Monday, August 31, 2009


One thing that has not diminished in twenty years since my first long deployment is the power of mail on morale. Imagine my suprise when I went to the mail room and came out hauling 3 boxes and a post card! Every day with mail like this is Christmas.

I would like to thank my Dear Love Tricia for the box from home. It even had cards from each of the kids inside. Very Nice. Now I can also continue to work on my bedside manner with the next episodes from "House".
Thank you to my VMI Roomie and Best BR Nat and his bride Lori. We live a somewhat communal life in the B-huts here, so it was nice to be able to share snacks with my hutmates since they have already shared with me, a lot.
Finally thank you to Bill, Sue and your Church. Everything you sent will be used and appreciated. Thank you for your thoughts and goods.
Now I like to use some of the modern communications as well. But even in this digital communication age or cell phones, blogs, email, and so forth; There is still something undeniably human and touching in getting mail.
Thanks Again,

Sunday, August 30, 2009

88 Lbs

Today we went out on a Mounted Patrol so that I could visit with my Afghan counterpart in addition to many other tasks. Thankfully the movement there and back was uneventful. Like our previous meetings we had a productive and cordial time. We are working towards a combined training class similiar to the Combat Life Saver program that the US Army has used for several years. We both look forward to Afghan personnel taking over the teaching of this type of class for the benefit of the Police in the Northern Region. We also made progress on several other more mundane topics. It is always a pleasure to visit with him.

I conducted a scientific experiment today as well. I weighed myself in my full combat uniform with weapons, ammunition, Body Armor, helmet and Medical Aid Bag. After we returned to base I weighed myself without all the gear. The difference was a staggering 88 pounds! No wonder I feel wiped out and have no desire to exercise today. I have been carrying the equivalent of a small child on my back all day! I also learned that I have lost a few pounds myself with all the good exercise I get here.

The photos are more of the veiw from the back while we were travelling.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Range is Hot

It seems that I hear a lot about the range from our loudspeaker system on Camp. It is either "hot' and people are shooting on it or it is 'cold' and firing has now ceased. The announcements can come day or night at any hour. With all of the Afghan and Coalition forces training it gets used a good bit. Well today I got to make the range hot.

Today was our day on the range. It was a little bit of a hassle to arrange everything, but I finally got out to zero my sights again. The wind and dust made it a little challenging. I found that the scope on my M-4 was off, but the old iron sights were right on target. I spent a lot of time monitoring the safety of the range, but it was still fun. There were so few of us that we were able to fire a lot of rounds in many different positions. A good day all around. Luckily we brought our own boxes to use as targets. Some of them were literally blown in two by the time we were done. Hopefully these will be the only shots I will fire in Afghanistan.
Now to spend all of Jumaa cleaning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Gator and Abr-haa

I got to do something useful and fun today. After all the work related emails and reports were done I helped our interpreter pick up some items to assist with the training we do with our Afghan friends. I could have walked out to the gate to help him carry it back, but he assured me it was quite heavy. That and it is Ramadan so he had not had anything to eat or drink since about 0400 in the morning. I thought it best to go and borrow a Gator.

A Gator is a John Deere 6 wheeled diesel small cargo utility truck for use on base. It is quite handy for moving large amounts of luggage, multiple coolers filled with vaccines, or anything else that is heavy and/or bulky. In true military style you must be trained and have a license to operate this complex and powerful vehicle. So having gone through the mandatory training which involved driving in a circle and backing into a parking area, I have a license to operate the Gator. It gets so many looks from our Afghan friends that I almost feel like I am driving a convertible Mercedes. Although to be honest the performance is more like a slow and cranky golf cart. Still it is better than carrying all that stuff.

Today was also notable for a strange presence in the sky. Upon awakening and heading out for the shower building I saw some fluffy white and grey things in the sky. They were of course clouds or Abr-haa in Dari. I had seen only one or two flimsy whispy examples of this meteorological phenomenon in my 2 months here. But today the entire sky was filled with clouds and the temperature was blessedly cool.

Thank God for clouds. Who knows there might even be rain next month?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Guard and Counterinsurgency

I am an extreme minority here at Camp Spann. I am a full time active duty service member. There are very few of us in the Northern Region at least. The bulk of forces and units for the US here are either National Guard or Reservists.

