Wednesday, November 29, 2006

First Snow, First Snow Ball Fight

It snowed, or maybe it’s a more accurate statement to say it attempted to snow yesterday. Nothing stuck but we could at least say there was snow falling from the sky. But, last night it snowed. Not a lot but enough that the vehicles had an inch or so on them, enough to make a snowball.

2nd BDE was getting ready to convoy out and about. While Aaron was getting the vehicles ready, he drew a “happy” snow picture. Of course as I walked by, I had to scoop a handful and throw it in his general direction. Of course I had to throw one in trooper’s general direction. Soon snowballs were flying fast and furious and with deadly, laser precision aim.

The mountains were of course covered with snow and it really looked like home. The clouds hugged the mountains all day and made a beautiful sight. I think winter is finally upon us.


Subject A, ah, let’s skip the pretense now that’s he’s been convicted. Brigadier General Akhtar Mohammad was convicted today, November 29, 2006 by a panel of three judges of one of two counts of beating a soldier. I can’t tell you how relieved I was.

His trial lasted three days. In an effort to be brief, apparently I’m catching grief from all sides for my “tomes” or “epistles” or “epic” entries, I’ll condense three days into one entry and give you the highlights.

The first day the victim, Turab, testified regarding his assault. The morning of the assault, Akhtar called a formation. Turab and his roommate failed to attend, claiming that the soldier that called them to formation usually lied.

Akhtar went looking for them. He found Turab either in the hallway outside his room – Turab’s version – or in his room – roommates version. He grabbed Turab by the back of the neck and began hitting him. Turab fell to the ground where he was kicked. Akhtar then made him march outside where he made him lie down in the dirt/gravel.

Akhtar then directed the Sergeant Major to have Turab “low crawl” through the gravel as punishment for being late. When Akhtar defended this punishment as being lawful under the non-judicial punishment (NJP) code, the judge held up his version of the code and asked him where in the code it was listed as a legal punishment. Of course he couldn’t and had to sit down and shut up.

After the low crawl, it was pretty unanimous that Turab was standing outside the classroom where everyone was supposed to be with his hands on his hips in a disrespectful, defiant position and attitude. Turab then testified that Akhtar then hit him on the left side of his jaw and that he fell and hit the door frame. He then fell to the ground and passed out. Akhtar, in his infinite mercy, told someone to take him to the hospital where the doctor kept him for 5 days.

The other assault case took place last year at Akhtar’s last command. He was the commander at Darulaman but was relieved from duty for all the abuse he inflicted on his soldiers. I knew that it was reported that he raped his soldiers but I was talking with the US ETT, a Colonel, who spoke with the new commander there. The new commander does not like Akhtar and is embarrassed by him. He said that Akhtar used rape as a form of punishment and intimidation. Nice guy, huh? Unfortunately none of his rape victims would come forward and testify. They were scared to testify as well as being ashamed to admit to something like that. I was so hoping someone would be willing to testify. Oh well.

But I failed to tell you of the details of the other assault. The kid initially reported that he was beaten so severely by Akhtar that he lost his kidney. There was some medical evidence that lent support to his claim. However, the prosecutor failed to call the doctor, and the victim recanted and said that it was a kidney stone and not the beating that caused him the pain. There were other reasons why he was acquitted on this count but I won’t bore you with the details.

Throughout the whole trial I was amazed, but not really at how these soldiers were wiling to lie. During the initial investigation they wrote witness statements. Those that initially said they saw Akhtar “beat” Turab later changed their testimony. They either said that all they saw was a shove or that they didn’t really see the beating. The ANA Sergeant Major initially wrote that he saw Akhtar beat Turab but in court said that he only saw Akhtar shove Turab. When questioned about the discrepancy, he said that a shove was a beating. It was pretty weak.

So let me tell you about the speculation as to why the SGM changed his story. Last week in the chow hall, he asked a soldier to get a guest a cup of tea. The soldier threw the cup at the SGM. This of course erupted into a shouting match. Akhtar’s support, the Corps G2 (Intelligence officer) allegedly said that he was going to report this to the Corp Commander for discipline and that he was going to recommend that the SGM be put into pre-trial confinement. This matter was not a Corps matter but should have been handled at the Brigade level. We all think that the G2 was “telling” the SGM that if he testified against Akhtar he would be in a lot of trouble. Well the message got through as the SGM changed his testimony.

The defense brought in a medic to contradict the doctor’s findings. He attempted to testify that there was nothing wrong with Turab and that he should not have been in the hospital. He didn’t get very far in his testimony when the chief judge shut him down. He asked him what his training was. “Medic” was the response. “How much medical training do you have?” “Two weeks.” “Get out of this courtroom.” “You are in no position to refute the findings of a doctor who has been to medical school.” The medic was literally kicked out of court. It was beautiful. The look of shock on Akhtar’s face was even better.

So let me tell you about the speculation behind that testimony. The medic lost his pistol in the past several weeks. It is rumored that the G2, once again, the devil’s angel himself, told the medic that if he would come in and refute what the doctor had to say, the lost pistol investigation would go well for him.

The corps investigators that were initially assigned to investigate this case testified that they did not see any marks or scars on Turab and that he was not injured. The judges jumped on them as each one of them put in their written report that Turab had been beaten and had marks on his face to support the claim.

Let’s see, who else changed their testimony? Hmm….like I said, just about every witness. Fortunately there were a few who stuck to their stories; Turab, his roommate and one other. And while they had a few discrepancies in their stories, they were consistent on the facts. The doctor too ended up sticking with his original statement.

If you don’t think witness intimidation is alive and well here, then I didn’t do a very good job of telling this story.

Of course there were painful moments watching the prosecutor struggle. When one witness completely denied observing a beating, the judge asked him if he’d interviewed the witness. I “knew” the answer would be yes and was surprised when the answer was “no.” Several of the witnesses were supposed to have seen Akhtar beat the “kidney kid” but it turned out that they only heard about it. Can anyone say “hearsay?” Of course the judge excluded their testimony.

From an academic point of view it was incredibly interesting. For the first time, the defense attorney was arguing procedural violations committed by the prosecutor…and the judges were listening and engaging the prosecutor in debate.

For example…the ANA military justice code says that the defense attorney and accused must be present at all witness interrogations. There were a couple of times when the defense counsel was not around and the prosecutor interviewed the witnesses. He tried to get those statements excluded. Of course Akhtar was not present for any of the witness interrogations. I mean, who was going to let him out of pre-trial confinement to interview witnesses? Not any sane person.

Well there’s a story there as well. The judge, who is a “sane” person as well as the JAG of the ANA army both feel that you can let the accused out of pre-trial confinement to go and interview witnesses. They explained to me as if I were a small child. You simply do not let the accused have a weapon, you have 3-4 armed guards to guard him and everything will be alright. They obviously have not watched enough American TV to know that bad guys have friends who will break them out of jail at a moments notice.

Well fortunately for the prosecution, the judges did not really do anything about the procedural violations. They engaged in animated discussions with the defense attorney and Akhtar but in the end ignored their arguments.

The first day of trial Akhtar sat in his defense box looking so smug and arrogant. When the witnesses would testify that he beat Turab, he would get the wounded look of “who me?”, of someone who would never do, much less think of doing something so heinous as strike another human being. It was pretty sickening. By today, however, that smug look was gone and you could actually see the fear start to creep into his eyes. Then when he was found guilty and sentenced, well if looks could kill, we’d all be dead.

Well in the end justice prevailed. There were times during this case that I was afraid that the prosecutor would buckle. He never did. He is a new hero. He stuck to his guns and did his job. Despite his weaknesses and flaws in the case, the “right” outcome was reached.

The chief judge told me after the trial that this was an historic moment. Never in the 5 year history of the ANA has a Brigadier General ever been convicted at a court martial. I am now officially a part of ANA military justice history.

“Um, that’s Robert J. for the record.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Special Fast

Tonight in Priesthood meeting, Brother Hansen mentioned that his stake in Richfield is going to hold a special fast this Sunday on behalf of the members of their stake who are over here serving. He invited those of us who wanted to join in that fast to do so. So, I'm extending that invitation to those of you who will be fasting this Sunday and may not have a specific purpose. Please join with us.

But not only fast for us but for LT Lundell's family.

Thanks for all your prayers and support. We can feel your prayers and can't tell you how much we appreciate them.

We love you guys!!

Monday, November 27, 2006

My Last Entry

Even as I was writing my tribute to our fallen hero, I knew that it would stir up a myriad of feelings in so many different people. I sometimes lose sight of how many people read this page but when I started writing this it was for me and my family. That's who I continue to write it for. The rest of your are invited guests. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that you find my ramblings interesting enough to come back for but my goal with this is to write about what I'm feeling and experiencing.

Believe me, I understand the pain that this kind of news invokes, especially in wives and families at home. That's one of the things that caused me so much heartache yesterday, imagining what my own wife and sons would be going through if I was the one who was lost.

