Sunday, December 31, 2006

Random Photos

Here I am at the shooting range with my trusty 9mm.

Here's our LDS group meeting in our B-Hut.

This is Asmatullah, my interperter at the KMTC. He's a great young man.

Here I am in JBAD standing on top my my humvee. Aren't I an impressive sight?

Happy New Year!!

Here it is New Year’s Eve Day. One week ago it was snowing like crazy and today I’m wandering around without a jacket on. It was sunny and warm today. The mountains are still covered in snow but it’s fast melting on the ground.

I went to Phoenix on a convoy today. At the gate, the Specialist (that’s an enlisted military rank – E4) asked me if I was going to stay up until midnight tonight to celebrate. I said “absolutely – I’m a real party animal and stay up ‘till all hours of the night, especially on New Years.” OK that’s not what I really said and I’m sure someone out there who knows my “party habits” will say something about me being the life of the party – DeAnna!

Anyway, I told him since I didn’t have my wife to “party with” I didn’t have any reason to stay up. OK, I’ll confess, I have a hard time staying up much past 10 p.m. these days. I work so hard here that I’m totally drained by the end of the day and tonight will be no different. Therefore, I’ll call back in time and talk with my family while they celebrate the New Year. It will be almost midnight for them and noon for me. I think I can handle being awake at that time. Ha, ha.

But seriously though, I’m glad that 2007 is finally here. Now I can say that I’m coming home this year instead of next year. That has such a nice ring to it. Now I just have to get through the majority of 2007 for that to happen.

The New Year is always full of resolutions so I’ve made a few. I wish I could say that they’re earth shattering but alas they’re not. I want to lose 10 more pounds for a total loss since leaving home of 33 pounds. I’m not sure I can get there but so long as I quit eating all the wonderful treats everyone sent me for Chrismtas and keep going to the gym every day (oh by the way, once again, I’m alone in my trips to the gym (and that was true before a certain someone went home on leave) – I told you the false fervor would only last as long as it took to take pictures for certain blogs and get them posted), read my scriptures more dilligently, not do stupid things like I”m wont to do, pray more fervently, you know all the really important religious things that I should do but sometimes falter at.

Then there are the really important ones for when I get home. Get to work by 8:00 a.m. so that I can leave by 5:00 p.m. and get home to spend time with my family. Show an increased amount of love and attention to my wife and sons. Be a better father and husband, you know all those goals that are so important as well. I guess what it comes down to is I just want to be a better person than I am right now.

I know some of you will agree that that’s going to be an impossible task. Others of you think I’m perfect already. I won’t say which ones are right. Just know that I’m on a constant quest for perfection, I mean betterment (is that a word?).

Anyway, as the New Year fast approaches here in Afghanistan, my biggest goal is to come home alive, safe and with no additional holes in my body. My secod goal, of which I have no control over is that the rest of our Utah team comes home in the same condition.

May you all have a wonderful New Year. In 8 hours and 15 minutes, I’ll be able to say I’m coming home this year. Can’t wait!!

Fuel and Fowl

The same day Merrill took my picture in front of the tank I got to watch dinner getting prepared. You know how when you go to a convenience store and if you’re hungry you can go in and get something to eat. Well we don’t have the same type of service here but I just about got invited to dinner.

As I was filling up our humvee, I heard the sound of a chicken in distress. I looked up and saw an ANA soldier come out of their tent with a chicken flapping from his hand. I immediately knew what was going to happen.

Sure enough, the soldier took the chicken to the side of the tent, wrung it’s neck then chopped off its head. It then lay there flopping on the ground. A few minutes later, actually 11 gallons of fuel later, the soldier came back, picked the dead bird up and went back inside the tent. I’m sure that a deplucking took place with dinner followed later.

I’ve never witnessed the “execution” of a chicken while pumping gas. Now I can check that one off my book of things I’ve always wanted to do!!

Soviet Tanks

The fuel pumps are in the middle of the ANA’s tank yard. They’re Soviet era tanks. Merrill could tell you what kind they are. All I know is that they’re pretty cool and they became even cooler when I was standing in front of them getting my picture taken.


I think I told you about the “mascots” my brother Chris sent me. Well my camera is still in route so I haven’t been able to take them anywhere. However, they did have their first "photo op" on Christmas Day. There they are with the “Wandering Christmas Tree” on the Blackhorse Rock.

Wonder Woman, SuperMan and BatMan are loving Afghanistan. They’re here to fight injustice and tyranny. Wish them luck!!

Comments Back On

For some reason, the comments option was turned off and not in the obvious location. Anyway, I fixed it so if you have a burning desire to go back and add comments to my previous posts please feel free to do so.

My lovely wife did not like the "new look" I chose for my blog when I updated so I'll try again.

Let me know what you think. But don't think I'll change it for you, just for her.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

White Christmas

I can’t remember the last time I experienced a white Christmas. We’ve been back in Utah for over 10 years and it’s never snowed in Utah County on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day the entire time we’ve been back. Prior to that, we were in Virginia – no snow there, prior to that - San Diego – no snow, although we came back to Utah for Christmas and prior to that Utah. I think the last time it snowed on Christmas Eve was when we were still living in Utah as students. That’s been a long time ago.

Every year, I pray for snow on Christmas Eve. Every year I’ve been disappointed. Well it snowed this year. Of course I had to be in Afghanistan to experience a white Christmas but I got my wish.

It started snowing around 3:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve and it’s still snowing 24 hours later and is supposed to snow all night. I just love the snow. It makes everything, even Afghanistan, look so beautiful and clean. I wish it could stay this way forever.

Now all I want to do is go skiing. Oh well. Next year.

I wrote this entry this afternoon at yes, 3:00 p.m. It’s now almost 6:00. I just came back from dinner. I’ll tell you about that in another post.

Being the sentimental guy that I am, I had to go walking around camp enjoying the falling snow. I had my iPod with me and was listening to Christmas music. The iPod gods were smiling upon me as I took my walk.

When I turned it on, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was right in the middle of a beautiful rendition of Silent Night. I stopped to watch the snow fall in the glow of a street lamp and enjoy the music. As I said, the iPod gods were smiling as the very next song was good ole Bing singing White Christmas, one of my favorites. I had to smile at the selection – my iPod was on shuffle so I had no idea the order of the songs. As I started walking again the gods continued to smile as Tony Bennett began to sing Winter Wonderland. I don’t know if someone was sending me a message or not but listening to those particular songs as I walked through the snow really and finally made it seem like Christmas.

I came upon three soldiers who had started a fire and were roasting smores. They invited me to join them but I didn’t figure they wanted a LTC sitting with them. They had “built” their snow guard to watch their backs. It looked like they were having a good time.

Yes, I was a little, maybe a lot, homesick, wishing Janae could be walking with me in the snow but quickly set aside those feelings and remembered why we’re here and what we’re doing.

Anyway, thanks to the iPod gods for smiling down on me tonight. Or maybe He was smiling down on me tonight and had a hand in things…

Christmas Day

A day I thought I’d dread has come and gone with very little pain but a lot of laughs, relaxation and great food. Our internet was down for two days but it came back up, sort of, late yesterday. The phones have been another matter. Some needed work had to be done before a major event this week, but unfortunately it happened right before Christmas which has made it extremely difficult, OK, impossible to talk with family on this day of days. Well, the resourceful “young” man that I am, I had alternative arrangements made. I got up at 5:00 a.m. and was able to talk with my parents and siblings as well as Janae and the boys for a few minutes on their Christmas Eve, but on my Christmas morning.

