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.

View My Profile


Spellchecker35 said...

Hey Ken! I finally am getting caught up on your blogs. I didn't have much time while in C.A., but it sure is good to read them now. I can relate to how good it feels to get out and relax in their typical atmosphere. Okay, so Honduras isn't Afghanistan, but my greatest times were spent in town with the locals, doing everyday stuff. Also being out on the worksite interacting with those that lived nearby was great! I'll write more in an email to tell you all about it. Glad to hear all is calming down for you and you have time to relax occasionally.
Love, K2

mahoy78spyder said...

Hey sis!.. Good to see you home safe!.... Can't wait to hear more about your trip!

Love, K1

Casey said...

Ok, so this is by far my favorite blog! *smiles* I know you guys have hard days too but reading this makes me proud that "Scotti" is over there with you. We are so proud of you guys back here. I'm sure I can speak for my family and yours too, we miss you guys terribly! Thank you for doing all that you do. Thanks for keeping me informed on the quest.