I appreciate the comment that I should have written this for my personal journal. I also appreciate the comments that this was where it should have been written. That's the beauty of a blog and the comments, you get to say what's on your mind regardless of who agrees with it. So keep the comments coming, even if you disagree or disapprove of what I've written.

Hindsight being 20/20, maybe I should have waited a day or two to post that entry but at the same time, I wanted to express what I was feeling and thinking at the time I was feeling and thinking those thoughts.

After all, isn't that what this forum is for?

As Trooper's Wife pointed out, when tragic events like this happen, all the phone lines and internet connections here are shut down to give the military time to contact the family of the fallen soldier. I knew that. I also knew that when the lines came back up, the family had been notified. That's why I felt OK about posting that comment.

I truly hope that I never have to write a similar entry, especially for one of my "family." That was the last thought process I went through, but didn't express in yesterdays comment; what if it were a close friend of mine? Would I write another entry? Absolutely! Would it be just as painful, just as hard? Of course, but I would write it anyway. I just hope and pray that I never have to.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Fallen Comrade

How do you write about someone who has been killed in action when you barely knew him? When I heard the news this morning that one of our Utah soldiers was killed yesterday, I wasn’t sure if I would write about it but like a couple other times in the past, I think the only way I can get over these feelings of gloom and despair are to write about them. The soldier was a young LT with a young family. At Shelby he had a picture of his family above his bunk, just like so many other soldiers.

This morning the Utah contingency is in various stages of shock. Of course those who knew him and his family are more affected than those of us who would recognize his face but not much more. I think the thing that is causing us all to pause and reflect, and me in particular, is that death is a real possibility that we all face but one that we don’t want to deal with; that it can reach out and touch us in a moment when we least expect it. I know there have been times when I have been pretty cavalier in my belief that I was impervious to death. Before I left I felt such a strong feeling of peace and comfort that everything would be alright that I’ve taken that to mean that I would return home safely. But if I am honest with myself, that’s not what I felt. All I know is that everything will be alright, even if I don’t come home and that’s not a thought I want to think about.

I think that’s what’s affected me more than anything this morning. Did he feel the same way I did before we got deployed? Did he feel like the Lord would take care of everything and that he would return home safely when the reality has proven to be otherwise?

And then my thoughts turn to his wife and children and the grief and anguish they must be feeling this morning. I can only imagine what his family is going through and my heart just aches. How do you find the words to express your sympathies, your grief at their loss? How do you adequately thank his family for the sacrifice of their husband and father? I don’t know that words can adequately express those feelings. I know I’m not doing a very good job.

With today being the Sabbath, I am grateful that I’ll be able to meet with my fellow Latter-Day Saint Soldiers and partake of the Sacrament. I know that there will be a very different spirit in our meeting tonight. I know each one of us will be thinking the same thoughts, offering the same prayer for his family and thanking the Lord for our own safety. I am looking forward to renewing my covenants and reflecting on the infinite mercy that is the atonement and what it means to this young officer and his family. Words cannot take away the pain and anguish they will feel for a very long time but fortunately they, we, I, don’t have to rely on words alone. I am so grateful for the knowledge I have that if we keep our covenants that we will one day see each other and be able to live together as a family for all eternity. So it’s not the words themselves that bring comfort but the truth behind the words.

I guess my final thoughts are on our officer and the sacrifice he made. He was here trying to bring peace to a violence ridden land. He was trying to teach the ANA how to become a better Army. He was serving his country. He was a hero in the truest sense. So on this day of mourning all I can say to him and his family is “thank you and that my thoughts and prayers will be with you.”

Friday, November 24, 2006

Jalalabad - Execution Tree and other Grim Reminders

The ANA complex where SLAG works used to be a Taliban/Al Queda complex. Of course it was bombed during the 2001 campaign. As we drove in and parked our vehicles, we parked across from a derelict building that has seen better days. As I looked closer at the building, I could see bullet holes in the cement stucco. I then noticed that the large trees in front of the wall also had bullet holes in them. I assumed that they were shot during the fighting. Later Slag told me a far different story.

He told us that the building used to be a Taliban prison. He said that they would bring their prisoners outside, place the prisoners backs against the tree and execute them at gunpoint. As he was telling us this, we had walked over to the tree to take a closer look. Instinctively I looked down to see if there was any blood on the ground, knowing of course, that there wouldn’t be. I couldn’t help myself. I then reached out my hand to touch the scars in the tree but couldn’t do that. The thought of actually touching something that had seen so much death and torture repulsed me. I felt sad for the tree, as silly as that sounds. It was a huge, beautiful tree and here it had been used to such an awful purpose. Slag, Ken and I posed for a picture. As I stood there facing the camera, my skin crawled at the thought of the men who had stood where I had stood and had faced, not a camera, but a rifle. Wais wouldn’t go near the tree as it made him sick at the thought. I didn’t blame him.

We were then taken to the last house that Bin Laden had lived in just prior to the campaign. Again, there was that feeling of something evil lurking around the corner. I started to snicker as I had the thought that I wanted to pee on the building just to insult him. Of course I’m too mature and dignified to do such a thing, but I must admit the through crossed my mind.

Despite the beauty of the complex, it has its evil, horrifying history.

Jalalabad - Animal Life

When we went to the ANA complex the first morning we were there, I was struck by the beauty of it all. As I mentioned in my “not long-winded” previous blog on how green it was, it was such a beautiful location. The next thing that struck me after how green it was was the “noise.” I was actually hearing birds sing. It’s something I haven’t heard in a long time. We don’t have many birds here at Blackhorse – I don’t’ think ravens sing, do they? So I just stood there listening to the birds sing.

Then I noticed that there were not just your ordinary birds in the mix, but there were actually parrots. Yep, real live, wild parrots. It was so cool to see them flying between the trees.

Slag, who is the commander of the ETT’s down there told us that at one of the FOB’s (forward operating bases) there’s a monkey that lives there. He said the monkey will get down on the ground and play with the FOB dogs. He said it was fun to watch. One day Slag said he was kneeling down and the monkey came and jumped on his back. Without missing a beat Ken said, “hard to kick that heroin habit, heh?” I guess you had to be there but it was funny.

I’m told that in the summer there are snakes and spiders everywhere. The snakes wouldn’t have bothered me but I’m glad that the spiders were out of season. HATE, HATE, HATE spiders.

Before I close, let me just say that the ANA complex there had the most beautiful grounds. Acres of trees and recessed gardens. I know that if I were stationed there I would spend many an evening in the trees just sitting there enjoying the peace and quiet. Ken would have his lawn chair out sipping a cool beverage of his choice. That sounded like a good suggestion as well.

Jalalabad - Green

On Sunday I went to Jalallabad or J-Bad as we call it with a group of 2nd BDE guys and some of the new Marines to join 2nd BDE. It was not a complete boondoggle for me but just about. The 14-year old boy that was sexually assaulted a couple of weeks ago lives down that way and I was hoping to be able to locate his village, go there, meet with him and get a statement. Unfortunately that part of our mission was not a success. I’ll talk about that later.

We were there for 4 days and it was a great trip. The weather was absolutely perfect. It was in the mid-70’s during the day and got down into the 40’s at night. I’m told that the summers are unbearably hot and humid. Our guys that went straight there said it was just like going back to Phoenix. I would have hated that.

The elevation is low enough and they’re far enough south that they don’t’ get any snow in the wintertime. Roses and other flowers bloom all winter long. If the weather was as pleasant as it was while we were there, I wouldn’t mind spending the winter there. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Everything was so green, something we don’t see a lot of here. We actually saw grass, yes real grass. I had almost forgotten what grass looked like. At the King’s Winter Palace, now the Governor’s Mansion, I had to go and walk on the grass, kneel down and actually touch it. It felt great. I would have lied down on the grass but it was still wet with dew and didn’t figure that would look too dignified. I mean I am a dignified LTC and JAG officer.

Trees are everywhere and these are not the little saplings we have here but old, ancient, huge trees. Some of the streets we drove down were lined with trees and their branches and leaves hung down over the road creating the feeling of driving through a tunnel. It was beautiful.

Flowers and flowering trees were everywhere. Beautiful gardens were just about everywhere we went. Some were not as well-kept as others but they were still gardens nontheless. Afghans create recessed gardens that are divided by walkways. The paths are lined with brick and it creates a really nice look. I’m sure they growing plots are recessed so they can water them with flood-irrigation. It’s a pretty cool idea.

Since I don’t want to be as long-winded as Tigger, I’ll cut this short. I’ll break up my trip in multiple entries so as not to be too long winded. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be criticized for writing too much, you know vomiting all over the paper. Besides I’m not feeling too creative right now so will end this by saying that JBad was quite beautiful.

That's me standing on the other side of the reflecting pool/fountain at the Governor's mansion.

This is one of my most favorit flowering trees. I think it's "bouganvilla" (sorry about the spelling). They had them in the Domincan Republic. These were everywhere. I wish they grew in Utah

JBad is so green because of the abundance of water that flows through the valley.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!!

NOTE: Pictures to come.

