Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New Blog

I've had several people ask me if I'm going to keep up my blog. At first I said "no", figuring that once I returned home from Afghanistan no one would be interested in what we were doing. But, as I've looked back over my own blog I've realized just what a valuable tool it was in helping me track my many "adventures." It also helped me realize just how much I'd forgotten.

So I decided to not continue this particular blog but have started one that my family and I can post to. Once again, it will be a blog for my family but you, the world, will be invited to read about what we're doing.

So if you want to read about my life as a civilian as well as the thoughts and happenings of our family, check us out at:

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Final Article

We had one last article written about us in the Deseret Morning News. Here's the link:,5143,695212676,00.html

And here's the content of the article. I think our "15 minutes" is now officially over.

3 Utahns coached Afghans on laws
JAG officers tell of their challenges, progress
By Jens Dana, Deseret Morning News
Published September 24, 2007

Many members of the recently returned 1st. Corps Artillery faced hot combat against the Taliban on the battlefronts of Afghanistan during their yearlong tour of duty.

But among their ranks are three soldiers, all from Utah County, who fought against injustice on a different kind of battlefront — the courtrooms of Afghanistan.

In civilian life, Lt. Col. Robert Church, Capt. Dusty Kawai and Maj. Paul Waldron are hometown prosecutors and defense attorneys. Church works as an Orem city prosecutor, Kawai is a defense attorney with Esplin & Weight in Provo, and Waldron is a lawyer with Scribner & McCandless PC in Provo. But a year ago, they were deployed as JAG officers who trained the staff judge advocates of the Afghanistan National Army on military judicial procedures.
While the U.S. military has taken a strong hand in training the Afghan army for nearly six years, they are the first JAG officers to train the legal officers. For more than a year, the three officers challenged corruption, faced death threats, endured setbacks and saw the progress of a fledgling military judicial system in their quest to establish rule of law.

Church, Kawai and Waldron arrived in Afghanistan on Aug. 20, 2006. Originally, they were activated to work in civil affairs such as building community wells and bridges, but a JAG official reassigned them to become legal mentors in the cities of Kabul, Gudar and Kandahar.

When they arrived at their assigned bases, they soon received reports of blatant corruption among high-level Afghan officers. Many would steal military supplies, abuse young soldiers in their battalions and engage in racketeering, charging local villages "protection fees." Others were cogs in the drug-trafficking machine.

The Afghan military legal teams were eager to prosecute low-ranking soldiers for petty theft and assault, but Church was frustrated that they winked at crimes perpetrated by high-ranking officers with far-reaching political connections.

"They weren't prosecuting or investigating them," he said. "They were just accepting it as a part of the culture."

Almost immediately, the three JAG officers took a direct hand in prosecuting crooked senior officers.

Rule of law

A few months into his deployment, Kawai received reports that a battalion commander had drugged and sexually assaulted a young soldier, which, he said, is an all-too-common practice in Afghanistan. Kawai and his ANA counterpart traveled to the base where the assault reportedly happened and began looking for the soldier, who had fled to the mountains.

Three days into their search, the soldier came to them at night. He had heard they were looking for him, and his friends sneaked him onto the military base disguised in civilian clothes.
With tears in his eyes, the soldier told Kawai he intended to kill the battalion commander. In a long, desperate conversation, Kawai pleaded with the young man not to take the law into his own hands.

"Please believe we will do all we can to bring him to justice," he said. Eventually, the soldier agreed.

"But if you fail," the young man warned, "I will kill him myself."

Kawai and his ANA counterpart prosecuted the commander. They presented a mountain of physical evidence and witness testimony to prove the assault. Though the evidence was staggering, there was a chance the commander would get off free. He had many powerful friends. Parliament members with an interest in the case advised the judges to drop it.
Despite the pressure, the judges sentenced the commander to five years in prison. He appealed his sentence, but the ruling stood. Kawai said it was the first instant he's heard of any high-ranking Afghan officer being sentenced to serve time in jail for a crime.

After the sentence was handed down, Kawai asked the soldier who was assaulted if he was satisfied with the trial's outcome. The soldier, again with tears in his eyes, thanked Kawai.
"This is more than what I hoped for," he said.

As Kawai left the courtroom, throngs of young soldiers swarmed around him, anxiously asking about the trial's outcome. When he told them, they cheered. Some pulled out their cell phones. Within minutes, hundreds of soldiers knew the trial results.

"It showed the Afghans that on the horizon there is a time when the rule of law is applicable to everyone," Kawai said.

Not everyone was happy with the trial's outcome, or Kawai's aggressive mentoring style. The Afghan core commander at the base Kawai was assigned to got phone calls from Parliament demanding to know why the legal team was investigating military leaders. Close friends warned him they heard a $500 contract on his life was issued while Kawai was investigating another battalion commander.