The gym was pretty empty this morning. I guess everyone was still asleep. Couldn’t blame them but I had to work off a few calories in anticipation of all the “junk” I knew I’d be eating today.

After the gym, I enjoyed three bowls of Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries. When we were kids, that’s what my Mom would buy us for Christmas breakfast. My brother Matt and his wife Missy sent me a box. It came a couple weeks ago. Inside was a box of Crunch Berries. I decided that I had to save if for Christmas morning. I was glad I did. I was the envy of several Marines. Of course I shared!!

Around noon I finally got around to opening my gifts. Once again, let me thank my family for spoiling me. I received some really great gifts.

When Seth was little, he read in the Children’s Friend about a tradition in some country of putting clues on gifts. Of course we try to make them really obscure so you won’t guess what they are, but that’s a tradition we’ve had for many years. The first gift I picked up was from Thor, my beloved Husky. The clue read something like, “It’s better to give of yourself.” I could tell from the package it was something soft inside. I was not at all prepared for what I found when I opened it. I thought maybe it was, oh I don’t know, a shirt or something like that. Guess what it was? It was a bag of dog hair that Janae had gathered. Inside was a note that said I needed to spread the dog hair all around my room so I’d get the full effect. I laughed out loud!! I’m still chuckling.

A little later, I picked up what was obviously a calendar. This one was from Star. The clue simply said “12.” OK, that’s was a little obvious. This time I was a little more prepared. I held my breath in dread as I ripped open the paper. Yes, I let out a scream of terror. It was worse than I thought. Not only was it a calendar of cats, it was a calendar of frilly, nauseating cats. I thought about sending it back to Star but knew that sending back gifts was impolite. So that lovely gift will remain hidden in my room where no one will have to burn out their eyes looking at it!!

My wife has such a wonderful sense of humor!! Of course I got some rather personal gifts but I won’t share those details with you. I wouldn’t want to embarrass Janae in front of her mother – kidding!!

My brother, Chris and his family as well as Jason and his family, were not to be outdone in the humorous or fun category. I got a set of “teeth.” You know the kind. The ones with the missing teeth in front, the snaggle-tooth kind, etc. I’ll have fun wearing them on our next humanitarian visit. I also got a Nerf-dart gun. Can’t wait to try it out on someone. I also got a set of super-hero action figures. Along with three villains (I hate to say this, I have no idea who they are) I got my three favorites, Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman. I’ve really gotten into Smallville – Seth, Luke and Braxton sent me season 5. I just finished season 2 so can’t wait to work my way through seasons 3-4 that I already have – thanks guys!! Anyway, Superman has reaffirmed himself as my new superhero. Anyway, I’ve decided that my new action figure will be my mascot. I’m going to take him on any mission that I go on now. Once my camera gets here, I’ll start taking pictures of all the places that Superman goes. OK, Wonder Woman and Batman can come too. I wouldn’t want them to feel left out!

Then I took a nap.

After that, I started watching Lord of the Rings, another Christmas tradition. The three years that the trilogy came out at Christmas, Santa bought tickets for the family to go to a Christmas day showing. So, I had to revive that tradition. Since I brought the extended versions with me, I didn’t get through all three movies. I couldn’t spend almost 12 hours watching movies, but I got through enough that it made me feel nostalgic for my family and the fun times we had going and watching the movies together.

Then came Christmas dinner. Once again, the chow hall staff outdid themselves. A side of beef, sufficiently rare that it wasn’t mooing but not shoe leather, turkey, ham, chilled shrimp and all the fixin’s. I was hoping for eggnog again, like we had at Thanksgiving, but the eggnog cows must have been dry. It was so nice to sit and eat with my family here; Merrill, Andy, Ron, Mike and SGT Dougal. Steve and Larry were out on a mission so weren’t there. They would have made the company complete.

After dinner I took my stroll through the snow and loved every minute. I may go back later tonight and do it again just to get my White Christmas fix. We’ll see.

Christmas Eve - A Time to Serve

Just prior to our Christmas Eve service last night, we had quite the excitement here in camp. I wasn’t directly involved and won’t have all the details, yet, but let me share with you an opportunity several of our soldiers had to serve.

A unit that was heading back to Camp Cobra was passing by our front gate. They noticed that a car was overturned by the side of the road. As they stopped to render aid, they noticed that there were two men lying in the stream. In fact, I think the car was upside down in the stream, but don’t quote me on that. Unfortunately two men had died from their injuries but two were still alive.

Our soldiers rose to the occasion, rushed them to our medical clinic here on base. Our medical folks did a great job treating their wounds, getting them warm and meeting their medical needs. Since the clinic is in my building, I got to see a little bit of their frenzied but ordered work. It was pretty cool to watch them take care of these men.

Because we don’t have the resources to provide anything but triage, an immediate medical convoy was put together to take them to another base with a hospital. Again, it was so cool to watch everyone work together to get these men the needed medical attention they needed.

I realized that just because it was Christmas Eve, the world, especially the world here in Afghanistan, did not stop. An emergency presented itself and the professionals jumped right in and did their job. It was great to watch.

Christmas Eve Afghanistan Style

With Christmas Eve being on Sunday, it was only fitting that we had a special service. I was pleased to find out COL Smith fully supported having a non-denominational service. Brother Lecker, one of our group members suggested it to him and he immediately got on board.

Steve conducted since he was the senior group leader. Of course those non-LDS members had no clue why Steve was asked to conduct but it was still pretty cool to see him up there conducting this meeting.

COL Smith was wearing a Santa hat with his rank pinned on the front. When I saw that my opinion of him shot up immeasurably. He wasn’t worried about pretense or appearance, he was enjoying himself and getting into the spirit.

He opened the meeting by telling us about what happened that morning after the ANA morning briefing. He said that MG Mangal stood up and thanked every US service member in the room. He mentioned that it was Christmas and that it was a time that Americans celebrated with family and friends. He expressed his gratitude on behalf of his country to all of us who are here, away from family and friends, for the gift of freedom that we are giving to his people. COL Smith was obviously touched by MG Mangal’s gratitude. I’m glad he shared that experience with us.

Then came the singing. A quintent of officers, enlisted and one civilian approached the mike, all wearing Santa hats. They led us in singing several Christmas carols. As I looked around the room I was surprised but impressed at who was there. There were those who I would have never guessed would show up but they did. There were those who we wished would have come but didn’t.

After we sang several songs, Merrill got up and read the Christmas story out of the Bible. He did a great job. As I sat there and listened to his voice read, I couldn’t help but think of that night so many years ago and the experiences of Mary and Joseph. As I thought of the humble circumstances I see every day here, I thought of the conditions the Savior was born in and how they were probably not that different. I must admit that it made me grateful for the comfortable surroundings I have.

After Merrill finished reading, we sang a few more songs and then we were done.

We moved to our regular location to partake of the Sacrament and the rest remained to partake of the Eucharist. A Protestant Chaplain was there to perform that service.

As we gathered in our room, there were 8 of us; Me, Steve, Merrill, Larry, Steve, Ron, Bro. Mike and Mike. It was a small group compared to what we’ve had in the past but most of our brethren are down-range until April. We really miss them.

Despite the few numbers, the Sacrament was a wonderful thing to partake of on Christmas Eve. Steve shared a few words with us that were meaningful and heartfelt. Afterwards, we hugged, shook each others hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas. It was a great way to spend Christmas Eve.