I have learned more than a few things about the Guard on this mission. My preconceptions about the National Guard were formed in small town Mississippi. The Armory was a frequent place for Boy Scout camping outings or dances. The Guardsmen were for the most part were not folks you would want in your proximity with many high-powered weapons. It seemed like hunters deer-camp training instead of a true military venture. Well a lot has changed.

Nowadays the Army National Guard is now more a true Reserve of the Army. Since 2001 Governors have basically passed control of their units to the DOD and president. The unit I am here with now has been deployed for 12-15 months every 3 years or so since 2001. That is quite a commitment for a citizien-soldier. They have very good gear, have gone through some good training prior to deploying, and have done it all before.

One of my roomates and I were talking about the merits of the Guard specifically for this type of mission. Now don't get me wrong- if the goal is to close with and destroy an enemy- a young active duty 19-21 year old is the best choice for putting as much lead as possible downrange to win the day. But this is a thinking man's conflict. Counterinsurgency has been called the Graduate level of warfare- since it is so much more than shooting at bad guys. So having a Guard specialist who may be 20, 30 or even 40 years old and has had siginificant life experience may be a better choice. They are more apt to question why a certain person is doing something or acting a certain way before choosing to fire on them. I still find them to be very professional and dedicated to their fellow Guardsmen, some of which have served alongside each other for 20 years in the same unit. Granted that every unit has some areas to improve, but overall I agree with my roomate that the Guard is a good selection for this job.

Quiz and Waffles

T0days topic is Morale. There are many programs used to keep spirits up around here. The Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) committees on all Armed Forces facilities have many opportunities for troops to get together to have a little fun. Our MWR has video game, dominoes, chess, basketball, spades and other tourniments frequently. The gyms on the camp are also funded in part by MWR. One truly multinational MWR event on our Camp is 'Quiz and Waffles Night'

Camp Spann is essentially split into a US (ARSIC) and OMLT (NATO) side. The NATO side is populated by soldiers from the various NATO countries who are mentoring ANA units throughout the northern region. We eat in the same chow hall and use the same gyms, but otherwise there isn't a whole lot of interaction.

Quiz and Waffles is held on the OMLT side of the camp, where US forces are rarely authorized to go. The concept for Quiz and Waffles is simple. The losing team from last week makes a quiz for the next week and comes early to make waffles for all who attend. Teams are chosen ad hoc and usually do better if there is at least one European member. The quizzes have covered everything from Billboard top 100 songs, to Michael Jackson trivia, national capitals, history, medical topics etc. It is a great opportunity to get together with folks you don't normally see to talk and get to know them. The waffles are great as well. They are made from a sweet batter Norweigan recipe that results in a waffle similiar to the picture which does not need syrup. There is some interesting brown Norweigan cheese which tastes slightly of nuts or some jam to put on as a topping. It seems like the event is primarily a German, US, Norweigan, Swede and Croat endeavor. Thankfully my team has done well both times I have attended, so I will be eating waffles next week instead of making them.

A hearty thanks to our NATO allies for sponsoring this fun and wholesome get together.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Afghan National Elections and Ramadan

I have been anticipating the arrival of this day since about mid April. That is when I figured out that I would be present in Afghanistan during this historic day. It is a day that the Afghan people and allies of ISAF(International Security Assistance Force) have been planning for a long time as well. A lot hangs on the results of this day. It remains to be seen how many Afghans will be brave enough to risk actually going to the polls and then voting. This is a land steeped in retribution, so lack of loyalty to one's family, tribe or region can have direct and dire consequences. Please remember the Afghan Security forces who are protecting the polling areas, roads and crowds today. Please also remember the US and Coalition forces who are working with or assisting the Afghans in their lofty goal of obtaining a nonbiased and democratic vote.

The 22nd of August heralds the start of Ramadan. In this country, which is the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ramadan is a very important month. We had the ANA Corps Cultural Advisor- ie Mullah, come and give us a lecture on Ramadan last week. Ramadan is the Muslim holy month of fasting in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, sexual conduct, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured; from sunrise to sunset. Fasting is meant to teach patience, modesty and spirituality. Per our lecturer it makes people more understanding of the plight of the poor and motivates believers to give alms and perform good deeds. It certainly will make our mentoring mission interesting. While not directly forbidden, it is considered in very poor taste to eat or drink in the presence of a muslim who is fasting during Ramadan. Productive earthly work also tends to decrease as muslims are fasting and devoting more time to prayer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Afghan Independence Day

Afghanistan has two Independence Days. One from Britain and one from the USSR. The 19th of August is Independence from Britain Day, commemorating the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919. It is odd that Britain never really conquered Afghanistan, yet they memorialize this day. Afghanistan is one of the few countries on the planet that withstood the might of the three British Empire campaigns without being conquered.

