Monday, January 28, 2008


...shortest verse in the Bible:

"Jesus wept." (John 11:35)

...shortest blog entry in Third Times A Charm:

"Ken slept."

(I'm too tired to post much tonight.... Yaaaaawwnnn!.... G'nite all!) *grin*

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

G.I. Jill

For those of you who don’t know who Jill Stevens is, you should get to know her. As she competed in the Miss America pageant tonight, she represented what I thought was a real role model – not just a “model” – and came away a winner despite what the judges said by their votes! Of the 52 contestants, she was in the top 16, being voted as “America’s Choice” by an online poll taken on TLC’s website. THAT speaks for itself right there!

Sgt. Jill Stevens is an Army medic who served in Afghanistan for a year from 2004 to 2005. While there, she tended not only to soldiers in the clinic at Bagram Air Field, but also to the Afghan people in the surrounding villages. It was on one of those trips to the village of Jegdalek that I had the privilege of meeting her.

I’ll be the first to admit, I didn’t know her… nor did I converse with her much. My only recollection was being a part of a conversation with her and several others at one point when I was drinking the green tea offered to us by the village elders, but that’s about the extent of it. My day there in Jegdalek was about so much more and our chance encounter was relatively uneventful. What that day did, however, was bring focus and purpose to my desire to help the Afghan children in some way, and changed me in ways that I cannot begin to convey. I have spoken of that day many times with friends and family and some still ask me about it. When my kids first learned I was heading back to Afghanistan, the first sentence out of their mouth was a disappointed, “Again??!!”….. The second was an excited, “Are you going back to see Zahid??!!

Zahid was a young, twelve-year-old boy whom I befriended when a series of events led me to him as I cleaned and bandaged several of the other villagers who had cuts or other minor injuries. He had severely chapped lips so I gave him my lip balm out of my medical kit and some baby wipes to clean his face with. We spent the entire day together, getting to know each other… our families… our professions. I discovered that at the young age of twelve, he was already an English teacher in the school there in the village. At one point, Zahid and I even taught an impromptu English class together to the other pre-teen boys of the village. Much later in the day, we walked up a nearby hill that overlooked the village, to the top of a very long rocky staircase leading to the school, and sat down together. It was quiet up there…. We shared more stories, talking again about family as I showed him pictures of my kids. He then introduced me to his father and uncle who were masons and mixed the cement for the new school. As we relaxed there in the breeze on the top of that hill, we shared one of the most memorable moments of my young life as we seemingly broke the language barrier with hand motions, simple expressions, and newly-learned expressions in each of our own languages. At one point, I had run out of paper with which to write, so Zahid used my pen to write on the palm of my hand. *lol* And then, without warning, Zahid reached back into his pocket and pulled out a small rock with a large ruby still embedded in it. He took one of my hands, flipped it over and cupped the palm of my hand. He then placed that ruby in my hand to give to me, as he simultaneously patted his other hand over his heart and said, “You! My friend!”
He was “giving” me that ruby because he considered me a friend! *sniff* That ruby was probably worth more in value than a month’s salary, yet he gave it to me. I’m telling you, I almost “lost it” right then and there! As I fought back the tears, I fumbled for something to give back to him as my way of affirming my friendship as well…. and then I remembered - every teenage boy in the tribe had asked me repeatedly for my sunglasses and I had turned them down. I even had to fight some boys off as they grabbed for them. Knowing they were of some value to Zahid as well, I took them off and proceeded to slowly slip them over his eyes and ears as I mimicked his same motion over my heart and said, “Zahid! My friend!” It was, without hesitation, one of the most amazing moments in my life.

Soon we had to head back down the hill because we got the call over the radio that the Chinook’s were on their way back, and it was at that moment when I observed Jill playing tag with the young girls of the village. I admired how she was not afraid to be goofy, and it was evident all the girls knew her and loved her by their laughter and the expressions on their faces. (I even remember all the girls shouting, “Jill!..Jill!!” when we first got off the helo' after landing!) As I watched fondly from a short distance, I took pictures of that moment and remember thinking to myself, “Whoever this girl is, she GETS it!” I also observed at least half a dozen other young male soldiers there providing security for our contingent who were obviously smitten with her, but she had nothing to do with that. She was there for those kids, and it made quite an impression on me.

Fast-forward to a few months ago - I saw a news story on the Internet with the headline, “Soldier Trades in Kevlar for Tiara” or some such thing. Intrigued, I clicked on it and saw someone done up in makeup in an Army uniform that I didn’t recognize at first, but then I scrolled down, and there was a photo of Jill, holding a young girl that I recognized from the village of Jegdalek that day. I can only imagine the wild ride she’s had since those days in Afghanistan that led up to the stage at The Planet Hollywood Resort tonight in Las Vegas!

As I worked tonight, with the AFN (Armed Forces Network) channel set to “Miss America - Reality Check” and later the pageant itself, I was impressed with her conservative approach to dress and appearance, not wanting to make her body a showcase. She was funny, and had more depth to her than any of the other contestants. And when the final 15 were announced - sans her name - it didn’t surprise me at all to see that all the fans had voted her to be the 16th contestant to vie for the crown. To me, she had already WON the competition at that moment. It didn’t matter what the judges thought about her unwillingness to change and make herself more competitive by mimicking the likes of Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan. She stayed true to herself and her values and set the “real” example for all young girls out there who look up to her. I can honestly say she is someone whom I wouldn’t mind my “own” daughter meeting and looking up to.

At the end of the day, I’m sure she’s glad to be able to get her life back after all the fuss and preparation for the Miss America pageant, but “post pageant”, I can still see her in a leadership role somewhere, paving the way for young women in America and even abroad to believe in themselves and their capabilities.