At home we have a tradition that I started. From the very first time that I saw it, I have absolutely loved Mr. Krueger’s Christmas and I make my family watch it every Christmas Eve. This year was no exception, at least for me. I watched it in my room. Jimmy Stewart is such a wonderful actor (I had just finished watching It’s a Wonderful Life the day before – my favorite Christmas movie) and as he is kneeling in front of the Savior thanking him, telling him that He is his best friend and that he loves Him, my throat tightened up with emotion as I thought of my own feelings for the Savior. Then when Clarissa tells Mr. Krueger that she loves him, the same emotions come. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Love?

After that, I watched Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, or at least part of it, before I fell asleep. Why Robin Hood you ask? There’s only been one other time in my married life that I’ve been separated from my family at Christmas. It was my first year in the Navy. I had just finished up Naval Justice School around the 19th of December. Janae, Seth and Luke were still with her parents in Utah. Dallin and Memorie were getting married right after Christmas so I told Janae and the boys to stay until after the wedding. I was temporarily living in Officer’s Quarters on the Naval Base at Norfolk and was all alone. I rented a VCR from the front desk and about the only movie they had that was worth watching was Robin Hood. I now associate that movie with Christmas Eve as well. Since I was separated from my family on Christmas Eve due to the military, I had to watch Robin Hood. It was just as good as when I watched it on Christmas Eve 14 years ago. (Kevin Costner’s accent is still just as bad in case you were wondering.)

Anyway, that was my Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The True Meaning of Christmas

I’ve been trying to come up with something meaningful and heartfelt to say for Christmas and I was struggling. I’ve already shared my feelings about Christmas this year, the shepherds and their sheep and the thoughts and feelings that sight invoked. But I wanted to share something more but struggled with exactly what to say.

Then I received this article from the LDS group leader at Bagram. As I read this article I realized it captured everything I would have wanted to say this year. I love President Hinckley. I love to listen to him speak. I love to listen to his words. So I suppose it’s more than fitting to share his message with you all.

Before I do though, let me say thank you to all of you have offered a prayer on my behalf. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the tremendous amount of support I have received since I’ve been here. Thank you for the support you have given my family. They have been so blessed while I’ve been here.

To my family and friends know that I have a testimony of the Savior. I am so grateful to Him for his atoning sacrifice. With all the mistakes I make I am grateful that He has provided a way to save me from myself. Can you imagine how awful life would be without the hope that He has provided for us.

And it all started one night, so long ago.

May the spirit of the season fill your hearts and homes. Know that my thoughts and prayers are with you. And even though I can’t physically be there, I am in spirit.

I love you!!

Merry Christmas!!

The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas (by Gordon B. Hinkley)

What a glorious season is this time of Christmas. Hearts are softened. Voices are raised in worship. Kindness and mercy are reenthroned as elements in our lives. There is an accelerated reaching out to those in distress. There is an aura of peace that comes into our homes. There is a measure of love that is not felt to the same extent at any other time of the year.
With you, I have sung, as others have sung for almost three centuries, the words of Isaac Watts set to the music of George Frideric Handel:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare him room,
And Saints and angels sing.
Rejoice! Rejoice in the Most High,
While Israel spreads abroad
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God.(Hymns, no. 201)

My heart is subdued when I think of the great love of my Heavenly Father. How grateful I am to know that God loves us. The incomprehensible depth of that love found expression in the gift of His Only Begotten Son to come into the world to bring hope into our hearts, to bring kindness and courtesy into our relationships, and above all to save us from our sins and guide us on the way that leads to eternal life.

Marvelous is the chronicle that began with the singing of angels at Bethlehem and ended on Golgotha’s cruel cross. There is no other life to compare with His life. He was the one perfect man to walk the earth, the paragon of excellence, the singular example of perfection.
I sense in a measure the meaning of His Atonement. I cannot comprehend it all. It is so vast in its reach and yet so intimate in its effect that it defies comprehension.

“Oh, eloquent, grand, and mighty death!” said Sir Walter Raleigh as he was about to die in the Tower of London.

I remember speaking at a funeral service of a good man, a friend whose goodness caused me to reach a little higher. Through the years I had known his smiles, his kind words, the play of his brilliant intellect, the great breadth of his service to others. And then he who had been so bright and good suddenly died. I looked upon his lifeless form. There was neither recognition nor motion nor word of any kind. With such stern finality the mantle of the reaper had quickly enfolded him and made him so different.

I looked up at his weeping widow and children. They knew, as I knew, that never again in mortality would they hear his voice. But a tender sweetness, indescribable in nature, brought peace and reassurance. It seemed to say, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
It seemed further to say, “Don’t worry. All of this is part of my plan. None can escape death. Even my Beloved Son died upon the cross. But through so doing He became the glorious firstfruits of the Resurrection. He took from death its sting and from the grave its victory.”
I could hear in my mind the Lord speaking to the sorrowing Martha: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).

When all is said and done, when all of history is examined, when the deepest depths of the human mind have been explored, nothing is so wonderful, so majestic, so tremendous as this act of grace when the Son of the Almighty, the Prince of His Father’s royal household, He who had once spoken as Jehovah, He who had condescended to come to earth as a babe born in Bethlehem, gave His life in ignominy and pain so that all of the sons and daughters of God of all generations of time, every one of whom must die, might walk again and live eternally. He did for us what none of us could do for ourselves.

I have a simple story I would like to recount. It is something of a parable. I do not have the name of the author. Perhaps it will have special interest for our children. I hope it will be a reminder for all.

“Years ago there was a little one-room schoolhouse in the mountains of Virginia where the boys were so rough that no teacher had been able to handle them.

“A young, inexperienced teacher applied, and the old director scanned him and asked: ‘Young fellow, do you know that you are asking for an awful beating? Every teacher that we have had here for years has had to take one.’

“ ‘I will risk it,’ he replied.

The first day of school came, and the teacher appeared for duty. One big fellow named Tom whispered: ‘I won’t need any help with this one. I can lick him myself.’

The teacher said, ‘Good morning, boys, we have come to conduct school.’ They yelled and made fun at the top of their voices. ‘Now, I want a good school, but I confess that I do not know how unless you help me. Suppose we have a few rules. You tell me, and I will write them on the blackboard.’

“One fellow yelled, ‘No stealing!’ Another yelled, ‘On time.’ Finally, ten rules appeared on the blackboard.

“ ‘Now,’ said the teacher, ‘a law is not good unless there is a penalty attached. What shall we do with one who breaks the rules?’

“ ‘Beat him across the back ten times without his coat on,’ came the response from the class.

“ ‘That is pretty severe, boys. Are you sure that you are ready to stand by it?’ Another yelled, ‘I second the motion,’ and the teacher said, ‘All right, we will live by them! Class, come to order!’

“In a day or so, ‘Big Tom’ found that his lunch had been stolen. The thief was located—a little hungry fellow, about ten years old. ‘We have found the thief and he must be punished according to your rule—ten stripes across the back. Jim, come up here!’ the teacher said.

The little fellow, trembling, came up slowly with a big coat fastened up to his neck and pleaded, ‘Teacher, you can lick me as hard as you like, but please, don’t take my coat off!’

“ ‘Take your coat off,’ the teacher said. ‘You helped make the rules!’

“ ‘Oh, teacher, don’t make me!’ He began to unbutton, and what did the teacher see? The boy had no shirt on, and revealed a bony little crippled body.

“ ‘How can I whip this child?’ he thought. ‘But I must, I must do something if I am to keep this school.’ Everything was quiet as death.

