Friday, April 29, 2005

Short Day on Salerno FOB

As posted below, MAJ Short received the news that his daughter had been born early yesterday morning and after hanging up the phone with his wife Chris (who had done all the hevy lifting here) he immediately declared:

"I have been blessed with a daughter. Short the Great has been fruitful and multiplied. I hereby decree, from this moment forward, that today shall be known as 'Short Day' on Forward Operating Base Salerno....." (scroll down)

"...I shall raise flags in her honor and all shall render respect;..." Posted by Hello

"...The Air Force shall grace the skies with fireworks in honor of my child:.." Posted by Hello

"..Colonels and Generals..." Posted by Hello

"...Shall pay homage in golden coin...." Posted by Hello

"...And I shall take to the skies and view her future kingdoms..." Posted by Hello

"...And she will, one day, be mistress of all I survey on this 'Short Day' in Salerno." Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 28, 2005

As Promised...A New Day Aways Comes

Craig's wife, Chris, brought their new daughter into the world at 00:38 CET this morning. Evelyn Grace tipped the scales at 10lbs. 12 oz and stretched out to 21 1/4".

"She's a keeper." said the ever-expressive father.

The Sun Also Rises Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

I Need a Better Map

I see people around me all day and I think I understand them because we are sharing this same experience. We have this hardship in common, this isolation, this danger, this lonliness, a longing for friends and family half a world a way. Because our paths have intersected at this austere place at this particular time, I think I have an understanding of those around me. We wear the same uniform. We come from the same country. We are here for the same reason. I know you don't I?

We lost a soldier Sunday night to, what was possibly, a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We received the news in the early hours of Monday morning and we waited in numbness and shock for the details to filter in.

It's the details that we crave because it's what we use to paint the picture, it's how we try to find the answers. We start at the end of his journey and work our way back drawing in the details to the map that brought him here as best we can, but we only share the route so far, there are never enough details. I need a better map.

While I know the path that brought me to this place, it's pitfalls and tortuous hills, I also know that I am the only person who has taken that exact route here. Why then do I insist on measuring his journey to this place by the standard of my path? Why then, if I know this, do I judge his strength and stamina, his skill and endurance, by a simple comparison to my own? I need a better map.

I need to know the hills that he climbed that brought him to the place we met. I need to know if the rivers that he had to cross sapped his strength, or if it was just a pitfall that he encountered while on the path alone that night. The map needs more details, a higher resolution.

I know the details that I seek will give me the answers. I need a higher resolution to draw the map to the scale I need. It will have be 1:1, a life-size map, in 3 dimensions and a passage through time. I will have to carry his body armor and ruck-sack up the same grades, and over the same obstacles. I will have to know which parts he walked alone through and where he was carried or I will be tempted to just fill in the blank spots from the map of my own journey. I need a better map.

I need a map of his soul. I need to know what he believed in and from what sources he drew his strength. I need to know if his character was flawed or perhaps his spirit broken by brute force and ignorance. If I have this map maybe I won't shoulder the responsibility or lay the blame at someone else's feet. With this resolution maybe I won't draw from the generalities of my own narrow path, a generic reason which I can wrap around this horror then tuck it away. Yes, I need a better map

Maybe the map I need though isn't of his soul, but of mine. I will never be able to live his life for him, but I can chart the course of mine. I can choose the star to guide me, and use the maps of others before me to plot my course. I can draw from the experience of my journey so far, including the path we shared, to help me through the perils ahead. Even then though, the map might not be enough, I will probably still need help.

I'll need somone to walk with me. Someone to carry the light when it gets too dark or take some of the burden when it gets too heavy. Thankfully, I already have that. Pam has shined more light on my path and carried more of my burden than I can ever express in words. She needs to know. I need to tell her more, show her more; more detail, higher resolution. I hope I can draw her a better map.

Monday, April 25, 2005

 Posted by Hello
Just a Reminder

This is just a placeholder to remind me to write later about today and that there are always silver linings and another day coming.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

More Holy Wars

The things that we choose to care about as a military bureaucracy never ceases to be a source of amusement and awe to me, but I never suspected the chaplains to be the source of this entertainment.

