Saturday, March 31, 2007

Mohammad's Birthday

Today (March 31, 2007) was a national holiday celebrating the Holy Prophet Mohammad’s birthday. Interestingly enough it’s also the day of his death. Consequently the ANA took the day off so it gave me a chance to work on a few projects that needed attention.

I know I should know more about the culture and religion but I don’t – baaaad American Soldier!! Anyway, what I found interesting was a comment that Wais made at breakfast. He said that since it was the day of his birth as well as his death that the mood of the day was neutral. For some reason I found that really interesting. I asked if that meant that nobody celebrated but he said it just meant that no one was happy or sad, it was just a day of celebration. I’m still not sure if I get it but that’s what he said.

So in honor of Mohammad, Happy Birthday!!

Friday, March 30, 2007

Attempted Escape

As we were coming back yesterday from the KMTC there was a dump truck in front of us driving down the road. Suddenly a Military Police (MP) pickup screeched past us, pulled in front of the truck and stopped it. The driver jumped out, climbed up on the back of the truck and started yelling and waving his hands. Up popped two heads. Two young soldiers had hidden themselves in the back of the truck and were attempting to escape. The MP got them out of the truck and slapped them on the side of the head and pointed back to the KMTC, all the while yelling at them. That was a first. I’ve never seen an attempted escape before. It was quite the experience.

We all just looked at each other, not quite sure what to do. Actually there wasn't a lot to do but it was one of those experiences where you just go, "wow - did I actually just see what I thought I saw?"

KMTC Construction

I haven't been over to the KMTC (Kabul Military Training Center) for several months. CPT Scptt Delius has been the mentor over there so the need to travel the back road has diminished. Anyway, as I said yesterday, I was there for his promotion ceremony. I was amazed at the amount of clearing of all the destroyed buildings that's been going on. The KMTC is growing incredibly fast and they needed the room so I knew the rubble was going to get cleared but I was truly amazed at how much different things are. I'll include before and after pictures so you can some idea of what's been happening. I hope they're able to start construction before we leave so I can see what it will finally look like. It will be amazing.
So here they are...

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Promotion - No, not mine!

Today I was at the KMTC to witness my friend, 1LT Scott Delius get promoted to Captain. It's been a long time coming. Scott has become a good friend and support. I'm going to be sorry to see him go home. Jerk! (He got here after I did and gets to go home before I do. Where is the justice in that I ask you?!)

Since I'm not smart enough to create a link to Scott's page, I'll include it here. Check it out. He's done some incredible humanitarian work. You can read an article that appeared in the legal community paper back home. He and his wife have done a tremendous job in helping out the Afghans. Like I've always said, I've been so touched by the generousity of family, friends and complete strangers. For Scott's family, here are some pictures from today's ceremony. Because it's late I'm not going to write about the changes at the KMTC or the two soldiers we saw trying to go AWOL that got caught. Check back tomorrow. I promise, I'll write and post pictures. In the meantime, here's Scott's address and the pictures....

Oh, the flowers around Scott's neck (I noticed he didn't post his copy) are an Afghan tradition. I know, we macho American men don't get it but it's a real symbol of honor and tradition. COL Khaliq was so proud to be able to present them to Scott. He assured me that he would be bringing them home to hang in his newly renovated house. He said it would match the paint! Honest!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Over the Rainbow

The other day a storm came through. It rained quite a bit and when it was done, this is what we saw....

It was funny to see all these grown men standing outside with our digital cameras snapping pictures but you must admit, it was a spectacular site, especially in person.

Office Supplies

I just wanted to thank all of you who have so generously sent office supplies for my ANA legal officers. Today I delivered the last of what I had. As I carried in a box of paper, pens, white-out, paper clips, tape, post-it-notes, etc., the office administrator who was the recipient of your kindness had the biggest smile on his face. He had seen me deliver supplies to the prosecutors and defense attorneys over the last couple of weeks and was hoping he'd receive a box. Today was his day. All of the men who benefited from your kindness wanted me to be sure and thank you so from LTC Khazim, LTC Noorlhaq, MAJ Afzal, MAJ Azam, MAH Hazaan and all the others, "Tashakur!"

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hit and Run

I don’t know what it is about ANA soldiers but they will not get out of the road when a vehicle, any vehicle is driving down the road towards them. This is a phenomenon that none of us understand. A convoy of humvees will be coming towards a group and they don’t get out of the way. That same convoy can be coming towards an individual and he doesn’t get out of the way. The same with a truck. It doesn’t matter what the vehicle is they will not move out of the way.

