Friday, July 31, 2009

Dedication of the LT Toner Firehouse

Today was the dedication of the LTjg Francis Toner IV Firehouse on Camp Spann. It was a solemn occasion. LT Toner was an engineer by trade. He was the Northern Region Garrison Engineer, and as such mentored the Afghan base engineers and by all accounts did a superb job. He also planned buildings on the Camp. The most significant of which is the firehouse that now bears his name. He was spoken of as a good friend, a motivator and a Godly man.

Like many of us who are here from the Navy, LT Toner was an Individual Augmentee. He was stationed in Hawaii. He went through workup training at Ft Riley.

On 27 March 2009 LT Toner was running laps around the perimeter of Camp Shaheen. Camp Spann is located within the limits of Camp Shaheen. He was running with a buddy as were two female Naval Officers. On their second lap around the perimeter an ANA guard came down from the tower and shot the two female sailors. LT Toner with no regard for his own safey charged toward the assailant. He was fatally shot while attempting to protect his comrades. The assailant then took his own life with his weapon. LT Toner is survived by his spouse Brooke Toner and his parents. LT Florence Choe, USN was killed by the insurgent/traitor as well.

For his actions LT Tonerwas awarded the Bronze Star with Combat V.

Let us remember his actions and life proudy.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Police Training Surge

Elections are coming in about three weeks here in Afghanistan. That means potential problems with increased insurgent activity until then. While there are a good many Afghan National Police (ANP) already on post in every district in this country, we are still well short of the final recruitment goals for this force.

In response the Ministry Of the Interior (MOI) who controls the ANP has stepped up the training cycles until just before the elections and the start of Ramadan. In some instances the training has been curtailed from 13 weeks long to just 2 weeks in order to get folks out "on the street" where they may be needed very soon. This also means that our team will be in high demand for the next few weeks to assist with the inprocessing at five different training sites in our region. It is not clear to me if these officers will be recalled to complete the remainder of the training. I am encouraged by the fact that a need to bolster the forces of the police was identified ahead of time to allow for a pro-active response, not a reactive response when things go bad. The ability to plan ahead is one of the key and defining processes that indicate an organization is squared away

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Camp Mike Spann weather update

The base where I spend most of my time is Camp Mike Spann. Mike Spann was a CIA operative working in the Mazar E Sharif area at the time of the Taliban overthrow. He was also a former Marine Officer, which is near and dear to my heart.

The Northern Alliance fighters had recently taken control a prison complex outside of town. Spann was in the prison questioning prisoners of interest including the "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh. Unfortunately the Taliban prisoners made a breakout and Spann died defending himself and his brothers-in-arms. He is interred at Arlington. Camp Spann is not on the site of his death, but it is nearby.

Camp Spann is the HQ for the American and Coalition Advisors for the Northern region of Afghanistan. There are Americans, Germans, Swedes, Norweigans, Croations and occasionally some French, Polish or Hungarians in the area. This is the hub from which these forces move out to work with the ANA and ANP forces. Units are here teach and advise the Afghans, not fight the war for them. But Force Protection is a big part of what goes on here.

The weather today is hot, dusty, windy with poor visibility. I must have started to acclimate, since it doesn't feel as hot here as it first did in Kuwait. The clinic thermometer read 130 in the sun. The photo is of a thermometer that was in the shade. Thankfully there is usually adequate water to drink and use for hygiene purposes.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Prison and introductions

A couple of days ago I had quite an experience. A contracted mentoring team who is working with the prison systems in our region requested our medical assistance with immunizations. The previous team gave a few immunizations to the women in the prison. This worthy work also gave me the opportunity to actually meet the ANP doctor I am actually supposed to be mentoring.

The trip there was one of the most reassuringly secure ones I have taken in country. There is something inherently secure about having a team of folks who have eyes like hawks and probably kukri knives underneath their battle dress. I actually got to see the countryside for once as well. Many of my colleagues here have commented that with the exceptions of the few cars and mopeds, this region of mud brick houses and arid landscape appears largely unchanged since Biblical times.

I was able to catch a glimpse of the famous Blue Mosque in downtown Mazar E Sharif on our way. The prison compound was a cramp area of courtyards upon courtyards with razor wire on top. The female cheif corpsman with our team went into the women's area while I was given the rooftop tour. There are no individual cells, but more communal courtyards. The young children, about 6 and below, of the women confined there stay with their mothers unless other family can or will care for them. This may sound heartless from our perspective, but there are no child protective services here, and it appears the staff do their best with the meager resources they are provided to provide a humanitarian existance. They do recieve medical care and looked as healthy as any Afghan I have seen on the streets. Under the Taliban I am sure that all of the women in that area would have been killed outright.