One such way where she still "paves the way" is by being the spokesperson for The Afghanistan Orphanage Project ( She and others from her Army unit formed that non-profit organization after coming back from Afghanistan. That chance connection to her is what led me to the TAO Project several months ago as I emailed them offering any help I could for them since learning of my impending trip back to Kabul, Afghanistan -just 12 short miles from where they want to build the orphanage. To make a long story short, I have been helping behind the scenes logistically, and have also been the “address” for them with which to send humanitarian assistance and any items needed for the orphanage that they are building. I would encourage you to check out their website and please donate to their efforts, no matter how large or small the amount.

Well, that’s about it for now…. It was nice to see Jill do so well, but better yet, it was nice to see her come away from all of this with her identity still intact, confident in who she is and still a role model to others. Congratulations Jill!

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Another day in the life….

I wanted to let everyone know I’ve been getting their mail… I’ve gotten 5 packages and 2 letters to date already and it has been wonderful! I think it goes without saying how much we depend on mail here. Even in this Internet age of email, webcams, instant messaging and free Internet phone conversations, there is still nothing like getting a card, letter, or care package in the mail. The U.S. post office on the compound here is conveniently “in between” just about everywhere we need to go, so we are constantly stopping by and checking the spreadsheet of who got mail that hangs on a clipboard on the outside wall. I seem to be the one who got mail “first” and subsequently the one who’s gotten the “most” mail so far again, and I’m going to get lynched here soon if some of the other guys don’t start getting mail soon. *smile* I was afraid someone would say something soon, and it finally happened today when I picked up two more boxes today – one from the VFW Ladies Auxiliary in Danville IL and one from Operation New Knoxville Cares. I think I am going to have to start hiding my mail. (Above is a picture of the Beanie Babies that Operation New Knoxville Cares sent me to give to the orphanage in just their “first” package last week)

Yesterday was an interesting day in that Bixby and I had to embark on a journey off post here into downtown Kabul to walk over to the U.S. Embassy several blocks away. We had to issue equipment and help provide training on it to the team that provides security to the U.S. Ambassador. Call them the Ambassador’s “secret service” if you will. That trek was interesting on a couple fronts – First, because it was the first time we had ventured off post (“walking” in Kabul’s downtown streets no less!) and Second, because I have never been to a U.S. Embassy before.

Bixby and I suited up in our full “battle rattle”, with armor, weapon, Kevlar, radios, etc to ensure our safety and I have to admit I was a little anxious as we walked through all the concrete barriers, checkpoints and gates and finally found ourselves “outside the fishbowl” on our own. To be honest, we only knew the general direction of the Embassy too, and did not know where the series of gates and checkpoints were to actually get “in” so we began our walk on a wing and a prayer. Several minutes later, we did find the right gate (first of many!) to get in and began the rigorous process of getting access to get in. (we had to get temporary “walking” badges just to allow us to walk from one building to the next just so we could get our next badge in the Embassy building itself! – in other words, security is TIGHT! *smile*) Once Bix and I got there, we learned that the team wanted to push back training a couple hours, so we walked around the campus and found a nice coffee shop. It was there we ran into our other acquaintances that had flown in (two from Al Udeid, one from Bagram) to help train as well, so we all sat down, kicked back while enjoying a tall Macchiato coffee and shared “war stories.”

Master Sergeant Hurst, from Bagram Air Field here in Afghanistan, is a prior Afghanistan & Iraq veteran like Bixby and I, however, his vehicle was struck with an I.E.D. (hidden roadside bomb) a few years ago and now walks around with a glass eye and visible scars. He begged to remain in the Air Force and in his career field and after much rehabilitation, it was granted. He is an incredible individual and it was a pleasure to get to know him and share stories. It’s these kind of guys that you truly feel uninhibited with while sharing your “own” stories because there is an element of “been there, done that” that you just can’t explain to someone who has no idea. There was a Lieutenant Colonel and a Staff Sergeant also from Al Udeid there and we all laughed and sipped on our coffee, killing time with our stories of the funnier side of war that we’ve all experienced. I can’t explain it, but there is a healing power in rare moments like that. As much as you try to convey to friends and family what it is like to live in a combat zone and live through the gamut of emotions that is “war”, you resolve to yourself that it just isn’t possible. So not having to “prefix” a conversation like that with fellow veterans is nice because that element is already understood. You can skip right past it all and get to the story because they are already feeling what you’re feeling as you recount those past episodes.

Three o’clock finally came and we met back in the Embassy and began unpacking our cool, neat-o, gee-wiz gizmos that they’ll use in their convoys and security details as they transport the Ambassador and other visiting congressional delegates from the United States. It was there that I learned that the reason for our delay in training was they had to handle a “situation” that happened in Kandahar that morning. Apparently there was a kidnapping of a U.S. aid worker and they were getting the intel on that to help find her and her captors. I hope and pray for her and her family that she is found soon.

The training lasted well into the evening, unexpectedly, and Bixby and I now found ourselves having to walk back through downtown Kabul in the dark - NOT exactly what we were expecting nor hoping for! After putting on our many layers and locking and loading, we slowly made the hike back to the ISAF compound here, constantly turning around, covering fire for each other as we kept a look in all directions and behind every corner. When we reached the first security checkpoint at ISAF, I felt the relief rush over me as I gladly whipped out my military I.D. and hastened past the armed Afghani guard. Whew!