Case in point. Merrill, Wais and I were coming back from the terp chow hall. A truck driving by the ANA stopped right in the middle of the road, bad enough, but then a whole gaggle of soldiers gathered in the road around the truck. I honked the horn several times to no avail. Finally I pulled around the right hand side of the vehicle. Did anyone move? Of course not but I needed to get back to Blackhorse so I “pushed” my way through the crowd. Did anyone move then? No. Well as I kept driving my left side mirror hit one of the ANA soldiers causing him to spin around. Granted it wasn’t very hard but he had the nerve to give me the look of “what the heck did you just do?” Wais called him an idiot. I had to agree.
Here's a picture of what I'm talking about, although these soldiers did move over, but you get the idea.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rear Admiral's Visit

A couple weeks ago we had a visit from the 2-Star Admiral over the entire Navy JAG Corps. He was here in country visiting and wanted to come down and see the remodelded court room as well as meet the judges who convicted Akhtar.

As many of you know I was a former Navy JAG. When he arrived and as we were introduced he said, "so you're the traitor." We just laughed.

We had a really great visit. He listened to the judges and asked about their needs. He talked about the great things that have been done here in country and where he hopes to see the ANA military justice go. He was a very gracious guest. I know the judges were thrilled to have him here.

Here are a couple of photos from his visit.

Prior to him leaving he presented Merrill and I with his coin. For those not schooled in military tradition, giving coins is a time honored tradition. Commanders will have their own coins made, military units will get them made. They are given on special occassions and are highly valued and appreciated. I've seen some pretty impressive collections. I've got several but this is the first 2-Star coin for my collection. We were honored to have been given his coin. It was pretty cool!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Loud Cat!!

Seth asked me to tell you this story...

I'd like to introduce you to our "loud cat." Seth's friend who shall remain nameless except that if you were to go to the store and buy a pound cake made by ____ Lee, you'd know what her first name is. Anyway, this nameless friend knows that we have a cat. One night nameless friend was over at our house and heard our "loud cat" "barking" in the backyard and made the comment about how loud our cat was. Seth just laughed because "loud cat" was in actuality my wonderful puppy Thor.

So there you go Seth, your "loud cat" story.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day!! Janae sent me some decorations and insisted that I send her pictures. Here they are. Aren't I so festive?
Did you remember to wear green today? I did. Oh yeah, I wear faded green every day.


Yesterday (last Friday actually), Phoenix put on an “Afghan Cultural Day.” The highlight was the Buzkashi match. We were told in our culture class that buzkashi was the forerunner of our modern game of polo. OK, I can see that. You play it with horses and the object of the game is to get the, uh, “ball” into the goal. However, unlike polo which is played with mallets and a ball, buzkashi is played with your hands and a dead animal; either a goat or calf. Yesterday’s game was played with a dead calf. Of course it’s gutted and it’s head is cut off but everything else is there.

So here are the basic rules of buzkashi. The dead calf was dropped at one end of the filed. A mob, literally, of 25 horseman then rushed the carcass attempting to reach down and grab it. The horses are pushing each other around trying to get their rider as close as they can. The rider has to lean all the way over in an attempt to grab the carcass, then lift it up and hold on to it for dear life. We actually saw horses biting each other and even rearing up on their hind legs in order to push the others out of the way. It was pretty physical. Someone commented that PETA would have a fit if this game were played in the States.

The rider will then lean to the opposite side of the carcass, just to hold on, wrap a leg around it to hold it against the horses body and then attempt to gallop to the other end of the field. Once there, he has to ride around a flag mounted on a pole and then ride back to the other end and drop the carcass in one of two rings painted on the ground. If he’s successful he wins a small cash prize. Of course the other riders are attempting to prevent him from doing all of this. They would try to push him out of bounds, try to get him to drop the carcass, anything to lose control. If it was dropped, the mob would again converge around the carcass in an attempt to pick it up.

When these guys were riding down field with the carcass they were not paying a lot of attention to where they were. One rider was in a tug-of-war with the one with the carcass. Neither one was paying attention to where they were going and almost ran into a huge cement pillar on the side of the field. Other riders almost ran into the ambulance at one end of the field. Another group almost ran into the spectators on the side of the field. That was funny. This poor SGT kept yelling through a bullhorn that all military personnel had to move back from the field to a designated spot. Did anyone listen to her? Of course not! But, as soon as they almost got trampled by the horses, boy did they scramble fast to get out of the way. After that “we” kept a healthy distance from the edge of the field.

It was funny to listen to the soldiers around me talking about how the rules could be improved this way or that way and how the game needed a little “Americanization.” I thought to myself that this game has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years and I’m sure it has its own set of rules, albeit not apparent to us.

