Thursday, July 26, 2007

Back to Blackhorse

Our trip to Blackhorse went well. It was obviously the most bittersweet of all the training because of my relationship with all of the officers there.

Since I’ve told you about the travel to each location let me comment on our trip to Blackhorse – it was fast and easy. Since Blackhorse is just down the road it was a short drive down on the mail truck. The thing that was new and different was the fact that the road between here and Blackhorse is now completely paved. It’s been almost two months since I was last there and I was amazed and impressed with how much work has been done. They are now working on the road between here and downtown Kabul. At some point the Afghans will have a nice road/highway to travel on.

The other construction project that impressed me was the hand-made rock wall that stretched for kilometers between the KMTC and Blackhorse. It’s incredible to watch the process. First they dig trenches by hand 5-6 feet deep where they set the foundations. Then they build the wall 8-10 feet above ground with razor wire in the top. These walls are incredible, really fine craftsmanship. Here’s a picture of me and Batman, who accompanied me to Blackhorse, in front of a section of the wall. The wall is covered with a thick coating of dust but hopefully you can get an idea of the kind of work these walls entail.

On Blackhorse they are making rock-paved water drainage canals, for lack of a better term. Once again, the craftsmanship is extraordinary. Here I am in front of one under construction.

Our classes went great. As always, lots of questions dealing with their own particular needs. It helped that I knew the challenges, issues and cases they’ve dealt with over the past year so I was able to answer a lot of questions right up front.

The “highlight” of the experience was the controversial “ass-stabbing” case that’s been going on. It originated from the KMTC and has been referred to the 201st for prosecution. Because I know some of the players in this drama look at my blog on occasion I won’t go into the details. Suffice it to say that there have been extreme differences of opinion on how this case should be handled. Both sides are on the extreme end of each spectrum with each side flinging accusations of corruption on the one hand to over reacting on the other. The truth is somewhere in between. I have stayed out of it until now but again, because of who has read my blog will refrain from sharing the details of what happened. Ask me about it later and I’ll give you and earful. The case is still ongoing and if the investigation goes where it now appears to be going we may have criminal charges against not only the “ass-stabber” but against his father and uncle. It will be interesting to see how it ultimately plays out.

Blackhorse has changed since I’ve been gone. When we arrived a year ago there were just over 200 people there. That number has more than doubled. It means that living quarters are tight, open spaces has been filled with more b-huts and tents, the chow hall is crowded and the quality of food has greatly diminished. I never thought I’d say this but I actually missed the chow hall at Phoenix despite all the “complaining” I’ve been doing recently. I’ve got to learn to keep my mouth shut and quit complaining. I realized that I’ve grown accustomed to Phoenix, primarily my private room. It’s funny how a little thing like privacy makes a HUGE difference in your quality of life. Even when I was in the single room as opposed to my double sized room, I still loved being able to retreat to my own private haven.

Remember how I talked about the ANA pool. Last fall I posted pictures of it in a deteriorated state but filled with water that was a beautiful shade of green. The this winter I posted a picture of it filled with rebar and broken pieces of cement. I saw a picture of it recently where it was completely refinished and filled with sparkling blue water. I was looking forward to seeing it full but was disappointed. It was empty. I was told that they needed to drain it to clean it after a particularly dirty group of soldiers swam in it. Oh well. The Afghans have really done a great job of refinishing it as well as rebuilding the deck and pavilion around it. It looks like a great place to have a summer afternoon/evening party.

They created a series of terraces around the front of the pool and have planted flowers, plants and vegetables. Again, the stone work is quite impressive. As Nick and I were walking along the edge he pointed out a plant that was growing and said that it looked a lot like a corn plant. I thought he was joking and looked sideways at him. When I realized he was serious I laughed and said “that’s because it is corn.” I told him that he was going to be forever immortalized on my blog page with that comment. He laughed and said that I had to be sure to include the comment that “you can take the boy out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the boy.” (Nick was born and raised in Queens, New York and only moved out of the city, to Atlanta, two years ago. He is truly a New Yorker and I’ve enjoyed learning about life in the city since I grew up a country boy.)
The 201st is also getting its own courthouse and detention facility. We went by for a photo op. As you can tell, Afghan construction techniques are the same across the county, as is the design for the buildings. We had our pictures taken with the work crew. Oh, and here's a photo of somone's lunch that was left on the ground. Anyone hungry?

The last day of class, when we had graduation and the exchange of gifts was much more emotional than I thought it would be. I thanked them for their friendship and hospitality over the last year. I thanked them for teaching me so much and hoped that I, in turn, had been able to teach them a few things. I recounted our first meeting. I didn’t tell them about my thoughts of “I can’t wait to get out of here” but instead shared the simultaneous feelings of excitement I felt at the new adventure I was about to embark upon. I remember thinking on that day of introduction that the day of good-byes would never come and now, here it was. As I was up there talking with them I actually got a little choked up which surprised me. The Chief Judge and the SJA then shared their own comments which were nice. COL Karim, the SJA, has never been overly friendly but he was kind in his words. In fact the first day of class as they all came in each one gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek, except for Karim. Oh well. It used to bother me but now I just figure that’s who he is and don’t worry about it.

Looking back at the deployment as a whole, it’s gone by incredibly fast. Of course there were days and weeks where it didn’t go by so fast but now that I can look back on the deployment as a whole, it’s gone by so fast. I’m glad it’s over but at the same time, will miss parts of this experience.

No comments: