Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Gospel is Being Taken To All Lands and All Nations

As soldiers we are prohibited from proselyting. Conversion to Christianity, actually to any other religion, for a Muslim, is punishable by death. Hence the prohibition. However that doesn’t mean that the gospel isn’t being taught here in Afghanistan.

Last night at dinner I was told the following story. OK, before I actually begin the story, I need to give you some background details. The majority of the KBR workers who work in the chow hall, cut our hair, massage our backs, make our Blizzards, pour our coffee, are from the neighboring “stan” countries to the north; Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kjergistan, etc. They’re all part of the former Soviet Union. We do have civilian contractors here as well. One of the civilians is a member, he speaks Russian and has more interaction with the KBR workers. He’s the one who told me this story.

Last fall he came into contact with one of the massage therapists – it’s not what you’re thinking. As they were talking he mentioned that he had lived all over the world and that he spoke Russian. She asked him what had taken him to so many places. He said initially it was his LDS mission and then his work for the government. That lead to a discussion about the church. He described her as one of the most “golden” contacts he had ever met. He invited one of our soldiers from Utah to help him in answering her questions. Our soldier was concerned about being in violation of General Order 1 so took a back seat position but was available to answer questions. When he was home on leave at Christmas, he told his family about her and they felt inspired to purchase a Russian Book of Mormon and write their testimonies in it. He brought it back with him and gave it to Brother Zander to give to her.

Brother Zander initially gave her a video that briefly described the basic tenets of the gospel. When she came back after watching it, she wanted to know where she could get a copy of the Book of Mormon, who could she pay her tithing to, and when could she get baptized. He was able to give her our soldier’s Book of Mormon. Brother Zander had translated the families testimony into Russian. She began to read and Brother Zander and another began to teach her the discussions. Since she is not Afghani but Tajik there wasn’t the fear of converting that a Muslim would have. Brother Zander had previously called Church headquarters and received permission to teach her. Brother Zander said that she was soaking up the message that was being shared with her and wanted to be baptized. So it was arranged that she would be baptized at home. She asked Brother Zander to come to her town to perform the ordinance.

After she returned home she was again taught the discussions, this time by the Sister missionaries. She continued to show her excitement and enthusiasm for the gospel and quickly got through the discussions a second time. The date was set and Brother Zander made his way north.

At dinner he showed me pictures from his trip – he had just barely gotten back. She lives in a very beautiful part of her country but comes from a very poor family. She and three others of her family live in an unheated, no running water shack, barely big enough for four people. It looks like it could tip over with the slightest push. It’s part of her families farm. Her parents live in the main house and while it was bigger than the “shack” not by much. It’s no wonder that she has left her country to find work.

Brother Zander said that they had to go quite a ways out of town to the river where the ordinance was performed. I forgot to ask him if it was because of any negative backlash that would follow the baptism or if it was simply because there was no other place to perform the ordinance. In any event, she was baptized in the river. Just like in the early days of the church in the states.

She’s coming back to Afghanistan to work only this time she will be at the Airport where there’s more of an international coalition presence vs. a strong American presence. I hope she does well.

The gospel is being spread here in Afghanistan. While it’s not being preached directly to the Afghans, through our example and our interaction, they are feeling something of what we have. We as members of the Church are sharing our testimonies with our fellow soldiers as well as those we live and work with. Book of Mormons are being given away. And as is now evident, people are being baptized as a direct result of our presence here.

The Spirit of the Lord is being poured out upon this land!

Way to Go Chihuahua!!

In a certain officer's family (his name has been hidden to protect the "not so innocent"), there is a tradition of "dogknapping" their father's Chihuahua statue. The family hates the thing, hence the dognapping. Somehow, "unbeknownst" to him, the little thing made it's way to Afghanistan. It was recently seen on his desk...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fallen Soldier Memorial Service

As I mentioned in a previous posting, we lost four Task Force Phoenix soldiers last week. Well we lost another soldier two days ago in a small arms fire fight with the Taliban. I try not to dwell on the increasing violence that is happening here but you can’t help it, especially when you hear the daily reports.

Let me pay tribute to our fallen heroes; CPT Joshua Steele, SFC Christopher Henderson, SFC John Hennen and SSG Roy Lesayder. Four men who were here serving their country and the Afghan and who paid the ultimate price.
The memorial service was very moving. It was held outside the DFAC (dining facility) in front of the flag pole, on Patriot’s Plaza. I wish I could remember more of what was said but I can’t. So you’ll have to settle for the highlights. It was interesting to me what caused me to choke up. As the Chaplain described the men, when he described three of them as husbands and fathers, that really hit me. He then reminded us that three of them were killed on Father’s Day. That was a hard one. What a terrible way to remember Father’s Day for their families in the future and yet they will be able to celebrate the bravery, courage and dedication of their Patriot Fathers. They were described as ordinary men doing extraordinary things. We are here to help the Afghan people and the Afghan Army forge a nation built on democracy and freedom. There are evil men and forces out there that do not want this to happen. Each of us, in our own way, are doing extraordinary things. The other comment that really choked me up was when they were described as being cut from the same cloth as the flag; honor, courage and patriotism. What a wonderful thing to say about a soldier.

As we stood there listening to the various speakers the sun began to set. There was enough of a breeze to cause the flags to waive. That was pretty cool. The few clouds in the sky caused the sun to sun to peak through. And then as the sun set behind the mountains it cast a warm glow over the service. My camera couldn’t catch the beauty of the setting so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

I won’t describe the specifics of the service. You’ll have to go back and read about LT Lundell’s service last November to get those details of a Fallen Soldier service but this time we had to go through four missing personnel at roll call. That was incredibly hard.