In the logistics community we have a method of tracking commodities at all of our supported locations which is nothing more than calculating how many days of supply are on hand and dividing it by how many days of supply are required. This gives us a percentage which we then assign a color based on it's value. This sounds pretty confusing, but aside from ensuring that we have the right amount of supplies on hand it serves several other purposes. One, it plays to the inherent geeky nature of the logisitcian and our natural tendency to multiply and divide every permutation and combination of numbers presented to us and track them in mind-boggling spreadsheets. Two, it allows us to make really snappy looking color-coded charts in Powerpoint when we brief our higher headquarters, and finally, it allows us loggies to use cool sounding military terms during those briefings, like "Sir, you can see that Gardez, is Green across the board, but Tarin Kowt and Kandahar are Amber and Red in Class III respectively and K2 is black in class V."

Now the Chaplains are a different breed of soldier, and aside from their counseling and services, they pretty much keep to themselves and march to the beat of a different drum, but this sort of tracking system with all it's benefits was apparently too tantalizing for them not to use. So now during our staff meetings, we have the opportunity to see the chaplain's snappy color-coded chart and listen to him use cool military souding jargon like "Sir, you can see that Salerno is green across the board for all services, but Mazar-E-Sharif is amber for Protestant services, while Jalalabad and Asadabad are red and black respectively for Catholic coverage."

Just as the logistician can't deny his natural tendency for numbers and statistics, the military bureaucrat is a slave to his urge to give guidance and direction based on those snappy color-coded charts so now the plan to keep all the locations green on the chaplain's chart has to be managed to the nth degree. In some perverse kind of way, this not only makes sense, it works, and all those green dots on the snappy looking charts translate into happy soldiers whose every physical and spiritual need has been satisfied.

Leave it to us, LTF 191, to bring this well-oiled machine to a grinding halt.

We worked long hard hours to ensure that our chaplain and his dedicated assistant deployed here with everything they could possibly need to serve the spiritual needs of the soldier. They were very excited about the mission and the opportunity to bring God's word to the needy in an austere environment. The military community here was ecstatic to have him coming because there is a decided shortage of Catholic priests not only in Afghanistan, but Army wide. They were excited that is until they found out that our chaplain isn't Roman Catholic, but Orthodox Catholic.

"He isn't Catholic." cries the one Roman Catholic chaplain in the CJOA who disappears for weeks at a time to a single remote little node while the remainder of his supervisor's snappy color-coded chart turns from green to amber to black. "His services don't count for Catholic coverage."

"But Sir," cries our chaplain, "Canon Law explicitly states that a Roman Catholic can receive the sacrament of the eucharist from an Orthodox Catholic priest, if a Roman Catholic priest is not available. They don't get any more unavailable than here."

"He still provides an important service that is in high demand." States the good natured Chaplain peace-keeper in the area. "Put him in the rotation for coverage throughout the area. Call it Liturgical Services."

"But Sir," cries the maker of snappy looking charts, "We don't have a category for 'Liturgical Services' and even if we did, he would be the only one who could provide coverage and all the dots would be black unless he lived on the road."

"Well, the Archdiocese of the military says he isn't Catholic, and we know he's christian, so put him down as a protestant."

"But Sir," cries the protestant chaplain "He isn't a Protestant. Trust me, I'm a protestant, I can give you the history of protestants, and I provide all the protestant coverage we need here. He might not be Roman Catholic, but he is Catholic, you know, like Catholic Lite, or something."

"Chaplain," cries Firepower 5 "Why aren't you out on the road spreading God's word and cheer while providing for the spiritual needs of our soldiers?"

"Sir," says the Chaplain forlornley, "There are no colored dots for me on the snappy looking charts."

Now, the old adage is that there are no atheists in foxholes, and I have seen a lot of truth to that here. I see a lot more people bowing their heads before meals in the mess hall here than I did in Germany, and there are a lot fewer excuses to be found for not being at the chapel on Sunday morning. The bible studies through the week get a very regular attendance, and the gospel choir is going strong. At the end of they day it's really between you and the big guy in the head office as to what your relationship is with him and all a soldier really needs is a counselor and confessor and somone to take the lead in getting the "Liturgical" ball rolling.

"Chaplain," says Firepower 5 reassuringly, "You go ahead and get on a helicopter and start making the rounds to where all our soldiers are. I'll have Lance Corporal Jason Dominguez make you a snappy looking chart all you own, and we'll make sure you keep all the dots green."

Having grown up the son of a minister, I have had the opportunity to attend the services of a plethora of different faiths. I have practiced Catholicism for nearly a decade, and I have attended our chaplain's masses. When he blesses me; I feel blessed. When he absolves me; I feel absolved. I think the rest is between me and the big guy and I feel pretty confident St. Peter won't be consulting any snappy looking charts on judgement day.