As I suspected and as I hoped, today has been a flurry of activity. It has made the day go by quite rapidly and I haven’t had time to dwell on the fact that I’m not at home celebrating this holiday with my family. I’m hoping Christmas will be the same.

Why am I so busy today you ask? Well I’ve been in Jalalabad for the last four days but I’ll write about that later. And as you can imagine, being gone for four days makes the work stack up.

Subject A is going to trial on Monday so that has required my attention today. I’m conducting some training with my hero, not Aaron, my ANA hero, on Saturday and since the ANA take Friday off, I had to make hurried arrangements to get over to the KMTC this morning to meet with him regarding what we’ll be training.

Then it was mail day. I had a few remaining presents I had to box up and get mailed out. I was unsuccessful in that mission and still have two more boxes to go to be complete with my Christmas mailing. Oh well.

So with that said, let’s talk Thanksgiving.

For starters, the chow hall staff outdid themselves with dinner. They had decorated to the nines. Paper turkeys, streamers, table cloths, placemats, everything. In fact when I went to grab my plastic bag of utensils, the dispenser was gone. The staff had placed the bags of utensils next to each place mat on the tables. I was duly impressed. Spaced out on the table were bottles of sparkling cider. It was an impressive sight.

Dinner was exceptional. One of the “chefs” was carving prime rib – it was delicious, then on the serving line you had the choice of turkey, ham or more beef, “real” mashed potatoes, complete with lumps – yum! – cornbread stuffing, broccoli (your obligatory green vegetable) candied yams and I’m sure there was something else as well. On the salad bar table there was chilled shrimp along with an ice sculpture of a dolphin, two giant cakes, homemade rolls with a lite-sweet sort-of crunchy glaze on top (they were wonderful!) and the salad bar with an assortment of tempting dishes. I must admit it it was delicious and memorable Thanksgiving dinner.

Steve and SGM Larry Hansen were serving dinner. Each hour, a senior officer and a senior NCO are assigned to serve. Ken was supposed to serve but he was at Phoenix on official business – BG Wilson is in country and several went up to see him.

I had dinner with Merrill, Aaron, Andy, Damon Harvy and SPC Christian, a SECFOR guy. Of course we had to share what we were thankful for, which is a Church/Durfee family tradition. We sit around the table and each say one thing we’re thankful for. You’re not allowed to repeat what someone else has said. They can tell you what they’re thankful for. Let me tell you what I’m thankful for:

First and foremost I’m thankful to God for keeping me and my family safe while I’ve been here. I have seen His hand evident in so many things. Just today I had an opportunity to thank Him for His blessings. I was at the KMTC and needed to meet with someone. I knew that the US personnel were on a down day and would not be in their offices. Nevertheless I had to look for this officer. To my surprise, as I walked into the main building he was walking out. Coincidence. Maybe. But I said a quick prayer of thanks that he was right where I needed him to be. So thanks to Heavenly Father for hearing and answering my prayers and the prayers of my family and all of you.

Second is of course my beautiful, wonderful wife. Without her, I couldn’t do this. She has been a rock through all the challenges that have been faced at home and has met each one with courage and strength. She has never complained about my absence. Instead she has done nothing but support me and tell me that I’m here for a reason and that I need to be here to complete whatever it is the Lord wants me to do. I love her more now than I did before I left and if for no other reason, this deployment has been a blessing in that respect.

Next of course are my handsome sons. They too have been an incredible support in their own way. It’s been so hard being away during this critical year in their lives but trust that the Lord has a purpose and will bless us for our sacrifice. They have been doing so well in so many ways that I have to thank the Lord for his tender mercies in their lives.

You guys, my friends and family who read this page, you who leave comments – hint, hint, but mostly those who love us, support us and pray for us. I cannot tell you how many times I have literally felt something tangible with me and I knew it was the Lord’s blessings. I knew it was a direct answer to someone’s prayer on my behalf. I know that today literally hundreds of you will be praying for me specifically and all of us collectively. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for those prayers. I wish I could tell you what it’s like to be the beneficiary of so many prayers but suffice it to say that it’s an amazing, wonderful, comforting feeling. Again, the Lord’s tender mercies.

What’s next? Well it would have to be my fellow brethren who are here serving with me. I consider them to be brothers and have grown to love them as much as I love my own brothers. You know who they are, Aaron, Merrill, Steve, Ken, Andy, Damon, Steve, Larry, Steve, Ron, and Jimmy and those are just the ones serving here at Blackhorse. There are so many others scattered across the country for whom I’m grateful, but these guys are my family here. Each one, in their own way makes me a better person, keeps me on my toes and makes me grateful to know them. This morning Ron came into my office to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. I know it was a small thing but I really appreciated it. Of course we gripe and complain, we tease and harass each other, but I know that everyone of these guys would do anything for me and I for them and for that I’m grateful.

A very tiny, almost impossible to see part of me is grateful to be here. OK, maybe it’s a little bit bigger but I’ve learned so much since I’ve been here. I’ve learned about my self and what I’m capable of. I’ve learned that we are so blessed to live where we live. I’ve learned that it’s possible to be tortured, to be beaten, to have your daughter murdered in front of you and still have a positive attitude towards life and a love of country. I’ve learned what it means to really love your family and to appreciate what you took for granted. And I’ve learned to love these guys that I work with. If it had not been for this deployment, I wouldn’t have learned any of these things.

I know I could go on and on, but let me finish. As I mentioned above, I am so grateful for the country in which we live. You there at home have no idea how blessed you are. Well maybe some of you do, but so many of you, myself included, take for granted what a tremendous blessing we were given by being born in the United States. Your children do not play in congested streets. Your front door does not open onto a pool of mud and raw sewage in the dirt road. You can go to the grocery store and not worry that flies have been crawling all over the meat that’s offered for sale. You don’t have to worry about whether or not a police officer is going to stop you on the road and threaten to arrest you if you don’t pay him a bribe. Our children get a great education, albeit it could be improved, but they have teachers and schools who try and instill a sense of morality and decency. But the biggest thing to be grateful for is that you don’t have to take your life in your hand each time you go out the door, constantly wondering if a roadside bomb is going to explode right when you’re there. Again, I could go on and on about how great we have it at home but I think you get the idea.

Tonight I’ve been well fed and will be well rested when I finally climb into bed, a real bed with sheets and blankets. Some of our soldiers won’t have it so well. They’ll be sleeping in foxholes, in sleeping bags with tarps overhead. While I’m not asking you to forget me in your prayers, remember those of my fellow soldiers who are truly roughing it in order to make the ANA a better Army and to make this country free. They are the true heroes.

So that’s been my Thanksgiving. It’s been a good, busy and thought provoking day. My prayers will be with you and hope that you to take a moment to reflect on the tremendous blessings we all have been given.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

New Marines

The new Marine command group arrived last week. It was great to see them arrive as it signaled people who had been here less time than we had had finally arrived. It was hard to see them come as they will be going home before we do. They’re on 6 months orders and since we have more than 6 months to go that realization was hard.

I’ve had a case of the blahs for the last week or so. I think it’s been watching COL Vitali’s command get ready to go and being jealous, watching all their plans to go and being jealous, but mostly being jealous of the excitement in the Marine’s eyes as they knew the days were quickly winding down.

They left for Phoenix yesterday and today were transported to Bagram to catch their flight out. I think they actually leave the country next week some time. Now that they’re actually gone, I’m starting to feel better. I realize that there’s no point worrying about what I can’t change. It’s sort of like being on a mission. Once you get through the first set of missionaries that go home and realize that your time will come, things got easier.

I’m hoping that’s how I’ll feel.

COL Smith and his command came from Okinawa. They’ve been together for some time so are already a working unit. And they’re all tall. COL Vitali’s command was made up of mostly short Marines. These guys are all pretty tall and the comparison was very obvious. As I’d watch the old Marines showing their new counterparts around, it was apparent that there was a substantial height difference.

Ever hear of short-mans complex? One of the Marines, one of the commanding Marines suffered from it. At least that’s the general consensus. It was interesting to watch. I learned a lot from this Marine but one day at chow we all came to the same consensus.

These guys seem to be really on the ball. Already they’ve cut down our staff meetings. We were meeting everyday, now I only have to attend a staff meeting three days a week an no staff meeting on Friday. I’m quite excited.

Well they’re here, they’re leaving before I do and I think I’m actually OK with that. I’m also looking at it from the point of view that when they go home, it will be about the same time that I go home on leave for Seth’s graduation. Then when I get back I’ll have around 60 days left and I think I can live with that.

I guess that’s something I can look forward to.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Salt!? Sheesh!!

What were you guys thinking?


Is this what you would call being brave?

Last night I was in MG Mangal’s office mentoring him into appointing a couple of officers to investigate the corrupt garrison commander here. Maybe I’ll share the details of that later but then when you’ve heard one story of a corrupt Afghan officer being protected by others, you’ve heard them all.