No one likes to go through these services. My heart goes out to the families of these soldiers. I wish I had the words to express the feelings we had standing there on the plaza but I don’t. All I can say is that unless you’ve been here you’ll never fully understand what we’ve gone through and what it’s like to participate in the proceedings.

New Forensic Technology

Merrill is good about keeping a journal of his activities. I wish I were so good. He sends out portions of his journal for family and friends to read. He has included me on his distribution list. I particularly liked this entry. Rather than try to re-write their experience, especially since I wasn’t there, I’ll let him tell it in his own words…

“One day when CPT Dickert, Wais and I went to meet with one of our ANA counterparts who is both a prosecutor and a lead member of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) he was asking for lab equipment. When we asked what kind of equipment he said they wanted these vacuum cylinders that they could use to extract the scent from a footprint and use it in a court by letting out a little air into a dog’s nose and have the dog see if the accused is the criminal. At first we thought he was joking but it was good we didn’t laugh because he was very serious. Wais said sometimes he is embarrassed by the Afghan people. We know they mean well and have their ways different from our own. I feel that education and freedom to choose will help these people in the future.”

The officer Merrill is writing about is COL Rahmatullah and it didn’t surprise me in the least when I read that it was him. As Merrill writes, more than anything these people need more education to help them progress. To him, I’m sure this was a perfectly logical request and he had every reason to believe that such technology exists out there. This just accentuates why we need to be here and why we need to continue to be here.
Here's a picture of Merrill and I with COL Karim, the SJA - he's in the middle, with his legal officers and COL Rahmatullah. Even though he'll never know that his story has been posted here, I don't want to point him out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Happy Anniversary - 21 Years

Janae and I have been married 21 years today on June 21st. 21 on 21. Has kind of a nice ring to it. And like last year on our anniversary I’m deployed. And like last year we had to celebrate on a different day.

When I told the guys in my office how long I’d been married they were blown away. Two of the three officers I work with are all in their mid-40’s. One has only been married for 6 years and the other for 9. They couldn’t believe that I would get married so young much less still be married to my first wife. They were impressed and amazed…as well they should be!!

As you may have read in a previous posting, Janae and I spent two days at the Homestead in Midway. That was our anniversary celebration. And while we had a great time I miss not being home today to celebrate. I’m looking forward to next year when we can actually celebrate our anniversary on the actual day.

If you’ve read my blog over the last year you know how much I love my wife and how she is the one who has born the brunt of this deployment. As I sit here in my office with no one to worry about but myself she is at home having to take care of the day to day problems that arise. I know we’re heroes but you know what, our wives who are at home are the real heroes.

So to my hero wife, Happy Anniversary and know how much I love you!!


After I wrote the above version, I went back and read last year’s blog entry. My I was verbose. In perusing my blog entries I can see where they have gotten shorter and shorter over time. Does that mean I’ve lost my zeal to write? Probably.

Last year I regaled you with the activities of my day so in the tradition of last year let me walk you through my romantic day.

I woke up at 0430 – a common occurrence these days and lay in bed for a while. Even when I was home on leave I was waking up at 0430 so there must be something “magical” about that hour. I thought about getting up and going to the gym but decided to lay in bed for a while longer. I was wishing I was home in bed with my wife on our anniversary so that I could…OK, I can’t say that as my boys may end up reading this entry. Anyway, I spent a less than romantic early morning in bed.

Actually I dozed off as I remember my iPod going off – I use it as my alarm clock and laying there listening to the music for a while. Finally about 0545 I drug my sorry butt out of bed, put on my PT clothes and went to the gym.

Today was biceps and back so after 10 minutes of walking on the treadmill to warm up I started lifting. Not too motivated today but I lifted for about 50 minutes. Then I went back to the treadmill to watch the last 15 minutes of Dodgeball that was playing on the Armed Forces Network. Our Inspector General is a 90 lb Puerto Rican woman. Boy she’s an animal in the gym. I realize that she’s only 90 lbs but it’s a wonder to behold her doing pull-up after pull-up. She asked me if I wanted to work out with her but I told her she scared me too much. We just laughed.

Went back to my room and had a delicious vanilla protein shake made with pineapple juice. Mmmm. Doesn’t that sound yummy?

My personal laptop has been giving me nothing but grief lately – oh, I was able to recover all the data off my hard drive, thanks to Larry at work. Anyway it’s now causing me other problems so I took it to the computer guys to see if they could fix the problem. After telling me all the horrible things that could be wrong with it, filling me with untold dread, they told me to come back tomorrow. My fingers are crossed.

Spent the morning reading e-mails and essentially twiddling my thumbs. I was supposed to be out East this week training but the prosecutors are at another conference so had to cancel my trip but in light of recent events, maybe that’s a good thing.

For our romantic anniversary lunch I had the choice of overcooked hamburgers with plastic cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches that had about a pound of melted butter on each slice of bread, baked ham and pork chops in barbecue sauce. I went for the pork chops. They actually weren’t that bad. Soggy broccoli, of course, carrot and raisin salad, all washed down with a bowl of chili. Doesn’t that sound just yummy?

This afternoon Asmahtullah came by to see me. As you may recall he was my interpreter at the KMTC. He’s such a great young man. I asked him about the recent violence in Kabul and how do the locals feel. As I thought, most people are happy to have the Americans here. He specifically mentioned paved roads, clean”er” water, relative stability, women’s rights and other things. He said the ones who are protesting against the Americans are the pro-Taliban – just like I thought.

