It's Full of Stars!

Happy Halloween everyone!

If I was home right now I would be wrangling two feisty boys dressed as dragons. Instead, I am in Afghanistan and we had a costume party here on the PRT. Never underestimate the ingenuity and creativity of the American Soldier, especially when the prizes are a day off at the PRT, a case of Red Bull, and a 4 day pass at Quatar.

The best costume, in my opinion, was worn by one of the SF guys. He had on genuine Japanese Army fatigues, old style glasses, and a bandanna wrapped on his head samurai style. The original purpose of his costume was to have his picture taken while his SF buddies were pulling him out of a cave. They were then going to put his picture in a briefing saying that they thought he was Taliban but was actually a WWII Japanese soldier holding out. Too funny!

My eyes have gotten accustomed to how dark it is out here at night. Back home, even out in the farm area, there is always some artificial light. Not so out here. I usually use a red lensed flashlight at night so my night vision can kick in quicker. Once it does, there is quite a show.

Tonight, when I was walking back to my hooch after taking a shower, I stopped for a bit just to look at the sky. There was no moon and the Milky Way was just starting to come out. The brightest object in the sky was Mars (the god of war, how appropriate). I kind of just stood there taking it all in.

It was pretty peaceful just standing there gawking at the stars. I wished my boys were with me so I can show them the constellations (years ago I earned the astronomy merit badge). Then I looked at Mars and was reminded of where I was and why.

When I finish this tour, I will take my boys camping and show them the night sky. I won't have to worry about Mars then, it will be 2018 before it is this bright again.

CPT NightHawk


Finally at my PRT

So, what is my assignment like? The food is good and the soldiers here have been welcoming. That is good considering I just showed up a couple of days after they found out I (I told them) that I was assigned to them. I have my first meeting with the commander tomorrow (she just got back from leave). I will need to explain what my mission is and how I can be useful.

I have now been at my assigned PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) for 4 days. I was able to get a computer account and get caught up on reading all about the province I am in. I hurt my back doing step aerobics at Bagram Airfield the day before I left. Today was the first time I did PT (Physical Training) since Wednesday morning.

Today I was trained on how the force protection unit conducts convoy operations (important to know when you cross the wire). Tomorrow I will qualify with my rifle to demonstrate my proficiency. Most soldiers would grouse about how they just qualified less than a month ago, why qualify again. Personally, I love to shoot so going to the range is a treat for me. Once I qualify, I get to cross the wire and go on missions.

So why would a staff officer go on missions? Due to the work I do and the people I work with, at this level I need to go on missions. On my last deployment I pretty much stayed at the headquarters and all the subordinate units went on missions. This time, I am part of a subordinate unit.

The facilities here are top notch. The PRT I am at was constructed as a model for other PRT’s. In my quarters I have a heating/cooling unit, a bed with a mattress (no cot), and a CAT5 drop (network cable). The quarters building has a day room with a TV and DVD player. The DFAC (Dining Facility or mess hall for you old timers) has a commercial grade kitchen. The latrine building has washers and dryers, flushing toilets, and tiled shower stalls. The gym has free weights, dumbbells, a couple of stairmasters, a couple of stationary bikes, and a couple of elliptical machines.

Don’t have much else to say. Once I start going on missions I will be able to tell you more about what it is truly like here in Afghanistan.

CPT NightHawk


Grace and Love

I went to chapel services today (the first time I had been to church since I left home). A typical military chapel usually offers Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish services. If the numbers are there maybe Mormon, Wiccan (don’t laugh, Ft. Carson had a Wiccan Chaplain on post), Muslim, and others. The Protestant service is usually geared to the very young adult and has a pop feel to it. Those who know me know that I am a traditionalist at heart (I was raised Roman Catholic) so I am not comfortable in that kind of service.

Here at Bagram Airfield it was nice to see that a liturgical protestant service was offered. In the Armed Forces Religious Services Book, we used the long Protestant form and it was remarkably close to the Episcopal service that I am accustomed to. Granted, the Nicene Creed and the Lord’s Prayer were worded a tad different, but not too different to matter to a soldier serving in a combat zone far from home.

