Sunday, February 17, 2008

Keeping up-to-date...

Hello all...

I know it's been several days since I've been able to keep this blog up-to-date, but that is not because this past week hasn't been devoid of it's ups and downs nor lacking in any stories to share. It's just been a busy week, compounded by the fact that I've been sick as a dog. It doesn't matter how many times you've traveled to the Middle-East here, you are bound to succumb to the "crud" - in this case the "Afghan Crud." *smile* (just count yourself lucky you can't hear my lung-hacking barks as I write this article!)

One interesting thing that happened this past week is I apparently attracted the attention of David Stanford, Duty Officer and webmaster for the Doonesbury Town Hall. Yes THAT Doonesbury, as in the comic strip. He ran across my blog here and asked if I would be ok with him featuring an ariticle I wrote a few posts back entitled "In The Zone..." He called it "...a great day-in-the-life-and-work portrait ...a fascinating piece, and [it] really gets into an area we haven't had anyone post about before on our site...." Once I checked out his site ( ) and found it to be legit, I said it was ok. I also learned that for getting featured on his site, I will now also receive a complimentary copy of "The Sandbox" book that came out last October - a collection of about 90 pieces from the first six months of the site. *shaking head smiling* This blog thing has really opened up a new world for me. :-)

We just had one more from our unit back home just arrive here two days ago. Seth is a "power pro" guy who will help Chris Lambert and I figure out our generator and power "issues" that plague us here. It was suggested by the outgoing unit that we bring a power pro troop but our commander initially resisted, thinking that we didn't really need him. After just the first couple weeks, it was obvious we needed his expertise, so like the rest of us, he dropped everything in his world as he knew it.... a teacher and high-school football coach.... and packed his bags for a fun-filled vacation to a cold, dirty, and lonely abode in the middle of a war zone. What fun! *smile* Wes and I helped get him situated and awaited his arrival late at night. Of course, I also had to greet him with the customary "Welcome to paradise!" He nervously smiled.

Several of you have asked about the guy who exposed his "I [heart] Condi" t-shirt to Condoleeza Rice during her visit here a few days ago and I now have a picture of said shirt. I was also given a few other pictures taken by other guys in our unit - to include another shot of Wes and I standing by Condy that I was oblivious to. Enjoy!

Today was a sad day in Kandahar - one of the worst bombings we've had in the country here in as far as the number of casualties go. It's those types of intel reports that we get that remind us to stay vigilant in what we do here, and that we are still in the middle of the fight. If ever we begin to complain about "routine" days and being locked down here on the ISAF compound, something like this always pops up and promptly reminds us to just keep our mouths SHUT!

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Friday, February 8, 2008

I "heart" Condi...

Every now and then, our "ground hog day" here in Kabul gets shaken up a bit and opportunities present themselves for you to step outside the normal routine - should you choose to take advantage of them. Yesterday, one such opportunity appeared in the form of a couple dignitaries visiting the compound here - Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, and British Foreign Secretary, David Milibrand.

Now I'll be the first to say that meet-n-greets are not really my thing, but something intrigued me about Ms. Rice and I thought I would go - if for nothing more than to break the redundant cycle of my days here. Many years ago I used to work for D.I.A. at the Pentagon and seeing high-ranking Generals and government dignitaries were an everyday occurance. Back then, Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Dick Cheney was the Secretary of Defense, ironically. Lunches spent in the center courtyard of the Pentagon regularly turned up familiar TV personalities and the like. Five years ago I spent every waking moment with the likes of other Generals and government officials whom are now portrayed as heroes in non-fiction books that recount the major combat phase in Iraq. And also during that time, shortly after successfully taking Baghdad, Don Rumsfeld was coming to visit us to say congrats and I was one of only 6 chosen to to attend, but I turned it down because I had other work to do. The guy I let replace me came back jumping around, thrilled that he went, and thanked me by turning the viewscreen on his camera around for me to see that he had just had his picture taken side by side with the Secretary of Defense himself! Ugh. Oh well... I'm glad he was happy, but through it all I've come to realize one thing. They're just people. So going to see Condy Rice was more of an, "Ehhhhh, what the heck!" kind of choice.

A few others from my unit and I went to stand in line in front of the gymnasium - the only place big enough to house that many people. After standing in line for about 30 minutes, the announcement came that she would be delayed by an hour. We left. When we came back an hour later, we were let in the door, checked for weapons, passed through security, and led into the gymnasium. I had slowly wandered my way back to the gym after running a few errands, but little did I know that as soon as I had walked in, WHACK!.. they shut the door behind me and wouldn't let anyone else in.

