Friday, July 20, 2007

The Last Days in Kandahar

Our last class was a success. The Corps commander had come the first day and gave a speech. Apparently he’s famous for his speeches. Paul was telling us later that the first day he met him he was scheduled for a short meeting but after 2+ hours the Commander was still going strong. In fact there have been times when others have tried to talk but the commander simply tells them to be quiet or will actually put his hand over their mouths to keep them from talking.

We still had two short blocks of instruction to cover when he showed up so we had graduation before we were technically done with the class. It was alright though. He wanted to present the certificates which was fine. He’s a 2-star and I’m a lowly LTC so I guess he can do what he wants. What impressed me though was that he presented a few, had the ANA SJA present a few, had me present a few, as well as Nick and Paul. I was impressed that he didn’t “hog” all the “glory” for himself.

One of Paul’s office mates is the public affairs officer (PAO), LCDR Steven Parks. He and a French PAO showed up to take some pictures of the class and for graduation. You’ll see some of LCDR Parks’ pictures in an earlier post. As I was reviewing the pictures he took he showed me some other ones he took on a recent HA mission that were wonderful. He graciously gave me copies so I’ll post them here shortly under another “Faces of Afghanistan” entry.

After class I had expected to be presented with a gift, similar to what we received in MES but we didn’t. Instead we had lunch. I knew that we were would be having lunch with the SJA but because of their culture of giving gifts was a little surprised that we didn’t receive anything. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t need another scarf but have just gotten used to the tradition. However, after arriving and seeing just what the SJA, COL Zarak had provided, I was infinitely more grateful for that “gift” as opposed to another scarf.

The table was loaded with food; meatballs, three different types of fruit, bread, rice, vegetables and pudding. Paul was hoping for kabobs but none were to be seen. COL Zarak was joking with Paul that he would have to “kill” him for not getting any kabobs. We all laughed. COL Zarak then signaled to one of the soldiers who was there as a waiter and he and one other began to bring out dozens of skewers with kabobs on them. It looked delicious. Paul and COL Zarak laughed and joked with each other. As I watched their interaction I was pleased to see the relationship they had developed and how well they got along. I wished COL Karim and I had had that type of relationship but he just doesn’t have that kind of personality.

Just as it looked, lunch was delicious. At first I thought that the kabobs were made of beef and chicken. It wasn’t until I bit into a piece of “chicken” that I realized it was a blob of fat. They intersperse them with the meat to keep them tender and give them flavor. The meet was delicious and fairly tender but I think I could have done without those globs of fat.

After lunch the chief judge wanted to take us to his office, to the new, under-construction courthouse and the new detention facility. Paul was a little disgusted with the trip to his office. Apparently the chief judge is quite the complainer and Paul was certain that all he wanted to do was complain about the lack of AC, the lack of new furniture and other complaints that we, as Americans, could do nothing about. With that foreknowledge, I kept cutting him short when he would raise these issues so our visit in his office was a short one.

I’ve been spoiled by the wonderful court room the 201st has. Somewhere up the US chain of command someone shook loose $10,000 to remodel the room that had been used as a court room. It’s now a beautiful room, done in dark wood paneling with brand new furniture. In contrast the 205th holds court in the judges small office with the parties sitting around the wall. Not a great set-up but one done out of necessity. So I would have thought that the judge would have been grateful for a new building. Instead all we heard was complaints.

As we drove to the new buildings my first thought was that they were a little out of the way of things and that was one of the complaints of the judge. They’re fairly isolated in a corner of the base with several acres of barren land on two sides, with the wall of the base on the other two. When I mentioned it to Paul, he pointed to the commander’s office which was not that far away, pointed to the main gate which was relatively close and said the barren spot of ground was the helo pad. With that in mind I realized the complex wasn’t all that far from things.

The judge then started complaining about how the detention facility was too close to their chambers. He said that the prisoners would yell out the windows at them and make them feel bad. Paul lost his patience and suggested that the judge exchange his uniform for a dress since he was acting like a woman.

The judges final complaint, or at least major complaint that I heard, was that because they were so isolated and with so much open land around them, the enemy could sneak in and put mines in the ground and kill the judges as they came to work in the morning. With that Paul had to excuse himself and went back to his truck as he was so disgusted with the judge. Frankly, I didn’t blame him.

For my brethren in the building community I’m sure from the pictures you’ll find the unique building practices of the court house interesting. Love the way they support the roof. I was a little leary of walking amidst all those poles and that feeling was only reinforced when one of the workers on the top level dropped something very heavy and caused the ceiling to shake.

We were there during the workers lunch and it was interesting to see what they were eating. Their main course was a watery soup of yogurt and green onions with a few cooked vegetables and naan (bread). They use the big loaves of naan as plates and then eat the bread around the things on top of the bread. They were very gracious and invited us to join them, but of course since we had just eaten we declined. I suppose the fact that I didn’t want to get sick from eating and drinking the local water/food had something to do with it.

The next day we flew out of KAF. We finally got to see the “last stand.” It’s the building where the last major fight and strong hold of the Taliban was. The building has since been converted into the passenger terminal. I overheard someone say that it was the most photographed building on post and I can understand why. It’s a small piece of history that we all wanted to document. Inside you can see in several places where the bullets hit the wall. Pretty sobering to think what had taken place within that building. Outside was a small monument built to remember those who had fought and died there. Again a sobering and quiet reminder of the bravery of our fallen soldiers as well as those who lived to fight another day.

Finally it was time to walk to the plane. As we approached from behind, the four propellers were creating a terrific wind storm. Our flight wasn’t until 1330 so it was already hot but as I entered the blast from the propellers it was like walking into a blast oven. The heat was incredible as was the force of the wind. I actually had to lean forward just to make any headway. I had a bottle of cold water in my hand and just those few minutes of walking in that heat warmed up the water considerably.

The flight back to KAIA was unremarkable as was the trip back to Phoenix. It was nice to be back in my own room with my wonderful AC.

My next trip is to Blackhorse, sort of like a home coming. Should be fun.

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