Saturday, July 28, 2007

Monkey Butt

As many of you know, in hot climates where you get a little damp and sticky in certain places that we don't discuss in public or at least "civilized" people don't discuss such subjects, there are powdery products out there designed to keep you nice and dry and rash free. Such powdery substances come in various names, "baby powder," "medicated powder" and now "Monkey Butt Powder." Someone sent this to one of the guys in our office and as you can imagine, us not being very civilized, we have gotten some mileage out of this product.

So in my continuing effort to chronicle my "adventures" here, you are now all official members in the Monkey Butt Powder club.

Nope. No monkey butt down there!

I told you I wasn't civilized!!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Faces of Afghanistan

Here are some more "faces of Afghanistan." These were taken by LCDR Steven Parks down in Kandahar. Thanks for sharing.

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.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Another Sabbath at Blackhorse

Once again, after a very long time, I was able to spend a wonderful Sabbath evening at Blackhorse. I had forgotten just how much I missed attending church with my friends and brethren from Utah. Don't get me wrong, the guys at Phoenix are great and we have wonderful meetings but they're not my family. Tonight I was with my family again. Brother Stewart conducted and it was great to hear him. In attendance were Brother Topham, Brother Duncan, Brother Brocious, Brother Fagan, Brother Bingham, Brother Neff, Brother Austin, Brother Pack, Brother Palfreyman, Brother Christensen and me.

I have been having computer problems - again - this time with my government computer, so was trying to make alternate arrangements right before church, so I walked in a few minutes late. The meeting hadn't started yet but I was the last one there. It was so great to see so many brethren in the room.

I had the privilege of blessing the sacrament with Brother Topham and blessed the bread and passed the water. What an honor that always is.

Unlike the past, I didn't lead the singing. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but I lead the singing quite often and then afer a while, Brother Jonas and I took turns. Now I play the Clavinova at Phoenix and that's been great, although the sustain pedal is broken and that drives me crazy.

Anyway, after the sacrament, Brother Austin gave a wonderful talk. He said that Brother Stewart asked him two weeks ago to speak. He said that not a day went by where he didn't think about what to speak on but couldn't decide. He said he kept wishing and praying that the Holy Ghost would simply tell him what to speak on or that someone would assign him a topic but nothing came. He said that he was going to give a talk that he had prepared a couple of months ago but never gave because of a mission he volunteered to go on but said he just couldn't get his mind wrapped around the topic. He then had mentioned how he had been going through the Ensigns and kept coming back to Elder Eyring's talk in the June Ensign about the Holy Ghost. He said that he finally realized that the Holy Ghost was telling him what to talk about and if the Holy Ghost had had a hammer, his head would be in much worse condition. We all got a chuckle out of that.

He talked about how there have been times during the deployment where he has felt the spirit and other times when he hasn't. I could certainly relate to that. At times my spirituality has been like on a roller coaster. Some days and weeks I'm riding high and some weeks I'm plummeting down rapidly. I guess the key is to always climb back up the hill.

He talked about what we need to do to receive the spirit. Again, as I listened to his words and the spirit of his message I thought back on this year. I have learned so much about myself and about the Spirit. There have been times when I have been on my knees pleading with the Lord for his guidance. There have been times when I have felt the tears well up in my eyes because of the sorrow I've felt as well as the joy. I have received answers to prayers in ways that I never imagined. I have gained a testimony of the Fast. I have renewed my testimony of the Book of Mormon. I have learned what it means to have the Spirit with me.

There were times when Brother Austin had tears in his eyes. I could feel and share in the emotions he was going through. I'm sure we all could. He said that at one point in his preparation he thought he wanted to give a talk that would let us all know how spiritual he was but as he pointed out, Elder Eyring teaches us that you can't have the Holy Ghost under those circumstances. The funny thing was, Brother Austin had the Holy Ghost with him tonight and we could all feel of his love of the Lord and the spiritual power that he possesses. I know I could feel it and was certainly grateful to have been there.