Now it’s almost dinner and I’m all a tingle over the thought of what gourmet delight will be offered.

After dinner I’ll go back to the gym and attend the abs class. Still working on that ever elusive 6-pack. Actually, I can tell that I’ve got some definition, they’re just hiding under 10 lbs of flab that doesn’t want to go away and I’m not disciplined enough to lose.

After that I’ll head back to my room for a quiet evening, alone. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Increased Violence

If you’ve been watching the news or reading the paper you know of the increased violence we have experienced here in the last week or so. Some things may not have made every newscast or paper so let me just recap what’s been happening.

A week ago a 14-year old boy was run over and killed by a vehicle being driven by a KBR (Kellogg, Burton & Root) employee. KBR is the contractor who provides employees who cook, clean, maintain our physilities, etc. The boy was pulling a wheelbarrow on J-Bad road – that’s the main road that runs connects Kabul to Jalabad. Phoenix, KMTC and Blackhorse are all along J-Bad road. Anyway, as the first vehicle was passing the boy, he tripped and fell. He fell under the vehicle and the back tires ran over him, killing him. Because the road is so bumpy the driver didn’t even realize what had happened. The second vehicle in the convoy had to radio him to stop. It was a tragic and unfortunate accident.

Even though it was not an Army accident, the Army is attempting to pay the family a solatia payment. It’s basically a monetary gift apologizing for what happened. The interesting aspect of this incident is that the village elders have cautioned against paying the family too soon. Their fear is that this will cause other families to sacrifice their children by throwing them into our convoys in an attempt to get money from the U.S. Of course, we of a Western mindset, do not want to even consider that as a possibility but the local village elders believe that it is a real concern. What a truly sad statement about the poverty and value of life, if in fact it is true.

A few days later a bomb exploded in downtown Kabul, killing a busload (approximately 35) of Afghan National Police officers and recruits as well as injuring civilians. Some of our forces responded to assist and during the incident a soldier’s weapon was discharged, injuring one person and killing another. Of course it was a tragic and unfortunate accident. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time, following closely on the heels of the 14-year old boy.

As we read about the incident on-line, photos were shown of Afghans chanting anti-American slogans, punching the air in fury and other angry images. Of course I could understand their anger and frustration over the unfortunate injury and death but at the same time our office was frustrated and a little angry at both the people and the media. We were angry at the people because rather than chant their anti-Taliban slogans, they were chanting their anti-US ones. The Taliban had just exploded a bomb in Kabul killing so many people. We responded simply to assist. While that doesn’t negate our responsibility it still bothered us, me, what the response was.

And then we were mad at the media for portraying these photos and writing the story in that manner. I’m sure that the anti-American sentiment was real but small. After having been here for as long as I have and having interacted with enough of the locals I really feel like they want us to be here. So I felt like the media was exploiting an unfortunate situation, exploiting a minority of the population, to sensationalize a story. I’m sure that it would have been just as easy to find many people in the crowd would have expressed a positive American sentiment, but then that doesn’t make for sexy journalism.

The KMTC was rocketed the other night, several rockets slamming into the buildings there. Fortunately no one was injured but the message was clear. Then, the next night rockets flew over Camp Phoenix. I was actually awake at the time but didn’t realize exactly what it was. The rockets did not land within our compound but that doesn’t negate the fact that someone out there doesn’t like us. Needless to say I’m quite content to remain within the confines of Camp Phoenix for the next few weeks.

The violence continues almost on a daily basis across the country. It has the potential to be paralyzing but you can’t let it. We have a job to do and you have to believe that you’ve taken every precaution that you can and go out the gate hoping and praying for the best.

And then there have been the US deaths, four in the last week. One soldier was killed in an RPG attack and three others, along with their interpreter, were killed by a roadside bomb. During the 2006-2007 command there were eight deaths in the year. In the month that the new command has been here they have lost four soldiers. You can imagine the somber feeling that has been around the command for the last several days.

As the reports of the deaths came in my first thoughts were, “Is it someone I know? Is it someone from Utah?” When it wasn’t my next thought was “Thank goodness.” Of course I then felt guilty for being glad it wasn’t someone from our command. It goes without saying that I never want to see one of our service men or women injured, much less killed but it’s only natural to feel a sense of relief when it’s not someone connected to you. My heart goes out to the families of these soldiers. They were over here serving the Afghans, fulfilling an important mission but were called upon to pay the ultimate price. They are true heroes.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Photos From Outside the Comdedy Club

I took our camera with us to the comdey club and took some photos outside. The closeup of me at the end is my "do I really have to go back to Afghanistan?!?!?" face.

Home on Leave

I’m sure most of you don’t want ALL the details of what I did on leave so I’ll just give you the highlights. Of course graduation was the main event and since you’ve already read about that I can move on from there.

Family was the next big event and I was grateful to be able to spend some wonderful, quality time with my family and extended family. It was great to see my parents, my brother Chris his wife Keri and daughter LoraLynn, aunts and uncles - Mike and Elaine and Loy and Emily, Janae’s parents and her brother Dallin his wife Memorie and their kids.

I took each of the boys out on a “date.” The activities were as varied as are the boys. We ate, we saw movies, we played video games and we went to a comedy club. It was a lot of fun. Janae and I spent two days at the Homestead. The first day we took Luke and Braxton with us to swim in the Crater – Seth had to work. For those who don’t know, at the Homestead there’s a volcanic cone that it is filled with 80 degree mineral water. The water is 60 feet deep and is a world renowned place for scuba certification as well as snorkeling and soaking. We thought it would be fun to bring the boys along and sure enough, we had a great time. Our allotted time was for 40 minutes but because it was such a slow day we were able to stay as long as we wanted. Luke was ready to leave before Braxton so he and I went to the hotel pool, hot tub and sauna while Janae and Braxton stayed in the Crater. After 2.5 hours Braxton was ready to leave.