The Sergeant Major on the compound here ran us through several drills of getting lined up in formation, standing at attention, resting "at ease", and bunching up X number of steps into a second formation. I had NO idea that this was going to be such a dog-n-pony show.... I mean sheesh!.. I just wanted to hear her two-minute speech, shake hands if the opportunity presented itself, and then get back to work.

Well, soon one hour turned into two..... and then we got the message that she would be here in 30 minutes..... An hour had passed and still no one. To fight the bordeom, I egged the guys on to run up on the still-empty stage and get our picture taken all together, so we did. And then finally, after another 90 minutes, we were all called to attention and in walked our dignitaries. Finally! After 3 1/2 hours of waiting, they were here.

As expected, they both got up on the make-shift stage - back dropped with the flags from each of the 39 nations represented here and covered with a huge traditional Afghan rug for good measure - and spoke of the work we were doing and the pride they had in us and the many sacrifices we had made. To be perfectly honest, I originally just wanted this part to be over, but when Condoleeza got up on stage, I felt that her words were very sincere and genuine. It was an impromptu speech... nothing prepared.... and she spoke with candor and made good eye contact with all of us as she scanned the entire gymnasium from left to right. She made no mention of her attempts to try to garner more support from other NATO nations..... she just simply said, "Thanks!" I have to say, I for one, was pleasantly impressed with her.

After the short speeches by both, they came down off the stage, Condi going left, and Milibrand going right, to shake the hands of the troops. I was on the right and was awaiting my chance just to see her up close, not expecting to actually get to shake hands with her or anything, but then something happened by the time she got to the middle formation to shake hands. Lieutenant Cox, an EW (Electronic Warfare) guy that works with us pulled a fast one on Ms. Rice and unzipped his flight suit. He then pulled it open to expose his t-shirt underneath that had written on it, "I [heart] Condi Rice!" *LOL* Once he did that, the formation erupted into laughter. The news media, not wanting to be left out, went running over to them to see what had happened and then filmed the entire thing. We were briefed beforehand not to ask for autographs, but Cox didn't care. He asked her if she'd sign his shirt and she happily obliged. *smile* That was the ice-breaker we needed! Once that happened, all formations and semblance of organization were gone. She then began to simply walk through the crowd, shaking hands and taking pictures with everyone that was left - to include "my" formation (which now looked more like a cluster than anything else).

A minute or two had passed, and then BOOM... there she was, standing right in front of me. She reached out her hand and I shook it as I said, "Thank you..." (I don't even know WHAT I was saying thank you about!... It's just the only thing I could think of to say! *lol*) She said, "Heeeeyyy... thanks for your service. Nice to meet you!".... About that time, Wes asked if he could have his picture taken with her, and she turned around in between the two of us and "SNAP!"... a picture was taken for posterity.

The thing I observed about her was that she was very genuine when greeting all the troops here, and would often say to them, "Hey you want to switch cameras now and have your picture taken too?" so that no one was left out. She laughed - not a fake laugh - and engaged in real conversations with many people. She wasn't just putting on a show in my opinion. But based on how the previous day's agenda went with other NATO commanders and Afghan Prime Minister, Hamid Karzi, I'm sure this was probably the highlight of her day.

I wish her and Mr. Millibrand well in their quest to get more support here from other NATO nations because I for one don't want the U.S. to have to pick up the slack AGAIN and be forced to come back for my "fourth" tour.

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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Random thoughts...

It's not been "all" doom and gloom here by what you hear in the news reports, and hopefully you get a glimpse into some of what real life is here at ISAF in Kabul by reading this blog. But let me share with you some other not-so-well-known truths I've discovered so far on this tour and some other light-hearted things we do to keep ourselves entertained here.

Lessons learned so far:

  1. Do not take off your shoes on a cross-Atlantic flight and expect to find clean, “dry” floors in the lavatory

  2. Do not take off your glasses, place them in your unzipped toiletry bag, and expect to find them later after swinging and dangling your toiletry bag on your way back to your room from the shower.

  3. Do not mix a packet of Crystal Light lemonade into your water bottle, and then immediately attempt to put in your contacts without first washing your hands!

  4. Do not go to chow with your M-4 Carbine, unsling your weapon, sit down and eat, and then walk out lighter than when you came in.