“ ‘How come you aren’t wearing a shirt, Jim?’

“He replied, ‘My father died and my mother is very poor. I have only one shirt and she is washing it today, and I wore my brother’s big coat to keep me warm.’

The teacher, with rod in hand, hesitated. Just then ‘Big Tom’ jumped to his feet and said, ‘Teacher, if you don’t object, I will take Jim’s licking for him.’

“ ‘Very well, there is a certain law that one can become a substitute for another. Are you all agreed?’

“Off came Tom’s coat, and after five strokes the rod broke! The teacher bowed his head in his hands and thought, ‘How can I finish this awful task?’ Then he heard the class sobbing, and what did he see? Little Jim had reached up and caught Tom with both arms around his neck. ‘Tom, I’m sorry that I stole your lunch, but I was awful hungry. Tom, I will love you till I die for taking my licking for me! Yes, I will love you forever!’ ”

To lift a phrase from this simple story, Jesus, my Redeemer, has taken “my licking for me” and yours for you.

Declared the prophet Isaiah:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: …
“… He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:4–5).

This is the wondrous and true story of Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea is preface. The three-year ministry of the Master is prologue. The magnificent substance of the story is His sacrifice, the totally selfless act of dying in pain on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of all of us.

The epilogue is the miracle of the Resurrection, bringing the assurance that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.

I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal, Living God. None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without equivocation or compromise. I love Him. I speak His name in reverence and wonder. I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. I thank Him and kneel before His Beloved Son who reached out long ago and said to each of us, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

For each of you may this be a merry Christmas. But more importantly, I wish for each of you a time, perhaps only an hour, spent in silent meditation and quiet reflection on the wonder and the majesty of this, the Son of God. Our joy at this season is because He came into the world. The peace that comes from Him, His infinite love which each of us may feel, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that which He freely gave us at so great a cost to Himself—these are of the true essence of Christmas. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas,” Ensign, Dec. 2000, 2)

Christmas Gifts

Let me start off by saying that I have a wonderful supportive family who has made sure that I have a few gifts to open this year. Janae started sending me gifts last month to make sure they all got here on time. With the gifts she sent a small Christmas tree, a Nativity set, a stocking, garland and bows. My room has been quite festive. She also sent me three boxes of gifts. She spoiled me.

Then over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve received gifts from my parents, my brother Chris and his family, my brother Matt and his family, my wonderful in-laws, the Durfees and my brother-in-law, Jason and his family. As I received the gifts I just shoved the boxes under my bed and didn’t really pay attention to just how much I was getting. Boy was I surprised when I put them out.

Steve told me that he had put out his gifts under his tree and that he was going to get on his webcam and open gifts with his family. What a great gift. My computer isn’t here yet so can’t webcam with my family, although Steve did offer to let me use his computer – he’s the best!! Anyway I decided that today, Friday, when I was cleaning my room I’d put out my gifts under my tree. You can imagine my surprise when I saw just how blessed and loved I am. See for yourselves!

I joked with Janae that I should get deployed more often as numerically, I’ve received more gifts that I’ve ever received. But you know what, I’d gladly give up every single gift to be home with my family. Oh well, no use lamenting the fact that I’m not home. I’m just grateful to a wonderful, kind and generous family.

I love you guys!!!

Greeting Cards

Janae has been sending me greeting cards since my days at Shelby. I’ve kept everyone of them. When I got here I started taping them to my dresser. It’s become a work of art. She then sent me a ton of Halloween cards. They were great.

Thanksgiving followed, although there just aren’t that many Thanksgiving cards out there so the door was a little skimpy during that Holiday.

Then came Christmas. In addition to the antique cards Donna has sent me, Janae and a few others have showered me with a ton of cards. I started having to tape them on top of each other just to get them on the door. It’s certainly made my room festive. I’m not sure I want to take them down.

Thanks to all who sent me a card. I really appreciated it!!

Antique Christmas Cards

NOTE: In a new twist, Blogger is now uploading pictures sideways. Oh well.

My mother-in-law, Donna Durfee, has been sending me weekly Christmas Cards. (Actually, one day I got 4 at one time.) Now these just aren’t your run-of-the-mill cards, these are special “antique” cards. Over the years she has kept cards from each year she sent out Christmas cards. So what she’s been sending me are the cards she sent out, along with the family photos from that year.

I’ve been getting cards from the early 70’s, late 70’s and the 80’s. It’s been fun seeing the Durfee family, and Janae in particular, at various times in their lives. I understand she did the same thing for Jason, Janae’s older brother, when he was deployed during Desert Storm. It was a great idea then, it’s a great idea now.

Thanks for the cards Donna and the weekly letter!!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Ministry of Interior and Other Driving Adventures

On Monday, December 18, 2006 (need the date for posterity) I was at the Ministry of Interior meeting with LTG Yarmand of the Afghan National Police (ANP). I believe he is the highest ranking police officer in the country. That in itself was one of those “I never thought I’d be having this experience” experiences.

The reason I was there is as follows: In August the ANA (Afghan National Army) got into an argument with the ANP. The ANA went back to their base and their commander told them to go back and take into custody the ANP they were arguing with. The ANA claim that the ANP was prohibiting them from performing their mission. Well when the ANA went back, as you can imagine, a huge argument took place. Some brilliant person pulled their weapon so more weapons were drawn and shots were fired. After the smoke cleared one of the ANP had been shot and killed. Of course the ANP were not happy about that and took 6 ANA soldiers into custody. I heard about this in my first week here in my first meeting with MG Mangal. Ever since then I’ve been working with the ANA to try and get them released.

About 3 weeks ago I was told that they had in fact been released and was pleased that the ANA were able to work out this issue. I had tried contacting US mentors to see if they could do anything but the guy I kept contacting never returned my e-mails. I’ve since learned that his military supervisor considers this guy to be one of the laziest, most worthless mentors around. Just my luck to have tried to get a hold of him.

Anyway I digress. Well two weeks ago Karim told me that the soldiers had in fact not been turned over the ANA as I’d been told. So I was back to square one in trying to help the ANA get the soldiers released.

When I was at Eggers for the conference one night there was a dinner for all the JAGs at Eggers. I met with the senior mentor to the ANP, CAPT Clancy, a Navy JAG. I told him about my problem and he said that he could arrange a meeting for me and Karim on Monday (Monday last) and we could take the problem right to the top of the food chain. Aren’t contacts great?

Well the meeting was set, me, CAPT Clancy, the JAGs from CTSC-A were there, CDR Rowe and LT Womble and Karim. CAPT Clancy introduced me to LTG Yarmand and asked me to explain why we were there. Since Karim had the full details I had him explain. You can imagine my surprise when he said that the soldiers had in fact been returned to the ANA several weeks earlier and that the only issue remaining was that the ANP had not returned the ANA weapons. I was quite surprised. Had I known that I don’t think I would have pushed to have the meeting.

LTG Yarmand listened to Karim and then proceeded to outline the concerns that the ANP had with this case. They felt that the commander who ordered the soldiers to go out and take custody of the ANP soldier was to blame for this whole incident and they wanted him investigated. He also expressed some concern over the state of the ANA military justice system. He acknowledged that they had a new system but made it known that he had concerns.

For 40 minutes or so we discussed the new ANA military justice system and promised that a fair investigation would take place and that after the investigation a fair court martial of the soldiers would happen. He finally seemed to agree with that. He then called his assistant and gave the order to have the weapons released back to the ANA so the meeting was a success after all.