"I knew I was creating enemies" he said. He wasn't deterred.

Letdowns, victories

His fellow JAG officers also enjoyed their share of victories, though not every case concluded with a happy ending.

Church also trained legal teams that convicted high-profile officers. While he was at the Kabul Military Training Center, two sergeants assaulted an Afghan recruit. At trial's end, one received five years in jail and the other received eight years. But he also experienced his share of high-profile letdowns.

Church and his legal team accepted the challenge of prosecuting a one-star general with an extreme penchant for violence. They had nearly 30 witness statements, including testimonies of dozens of soldiers he'd assaulted and beaten. But the general was a brilliant strategist with an ace in his hand — political allies.

"He was very good at what he did," Church said. "He was also very violent and very corrupt and very evil."

They managed to take him into custody and prosecute him, but outside forces played a strong hand. Witnesses changed their stories, others refused to testify. The judges convicted the general of a single assault charge, but he only served 52 days in jail. Church was disappointed with the ultimate outcome of the trial.

"From a theoretical point of view, the case was a success because we did an appropriate investigation," he said, "but ... he didn't get fired, he didn't get transferred. He went right back to his job."

Waldron also faced setbacks. Kandahar — a place he dubbed the Wild West of Afghanistan — is a region where the most heated combat between U.S. troops and the Taliban plays out. Afghan legal staffers were afraid to serve there.

But Waldron said the region wasn't as dangerous as it seemed. Camp Hero, the base where he was posted, was never rocketed.

"They were very poor shots," he said of enemy combatants.

Waldron tried to carry out his legal mentoring duties, but the region only had 20 percent of the required legal staff. He trained leaders and soldiers for six months before he was reassigned to humanitarian projects with the Commanders Emergency Relief program.

Despite the setbacks, Church said they saw a noticeable decrease in corruption, but the country still has a long way to go.

"With any fledgling system there's going to be bumps in the road, so our model is we're taking baby steps," he said.

Time to grow

Up until a year and a half ago, the Afghan military justice system was based on outdated Soviet codes, Waldron said. The rising generation eagerly accepts the new military justice code based on the U.S. Uniformed Military Code of Justice, but the older generation still clings to the former system.

"In many aspects, we cannot expect Afghanistan to progress too fast," he said.

In the meantime, Church said he's already seen a rising crop of courageous prosecutors, including his counterpart, Col. Kaliq.

Kaliq challenged the status quo before the U.S. JAG officers showed up.
"He's fearless," Church said.

Two months before Kaliq joined up with Church, a thug ransacked his house to pressure him into dropping an investigation against senior officers. Fortunately, he wasn't home at the time, and his 13-year-old son evaded the intruder.

The staff Kawai coached also grew into brave prosecutors over the course of a few months. When the core commander of the base would try to bully them into dropping investigations against senior officers, they insisted that the law trumped all other vested interests.
"We don't work for you," they would say. "We work for the law."

The ultimate goal of the legal mentoring system is help the Afghan people reach a point where they won't need trainers to shadow them where they go, Kawai said. It may take a while, but he's optimistic they will be able to adapt to the new military legal system.

"It's a nation of warriors," he said. "It's just going to be a matter of them embracing this new system."

Coming Home

I’ve only been home a month and I still haven’t finished my blog. I’m sure by now no one will even log on to read my final musings so this is more for posterity.

I can’t begin to describe the feelings of getting on the plane in Gulfport, MS (Camp Shelby) knowing that it was the final leg to going home, excitement being an understatement. This time being a senior officer was a disadvantage as we boarded last so I ended up sitting in a middle seat, but you know what, I didn’t mind. The senior officers had been pampered the entire trip so it was someone else’s turn and besides, it was the last leg of the journey so I could put up with the dreaded middle seat for a few hours. Because we had to get up at “zero-dark-thirty” (0330) in order to get to the airport I was actually able to sleep for the majority of the trip so that made it pass quickly.

As we began our descent into the Salt Lake Valley you could feel the excitement build inside the plane. Looking out the window I could begin to see familiar sights and that only added to the excitement. When the wheels of the plane touched down, a cheer erupted throughout the plane. We were home at last. Once again, the flight attendants were so great. They thanked us profusely for our service.

As we taxied towards the Air Guard terminal, two fire trucks greeted us with a tunnel of water, similar to what we were greeted with in Dallas. It was just as cool the second time as it was the first time.

The plane finally came to a stop about 100 yards from the actual terminal. Just as in Shelby, we had to go through the meet and greet from all the dignitaries. What an honor it was to be honored by the Generals, the Colonel’s and state officials. (Governor Huntsman was not there so sent the Lieutenant Governor instead.)

