Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Ghar

On Friday last, we hiked the Ghar (Ghar in Dari means mountain – isn’t that real original?). We mustered at 0430 and left by 0500. The sun had just started to rise when we got there so it made for a beautiful morning hike.

You’ll be able to tell from the pictures the kind of terrain and the steepness of the slope. All I can say is that I was glad that I’d been working out every day for the last year. But, despite all the time I’ve put into the gym, I still got winded as we traversed the side of the mountain.

The Ghar is surrounded by the firing ranges. We parked in one of the range parking lots. There was a young Afgahn male there asking for “one doll-ah man to watch your truck.” One of the guys paid him a dollar but it was a dollar wasted as they guy was no where to be found when we got back. Actually, we left two security guards there so the guy probably felt like he didn’t need to stay.

I fell in at the end of the column of the hikers. I noticed up ahead that there was a group of guys staring at the ground, taking pictures. I thought, “Why are they taking pictures of sheep turds?” Well when I got there it was not just simply a sheep turd. It was a perfectly round sheep turd that was rolling around on the ground. Have you guessed what was causing it to roll? OK, from the picture you can probably tell, but it was a dung beetle. Another first in my life. I can now dazzle my friends, relatives, acquaintances and complete strangers with my tale of seeing the dung beetle rolling his ball of dung. And now you can say that you’ve seen one as well. Aren’t you just thrilled?

About 1/2 way up there was a shepherd on the side of the mountain singing to his heart’s content. His sheep and goats were traversing the side of the mountain foraging for food. As we passed him, he too asked for “one doll-ah man.” Must be a racket. He was amazing though as he was running up and down the side of that steep hill in nothing but a pair of loose fitting sandals. One bit of advice though that I didn’t get until too late – stay down wind from him!! Not a lot of showers on the side of that mountain.

Scattered around the side were several Taliban lookouts. OK, I don’t know for sure that they were Taliban outposts but that’s what one of the guys who had been on the hike before told me. They were certainly well placed as the views of the surrounding valley were incredible. You could see for miles and miles. You’d be able to see further if it weren’t for the smog, dust and fecal matter hanging in the air. Have I mentioned that we’ve been told that the air here has 8 parts per million of fecal matter. Ummm. Doesn’t that sound yummy!!

Anyway, the views from the lookouts were magnificent as well as very strategic. Scattered around them were Russian shell casings, rocket tubes and other discernable signs that weapons had been fired from these locations.

And yet, despite the obvious signs of war and destruction, there were signs of great beauty as well. Wild flowers littered the sides of the hill. Small signs of beauty amidst the barren landscape, a real testament that you can find beauty just about anywhere.

Before you reached the 7,500 peak, you had to crawl across a spine of rock. I hope the pictures do the experience justice. I’m not a big fan of heights so needless to say I was just a tad bit nervous traversing the spine, but I made it.

A group of French soldiers had started about 20 minutes before we did so of course they were already there. As I mingled among them I could smell the distinct odor of alcohol. At first I couldn’t figure out what it was and then I saw the champagne bottle. The French were up there toasting the rising of the sun, drinking their cheap champagne in plastic champagne glasses.

I had brought an American Flag. I flew it over Camp Blackhorse on Veteran’s Day last November and will take it home to be the new flag that we fly in front of our house. I’m glad I brought it as several people took advantage of it.

Again, the view was incredible. Since we were at the highest point, you could turn in any direction and see forever. Blackhorse was hidden from view by a small hill but you could see the KMTC, you could see the airport and planes landing and so much more.

As we were hiking down we met a group coming from the KMTC. It made me smile to hear them grumble and complain about how steep it was, how hot it was (it was only 0745 by then) and how they didn’t think they were going to make it. One of the senior officers from the KMTC was climbing with them. It was his 40th hike and he was wearing his body armor. We couldn’t decide if he was a manly man or just insane. We finally decided that he was insane.