Actually I hope that we were able to instill some confidence in LTG Yarmand. One of the next biggest hurdles we have to overcome is the distrust between the ANA and the ANP. We just learned that there is going to be a new task force set up here in country where mentors will be working with the ANP in all the Corps. This will be a first. I hope that it will be successful as there really needs to be a spirit of cooperation between the two agencies.

Being at the MOI compound was an interesting experience. Wherever I’ve been and interacted with the locals, it’s always been in a controlled environment. They’ve either been on a military base where they were searched before being allowed in or there’s been security watching out for us, like when we go on humanitarian visits. Well at the MOI there was none of that. It’s a public place and the public was there. People were lined up at various buildings, mingling, talking, looking at us. It was an interesting experience. I don’t see a lot of Afghan women but was able to observe them as we walked to our building. It’s not that they’re different from any other women, I just have virtually no interaction with Afghan women. It was also was a little disconcerting because there was no protection. Still though, I enjoyed “mingling” with the local population.

As we were walking out of the building, it was suggested that we drive up TV Hill and conduct tactical operations. CDR Rowe went to his vehicle, unlocked it and noticed that something had been left on and that the engine was dead. We had to push his vehicle to get it started. We made such a lovely scene, a bunch of military officers pushing a Toyota Land Cruiser through the parking lot in order to get it jump started.

But the excitement was only beginning.

As I backed out of my parking place and started to pull forward, we heard a loud bang and felt our vehicle rock up on its side. For the briefest moment I thought someone had thrown a bomb under a car but then realized we would be in smaller, bloodier pieces if that were the case. I then thought I had driven over a cement barrier but knew that wasn’t the case either as I was in the middle of the parking lot. That left me to wonder what I had driven over.

CAPT Clancy opened his door and said “don’t move, you’re over an open manhole.” I thought, “How could that be? I didn’t see an open manhole cover and I certainly didn’t step in an open manhole when we were pushing CDR Rowe’s vehicle.” Yes, that’s what I really said to myself!

As I got out and walked around the vehicle I saw that it wasn’t really a manhole cover but a square piece of sheet metal, about 3 feet square that had broken loose from the hinges holding it in place and had wedged itself up under the running board of the vehicle. I was afraid that the door wouldn’t close but LT Womble being the resourceful LT that she is, went over and stomped on the running board to get it out of the way of the door.

Since the metal did not extend past the edges of the hole (I have no idea how it stayed in place. When it was attached to the hinges it must have just barely extended over the edge of the hole.) we had to place it diagonally across the hole.

After I got across successfully, we went and told one of the guards. In typical Afghan style, he didn’t care.

Just as we were about to leave another car came rushing into the parking lot. We yelled out to be careful, as did the guard but the guy didn’t listen. He backed over the cover pretty fast and the cover popped up and he just about dumped his front tire in the hole. Now that would have been interesting.

I’ve already told you about our ascent up TV hill so as you can see my driving excitement was only beginning in the parking lot. But it was not to end with TV Hill.

After we got down the mountain, we had to get back to Eggers. By now it was late in the afternoon and we hit rush hour traffic. The terp took us through downtown Kabul. That was really cool. Not too many ETT’s get into downtown so I was really excited. I saw the brand new, huge mosque that is being built. It’s not being built by the government but by a private person. Someone has been very generous. It’s going to be absolutely beautiful. I saw historic buildings that the British built during their occupation of the country. I saw lots of markets and I saw a very modern department store. The ground floor was occupied by a large, modern jewelry store. It looked just like something you’d see at home. On the other floors were clothing and other retail stores. I was duly impressed and must admit, a little surprised to see something so modern amidst so much poverty.

The other thing I saw a lot of were cars. Our route took us past one of the largest outdoor bus stops. That meant traffic jam. We literally sat in traffic for an hour without moving. Realize that we were in vehicles that are not very tolerant of suicide bombers. I was completely blocked in; cars to my right and a raised median to my left that I would not have been able to get over even if I’d wanted.

The bus stop also meant lots of people in the street. Lots of people walking right past the vehicle I was sitting in. That hour spent just sitting there in downtown Kabul amidst all that traffic and people was the most scared I have ever been since I’ve been here. Had I been in one of our humvees I wouldn’t have given it a second thought but I wasn’t so I was on pins and needles the entire time.

I’m sure some of you are saying, “Why are you telling us this – your poor wife?” Well it’s what happened that afternoon. It was one of those experiences that I’m glad I went through – the drive through downtown Kabul, not the stuck in traffic part and because I’m prone to relating just about everything I do on this page, it’s here for you to read.

Would I do it again? Certainly not during rush hour! OK, I’m not sure I would do it again. I’ve been through downtown once and don’t need to do it again. So honey, don’t worry, I won’t be getting stuck in traffic any time soon.

1LT Delius (This posting is for his mother and wife.)

Here's the new JAG at the KMTC, 1LT Delius. He's from Georgia, but don't hold that against him. He's a great guy and has jumped right in and assumed his new responsibilities without any problems, or at least not too many problems.

I understand that his mother is now a reader of my blog page so let me just say that you have raised a fine, upstanding son.

All kidding aside, he is going to be a great asset to the JAG mission here in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

As Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night

One day as we were driving over the backroads to the KMTC, a flock of sheep was crossing the road. It made me think of the days when Jesus was born. It made me think of the shepherds that were in the fields by night, keeping watch over their sheep. It made me think of the angel of the Lord appearing to them, announcing the birth of the Savior. It made me feel grateful to be here and to have seen that flock of sheep crossing the road. It made me remember what Christmas is really all about. It’s about the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

I thought of Mary and Joseph making their way across a land that probably looks very much like it does here. I thought of how uncomfortable it must have been for Mary walking or riding such a long distance. I thought of them trying to find lodging in mud brick inns that probably looked very much like the mud brick buildings I see here everyday and how austere they probably were. I thought of so many things but I wondered what kind of gift I would have brought to that stable to honor the birth of the Savior.

I then thought of something that one of our brethren said at Sacrament Meeting one night. He said that the only real gift we can give our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is the gift of our will. Meaning, that when we turn ourselves over to Them, when we follow the commandments and do everything in our power to honor Them, that is the one gift we can truly give Them. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the commandments, to do what’s right, but in doing those things, it causes us to focus on our Heavenly Father and all that he asks us to do. Believe me, I know it can be hard. Sometimes I struggle every day to do what’s right, but when I do, I feel so much joy, happiness and gratitude to my Heavenly Father for the blessings He’s given me that it makes keeping the commandments just a little easier. I hope this makes sense.

And so at this Christmas season, I’m grateful for that flock of sheep. I’m grateful that it reminded me what that first Christmas must have been like. I’m glad that I’ve been able to think more about the Savior and what it was like for him living in this kind of environment. I’m glad that I haven’t been distracted by the commercial aspect of Christmas. I only hope that the thoughts and feelings I’ve had this Christmas will stay with me over the coming years.

And I hope that you too have caught and will keep the true meaning of Christmas all year long.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Dungeon - Part II

I don't get blogger. I tried to download this picture into the actual entry for "The Dungeon" but it wouldn't.

Oh well, there's the room.

TV Hill

Here in Afghanistan, the poor people live on the hillsides. Just the opposite from home. Kabul is surrounded by hills. One of them is called TV Hill because the TV antenna’s are located at the top. Makes sense.

