Happy Thanksgiving!

It has been awhile since my last post. Can't be helped really. Sometimes I get really busy!

Anyway, I spent a few days at KAF (Kandahar Airfield) getting some paperwork done. I am taking on some extra duties on top of my primary job and those duties required that I take a class and get an LOI (Letter of Instruction). I am now a FOO! What is a FOO you ask? A FOO is a Field Ordering Officer. I am partnered with a Pay Agent and together we get to spend money. Of course there are all sorts of things I can't buy but if you need $2500 worth of gravel, I am your man!

Another thing we did at KAF is restock our little PX. I was put on the purchasing list so when the soldiers that run the PX go on leave, I will run the PX and keep it stocked. We met the manager, we went into the stock room, grabbed a clip board, and went shopping. I never bought $2000 worth of chips before. Our DFAC prepares decent meals but sometimes Joe just wants some chips and dip.

As soon as we loaded our PX purchases in the conex (container) and arranged for it to be trucked to our PRT, we got the first bird back to Tarin Kowt. It was a Chinook and let me tell you, it was a better ride going back. We flew on a C-130 to KAF and we were NOE (Nap of the Earth) all the way. A third of the passengers lost their lunches. The man next to me, a chaplain, almost made it to KAF but he lost it on our final approach. You normally sit facing the center but I was getting woozy. Fortunately, I had a portal next to me so I twisted aroung to look outside. It was a helluva ride.

When me and my colleagues got back we went right back into our routines of missions and staff work. The ANA soldiers are doing really well with their training. I have been going on missions with the ANA and Civil Affairs folks and doing the write-ups (doing that Public Affairs thing).

In a couple of days it will be Thanksgiving. The cooks are promising a really big feed. The Army never really takes a break so we will still be doing work but the meal will be a nice event. Some of the soldiers here are learning to play the guitar and they are going to provide entertainment. It promises to be a good time.

So, what do have to be thankful for seeing as how I am spending it in indian country (an old army term from the days of horse cavalry). I am thankful that my wife was crazy enough to marry me. I am thankful that she has borne us two wonderful sons. I am thankful for all the people back home that are watching out for my family while I am here.

I am thankful that my parents emmigrated from the Peoples Republic of Canada and made a go of it in the United States. I am thankful that as long as I maintain a good attitude I can get a job, it may not be the one I want, but a job nonetheless. I am thankful that we have a political system that allows for civilized debate. I am thankful that Missouri trusts me to defend my family and friends with a concealable firearm. I am thankful that the test for citizenship in the US focused on the Constitution, the Founders, and the idea of what makes us uniquely American.

Having been to the Phillipines, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Germany, Belgium, Bulgaria, Serbia (Kosovo), and Afghanistan, I thank God every day that I am an American.

Happy Thanksgiving!

CPT NightHawk


Blood and Prisms

A few days ago I gave blood. I was working on a project and the operations officer yelled out that the field hospital needed two units of O Positive. Me and another officer volunteered and away we went. I am a regular donor at the Red Cross back home. I am so regular that the Red Cross calls me at work and at home pestering me that my fifty six days have elapsed and I need to come in and donate. I eventually get around to it and I donate, drink some water and juice, grab some free cookies for my sons, and away I go.

The Army doesn't mess around when you donate for them. My colleague and I walk in to the aid station and immediately were told to sit, take off our blouses, and stick out our donating arm. No paperwork where you have to tell about all the drugs you shot up and the prostitutes you paid for or about the trips to Africa you made before 1977. No worrys about mad cow or being exposed to someone with hepatitus. One medic missed on the first try and after rooting around gave up (the arm I typically donate with). Another medic tried on the other arm and got it on the first hit. A couple of minutes later, my blood went right to the OR and I got a box of orange juice. Plus I can donate again in FOURTEEN days, not fifty six!