Friday, April 22, 2005

New Blog Site

I'm trying out a new blog site, but I'm having a hard time making it look the way that I want. Please let me know what you think. In the mean time I will post to both.
Elephants and Crickets

There's an elephant in the room. There's an Elephant standing right in the middle of the family room here and no one is mentioning it. We're all just trying to carry on our normal conversations with each other and pretending not to notice, and assuming that since no one else is saying anything, they must not notice. It's an elephant folks, and it's standing in the middle of the room leaving pachyderm sized poops all over the carpet. Trust me, it's not that the other person hasn't noticed, they're just ignoring it too.

We're all sitting behind out computers in this big virtual family room, communicating as best we can, and so far, we're all failing to state the obvious topic of discussion: "Is it dangerous where you are?" The short answer is "Yes".

We were given orders to deploy to a combat zone. We trained for it through battle drills and live fire convoys for months. We are receiving hostile fire allowances in our paychecks. Ray Charles could see that there is an inherent amount of danger associated with this and to try and carry on normal communications with people without mentioning it and hoping that the other person just doesn't notice is disingenuous at best.

That may sound like a pretty harsh condemnation, but I'll say first that I am just as guilty as everyone else. I try to make things easier on Pam by not telling her about certain dangers, and Pam worries more because I haven't said anything about it being dangerous. She thinks I'm hiding something. She knows me pretty well. She doesn't want to ask. I don't want to say, and the elephant just gets bigger and stinkier.

I feel guilty because Pam and I have worked very hard over the years to construct a relationship that is built on trust and by not admitting to her what danger I may be in here, is a lie of ommision. I can tell myself that I'm just protecting her, but then I'm just lying to myself as well. Since I'm not willing to damage my relationship with the person who I hold dearest in the world and because I really need to be able to talk to her about these things for my own sanity, it's time to start talking about the elephant.

It can be dangerous here. FOB Salerno is only 20 kilometers from the Pakistan border. The range on a 122mm rocket is 23 kilometers. From time to time the cave-dewllers get lucky and one of these things will land in or around the FOB. These rockets have the ballistic integerity of a pinata and their accuracy is comparable, only about half of what get fired at us actually lands anywhere near us. To fire these things at us is a much riskier operation for the cave-dweller than it is for us, but since it's pretty much the only thing he's got, he remains pretty persistent.

I would like to say that I was forthright and magnaimous about this, and finally decided to do the right thing all on my own. I was finally going to come clean with Pam and let her know everything that has happened here. I was going to break it to her gently, and as I began typing out a carefully crafted email, Fox news popped up with the story related in the post below, saying that Salerno had been attacked. Nothing like good timing. I'll edit that post below to relate exactly what happened and you will be able to see how I've been talking around this beast.

Now I'd like to apologize to Pam for not sharing the truth with her immediately as she has come to expect and has a right to expect. I'd like to apologize to the rest of my family for the same reason, but I'd also like to apologize to anyone else who may be reading this who really didn't know there was an elephant in the room. Please don't be angry at whoever didn't tell you about Dumbo, there was no malicous intent and everyone's best interest was at heart. We're all pretty new at this and it's really not something that anyone wants to practice enough to be really good at.

So, there it is, an elephant. It's kind of a puny little pachyderm now that we really look at it, but it's an elephant none the less and he can be dangerous. The training is good though, the troops react well, and there is no complacency. The danger is taken seriously and we react accordingly. So now that we admit that the elephant is here, how do you get rid of it? Well, you really don't, but you don't let it consume your either. You always remain prepared to do what needs to be done, then you put it out of your mind. You find your distractions. Whether it's books or movies, or just trying to chase down a cricket in your tent, you keep yourself busy and pretty soon, even though the elephant is still there, you realize that he's really not that big and he doesn't get in the way much. The more you chase Jimminyhad, the smaller the elephant seems to be, and pretty soon you really don't notice that he's there.

Who knew that elephants were afraid of crickets?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rise of the Cave-Dweller

I would like to believe myself to be realtively culturally aware person, but the mind of the Taliban is a bit beyond my comprehension. We are in the midst of the spring offensive here in Afghanistan. This means that it has warmed up enough for the cave-dwellers to crawl back out of their holes, knock the mud off their rusty AKs and continue the Jihad against the infidels who persist in committing great crimes against Islam like providing medical treatment, distributing medical supplies, building schools, evacuating flooded villages and distributing humanitarian aid.