After our meeting at the Ministry of the Interior (yes, I’ll write about it eventually) the other JAGs I was with wanted to execute a tactical mission to the summit (sounds more impressive – “summit”) of the hill to get the lay of the land for future operations. I was in the lead vehicle. I had a Navy Captain in the front seat and the interpreter, who knew the way, in the backseat. Once again I found myself driving tactically through Kabul. You already know what it’s like from a previous posting.

We missed our first turn off the main road so had to go up to the next street to turn. I thought it would be fairly simple to go around the “block” and get back to where we needed to be. Foolish me. We ended up winding through some very narrow streets, driving through a large puddle of sh…, I mean sewage, wound our way through tiny businesses, etc. just to get back to where we needed to be. That was an adventure in itself. But that’s not the real story.

We finally found the road up the hill. For some reason I thought it might be an improved road since it lead to the TV antennas. The other hill next to it had the radio, microwave and cell phone antennas. So like I said I thought the road would be improved. I must have forgotten that I was in Afghanistan.

Dirt road, lots of rocks and lots of people standing around. Have I mentioned that Afghans do NOT move out of the way of moving vehicles? Well they don’t. I almost hit one guy with my mirror. I came within inches of smashing him in the chest and he just stood there looking at me like I was the idiot.

As we worked our way up the hill, we wound between these mud-brick homes. The homes were built right next to the road. In some places, you walk outside your door and you’re in the street. Down the middle of the road was a running stream of something black. I’m assuming it’s what I thought it was since there is no running water or sanitation system on the hillside. Lovely thought.

As we got higher up the mountain, the road narrowed. And it became covered in ice. And there was nothing on the edge of the road to keep you from rolling off the edge of the road, except the roof of someone’s house. As the ruts were covered in ice, I tried to not drive in the ruts, but sort of create my own path. I was hoping that the ice would not be so thick there and that there would be more dirt and rocks. Sometimes I was right, sometimes I was wrong.

One time I was really wrong. As I slid off the edge of the road into a rut the vehicle bounced. And bounced. For a fleeting moment I thought we were going to bounce right over the edge onto someone’s house. If I had taken my eyes of the road to look at my knuckles, I’m sure they would have been white as I was holding onto the steering wheel so tight.

The only other time that I was really nervous was when these kids came out of nowhere and gathered around the truck wanting us to give them something. One little girl planted herself right in the middle of the road, almost as if to force us to stop. The only direction for me to go was around her, right over the edge of the road and down the side of the hill. As I crept closer, she was not moving. I finally had to honk my horn at her to make her move. There was no way I could go around her and there was no way I could stop as it was pretty icy there. Fortunately, she moved and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Of course at the time, the road seemed to be straight up, straight up a sheet of ice. But it wasn’t. We eventually made it to the top and I’m so glad we did. The view was amazing. Even through the pollution in the air, you could see forever. Kabul was spread out below us. The city actually wrapped around the hill so when you looked over the other side of the mountain/hill, the city continued. It was an amazing sight.

Later, when I told COL Karim where we went, he said during the war with the Soviets, he watched battles on the hill, saw artillery tubes scattered across the ridge line and actually saw tanks roll down the hill. I’m sure it was an amazing sight. I’m just glad we didn’t experience the “rolling” part.

I thought the drive down would be just as nerve wracking as the drive up, but it was actually a piece of cake. I put the vehicle in 4-wheel drive (why I didn’t put it in 4-wheel drive on the way up still escapes me) and the lowest gear and crept down the hill. It was a piece of cake.

When I got back to Blackhorse the next day, everyone was jealous that I got to drive up and experience the view, especially Wais.

The Dungeon

(NOTE: As usual, photo's aren't loading very well. I'll try and download the last one later. So check back.)

While at Eggers last week (and yesterday – more to follow on that visit) I lived in the “dungeon” with my buddy Paul Waldron.

Let me explain. At Eggers, there is not enough housing for all the personnel that work on that base. Eggers is where the “important” people work. Camp Eggers is basically several city blocks in Kabul that have been rented to form the headquarters. What that means is that all the houses and other buildings have been turned into work spaces and limited living accommodations. They’ve brought in other buildings, obviously, but the compound is essentially former homes and businesses.

Trying to find some of the offices is quite an adventure. You have to wind your way literally through alleys, crossing through gardens, up and down stairs, just to find your destination. I had been to the JAG office once, with a guide. I later tried to find it but couldn’t so had to have them draw me a map for this visit. Without the map I would have been lost.

(Yes, I’m working my way to the dungeon.)

As I said, not everyone that works there lives there. I’m sure a large percentage of the folks live off base in the “safe houses.” (Can’t tell you where they are or else they wouldn’t be “safe.”) What I can say is that like Eggers, blocks of the city were rented and the houses used for living accommodations of the Eggers personnel.

To get “home” you have to don your IBA, walk forever to where the shuttle picks you up and then ride the secret number of minutes to get “home.” I use that term, “home,” loosely.

The house I lived in was called the Pink House. Here it is. Actually, it’s the front gate with me and the guard out front.

The next one is me in front of the sign. See, it does say “Pink House.”

And here I am in the dungeon. Paul didn’t take very good pictures of me. Oh well. He’s just a Major so what do you expect.

We lived in the basement. It was dark and cold. And the walls were made of stone set in cement. I hope you can get a feel for what it was like. At night the walls sent out waves of cold. I imagine in the summer it’s pretty nice but in the winter, it was pretty chilly.

Where’s the bathroom you ask? It’s up the “outside” stairs, around the corner and in through the front door. (Be careful of the ice on the first step.) It makes you think twice about getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. The bathrooms are leftover from the originally home. There’s three of them which was nice. One was huge. But it was also freezing. The only heat was from a small radiator which means it didn’t heat the room at all. I was looking forward to the hot water to offset the cold in the bathroom. Silly me! The water barely came out so it was actually colder to take a shower as the water only made the room seem colder. (Excuse this next thought, but anybody see the Seinfeld episode where George yells out, “I was in the pool! I was in the pool!” I’ll leave it at that.)

The next bathroom was a little smaller so wasn’t quite as cold when you first walked in. However, there was even less water that dribbled out of the shower head. I was afraid I wouldn’t get all the soap out of my hair. And of course, it was even colder to take a hot shower than the first bathroom.

The final bathroom was the coveted one. I discovered why it was always occupied when I went to shower. It was relatively warm, it had it’s own water heater and actually had water pressure. Unfortunately I got in that bathroom on the last morning so had to suffer through the others. Oh well.

This is how some people live for their whole tours. I can’t imagine living in the “dungeon” for very long. I think if I had to do it, I would cover the walls with something just so I don’t have to look at the stone. If I didn’t, I think I’d go crazy.

It makes me so grateful for my “opium den.” (Browse through previous posts for a description of my room.) To get to the bathroom, it’s a minor stroll down the hall, the hall that’s actually inside, to a brightly lit, warm, tons of hot water, bathroom.

I’ve decided that I live in the best accommodations in all of Afghanistan, at least for a soldier.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Tactical Driving Through Kabul and Surrounding Areas

While at the conference this week, I had the opportunity to drive one of the vehicles belonging to the CSTC-A lawyers. Don’t worry about the acronym, just know they’re a different group of lawyers I work with and who assisted in the conference.

I’ve driven our humvees quite a bit but driving their vehicles was a new experience. They’re lighter than ours and handle better. However, they don’t take the potholes, rocks and awful roads as well as the humvee's.