Then came the walk/run to meet my family. About half of the plane had disembarked by the time it was my turn. As I walked towards the crowd of people I was scanning the crowd looking for Luke, since he would have been the tallest of the group. I was not to be disappointed. He was there holding a sign, along with Janae, Seth, Braxton, Lyman and Donna Durfee (my –inlaws), and Dallin, Memorie, Miranda and James Durfee. They had all sorts of signs. Seth’s said “The car is mine” in reference to his dillusion that my car that he’s been driving the last year is really his and Braxton’s said “I’m taller than Mom.” Janae's was the only one expressing any kind of sentiment (OK, "I Love You" is a good sentiment, but nothing at all sentimental from the boys - go figure!) (Not a lot of pictures as they had the video camera going.)

As I embraced my wonderful wife and sons it was such a surreal experience. Of course it hadn’t really hit me that I was home, that would come much later. It seemed more like being home on leave only in the back of my mind I knew I was home for good. But still, it didn’t seem like a reality yet.

We were afraid that they were going to make us stick around to listen to the dignitaries give a speech but fortunately we were spared that “agony” and were allowed to simply go home. For once, somebody was thinking.

I’ve already written about the reception that I got at home. I still get choked up when I think of all those flags, the time that was spent putting them up and what they represented. I hated to see them come down but after several days they did. I really missed them. Before I left last year I hung a brand new flag in front of our house. As you can imagine, hanging there the entire time I was gone, it was a little bit faded, sort of like my uniforms, but proud, nonetheless. Next summer on Flag Day it will receive a proper “retirement” befitting it’s station.

I know that I should have written this when it was all fresh. Time has faded somewhat the actual feelings I had and went through but suffice it to say it was good to be home.

We got home on Thursday, Friday we spent the morning at Camp Williams going through the demobilization process. That was actually less painful than I thought it was going to be and for that I was grateful. I was done shortly after lunch and home early.

Janae had planned an Open House for me on Saturday night. I wore my “man jimmies” and with my broken tooth felt like a real Afghan. So many people made wonderful treats that I easily put on a few pounds just sampling one of everything. The best part though, were all the people who stopped by. Once again I was really humbled by the outpouring of love and friendship. With so many people coming to see me I didn’t get to spend much time with anyone in particular but figured that would happen in the coming weeks and months. It was just so great to see everyone. Janae really did a great job in planning and I’m truly grateful to her for her thoughtfulness.

So what’s it been like being home? Great, wonderful, frustrating, challenging; all those emotions. It wasn’t like being home on leave and I’m not sure why. I think because we knew that leave was for a short, finite period of time the emotions were different. This time, we knew it was for a long time, hopefully forever, so maybe that’s why it felt different. As the weeks have gone by it’s been an adjustment for all of us. Janae no longer had the entire bed to herself and had to put up with having a husband around. The boys had to fit me back into their lives and that wasn’t always easy.

Because we didn’t get home until after the boys were back in school, we never got a summer vacation. I had been saving for and planning on one for the entire deployment and to be robbed of that time together as a family was sorely disappointing. We tried to make up for it by going to Park City one day but Seth couldn’t come so while we had a good time it was not what I had wanted or expected. Some guys simply pulled their kids out of school but with Seth at the “Y”, Luke in 11th grade and Braxton in 8th, I just couldn’t do that to them. They hate making up homework, plus they didn’t want to get out of school. In fact, Luke and Braxton didn’t want to come to the airport to meet me for fear of missing school and having to make up homework. How’s that for love?

We had been briefed that we needed to be careful about our expectations. Being gone for so long you imagine what it’s going to be like, what you hope it’s going to be like and what you expect it to be like and no matter how many people tell you it’s going to be different, you don’t believe them. Well I can tell you that the briefers were right. It was not what I expected.

Your family has learned to get along without you and so it’s hard to fit back in. Your friends have moved on with their lives and while you’ll always be friends, it’s not the same as it once was. I don’t mean to sound so negative, because being home is the greatest thing, it’s jus that it’s not what I expected. See there, that expectations thing.

The first two weeks were actually pretty hard but things have gotten better. As I’ve gone back to work and have started to find my rhythm again, life is slowly feeling more normal. In fact my time spent in Afghanistan is becoming almost like a dream. I still dream about Afghanistan – what’s really weird, is that I’ve had the most vivid, memorable dreams since I’ve been home. I’ve never been one to really remember my dreams but since being home I’ve had the strangest dreams that have lingered with me for several hours after I’ve woken up. That’s another thing we were told would happen, the dreams and in some cases nightmares, so once again, the briefers have been proven right.