Apparently the way this works is the senior cave-dweller, determined to be senior by the Darwin School of Management, rounds up anyone he can find whose Jihad spirit hasn't been completely suffocated by USAID food and medical supplies, or anyone he can intimidate at the point of his rusty AK. He then waits for a good moonlit night and takes his reluctant holy warriors up some goat-trail in the mountains along the Pakistan border, and digs some ancient Soviet era rockets out of the hole they've been rusting away in since the last time he was chased out of the mountains. These rockets are then skulked into some location where the general concensus is that they have a pretty decent chance of hitting something important or at least noticeable. Then leading from the rear with a cheap radio, the senior cave-dweller has the recruits fire the rockets off some high tech launch system like a pile of rocks or a jerry rigged mass of angle iron.

This is where the wheels fall of the Cave-dwellers plan. Since they've shlepped 5 or 6 of these 200 pound rockets all up and down the Hindu-kush, the senior cave dweller wants to make sure they fire them all. It takes a good 2 minutes to set up each rocket and they can only fire one at a time. It only takes 20 seconds for a US ballistic radar to pick-up the incoming round, determine its point of origin, and feed this data to the artillery battery and attack aviation.

About the time the Taliban Youth are trying to light the fuse on their 2nd or 3rd rocket which typically has the accuracy of a water pistol in a wind storm, a crew of 13 Bravos are ramming 155mm rounds into their howitzers, and APUs are being fired on Apaches and Blackhawks.

Since this has already been on Fox news, I guess I can write about how this worked out for them the other night.

About 1:30 P.M. Dublin Pub time (6:00 P.M. local time) we were going about our daily business when we heard the tell-tale "Pop" and "Whoosh" of an incoming rocket's booster engine kicking in followed by an explosion in the distance. There is a scramble as everyone reaches for their IBA and helmets then heads for the nearest bunker. Within seconds, everyone was is in the heavy concrete structures adjusting their helmets, testing communications, getting comfortable as comfortable as possible and listening for more "Pops". I recorded the initial rocket at 13:34. Craig pulled the crossword puzzle he had saved from a Stars and Stripes out of his notebook and we got to work waiting.

At 13:39, we heard another "Pop" and "Whoosh" followed by an explosion even further distant. Right on schedule, my radio came to life with "Net Call, Net Call. The next rounds you hear will be outgoing."

It was into dusk now and even though we're a few hundred yards away from the artillery battery, out the doorway of the bunker I could see the trees of the olive grove illuminate with a flash and a few seconds later the ground shook from the report of the massive Fox Battery howitzer firing an adjusting round in the general direction of Pakistan (of course when you're in Salerno, 270 degrees of the compass point to Pakistan). Somewhere in the midst of this, we had heard Sabre's Apaches roar over the FOB in the same direction and it occurred to me that I had seen and heard A-10's overhead not 1/2 hour before as well. It was shaping up to be a bad night for the Cave-dwellers.

At 13:43, we heard another "Pop" and as we strained to hear the whoosh, I saw the olive grove light up in a succession of flashes and the ground shook as Fox Battery fired for effect. 24 rounds arced towards a rocket launch point, each capable of wreaking devastation on everything withing a 75 meter radius of where it lands. Craig and I paused our quest to find an 8 letter word for "Formal Meeting" long enough to smile and nod our heads at each other. Having both come up in the artillery, we have exciting memories from the gun line.

A few minutes later, the ground shook again as 24 more rounds were fired. As the TF Sabre pilots tell it, they were on station at the rocket launch point and pulled back as the artillery rained down on the position. The A-10s which had been loitering around looking for a fight took their turn, then the Apaches moved back in to clean up with their 30MM and rockets. Even with their exceptionally flat learning curve, the rocket boys realized they had showed up at a gunfight with a pea-shooter and tried to break contact. Unfortunately for them though, the Apaches gave way to the AC-130 Spectre that had lumbered into this Afghan Little Big Horn. These monsters pack (2) 20mm Vulcan cannons, each capable of spewing 100 rounds per second on a target, a 40mm Bofors cannon that will put out another 100 rounds a minute, and a 105mm howitzer that will ruin even the most stalwart cave-dweller's day.