I arranged to take Wes and Roger back to see Ismatullah and Abdul again at Bahktar Jewelry a couple days ago because they’ve never had the pleasure of tasting the Coultcha. As we entered, there was an older German officer already in there who enjoys sitting down for a cup of Green Tea on occasion as well. I’ve been in there enough times now that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this gentleman before, but Wes and Roger were oblivious to this guy's hilarious antics and jokes, so it was a real hoot to all sit down there in that cramped little store and laugh and joke and eat. "So" anticipated and enjoyed are these get-togethers by Ismatullah & Abdul (hereto referred to as Izzy and Abby! *smile*) that they go all out for us sometimes. Not only did they bring the Coultcha, but they also brought out the Eesh-Meesh, a new kind of “Cake” (this time with a jelly-like orange center layer), a new concoction called Gee-bee-lee (think elephant ears covered in sticky, sugary glaze), and then there were these round pastries with a cream center. Izzy tried to pronounce the name to me and I was just having a difficult time understanding…. It sounded something like “Cr-r-reem-a-r-r-r-ro”. After several futile exchanges, Roger chimed in as the light bulb went on and exclaimed in his thick Chicago accent, “He’s saying Cream Roll!!” (LOL!! Here we go again!) We all laughed and then sat down with our cup of Green Tea and spent the next half-hour or so forgetting about the war and how much we missed our loved ones back home. Times like these are so necessary. *sigh* I hope Roger and Wes understand this. It’s not the food I’m there for….. it’s the relationships and the memories and the added benefit of momentarily forgetting that we are stuck here, in another country… away from our kids…our family….. our comfy world as we know it.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

In The Zone...

Some days I really love my job. We can moan and complain all we want about the living conditions here, the weather, the absence of most amenities we enjoy back in the states, much less the fact that there “is” an element of danger living here, but every now and then there are those weeks where you realize why you’re here. This week was one of those weeks.

With all the talk about trying new foods, travel woes, and old friends in past blogs, it is easy to forget sometimes to those not here that there is still a war going on. The lion’s share of what I do each and every day you never hear about because…. Well…. It’s boring. At least I think anyway… but also because it’s just not the sort of thing that most people want to hear about. We are a society… scratch that!... a “country” who’s fed up with the War on Terror and while most support those of us who are serving their country, most don’t want to hear the details of what actually goes on in Afghanistan, Iraq and abroad. It was also my choice not to brow-beat the war efforts into any of you reading this but allow me this rare instance to speak a little about what an average day is like for me here when I’m “working.”

I have set hours that I am supposed to be “in the office” so-to-speak, but we all kind of chuckle at that posted schedule because we are always there before, during, and after our posted hours. Case in point, I worked 21 hours yesterday, slept 4 hours, and then worked 19 hours today. (I really should be in bed now!) My days typically begin around 5am with a quick check of email after putting on my uniform, and then the usual cold jaunt across the compound to the chow hall to get breakfast. A quick cappuccino on my way out and off to the Comm Shack I go.

I am considered a “maintenance group” guy and I am the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) of the other enlisted “maintenance” guys here. Our day began with problems for the “operations” guys in the command post (called the CJOC – Combined Joint Operations Center) and when I went to respond to it, there was a TIC (Troops In Contact – basically our troops were in a firefight) going on in the East. We couldn’t scramble any aircraft out to help them by providing close air support because the systems I support were not working. Sparing you the details, the “fix” was dependent upon another admin from another unit elsewhere on base fixing the server I had no access to. That required me to go to the “Helpdesk” and ask for their assistance.

In my years in this business and especially through my past deployments, I’ve learned that there are those times when you can't be the "nice guy" and have to be a thorn in someone’s side to get the desired results you want – “IF” there is a sufficient emergency to warrant it. This was one such occasion.

I went to the helpdesk, cut in line past four other people – much to their chagrin – and explained my situation to them. The answer I got back was, “You’ll have to wait, they don’t come into work until 11:30.” Heh heh….. What followed was a heated conversation with a fellow Master Sergeant that I’m not particularly proud of, but he quickly got a new sense of urgency and heeded my demands that he get “what’s-his-name” out of bed – NOW! – and get him in here to fix this problem. “Ummm…. Ok …. I’ll send someone to get him…” “No!, YOU will go get him now and then come find me at the ASOC desk in the CJOC!”, I replied. (Ok… so I was a little hot under the collar… but our guys in the field were in a firefight, with no help, and this guy is moaning about having to wake someone up to help???? Come on!!)

Soon, “what’s-his-name” was in…. he fumbled around for 10 minutes and then determined that he didn’t know how to fix the problem. What????!!! He then told me that there is one other person who can fix it but she’s not here either. Well what do you think happened next?... *grin* Any takers? Yep, I made him wake her up as well.

While she was working on that, I went back to do what I could back in the CJOC… and about that time, Scotti had just left to go to bed after yet another double-shift, like he’s been doing for the past week, trying to get a system we have here working that provides a Predator feed (an unmanned aerial vehicle that flies over and provides reconnaissance video to us) back to the CJOC. He had just finally got this system working after fighting night and day for a week, and went to bed exhausted but reassured that he had accomplished what he set out to do. Less than 30 minutes after he left, one of our CH-47 Chinook helicopters crashed landed east of here. We were immediately able to get a video of the downed chopper up on the large screen on the wall so that we could direct efforts to scramble aircraft to protect them, send another Blackhawk and Apache helo’ out to provide support, and send an A-team out as well to provide security as they rescue the 13 people that were on that helo’. Without that predator feed that Scotti got working, none of this would have been possible. And he slept through the whole thing! But he while he slept off the exhaustion of the past week, he helped save the lives of 4 crew members and 9 very grateful passengers.

As the day went on, we had 4 or 5 other “TIC’s” that we responded to, and I had various other computer system “glitches” that always appear as a result of a new team coming in to work. Call it “turnover terror” if you will…. There are only so many things an outgoing unit can tell us in 3-4 days time, so all these “glitches” were ones they had experienced as well but just forgot to tell us, or just didn’t have an answer for. Ugh. I ran around from office to office, compound to compound all day throughout these emergencies to finally come to a point where I was almost done with my double-shift as well. Then we had Italian & German military guys come to the Comm Shack, upset because they destroyed a satellite antenna cable of theirs and we didn’t have a spare one to give them, so we soldered and repaired it for them. Later that night we had a scheduled outage of our satellite to upgrade our bandwidth, however, it was using modems, terminals, GPS clocks and other equipment that we’ve never even “seen” before, much less used. What was supposed to be a 2 hour downtime ended up taking 5 hours, but we accomplished in one attempt what the preceding unit couldn’t figure out in three previous attempts over the course of the entire year they were here in Afghanistan! A couple days ago we made national news because of a TIC we maintained that lasted for over 21 hours with no lives lost. Today we simultaneously controlled aircraft for 5 TIC’s, one of which lasted for over 20 hours.