With my interpreter and shadow from Nepal, I made my way to the Regional police HA clinic. I had a good visit and short tour with the Regional medical director. He seemed very interested in continuing to meet with us. I look forward to repairing some of the damage this relationship suffered during the last 6 months.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Success with First Mentoring Contact

I have been out at a nearby training facility for the past few days. Ostensibly we went there to provide follow on immunizations for ANP recruits, but I knew better.

After just a little effort we were able to find the ANP clinic on the camp. It was a small but well stocked and set up space. My interpreter and I had a very cordial visit with the Dr and his assistant. By the end of the meeting the Afghan medic agreed to assist us drawing up the immunizations that night and both of them participated in the immunization process for the entire time the following day. I was able to spend 3 more hours teaching them on almost a one on one basis- going over some pharmacology based on their medications on hand and trauma bandaging. They were extremely appreciative and by the end of our time there they agreed that they plan to take over running the immunizations for their recruits after a walk through with us next time. We also came up with a training plan for my next visit. I must say that during the teaching I have never had a more attentive and interested audience. They were taking notes constantly so as not to miss anything. It felt really good to do the actual mission I was sent here to perform. I look forward to my next chance to work with the Afghan medical professionals of the ANP.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Today is Jumaa, or Friday. In Islamic countries it is the most important day of the week. It is the day of the week that most Muslims go the mosque and then spend time with the family.

Since many of us at Camp Spann are here to interact with and mentor our Afghan counterparts, it is the closest thing we have to a weekend. In order to match the schedule, or battle rhythm, of our Afghan allies we take time for church services today instead of Sunday. It was very comforting and moving to worship with fellow Christians of all types and denominations. The singing was especially good. The sermon today was primarily on the 23rd Psalm, one that I am sure has seen a lot of use in combat situations. I am thankful that we do have the opportunity to gather in His name and worship.

The photo is part of the range of mountains to our South. No snow here, it is way too hot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The first Mission

The team we are replacing was very quick ensure we hit the ground running.

We went to a nearby ANP training facility to inprocess a new batch of Police recruits. There were other teams doing administrative screenings, but we did medical screenings: medical history, abbreviated physicals, immunizations, vision screening, and urine drug screenings. It was in a hot chow hall area of the compound.
At one point we were a little suprised by a nearby explosion, which we found out later was a controlled detonation of an old mine.

These screenings are a lot of what the last team did. It is essential to have a bountiful and well trained police force to counter the insurgency efforts here in Afghanistan.

I hope that we will as well be able to reengage the ANP medical officer and do some true mentoring as well.

Picture of me and Steve at work

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Arrival at Mazar-E-Sharif

Yesterday was an early day as we yet again loaded our luggage onto another truck. The person who did our transport coordination said we should be there in plenty of time to check in by the required 0730 time for a 0930 flight. Well once we got there the nice folks at the counter informed us that we were scheduled for the 0500 flight!! No not another few days stuck at Camp Phoenix!
Luckily there was an additional flight later in the morning on a German plane. The German airman was very strict about everyone staying in their seats, so I didn't get a good veiw of the famed Hindu Kush as we flew over.
It was very hot when we arrived at the airport at Mazar-E-Sharif. Amazingly the unit that runs Camp Spann loaded our luggage onto the trucks for transport. I got my first ride in an MRAP and I must say it felt very secure.
On arrival to Camp Spann we were quickly introduced to the team we will be replacing. Our mission is to work with the health systems of the Afghan National Police in the Northern region of Afghanistan. It looks like we will be on the road a lot to the various ANP training stations in the area.
Another pleasant suprise was my room. I actually have a very sizeable room to myself, not that I will be spending too much time there. I am sure there will be more later.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Learning New Skills

I have a lot of down time right now as we wait for the next flight to my final destination.

I have learned many new things working with the Army and going through the Advisor Training. I also got to review some things from my past as well. One new skill which I now consider myself fairly proficient in performing is the role of baggage handler. Yes it is a little know fact how much of our time travelling into the theater of operations here is spend loading, unloading, piling, and sorting our baggage. I have already discussed the crazy amount of gear we are taking- 4 seabags, a full sized pack, a carry on pack and a gun case. Well multiply that times 25 Navy personnel in our training class and many flights. I count we have loaded or unloaded our gear 16 times so far. While I would not consider myself proficient at building pallets of gear to fly, I have participated in that as well. So at least I can work as a Sky Cap if this medicine career doesn't work out.

On a more serious note we bid farewell to our training buddies yesterday and today. The 25 of us trained together at Ft Riley for 2.5 months. Now we are being spread out to 3 different locations across the country and 6 different mission units. Godspeed and Safety to you Shipmates!