Let me just say though, that being home has been great despite the challenges.

So now what? Even though I haven’t written for the month I’ve been home I’ve missed writing. I’m not sure that the musings of a civilian will be of interest to anyone after this so I’m not sure what to do. I thought of creating a new blog page and writing about my life as a city prosecutor but I’ll have to give that some thought. Janae has told me that several of our neighbors who read my blog have started their own blogs. Good for them. Maybe I just need to keep writing for my own posterity. We’ll see.
In any event, I want to thank all of you have kept up with my writings and who have left comments. I’ve enjoyed the comments almost more than anything. So with that said, God Bless!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Daily Herald Newspaper Story

Our local paper, the Daily Herald, did a story on Paul, Dusty and I. It was front-page worthy and appeared on Saturday, August 25, 2007.

Here's the link:

Here's the text if you don't want to go to the link:

JAG Officers Help Spread the Rule of Law to Afghan Army

When Lt. Col. Robert Church, Capt. Dusty Kawai and Maj. Paul Waldron arrived in Afghanistan last August, the country's military justice system was in its infancy. It has not yet reached maturity, but thanks in part to the three Utah County soldier-lawyers, it is growing.
Church, of Orem, Kawai, of Pleasant Grove, and Waldron, of Springville, are members of the Utah National Guard's 1st Corps Artillery, and during a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan they worked for the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the military's legal wing. As the United States taught the Afghan National Army to fight terrorists and police its borders, the three Utahns helped teach it how to police itself.
The ANA's military justice system was enacted in late 2005, but when Church, Kawai and Waldron arrived in the country a year ago, that system was barely functioning. Western legal concepts were on the books, but were often misunderstood or simply ignored. It was the three JAG officers' jobs to mentor the prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and legal staff and teach them how to abide by the rule of law.
"There was a lot of resistance down where I was, to me, implementing the new system because the commanders would prefer to simply beat a wrongdoer with a pistol butt and throw them in a (shipping container) for a few days and let them roast in the heat than actually follow through with the military justice system," Waldron said.
Each of the three men was assigned to one of Afghanistan's five military regions, with Church in Kabul, Kawai in Gardez and Waldron in Kandahar. In Gardez, Kawai often sat in on trials and offered advice, while Waldron, whose region was not as well staffed by the ANA, didn't take part in deliberations. Church, stationed in the country's capital, spent much of his time training officers and recruits.
"We spent most of our time just trying to train the Afghan commanders on their new system, how to implement it, get the system going," Waldron said.
Oftentimes, they would be advising the defense attorney, prosecutor and judges on the same trial, making sure everyone played by the book. They didn't have any authority over their Afghan counterparts, but they did have influence. Church called this "mentoring with a big stick."
They had no authority to tell them what to do, Church said, "but they perceive that we do, therefore we wield a lot of influence with the Afghans."
The three feel they made their mark and had their share of success. When they first arrived, the country had conducted only 14 courts martial. In his region alone, Kawai oversaw 32 over the past year.
Perhaps most indicative of the changes that occurred in the military justice system during their tenure in Afghanistan is a greater willingness to go after high-ranking officers. Church took part in the trial of a brigadier general in the Afghan National Army who was accused of raping a soldier. That case succeeded, yielding a conviction of a brigadier general for the first time in the ANA's history.
Unfortunately, that general had a lot of political clout and served less than two months, but Church still feels it was a sign of progress.
"Be that as it may, we convicted a brigadier general," he said.
Waldron said the outcome wasn't always as important as how the judges and lawyers arrived there.
"Rather than getting certain results, our job was to make sure the process was proper," he said.
Of course, they still liked seeing a happy ending. Kawai helped the ANA's legal system convict a colonel to five years for sexually assaulting a soldier. That colonel was also well-connected politically and was considered a hero by many for his service in the country's war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but the sentence was handed down, despite a great deal of opposition.
"In this rape case there were soldiers waiting outside the courtroom, and when I came out they ran up to me and said, 'What happened?' " Kawai said. "I told them he got five years, and they just were all on their cell phones."
Another officer whom Kawai helped convict was running a mafia-style protection racket in the town he was in charge of, and was stealing money from his soldiers as well. Kawai said the convictions were empowering for the soldiers who had often seen their commanders act with impunity.
Not everything went as smoothly as they liked. Judges who were used to questioning the defendants themselves had to get used to the idea of letting the prosecutors do it. A prosecutor whom Kawai worked with wanted to continue a trial without witnesses, and Kawai had to emphasize the notion that a defendant has the right to face his accusers in court. And Waldron got into an argument with a judge whom he said didn't grasp the concept of relevant evidence.
"I was so angry I stood up and walked out," Waldron said.
Kawai made enough waves that he got death threats and was given a full security detail. He even avoided an assassination attempt when he spotted an improvised explosive device that had been placed in his vehicle's path on the way out of town one day.
But things are notably better off than when the three lawyers arrived, they say.
"Now that they have achieved success, I think they will be better equipped to achieve that success on their own because the pattern has been set," Church said.
Church is going back to his job as an Orem city prosecutor, Waldron will go back to the law firm Scribner & McCandless, and Kawai is leaving his former firm to be a Utah County public defender. All are happy to be home.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back and trying some cases and just advocating for my clients. I've missed that a lot," Kawai said. "I can't wait to get back into the courtroom."
But the three take pride that the rule of law means a little more in Afghanistan than it did a year ago.
"I saw a lot of progress," Kawai said. "From when we got in the country to when we left the country, there was a general greater acceptance that there are laws on the books and you have to abide by the laws. I really consider that a success story."