It was a great hike and I’m glad that I did it. I realized that I had done about the only “touristy” thing available for the soldiers to do. So now I can say that I’ve finally become a tourist in Afghanistan.


Well it’s finally almost here, my turn to go on leave. Merrill and Wais have been home for a couple of weeks now and will shortly be on their way back. They both left at about the same time and it just about killed me watching them go and me having to stay. Then I got transferred up here to Phoenix shortly after that to work on the military justice course and that about did me in but I’m adjusting and trying not to count down the days.

I can’t give out exact dates and details for obvious reasons but suffice it to say that I’ll be home in less than a month. Seth graduates the end of May and I’ll be home in time for that. My parents are coming up as well as my brother Chris and his daughter who graduates the week before. It will be great to see them as well as my family and friends at home.

When I get back we’ll be under 60 days of our tour. So while it’s been excruciating to wait this long to go home it is signaling the end of this deployment.

Anyway, I suppose I shouldn’t write about it as it only makes me all the more excited. My leave papers are pinned to my wall so I see them everyday. Maybe I should put them away.



Before I left Blackhorse I was helping draft the narrative to accompany the awards for many of our soldiers from Utah. I was amazed, inspired and humbled by what our guys have done. While I realize that I have made a contribution to the military legal system here, it somehow seems to pale in comparison to what some of these guys have done.

Let me share just a few examples of what our guys have been doing. All of this is in the past, so wives, you don’t need to worry. I won’t share any names as I know some of them want to remain anonymous and don’t want the attention focused on them.

So here are a couple of stories from our Utah soldiers. I’ll include some of the language from the awards narrative and then add editorial comments where appropriate.

One of our officers led over 25 combat missions and engaged the enemy on nine occasions, each time exhibiting tremendous courage under fire. I still haven’t been shot at, have not experience an IED or been subject to any discernable danger. For him to have been in nine different fire fights is beyond my limited realm of comprehension. On one of his missions an ANA vehicle suffered a rollover. The officer immediately established site security. He administered life saving first aid and coordinated the evacuation of three injured ANA soldiers. Thanks to him, these injured soldiers survived.

Another soldier came under rocket attack and while some may say fooheartedly, he left the safety of his bunker to make sure his ANA were all safe and accounted for.

Another soldier spent two weeks living out of a humvee while they conducted missions to keep the enemy in check. So here they are coming under fire, defending a key location, eating, sleeping, conducting missions around the clock, doing everything that needed to be done, all out of a humvee.

Other soldiers lived out of foxholes dug into the ground, living like that for weeks on end.

Most of our downrange guys engaged the enemy on more than one occasions, receiving fire and returning fire.

And these are just the few that I’m aware of. I know that some of our soldiers have been wounded in action, have displayed tremendous courage under fire, have lived like animals, have worked their butts off. All while I was comfortably living at Blackhorse making sure that the legal system worked well.

Like I said, I realize that I have made significant contributions in my own way but when I read what these guys have done I feel a small tinge of regret. I’m not sure if anyone who hasn’t been here can understand what I’m saying but suffice it to say, they’re the real heroes in my book.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Bob's "Spacious" Living Accomodations

Now that we've seen the outside of Bob's room, let's take a look inside.

As soon as you step into his commodious accomodations, you see his desk on the right. As you move your gaze a few inches to the left, there's his closet.

Move your eyes just a blink, again to the left, is his "comfy" bed.

Now as you turn around, you can see the end of his bed where there's a small fridge and microwave on a stand that he sort of built himself. Notice the countdown calendar. He swore he would never count down the days but he's getting too excited to come home on leave.

One more blink to the left and there's the door and the starting point of our tour.

The pictures don't really show it very well, since I didn't take pictures of the floor, but there's only about two feet of space (OK, maybe a little bit more, but not much) between the desk and the bed.

Like I said, "spacious" and "commodious" but it's mine, all mine!!! Ha, ha, ha,!!!