Anyway, during my lecture on how I need to understand the people and be patient, he told me this story. Many years ago when he was a young Lieutenant, there were a group of soldiers standing around talking about who was the bravest of them all. Several tests of bravery were suggested. Finally, one brave (stupid) soldier suggested that they form a circle. Once in the circle, that brave (stupid) soldier pulled out a hand grenade and said that once he pulled the pin and dropped it in the middle of the circle, the brave ones would stay and face the danger. The cowards would run. The pin was pulled. The grenade was dropped. Three (smart) soldiers ran. Four (stupid) soldiers remained. The grenade exploded. The four brave (stupid) soldiers received shrapnel to their legs and bodies. They were bleeding from their wounds. Though none of them were killed, they were all injured. They then turned to the three who fled and began to call them cowards and other vulgar names.

As he told me that story I wondered what the point was. If it was to reiterate how stupid soldiers can be, he was doing a pretty good job. If it was to tell me how brave these guys were, it wasn’t working.

Today we were at the KMTC talking with our hero. We told him the story and asked if he had ever heard of anything similar. When I told him it was supposed to be a story of bravery, he laughed and said it sounded like a story of stupidity. See why I like this guy?

He then told us of a situation he witnessed that had very similar tones. Stupidity posing as bravery.

Thirty years or so ago, he was also a young officer. Another group of “brave” soldiers were discussing their bravery. One of the soldiers suggested that if they were brave (stupid) they would reach into the fire with their bare hands, grab a handful of coals and rub them in their faces. Boy, that sounds like real bravery. Well the bravest (most stupid) of them all did just that. He plunged his hands into the red-hot coals, grabbed a handful and rubbed them in his face. In the process of being so brave (stupid) he burned off his eyebrows, eyelashes and mustache. In addition to severely burning his hands, he burned his face.

The second bravest man wasn’t quite so brave as to rub coals in his face. Instead he took of his boots and walked barefoot through the coals.

I guess I’m not very brave. What about you?

Here he is, COL Khaliq, my Afghan hero.

They never smile in their pictures which is too bad as his whole face shines when he smiles.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

No School

I think I mentioned in my blog about our school visit that the schools here are pretty austere and that the kids sit on the cement floor.

My terp told me that school is canceled in the winter. Makes sense. I didn’t’ see anything in the buildings to heat them and can you imagine how cold and uncomfortable that would be to sit on freezing cement and try to listen to teachers drone on?

I started to chuckle at a mental image I got when he told me that. Remember that classic moment in A Christmas Story when Flick sticks his tongue to the metal pole? I thought of those poor kids sitting on the cold floor and actually sticking to the cement. OK, maybe it’s not that funny but with as cold as it gets here it was a thought that just popped into mind.

So instead of the summers off, the kids here get “winter vacation.”

Sleeping Beauties

One of my "loyal readers" gave me these photographs and thought they'd make an excellent blog page. I couldn't agree more.

Anyone recognize these guys?

Tell them to wake up before a pool of drool accumulates!!

Phone Lines

Do you ever wonder about the telephone lines in the States? Probably not, unless of course, you don’t have service and then, that’s all you can think about. Have you ever seen the phone lines? Probably not unless you’ve severed one while digging up a broken sprinkler head in your backyard. Now why the phone company would bury the phone line 6 inches from the surface right next to a sprinkler head is beyond me. And aren’t you supposed to call “Blue Stake” before digging in your backyard? That’s what someone told someone else when the issue was reported. But why would you think to call Blue Stake to repair a broken sprinkler head was they reply. But I digress…

Here you can actually see the phone lines. I really noticed it the other day when I was sitting in the courtroom and the phone rang. The ring was not one of those pleasant rings that we’re all used to. This was one of those old-fashioned harsh rings. As I looked at the phone, I noticed that the phone was sitting on a chair under a window and that the phone line ran from the phone, up the wall and out the window. That’s when I realized that all the wires I see strewn on the ground are probably phone lines. I’m not kidding. If you travel very far on this base, you’ll see blue wires snaking through the dirt towards the various buildings and I’m assuming end up attached to some antiquated phone somewhere.

Coming from the Corps command building, you can see dozens of these phone lines trailing down the hill, over the road and through the dirt, making their way to someone’s office.

I am still amazed that they don’t elevate the wires or even bury them. They’re just there, sitting out in the open where vehicles drive over them on a regular basis.

And they wonder why they have bad phone service.


Don’t you just love sodium?

Did you know that the periodic table lists sodium’s scientific designation as “NA?” Isn’t that interesting?

My wife especially likes NA. She thinks it’s one of the best designations on the periodic table.

She especially likes my sodium.

Ken thinks I write about sodium way too much. As I recall, I’ve never written about this topic before. I don’t know what he’s talking about.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

2nd Brigade Legal Training

Today I had the opportunity to enter “enemy territory”, so to speak. I was invited by the legal officer of 2nd Brigade to come and teach about military justice. As you may recall, this is the brigade where Subject A is from. For those wanting an update, the case has been investigated and the prosecutor will file the case with the court in the next couple of days. He was able to find a victim willing to testify against him from his previous command. The victim is the one who lost a kidney due to the severity of the beating he received from Subject A. Once the case is filed with the court, I’m hoping that the court-martial will take place quickly. I want to get this one over and done with.

So as you can imagine, when I showed up I was met with mixed emotions. I could tell from the looks on some of the faces who the Subject A supporters were. I had braced myself for a barrage of questions regarding him and why we were prosecuting him. That may come during Part II of my presentation. Today I just talked about Non-Judicial Punishment. This is the lowest level of punishment commanders can impose without having to resort to the military courts.

For those of you who are familiar with my style of teaching, I teach several concepts then go back and ask questions about what we just learned. I explained this to these guys before we got started but I could tell from the blank stares that they didn’t understand.

Realize that I have the best interpreter on post and I’m not just saying that. Wais was born here in Kabul but immigrated to the States when he was 16. He’s 40 now. So not only does he speak the language but he speaks “American” as we like to say. He understands our expressions and is able to translate them into Dari. So I knew it wasn’t a problem with the translation but knew that they were not getting the concept of me asking them questions.

Sure enough, after I asked my first question, I was met with blank stares. Then when I tried to get an answer to a question from the youngest of the enlisted soldiers, I got the proverbial “deer in the headlight” look. I tried joking with them, smiling, etc., but I could not crack that stony silence.

After a few questions that were answered by the instructor, the Legal Officer finally caught on and started answering them. I didn’t want him answering the questions as I knew that he knew the answers. I was hoping to engage the officers, NCO’s and soldiers in a thoughtful discussion. I don’t’ know if they were capable of thoughtful discussion.

After we talked about all the possible punishments available at NJP I asked if anyone heard me say that it was legal to beat a soldier as an NJP punishment. I got a few “ne’s” – “ne” meaning “no.” I then really hit the point home that it may have been OK at one time, it was no longer lawful.

That lit the fire. The one guy who I knew for sure was a Subject A support and who, by the way, looked like someone who would beat his soldiers, raised his hand and said that we had 400 years of military history where we learned not to beat our soldiers. They didn’t have that. I didn’t bother to correct him that we didn’t have quite 400 years of military history and that beatings actually took place within recent memory, but not saying any of that I told him that I realized that change was hard but it was time to change. I told him that if the leaders of his country and military wanted officers to be able to beat their soldiers they would have left it in their code and since they didn’t, it was behavior that could no longer be tolerated.

He then said that he watches American TV and sees men fight all the time but they don’t get prosecuted. Wais was one step ahead of me. He later told me that the guy was talking about “ultimate fighting.” Now there’s quality television. On his own, Wais explained that these guys were fighting for sport, that they were getting paid and that they were under contract. He further explained that this was not a one-sided beating like officers would do to their soldiers. He put this guy in his place as he immediately shut up. It helped that several other officers also told him to be quiet and not ask stupid questions.

Speaking of stupid questions…I guess they say that the only stupid question is the one not asked….or is the only dumb questions is the one not asked. Anyway, of course I got the questions that I could not help them with – “Why am I only getting paid as a Captain and not a Major?” Of course that’s a good question, but it’s not a legal question, it’s a personnel question. I got the question of why regulations dealing with officer promotions were not being published. Hmmm. No clue. “I’ll get back to you on that one” was about all I could think of saying.

Overall though, it was a good experience. I’ve talked with groups of soldiers before but never actually conducted training. I learned a lot, mostly that it takes twice as long to teach a simple concept. One, I have to wait for the translation and two, I have to speak in much simpler terms. I don’t think the Afghans are unintelligent, I just think it’s a different style of learning that they’re used to. I’m told it’s mostly lecture and taking notes. Not a lot of interaction.

I’ve got several more classes that I get to teach so I’ll look forward to see if they turn out any differently.

Veteran's Day

Just 60 days ago, I was standing in formation honoring those who had died on September 11, 2002. Today I had the privilege of standing in the same location, honoring all the veterans who have served and sacrificed for our country. As I listened to the presentation, I’ll include a copy at the end of this entry, I thought of all those who I have known who have served our country.

I immediately thought of my father-in-law, Lyman Durfee, who served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. I thought of my neighbor Ken Call and his service during the Vietnam Conflict. I thought of the many friends I had while on active duty in the Navy. I then thought of the many men and women who I’m serving with now and the tremendous service and sacrifice they are giving to their country.