When the smoke cleared, there were 12 less cave-dwellers to shlep rockets up goat trails. Even though the rockets achieved nothing more than a smoking hole in a field 200 meters from nothing, and starting a brush fire somewhere out in the Afghan countryside, I suppose the Senior Cave-dweller who led from the rear with a radio will probably tout this to anyone who will hear him as the greatest military success since Hannibal crossed the Alps in order to bolster his severly flagging recruiting campaign. Craig and I slept fine though because we figured out that the 8 letter word for "Formal Meeting" is Symposia.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Last rays of sun of FOB Salerno Posted by Hello
And Then There Were Seven...

Time continues to march with a brutal regularity and we can no more effect it's passage than we can stop the sun from rising. While the endless tasks make each day pass with a surprising velocity, it's unique duplicitous nature also continues to remind me how many more days must pass before we can call this mission completed.
It is both fortunate and tragic that we measure mission success in this manner. It is fortunate because we can make realtively definite plans around it. We can put a mark on the wall which both torments us and tantilizes us by measuring the remaining separation from family, friends and loved ones. It is tragic though because it makes the deployment an exercise of endurance rather than one of objective accomplishment.
I think they key here, as Papa Ray related in a previous comment, is to measure our mission here in a series of objectives and accomplishments rather than on a calendar. Not only will this make the passage of time co-incidental but also provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment. This isn't a function of changing the tasks that fill our day, but focusing on those tasks and accomplishments instead of the clocks and calendars.
Hopefully, by the time we have 7 weeks remaining instead of 7 weeks completed, I will be relating our time here through the recitation of a laundry list of achievements.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Operation Walk Tall Update

We're beginning to see a steady stream of boxes for Operation Walk Tall now. We have a decent base to begin with. If the flow keeps up, we should be able to make our initial distribution in a couple of weeks and then work to build this into an enduring program for whatever unit follows us on here.

A couple of admin notes here:

JeanneD and Angel, I don't have email addresses for you, you can write and Jeanne you can tell SFC B to pony up too.

DevilDog6771, Not only do I think it very appropriate, I think your nephew would be proud and honored.

PapaRay, All I can say is thank you, and God bless both you and your grand-daughter.

Pedro, Well, just thanks, and I can't wait to fall off the wagon with you at the highlands fest.

And to all the many others who have contacted us, thank you again for making these children's lives and our jobs a little easier.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Contact with Task Force Sabre

As previously reported, 2-6 Cav is on the ground, or rather in the air here. I received a couple of requests to track down some people and make contact with them.

I can now report that both Warrant Officers Frazee and Purdy are alive and well in Salerno and enjoying it every bit as much as we are.

So sacred does our Adjutant, LT Burt take her duty of as the self-appointed OEF VI Cruise Director, that she managed to track Chief Purdy down in the chow hall and proclaim in her "Outdoor Voice", and much to the chagrin of the said Warrant Officer:

"Hey, Mr. Purdy, you're supposed to call your Mother."

I'm sure Mr. Purdy's coharts at the table will let him live this down, probably not, but we sure appreciate having all of them around, the Apaches are much quieter than the Marine Cobras when they fly over the FOB at night.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Max

When my 5 year old grandson Max goes to bed each night, he closes his eyes to say his prayers and starts with "Dear God, thank you for a good day."

A few months ago after a particularly rough day for Max and his mom, he wasn't too sure about saying his prayer like that.

"It wasn't a good day was it Mom?"

"Yes Max, it was a good day. You're here safe in your bed, we have a roof over our head, and we have food in our tummys. "

"It was a pretty good day, wasn't it Mom."

Around here it's pretty easy to become disillusioned and complain about our lot in life. It's easy to bitch about having to stumble through the mud in the pitch black with a colored flashlight to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The grumbles come pretty easy when the email and the phones go down for days at a time, or when the mail doesn't come for a week and a half. A scowl is pretty easy on weekends and holidays when your wife and family are literally on the other side of the world and it's been months since you've been able to hold them.

Yesterday, after what I initially thought was a pretty crappy day, and was finding it easy to wallow in a big tub of self-pity, I finally crawled into bed. I stared into the dark and thought about Pam. I thought about my family, and I thought about Max.

No rockets exploded in the FOB today, and all the aviators all returned under their own power. The marines all returned from their patrols, and there wasn't a commander thinking about how to write a difficult letter. It was a pretty routine day at the hospital and none of the troops had to ride the MEDEVAC to Bagram or back to Landsthul. My family was safe, I was in a warm bed, and I certainly haven't missed any meals. So while tomorrow I may be able to complain about the lobster in the dining facility being overcooked, last night, I had to close my eyes and say "Dear God, thank you for a good day.