Haven't Forgotten

I know, I still have several entries I need to write. I'm just finding other things to keep myself busy. I promise to finish this saga in the next couple of days so check back.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Demobilizing at Shelby

As I mentioned previously, I was struck by a wall of humidity when I stepped off the plane and it never went away the 3+ days we were at Shelby. But you know what, I wasn’t wearing body armor, I wasn’t carrying any weapons and for most of the time I was in shorts and a t-shirt, so I didn’t mind as much.

There was certainly a feeling of deja vuz being back at Shelby. The senior officers and NCO’s stayed in the same place we did when we were there the first time. It would have been really weird had I gotten the exact same room but I was in a different one but I couldn’t tell when I walked in as it was the exact same layout, same furniture, same everything.

Shelby was just as beautiful. One evening I took my camera and just walked around the base. There’s a small lake on post, Walker Lake. It’s an incredibly beautiful scene, as you’ll be able to tell from the pictures. There are about 6-7 cabins around the lake that look like they would be pretty nice to stay in. That was the only thing I’d missed about Shelby was the green and beauty.

The first night in the chow hall I realized just how spoiled/blessed I had been. Food is a huge morale booster so the military does a good job of feeding their troops. You’ve already read about Friday night “surf and turf” but I don’t think I’ve mentioned just how much food was available. There were always at least two – three entres to choose from, in addition to the ever present grilled cheese sandwiches, hotdogs and hamburgers. After the entres there were vegetables, a full salad bar, a short order bar (wings, mini-pizzas, corn dogs, fries, onion rings, cheese sticks, etc.), a bar that rotated between being a potato bar, Asian food bar, Mexican, etc. and then dessert – cake, pies and usually 4-5 flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream to chose from. Yes, the possibility of getting fat was a very real threat but of course, when faced with this kind of food every day for a year you get “tired” of it and can very easily complain. (I tried very hard not to because I knew there were guys down range eating MRE’s, cooking for themselves or eating much worse.) So, coming from all that back to Shelby was quite the shock. The choice was between left over spaghetti and smashed ham sandwiches. I surveyed the slim pickin’s and decided to have salad. I walked over to the salad bar and the only choices were iceburg lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. I opted for the leftover spaghetti. All of a sudden, I was missing the chow hall at Phoenix, not missing being there mind you, just missing the vast quantity of food and choices.

Out processing was actually quite painless. I was so grateful to have gotten my hearing test done the day before as that speeded things up quite a bit. I made the smart tactical decision to hit the nursing/records review first. There was no one in line and I got through in about 3 minutes. I then went to immunization and had them sign me off – again, I had the brilliant forethought and had all my shots updated before I left Phoenix. I then went to a couple of other stations and then noticed that the line had grown considerably at the nursing station. In fact, that proved to be the bottle neck for the rest of the day so was infinitely grateful that I had gotten it out of the way.

After medical we went to another building to finish up financial, personnel and the rest of the records review. Again, the “out processing gods” were smiling upon me as I was done by 1400. I had to skip lunch to do that but it was so worth it as some guys didn’t get finished until almost 1800 that night and a few actually didn’t get finished. Because I got done so early I was able to go to the gym and then take my photo safari around the lake.

Because the next day was used to finish all the last minute details and I was done, I was able to do what I wanted. I went to the gym that morning and ran into Aaron. He said that there was a group of guys who were going to the pool later so after I worked up a sweat on the elliptical I went over to the pool for a while.

It was there that I was informed that I wasn’t done after all. Turns out that there was a problem with one of my documents that while an inconvenience was fixed without too much problem.

The rest of the day was spent anticipating the flight home the next day. That night I went out to dinner with a bunch of other guys and had a great time. Since we had to muster at 0330 the next morning I didn’t stay up too late watching TV.