Merrill was standing next to me. I thought of him and his family. He has shared with me some of the struggles that he has gone through by being here, some of the sacrifices he and his family have made. I thought of Aaron, being away from a new wife and an even newer baby. I thought of Steve and Ken, Slag, Jimmy, Larry, Ron, Steve and Steve, Andy, Burke and all my other friend, brothers, from 2nd Brigade who are each sacrificing in their own way. Of course I thought of my own family and all the struggles they’ve gone through.

Believe me, we all recognize that our families have sacrificed as much, if not more, than we have by being here. They are heroes just as much as we are and so today, we honored them as well.

Of course I thought of all our fallen comrades. I couldn’t help it. We heard a history of Veteran’s Day how it was originally called Armistice Day. I thought of the battles of World War I and II as well as the battles that have taken place since then. He mentioned places like Normandy and Arlington, Gettysburg and Iwo Jima. Men and women who gave their lives in sacrifice for what they believed in.

As I looked around at us all, I realized that we were Veterans. This was a day to honor us. I was humbled by the presence of the caliber of men and women that I serve with. We’re all so very different and yet we’re united in a common purpose, to bring peace and stability to this country.

There are days that we curse the Afghans and their corrupt system and their “en shallah” attitude. (It’s the attitude of we don’t have to worry about anything as God will provide – there is often no fore thought or planning and it can be quite frustrating.) But then there are days when we glimpse the potential that they have. It’s those days that make being away from our families bearable. OK, somewhat bearable.

I then thought of my friends and brothers who are down-range in harms way and I felt a great sense of pride in the work they are doing. They’re laying their safety and lives on the line every day as they go out on patrols with the ANA to try and rid their country of the scurge that is the Taliban and other terrorists. Compared with them, they are the true heroes of this mission. My thoughts and prayers are with them every single day we’re here.

Our German coalition partners were standing right behind us. The French were also there as were our Afghan counterparts as invited guests. I wondered what this day meant to them, especially the Germans. Well I didn’t have to wonder as my friend and former roommate LTC Frederick Schultze spoke. He talked about the illegal war begun by criminals. He talked about the wall that was built that divided families and friends. He then talked about a young, idealistic president, John F. Kennedy who came to Berlin when he was a young man. He talked about how this young president inspired him. He talked about the sadness he felt when he was gunned down in Dallas. He then talked about President Reagan and his admonition to Gorbachev, to “tear down this wall.” I was touched and moved by his comments.

Finally, we were able to participate in a flag raising ceremony. Just like on September 11, we were able to raise flags over Afghanistan, in the face of the enemy, to declare to the world that we were here to make a stand against terrorism. As I watched the flag being raised to the sound of our national anthem and then watch it being lowered to the sound of Taps caused me to choke up with emotion. I have come to have a new found love for the flag of my homeland and for what it stands.

“It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protestor to burn the flag."

After being here, Veterans Day will no longer just be a day on the calendar on which you fly your flag in front of your home and if you work for the government (other than Orem City) you get the day off. This day will now have new meaning for me. I hope that for those of you who have husbands, fathers, brothers and sons here, that you will gain a new found respect for this day and what it means.

Did you think to fly your flag today? Shame on you if you didn’t’.

Here are the comments from today’s ceremony:

LTC Mitchell:

General Mangul, COL Luljohn, COL Vitali, COL Furmound, COL Barnhard, SgtMaj Seward, distinguished guests, leaders from the Afghan National Army and Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, welcome to today’s ceremony and thank you for coming. Today is Veterans’ Day, formerly known as the anniversary of the Armistice which was signed in the Forest of Compiegne by the Allies and the Germans in 1918, ending World War I, after four years of conflict. The name was changed to Veterans' Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954. In October of that year, President Eisenhower called on all citizens to observe the day by remembering the sacrifices of all those who fought so gallantly, and through rededication to the task of promoting an enduring peace. The President referred to the change of name to Veterans' Day in honor of the servicemen of all America's wars.
Today marks a significant day and is noteworthy because we are here together in remembrance of our brothers and sisters who have served before us. Today we have Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in our ranks along with our Coalition Force partners from France and Germany serving in support of the Global War on Terror. We also have our honored guests from the Afghan National Army joining us today.

In addition to Veterans’ Day, we will perform a flag raising ceremony incorporating the reading of “Old Glory” most familiar to our Navy personnel. Following the 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.

CSM Roy:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining me today as we recognize our veterans for their unwavering service to this nation. It is certainly my pleasure to be here today and look out at all of you thinking that you remind me of the veterans – the heroes I looked up to as a child. It’s hard to imagine what the United States would be like if we did not have in our midst those who are willing to fight to protect our freedoms and spread that way of life around the world. This is done today by you; Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines working with our Coalition Force partners from France and Germany.

In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month, the world rejoiced and celebrated. After four years of bitter war, the Allied powers a signed a cease-fire agreement (an armistice) with Germany at Rethondes, France on November 11, 1918, bringing World War I to a close. The "war to end all wars" was over. In November 11, 1919 was set aside as Armistice Day in the United States, to remember the sacrifices that men and women made during World War I in order to ensure a lasting peace. The name was changed to Veterans' Day by Act of Congress on May 24, 1954.
Today, we honor those men and women whose personal sacrifices have preserved our nation through the toughest of times. They embody everything that has made this country great. Combined with tremendous drive and self-reliance, these traits enabled our citizen-soldiers to succeed in times of peace as well as war.
Some ask, what is a Veteran? That question conjures up many thoughts and images but I think Father Denis Edward O'Brien, United States Marine Corps said it best:
Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye.
Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg - or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.
Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem.
You can't tell a vet just by looking.
What is a vet?
He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.
He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.
She - or he - is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.
He is the POW who went away one person and came back another - or didn't come back AT ALL.
He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat - but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.
He is the parade - riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.
He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.
He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.
He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket - palsied now and aggravatingly slow - who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.
He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being - a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.
He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.
So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say Thank You. That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.

In view of our upcoming changing of the guard with many of our dedicated combat veterans soon to leave our team, I express our recognition by sharing with you an excerpt from a fellow NCO’s writings:

In years to come when I’m home from those foreign lands, I will remember fondly and have great respect for those whom serve this great nation, a vision of flags snapping in the wind and hearty laughter throughout the hallway and chow lines, specters of the past. Gone home for good I will remember those days when the battlefield was ours and the sadness of those fallen. Wistful I will go, walking taller than before, proud to say, I WAS ONCE A SOLDIER

In closing, I remind you that:

"It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protestor to burn the flag."Father Denis Edward O'BrienUnited States Marine Corps
Would you now please join me in a moment of silence?
Thank you!

Marine Corps Birthday

On November 10, 2006 we celebrated the Marine Corps Birthday. I heard that there would be a cake cutting ceremony and wasn’t sure what that would be like. It ended up being a very simple, yet moving, experience.

The guys in the kitchen prepared a beautiful cake. The sides were covered with fresh strawberries and the top was covered with kiwi. But it was not the cake that made the ceremony.

The XO and Camp Commandant approached the cake. A retired Marine (he’s here now as a government contractor) came forward and received the first piece symbolizing his service to his country and his Corps. Next, COL Vitali, as the oldest Marine present came forward and received the next piece of cake. He held it as the youngest Marine came forward and received the piece from COL Vitali. He took a bite as it was explained that the passing of the cake from the “old” to the “new” symbolized the passing of knowledge and tradition from those Marines with experience, knowledge and wisdom to the young recruits who still have so much to learn. COL Vitali was then given the third piece of cake.

Like I said it was really simple but it said so much. I’ve never seen this ceremony done before and probably won’t again, but I was glad to be there and witness this tradition.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Local Animals

Today Merrill and I were sitting in the 2nd Brigade Legal Officers office discussing the latest round of problem children in the ANA. This week the problem children are all in 2nd Brigade. Ken, Steve, Aaron and all the other 2nd BDE ETT’s get to deal with these people. One of them is even a woman. I’ll write more about them later.

As we were sitting in the office, I saw this grey streak run across the floor. Now realize that I actually like mice. OK, I don’t like what they do to my house, food storage, and other property – that’s why I agreed to get a cat, to keep the mice out of the garage and house. But on an individual, personal level, I like the little rodents. If they would stay in a glass cage and just run on the treadmill or whatever that round thing is they run on, they’d be fine.

So there I am sitting and the little bugger runs right in front of me. Now I didn’t jump or yell or do anything else embarrassing, but it did startle me. I know it startled Merrill as he told me so later. I don’t think it even phased the ANA and I got thinking that they’re probably used to seeing such things run around their offices and houses.

I then got thinking about the other “animals” that they must get used to. Take the flies. Now I hate flies on a personal level. I’ve never met one I liked. Once when I was much, much younger, I went out into our barn and caught as many flies as I could in a jar, a glass jar no less. I had a bunch of fire crackers in my pocket which I proceeded to light and drop into the jar…the glass jar remember. Of course the flies were pulverized by the blast and the jar you ask, well is exploded and sent shrapnel flying everywhere. Fortunately I wasn’t hit. I must have had enough sense to seek cover but not enough sense to not explode a glass bottle.