Anyway, I am not saying all of this to put a feather in our cap. I am just really proud of the guys here and the job they have been doing and continue to do. It’s the sort of thing that reminds you why you chose the military and why you love what you do. We’ve had little time to get spun up on what the outgoing unit left for us, but despite that fact, I can comfortably say “we are in the zone!”

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Getting acclimated...

I think I am finally starting to get used to my new environment here. Even though this is not the first, or second, deployment, there still remains an adjustment period where you just have to get acclimated to your surroundings. For me, some things sunk in right away. Landing in a combat zone, there is training that kicks in automatically – always keeping a good SA (situational awareness) of your surroundings, handling your weapon, that sort of thing – but you also need to establish routines to keep yourself busy and prevent you from going insane! I’m trying to keep a somewhat normal work/play/sleeping schedule now so that I don’t practically kill myself like I’ve done this past week while working double & triple shifts.

Some of the things I’ve started doing to also acclimate myself to this new temporary home is to get out and do something else besides eat, sleep and work. This past week, a Tech Sergeant from the outgoing unit introduced me to Ismatullah & Abdul who run the Bakhter Jewelry shop in a little Afghani shopping section of the compound here. I visit their teeny little 8’x8’ shop there almost daily to say Hi and look around. I pull up a chair and we talk a lot about each others’ cultures, families, and especially food. As a token of their thanks for stopping by and chatting, they’ve treated me to a new Afghani delicacy the last several visits. My first treat was a pastry called Coultcha, which is a thick, flaky pastry with an orange-like sticky-sweet jelly in the middle layer. And of course, in Afghanistan, many cups of traditional hot Afghani Green Tea are consumed with each meal. The next day Scotti came with me and we were treated to a puffed corn snack caled Holta and another room-dried (not sun-dried) green grape concoction called Eesh-Meesh. (by the way, there really “is” no correct spelling for all these items – all I can do is spell them like they’re pronounced). Of course, copious amounts of Green Tea were once again consumed! As we were leaving that day, they shouted, “Come back tomor-r-row and we make something vetty special for-r-r-r you!” The next day I came back in around lunchtime, excited and right on schedule. I opened the door of the store to find Ismatullah smiling and reaching behind his small jewelry counter to get something. “What could it be this time?”, I thought. Momentarily lost in my own imagination, I didn’t notice what he had reached for - until it was practically under my nose….. it was…. well….. a CAKE! But who really knows “what” it really is…. I mean, this is Afghanistan, right? It looked like a yellow, six-inch square, baked in this brown wax paper. As Ismatullah unwrapped the paper to begin slicing it up, I could hardly contain my excitement to learn the name of yet another new Afghani culinary delight! “Ismatullah, what do you call this?”, I asked, excitedly. Looking bewildered, he replied, “It is CAKE!” Thinking I had misunderstood him, I asked again what it was, and without missing a beat, he immediately replied – once again – “It is cake! “Ooohhhhh!!”, I said embarrassed.….. and then the room erupted into laughter, as Abdul, Ismatullah and I realized the humor in that exchange of cultures. *LOL*

Speaking of food, living on a base that has over 30 nations represented certainly presents ample opportunity to get out and try some food from one of the other nations’ little restaurants, so Scotti and I went to a tiny little Italian shoppette and decided to order two of their pizzas. Scotti ordered the Prosciutto Crudo pizza…. Yeah!... I didn’t know what in the world it was either! Turns out it was smoked lamb meat topped with tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Whew! I decided to opt for the Pizza Capricciosa. What is that, you ask?….. Well I had to look it up too. It is tomatoes, mozzarella, sausage, salami, pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, artichokes, and green olives. Ugh. But hey! We’re here to try new things, right? Soooo…. We both dove into our strange-looking pizzas with gusto. After a couple bites, we decided to try each other’s pizza. Soon, I heard a CRUNCH! And then Scotti moaned in excruciating pain. Turns out when Italians put green olives on their pizzas, they do NOT pit them! He swears he chipped a tooth on that thing! *smile*

Another thing I’ve started to do is work out in the gym, and in fact, I just returned from my Yoga class. Ok…… uummm…. stop laughing! Gimme a break - it said “Stretching Class” when I signed up. *lol* Truth is, I like to run and I’ve not gotten out to jog in several months and know I need to stretch badly to get back into shape for it so hey!... I signed up. It wasn’t until today that learned from the gym staff that it was Yoga, but “wow” do I feel great! We stretched for an hour and a half! I think all the stretching and running I’ve done in the past paid off though, because even though I’ve been out of it for a spell, I was still more limber than many others in my class. *grin* But I have to remember to NOT sit on the mat next to the hairy Macedonian who likes to wear tight shorts and a tank top and smells like he hasn’t showered in a week! YUCK!!!

Early this morning, Wes, Roger and I decided to climb up onto the roof of the building where we have our satellite dishes mounted and get a good view of the majestic, white-capped mountains that surround most of this city. They are a site to behold! They remind me very much of the mountains I saw that surrounded Bagram three years ago. They are so massive, and intimidating!...yet quiet, and somehow peaceful. Wes snapped a photo of me while we were up there. I stood there and thought to myself, “If only those mountain ranges could talk!” They’ve witnessed decades of war and suffering here… and yet they stand tall, unaffected, having out-lived every conflict. I wish Afghanistan’s people were as resilient….. heck, I wish we ALL were!