Monday, April 11, 2005

23rd Ordnance Arrives in Salerno

After a layover at BAF and parceling out their soldiers to FOBs around the country, the remaining contingent of the 23rd Ordnance Company finally hit the ground in Salerno in a cloud of dust and with the first mailbags we've seen in more than a week.

...welcome to Salerno. Posted by Hello

One last little hop off the ramp and.... Posted by Hello

Arriving in a cloud of dust. Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Back-to-Back National Champions. Posted by Hello
DU Wins NCAA Hockey Championship!!!

Congratulations to the University of Denver Pioneers as they capture their second consecutive national chamionship in NCAA hockey with a 4-1 win over the University of North Dakota.

Return of the Nomad Posted by Hello

"Big Windy" crew chief checks the LZ Posted by Hello

Final Approach Posted by Hello
The Nomad Returns

After 11 days on the road touring the finer points of Afghanistan, Firepower 6 finally made it back to Salerno. Fortunately Craig and I had enough advance warning of his arrival to evict the tenants that we had subleted his half of the tent to.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

And Now, Back to The News....

The weather has started clearing up and the LTF Commander has made it at least part of the way back. His absence is still glaring though and...well, not exactly glaring, the missions are still getting done but we need him to...well, alright, "need" might be a little much, it's more that we kind of got used to having him around and ....OK, OK, we had to dust off his desk and rifle through his papers just to remember how to spell his name. The poor guy just went out to check on his people scattered around the country and is now on day 10 of his quest to get back to Salerno.

We're managing to still get things done though, the Chaplain has purged the Lord's house of some evil doings at the hands of the Marines (ironically their unit call sign is 'Trinity') but that's a story for another day. Craig and I managed to start a war with the ACO, (people tell me that stands for Assistant Contracting Officer, but I'm pretty sure it's really Anti-Christ Ombudsman. The soldiers are studying for boards, new copies of bootlegged video's are arriving at the bazzar, and there was even a rumor of a mail flight, but that wasn't to be so.

Craig thinks he lost his watch this morning or last night, he's been looking for it all day. I didn't want to say anything to alarm him, but I think we will soon see a video on Jimminyzeera news showing a band of crickets in headscarves dancing around their captured loot.

Time to head to the Bucksnort, the NCAA Hockey Championship is on early.
6 Down, 44 to Go

Well, this marks the end of the sixth week of our deployment here. I told Pam that I didn't want to keep a calendar, but that's simply an impossibility. You can't help but mark the time, you know it's just going to make it seem longer, but you have to do it. Sure, you try all the tricks, like counting backwards "Six weeks down." instead of "Forty-four weeks left."; you try counting by weeks instead of days because 44 sounds a lot better than 320; you think about counting by months but then time goes to slow to feel like you're making any progress at all; and finally you try not counting at all. At the end of the day though, there you are, marking off a calendar, or starting a new page in a journal and you just can't help missing home.

The time is really starting to weigh down on us now. We've adjusted to our new environment, and all the novelty has dissapated. The monotony has started to set in, and people are realizing just how much time still lies ahead.

The only emotion I can really compare it to is the weeks following 9/11. We were shocked to see things that we knew were possible but never expected. We saw things that we understood but stunned us never the less, and we began to accept things that only now we believed were necessary. Over those weeks, a longing began to well up in us. It was barely noticable at first, but soon the desire for normalcy overwhelmed us. We wanted to drive to work without seeing the skies of our cities being patrolled by armed warplanes. We wanted to go to a hockey game without being searched at the door. We wanted to travel without arriving at the airport 3 hours early. We longed for the things that we had understood and were familiar to us. Slowly though, you accept these things because even though you loathe their necessity, the alternatives are unthinkable, and you build you life around the new rules defining your own revised sense of "normal" as you go.

So while we go about defining our new sense of normal here and building our daily lives around it, it helps to know that each day not only brings us closer to returning to the normal lives we left a few weeks ago but also helps ensure that our children and grand-children grow up in a world where their sense of normal is familiar and comforting rather than something you remeber in dreams and long for.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Plea for Help

We need children's shoes!!!

I will keep moving this post to the top until I can get something on the sidebar. More recent posts below.

As 1LT Burt was walking through medical facility here on the FOB, she saw one of the local Afghani children who are all too often treated here when their needs exceed what can be provided at the community hospital. The young lad of 8 or 9 was receiveing excellent treatment for his injuries, but what caught her attention was that he had outgrown his shoes and new shoes either could not be afforded or were not available. She knew this because the toes of his shoes had been cut off to allow his own toes to stick out. After making a few inquiries, she found out that this child was one of the lucky ones, at least he had something to protect the bottoms of his feet.