For today’s service the processional hymn was “Amazing Grace”, the offertory/communion hymn was “What a Friend we have in Jesus”, and the closing recessional hymn was “Onward, Christian Soldiers”. The sermon was about the dangers of “easy grace”, where we as Christians take God’s love for granted and don’t do the heavy lifting required to be truly good Christians like following the Ten Commandments and Jesus admonishing us to Love God and to love our neighbors as we should love ourselves (the last bit was taken from today’s Gospel reading).

So what does it mean to love your neighbors as you love yourself? What about loving ones enemy as you love yourself? These questions are a little heavy for after dinner cocktails or the salon, but are pretty existential for guys like me. So what does it all mean?

The way I understand it, God’s love isn’t the “I am OK and you are OK” variety, it is the tough love that requires the application of standards of behavior and not tolerating sin. Yes, we must forgive those who sin against us but we also must show them the error of their ways so that they can fully be a part of God’s grace. In other words, we follow the Ten Commandments and expect others to do so as well. If they don’t, we must help them see what they have done and help them get back to God’s grace.

There are many Christians today who are very uncomfortable being judgmental. Tolerance is the buzzword and everyone is a recipient of God’s grace. Well, that just flies in the face in what we are supposed to do as Christians. If we are supposed to preach God’s word and spread the good news of our salvation, part of that is what we must live up to those ideals. In short, if I commit a bunch of heinous sins, I can ask for forgiveness from God and my fellow Christians, do my penance and no longer do those heinous sins, and all will be good. It all falls apart if my fellow Christians don’t ask me to perform penance and I continue performing those heinous sins and I continue to expect God’s grace as long as I ask for forgiveness.

So, how do I love my enemy? Did I give him a chance to change his behavior (surrender)? Did I meet him on the field of battle in the open (announce my intentions)? If he does surrender, do I treat him with dignity and lay down expectations of behavior (recant his beliefs and proclaim a new direction for his life)? If he chooses to fight, do I dispatch him in a humane way (show him mercy and make it quick)?

It is so easy to receive God’s love. It is much more challenging to give God’s love.

CPT NightHawk


Hell of a Book

I finally finished reading the book that I started last July. I read quite a bit for my regular day job and the last thing I want to do when I get home is read. In any case, because I am waiting for transportation to my assignment, I was able to finish the book.

The book is called "Ghost Wars" and is written by Steve Coll. You can buy it here if you want. My father read this book and recommended it highly. I usually would wait for him to give me his copy but because I knew I was shipping out soon I bought my own copy at the Barnes and Noble in Jefferson City.

So, what is the book about? It is a documentation of the secret history of the Central Intelligence Agency, Afghanistan, and Osama Bin Laden from the Soviet invasion in 1979 to 10 SEP 2001. My copy is the updated version. Coll updated the manuscript when the 9/11 Commission Report was released.

I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants to understand why we need to see this conflict through to its finish. The one thing that stands out in the book is that the United States left the people of Afghanistan in the lurch when the Soviets pulled out and that we relied too heavily on other countries to come up with some sort of policy for the region. We trusted the wrong people and we strung the right people along and let them hang in the wind. We as a nation owe the people of Afghanistan.

Why do we owe them anything? Well for starters, they helped us bleed the Soviets. Talk to any former resident of the Communist Bloc and they wil tell you how grateful they are for the United States standing toe to toe with the Soviets. Many in Afghanistan saw the threat of Isamofascists early on and sounded the alarm and a few key people in the U.S. Government believed them, unfortunately, too many either discounted them or didn't care. When we identified Osama Bin Laden as a threat, the Northern Alliance gladly provided us intel on Bin Laden (for a fee, of course). However, we lacked the imagination and the guts to let the Northern Alliance take Bin Laden out (we wanted him alive) and also to support the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban.

The books focus is Afghanistan. There is a theme here that echoes in other foreign policy blunders of the United States and that is "What happens when the United States doesn't see a conflict thourgh to its end"? Well, there's a few and they all had huge impacts.