During “half time” a flute player and a drummer took the field and entertained us with music. The referee jumped up and started dancing. It was pretty funny to watch him gyrating to the music. While the music was not to my particular taste it was interesting to listen to.

Then, not to be outdone, a young man and a friend began playing an accordion and a drum. The accordion was much more pleasant to listen to. One soldier dropped a dollar in the lap of the drummer and that opened a flood of dollar bills that descended down upon these guys. I’m sure they were happy to earn a little extra cash.

During half time I had a chance to look at the different players. One was dressed in a 3-piece suit. I was a little surprised to see that but figured it was his way of being civilized – sort of like an English polo player. OK, not really, but I was surprised to see him in a suit. Most of the others had leggings made of sheep skin or some other heavy duty material. All had boots. I even saw one guy who had on high-heel boots. Those heels must have been at least 4 inches tall. I wasn’t quite sure how he was able to get around in them but he managed. Others had coats that looked like they had been made from quilts. Most had hats that reminded me of something that you’d see Ghangis Khan wear.

This demonstration was individuals playing. We were told that when teams play the object is the same but that obviously played as a team. Someone asked if they pass the carcass back and forth but I didn’t hear the answer. I’m not sure how that would happen with very much ease but I suppose it’s possible. It would have been cool though, to see how the teams would play offense and defense, depending on who had the carcass.

Towards the end the chow hall brought out beef kabobs, rice, flat bread, cucumbers, onions and green peppers as well as fruit. It was a typical Afghan meal and was quite tasty. Later that afternoon, a band of local musicians was playing music. They were quite good. I didn’t take any pictures of them as it was too dark where they were.

All in all, it was an interesting day to be at Phoenix. I saw something that I’ll never forget.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Spectacular Sunset

It was another cold and rainy day today. The rain cleared up though this afternoon. As I was walking to dinner I glanced over and saw the most beautiful sunset. The sun was shining through the clouds as it sank into the horizon. I immeidately turned around, went back to my room to get my camera. By the time I got out the back door and up on the wall, the sun had sunk almost below the horizon. I had missed the most spectacular part of the show but got a few good shots as it slipped below the horizon. Here's what I saw...

A View From the Backseat

I went to Phoenix this afternoon on the mail run. I had a couple of things I needed to do up there, wanted to go to the PX and then hit Dairy Queen for a Mounds blizzard. (I wish they had Almond Joy as I love the almonds but the Coconut in the mounds was delicious.) Since I was just the passenger my main responsibility was to look out the window. I was thinking about my blog page and how I hadn’t written anything lately; mostly because I haven’t been in the mood and mostly because I haven’t been out and about so I decided to watch for things along the route that I hadn’t seen before that I could share with you. I hope you find even a small part of this remotely interesting.

With all the rain we’ve had lately you can imagine all the mud when everything is dirt around here. I saw a father and son shoveling water out of the “pond” that had accumulated in front of their store. The “pond” was probably 8-10 feet in diameter and from where the water came up to their ankles, knew that it was about ankle deep. I wondered how long it was going to take them to shovel the water out of their pond and throw it in the street. I then wondered how much of it just made it’s way down through the dirt in the road to find their low spot in front of their store. And then of course it rained later in the day and I’m sure just filled it up even more. What a job.

Speaking of mud and ponds, I saw two boys of about 10 pushing a wheel barrow through mud that came up over the tire of the wheel barrow. What was in the wheel barrow you ask? Two more little boys that were probably too little to wade through the mud by themselves.

Have you guessed yet, today’s entry is a mud themed entry. With all the shops that are along the route, the store owners sit outside waiting for customers. Where do they sit? In the mud. If they’re not sitting in the mud, their coats and Afghan “man jammy” shirts (I finally got mine but didn’t get a picture in them before I sent them home. So, if you want to see authentic Afghan “man-jammies”, as we call them here, you’ll have to come see me after I get home.) are hanging down in the mud. To them it’s a way of life. To us it’s a filthy, dirty way to live.

Walking through the mud I saw a father holding his daughter’s hand. She couldn’t have been more than two years old. What was so cute was that she was vigorously waving out our convoy. I wish I had my camera. Then I saw two little boys who were probably 4 walking through the mud holding hands. It made me long for the days when my own boys were that little and how cute they were before they grew up into obnoxious teenagers. OK, they’re not too bad but I don’t imagine I’ll see them walking hand in hand any time soon.