Brother Stewart got up to conclude and testified that the Spirt has been with us this year. He certainly has. He said that the men, both Afghan and American, have noticed a difference. Again I know that to be true. We truly have performed a mission for the Lord here and I will always be grateful for the time I've spent here. Of course I have missed my family tremendously but at the same time, this has been a great learning experience.

Tonight would have been the first Sunday that Team 2 was at Phoenix. Remember, Team 2 was my team at Shelby and the guys that I have spent the majority if the year with here at Blackhorse before my transfer. I love them all and was sad that I missed that first meeting after beig at Phoenix for the last couple of months but at the same time, I'm so glad to have been here tonight.

It was truly a spiritual feast.

Thanks Brother Ausing!!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hot Like Me

A couple of weeks ago our legal NCO, SGT Martha Dawn Bodie, showed me a calendar she just received. It was called something like “Men in the Military.” As she showed me a couple of the pictures I could immediately tell that some of these guys were not in the military, mostly because of their hair – long and shaggy. So I grabbed the calendar and a couple of us went through month by month and gave our opinion as to whether or not they were actually in the military or not. Turns out most of the guys on the calendar were once in the military but no longer. Somehow it was decided that I would be Mr. June in her calendar but that’s as far as the discussion went. Anyway, we got a good laugh out of “eye candy” non-military guys calendar.

When I got back from Kandahar, this calendar page was on my computer. What do you think? “doncha wish your boyfriend (husband) was hot like me?”
Me and Martha Dawn.

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.


Kandahar is just as hot as I thought it would be. I think it’s been around 105+ degrees every day. It can get up to 115 and even hotter but fortunately it hasn’t gotten there yet.

Our first day of class as I was proposing the schedule, which included afternoon sessions, the Afghans immediately protested. They said that they would rather start early and end by noon to avoid the heat in the class room. This week we’re teaching in ANA land so the buildings have no AC. So it was agreed that we would start at 0700 every day and end by noon. It’s actually worked out OK. Granted the afternoons can get a little long with not a lot to do but so far we’ve filled them with they gym, “force regeneration” and strolling along the boardwalk.

Here on Camp Hero there is a huge area that is surrounded by a covered boardwalk. In the center is a soccer field, small roller-blade arena, and volleyball pit. On the boardwalk are various fast-food places; a Canadian donut shop - "Tim Hortons" aka "deadman's donuts", Korean snack bar, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Burger King. There are also several Afghan shops selling various items, a sew shop, embroidery shop as well as a restaurant just off the boardwalk. It’s actually pretty nice.

The base even has it’s own waste reclamation plant. The first night we were here I asked Paul what that terrible smell was and he said it was the “poo pond” or “bamboo pond.” It’s the water/waste reclamation plant that has bamboo growing in it and it’s about 100 yards or so down the road from his room – where we’re staying. He offered to take us down to see it but of course we declined. The smell was enough of a tour.

This part of the country is the “hot spot” in terms of Taliban fighting. This is the area where Scott Lundell was killed, where road side bombs are a regular occurrence as well as small arms fire. Paul says that when they first got here there were regular rockets being fired over the camp but none that actually landed inside the wire. He says that they will get high ranking officers down here routinely so that they can say that they’ve been where all the fighting is, despite not going outside the wire, so now I too can say that I’ve been down here where all the fighting is taking place. Actually I have never gone outside the wire so haven’t really been in any danger and so far no rockets have flown overhead so in reality my time spent in the danger zone has been rather quiet.

This was one of the last areas where the Taliban were and because of the airfield here it was heavily bombed. You can still see bombed buildings as well as craters in the road. Paul keeps meaning to point out one of the last buildings they occupied but hasn’t and I’ve forgotten to ask. Maybe tomorrow.

Kandahar itself is flat and barren. I’m sure there are fields somewhere but I haven’t seen any. The wind has been blowing so a fine dust is always in the air. It lends a distinct haze to the horizon as well as wrecks havoc with my eyes and throat.