1. What happened after Desert Storm? We let Saddam Hussein live and as a result thousands of Kurds in the north and thousands of Shia's in the south were killed and his sons were left to kidnap and rape more women. We finally had to give the United Nations some credibility by going in and taking down Husseins government for violating the UN sanctions.

2. Lets go back a little further. We took CAS (Close Air Support) away from the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) and as a result the ARVN could not hold back the superior numbers of the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) and South Vietnam fell. To those who argue that the ARVN was a lousy army, they were at the beginning but during the Tet offensive the ARVN performed with distinction and they were getting better. The repercussions of South Vietnam falling was Combodia turning into "The Killing Fields".

3. Let's jump forward to Lebanon. We lost almost three hundred Marines in a suicide truck bomb attack (a harbinger of things to come) and we pulled out. Syria was then able to do what it wanted in Lebanon (to include harassing Isreal through proxy fighters). Supposedly Syria has pulled out but I don't think so.

4. What about Cuba? Granted the Bay of Pigs operation was planned on a wing and a prayer. By withdrawing CAS as the men hit the beach, we guaranteed failure. If we provided CAS, they might have succeeded but we will never know. Castro is still there and the vast majority of Cubans are still suffering in the workers paradise where everyone is equally miserable. Oh, I heard recently that former president Jimmy Carter validated the elections in Venezuela where Hugo Chavez, a Castro wanna be, obviously rigged them.

5. Somalia was a mess. We had restrictive rules of engagement and we didn't have a clear over riding mission. The Rangers got caught in an ugly firefight (read the book or watch the movie "Blackhawk Down"), many men were lost, and the United States pulled out shortly after. Osama Bin Laden claims that the Somalia debacle proved that the United States has no guts to fight. I would argue that we shouldn't have been there in the first place but once you commit, you commit all the way.

I could go on but I think I made my point. My brother thinks we have been Afghanistan too long. I read an opinion piece in the Jefferson City News Tribune critical of the Iraq effort and that we should pull out now. My response, we are still in Germany, Japan, and Italy fifty years after World War II. In Iraq there are thousands of dead Kurds and Shia's and many brutalized women. In Afghanistan there are thousands dead. We owe them, plus we owe the people we lost, to see this through.

CPT NightHawk


Bagram Airfield and the Puzzle Palace

It is a common feeling in the military that the quality of ones service is directly related to how far away from the flagpole you are. This translates in the civilian sector as to how often upper managment looks over your shoulder. Bagram Airfield is the location of CJTF-76, a very large flagpole. Underneath it are Regional Commands (brigades) then Provincial Reconstruction Teams and Foward Operating Bases (Battalions).

Last time I deployed downrange I was at a brigade HQ in Kosovo (Camp Bondsteel). I was literally chained to my desk churning out spreadsheets and Powerpoint slides. Did I hate my job? Yes and no. I never got to go anywhere in the Area of Operation (AO) except for a once a week trip to Pristina for a meeting. There were amenities on Bondsteel that made life pleasant.

Bondsteel and Bagram share many of the same amenities. Both have PX's, Burger Kings, coffee shops, vendors hawking souvineers, barbers, alteration/press shops, workout facilities, movies, free laundry and food (thank you KBR). Bagram, because of the immense size of its flagpole, has a Dairy Queen, a Subway, and a beauty shop/spa that offers professional masseuse services.

I, along with my colleagues visited the HQ today. Unofficially the place is called the Puzzle Palace (it is a bunch of containers connected together Leggo style inside a hangar). As you can imagine, Puzzle Palace is loaded with many meanings. One wag called the place the venue for the OER Olympics (Officer Evaluation Report).

Already, I know that I want to be assigned to a location that is the farthest from this place. I don't care about the Dairy Queen or the masseuses. All I know is that I already did one tour at an HQ and I don't want to go through that mess again. Send me down range to where the boots hit the ground and I will be a happy camper, hopefully soon!