All in all, demobing proved to not be as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Flags on My Street

(Note: this is chronologically out of order but I wanted to get it posted so I could thank Janae and Lisa and everyone else who put this welcome home together.)

A friend of mine from Camp Phoenix, a Navy Lieutenant Commander who is a school teacher in Sandy, Utah, returned home about 8 weeks ago. I was talking with her replacement and I was told that when she drove down her street, the ward had put flags in every yard lining her street, the neighbors were out waving and the Scouts were in uniform saluting her as she drove up. As I heard about this welcome home she received I was so impressed by the thoughtfulness of her neighbors. I thought it would be cool to have something similar happen but never imagined it would, mostly because our ward and Scouts don’t have the flags.

Well you can imagine my surprise when I turned down my street and saw flags lining the street. Every house had a flag in its yard and some had two. As I turned into our cul-de-sac, my house had 15 flags in front; lining the sidewalk, the driveway and across the front. There was a big banner on one of the fences that said “Welcome Home LTC Robert Church.”

I can’t even begin to describe the feelings and emotions that went through me. As I said I never expected anything like this so to have all those flags out was such a wonderful surprise. I felt incredibly honored. To see all those flags rustling in the morning breeze really choked me up. I thought of the past 15 months and the sacrifices I and my family have made. I thought of the freedom that those flags represented. I thought of all the men I had met and worked with in Afghanistan and the freedoms they were fighting to ensure for their families and country. I then thought of all the men and women that I had left behind who are carrying on the mission and I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude to them and the countless others who have served and who will continue to serve.

Janae told me about the flags. She said that she had wanted to get them up but was starting to feel overwhelmed with everything she wanted and needed to get done before I got home. She said that about a week before I got home, her friend, Lisa e-mailed her. She said that Lisa said that she felt like she wanted to do this for her, for me, for us and was e-mailing to ask Janae if it would be alright. Of course that was an answer to Janae’s prayer. So Lisa got permission from the neighboring ward to borrow their flags. She organized a work party to get them put up in time for my arrival back home. So to Lisa and everyone else who helped put them up, Thank you!! I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see all those flags.

Janae had ordered the sign last fall. There was actually another one out on 1600 N. but I was too busy talking to see it when we drove past it.

So here are a bunch of pictures taken shortly after I got home. I didn’t have the neighbors lining the street since it was the middle of the day but I did have a bunch of neighbor children who were home and just getting home from school who came up to greet me. It was a lot of fun to see them and see just how much they had grown over the last 15 months. I must admit I could get used to the "hero worship" thing - kidding!!!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Flight to Shelby

(I've been home for three days now so my desire to "blog" has waned but in an effort to finish out this history of my deployment I will log the events of the trip home.)

Our flight out of Manas took place on the 19th. Once again we had to go into lockdown but fortunately this time, it wasn't for as long as the flight crew was ready to fly before our scheduled departure time.

We flew from Manas to Baku, Georgia. It was about a six hour flight during which I slept the entire time. For you James Bond afficionados, "The World is Not Enough" was filmed there. I was hoping to get off the plane so I could say I've been there. At first we were not going to be allowed to deplane but because it was going to be a 2.5 hour layover they let us off - but only under "guard." They weren't military guards - or maybe they were but were just wearing civilian clothes. Unfortunately the airport was nothing exciting. I did get my picture taken, me and the Super Heroes, in front of a caviar advertisement just so I could prove that I'd been there. I then took pictures of our group in the lobby but one of the "uniformed" guards came over and wagged his finger at me. At least he didn't confiscate my camera.

The next leg took us to Shannon, Ireland. Same place we flew through on our way to Afghanistan. From Shannon we flew to JFK in New York. As soon as we flew into US airspace and flew into Maine, the pilot let us know where we were and you could hear lots of guys cheering. Then when we landed on New York, the cheers once again rose throughout the cabin.

It was so cool to walk around JFK and finally be in America where everything was familiar. I got a bowl of clam chowder and a roll and it was delicious. Disappointingly the food on the plane was pretty bad this trip. Oh, and did I mention that there was no first class seating for the senior officers? I couldn't believe the inconvenience of the whole thing. Ha, ha.

We finally flew into Shelby, arriving around 1100. And just as I knew would happen, as soon as I stepped from the door of the plane was hit by a wall of humidity. Yuck.

BG Wilson and an entourage of officers and senior enlisted had flown to Shelby to greet us and that was cool. SGT Aaron's parents who are serving a mission in the area were also there to greet us and it was nice to meet them.

It took us 26 hours to get to Shelby but it was so worth it to finally be at the final stage before we actually got to go home. As much as I didn't like Shelby the first time around, I was glad to be back.