But the thing that took the proverbial cake was watching an ANP (Afghan National Police) vehicle driving on the other side of the road into on-coming traffic. Part of the road to Phoenix and back is actually paved and divided with a cement wall in between. Well this ANP truck came barreling up on the other side of the road forcing the traffic traveling in the right direction off the road. It wasn’t until a huge jingle truck was seen in the distance with no room to move over that the ANP vehicle was forced to find a break in the divider and get into his own lane. I couldn’t believe the audacity of the driver and of course since he’s ANP and most people hate and fear the ANP did nothing about it. I almost wish that a convoy had been coming along and had forced him off the road into a ditch or something. That would have been totally cool!!!

So there are my musings and observations of my trip to Phoenix.

Earlier that morning on my way to meet with COL Karim (I was fortunate enough to have borrowed a truck so didn’t have to walk in the, yes, you guessed it, the mud) I saw a soldier carrying another soldier piggy back style. It wasn’t Thursday so I wasn’t sure why he was doing that. It didn’t occur to me that they were heading in the direction of the base medical facility. Well on my way back who did I see but this same duo only this time the “piggy” on the back was wearing a cast on this leg. It then hit me why the one was carrying the other. The man on the back couldn’t walk. I was really impressed by the service being performed by the man doing the carrying. I can only imagine how much further he had to carry his friend and the fact that he was willing to do so impressed me immeasurably.

And there you have it. A day in the life of a boring FOB-bound JAG officer.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Some More Photos

Since I haven't written much lately, let me post some pictures.

Here a couple of shots of soldiers at the KMTC (Kabul Military Training Center) learning hand to hand combat using their rifles as weapons.

Our snow covered humvees.

When the CO's not using his SUV he lets me drive it. It's a sweet ride; leather interior, CD player, and dirty as all get out. So there I am at the check-point waiting to get back into camp.

This was taken in one of the abandoned buildings on the hill overlooking camp. The green archway painted in the corner designates the direction of Mecca. Comes in handy when it's time to pray and you can't remember which way to kneel.

I may have posted this before, but here's the swimming pool up on the hill in the summer time. The ANA actually swim in it.

Here it is in the winter. Can you see all the rebar and broken pieces of cement that are in the bottom. Probably not, but trust me, it's a giant garbage pit. Now I don't know if all that junk was in there in the summer time but I have no reason to believe that it wasn't. Remind me not to swim in this pool.!!

Lack of News

As you’ve probably noticed I haven’t been in the mood to write for the last week or so. At dinner the other night Aaron, Steve and I were talking about our blog pages. I made the comment that I hadn’t written anything in a week or longer and they both laughed. Steve said that he’s only posted 17 comments or so and I had to admit that I passed the “17” mark many entries ago. I guess it’s all just a matter of personality. I happen to have one who can be extremely verbose at times and others do not. Although as I said, I haven’t felt very verbose lately. I’ll try and correct that deficiency for those of you who check in regularly to see what’s happening.

I think part of my problem is that I’ve been here for over six months and have written about most of the every day life that occurs here at Blackhorse. Maybe with spring coming and “new life” coming up out of the ground – not looking forward to the bugs coming back, I’ll have something to write about, but for now I’m in somewhat of a slump.

So what has been happening? Well, the biggest news is a realignment of jobs and assignments. Since others have yet to disclose this information I’ll wait to give out details. Suffice it to say that with our new mission of mentoring the Afghan National Police – oh wait, I haven’t written about that myself. Note to self: write about the new ANP mission. Anyway, with that mission people are being reassigned to different bases, breaking up our team here. I’m still in a state of denial that they’re leaving and hate to think of life around here without them. Oh well. I guess I’ll have to suck it up and be a man about it.

Others, who don’t write or maintain blogs, Ken in particular, are being transferred to Fort Riley Kansas to train the new ETT’s coming here to Afghanistan. Can’t tell you when that happens officially, you know, security reasons, but he and several others from Utah will be going there. Of course we’ll miss Ken and all his words of wisdom, most of which I can’t share on a G-rated blog page, like mine. All kidding aside, we’re really going to miss him, his leadership and truly, his words of wisdom. Ken says he’ll drink a Scotch on our behalf – no alcohol here in country, make a trip to WalMart for us and do all the other things that we can’t do here. He’s such a nice guy.

What else? I’m sure that there are other things that I could write about but I’ll leave it at this for now. Thanks for checking in and I’ll do my best to come up with something truly earth shattering to write about.

Utah Weather

Not only do the mountains remind me of home but so does the weather. Several days ago (OK, it was actually almost two weeks ago – I wrote this last week but never posted it) the KBR guys, the guys who run the kitchen and cook for us, had a barbecue outside in the warm sunshine. They were grilling hamburgers, braats, polish sausages and chicken. They had all the works to go along with them. There was music playing and because someone was leaving, the chef made this delicious chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting.