Well, my first 8-hour work day turned into an 11-hour day instead, but it was still by far the shortest day I’ve had here yet. But since I'm trying hard to maintain a schedule, it's time to say G’nite!

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Familiar faces...

“The best mirror is an old friend.”- George Herbert

You know there’s something to be said about the joy of seeing a familiar face. Last night the six “second wave” guys from my unit arrived. I can't explain why it was so good to see them - it just was. Their trip here was a little more convenient in that they didn’t have to fly North from Al Udeid, Qatar to Bagram Air Field and then turn right around and fly South back down to KAIA (Kabul International Airport). Instead they were able to fly directly here from Qatar. (lucky ducks!!) Anyway, Alex was the only one of the six who had been deployed before (3 years ago in Afghanistan) so watching the other five step out of the back of those British armored Land Cruisers was precious! I saw a lot of wide-eyed and dazed looks on the guys faces. You could tell that it was just sinking in that they were actually HERE - in Afghanistan! *grin* They had just run the gauntlet down the road we refer to as IED Alley from the airport to the ISAF compound here and that was their first “honest” realization that they weren’t in Kansas anymore Toto! Roger, our radio guy, admitted to being scared. That’s ok… he’s right to feel that way, and even bigger for admitting it. But in any event, I was just darn glad to see them. I was their welcoming committee and had been awaiting their arrival for a couple hours in the cold. You could tell that they were just as glad to see me too…. There was a sincerity and honest enthusiasm in their handshakes. Hearty hello’s and greetings were exchanged. I shook all their hands and said, “Welcome to paradise!”…. That seemed to be an effective ice-breaker considering they hadn’t even had time to exhale from their uneasy trip through downtown Kabul. It was a way to say to them, “Hey, you made it man!... You can breathe now!” ;-)

From a purely selfish viewpoint, I was also glad to see the guys because that meant I could now get started on a somewhat normal work schedule too! From the moment we arrived here 6 days ago, I’ve been working 20+ hour days, only to take a short 2 to 4-hour nap, then start it all over again. Getting turnover from the guys that were leaving was difficult because they ALL wanted my complete attention and if they couldn’t find me, they would send somebody to go look for me. Once I had worked over 33 hours straight and just finally “hit the wall” so I told the guys I was going to take a two-hour nap. When they couldn’t find me, they sent Bixby back to my room here to get me! Bix woke me up and back I went for another double-shift. It’s been like this since the moment I arrived. This is partly why I haven’t been able to update the blog here as often as I would like either. So NOW do you understand why I am excited to see these guys?!! I really even should be in bed now, but wanted to send this update out. Tomorrow morning I will begin my first actual 8-hour shift! Whooo-hoooo!!!!

Yesterday was also our weekly Friday Bazaar, where the local Afghanis bring their goods to an open market just outside the compound here, such as rugs, jewels, DVD’s ($1 each!), hand-carved items, precious stones, scarves, traditional clothing and head gear…. You name it, it is there. I took one picture of just a very small section of it, but the bazaar filled an entire soccer field, so it was row after row, solicitation after solicitation from every man or boy who said, “My friend!... You buy [fill in the blank]?”… I’ve learned that if you don’t want to be bothered too much you wear sunglasses and keep your hands in your pockets. *grin*

Well, I’ve got to get to bed and at least get a “little” sleep before my short 8-hour shift in a few hours! Nite all!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Serena Hotel bombing...

I want to quickly address the attacks on the Serena Hotel here in Kabul the other day because I now there are some out there who are concerned. Let me first say, I’m fine. In fact, truth be told, I never even knew it happened until I woke up and checked the on-line news. The Serena Hotel is just a couple blocks from here and from others’ accounts of the bombing, it shook the base here pretty good. I don’t know if I’m just too jaded to notice anymore, or if I was just too tired to care, but – laughingly – I slept right through it.

But let me also put it this way. Say you lived in a small town and there is a shooting down a few blocks from you. Chances are you won’t hear much about it unless you get a call or you hear it on the news either. So my point is, it really was no big deal and even though it was suicide bombers, it is the usual stuff here. Part of what I do is provide and maintain the computer and communication systems that help those higher ranking than me call in the close air support, radio the QRF’s (Quick Reaction Forces), call in the medevac teams, etc…. and a slew of other related decisions, so if I’m on shift, then yes, I know all about what’s going on usually before it hits the news, but if I’m back here in my room, then I’m just as oblivious as the next person – even, apparently, when it’s a bomb that shakes the ground. *smile*

As for what that attack means, I see it as yet another attack on peace and progress in the post-war Afghanistan. But I also understand that things like this happen, and we simply do our part to combat it as best we can.

Finally, please don’t worry. This is what we do and why we’re here, simply put. There is a lot of good being done here that you’ll never hear about (although I hope my blog helps alleviate some of that absence of good news) and then there are the bad days, like the bombing at the Serena Hotel.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bag Drag - Final

To try and catch everyone up on how the 3rd & final phase of the “bag drag” took place seems an ominous task at this stage of the game. I’ve been here on-station for 3 days now and it has been so extremely hectic that the trip here is almost a distant memory.

Here is a pic of me awaiting my flight in Baltimore.

After we left Germany, we flew to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, a little country off the Western edge of Saudi Arabia that almost resembles a thumb sticking up. For those of you that know your geography, you’ll realize that we flew from way North of Afghanistan, to a country way South of it. Wha…???? Yeah… me too. I don’t know why either, but someone smarter than me knows out there. ;-)

Anyway, at Al Udeid, we in-processed through several different stations, and buildings, got issued even “more” items, such as heavy body armor, chemical gear, medical kits and such that we now had to include in our already-monstrous bag drag. Ugh. After a few hours of rushing around, then – of course – “waiting” (don’t forget the “Hurry up and wait!” mantra), we boarded a C-130 cargo plane for Afghanistan. If you don’t know what a C-130 is, let alone know what it’s like to fly in the belly of one, then ooohhhhhh you are missin’ out! Besides the uncomfortable red cargo-strap seats you sit on for hours, you are literally sardined in there, side-by-side with all your new best friends that are just as uncomfortable as you. You are sitting knee-to-groin with the person(s) across from you as well, so if you become uncomfortable – and you will! – then shift around carefully so you don’t have the guy sitting across from you cursing you in his new-found Mickey Mouse voice! Ouch!!