Photos - KAIA, Traveling, etc.

Pictures From Manas

The "tent" we slept in.

The reason for the orangeishness to the picture is the sunlight coming through the canvas covering.

The chow hall.

Inside the chow hall.

The base chapel.

Inside the gym. The same orange hue is do to the fact that it is inside a tent as well.

The building that housed the computer and phone room.

The Manas International Airport.

Old Friends

Remember how I said that I got to bed around 0515 on Wednesday morning? Well I was woken up around 1100 that morning to the sound of lots of talking. As I lay there listening to the conversations around me it was obvious what was happening. Old friends were being reunited. If I didn'tmention it, the guys from Kandahar, down south in Afghanistan, had arrived in Manas two days before we did. Most of us had not seen these guys the entire year so it was the first time that we had all been together.

It was great to see old friends. Of course the main topic of conversation were the adventures of the last year. Listening to some of these guys tell their stories raised the hair on the back of my neck.

A couple of my friends stopped by my bunk (I still hadn't gotten out of bed yet) and shared their experiences. Since you already know my boring stories let me share the highlights of what I was hearing. I was amazed at the number of fire fights some of these guys were in. I know it wasn't as often as it seemed as I listened to them tell their stories, but it seemed like it was an every day occurrence. It was interesting to listen to them comment how small arms fire directed towards the convoy was not seen as a big deal.

One of my friends said that when the Taliban would start shooting with their AK 47's, he would just get a little bit lower inthe turret. He explained that the Taliban were not very good shots so after time they just figured that the only real precaution was to just hunker down a bit lower. RPG's (rocket propelled grenades) on the other hand, were cause for taking more evasive maneuvers. Apparently the sound they make is much more intimidating than an AK47 - I would imagine so, and as you can imagine, does quite a lot more damage. One of our guys had over 50 confirmed kills. What a sobering thought and to listen to them tell their stories, it was in a days business. War is ugly and death occurs but to listen to someone tell of the firefights, of returning fire, of seeing an enemy fall to the ground as the result of you pulling the trigger, seemed completely surreal, at least for someone who has never had that experience. know that this particular soldier is not alone in having that many confirmed kills. There are a number of our guys with similiar experiences. I can only wonder and imagine what it was like but am grateful not have gone through those experiences.

A friend of mine was telling me that the philosopy of the ANA is that just because the enemey runs out of bullets does not mean that they are surrendering. He said that he asked about that after one particular brutal firefight. He said he knew that the enemy had run out of ammunition first but there were no prisoners taken. He said that's when the ANA made the comment. He said he never personally witnessed the finishing off of the enemy but that it was obviously taking place.

I was told that the Taliban were extremely good at pretending to be dead or wounded. My friend said that you could shoot in the ground near them, kick dirt in their faces, do all manner of things designed to get them to move and they wouldn't. He said that their hope was that you would get too close so they could attack you. I could only imagine the training the Taliban must have gone through to become so disciplined. Scary thought.

I heard lots of stories about ambushes; on both sides. One guy said that they were proceeding up a valley when they ran into an ambush. He said that he and one other gunner were returning fire in two different sectors of fire. He said that he looked in between his and the other gunner's position said that time slowed down, just like in the movies. He said that as he was reorienting his weapon to engage the Taliban he saw the Taliban squeeze the trigger and watched the grenade coming towards his position. The enemy overshot their position, that it flew overhead and impacted quite some distance from their position but like I said before, as I listended to the story, it raised the hair on the back of my neck; not just from the story itself but from the nonchalant way in which the story was told.

In one instance an exchange of observers was taking place. Two uparmored vehicles had remained behind and the rest of the convoy had left. He said they got word that they had come under attack so quickly left their position to support the convoy up ahead of them. He said as they arrived on scene they saw several Taliban run towards their motorcylces in an attempt to escape and once again, very matter of factly described "taking out" the enemy. Again, these stories reflected common occurrences that some of my friends experience all throughout the year.

I'm sure after this gets posted I'll remember other stories and maybe will compile a list to post later but as I listened I realized that my legal stories had nothing on these guys. Of course my mission was completely different than theirs and the success I achieved was very different than theirs but there was a part of me that wished my mission had been a little more exciting. I know there are many of you out there that are grateful that I was not involved in any of these kinds of incidents, me being one of them, but I don't know that you can fully understand the feeling of thinking "I wish that had been me, just once" unless you've been here. I can't explain it but maybe it's the fact that I've been in a combat zone and didn't see a single day of combat. I know, that should be a good thing but still...Call me crazy.