Well anyway, back to my story. The ANA and probably the Afghans are used to them as they’re everywhere. Now don’t think that there are thick clouds of them everywhere, just a few. Enough though, that they’re completely annoying. While I’m swatting them away from my face and head, the ANA sit there calmly while they land on them. If they land in a particularly annoying location, they’ll swat at them, but as I sat there in that room today, it seemed like they were not even paying attention to them. That’s just one reason why I’m looking forward to cold weather, so that it will kill all the flies.

I had to use the latrine in the ANA headquarters. Now that’s an experience in itself. Again, another entry. As I walked into the stall – that’s all they have, there was this huge, I mean really HUGE, spider on the wall. OK, with its legs fully extended it was only about as big as my palm, but that’s HUGE!! As I stood there, I kept thinking about how big the spiders can get here and was grateful that that was the first really big one I’d seen.

There are FOB dogs all over the place. FOB stands for Forward Operating Base. There is a pack that lives outside the back gate. Some of them roam onto base and into our camp. For the most part they’re really docile and tame. There are a couple that have been adopted by the guys at the Alamo despite a prohibition against adopting local animals. I know it’s against the rules, but there’s just something comforting about having a dog around. Here at Blackhorse, there’s an Alpha female that runs the pack here. When we had the flood in September, it was fun to watch them all up on the walls running around.

Merrill and I noticed that there appears to be a lack of rabbits and other wildlife outside the gates. Now we may just not see them but I imagine that with so many dogs around, they keep the rabbits, mice and other rodents down to a minimum.

Cats? I’ve only seen one and that was a scrawny, filthy little thing. Again, I imagine with all the dogs around that the cat population has a hard time surviving.

I’m trying to think if I’ve seen any other wildlife, other than birds. There are a flock of big, black ravens that I see every once in a while. But other than that, I think that’s about it.

Oh, I wasn’t counting the sheep, goats and camels that we see out on the range.

Wasn’t this an exciting, informative entry?


Braxton turns 13 today, November 9, 2006. Our baby is officially a teenager. I’m sure he doesn’t want me referring to him as a baby but it’s a title he has to live with. I was thinking last night that he was born while I was on active duty and here I am 13 years later, on active duty again. Who would have thought?

Braxton has always had such a sweet disposition. I suppose you’re not supposed to use the word “sweet” when referring to boys, but there’s no other way to describe him. He’s just been one of the most pleasant kids to have around. He always has a smile on his face and brightens up any room he enters. I suppose it’s no wonder that his favorite color is yellow. It certainly fits his disposition.

He’s a 7th grader this year which means it’s his first year of Junior High. I think that was a little traumatic for Janae, OK maybe for me as well. We no longer had any kids in grade school. It was a sign that we were growing older. Braxton loves junior high. He’s taking French this year and absolutely loves it. We tried to get him to take Spanish but he wouldn’t hear of it. I keep telling him that Spanish “es la lengua de Dios” but he disagrees. He wears a lot of yellow, as you can imagine; yellow running pants, yellow shirts, yellow coats, etc. He told Janae that at the beginning of the year he was walking down the hall and a girl called to him, “Hey yellow boy!” He didn’t know who she was. We told him she was flirting with him. He didn’t’ like hearing that.

Ever since he was little he has loved to skip. It’s his way of thinking. When he’s skipping if you talk to him he’ll ignore you as you’re interrupting whatever deep thoughts he’s thinking. When we first moved into our house, he created a set of tracks on our front grass that looked like a truck had come and spun its tires across our grass. He skipped down one track, turned around and skipped back on the other side. Our neighbors couldn’t figure out what the tracks were from until they saw him out there skipping. My cousin Samatha reminded me that my cousin Russell used to skip when he was little. Well Russell grew into an extremely intellectual man and a gifted writer. Braxton is doing the same.

He’s writing a book called “Koros and Deros.” It’s about ancient dragons and the fight between good and evil. He sends me updates on a regular basis. He’s quite a good writer for being so young. His imagination continues to amaze me.

He’s also an accomplished artist. The things he can draw just amaze me. He and his brothers have all been blessed with that talent. Me, I can’t even draw a decent stick figure. Braxton loves to draw fictional characters that he uses in games he and Luke make up. They’re pretty cool. I guess all that skipping when he was little has paid off.

Before I got deployed, he and I would lie on the couch together in the morning before and sometimes after scriptures. It was great just to snuggle with him for a few minutes in the morning. I’m afraid that by the time I get home, he’ll have outgrown that. I mean, how many almost-14 year olds do you know that will want to do that with their Dads?

Just like Seth and Luke and their birthdays, I wish I could be there to celebrate with him but I have to console myself that I’ll be there next year when he turns 14 and is ordained to be a Teacher. I’m just grateful that I haven’t missed that important event.

Braxton, thanks for being such a great young man. Thanks for being a great example to Mom and I and to your brothers. We are so thankful you came to live with us all those years ago. You have been a real blessing to our family!!

I love you!!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Of course I miss my family. I can't tell you how much I miss my family. I especially miss my wife when she dries her hair, really.

But I also miss my puppy. Isn't he absolutely beautiful. His name is Thor. We've had him for 7 years. I rescued him from the shelter. He was hours away from being "put down" as his owner didn't come reclaim him and no one had adopted him yet. I can't believe no one wanted him. He has been the best dog. He doesn't bark too often, just when there are thunder storms and it's because he's scared. He hates the thunder and lightening. Big baby!

One day at work I was down near the animal shelter and decided to stop in on a whim. I was talking with the animal control officers, I knew them all and asked if I could see the dogs. They showed me how to get into the "dog room" and of course all the dogs were barking, except one. All the dogs were jumping up on the cages, trying to get out, except for one. Of course I had to see what was wrong with him so walked over to his cage. That's when I saw his eyes. He has the most beautiful, ice-blue eyes. It was love at first sight. I hope you'll be able to tell how beaufitul his eyes are from his picture.

I went home that night and asked Janae what she would do if I brought home a dog. I don't remember much more of the discussion other than I told her that she wouldn't have to take care of him. Famous last words. Between all my business trips, my annual training and now this activation, she's had to take care of him quite a bit - and has done a wonderful job of it. She has some great help in the boys. I think they all secretly love him as much as I do.

Seth sent me this picture so I had to post it and tell you all how much I miss my puppy....and my wife drying her hair.


Aaron’s “pog” entry inspired me to try to write about some of the more ordinary things in our lives here. He succeeded.

Haircuts. Every military member has to have them on a regular basis. You see all kinds of haircuts here from the “intentional absence of hair” haircut to the “let it grow as long as you absolutely can before the Command Sergeant Major jumps all over you and tells you to get your *ss to the barber” haircut. I’m somewhere in between. OK, maybe I’m towards the latter end but it’s not for a lack of trying to get my hair cut short.

Here on post we have a small, one-chair barbershop. The barber is contracted by the military and he’s here on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. When we first got here it was an old man. In addition to your $5 haircut, plus tip, you would get a full head and face massage. Now I didn’t get in soon enough to have that experience so will have to rely on my brethren to comment on what it was like to have your face, head and earlobes, yes, earlobes, massaged.

By the time I went, the old man had been replaced by a young guy with a bouffant hair cut. I do not lie! His hair is long and thick and looks like it’s been teased a little. Maybe a lot. He doesn’t give you a head massage and I think I’m grateful.

I keep telling him to cut it short on the sides and finger-length on top. He does OK on the sides. He uses the clippers so that should be easy. He must have incredibly fat fingers when he picks up a pair of scissors because my hair is never as short as I tell him. In fact, I have to ask him to cut it shorter after he’s done, every time. I don’t know if he has an aversion to short hair or is just incapable of cutting hair short. Merrill has the same problem. His hair doesn’t get cut short enough. I may have to start getting my haircut when I’m at Phoenix as the girls there cut it short enough. (Before I got this posted, I did get my haircut at Phoenix and it is short.)

But that’s not what prompted me to write this entry. I was standing in front of a sink and mirror in the bathroom with shaving cream on my neck, holding a handheld mirror in one hand and a razor in the other, trying to shave the back of my neck? Have you ever done that? Ohmygosh!! It’s hard. I usually have my wife shave my neck but since my wife has not been around for the last 5 months I either ignore it and let it go until my next haircut or I have to resort to doing it myself.

Why not have someone else do it you say? Well I thought about it and quite frankly, I’m comfortable enough in my own manhood that it wouldn’t bother me to have someone else do it provided they didn’t stand too close and I could see both of their hands at the same time and the one not holding the razor was not like, resting on my hip or anything. But other than that, yea, I could have someone else do it.