Precious Cargo

I am finally here in Afghanistan. I arrived at Bagram AB yesterday morning. Don't know how long I will be here because I have to be worked into a flight to my final destination which I don't know what that is yet. We have an inbrief this afternoon and from that point we wait for orders and an outbound flight.

After we arrived and humped our gear to the transient tent (far bigger and with more room than the tent we had in Kyrgyzstan), I ate luch, took a shower, and laid down for a nap. I didn't wake up until 0530. I was out for about 15 hours. I guess I was really tired!

I took some awesome pictures of the mountains we flew over. Anyone who makes a life in this part of the world deserves to be called one tough hombre.

The C-130 that I flew on carried both passengers and cargo. It was an interesting mix of duffel bags, a light and generator set, a pallet of sealed boxes, and a bag of stuffed animals.

One can argue that the light set is important and that the duffel bags are important and that the pallet of sealed boxes are important. In my opinion, I thought the bag of stuffed animals and teddy bears was the most important.

Just think about the time and effort someone took to gather them all up. Then that someone talked to someone about how to get them over here. Then someone volunteers to throw them onto a bird that is headed overseas, basically making the same journey I did in getting here. I don't know the exact itinerary that bag took but it was just as long and ardous as mine.

Those stuffed animals and teddy bears are going to make some Afghan kid very happy and to me that makes that bit of cargo the most precious we can deliver.

CPT NightHawk


In Transit

I am composing this post in a MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) tent on Manas Airbase, Kyrgyzstan. I am waiting for my final hop into Afghanistan. Total travel time (to include layovers) from Ft. Carson, CO was a little over 36 hours. During that time I saw a couple of in flight movies and read a good portion of the book "Ghost Wars".

Once we arrived and moved into transient quarters (a big tent on a concrete pad) grabbing a hot meal, taking a shower, shaving, and changing ones underwear and socks were the order of the day. We were also able to relax horizontally (sleeping on a reclining airline seat does not produce restful sleep).

We can't get too settled in because we have space available roll call every five to seven hours. If you are called you have to get your gear on the pallet and stand by for bussing to the flightline. Of course, silly things can interrupt the process such as mechanical failure on the bird, important cargo, or VIP's. Supposedly because our group is pretty large we have priority after cargo. Much of the cargo transiting through here is part of the aid to the earthquake affected areas of Pakistan.

I want to talk a little bit about the following snippet from Xinhua News:

Afghanistan has promised to provide helicopters and humanitarian aid to the earthquake affected people in neighboring Pakistan. The Ministry of Defense plans to send four helicopters, 20 doctors, and two tons of medicines while the Ministry of Health plans to dispatch 31 doctors, five nurses, and one ton of medicine to Pakistan, according to statement from President Karzai on October 10. (Xinhuanet)

I want to go on record that this is a big thing for Afghanistan to do. I say this because for many years the ISI (Pakistan Army Intelligence) has mucked around in Afghan politics and its internecine warfare from the time of the Soviet invasion till the time that the Taliban fell. The ISI was the CIA's agent in passing arms and cash to the Mujahadeen but was not very equitable in who got the stuff. The ISI actively supported Hekmatyar (a ruthless man responsible for many of the deaths in Kabul) and the Taliban.

This promise of aid, in my opinion, shows that Afghanistan is looking to the future and is not concerned with maintaing a blood feud for past misdeeds. This is a remarkable step considering that revenge is a staple of tribal life in Afghanistan. Slowly but surely, positive change is afoot.

Next time I post I should be in Afghanistan.

CPT NightHawk



Well, we just recently finished our train up. In my last post I mentioned that we were going to start training on convoy operations. Convoy operations’ training was a definite eye opener.

The first day we used blank ammo and the second day we used live ammo. We basically drove down this road with mock up villages and we simulated a combat patrol. We experienced everything from IED attacks, ambushes, and disabled humvee’s. The O/C’s (observer controllers) looked at how we sent up our reports, how well we communicated with each other, whether we used sound tactics, how we reacted to stress, and whether we made a decision or not. It was pretty cool engaging targets in a relatively free environment as compared to a traditional range. Hopefully I won’t have to use those skills when I arrive in country.

