karim is very forgiving and later told me not to worry about it.
Well the “discussion” continued to the point that we weren’t getting anywhere. It is the month of Ramadan/Ramazan right now. It ends around October 22 or 23. It’s the Islamic Holy Month where Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. We were quickly approaching the dinner hour. I kept looking at my watch thinking we needed to finish up so they could go and eat. Well the time to eat came and went. MGM’s aids brought the Muslims in the room plates of dates and bottles of water. But the discussion was not over.
Finally COL Vitali invited MGM and Karim to Blackhorse for dinner. On the way over I resorted to calling the JAGs who were familiar with the translation process and they assured me that I had the correct version. I joined the group late for dinner and again told Vitali that I was right. By that point Karim said that everything was OK and they were going to put Subject A in PTC.
What an evening it turned out to be.
Well the story is only getting started.