  5. Do not put on your armored vest AFTER you’ve already slung your weapon over your shoulder!

  6. Do not walk into work carrying 5 care packages you just received in front of the only guy in your unit who hasn’t received any mail!
And some other fun things we do here to keep entertained.....

Recently we all finally finished in-processing the base by attending the last orientation class about a week ago. But up until that day, before getting issued our meal cards, we had to manually "sign in" when going to the chow hall to eat. There were over 30 different notepads with each nation's flag on it, so it was a hassle to sign in every day. It only took 2 or 3 episodes of this to turn it into a fun exercise in names. One day Bixby signed in as Bert, and I signed in underneath him as Ernie. The next day I was LuLu, and he was Trixy... and on and on and.... (you get the picture.... *grin*)

We also have these forms that have to be filled in and submitted to the chow hall if you plan on picking up a "to go" meal, for instance, if you are on-shift and can't leave your post. Bixby went to pick up two meals for "Bruce Banner" and "Clark Kent" the other day when two of his guys couldn't leave their post. *lol* It's not done to make fun of the guy who sits there monitoring signatures, but it does seem peculiar to us that he can't even read English. *smile*

Ok...enough random humor for now.... have to head to work.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Boring Days...NOT

Some days around here you have to be careful what you complain about. A couple days ago the guys and I had just complained about how boring it was that morning, and then BOOM!, off goes another bomb just a few blocks away. Strangely enough, I heard it muffled in the background, but didn’t even take notice, but Roger was the one who said, “Was that a bomb?...” We all looked around the room at each other, pondering his question, and then finally said, “Yeah…. I guess that was.” And without missing a beat, went back to work without even opening the door to see what happened. Heck, no one even got out of their seat for that matter… nor was another word spoken about it. (It’s a surreal world we live in here.)

About an hour and a half later, someone called my shop. Roger answered, but couldn’t understand a word he was saying so he gave the phone to me. Now, I won't go into detail about what was said or what exactly occurred, because I am sensitive to the fact that my family – and particularly my kids – read this blog, so I’ll just say it was VERY suspicious. And rather than act on what I was told to do in that phone conversation, I questioned him on several fronts, stalled him, and then notified the authorities. Before we knew it, the gentleman at the other end of the phone call was gone. Crisis averted. What really bothers me about all this is that, this time, it directly involved me. This was not some incident I heard about second-hand, or some “boom” I heard down the street. It was “right there” in front of me and I had to deal with it. This whole "suspicious" episode encompassed about an hour of time, and it was exhilarating, frustrating, and frightening, all-in-one. By the time it was all over I was exhausted. But when we finally knew that the coast was clear, the guys and I decided that we would no longer complain about being bored. *smile*

Despite the threats of that morning, the day went on as usual (finally) and by lunch time, I had taken Roger and Wes back to Bakhtar Jewelry for a full-course Afghan meal that Ismatullah and Abdul were preparing for us. Inside their little shop there, they brought in home-cooked delicacies, like beef and chicken kabob, a rice/beef/spices/grapes combo in a big bowl, another spicy meat wrapped into what looked like a fillet, and then lots and LOTS of fire-oven-cooked Afghan bread. (and of course, once again, LOTS of green tea! *smile*) They both spread out a nice table cloth over their jewelry counter, brought in fancy plates and silverware, set out the chairs, and made a nice spread. You can tell by the pictures, this was no small meal. This is the way Afghans congregate or, in our case, “negotiate” when doing business. I have brought just about everyone from my unit into their shop now, and they’ve all purchased various items, but the ironic thing is I haven’t yet. I guess you could say that I’m working on what they refer to as my “friend price” and maybe at some point I can afford to actually buy something there. Either way, I love sitting and chatting with them. They’re incredible people.

Things at work have been busy… and to add to our hectic schedule, we’ve recently discovered some additional duties that we’re supposed to perform that we weren’t told about by the outgoing unit. *frown* A critical data link for a "key office" (can't say who) went down at the end of the month because their crypto expired and….. well…. we fixed it once we were frantically made aware of it. Add it to the list I suppose. Also, I have resigned myself to the fact that there is no such thing as an 8-hour day…. It just doesn’t work…. Minimum 12… most of the time 15-16 now… but that’s still better than before, and besides!... What would I do with my extra time here anyway? *smile* Ok…. Don’t answer that. *lol*

Praying for more “boring” days ahead….

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