Final Afghan Thoughts

I forgot to mention in the other post about our time at KAIA (KabulAfghanistan International Airport) that we turned in the plates for our IBA(Individual Body Armor). After we turned in our plates we packed our IBA vests and kevlar helmets for shipment home. That was weird.
After carryingaround those 20lb plates it was such a weight off my shoulders, literally. It was almost symbolic as well. We no longer had the weight of the deployment hanging on our shoulders. It was pretty cool.

Well we ended up sitting at KAIA for almost 11 hours before we left. Originally our flight was supposed to leave at 1300 but that got delayeduntil 2045. In the military's infinite wisdom, we had to be back at the departure tent at 1700 where we went into lockdown. Unfortunately chow didn't start until 1715. Heaven forbid that they delay the report time for 30 mintues so we could eat but that would make too much sense. So darn it, I had to order a pizza which actually wasn't too bad. Lock down consisted of sitting in a stuffy tent until it was time to boardthe plane. Remember the 2045 departure time, well that's when the first wave of soldiers was taken to the plane. I ended up in the second wave and it was almost 40 minutes before the bus returned to take us to the plane. As I walked on our pallets hadn't even been loaded yet. Becuase there were over 80 of us travleing there were 10 pallets to be loaded. We each had 1-2 black boxes along with 1-2 duffel bags, hence the 10 pallets. I'm not sure why the plane wasn't loaded before hand but it wasn't. Anyway, it took another hour to get the plane loaded but we finally took off at 2130.

As we were getting close to leaving the tent the thought occurred to me thatwe were in our last hour in Afghanistan. What a cool thought. I thought about all the Afghan's I'd met and wondered what will happen. I hope that the foundation we've laid will get them through the coming years. I know that they have good mentors following us so I'm not too worried.

I sat next to Trooper on the plane. A few minutes later a Navy LCDR boarded. As she walked past us she commented that her boots were no longeron the ground. "Boots on the ground" is just what it sounds like. It's also the phrase used to describe the length of your tour. Ours was one year "boots on the ground." Most units have never made it to a year but by the time we leave Manas we will literally have 12 months "boots on the ground." Lucky us.

About an hour into the flight Tropper turned to me and said, "Do you knowwhere we are?" I immediately responded, "Not in Afghanistan." We both laughed. Since it was so dark out I didn't bother looking our the window in the door but Trooper called me over. He said to press my face up to the window and look straight out. As I did I saw the Big Dipper straight across from us. It was a really cool sight. After about a 90 minute flight we landed in Manas Krygzstan (sp). This is where we flew through on our way here so it seemed fitting to be backtracking the same way that we came. As I stepped off the plane I was struck by the smell of grass. What a great smell. It was also quite cool, at least compared to Afghanistan. It was such a welcome feeling. They are 90 minutes ahead in time from Afghanistan so it was almost 0130 inthe morning. If you're asking why 90 minutes and not 60 or 120 I can't answer that. For some reason Afghanistan is 30 minutes off. I'm sure I could Google to find the answer but never got around to it. It was just one of those quirky things about Afghanistan. It took almost another 2.5 - 3 hours before we got our bags so most of us went to the chow hall to get something to eat.

Remember that Manas is in a"hazardous duty" zone, just like Afghanistan and Iraq which means that those serving here are entitled to the hazardous duty extra pay that I've been getting this last year. Anyway, as we walked into the chow hall, there to meet us was the MWR(morale, welfare and recreation) poster advertising all the off-base excursions people could go on; tours, golf, sight seeing, etc. Aaron pointed it out to me and we just shook our head that the service members serving here were entitled to hazardous duty pay. Life's just not fair.

Finally our bags arrived and we filed off to our tents. We're staying next to where we were last year. Finally at 0515 I crawled into bed to get a few hours sleep.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

We're Going Home

Tomorrow is the day!!! I can't beleive that it's finally here. After 1.5 days of outprocessing we're finally done and ready to go home. We'll be landing at the Air National Guard slab at the SLC airport sometime tomorrow morning before noon. By now all the families should know. I can't believe that after 12 monts in Afghanistan and the 2.5 months before that spent here at Shelby are finally done. Looking back it seems like such a dream. Of course there were moments that the dream was a nightmare but fortunately those moments are fading into the background.

I could go on and on about how great it will be to see my family tomorrow but I'm sure you can imagine what's going through my mind right now. Words really can't adequately express the thoughts and feelings right now.

So with that said, I'm off to put my laundry in the dryer, go to our final formation to get the last minute news and then figure out what to do my last night at Shelby.

See you all tomorrow!!

New Entries

The computers in the computer lab would not let me access my blog page, hence no postings for over a week. However, I sent several entries home via e-mail and will post them over the next few days so check back to seeh what our week at Manas was like as well as our time here at Shelby outprocessing. I'll also be posting pictures so check back in a few days.