But then I thought, “Who would I ask?” I could ask Steve but he lives two buildings down from me and I don’t imagine he would really want to trudge down to the latrine in my building just to shave my neck. I know we’re good friends but I didn’t want to push the envelope. I could never ask Ken because who knows where his non-razor hand would be – KIDDING!!! I couldn’t ask Aaron as I’d hear “oops” and feel the razor travel half way up my neck before it stopped amidst cackles of laughter. So I decided I couldn’t ask anyone.

And then I thought, “Would that look to, um, you know, weird – to have another guy shaving my neck?” I decided it would so resorted to doing it myself.

For the longest time I thought I was the only one who shaved the back of his neck until one morning I saw one of our slightly older NCO’s shaving his neck. He was brave. He was doing it without the aid of a mirror. But now that I think of it, maybe he was just smart.

Trying to hold that stupid mirror and razor, having to reverse the image as I shaved proved to be a challenge. Sometimes I do a good job, but this time I cut a nice little notch out of my neckline. Of course that meant that I had to try and repair the damage. I think I was somewhat successful but it was a royal pain. (Well I was wrong. When it came time to trim my neck, the asked if I wanted my hair tapered or a rounded cut. I told her round. She then said, “Your round no good.” Of course I knew what she was talking about. I must have done a pretty poor job. Oh well. Maybe I’ll have to ask Steve after all.)

And that’s when it hit me, this would make a great blog entry.

Whaddya think?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Each others blogs

I hope you have clicked on the links and read my compatriot's blogs. We each have a different perspective on what's happening here and notice different things.

Read Aaron's blog on "pogs." I have a fistfull of these stupid things. I lose them faster than I can keep them but I would not have thought to write an entry about them. I'll have to start looking once again at the little things that happen here and write about them. I'm sure that 10 years from now, they'll be interesting. I hope.

Maybe when I write my "bestseller" they'll finally be interesting.

Anyone want to reserve an advance copy now?

A Friend

My mother-in-law writes me every week. She always tells me she has nothing interesting to say, but I enjoy just hearing about what's happening. She also sends me great quotes, stories and poems. I'm not a big poetry fan but I liked this one. It describes so many people who have influenced my life; my in-laws, my family, my friends and my wife, especially my wife.

Let me share it with you,

I love you,
Not only for what you are
But for what I
When I am with you

I love you
Not only for what
You have made of yourself
but for what
You are making of me

I love you
For the part of me
That you bring out;
I love you
For putting your hand
Into my heaped-up heart
And passing over
All the foolish, weak things
That you can't help
Dimly seeing there.
And for drawing out
Into the light
All the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked
Quite far enough to find.

I love you because you
are helping me to make
of the lumber of my life
not a tavern
but a temple;
cut of works
of my every day
Not a reproach
but a song.

I love you
because you have done
more than any creed
could have done
to make me good,
and more than any fate
could have done
to make me happy.

You have don it
without a touch,
without a word,
without a sign.
You have done it
by being yourself.
Perhaps that is what
being a friend means,
After all...
Roy Croft

Sunday, November 05, 2006

REVENGE!!! A Bug Story

If you read Aaron’s or Trooper’s blogs a couple of weeks ago, you read about going to the range and firing weapons. The Germans showed up and I got to fire their crew served weapons. It was pretty cool. I didn’t take any pictures because my camera is broken and has been sent in to get fixed. Merrill took some pictures for me but I haven’t gotten them from him so haven’t posted anything yet.

Don’t ask my why I just thought of this story but it just came to me. After we fired the weapons, we were picking up the brass shell casings. Sometimes the troops will leave the casings so the locals can come out, pick them up and sell them for money. Not this time. We were taking them.

So there I was, I had my hand full of brass casings. I was bent over trying to be a good soldier and do my part. I could have been a fat*ss LTC and let everyone else do my work, (OK, my butt is not fat) but felt a duty to help with the work. As I’m studying the ground, looking for more shells, Aaron walks up and says “Here” or something else like that. He dumped some more casings in my hand. I just about asked him why he was giving them to me when I noticed this huge, gigantic, enormous, larger than my hand, ready to bite my arm off with these pincers that were at least a mile long, disgusting, gross black beetle. It was crawling across the casings in my hand making a beeline up my sleeve.

At least I didn’t’ scream like a girl!!! (Unlike some people I hear who scream like a girl when they get cold water dumped on them in the shower!!!) I did yell (but it was a manly yell, the kind that is deep and masculine, the kind of yell that other men respect), drop the casings and that ginormous beetle on the ground. Of course Aaron was laughing. The chase was on. I didn’t catch him then but now that I’ve recalled this incident and will not forget it, I’m going to have to think of something just as evil to get him back with.

Since I know his kind, loving brothers and family read this blog, I would appreciate some input as to the kinds of creepy, crawly disgusting things that he hates.

Not that I would do anything with that information of course…

One of My Many Responsibilities

So what do I do to keep busy besides babysitting the ANA. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this since I just wrote my “Burn in Hell” piece but I’m in a frustrated, angry mood and need to vent.

Part of my responsibilities as the Command Judge Advocate are to assist in the administration of discipline and punishment. Our command element are a group of Marines. Do you know one? Do you know a “true Marine?” Always right, always confident? You know the type. OK, in all fairness, every branch of the Service has one as do all walks of life.

Anyway, the Marines are used to administering Non-Judicial Punishment (NJP) a certain way. We had a case last week where several Army soldiers were reported buying Xanax (like Valium) through their terp on the local economy. The terp didn’t know that the drug was illegal so didn’t think anything of it until he had several guys coming to him asking him to guy huge amounts of the drug. That’s when he went to the Sergeant in charge and reported it.

It was reported that one guy took 11 Xanax before going on guard duty. Another took 8 and the third took 3. The guy who took 11 kept passing out all night – go figure. At one point, he passed out and fell on the firewood box destroying it. Of course he had no recollection of the event. That was the first night. The second night, they sat around joking and laughing about it in front of other soldiers. How stupid can you be? If you know criminals and drug users, you know they can be pretty stupid.

The command had enough probable cause to get a search warrant, but instead, they did a health and welfare inspection. Now there’s nothing wrong with doing a health and welfare inspection if it’s done right. They did it about as wrong as was possible. I won’t bore you with the details of what went wrong. Suffice it to say that a military judge (me), a civilian judge (my direct JAG boss) a prosecutor (me again, OK don’t count me again, but the prosecutor assigned to my JAG higher) and of course the defense counsel, all agreed that the search was illegal and all the drugs found would have been excluded. Well a certain Marine had the nerve to argue with me about it. He even made the comment that this was a case of the “good ole boy system.” I let him know that we would all have this same opinion regardless of the branch of service. Anyway, I explained a way that this problem could be resolved. We simply had to do a thorough investigation and stop at the point of the search. Simple, huh? You’d think.

OK, it ended up being that simple but getting there was not as simple. I kept getting the comment “that’s not how we do it in the Marine Corps” and “if these guys were Marines, this would have been resolved by now” and other such snide comments. I even got the comments suggesting that we were having these problems because we are “Guard Guys.” As if…two of the accused are Marines. So much for the “Guard Guy” theory.

He and I discussed the investigation and what needed to take place. We had guidance from the trial counsel, but Merrill went through the paperwork and came up with a great game plan which I took in and briefed COL Vitali.

Merrill really rose to the occasion. Besides preparing all the scope of the investigation, he prepared all the necessary paperwork – a first for him. He worked long hours to get it done and did a great job. He even got praise from one of these hardened Marines. (I don’t think I’ve told him so will have to be sure to mention it to him.) I tasked him with going with the investigating officer. That’s where he was all day today. They got back late and I saw him as I was leaving the gym and he was just going in. (Aaron, you said you were going to meet me in the gym at 5:00 p.m. Where were you today? Still not feeling well? What a lame excuse. Sheesh!!)

So I’ve been working and monitoring the investigation getting it ready to forward to our higher command. It was decided that we wanted this punishment dispensed at the General’s level since he can hammer them harder than COL Vitali. I hope these guys get fried. They were in charge of security at a crucial location at the camp they were guarding and here they were so strung out on prescription drugs that they didn’t know what they were doing.

Some People Need to Burn in Hell...

You think I’m joking? Some people need to have their skin peeled from their bodies, have salt poured all over them, allowed to blister in the hot sun then be placed on top of an ant hill and covered with honey. Even then that’s too good a punishment for some people.

The ANA allowed a 14 year old boy enlist in the Army? What were they thinking? Granted, here, the kids grow up much faster than at home. My terp was telling me that his cousin grew a full, thick beard at the age of 16. Nevertheless, allowing a 14 year old to join the Army is a recipe for disaster. He joined because his father died and he felt obligated to support his sister and mother.

Sure enough, this boy became prey for an older man. I don’t think I’ve said anything about the practices of the ANA here so let me digress.

It’s very customary to see men holding hands. It’s not a homosexual thing, it’s just something close friends do. I’ve had my hand held for pictures and while my first inclination was to pull my hand away, I gritted my teeth and held on. Also, you see men all the time do the “press your cheek” together in a pseudo kiss. Again, it’s not sexual in nature. Finally, you see lots of hugging. I’m now the recipient of hugs from one of the SJA’s I work with. None of it is sexual and I don’t take it as sexual. I still have space issues but deal with it.