While I was donating, many soldiers showed up ready to donate. After they stuck two more after me the rest had to be turned away because they had enough donors. The man fighting for his life on the operating table was a local national that had an accident with a shotgun. The word got out that it was a local national and it didn't matter. Soldiers kept on showing up because the word didn't get out that they had enough blood. The aid station was on the FOB (Foward Operating Base) next to us so we had Australian and US soldiers stopping by. He survived and was airlifted to a hospital that can keep him in intensive care.

Today I attended a meeting of local provincial officials. The meeting was about projects that we are proposing to do in the next few months. The meeting reminded me of a city council meeting back home where you have consitiuents talking about storm water drainage, zoning, and rights of way. That was the first prism I looked at the meeting through. When I thought about all the crap these guys have been through with the Soviets and the Taliban the prism changed. These guys have either been appointed by an elected official or are elected officials in their own right. All they are doing is reflecting what their constituents are expressing. I think it is truly amazing that the meeting occured at all and that it was conducted in a civil manner, despite the passion that was obvious. To me, having a frank discussion about what we expect from each other is way better then drawing guns and blasting. Trust me, these guys are not too far from having done that in the past. Progress is definitely being made here.

CPT NightHawk


Going for a Walk

I went on a dismounted patrol yesterday. Our mission was to obtain bids for medical and veterinary supplies for future medical and veterinary missions. In short, we walked to the local village and went priceshopping.

As you can imagine, going shopping here is a little more involved. Back home, my wife will prepare a shopping list and one of us will go get the stuff. Here we had an operational order brief and pre-combat checks/inspections (do you have water, ammo, do you know your call sign and radio frequency, etc). Once all that was done, we got into a patrol formation with the ANA soldiers and we moved out.

Anyone who has traveled outside of the United States and Europe will instantly recognize what I saw. Dirt roads, open shops hawking their stuff, people everywhere, mules, camels, motorcycles (rice burners with 150cc to 300cc engines), cars (wagons mainly), jingle trucks (big trucks with ornate decorations), the occasional minivan and SUV. What got me was the overabundance of moondust. Of course this moondust was getting into everything, including the food that was being prepped in front of the shops.

What we did was that a couple of ANA soldiers along with our Doc went to all the pharmacies in the village soliciting bids. The rest of us pulled security. I was taking pictures while all this was going on. I was able to take pictures with one hand and the other hand was on the pistol grip of my rifle (a tactical sling for my rifle lets me hang the rifle in front of my body).

Some of you are probably thinking "all the pharmacies, how many pharmacies are in the village?" According to Yahoo Yellow Pages, there are fourteen pharmacies in Jefferson City, Missouri (Walmart wasn't listed so I know there must be more). We visited somewhere between ten and fifteen pharmacies! These do not look at all like the pharmacies you are accustomed to. It is a little shop with a sign that says pharmacy and there is no board certified pharmacist dispensing meds. If you have the cash, you can buy the meds.

The one thing that amazed me the most was the sheer number of men out and about. To visualize this, think of the local Walmart on its busiest day and replace all the adult women with men. That is what I saw. I only saw three adult women and they were herding kids from point A to point B. They didn't have on those blue burqas but they were covered up.

I saw probably around ten young girls (under twelve years old). I saw over a hundred young boys. They mainly wanted pens and other goodies (any time they see Coalition soldiers, they expect to get freebies). I had to say "no pen" more times than I remember. I had one boy walk up to me and ask me in perfect English "what is the name of your father". I told him and then he asked me the name of my brothers. I told him I have one brother and what his name was. I then tested him and told him the names of my sons,my grandfathers, my uncles, and the names of my wifes father and brother but I exceeded his English capacity.

The youths I saw yesterday are a far cry from what the "youths" are doing in France. I recently read a hilarious article written by Mark Steyn (a pundit with marvelous wit, especially if you appreciate British and Canadian humor). You can read the article here. France is in a bit of a pickle.

The "youths" in France that are torching the place are third generation descendents of North African immigrants who are primarily Muslim. Why are they mad? The rest of France refused to consider their parents and grandparents as French and did not attempt to assimilate them into French culture. Because of that, they have been marginalized culturally and economically.