Then it snowed. We woke up to a heavy snowfall that was fast accumulating. It finally stopped after lunch and by evening had all melted but we had snow. Then it did it again the next day. Same thing; heavy snow in the morning melted by the afternoon.

And today? Bright, warm, beautiful sunshine.

Just like Utah in spring.

A footnote to this entry. I was telling Janae about the weather and commented that it was Utah weather. She correctly corrected me and said that it was normal, typical weather for these kinds of climates. I guess she’s right but it’s more “home” if I call it Utah weather.

Another footnote: the pattern has continued. Warm sunny days that turn into cold, snowy ones. Today it rained, then snowed, then rained again. A day to stay indoors and wish that your office had a heater. After I lost all feeling in my toes I finally abandoned my office and took my work to my room where I cranked up the heat and drank Stephen’s Gourmet Mint Hot Chocolate that Janae had sent me. It was delicious!!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Update on Luke's Eagle Project

Just thought I’d give you an update on Luke’s Eagle Project. Janae can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that all the boxes have been sent. They ended up sending me over 60 boxes worth of school supplies, clothes, toys, hygiene kits and other things for the children of Afghanistan. The mail clerks will be so glad to see an end to the project as they’re tired of having to lug all my boxes from Phoenix to here for me. I’ve got so many boxes under my bed that there’s no room for anything else. I had them stacked on our desk, on the floor and anywhere I could find an empty place. Merrill even let me store some in his room. They only have three in their room right now so I was able to put boxes in the 4th person’s space. Aaron also took pity on me and let me store lots of boxes in their connex. Even so, I still have boxes everywhere.

I’m not complaining though. It’s been great to see the generosity of so many people who either donated goods to be shipped or money to pay for shipping. You guys are great.

So here are some photos of the boxes just waiting to be distributed.

I’m hoping that we’ll get the stuff out soon. School starts here later this month and I’d like to get the supplies to the kids and teachers before too long.

A view of the boxes under my bed.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Birthday Bashing

While most of my friends sent me kind, nice cards for my birthday with words of well wishes and love, what does my family send me? Jibes at my age.

I know my birthday was over a month ago but I never got around to writing about the cards that my brother Chris and his family sent me. As I was cleaning my room today I came across their stack of cards and remembered that I wanted to share them with you in an attempt to elicit some sympathy. (OK, I know that I will be getting nothing but similar comments for posting this but I loved the cards and wanted to preserve them in some way.) (Oh, never mind that the cards came late!!! I’m just glad they did.)

LoraLynn was kind. Her card said that every year I keep getting better and better. However, she did send a big button that says “Aged to Perfection” and I have to take a picture wearing it. OK LoraLynn, here it is. Satisfied?

Keri, my sister-in-law, sent me a card with new eye brows, implying that with all the candles on my cake, blowing them out would burn them off. Very funny! Not!!

Chris sent me a card with a dog with the big bug-eyes on it. His message on the inside said that since I’m closer to the international date line I’m somehow older than everyone else. Who thinks of this stuff?

Jacob wanted to send me a new car but couldn’t afford it so instead, he sent me a “new car scent” air freshener. He was then quite honest and said that if I didn’t need the air freshener he could use it for his shoes. Honest kid!!

John’s card said that he loved old people and that I was one of them. Snot!!

They sent me several transformer cards so that I could have some new super heroes. They’re so thoughtful.

Then there was Katie’s card. It was laugh out loud funny and had no applicability to me in anyway shape or form. Her card said,

“Just in time for your birthday…The Top Ten party games for the Chronologically Challenged.”

10. Bobbing for dentures.
9. Guess my prescription.
8. Musical Walkers.
7. Strip Bingo (Also known as Scare the Neighbor’s Dog).
6. Twenty incoherent questions.
5. Whack the piƱata teenager.
4. Who passed the gas?
3. Pin the enema on the donkey.
2. Spin the prune juice.
1. Who can stay up past 9:30?

You have to see the drawings that go with them as they add that final touch but I didn’t want to scan them so you’ll just have to take my word for it that they’re hilarious.

Since none of those games remotely apply to me or my age I was able to laugh at those of you who it might apply to. Anyway, now I can put away the cards and check this “to-do” item off my list.
Oh, I got a card from the "marathon 3" that had a button on it as well so here's the picture with that one. Sorry that the flash made it so you can't read it but it's a duck driving a race car that says "Thuperstar!"
One last thing, the flag is in my office. I flew it on Veteran's Day.
OK, one last thing, my tan is fading. Don't you all feel sorry for me?!