Past experience in C-130’s has also taught me to dress warmly from head to toe because it’s cold at 30,000 feet in a cargo jet not known for its amenities nor designed for passengers’ comfort. As many times as I’ve graced the inside of one while being transported to and fro, it has – without fail – been one of the coldest, ice-pack-like, experiences I’ve been exposed (ha!) to. So I boarded this lovely example of a C-130 H-model from the Nashville Air National Guard, I sat down, confident, even somewhat cocky, from my keen sense of preparedness – and then it hit me…. "It’s WARM in here!! In fact, it's down right HOT! Huh???"

The military will teach you to be prepared for anything and to have a plan in place, but every General officer will also tell you that on the first day of any war, the battle plan gets thrown out the window. Well, so much for "my" battle plan. The next five hours in the air was miserable, with pools of sweat soaking through my many layers. Since we were strapped and crammed in, it wasn't like we could just get up and, ohhh…… take our coat off! *shaking head* That was a long flight. ‘Nuff said!

We landed at my old stomping grounds at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Again, for you geography buffs out there, let me illustrate: We flew from South of Kabul to a location now North of Kabul. Why didn’t we land in Kabul? Again, a fine, fine question that I don’t have an answer to.

Once landing in Bagram, we were treated quite auspiciously to the fine offerings the military transient is usually afforded on such a journey – a massive tent filled with cots and about 300 other soldiers! ;-) After bag-dragging yet again, we stuffed everything in and around the cots we secured and then were told to hang out for the night until the next flight out to Kabul the next morning. (that is my cot in the center of the picture - not much room to move around)
The trip to Kabul began about 0500 the next morning. We stumbled around outside, still half asleep and quite under-dressed, trying to find the port-o-johns in the freezing darkness. Soon after we were packing, quietly as possible to avoid awakening the 293 other sleeping bears, and by 0600 we were loading two trucks in the frigid air, “rushing” down to the passenger terminal (hereto referred to as the "PAX Terminal") to catch our flight. It seems that we had been given some bad info the night before on when our show-time should have been. We were told 0600, but what it really ended up being was 0445! Somehow we got all those bags loaded, transported, and palletized (stacked and strapped on a aircraft cargo pallet) in only 30 minutes! It was truly a major accomplishment! Success! Now all we have to do is catch our flight that literally leaves in a few minutes, right? Wrong! We rushed over to the PAX Terminal, passed everyone else in line because we were already manifested on the flight... and then waited… and uhhhh.....waited some more. We were all just sitting there and nothing was happening. Finally, I inquired with our commander and he said that we were on flight "####" (which I already knew) and that they don't post the actual "take off" times.... Well, I've been down this road before at Bagram several times so I went back into the other PAX building and started asking the people behind the PAX counter for answers.... and THAT is where we learned that the flight had maintenance issues. Maintenance issues??!! I politely informed her that there are several of us still waiting for that flight and that we didn't know what was going on. So she grabbed the mic and made an announcement over the intercom. By the time I walked back to where the other guys were, the commander saw me walk up and said, reassuredly... (wanna take a guess???).... *grin* "The plane has maintenance issues and is grounded until they fix them".... Ummmm.... ok sir! (*lol*) I paused, smiled, and then just kept walking, never saying a word. *grin*

Ok... several hours later the "maintenance issues" were fixed and we loaded onto a bus with all our gear and they taxied us out onto the runway to load onto the C-130. We had to put on full battle-rattle (armor, Kevlar, etc.) for this trip which surprised me somewhat.... in all that time I sat at the PAX terminal, lots of other flights left for other locations around Afghanistan.... many of which I know are fairly hostile environments. But they didn't have to armor up. And we had to??? Hmmm..... not a revelation that gives you a warm fuzzy. Anyway, the flight to Kabul was quick.... maybe 20 minutes at most... we landed, opened up the rear of the aircraft, and they just threw our stuff out and we were on our own. We buddied up and started carrying each others' gear but there were a few Army guys on board too, and they just left their stuff there on the plane.... the C-130 Loadmaster called out and said... "Um, you guys need to come back and get all this stuff!".... She did't know it wasn't ours, but being the kind, understanding Flyboys we were, we first dropped off our stuff we were already carrying, and then walked all the way back out to the plane and got their stuff too. Then the plane took off, just as soon as we walked away.

Luckily, at that point, Captain Preis, from the unit we're replacing at ISAF, was there to get us set up on a ride down to the ISAF facility. Finally some help! He met us and helped us get situated. Because our flight was delayed, we missed our scheduled ride with the Brits (British Army) down to ISAF so we had some time to kill there at KAIA as they refer to it. (Kabul International Airport) They had a few Afghani shops and restaurants there so we did a little shopping and perusing, then ate at the chow hall. I bought some knock-off Oakley sunglasses for $7 and some good Swiss Toblerone chocolate at the German PX. YUM!!!

When it came time for the ride down to Kabul, the British convoy commander gave us our ROE (Rules of Engagement) brief in case anything should "happen" along the way.... we loaded up, packed like sardines (5 each) into the back of two different up-armored British LandRover SUV’s and started the nervous trek through the wild, wild west through downtown Kabul to the ISAF compound. The roads at first were very rough.. barely even pavement, with lots of bumps and holes bouncing us around inside, then it turned into a paved road and it was better, but the traffic is CRAZY here! There are no stoplights, no stop signs (“observed” anyway), and people u-turn or merge with no warning. Kids and adults, alike, nonchalantly walk across the street in traffic... mules and old wagons slowing down traffic.... and then there were the warning signs we were briefed to look out for, such as sudden moves by vehicles headed in your direction... people standing for no reason on the side of the road... unusual objects abandoned alongside the road. Probably the scariest thing that happened was a truck that was speeding in our direction who then turned RIGHT at us and we had to hit the brakes. The Brits used some “flowery expletives” to each other and over the radio..... but we just sat there in the back, weapons loaded, ready to engage if we had to.... but luckily, he was just a guy in a hurry.