The next day I had made arrangements to go horse back riding but since we woke up to wind, rain and scattered snow showers it was no surprise when the stables called and canceled our ride. I was pretty disappointed but what can you do. Instead we went to Park City and did some shopping, browsing and just enjoyed spending time together. We found a great little restaurant on main street in Heber for dinner, Spin CafĂ©. If you’re ever in Heber be sure to stop in.

We had a great time at the comedy club. Seth has been several times but the rest of us haven’t so we decided to make it a family event. Again, rather than bore you with the details let me just say that we had a great time. The boys came home quoting some of the more memorable quotes of the evening.

It was also wonderful to see so many friends and neighbors at church and around the neighborhood. I stopped by my office and was pleased to see that they really do miss me and are looking forward to my return.

What else? Yard work. I know, I know, most of you hate it but I love it. It’s really therapeutic for me and I was able to get some done. Our wonderful home teacher, Don Capps, got our rototiller working and I got started tilling our garden before something new plagued the process and had to use his to finish tilling the garden. Once that was done we got a few things planted and I’m looking forward to getting home permanently in August to see its progress.

The last weekend at home was Orem City’s Summerfest. As per tradition, we went to the parade with our good friends the Atkinson’s. A couple of years ago someone in the group called out to someone they knew on one of the floats or in a band or something. I think it might have been Janae. Well someone else in the group began calling out random names in an attempt to get someone’s attention. And that started the tradition of yelling random names at each passing group. This year was no exception. Now while I don’t expect any of you to see the humor in this – it’s one of those “you had to be there” experiences, we had a ball. As we yelled to a group of “Golden Girls” on their float, Janae overheard one of the women say to another on the float, “they must be drunk.” Of course that garnered quite the merriment from those of us engaging in this rather juvenile but entertaining behavior.

We also call out “greetings’ and “cheers” to the entries. Calls such as “Way to go Barbershop Singing Men!?” or “Spin, spin, spin” to the people carrying the balloons. I’m pleased to report that we were successful in getting every balloon entry to spin their balloon. We were even successful in getting one group to then spin it in the opposite direction. Well as the silliness progressed we began to throw out cheers to others as well, cheers such as “Way to go mother pushing the stroller!” “Way to go teenage boys walking in front of us!” “Way to go goth kids!” We even yelled out “Way to go couple in love!” closely followed by “Kiss her, Kiss her!” When he planted a passionate kiss on her lips he got an even louder cheer. Needless to say we enjoyed the parade immensely.

The fireworks that followed were a dazzling display of pyrotechnics and are always a big hit.

We also saw “Pirates” and while I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, loved the movie but didn’t love the ending. I’ll leave it at that.

It was so nice to be able to drive on paved roads, although all the construction in Orem was a pain. Luke begins driver’s ed in a few weeks so is anxiously engaged in accumulating the requisite number of hours driving. He and I were able to get out and spend several hours practicing. Janae had relegated the task of taking him on the freeway to me so we were able to get out and drive on the I-15. Because I knew rush hour traffic would be a bit much, we decided on the safer bet of driving Sunday morning while everyone was supposed to be in church. I’m pleased to report that he is quite a good driver.

Mmmm, I can still taste the milk. We get that wonderful boxed milk that doesn’t quite taste like real milk so it was great to drink the real stuff. All the ice I wanted in any kind of drink I wanted to put it in was nice. Home made ice cream. Cheese cake. Edible and delicious pizza. Iceberg milkshakes. Home cooking. Home made rolls. I could go on and on. I wish I could say that I exercised some restraint but I didn’t. I also wish I could say that I continued my rigorous exercise regime but I didn’t. I’m sure I’ve put on at least 5 lbs since being home but it was so worth it.

Thor was glad to see me and I was glad to see him. I’ve missed my puppy almost as much as the rest of my family. Janae and the boys have done a great job taking care of him and actually got his weight down while I was gone. He looked great.

Fish tank? You’ll have to ask my family.

Dallas, Part II

I wanted to tell you a few more things about Dallas and the wonderful people who volunteer their time there. I forgot to mention, when our planed landed from Kuwait the airport fire department was there firing their water cannons over the planes in welcome. It was pretty cool.

As we checked in this morning on our way back to theater, there were several USO volunteers answering our questions, telling us what we needed to know and making sure we were comfortable. There was an office full of books, magazines, snacks, water, soda, candy, etc., all for the taking. We were directed to the USO waiting room that had cell phones, land line phones, internet connections, food, drinks, movies, etc. Since it was pretty crowded I found a place where I could sit and plug my computer in.

This morning as I was writing my blog entries a USO volunteer asked me if I’d like a wireless internet card. Of course I said “yes.” She took me to her office and gave me card which gave me 24 hours of unlimited internet access. Cool!

As we were waiting to board the plane, several USO volunteers moved through the soldiers pushing carts, dispensing snacks and water. I was able to chat with a couple of them for a few minutes and found out more information about these amazing volunteers.

As I suspected, the reception committee that I told you about earlier is there 7 days a week, 365 days a year for as long as there are soldiers coming through Dallas on leave. Tomorrow (June 12th, 2007) the 500,000th soldier is expected to pass through and there was an even bigger reception planned. These men and women volunteer countless hours every week to make sure that all the service members going or coming through Dallas are taken care of. A couple of elderly women, known as the “kissing Grandmas” are there every single day to dole out hugs and kisses to the soldiers. I had told one of the volunteers about Seth’s graduation and she called one of the “Grandmas” over and had me tell her the story. She got tears in her eyes as I told her the story and after I was finished, she asked me if she could give me a hug and a kiss. I felt quite honored.

Like I’ve said many times, I can’t believe the support that we receive from hundreds of strangers. I’m so impressed, awed and humbled by their willingness to serve. It makes me realize how much more I can and should do to serve, not only our service members but those who are in need all around me.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

Since I was home on leave last week we celebrated Father’s Day then so today’s big day almost slipped past me. Almost, but not quite.

Seth spoke in Sacrament meeting yesterday. Janae sent me the notes from his talk and I decided to share some of his thoughts with you all. His first note was “honor thy father as thy father.” Now while he may have meant something completely different, here’s what struck me. We must honor our father for who he is, not who we may wish he was or who we maybe want him to be. Seth pointed out another way of honoring our fathers is listening to their counsel and advice. He used several examples from the scriptures where sons did v. did not listen to their fathers. (Good advice Seth!!! You should listen to your father more!!) Anyway, just a few examples from his talk. Janae said he did a good job. Wish I could have been there to actually hear him give it. Oh well.

So what makes a great Father? Hmm, let’s see… A great father is someone who happily accepts a stupid “soap-on-a-rope” for Christmas every year without complaint (sorry Dad but thanks for enduring all those years!). He’s the Dad who teaches you how to ride horses, fish in the streams on Boulder Mountain, gives you opportunities to work, and work hard, holds you accountable for your mistakes, but loves you just the same, sacrifices his time for you, is full of “Cowboy Wisdom” and humor, is known for his “fatherisms,” is the consummate teacher, is an even better friend. He’s the guy who grew up in a small town in Utah with absolutely nothing, worked hard all his life and taught his kids how to work hard. He’s the Father who valiantly served his country during a time of conflict and taught his children a love of country. A great Father is one who loves and adores his children’s mother and makes sure that his kids know how special their Mother is. A great Father is one who can joke with you and be your friend when no one else will be. He’s the guy who understands what it feels like when your first “love” doesn’t love you back. He’s the guy who takes you water skiing with the Scouts making your feel more important than your 10 or 11 years deserve. He’s the guy who inspires you to be better than you are.

I could go on and on with these references to the Father’s in my life but let me pay tribute to them individually.

My Dad is the greatest Dad ever! Once again, I know you’re all out there disagreeing with me but for me, my Dad is the greatest. In trying to decide upon the one thing that really stands out about him, it’s his, oh, how to describe it – work ethic, willingness to serve, willingness to forgive, love of others. OK that probably sounds like lots of things and not just one but it all comes down to how my Uncle Jim described him, “a man without guile.” I have seen my Dad go through some of the most difficult of circumstances with a smile on his face, without harboring any anger. I made the comment to him one time about how angry I was at a former business partner of his for the way he treated my Dad and the ensuing difficulties that came about. Dad just looked at me and said something like, “I’m not mad at him so why should you be?” I learned a profound lesson that day, one that I have never forgot.

I could list lots of other things about my Dad – life-long Scouter, great packer (you should have seen the truck and trailer that he packed that had all of mine and Janae’s stuff on it when he moved us to San Diego to go to law school), the guy who can fix or build or repair anything and so many more things. I inherited so many of my Dad’s qualities but the one that I failed to inherit was his innate sense of direction. There’s an incredibly embarrassing story out there about a certain officer who couldn’t read a stupid map and got his team lost at Camp Shelby all because he didn’t get his Dad’s gift of direction but that’s another story – or not.

Then there’s my Father-in-Law, Lyman. What a great man to have for a Father-in-Law. For some reason I didn’t scare him quite so much when Janae brought me home for the first time, but maybe he should have been scared, just a little. He has always been a friend to me. We both love to work in the yard (his is always so immaculate and beautiful) and so I’ve enjoyed learning from his experience. His service in the Korean war, serving in the legal office, became another common bond when I decided to join the Navy out of law school. His work ethic, his integrity, his love of family are all qualities that I greatly admire. But perhaps the best lesson I’ve learned from him is how to be a great father-in-law. As my sons approach the time when they will be married I hope that I can be as good a father-in-law to my future daughter-in-laws as he has been a father-in-law to me.

And then there are the Grandfathers.

Grandpa Bill lived up and over the hill from us. He taught me how to work. Living on a huge piece of property there were always fences to mend, horses to feed, weeds to pull and all the other things that needed to be done on a large ranch. He was of the old school, that once you gave your word, you were committed. “My word is my bond” was a common phrase of his and he lived by that creed. He was a man of tremendous faith. I loved listening to the stories of his conversion and then the many stories of how his faith was rewarded. Great lessons for a young man to learn. His favorite scripture became my favorite scripture, “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” I have taken great comfort in those words. Later in life I loved the fact that he started calling Grandma Edra “Tiger.” That was so atypical of the perception I had of him as I was growing up, the perception of a stern businessman, that I loved seeing the softening of his personality. It taught me that you could be the most successful and manly of men but still have a soft and loving side.