KAF (Kandahar Air Field) is made up of coalition forces. The predominant countries here are Canada, Britain, and Denmark – the “Tri-Lat” (tri-lateral). Other countries that are represented here are Australia, German, Danish, Romanian, Bulgarian, French, Jordanians, Czechs, Portugese, Spanish, Italians, Belgians, Polish, and Paul can’t remember any more. So you can see it’s very much a coalition down here. Once again the coalition DEFACs (dining facilities) are very European. I’ve loved the bread and cheese and have eaten more than I should but it’s so good and nothing like we can get at Phoenix.

KAF is a hug base, despite what Paul says. The drive to ANA land takes almost 15 minutes, but to be honest, a lot of that is due to really bad roads. The gym, MWR (morale, welfare and recreation – phones, computers, game/movie room, etc.) and boardwalk are all centrally located. The PX is a little bit of a walk but not too bad. It’s a much more pleasant experience here than at Bagram Air Field (BAF).

Well that’s about it for Kandahar. It’s late so when I read this tomorrow I might think of other things to talk about but for now that’s it.

Tomorrow is our last day of class and graduation. The SJA down here has invited us to his office for lunch and Paul says it will be delicious – naan (bread), rice, kabobs, pudding, watermelon and a few other things so I’ll definitely have something to write about then.

Continuing Adventure of Trying to Get to Kandahar

After I finished the last entry we ate dinner at the Air Force One cafe in the passenger terminal while we waited for our flight. As I was watching Battlestar Galactica on my computer I was eating a Starburst. All of a sudden I felt something hard in the candy. My first thought was that it was something in the candy and then I realized that it was a tooth. I had pulled off a crown. As I pulled the crown out of my mouth and felt the hole that was left in my mouth I was startled to feel no real tooth there. Long story short it was a tooth that had cracked and then broken off. When my dentist and friend, Dr. Craig, put the crown on there wasn’t much of a tooth left. When I finally got to see the dentist in Kandahar he confirmed my fears – not only had the crown come off but it had broken off most of the remaining tooth. He said it was a miracle that the crown had stayed on for as long as it did. He said that my only real options left were to have a gold post drilled into the remaining tooth and have the crown reattached but he said the same problem would exists – not enough tooth left. He said the real option and permanent option, would be to have the root extracted and have an implant put in. I’d then have to wait 3-6 months for the bone to grow around the implant, then I could go back in and have a tooth put back in. I thought “I can do that.” “I’ve got great dental insurance at work” and mentioned the fact. He then said that most dental insurances in the states don’t cover implants. My heart sunk a notch. I then asked how much the procedure cost and he said around $2,500 – 3,000. My heart plummeted at the thought of all that money. I suppose I could live with a gap in my teeth. It’s not that noticeable as it’s further back in my mouth. But then I’m not sure my pride will let me live with it but I’m not sure my wallet can afford it. So with that said, I’m setting up a charitable foundation where you can all send me donations to “fix my smile”. OK, not really but now I have to figure out some way to pay for it.

The dentist said there was a remote chance the military would take care of it. The only drawback, as I understand it, is that I would remain on active duty for the duration of the procedure and I’m not sure I want to do that. I know other guys who have had major medical issues, like this one, who have been sent to some Army base, no where near their home, and basically sit around as they get their issues resolved. Not something I really want to do so I’m back to paying it for myself. Oh well, decisions, decisions.

OK, update since I wrote this and before I post it. Things are looking up for the military to take care of it without having to go to some Army base. It could be that I can return to my civilian life and have Tre-Care take care of the cost of the repair. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Kandahar - The Pictures

Thanks to MAJ Satriano and LCDR Steve Parks (the PAO - public affairs officer in Kandahar) for several of the pictures.

Nick and I on the plane to Kandahar.
Welcome to Kandahar.

First day of class.

Nick, Azim, Paul, Nadir, Me

Didn't I do a good job on the certificates?
The nearly completed court house.

The "under construction" detention facility.
Me and Superman at the construction site.

The construction workers having lunch.

Young Afghan construction worker.

Lunch of kabobs, meatballs, rice, fruit, bread and pudding after the last day of class.

The Warrior, asleep, holding onto his belovedM4.

Scenes from the "boardwalk."

The Taliban "last stand" - the last building they occupied.
Looking inside.

Bullet holes in the mortar.

It's now the passenger terminal for military flights out of Kandahar.