Let's see where Bob lives, shall we? Oh yes, let's....

We call it Legoland. Maybe you can tell why. They are connexes stacked next to each other and on top of each other. Aren't you jealous that you don't get to live here?

I'm sure you are!!!

Just outside my room is this waterfall that someone built along with the swing. I have taken it over in the evening, sitting out there reading and listening to the sounds of the water. It's actually quite soothing.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A New Assignment

I’ve received a new assignment. I’ve been transferred to our higher command in Kabul. I’m now at Camp Phoenix. If you’d like my new mailing address leave a comment with your e-mail address and I’ll send it to you personally. You can also get it from Janae. I just don’t want to publish it here for all the world to see.

Last January I suggested that we develop a military justice training program for our prosecutors and defense counsel. I’ve been lucky, the prosecutors and defense counsel I’ve worked with in the 201st Corps are actually trained lawyers and I erroneously thought most were. Turns out most are not. Even with trained lawyers in our Corps they are lacking in a lot of skills and expertise. So in an effort to try and help them improve the quality of legal services I made the suggestion that we develop the training program. Well guess who got tagged with the responsibility of preparing it? You’re right. Me.

After I get back from leave the plan is to travel to each of the 5 Corps here in country and conduct the training. I’m hoping to be able to go on the road trip but we’ll see. If we can’t make the road trip work logistically we’ll probably have the prosecutors and defense counsel come to Kabul for the training. The only problem with that will be that I’m preparing the training for a small group setting, not a large group. Besides, I’d like to see the rest of the country so I’m hoping for the trip.

I’m also up here to facilitate the transition between commands. The current command element who has been here for the past year is getting ready to be replaced by the new command element. Obviously I can’t give you any dates of this event but it will be happening in the near future. So like I said, I get to facilitate the transition, sort of be the institutional memory.

So am I happy to be here? Well…ask me that when I’m home and can tell you my “real” feelings on the matter. Of course I miss my family at Blackhorse, I miss my room, I miss the food in the DFAC (dining facility), the tight knit family feeling and I miss my ANA.

So what are the advantages of living at Phoenix? Well I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.

In the meantime, I have a new change of scenery. Stay tuned since I now have new things to write about.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I was at Phoenix on Sunday. The Chapel is right next to the JAG office. As I was walked up I noticed a crowd of people gathered around a wooden box. The Chaplain and a young woman were standing in it in their PT clothes. As I stopped to see what was happening I realized that she was standing in a makeshift baptismal font. Of course I had to stay and witness this sacred event along with about 30 others.

It was obviously very different from an LDS baptism but still something special to witness. As they stood in the font, the Chaplain asked her if she was willing to accept Jesus as her Savior. She said “yes.” He asked her if she was willing to deny Satan, his influences and the evil ways of the world. She said “yes.” He read several scriptures about baptism and its importance. He read a scripture about humility and asked her if she was humble. Again she said “yes.” He then had her kneel and said “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost I baptize you unto life.” He then had her kneel forward to immerse her under the water.

Those of you of the LDS faith will know the thoughts that went through my mind so I won’t share them here. What I will say is that it was a beautiful experience. To think that this young lady had a desire to reaffirm her faith in Jesus Christ and was willing to do so in a very public baptism, in a war zone, was such a cool thing to witness. I thought of the faith she had to go through with this sacred ordinance. I felt blessed to witness the expression of her faith and it made me think about my own faith. It also caused me to reflect upon my own covenants that I made at baptism and to feel gratitude for the knowledge and testimony I have of this sacred ordinance. It was a cool thing to witness on the Sabbath.

Unique Cleaning Practice

We have a team of local nationals that clean our barracks building. They do a great job, by the way. But every morning I see one of them walking down the hall with a spray bottle spraying the floor. At first I thought it was some kind of cleaner or pre-treatment stuff. I just recently found out it was water. Since they don’t speak English I have never asked what it is they’re doing. I never asked Wais as I never really gave it much thought other than when I would see them spraying water.