However there are certain events that take place in the barracks at night. We joke that it takes place on Thursday, we call it “Man Love Thursday” but it can happen any time. I’ll let you imagine what you want but wherever you let your imagination take you, it happens. Some of our US soldiers have unfortunately walked in on various events that take place between soldiers. None of it is very pretty or acceptable in my realm of experience. I don’t understand the religious thing behind it, but the soldiers will do their thing on Thursday night in time to repent or something for Friday, which is their holy day. I later confirmed with my terp that there is nothing in their religious teachings that condones this, it’s just a perversion that has been allowed to take place.

I’m not sure how they justify such behavior religiously. It must be somewhere along the road of it’s OK to kill innocent civilians in the name of god. Notice I didn’t capitalize “god.” Somehow I don’t think they really understand who God is or what He has taught us.

Anyway, some of this behavior is consensual. Some of it is forced. That’s what happened to this 14 year old. He was sexually assaulted by two older men. It just sickens me to think of what he went through.

An investigation was done, but it wasn’t complete. We needed to get an additional statement from him to go along with his preliminary statement and the pictures. When our MP’s went back to finish up they discovered that the Commander and the evil Garrison Commander had given him some money and sent him home. Apparently under some religious thing, paying money is the “cure all” to crimes and offenses committed against the person.

Well just go to his house and interview him you say? That’s what I’m going to try to have happen but the problem is, where he lives there’s no such thing as an address. We know what village he lives in and fortunately we have soldiers there, but it will be hard to find him, especially if he’s afraid and in hiding.

One of the things that makes me mad is that we told the ANA NOT to release him but to place him in protective custody. So what do they do, they send him home with a fist full of Afghani, and I’m sure it wasn’t all that much. Certainly not enough to pay for the trauma he was forced to endure.

So tomorrow I get to go over and have it out with the commander. I’ll be telling him that if he doesn’t throw this guy into pre-trial custody and initiate an investigation that there will be hell to pay, literally. Our commanding General and his Commanding General are very interested in this and will be keeping a very close eye on what happens. What that means is that they will be keeping a very close eye on me as I’ll be the primary US mentor, at least on the legal side.

Sometimes I really hate these people. Their customs sicken me. Their complete disregard for a persons safety and rights sickens me. I was just about to say something about the way certain people interpret their religion but don’t want to burn a bridge. But you get the picture.

It’s so frustrating. I think we’re making good progress then we have something like this happen. Sometimes I wish…

I didn’t get this posted before I went over to investigate. Here’s the latest fact and even a little rumor.

The commander I was thinking that had jurisdiction over these dirtbags doesn’t. It’s a general at the Ministry of Defense because it happened, not on the base I thought, but on the immediately adjacent base. I went to meet with him to have a “little talk” and of course he wasn’t there. Turns out he doesn’t maintain an officer there, he just shows up once a week or so for an hour at a time. I went to meet with his deputy, who of course was not there. What that means for me is that I will no longer have primary responsibility to get these dirtbags thrown into pre-trial custody. I was actually looking forward to it. It would be second time to get someone thrown into jail and I was looking forward to it, especially with these guys.

Also found out that the kid may have been sexually assaulted twice. The second time is what I was aware of. When he was being assaulted the second time, his friends tried to protect him. The “protection” ultimately ended in a riot. It got large enough that the ANA fired shots into the air to try and get things under control. When the US mentors showed up to investigate, “evil” garrison commander and another ANA were quite upset about the US involvement. We all know it was because they were simply going to sweep this under the rug and did not want us involved. Oh how little do they understand us.

My terp was telling me that if a man/boy is raped here, he is shamed for the rest of his life. How sad. Just because you’re victimized you have to become a second class citizen for the rest of your life. I asked what happened if a man raped a woman. He said that if the woman’s family doesn’t kill you first, you have to marry her. I thought that was strange and unfortunate for the woman but he told me that a woman who was not a virgin would not be able to get married here. What a great country. We punish and victimize victims of sexual assault.

Well with that said, here’s the rumor, the dirtbag was going to give his daughter to the 14-year old boy to marry to make everything alright. Now I don’t know that that’s what actually happened, but can you imagine having as a father-in-law, the man who raped you? Can you imagine telling your kids why you married their mother? Can you imagine taking your kids over to Grandpa’s house to visit knowing what he does to young boys? Makes my skin crawl.

My terp had a suggestion on how to deal with him, he made a cutting motion below the belt line, you know what I mean, and then said that the dirtbag should have to pay the 14-year old half his salary until the boy became a man and was able to get a real job. Not a bad idea.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Kerry Comment

Go to Aaron's blog - "My Hero's Blog" and watch the Kerry video. It will take a minute to load but let it load. I love the picture that the soldiers in Iraq posted. What is being said, if anything, back home in the mainstream media?

Can you believe this guy? Last time I checked, there were highly educated men and women serving in Iraq.

I would call him a bad name, but I'm trying to give that up. Therefore, insert your own expletive!!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tender Mercies

Steve was in charge of church last week and asked me to speak. Steve gave a wonderful talk on being examples. He showed a video clip of the Savior amongst the Nephites and said that we should be serving as the Lord served. It was a good reminder of what we need to be doing here.

I'm glad he asked me to speak because several thoughts had been going through my mind for several weeks and I was able to share them. Also, I had had an experience that week that was really special to me. The irony was, that the day of this experience was the same day that Janae and I had phone s ** e ** x (filters again). Read the next post.

Anyway, I'm being lazy. Rather than rewrite the experience (it's getting late, OK, I'm just tired), I'm going to cut and past the section of my talk that pertained to this experience and put it here. Now I'm plagarizing my own work. I'll add editorial comments and put them in parenthesis. That way, you can read the original and yet hear my thoughts. Make sense?

So here it is...

As we know, the fountain, the source of all our blessings comes from the Lord. If it were not for Him, we would be nothing, we would have nothing. I remember Elder Bednar talking about the Lord’s tender mercies in his April, 2005 conference talk. As I went back and read his talk, I had forgotten that he shared this story. He described a spiritual experience he had as he stepped to the pulpit to deliver his first address as an Apostle of the Lord. He said that moments before the congregation had sung his favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel.” He explained that that hymn would have been selected weeks before conference and certainly before he received his call but if he would have had a choice in the selection of the rest hymn, it would have been that one. As he stood to speak, he had tears in his eyes because he recognized the Lord’s “tender mercies” in the selection of this hymn. I love the fact that it was a hymn, his favorite hymn, that caused him to reflect on that phrase out of 1 Nephi that later became the basis for a very powerful conference talk. (I just love Elder Bednar's talks. He has a way of selecting just the right material, the right way of delivering them and of course, he doe it with the Spirit.)

Elder Bednar said, “I have come to better understand that the Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individual blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindness, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the Lord suits his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.

He gave several examples of the Lord’s tender mercies. He talked about how the Lord is mindful of us and through simple, sweet experiences, the Lord will fortify and protect us in troubled times.

I could so relate to what he was saying then. I can so relate to what he was saying now. As I look back on the last few months, I can see the Lord’s tender mercies in my life. As Robert Robinson wrote, “streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise." (I talked about sacred music and what a profound effect it has had on me, especially since being here. I used Robinson's hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, as the basis for my talk. At the end, I played the version that has so profoundly affected me. It was performed by the BYU combined choirs in their Thanksgiving concert several years ago.

Just this week I felt the Lord’s tender mercies in my life. We’ve talked about how we could continue to be an influence in our families lives even though we’re thousands of miles away. The other day I felt prompted to call my family at the time we usually read scriptures. I’m so glad I listened to that prompting. I took my scriptures down to the phone room and called. I was able to talk to my wife (don't ask me where the thought to quote American Dreamer came from, the words just came out) and oldest son for a few minutes as my other two boys came to the table. I then had my wife turn on the speaker on our phone and I got to listen to my family read scriptures. We have a thing in our family where Dad reads all the verses except for the one that has your age number in it. For example, my oldest son is 18 so he reads all the verses with the number 8 in it. It’s something we’ve done since our boys were very little. It’s something we continue to do. Well this time it was my wife reading all the verses. When it came to my first verse, she skipped me. When my verse came again, I said into the phone, "it's my turn" and I read my verse over the phone. And so we read scriptures together despite being thousands of miles away. After we were done reading, I got to participate with my family in family prayer over the phone. I got to listen to my son offer the prayer and thank Heavenly Father that "Dad could read scriptures with us." I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Of course, I had tears in my eyes and a huge lump in my throat. I had to croak out an "I love you" as I regained my composure. “Streams of mercy, never ceasing.”

So there you have it. The Lord's tender mercies were so evident last week. That experience was one of the most sweet and tender I've had since I've been here. Now, I read scriptures just about every night with my family. Sometimes the phone line is so bad I can't hear what's being said, but that doesn't matter. What's most important is that I'm spending a few minutes every morning with my family. I get to read with them, pray with them and then tell them I love them and to have a great day.

Tender mercies.