I want to be on record as saying that this is the best deployment training I have ever had (I deployed to the Balkans a couple of years ago). Practically every one of our instructors served in Iraq and Afghanistan and has also served in the Balkans. The training followed a logical progression. It kinda sucked having to practice reacting to contact (both squad and sniper), low crawling, and 3-5 second rushes with body armor and on foot. However, if you have to un-ass your vehicle and get on foot you are then a basic infantryman and require those skills that are so painful to practice, especially if you are a thirty six year old desk jockey and humping fifty pounds of gear.

I also want to brag on my outfit. The cadre that trained us told us that we are the best National Guard unit they have ever trained. They told us we were proactive on getting things done, we had a great attitude, and when we were going through the ranges we showed a warrior spirit (we weren’t reticent about expending our ammunition and demonstrating “violence of action”).

I recently was able to come home and see my family. It was great getting home but it hurt having to leave again. I hope that when the boys get older, they will understand and appreciate what me and my fellow soldiers will do this coming year.

Now we are on hold for transport downrange. I do not know when we are shipping out. We are going to lose our Internet connection pretty soon (we have to turn in the keys to the building that has the Internet connection) so I will not be able to post for a while. I will post when I can.

CPT NightHawk


Done with Army Combatives and on to Convoy Operations

We finished Army Combatives yesterday morning. We learned some chokes and submissions. At the end of the training session and the end of the other sessions we had we actually sparred against each other. We were supposed to apply what we learned. Some of the soldiers wrestled in high school and college and had to unlearn some bad habits. Last Saturday I won my match because my opponent got on all fours and turned his back to me. All I had to do is get him in the rear mount (getting on his back, wrapping my arms and legs around him) and hang on.

Yesterday I sparred against two people, one slightly older than me but is six feet three inches tall and the other sixteen years younger then me but about the same size. The first match was a draw. Because of his height advantage he got me on the ground first. I was able to get my legs wrapped around one of his (the half guard) so he couldn’t dominate me. He then started to put me in a chokehold. I ducked my chin and I started to put him in a chokehold. It was too funny. The referee broke the match before both of us passed out!

The second match was a real challenge for me. My sparring partner was sixteen years younger than me and quick. I tried to get him in a chokehold but he squirmed out of it and got me on the floor. He tried to go chest to chest and get me in the side mount but I kept squirming out of it. I was able to get one of his legs in the half guard and I tried to do a fancy move where I would flip him on his back (one of the maneuvers I learned Saturday past) but I ran out of gas. At that point, I was hosed. I had the dominant body position but no energy to take advantage of it. He got me in a hold that I couldn’t break and then it was game over. One of the buddies of my sparring partner congratulated me and said I put up one hell of a fight. I then found out he was sixteen years younger than me. At that point I felt good about lasting as long as I did.

We received another block of instruction in Afghan culture yesterday afternoon. We watched a documentary from TLC (The Learning Channel) called “12 Years of War in Afghanistan”. It was produced by the BBC in October of 2001 and talked about the fall of the communist government once the USSR pulled out through the Taliban takeover. It was pretty good despite the snide parting shot the commentator leveled at the US at the end of the show (typical liberal Brit). One of the points the documentary made was that once the Taliban restored order (which the people did want), they started to impose their belief system (a warped combination of extreme wahabi Islam and Pashtun mores). In cities that were Persian in character (Tadjik) where the women were educated, had jobs, and did not wear burkhas, all of a sudden they had to comply with the Talibans codes of behavior. That was when most of the people of Afghanistan wanted them gone. If you ever get a chance to see the documentary, please do so.

Today we started to train on running checkpoints, conducting searches, and convoy operations. It is highly unlikely that I will actually be doing checkpoints and conducting searches once I am in country (I am a staff officer). However, if I am ever in the position where I will have to supervise those operations I will need to know how they are done. EVERYONE does convoy operations. If you are in a vehicle, you are conducting a convoy operation. It doesn’t take a genius to know that many of our casualties over the last few years occurred during a convoy. I will be very attentive during the next few days!

All for now.

CPT NightHawk