After the water was sprayed one would come through with a broom. You would then see dirty smear marks down the hallway. Again my confusion mounted as I couldn’t figure out why you would spray liquid on a dirty floor only to sweep then follow up with a mop.

Well I found out my answer.

I was at the Ministry of Defense building one day and saw the same thing, only this time on the carpet - yes, spraying liquid on the carpet. That really threw me for a loop. Spraying liquid on the carpet then sweeping. All I could think of was that water soaking into the dirty carpet and making it even dirtier. Well Wais was with me at that time so I asked him.

Anyone figured it out yet? It’s to keep the dust down while they sweep. Go figure.

Spray water on the floor or carpet and you get less dust when you sweep. I can see a sort of logic in that argument. I mean there is dust everywhere. Now that winter and spring are over everything is getting dry and dusty. I guess you need to do whatever you can to keep the dust down.

I’m still not convinced that spraying water on the carpet is the answer but then I’m not Afghan so I guess my opinion really doesn’t matter.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A New Driver

Janae e-mailed me with the news that we have a new driver in the house. Luke got his learner’s permit last week. She was so proud of him as he passed the test the first time. The only reason I say that is while she was waiting for him she talked with another mom who was there with her son. Apparently this cocky son only did the on-line exams and did not read or study the book. When he failed the test his mom was secretly glad as now he had to read and study the book. Janae said you could tell that he seemed like one of those “know-it-all” teenagers who needed a dose of reality. Anyway, way to go Luke!!

Janae’s getting him enrolled in driver’s ed this summer. She had him enrolled in a class at Timpanogos but then discovered that he would miss Youth Conference if he stayed in the class. We were thrilled when he told Janae that he didn’t want to miss Youth Conference and could they see about getting him into a class at Orem High. I think I was more proud of him for that fact than getting his permit. Our kids truly amaze us sometimes.

Now Janae gets the “privilege” of teaching him the preliminaries of driving. I guess they’ve had one successful lesson in a parking lot. Janae reports that he’s doing a good job and seems to be a careful driver. I’m sure I’ll get the chance to drive with him when I’m home and you know what, I can’t wait!!!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Easter

Once again, today is just another work day and at times it feels like just another day. However today is Easter Sunday and I’ve tried to make it a little bit different. I read in the New Testament this morning about Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane, his betrayal, his trial, crucifixion and resurrection. I haven’t read those words in a long time so it was a wonderful experience. I had downloaded several talks from the Ensign from President Hinckley and others on the atonement and resurrection and I read them at lunch. What a wonderful spirit that brought to my day.

As I’ve thought about what this day means I can only express gratitude to my Savior for his atoning sacrifice. To know that I can repent and be forgiven of my sins is an awe inspiring thing. Lately I’ve had the chance to reflect on decisions I’ve made over my life. Some have been good ones, even great ones, others have been less noble, less praiseworthy and of course down-right sinful. And it’s these latter decisions that I’m so grateful for the process of repentance and forgiveness.

This morning I was thinking about what it must have been like for Mary, weeping in the garden, fully believing that her Lord and Savior was gone and then to come to the sudden realization that He lived. What joy must have filled her heart? I thought of the reunion of the Father and the Son. I thought of the reunion I had with my own father when I returned from my mission and the joy I felt. I imagine the joy I will feel at seeing my sons when I return from this deployment. And I think that the joy that was felt then and will be felt in a few months will pale in comparison to the joy the Father felt at the triumphant return of His Son.

I’m sure there’s so much more I could write but I’ll leave those thoughts for myself. Let me say just once again how grateful I am to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How grateful I am for this day and for all it represents.