I wrote my masters thesis on multicultural education and how it affected students of Asian and Pacific Islander descent. I touched on the dangers of focusing so much on their culture (or any culture) at the expense of emphasizing American culture (the Founders, the Constitution). What happened in France was that they let these immigrants stay North African while in France. Now they are trying to "understand them" and are telling them that burning cars "is not the way to achieve a fairer, more fraternal society". France should have allowed its schools to drum into these "youths" the whole history behind Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité and allowed the parents of these "youths" full economic participation.

We (the Coalition) are attempting to invigorate the local economy by purchasing our supplies locally. I guess we could have brought all the medical and veterinary supplies in but that wouldn't have introduced capital needed to improve distribution channels. We aren't even attempting to "understand" the Taliban diehards. We are giving them a chance to participate in an emerging Afghan civic culture, if they don't want to participate the ANA will deal with them.

Economic participation and clearly defined expectations of civic participation. Our method worked in the US and is steadily gaining traction in Afghanistan. France? Wonderful cheeses, foi' gras, and wine. Too bad all that will be lost.

CPT NightHawk


Crossing the Wire

One of my duties here at the PRT is Public Affairs. Since I am the Public Affairs Officer (PAO), I was able to go on my first mission today. Today we conducted a VETCAP, where we go and provide veterinary assistance to farmers. We pretty much focused on providing de-worming treatments. We treated sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, mules, and camels. Having worked with all the former animals except the camels, I was very interested in how a camel would react to having a drenching gun shoved down its throat. To my surprise, the camels were the most docile (the donkeys and mules came in second). The cows were a little touch and go (we did not have a pen like I am accustomed to, I let the younger guys wrangle them) and the sheep and goats were dumb as rocks (they are dumb as rocks stateside also).

One of the goals of the VETCAP was to get the ANA (Afghanistan National Army) soldiers involved. Hey, its their fellow countrymen's animals, they should help, right? I want to report that the ANA did very well today. They were wrangling the animals and administering the de-worming medicine plus providing security along with our security detail. Actually, I am not surprised about the ANA, practically all of them grew up around farm animals. These guys don't have the experience with the de-worming part because their families couldn't afford the meds. All in all a good day.

So what was it like crossing the wire for the first time? For the record, I have crossed many "wires", just not in Afghanistan. Let me illustrate some differences between Afghanistan and Kosovo where I was deployed last. When I crossed the wire in Kosovo I was in an SUV. Today I was in an uparmored humvee with a grenade launcher and machine gun on top. When I crossed the wire in Kosovo I had a pistol with the magazine in with no round in the chamber and my body armor in a bag. Today I had a pistol and a rifle, locked and loaded, I was wearing my body armor and helmet, and I had a ton of ammo and access to plenty more in the humvee. Get the picture?

On the trip to the VETCAP site, there were some places on the route that gave me the heebie jeebies. I did not use the word "road" on purpose. The gravel road to the family ranch is an interstate compared to the stuff we drove on today. It kinda drives home the point on how important a transportation infrastructure is to a nations economy. Of course, I wasn't thinking about Afghanistan's economy at the moment, I was thinking how easy it would be for Taliban diehards to light us up from the high ground.

Honestly, because today is the first day of Eid celebrations (post Ramadan), there probably weren't too many Taliban diehards interested in taking us on. They were probably too busy recovering from the "breaking the fast" celebrating. Most of the men were hanging out at their village cemeteries or sleeping off the previous nights festivities (I saw at least five racked out, wrapped in their cloaks, in dry stream beds). Last night there were all sorts of celebratory gun fire (you can hear it plus see the tracers).

So was today a good mission? I didn't get shot at and my humvee didn't hit an IED (Improvised Explosive Device, I like the term booby trap better, but I am not in charge). I took a bunch of pictures and will do the write up tomorrow. I am in one piece and not bleeding anywhere, so today was a good mission.

CPT NightHawk