The Afghan people have always highlighted that their country will never be conquered by any invading force.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Clinic

Two days ago we took a little trip to meet with our counterparts at the ANP Regional level. The main purpose of the visit was to tour and get an understanding about how the new ANP Regional HQ clinic would be used. The building is new, nice with adequate facilities. It is a great improvement over their current situation. We will be working very closely with the Regional Medical Director (far right) and his staff to get them situated in this new facility. We also had a great meeting afterwards and worked through various

issues with ambulances, medical training, logistics and much more. Afterwards we also visited with the clinic on the ANP recruit training center and gave a class on hypertension diagnosis and treatment. Much like our first set of encounters with the ANP Medical folks, the meetings were cordial, productive and appreciated. Perhaps in a few months I can show you how the clinic looks when it is in use. Another productive day doing the job I was actually sent here to accomplish. Yeah.

The view from the back

The elections are close at hand in Afghanistan so everyone is a little tense and dreading a potential increase in violence. Ramadan will start after that. For these reasons I have been out recently a few times to meet, mentor and interact with ANP medical personnel. Luckily I have been able to get out and do what I was sent to do. Now I just need to get better seating. Sightseeing is limited while strapped in a passenger seat in an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protection) vehicle. The MRAPs are large, noisy, slow- but they do have excellent Airconditioning and are the safest way to travel by road in Afghanistan. Per guidance from leadership, no photos of an MRAP, sorry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Navy Jack

I must admit that I was a little taken aback when I started this mission, since the Navy had us wear Army uniforms. I mean, every other service has its own distinctive combat uniforms. The Navy is still wearing old style desert cammoflage utilities in certain spots of the world.
Well thankfully I feel vindicated to some degree now that the Navy has authorized those of us wearing Army Combat Uniforms (ACU's) to wear the Navy Jack on our left arm.
The Navy Jack is the earliest flag of the United States Navy. A red and white striped flag with a rattlesnake and the motto "Don't Tread on Me!". Usually this particular jack was only to be flown from the bow of the oldest Navy vessel on active service when secured at anchor or pierside, but since 31 May 2002 the Secretary of the Navy directed all US Navy Ships to fly this flag for the duration of the War on Terrorism. Thus it is an altogether fitting patch for a sailor to wear while deployed with the Army in support of the War on Terrorism

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thank You Brother Rats

I was very suprised yesterday when I recieved a small box from Lexington Virginia. In it was a VMI flag signed by my brother rats who were in attendace at our 20th reuinion. As you can see I have it prominently displayed in my office area. As usual I can always count on my Brother Rats of the class of 1989 to show support for all the challenges I might face.

Thank you Brother Rats, Rah Virginia Mil

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Class time

Of the various duties I have here in Afghanistan: mentoring, teaching, performing physicals and immunizations, I enjoyed teaching the most this last week.

We have just finished a mission in Konduz. The Afghan and coalition force camps are located near the airport on a plateau. I caught a glimpse of the deep green valley below and even saw a few wispy clouds.

There was a little bit of everything in Konduz. Some rapport was established in a mentoring relationship, many physicals were performed and lots of immunizations were given. We taught about 30 ANP NCO's the basics of the Combat Lifesaver Course in after hours sessions. The lectures were very truncated since they had to be interpreted and therefore took twice as long to go through. Like most of us, they seemed more lively and interested in the hands-on portion where we split into smaller groups and actually practiced bandaging techniques, IV's and so forth. It was a lot of fun and made me use more of my limited Dari in order to communicate. They seemed appreciative of my poor efforts to use their language. I think they liked the IV's and the casualty carry portions of the training the best.

I hope that my new freinds never need to use these skills, but now have the confidence and equipment to perform some lifesaving procedures if called upon to do so.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Sunflower

Tricia loves Plants, so this entry is for her,

I know that I thought of the common sunflower as a uniquely American Summertime phenomenon. So imagine my suprise when I saw that most gardens on the bases and some in the local Afghan communities have at least a few sunflowers. The seeds are eaten by children as a snack food according to my interpreter. The name is a little different as well. 'gul e aftab parast' translates more literally into -flower which worships the sun. An apt description of this large beautiful flower. Sometimes amidst war and strife we need to take the time God has given us to find the beauty in his creation.