I was the second vehicle since I didn’t know how to get to several of the destinations where we were going. The lead driver was bound and determined to “lose me.” He kept cutting in and out of traffic. My hand never left the stick-shift as I was constantly speeding up or slamming on my brakes as we worked our way through traffic. There were some close calls where I almost “lost” the side mirrors on my vehicle as I had to get pretty close to the vehicles around me. There’s nothing quite like cutting off an over-loaded jingle truck or forcing a taxi full of people off the road just so you can stay caught up with the lead vehicle. There were even a few times when I was driving into on-coming traffic for a couple of reasons; (1) the road was in better condition in the other lane, (2) I had to avoid being hit by vehicles merging into my lane, (3) had to pass slower moving vehicles in my own lane.

Besides all the mechanical obstructions in the road there are the flesh and blood obstacles. Little kids were everywhere. When we got stuck in traffic one little girl came up to the lead vehicle, in the middle of a huge traffic jam, asking for candy. Then there are the kids and people who will just walk out into traffic without really looking. It’s a little unnerving driving when there are so many people on the side of the road who have no concern for their own safety.

I knew I was driving well when the front seat passenger reached up and grabbed the handle to brace for possible impact and the backseat passenger said “Oh Daddy.”

My Orem police officers will have a hey-day with me when I get back if I don’t lose some of these bad driving habits.

Oh, but it's so much fun!!!

Here's a picture of a jingle truck my friend Paul sent me. BestBuy finally replaced my camera, after a long drawn-out struggle - thanks to my wonderful wife for taking care of that. Now I'll be able to include pictures that I've actually taken.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

E-mail correction

The editor of the Church News, Christmas Edition, didn't do a very good job of editing. If you received an "advance" copy of the letter, the editor's e-mail address is wrong, or at least a part of it.

So here's what you need to do to actually get an e-mail through to him. Substitute the "us" for "swa". I don't want to give out the entire e-mail address for security reasons so only those fortunate ones who got the letter will understand.

Thanks to those who have sent me e-mails in response to the letter, especially the ones who had the wrong address and had to go through my wonderful wife to get the e-mail to me. I appreciate the effort you had to go through.

An International Coalition

When I first arrived at Blackhorse, one of my roommates was LTC Frederick Schultze. He was the commander of the German unit here working with the only armored Kandak (Batallion) in Afghanistan. (“Armored” means that they drive tanks.) Today was his change of command ceremony. Their tours are only 4-5 months. Must be nice.

My other international friend is COL Fourmond, the commander of the French forces. He was present the day we placed Akhtar in pre-trial confinement. Ever since then he makes sure that I’m armed when I leave Blackhorse. He also asks me about the cases I’m working on. He even came to the first day of Akhtar’s trial. Since Braxton is taking French I’ve tried to have him teach me a few words but my brain just doesn’t function that way. He tried to teach me the correct way to pronounce “croissant” but I couldn’t get it right. I told him I’d rather eat them than pronounce the word correctly.

I’ve also worked with guys from Canada, England, Italians, and Romania. I know there are other nations out there but I haven’t had the privilege of working with them yet.

The other day a group of us went to eat lunch at the “Warehouse.” It’s mostly made up of international coalition partners. When we signed in at the chow hall, you had to sign according to your country. I was amazed at the number of countries that were represented on that post. Here they are (not in any order): Portugal, Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Romania, Turkey, France, Germany and the good ole US of A.

The food was excellent. Great breads, several different kinds of meat; pork chops, roast beef, some meat I didn’t recognize, several different sauces (the one I got looked like a mushroom sauce but was very spicy and delicious), roasted vegetables, fried vegetables, exotic salads on individual plates, patte (it tasted like liverworst but I’m sure was something more cultured and refined), a plate of several different cheeses (OK, we actually got there too late for the cheese, but I’m told that the cheese is wonderful), a quiche bar (we were too late for that as well), tons of fruit, salad and lots of desserts. I’m sure I’m leaving more delectable’s out but suffice it to say, it was wonderful. It made our chow hall selection seem like school lunch.

Oh wait, our chow hall usually is the equivalent of school lunch. What am I saying? Braxton eats pepperoni pizza every day and we never get that. Oh well, it’s like the school lunch I got when I was in grade school. No comments on just how long ago that really was!!!

The Governor's Palace

I’ve talked a little about the Governor’s Palace or the King’s Winter Palace as it was originally, but let me give you a little more detail.

The grounds were incredibly beautiful. The grass was amazing. I wanted to go over and just lay down and enjoy the smell. But…I’m a very distinguished and important Lieutenant Colonel and JAG officer to boot so couldn’t indulge my whims. Plus the grass was still wet with dew so I’d get my backside all wet. Now that wouldn’t be very distinguished, would it? Instead I went and sat on a bench in the shade and just took in the beauty.

Flowering trees, fruit trees, Evergreens, shade trees, date palms, shrubs, flowers, you name it, it was there. I haven’t seen beauty in such a long time that I just wandered around taking it all in.

There was a large reflecting pool with a fountain in the middle. If it were just a little bit deeper it would have been a great pool to swim in. But the real fun would have been in jumping off the over-looking balcony. I could imagine little princes and princesses doing that very thing. Maybe that’s why it was not built any deeper.

(That's me on the far side of the pool.)

The palace itself was large and impressive. We met the governor in a large receiving room that was littered about with sofas, love seats, arm chairs and coffee tables everywhere. When he came in I was surprised at how young he was. This is terrible, but I was also surprised that he was missing his upper front teeth. I guess I figured the Governor would be older and would be able to afford good dental work.

While we were visiting with him one of his sons came into the room. He was quite the little gentlemen. He went to each soldier, held out his hand and gave us a firm handshake with his small hand. He went over and got a kiss from his Dad. He stayed for a few minutes then left the room. He returned a few minutes later with his younger brother. His brother wasn’t quite so brave and had to be coaxed to shake everyone’s hand. They were incredibly polite, handsome young men. You could tell their Dad was very proud of them.

We got a tour of the main floor of the palace. The receiving room was incredible. I don’t think the pictures will do it justice. The hand-painted mosaics on the wall were so intricate and beautiful. The chandeliers were imposing. Again, sofas, love seats and arm chairs were scattered throughout the room. As we sat there, I wondered what kind of meetings had taken place in this room. Were assassinations planned? Were rebellions quashed? Were treaties negotiated and signed? Was peace achieved? Were wives seduced? (Sorry, that one just slipped in.) Knowing who had lived in this palace and the power that was wielded, only the imagination could limit the things that have probably taken place in that room.

Through the door was the dining room. I’d have to count the number of place sittings in the picture again, but it was more than I can fit around my dinner table. That’s me at the end of the table. Can’t tell it’s me can you. “Pass the salt please” takes on new meaning. (Again, that's me on the far side. I think I counted 12 or 13 chairs down one side.)

Before we left we were presented with the material to make our man-jammies. You can read about that in the “Gifts” entry.

In the hallway was a portrait of one of the kings that had been assassinated by one of his sons. Wais was telling me about it before we saw the portrait so of course had to have our picture taken in front of it.

We went into the cellar that I believe was once a coal cellar then used to store weapons but has been turned into a room with a small stage. Two throne-like chairs faced the stage. We were told that it was a room where small musical groups could perform for the Governor and his guests.

The bathroom, while being a typical Afghan bathroom – I’ll have to write about them sometime – actually had soap. That was something unexpected but welcome. No matter how many times you wash your hands here, there’s always that fine layer of dust and you can see the dirt being washed off your hands. It’s a pretty nasty sometimes.