A big Day at KIA

I am still making my way slowly through the different intermediate camps and stops enroute to my final destination. Each level of headquarters has its own briefs and forms, which take time. Then there is waiting for transport to the next spot.
Yesterday was a banner day since I flew into KIA. All airports have a 3 letter code with them, but Kabul International Airport's code can give you the creeps just from the acronym.

While we moved from the airport to this camp, I was struck by the gardens and vegetable plots along the route. There were small family gardens and fields all along the way. In a land of predominantly brown dust and sandy soil, beautiful green spaces can occur. People were out grooming, weeding and tending their crops. It very much reminded me of the same scenes I had seen in vegetable gardens called ortos in Italy, or similiar home gardens in Okinawa. It was refreshing to see life and growth in an area that has seen so much destruction. It was a heartwarming scene, and made me miss our home and garden at home.

There were buildings as well that were obvious casualties to the 30 years of war that Afghanistan has endured, but I was also very impressed with how much construction was going on here in Kabul.

Please note since I am moving 'downrange' I will really only mention things in the past tense and may use generic descriptions of people I interact with or places for security reasons.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Arrival in Afghanistan,

Yesterday we made it in country,
I had a little bit of a view for a short time on the flight. I could see coastline below.

In a bit of clique coincidence while we were walking off the flight line, 2 ambulances arrived to deposit their passengers onto a waiting aircraft, probably headed back to Germany. It served as a solemn reminder of what can happen in this country. I also heard my first two explosions within my first 6 hours in country. Sure they were announce overhead as 'controlled detonations' which I assumes meant mines, but it is still a little disconcerting to have explosions wake you up from a nap. These middle of the night flights are going to mess up my sleep for quite a while

Here we are surrounded by jagged tall mountains. To the north and south you can see snow on the peaks. It has a daytime haze much like Denver. It is quite warm in the afternoons and comfortable at night.
We are currently in a 120 person tent, but with only about 80 inhabitants. Luckily there is internet available, but with this many folks, time is limited. There are showers and latrines. I wish we had some laundry access.
There is a ton of construction going on all over. Large construction trucks almost outnumber the HMMVS and MRAPS.
Hopefully we will only be here for a day or two, but military transportation is a fickle thing.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July at the "Commonwealth"

Greetings from Camp "Commonwealth" somewhere in Kuwait.

The 4th of July is a Day of Celebration of the people who are the United States. A people who threw off the shackles of tyrrany. A people who work to allow others in the world to enjoy the freedom and Democracy we sometimes take for granted. I hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July. I hope we won't have any fireworks here though.

After reading my last post, it almost sounded like I was whining. So I would like to point out some of the finer points of Camp "Commonwealth"
1. You are very unlikely to run out of hot water.
2. The Gym is very nice with plenty of good equipment.
3. The chowhall is almost as good as the food I had on a recent cruise.
4. The USO and MWR facilities are nice and adequate to handle all the troops located here.

The only part that I have trouble with is that it is a desolate wasteland of desert. Thankfully the heat is less oppressive and the sandstorm died down enough yesterday evening that the sun and moon were visible.

I also made two discoveries in a breifing yesterday:
1. I will probably only have to go through Kuwait on my return.
2. The Army is going to a cashless gift/debit card type system for all AFFES and post office functions soon. So today I got my Eagle Cash card- so I can buy what consumables I might need for this deployment- soap, wipes, laundry detergent and so forth. I guess this isn't earth shattering news, but it was a suprise to me.

I hope to eventually add some pictures to these last two posts.

Still awaiting arrangements to go into Afghanistan.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Enroute to Final Destination

It has been a very long 2 days which have actually been one super- long one. After 13 hours in the air (3 additional hours in the plane waiting on the ground) and 5 hours convoying ( 4 additional hours waiting in vehicles) amd other unaccounted for hours waiting in the Air Terminals, we are at an intermediary stop camp enroute. We have loaded or unloaded and sorted our seabags and other gear 6 times so far. The ones with the Body Armor in them are especially heavy.

Many thanks to the cheerful USO folks who are working hard to get many of us access to home.

We did some last minute MRAP rollover training, for which we were all pretty wiped out and jet lagged. You certainly can get strapped in tight to the MRAP seats.

The other big news is the weather- Sandstorms! I have been in Deserts with heat before but this is the next level. Several of us strongly considered turning around instead of pressing on to the chow hall for lunch. The chow was well worth it though. The heat is similiar to opening the oven when you are putting in a big turkey, except you cannot close the door, the wind is whipping, and unless you have goggles on constantly wiping stuff out of your eyes. The weird twilight level of lighting adds to the feeling of something is not quite right.

Hopefully we will not spend too much time here before we move on.

I would like to pass on best Birthday wishes to my Son Graham. I really wish I could be there with you.