The lack of adequate clothing for children in this area is a significant problem that if we can any way help alleviate, will go vast distances to further gaining the goodwill of the local population.

We are asking for donations of children's shoes and clothes for distribution. Shoes and clothes only please, funds of any type CANNOT be accepted.

Donations should be directed to:

APO, AE 09314

Any assistance possible is appreciated.
DU Goes to National Championship

Ok, I'm kind of torn here because I really like Colorado College hockey as well, but the University Of Denver Pioneers, drubbed the Tigers 6-2 to earn their 2nd consecutive trip to the national title game to be played Saturday.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Afghanistan Weather Forecast

Again, all our troops and all that have been referred to in this blog are safe.

They way I typically write this blog is by starting an idea and saving it as a draft, then continuing to work on it as I find bits of time through the day or over a couple of days. Ironically, yesterday morning I had started an entry about the weather that seemed pretty humorous at the time.

Part of our daily updates to the commander in the morning is a synopsis of the weather in the areas where we have people, and since our people are scattered across the entire country, we get a pretty comprehensive picture. All the weather conditions and all the forecasts were "Dust" or "Haze" across the board.

It seemed pretty humorous at the time, but by the time visibility was reduced to less than 1/2 a mile, and the wind was picking up, it had more of an ominous feel. When the news came that a helicopter was down, it became downright eerie.

I'm sure that the humorous moments will return, and I'm sure we'll be able to laugh at the small misfortunes that the future holds for us, but right now, our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers go out to the friends, families, and loved ones of our comrades in arms who have been taken from us.

Dear Lord, Make me an instrument of thy peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is discord, harmony
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is sadness, joy.

Oh Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

-St Francis of Assisi

Helicopter Down

Just a quick note to alleviate some fears. A CH-47 helicopter crashed yesterday and it appears that there were 16-19 people on board and no survivors. I have to respect the moratorium on communications at the moment, but I can state that no one I know or anyone who has been refered to in this blog, were in the air yesterday. More to follow.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

You can see pictures and a review of the our Bucksnort Saloon's namesake, an actual saloon in Sphinx Park, Colorado. It's out of the way, but well worth the trip if you can find it.

Front door of the Bucksnort Saloon. Posted by Hello
Home Again (sort of)

Ok, so the Bucksnort Saloon isn't really home, but it sure feels that way after a week on the road.

The Air Force sought out their revenge on me starting at 2:50 A.M. yesterday when they curtly announced that I would not be able to fly directly from K2 to Salerno. The aircraft was full of cargo.
"Are you telling me you can't get one person with only a carry-on bag onto that aircraft?"

"It would throw the weight and balance of the aircraft off Sir."

"I've worked as aircrew before and I am certified by the Air Force to do load planning, I'm sure I can work that out for you."

"Unless you are on orders as Mission Essential Ground Crew, it would be against regulations to manifest you on this flight Sir."

"Can that regulation be waived by the air crew?"

"Yes Sir."

"Can I speak to the air crew please."

"They're still on crew rest for another hour and can't be disturbed."

Needless to say, I lost this battle, but I was finally able to manifest on another flight that left 4 hours later that was scheduled to go to Salerno...eventually. Our first stop was in Herat near the Iranian border where we picked up a group from the Montana National Guard and a couple of their vehicles, then it was off to Bagram. During the hour and a half here, the Montana people disembarked. the plane was reconfigured with pallets and we finally took off for Salerno with 3 pallets of cargo and 25 more people mostly from the Texas National Guard.

After a 4 hour delay getting out of Uzbekistan, 6 hours of flight time and 2 hours of ground time, we finally descended in a cloud of dust onto Salerno's little dirt runway. Cleared up a few hot issues, finally got to chow (my entire diet up until that point had consisted of 4 nutrigrain bars and an Otis Spunkmeyer Muffin) then back to the Bucksnort.

Craig and I struggled through a viewing of a bootlegged copy of "Open Water" and then having had only 4 hours of sleep in the past 3 days, I decided to try out the pillow that was in the package from Pam that was waiting me. It works like a charm, not even the new Apaches from 2-6 Cav firing their rockets at 1 A.M. stirred me from my slumber, and Jimminyhad still remains silent.