Grandpa Howard was the consummate Cowboy Grandpa. He will forever be linked to “Grandpa Cereal,” fishing on Boulder Mountain, his beloved horse Brigham Tea, the ranch at Boulder and changing sprinklers in the pastures. Because of him and what he taught me at the Ranch I was able to instill in my sons a love of fishing on Boulder Mountain, riding Brigham Tea before he died and spending time in Boulder. (I’m afraid I’ve failed them in the Grandpa Cereal department and the pastures have long since been sold.) When I told him I was going to go to law school he asked me why I wanted to be one of those “liars.” I hope that I’ve made him proud. Even though he lived in Arizona and we lived in Washington, there’s a special bond that develops between a Grandpa and his grandson. He idolized Grandma and made sure that I knew it. What a tremendous example he set for me. Later when he became a sealer in the temple, Janae and I had the honor and privilege of having him perform our marriage ceremony. His cowboy wisdom shone through that day as he shared a cowboy poem with us about making a house into a home. While I’ve forgotten the specific words, I’ve never forgotten the message. And then there are his famous “fatherisms.” Let me share just a few with you:

I'm busier than a one armed paper hanger.

I'm colder than a well-digger's knees.

Grandma was slow, but she was old.

If you are waiting on me, you are wasting your time.

If you are sitting up with me, I got well a long time ago.

To a prospective Son-in-law: "Are you taking away a plate or are you bringing one to the table."

Any fool can spend money.

I'm broker than a 10 year old Mule.

You should like to do what you have to do.

And my all time favorite…

We knew you were coming, cause you hadn't got here yet.

So on this Father’s Day, I am grateful for the men who have blessed to be my Fathers. The man I am today is directly related to the men they are. I just hope that I can live up to their expectations and make them proud.

The pictures. Let me explain. There’s Dad, replete with headband, helping a nephew build his house. It says so much about him. There he is on the horse with my niece Alexandria and nephew Addison - cousins. I developed my love or horses and riding because of him. There I am, in Boulder, on Brigham Tea with Seth and Luke – oh how we miss him when we go to the ranch. As you look at that picture imagine my Dad and a much smaller version of me on him or one of our other horses. At the same time imagine Grandpa Howard and that same smaller version of me on him. There we are fishing on Boulder Mountain. Again, imagine Dad and Grandpa Howard in those shots. Because Grandpa Bill taught me the same love of horses and fishing, you can put him in the same shots and get the same image.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Graduation News Story Link

Thanks Lisa for sending me the link to the Channel 2 News Story.

For those that would like to see the news clip, here it is:

Monday, June 11, 2007

French Student of the Year

Braxton was nominated by his French teacher to be student of the year. After graduation we hustled up to the junior high for his awards presentation. He was surprised and pleased as French was his favorite class this year.

Way to go Braxton!!

Gradutation Pictures

Here are some pictures from graduation. Two of them appeared in the paper (the first two). The others are pictures taken that day. (Oh, the non-family member graduate in green is the girl who thought my cute puppy was a "loud cat." )


The reason I waited so long to come home on leave was so that I could be home for Seth’s graduation. Almost 10 weeks ago I e-mailed his principal, played the sympathy card about being in Afghanistan for his entire senior year and asked if I could possibly present Seth with his diploma at graduation. Well within a day of sending the e-mail, I got one back telling me that they would be honored to have me present him with his diploma. I was so excited. Of course we didn’t tell Seth.

Well graduation was great. My parents came up from Arizona as did my brother Chris, his wife Kari and their daughter LoraLynn (who had graduated the week before). It was great to see them after so long. Of course Janae’s parents were there and it was equally wonderful to see them. Donna has been such a big support – writing me every week.

Anyway we had let the word out that we had this planned so we got a little bit of media coverage. Channel Two (CBS affiliate) was there and did a really great story. I wish I were not so technologically challenged and could load a copy of the story but you’ll have to take my word for it, they did a great job. I was so impressed with Seth when he was interviewed, he was so poised and confident. I wondered what happened to my little boy.

That afternoon a reporter from the Deseret Morning News came by the house and interviewed us. Once again Seth did a great job. Here’s the link to the article if you want to read it on line, otherwise, I’ll include the article at the end of this entry.

The next morning I got a call from a woman saying she was calling from “cable radio” and that Johnson and Johnson wanted to interview me. I had no idea what “cable radio” was, thinking that it was something new, like cable TV. Anyway about 15 minutes later they called back, again telling me that they were calling me from “cable.” The DJ’s asked me if I’d been listening to their show that morning. Not wanting to look like an idiot, I simply said that I had barely woken up and hadn’t turned on the radio yet.

Well the interview was fun. Of course they asked me what was the first thing I did when I got home. I laughed and told them that I couldn’t tell them that. They laughed and one of the DJ’s yelled out “I knew he was going to say that.” Oh, if they only knew!! They then asked what was the second thing that I did when I got home. That was a little more public worthy – we went for pizza at the Lindon Pizza Factory.

OK, this is not about graduation but I want to say thanks to the Pizza Factory. They comped us our entire dinner. Paul Tieman and his family were there – we always see several people that we know when we go there. Anyway Paul went to the manager and told them that I had just gotten home from Afghanistan – in fact I hadn’t been home for more than two hours when we were sitting in their restaurant. Well like I said, they comped us the meal, thanking me for my service. Once again, the support we soldiers receive is so incredible.

Well it wasn’t until a couple of days later when I was retelling this story that somebody said that it wasn’t “cable” radio but K-Bull. Of course I’ve heard of K-Bull but not being a country music fan it didn’t dawn on me. Boy did I feel stupid. So to Johnson and Johnson of K-Bull, I apologize for not realizing who you were!

Anyway, I digress. Graduation was a great experience. Presenting Seth with his diploma was such a wonderful experience. One he and I will never forget. I was vaguely aware of the audience but I was focused on Seth walking towards me. It was really cool. Having missed his entire senior year this was my way of participating in a small way.