What is funny to me now is that none of this even bothered me. It was all the same stuff I've seen before here in Afghanistan, and especially in Baghdad. But for one of the passengers from our unit, who shall remain nameless to protect his identity, it was a nerve-wracking experience. He's never been deployed before and this was his "first" experience in a real combat zone. Once we reached base here, he said, quite seriously, "I'm glad that's over!.... One more time down that road (when he leaves for home) at that's IT for me!..."

When we reached base here, one of the guys from the outgoing unit was already standing by waiting on us.... he helped us through the in-processing and getting rooms and the whole bit. One thing that was actually great about that was of the seven people here so far from the 182nd, only three of us got "permanent" billeting... everyone else got temporary housing - including the commander! The three people????? Well it's me, Scotti, and Bixby - my battle buddies from our two past deployments to Iraq & Afghanistan. The “veterans” if you will. *grin* This base is packed "tight", so the three of us share a single room that is about 15' X 8'. That's it!... That holds us, three beds, three wall lockers, a desk, a small set of shelves, a space heater and ALL of our gear!.... Needless to say, it is crowded in here! But I'd rather be with these two guys than anyone else.... so I'm not complaining one bit. Plus.... the internet works in this room and life is good!

We’re here!

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Sunday, January 13, 2008


This is just a quick post to let everyone know that I'm finally in Kabul. It has been a long, exhausting few days and I promise to finish the "Bag Drag" series once I get some sleep. (seems to be a recurring theme for me.... sleep - or lack of it! *lol*) Anyway, I have a long day ahead tomorrow and the out-going unit is MORE than anxious to begin giving us turnover and I'm going to work part of the midnight shift, all the day shift, and part of the swing shift combined so that I can get turnover from all the parties involved. I will be working with them for the next several days to garner as much knowledge off of them as possible so I will post as often as I can. The Internet here is very slow and intermittent, but I'm still glad we have it..... until then.... just know that I am safe.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Bag Drag - Part 2


Hmmm.... someone just woke me up - again - to kick me off the plane here at Ramstein AB in Germany.... I'm a little disoriented, groggy, and just plain tired and ready to find a bed.

Our first jump across the pond landed us in Shannon, Ireland. Here's what I remember of that airport.... ummm... let's see.... I got off the walkway, found the nearest - and I mean NEAREST row of unoccupied seats... and laid across them and slept - HARD! Sometime later - about an hour and a half I'm told - our FDT (Fighter Duty Tech) woke me up to get back on the plane. On that jaunt across the Atlantic they showed at least three movies..... Transformers (which I only caught the last half of after waking up), Daddy Daycare (or Day camp?) or some such thing.... I really don't know.... why?.... you guessed it - I was asleep again! And the third movie?.... Haven't a clue. *lol* Once again, asleep.

This is what I remember about these bag drags; messed up sleep schedules, and rushing around just so we can sit around for the next leg of the trip. That's where another frequently-used military phrase comes into play - "Hurry up and wait!" We have been rushed through hallways and turnstiles, much like cattle going to market, only to be told to just "sit" and wait for them to call us. It's ok though.... this is the way it works. I know this.

One last thing I'll say about Ramstein here is that the facility here is MUCH improved.... brand new passenger terminal, complete with play areas for the kids, family lounges, nice art deco styling, and best of all, free wireless internet hot spots (nod to the USO for providing it).... so all in all, I realize that this could be much, much worse. Yaaawwwnnn.... ssttrrreeeetttchhhh..... I just need more sleep.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bag Drag - Part 1

It seems amazing how connected you can stay as you travel away from home.... even for me, who normally keeps a Blackberry at my side and has seen firsthand the I.T. world change for the last 22 years professionally, it still amazes me how far we've come. I'm sitting on the floor at BWI (Baltimore/Washington International) airport taking a breather from the ominous "bag drag", while connected to the Internet w/ my laptop here....

The bag drag, as we affectionately refer to it, is the inevitable, painful movement from airport to airport, miltary base to miltary base, for the next two days.... only to be eventually dropped off "part way" and catch a space-available military cargo flight onto your final destination. (Funny, commercial airlines don't seem to want to fly into war zones.... hmmm....) The easy part is done... now comes the fun part.... across the pond!

As for me... BWI seems like an old familiar friend... but this is a friendship I hope to sever after this tour... (sorry BWI, no offense to you... ) ;-)

And on that note our last call just came over the intercom.... guess I better catch my flight.

See you on the other side of the pond!.....

(P.S. Happy 41st Anniversary to my parents!!!)

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Wow!, I just created this blog two days ago and the emails and well-wishes are flooding in, so let me address a couple quick items that I'm getting asked at lot about....

First, my physical (snail) mail address. Many of you have asked how to send care packages for me and the rest of my unit and here is where you can mail them to.

Ken Mahoy
APO AE 09356

Note: Please do not use my rank of Master Sergeant (MSgt.) in the address; just list it exactly as seen above.

Secondly, for those that wanted to become involved with TAO Project, let me first say, "Awesome!".... But I also wanted to clarify that the orphanage has not been built yet. At this point sending school supplies and such would be somewhat premature, but I certainly won't refuse them. ;-) But in all honesty, if you want to make the biggest impact for them, visit their site (
TAO Project) and make a monetary donation. I'll post more later on the utter poverty and need for help I witnessed in Afghanistan three years ago, but please know that whatever you can give - no matter how insignificant it may seem to you - is sorely needed there.