Congratulations to Captain Winston on a well-deserved promotion and an outstanding job maintaining the "Heart of Darkness" outpost without going completely native. Posted by Hello

Promoting 1LT Tony Winston to CPT on April 1st in Mazar E Sharif. Posted by Hello

CH-47 Crewmember from the Germany based 7-159 Aviation "Big Windy" manning the machine gun on the ramp as we fly over Kabul headed for Bagram. Posted by Hello

Friday, April 01, 2005

Back in Uzbekistan

Wild ride today. In my never-ending quest to get to Mazar E Sharif, I caught a 5:50 A.M. flight out of K2 headed to Kabul. This is a flight that popped up on the system yesterday and I was somewhat puzzled. You see the Air Force has been cancelling flights to MeS at the drop of a hat for as long as anyone can remember. In fact, the flight I was supposed to catch yesterday was cancelled shortly before this one showed up on the Air Force's Secret Squirrel Astrological Flight Decoder System. Imagine my surprise when I see not only a flight from K2 to Kabul to MeS but also a return flight a few hours later. This was highly abnormal since the Air Force usually stays on the ground in MeS no longer than 20 minutes so whoever gets off has to wait there until the chicken bones that the Air Force Flight Planning Voo-Doo Witchdoctor throws in the air fall precisely right and another plane comes in....could be 5 days, could be 3 weeks. 2 flights in one day Wow!

Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I was up at 2:00 A.M. and at the terminal before 3 in order to manifest for this flight which was remarkably on time departing. With us on board was an Air Force chaplain who had been trying to get to MeS for nearly a month who also voiced his surprise at two flights in one day. Hmmm, even an Air Force officer with a personal connection to the big guy can't sway the system. The Flight Planning Voo Doo Witchdoctor's powers are strong indeed.

An hour or so later, we descended into Kabul and the engines shut down. The flight crew informed us that we would be on the ground for an hour so the Chaplain, who had been stuck here before too, served as our guide to get us to the dining facility. Since Kabul is the ISAF headquarters, there were service members from every nation I could fathom enjoying breakfasts suited for each taste. Specialist Hamericxz (I know that's not spelled right, but she tells us that the Army spells it wrong anyway) who was travelling with us was truly delighted. This remarkable troop met her husband, a Belgian national and veteran of their military, in Spain while a foreign exchange student, then after returning to the U.S. they both decided to join the U.S. Army. Unfortunately their joint assignment didn't work out quite as planned since he is an M1 tank crewmember, a commodity of very little requirement in the Afghanistan. In any event, it took her about 3 seconds to spot some Belgian troops and engage them in their native tongue. Before we left, they were laughing and kissing each other like they had been life long friends. I think she may have dissolved our Staus of Forces Agreement, sold them a few new fighter aircraft, and given them the weekend off, but I can't be sure. I have to spend more time in Belgium when I get back to Europe.

After breakfast, the mystery of the suddenly appearing flights was cleared up. The Deputy Secretary of Defense along with an Air Force Brigadier General, Lieutenant Colonel, and a host of DD Civilians boarded the aircraft. Since one of the DD Civilians sat next to me, I took the opportunity to tell him how fortunate he was to be able to catch a flight into MeS when he needed one. I continued on for the better part of a half hour suffocating him with stories of how difficult it is to get supplies and personnel in and out of the remote location, the frequency of Air Force cancellations, how long the troops there go without regular mail service or chaplain coverage. About 40 minutes into the flight, the Air Force Lieutenant Colonel decided that it would be a good time to give this particular DD civilian a tour of the cockpit. I never saw him again.

When we got to MeS, I was met by 1LT Winston and his contingent. Informed that the C-130 would remain in the ground for 20 minutes, I was given the 10 minute tour of his facility and a quick rundown of his responsibilities. We got back to the flight line and the Air Force was ready to go. We made them wait with the engines running (revenge is sweet) while LT Beverly read the promotion orders of one of her troops and then I had the privilege of promoting 1LT Winston to Captain and actually on the day the orders were effective.

So a quick flight back to K2, and now I am looking at another 2:00 A.M. wakeup and, if both the Secret Squirrel Astrological Flight Decoder System and the Flight Planning Voo-Doo Witchdoctor are willing, a flight back to Salerno and the Bucksnort where in LTC Langowski's absence, MAJ Short has assumed the positions of LTF Commander, Executive Officer, and Support Operations Officer and is insisting on being referred to as "Short the Great" and only in the 3rd person.

I hope for the sake of my staff, that the flight is on time.