Well I’ve about run out of things to tell you about the palace…oh, I almost forgot. Ken took a picture of my rear-end. And he says I’m obsessed with it. I think we all know who’s really obsessed with my rear-end, besides my wife…Ken!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

JAG Conference

I've been in Kabul the last two days at an ANA JAG Conference. The first two days were conducted by BG Shir, the ANA Judge Advocate General. The training on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are being conducted by DIILS (Defense Institute of International Legal Studies). It's a military agency out of Newport Rhode Island. They send instructors all over the world to conduct training. A LCDR is here and he brought with him two military judges.

The training has been good but the best part has been the questions being asked and the dialogue that is going on. A lot of the questions are ones I've already heard and answered and it's nice to hear the same answers being given that I already gave. Some of the questions and scenarios are dealing with the procedural problems the Afghans have with their system and it's nice to see them deal with the issues and try to find solutions.

We as mentors, and even they as the legal corps of the ANA, have to realize that their system of military of justice is not even a year old. Their military justice system was passed into las last December and it wasn't until around June of this year that it really went into effect. I was told that since June they've done about 50 court martials in the 5 corps. That may seem like a lot or a little, depending on your point of view, but it's been a tremendous success for the ANA to get this far. One of the judges said that it's taken our system of justive over 200 years to develop so the great strides they've made in less than a year are commendable.

It's also been fun to see who it is that's asking the questions. For some reason I take a lot of satisfaction that they're guys from the 201st Corps, my Corps, that are asking the questions. One of the legal officers sometimes asks silly questions and I wish he'd sit down and not ask so many, but at least he and the others are getting the discussion going.

This one in particular that I'm talking about, Wais has a hard time with. The first time we met him he kept putting his hand on Wais' knee. He wasn't really rubbing it, but he would leave it there for a minute or two. He also straightened out his colar and a few other things that made Wais feel uncomfortable. The second time we met him, he did the same things. Now whenever Wais refers to him, the calls him "the guy who likes to rub my knee." I keep teasing him it's because this guy has a thing for Wais. He hates that!

The conference continues through tomorrow. After that we're having a US JAG dinner. I'm looking forward to that as it will give us an opportunity to sit down, relax and enjoy each others company. I'll head "home" sometime after that.

I'm so gald that I don't live here. It's crowded. You have to salute which means I get saluted a lot and I have to salute - not that I mind, it's just a constant stream of saluting. It's also crowded. The offices the JAGs up here have are tiny and crowded. It makes me miss my spacious office. And then I like being able to walk less than 200 steps to my room. There's something comforting about being able to "get away from it all" even though it's just a corner of a shared room, at least it's my room.

Anyway, I just got a phone call and need to go meet with a full-Colonel. He's actually a friend of mine I met in Japan last year. The fact that he's the Number 1 JAG on this compound makes me sort of special!!

OK, it doesn't but it's pretty cool to meet with him and "feel" important.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Season of Giving

I met another LDS member who's stationed at Bagram Air Base. He's been forwarding me messages from their LDS Group Leader. I especially enjoyed this one and since I couldn't have said it any better myself decided to forward his message to you all.

A Season of Giving
Pete Clemens
Bagram Air Base LDS Group Leader

As I get older time seems to move more quickly, especially during the Christmas season. I remember as a kid the agony of anticipation waiting from Thanksgiving to Christmas day. Now there is a longing to make the spirit of the season last as long as possible. People are more courteous, happier, more giving and forgiving. The saddest part of the Christmas season can be that just when you really begin to feel its spirit of the holiday, it is past for another year.

While at home last week my wife and I were discussing what meaningful gifts we could give for Christmas this year. Again this year I look and see that through the blessings of Heavenly Father there are few wants and needs in this life God has not blessed me and my family with in his due time, especially during this year of deployment. My wife felt similarly and our thoughts were turned to what we could give our Heavenly Father this Christmas in return for His grace in blessing us so freely. As we read in the scriptures this can be a difficult task. Consider the words of King Benjamin.

“I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another--I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another--I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you. (Mosiah 2:20-22)

We see it is hard to give any gift to our Heavenly Father without immediately being blessed for it. Furthermore, most the gifts we can give Him were already His, gifts which we have been blessed with from the Father to begin with. I am reminded of the prophetic words of Elder Neil A. Maxwell when he stated, the only gift we can truly give to God is the only thing we truly possess, our will.

We can believe in the plan of salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can gain a testimony of these things. But this testimony is no gift to God if we allow it to lay dormant. Our true measure of devotion and love to God is what we do with that belief and knowledge. James reminds us that even the devils believe in God, and tremble, but what does it profit them or the Father. “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2: 17-19)

While we may fall at times and prove unprofitable servants, there is no need for discouragement. That was the mission of the babe from Bethlehem. This Christmas away from home, and many of the secular distractions of the holiday season, can be a precious time where we can focus and remember the only gift we can truly give God, the choice of what we will do with the time He has given us. As our thoughts are turned to the birth of the Savior and his unsurpassable gift to mankind, we remember His simple words on what we can give Him and the Father to show our devotion and love. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

Jalalabad - Gunner

We had three humvees on this trip and on the way home, three of us who really aren't supposed to be gunners were the gunners. If SGM Hansen would have been there he would have pitched a royal fit. I’m glad I did it though as it was a beautiful drive and I could see so much more of the countryside.

Since I was in the last vehicle I was security for the rear of the convoy. It allowed me to see where we had been as well as where we were going. Because the weather was so nice, people were outside. I got to wave to all the kids and give them the thumbs-up. They are the future of Afghanistan and if we can win their hearts we’ll have so much more success.

For most of the way we traveled next to a river. I should find out its name but don’t want to get up right now and find out. It was beautiful. I saw a young man in a hand-drawn ferry pulling a ferry/raft across the river. He had something on his ferry/raft, looked like boxes, but I couldn’t tell for sure. It looked like something you would have seen in our country a hundred years or more ago.

At one point, I saw a tiny village on the other side of the river, and I mean tiny. There were only about a dozen mud huts all clustered together on the side of the hill. I couldn’t see any way for them to get across so have to assume that they don’t have a burning need to get across. Either that, or they travel miles either up or down the river to the nearest crossing.

As we began to enter the mountainous area, the river took on the appearance of the Columbia River Gorge when you come out of Pendleton. It was incredibly beautiful.

I saw several caves throughout the mountains. I thought of the caves that Bin Ladin has been reported to be living in and imagined that he could have lived in any one of these. That was a sobering thought as I thought that at any time an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) or similar destructive weapon could come firing out of one of the caves. Just my imagination running away with me.

We then entered the gorge that would take us up the mountain pass to the Kabul valley. Graffiti must be one of those universal things as it was all over the place. Not only did you see people’s names, I’m assuming, but advertisements. I saw several “canned goods” ads painted on the rocks.

As we got higher up the pass, we began to serpentine up the side of the cliff – literally. I wish I’d had a camera to take a picture at the narrowness of the road, the sheerness of the cliff and just how high up we were. At first I tried not to pay attention to the road and the drop but I made the mistake of looking. I leaned out over the side of the turret and couldn’t see the shoulder of the road. All I could see was a drop off of at least a thousand feet or more. That’s when the wave of vertigo hit me and I had to sit down in the turret and close my eyes. It was an incredible sight but not one that I could linger on. All too soon the drive was over. Even though it was close to three hours it went by so fast. I’m looking forward to doing it again.