The KBR guys in the chow hall once again rose to the occasion. The chow hall was all decked out in festive decorations; streamers, Easter Bunnies, eggs, etc. hanging from the ceiling. Someone had dyed hard boiled eggs and had them on the tables. One of our guys decided he wanted “deviled eggs” so tried to make his own. I don’t think he was too successful. For dinner there was a side of beef, roast turkey, glazed ham and Cornish game hens. Garlic mashed potatoes, yams, salad, several cakes and ice cream rounded out the dinner. I have to admit our KBR guys here really make an effort to make the holidays special.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A Surprise Visit

At our house, the Easter Bunny comes on Saturday so that on Sunday we can focus on the real reason for Easter, the Savior's Ressurection. Looks like he found me all the way over here. He's one intrepid bunny!

Jacquie's Donations

OK, they're not all Jacquie's donations but she was the one who spearheaded the project. When we lived in Virginia, Lee and Jacquie Six lived across the street from us and were in our ward. When Jacquie heard about Luke's Eagle Scout project she got the great idea to do the same type of thing for their Stake Relief Society project this year. They got tons of donations, got a sizeable donation from the Stake for shipping, boxed them all up and sent them to me - all 54+ boxes. They came in two shipments, hence two different pictures. The post office didn't even bother to put them inside the post office since they knew I'd be coming to collect them. Instead, they went straight from the table there to the storage unit. I'm hoping that we'll be able to get them delivered later this month along with the rest of Luke's donations. I'll keep you all posted.
Thanks Jacquie and thanks to the Relief Society of the Virginia Beach Stake!!!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Strength at Home

One of my “Angels”, “Soldier’s Angels” that is, sent me the following. She said it was for Janae, I'm sending the original home, but since so many of our soldier’s wives read this page, or so I’m told, I wanted to share it with you as well. This is a tribute not only to my wife but to all the wives. Thank you Sheryl for sending this!

Ben Stein, a television personality and writer, wrote this for an Army newsletter, for The Strykers, out of Ft. Lewis, Washington. It was addressed to one of the wives of the soldiers.

Dear Karen,

I have a great life. I have a wife I adore, a son who is a lazy teenager but I adore him, too. We live in a house with two dogs and four cats. We live in peace. We can worship as we please. We can say what we want. We can walk the streets in safety. We can vote. We can work wherever we want and buy whatever we want. When we sleep, we sleep in peace. When we wake up, it is to the sounds of birds.

All of this, every bit of it, is thanks to your husband, his brave fellow soldiers, and to the wives who keep the home fires burning while the soldiers are away protecting my family and 140 million other families. They protect Republicans and Democrats, Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists. They protect white, black, yellow, brown and everyone in between. They protect gays and straights, rich and poor.

And none of it could happen with the Army wives, Marine wives, Navy wives, Air Force wives – or husbands – who go to sleep tired and lonely, wake up tired and lonely, and go through the day with a smile on their faces. They feed the kids, put up with the teenagers’ surliness, the bills that never stop piling up, the desperate hours when the plumbing breaks and there is no husband to fix it, and the even more desperate hours after the kids have gone to bed, the dishes have been done, the bills have been paid, and the wives realize that they will be sleeping alone – again, for the 300th night in a row.

The wives keep up the fight even when they have to move every couple of years, even when their checks are late, even when they have to make a whole new set of friends every time they move.

And they keep up the fight to keep the family whole even when they feel a lump of dread every time they turn on the news, every time they switch on the computer, every time the phone rings and every time – worst of all – the doorbell rings. Every one of these events – which might mean a baseball score or a weather forecast or a FedEx man to me and my wife – might mean the news that the man they love, the man they have married for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, is now parted from them forever.

These women will never be on the cover of People. They will never be on the tabloid shows on TV about movie stars. But they are the power and the strength that keep America going. Without them, we are nothing at all. With them, we can do everything.

They are the glue that holds the nations together, stronger than politicians, stronger than talking heads, stronger than al Qaeda.

They deserve all the honor and love a nation can give. They have my prayers, and my wife’s, every morning and every night.

Love, and I do mean love, Ben.