And lastly, as always, thank you so much for your encouraging words that are already flowing in. Just because this is now my third trip to the sandbox, it doesn't make any of this "routine" in ANY way. Saying good-bye to your kids... your family... are still just as difficult - if not more so, simply because I've been down this road before and "know" how difficult this is going to be for them. It hurts. Plain and simple.

I think this blog thing is going to work out. :-) I've gotten lots of good responses already and I promise to keep posting as often as possible to keep you all in the loop.

"The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before." - Samual Johnson

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Third Time's A Charm...

"Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man." William Shakespeare, "King John", Act 3 Scene 4

There's just no good way to write this. How does a meat and potatoes, midwestern "guard guy" convey his experiences already encountered in the Middle-East, through two previous deployments, in a way that hasn't already been done? This "twice-told tale" now reaches its third, and hopefully final, act. But how can I take this new Middle-Eastern adventure and make it even remotely captivating to the reader? At this point, I'm just not sure... Heck, does anyone even remember that there is still a war on terror going on?...

"Yeah, we peaked on the phone." Claire Colburn - "Elizabethtown"

I'll begin with a brief history... When I was in Kuwait & Iraq in 2003 for what some of us in the military still refer to as the "major combat phase", I thought I had seen it all. Or at least as far as the human experience goes, I really thought I had "peaked!" I mean, how many old men have you heard tell tale of their wartime encounters?... those moments that changed them... that defined them - often speaking of those days in the same way a small-town barber still reminisces about the glory days on his high-school championship basketball team. How many books have been written about war?... the anxiety?... the turmoil?... the excitement?... the agony of losing friends?... the exhiliration of success in battle?... All of these experiences bundled up into one big testament to the generations of soldiers to follow - and here I was witnessing it all firsthand! To me, this was IT! I was there! In my mind I thought, "It doesn't get any better - or worse depending on one's viewpoint - than this!" But in the end, it was but a blip on the map in a life that had so much more to see and do, and just as soon as my tour to the sandbox had begun, it was over just as quickly. Life went on and I came home a changed man - certainly! - but one who had so much more to experience... so much more to see.... so much more life to live.

"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." -
Nathan Hale, 22 September 1776

The excitement was not over yet. In December of 2004, my unit deployed yet again to the Middle-East, but this time to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. I went this time with the expectation - or hope - of having a fairly boring tour, at least when compared to my experiences in Iraq. But you know how they say, "Be careful what you wish for!".... my initial stay in Afghanistan was just that! Boring!... But then again, I felt like I had used up all my 9 lives in Iraq and somehow still came out fairly unscathed, so "boring" in Afghanistan was good, right?! Well, I must admit, I am not one to sit idle for long. Sure, my mission was first priority, but even with the usual hiccups that happen when you first take turnover from the outgoing unit, I was able to maintain the computer systems & communications equipment there with relative ease. So, because of the absolutely poor conditions I witnessed in Iraq two years prior, I began to seek out any humanitarian effort that was taking place to offer my help. I was also going stir crazy, and was convinced I'd hexed myself somehow by making the "boring" prediction to alleviate friends' & family's concerns when told to "keep my head low" and "be safe" as I departed for Afghanistan. I had to DO something!... It was groundhog day, every day! *smile* I was simply working, eating, and sleeping - day in and day out! Ahhh!!! I soon came across CW5 Layne Pace, an Apache pilot from the Utah National Guard. He and several others in his unit were working with the Egyptian & Korean hospitals on base offering humanitarian goods to the Afghanis who were being treated there. I signed on to help, and loved every minute of it. That soon led to another opportunity to fly out to the remote village of Jegdalek to provide humanitarian supplies there too. That day began with an all-night shift - on my birthday! - and then a two-hour helo flight out the next morning to Jegdalek with the others. I did not sleep and spent the entire day at Jegdalek, but in the world's biggest understatement, that experience was one of my "defining moments!"

"That was then, this is now" - The Monkees

Those that know me realize that I just took two combat tours, and the countless, separate, experiences from each - that could have kept everyone entertained for days on end! - and whittled them down, somewhat impossibly, to only two short paragraphs. :-) As Micky Dolenz eluded to in the song above, those events were all in the past and if you were lucky enough to live through them with me by reading my emails, then you understand how much I left out for brevity's sake. But this is now! - already 2008 - and I am sitting here in the hotel room, just hours from rotating out of the States.... wondering..... marveling!... at what this tour may bring to the table. Better yet, what will "I" bring to the table with me? I won't naively make the same mistake by wishing for - or assuming - a boring tour because I...... ummm... well..... I just can't help myself! I'm not one to sit idly by and watch the world go 'round while counting down the days until I come home again. As cliche as it may sound, I want to leave this place knowing I've made a difference somehow... whether it be in the lives of fellow soldiers, or perhaps in the lives of the orphan children of Afghanistan. Either way, I am convinced that this tour will not disappoint.

"Try a thing you haven't done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time to figure out whether you like it or not." -
Virgil Thomson

Well here we go!.... My third tour to the Middle-East in 5-years' time. Like Mr. Thomson's quote above, I got over my fear in the first tour..... I felt I "figured things out" in the second.... and well.... for my third?.... time will tell I suppose. But I suspect - quite predictably - that I will like it. Through an already-established collaboration, I hope to be assisting The Afghanistan Orphanage Project (
TAO Project) while in-theatre and you just never know what other opportunities may present themselves! *smile* I believe that these deployments - like "life" - are what you make of them, so I'm ready to make this one memorable, meaningful, and with any luck, instrumental in making life better for the Afghanis. Maybe I needed those first two deployments to "get it" - to be prepared for this time around... *shrug* Either way, sit back.... listen in.... and enjoy the ride through the blogosphere as we travel this uncharted road together, because I believe that great things are about to happen!

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