Later that day Luke said that I needed to get deployed in two years and come back for his graduation so that I could do the same for him. I told him that I hoped that wouldn’t happen.

Anyway, Seth is a graduate. I can’t believe that our “baby” is a high school graduate, bound for college and then a mission.

Boy we’re getting old!!

The Deseret Morning News
May 31, 2007
Soldier Takes Leave, Hands Son Diploma
Elizabeth Stuart

OREM — Lt. Col. Robert Church almost didn't notice the 2,000 people who stood, cheering in his honor Wednesday at the Timpanogos High School commencement exercises.

All he could see was his son, garbed in the traditional graduation cap and gown, headed toward him, ready to receive his high school diploma.

"I wasn't looking at the crowd," said the J.A.G. officer and attorney, who came home on leave from Afghanistan to present his son, Seth Church, with his diploma. "I don't know — did they stand up?"

Robert Church caught up his 18-year-old son in a bear hug after passing him the eagerly awaited diploma. The hug was long in coming: Robert Church left home for Afghanistan nearly a year ago.

"It was the perfect way to end high school," said Seth Church, who assumed his father would be catcalling from the stands with the other parents.

He was a little confused, he said, when the teachers ushering students onto the stage to receive their diplomas asked him repeatedly, "Are you Seth Church?"

Maybe he had done something wrong?

"When I walked out it was dark, and I was kind of blinded by the lights. I was just thinking about not tripping," Seth Church said. "Then I heard them say my dad's name and that he was giving me my diploma — and I was like, Wow!"

Robert Church missed a lot during his time overseas; his youngest son took up French and joined the school choir. His 15-year-old braved his first year of high school and earned his Eagle Scout award. His oldest got caught up in his first romance and earned a scholarship to Brigham Young University.

"This was my one opportunity to participate in Seth's senior year. Giving him that diploma was surreal, overwhelming, special — all of those adjectives," said the lieutenant colonel, who lit up like a small boy in a candy shop. "So cool."

Many of the lieutenant colonel's colleagues chose to take their leave during the holidays, but Robert Church said he opted to eat Christmas dinner alone in Kabul so he could see his eldest son graduate. The army grants only two weeks leave.

"Christmas comes every year, but graduation comes only once in your son's life," he said.

Although Seth Church missed having a father's advice as he dealt with the stresses of making post-graduation plans and delved into the befuddling world of women, he is in awe of the work his father does.

"You hear a lot of news about the war, and it's most all bad," he said. "My dad tells me a lot of good things that are happening in Afghanistan. He tells me how appreciative the people are and how grateful they are to have just a taste of the freedoms we have. Hearing him talk has given me a new appreciation for freedom."

Robert Church has spent the past 10 months helping jump start a new military justice program in Afghanistan. When he returns to the country in a week and a half, he will begin teaching a mini-course to bring Afghani officers up to speed on the skills needed to prosecute or defend someone in the courtroom.

"It is incredible to see the Afghani army moving away from beatings and harsh treatment of soldiers. It's inspiring to see these soldiers begin to realize they have rights," he said. "If this was a 9-to-5 job and I could go home to my family at night and on weekends, it would be a dream job."

Oh, I got a lot of grief from my boss, Paul Johnson, for that last comment about the “dream job.” I should have clarified, it would be a dream job, but only after my job at the city.

Walking Off the Plane

I finally made it home. But not before a 2+ hour flight home. Once again I was blown away by the support of total strangers. As we boarded our flight to Salt Lake (there were 4 of us – two of us from Afghanistan and 2 from Iraq) the flight attendant asked me where we were coming from – again, that senior officer thing, I was the first soldier on the plane – I told here that we were coming home on leave from Afghanistan and Iraq. I was able to sit in the “first” part of the plane (yes, I flew first class again – it’s shameful but I loved it!) and as the people would pass me, some would shake my hand and thank me for my service, others would smile, some would pat me on the shoulder – it was great. After we were all boarded, the flight attendant got on the speaker and announced that there were 4 soldiers on their way home from the Middle East and on behalf of the crew and passengers, wanted to thank us for our service. The plane then broke into clapping and cheering. Once again I was moved by the support of total strangers.

OK, now I finally made it home. When the plane landed in Salt Lake I can’t really describe the feeling of gratitude I had for making it home safely.

Since I was in the front of the plane I was one of the first ones off the plane. And there they were, my wonderful family. I don't think I've seen a more amazing sight - my beautiful wife Janae and my handsome sons. (Janae was able to get passes for them all to go through security and meet me at the gate.) Once again my eyes welled up with tears as I looked at them. It had been almost 10 months since I’d seen them so you can imagine the joy we all felt at being reunited. Hugs and kisses were shared, even with Luke who normally will not let me kiss him. Well he allowed me to give him at least one kiss before he declared that that was enough. But that was fine, just being with them was again was such a great thing.

And thus started my leave. Actually, that was day zero and since I got home around 3:15 in the afternoon it was like having a half day free. Boy was it great to finally be home.


I knew what to expect when we deplaned in Dallas but knowing it didn’t really prepare me for what happened. As we got off the plane and headed towards customs we were on the upper level from one of the ticketing areas. The walkway was glass enclosed so we could see down to the waiting passengers and they could see us. As we began to walk around the ticketing area the passengers began to clap and cheer, some even stood up to clap, cheer and wave. And that wasn’t even the planned reception. As I looked at all those faces looking up at us I was overcome with a tremendous feeling of pride for the privilege I have of wearing my uniform and serving my country. I’ll concede that it actually caused my throat to tighten and my eyes get a little bit wet. I couldn’t help it. It was such a cool thing to see and experience.

As we cleared customs that’s where we were met by an organized mob of cheering, whistling, waving, smiling people. There were easily over 300 people there. Signs of support were everywhere. Hundreds of flags were waving. People were reaching out to shake your hand, to touch your uniform, to simply let you know that you were loved and supported. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, retired soldiers from the Korean Conflict in their dress uniforms were there. Families with young children, Grandparents. You name it, they were there. People were thrusting water bottles, Girl Scoutt cookies, bags of goodies, flags and all other sorts of things at us. That’s where I lost it. I had tears in my eyes. I couldn’t help it. The raw emotion in that room was so overpowering. Once again, the pride at being able to wear this uniform and the tremendous outpouring of support simply overcame my ability to keep my emotions in check.

As I finally made my way through the cheering throng and was waiting for the shuttle to take me to my gate, a young boy approached me and asked me for my autograph. His brother ran over and thrust his autograph book into my hand. Their mother then asked if they could take their picture with me. Here we are. Their mother said that her boys absolutely love to come to the airport and cheer for the soldiers. I can only imagine that they will grow up to be soldiers themselves.

As I looked at all these people I couldn’t believe the generosity, the support and the love for the troops. People like this gather every time a R&R flight comes in and that’s just about every day. These people were performing a vital service for us, one that I’ll never forget. I was truly humbled by their willingness to come down and cheer for total strangers. I wondered if I lived in the Dallas area would I be willing to do this same thing. I hope that I would.
(For some reason I can't move the pictures to where I want them so you get them now. Guys sleeping on the floor, waiting for a plane, "tent city" in Kuwait, Arabic McDonald's and Me and Superman on the plane going home.)

And so it begins…the journey home (OK, I’m actually writing this after the fact, while sitting in the Dallas Airport waiting to fly back to Afghanistan, but work with me here).

The convoy that took me to BAF (Bagram Air Field) left at the very reasonable hour of 1030 in the morning. Didn’t’ have to get up early or anything. Of course I didn’t get any work done that morning as I was too excited to finally be going home on leave. But I at least made an appearance at the office to keep up the illusion that I am a hard working Army officer.

After the convoy got to BAF, I checked into the R&R tent and had the rest of the day to myself. Not much to report other than I spent an hour or so at the gym.

The next morning we had to report to the passenger terminal by 0830 and our flight was scheduled to leave by 1130. Of course we were all quite excited by the prospect of an early flight especially since the flight from the previous day had been canceled. Well our excitement was soon squashed as we were told that the plane hadn’t even arrived yet and wouldn’t be there for 3-4 more hours. We were told to simply wait in the passenger terminal until our next muster time but being the slightly rebellious soul that I am, I left, got something to eat, wandered over to the PX and tried to pass the time as best I could. When we mustered again we were told that the plane had barely left and wouldn’t arrive for another 2 hours or so. Once again we began the waiting game. Finally our patience was rewarded and we began the boarding process.

Since I was the senior officer on the plane the crew saved me a seat on the front row of the C-17. I thought, “this is great. Rank certainly does have it’s privileges.” It was great, lots of leg room! But, it was right in front of the only on-board bathroom and I swear, every one of the 120+ people on board used it. Every time the door opened I was hit with a wave of that nasty port-a-potty smell. By the end of the 4 hour flight I was about ready to use it myself, only it was my dinner that was rumbling around in my stomach that I was going to deposit in the bowl.

Well we finally arrived in Kuwait. Hot doesn’t really describe the temperature. When we left Afghanistan it was in the mid-90’s. While I don’t know the exact temperature it was A LOT hotter, even though it was the middle of the night when we got there. The next day the temperature soared and it made me grateful not to be stationed there.

I won’t bore you with the details of all briefs but will simply mention that we got there after midnight, had a 0200 briefing to submit our names for our itineraries, had to be back at 0600 to pick up our itineraries and then had to be back at 1130 for our customs inspection. Not a lot of time to sleep but that was OK. I was still too excited.

After we cleared customs we were sent into “lockdown.” We were basically “prisoners” in a secure area so that we couldn’t sneak back onto the unsecure area of base to acquire something “illegal” to take home. Again, due to the fact that I was on the way home made it bearable, but just barely.

By the light of day I was forced to admit that Afghanistan is “beautiful” compared to Kuwait. At least in the Kabul area there are majestic mountains that surround the city. Kuwait was a dry, barren wasteland. Oh, did I mention that it was hotter than Hades? If I didn’t, it was hotter than Hades and once again, I was glad that I was not stationed there.

Here are a couple of pictures of the base. Not to scenic is it? The base had a McDonald’s – didn’t eat there but did take a picture of the Golden Arches in Arabic.

Finally it was time to get on the plane. We were bused a 40 minutes to the airport where once again, senior officers were afforded some privilege. It was a commercial plane, chartered by the military to transport soldiers. Twelve First Class seats were made available to the 5 Lieutenant Colonels and Senior Enlisted soldiers. Talk about comfort. The seats fully reclined and there was so much space between the seats, even when fully reclined, that I couldn’t touch the seat back in front of me when it was reclined. The food was great, the service impeccable. Needless to say the flight home was really great.

We stopped to refuel in Scotland and while a layover shouldn’t count as having visited a country, I’m going to now claim that I’ve been to Scotland. I think I should qualify as having visited as we had to walk across the tarmac to get into the terminal. That’s a little more than simply walking down an enclosed jetway, don’t you think?

Anyway, that was our trip home. I’ll write about Dallas in a separate entry as it was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had in a very long time.