Friday, January 18, 2008

Kansas-Germany-Kuwait-Afghanistan

Hello. Salaam.
Camp Phoenix, Kabul, Afghanistan. Internation Security Assistance Force. Building a new Army, fighting the war on terror. How did I end up here?

Since leaving Fort Riley, KS life has been well, a trip. Let me lay the 'how things normally go' in the military- when you have a 6AM departure- you start preparing at 11PM the night before.. From KS on a contracted jet into Leipzig, Germany, then into Kuwait to a base which has constant flow of soldiers going into and out of 'theatre'. The plane was first-class actually- great meals and those intl' flight 'hot wash clothes'.. Kuwait for a few days in heated tents- it was like living at the State Fair- tents and restaurants with small little fronts.. One tiny storefront is part of a Armed Forces network that sells more Harley-Davidson's than any other dealer- good deals- maybe that's how I should treat myself when I get home..?

After leaving Kuwait- it's back to military aircraft- no windows, hard seats- however- you can just walk to the front- climb the steps to the cockpit and say 'Hi' to the Air Force pilots! The experience was surreal- finding out at dinner that 'we are flying tonight'.. Working at 3AM crating duffels and loading a military aircraft..

Now that I have arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, my team has to get integrated into our jobs as the guys we are replacing will be leaving 10 days or so.. The first few days were 'death by Powerpoint' as it's called- admin stuff and introductions.. We then proceeded into 'left seat, right seat' old staff mentoring new staff, showing the ropes, routes, current projects. With this, the past few weeks have been meeting many ANA (Afghan National Army) leaders and drinking lots of chai tea.

I was at first very apprehensive about arriving in Afghanistan, not knowing what to expect- food, military leadership, and of course security. I was nervous right when we got off the plane- as you know I've been a corporate guy my entire life and not used to traveling with body armor and a loaded rifle and pistol..! Anyway, more apprehension to follow on the first few convoys- you have to remember how things are stressed in training environments- they lean on the side of caution- scared the daylights out of me.. they had me thinking their were IEDs everywhere- all the time and bad guys would be shooting at us.. Anyway, I'm getting used to traveling and the environment now- I realize terrorists are still out there- and we travel with intense defensive posture and awareness, but overall the people of Afghanistan welcome us, and want their country back. Kids give us thumbs-up..
Convoys to anywhere outside of the gate are taking very seriously; convoy briefs take place before any trip- intel & road conditions updates, checks, identifying people in charge, communications plan/ tests, a 'trip ticket' from the TOC (tactical ops ctr). Every veh has headsets with microphones which are useful for communication.

The coalition countries (with large part the U.S.) have spent over $65 Billion in this country since 2001. There are over 40K coalition troops here now, from over 30 different countries. Most of these are actually security troops that protect areas and hunt down insurgents, but I am here under a program called Coalition Joint Task Force PHOENIX, under ISAF which executes a broad-based training, mentoring, and assistance program in order to enable the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and other security forces such as the ANP (police) to secure their own country. The ANA is the most respected govt organization in the country, the ANP is one of the least respected because of corruption. Advisors arrive into Camp Phoenix and then stay or are sent to all regions- to large and small bases.


My home will be Camp Phoenix which is about 6 miles west of Kabul. My group will be mentoring troops at the 'MoD' the Ministry of Defense- this is Afghanistan’s Pentagon and is on the complex with the Presidential Palace. The grounds are extremely secure and quite beautiful- their is a backdrop of mountains that is just stunning- very much like the Grand Tetons in WY. There is quite a buz of construction around the grounds- by civilians and soldiers- and one of our jobs is the reconstruction efforts of buildings and security.

At least initially here, I will be working with the Presidential Ceremonial Battalion, and the National Band. The rest of my small team work with other security affiliated groups to the MoD. We also will have other projects such as HA 'Humanitarian Assistance' visits were we will give out blankets, coats, and food. Nearby the Palace is a UN Food depot, the U.S. Embassy, the ISAF HQ, and various other coalition bases run by Germany, France, Romanians.. --This is where we will try to have lunch on occassion :).
This wall is the wall around the Palace-->.

The Ceremonial Bn has a General as a leader and several hundred soldiers, 42 of which are are band members.. Then the National Band has just over a hundred with a Colonal and staff. NO, I don't have any musical background, nor mentoring Generals, political figures, or building contractors.. SO, how am I going to skin this cat..? Basically what's going on is a situation where the ANA Army is new and has to build it's infrastructure and operations.. These leaders are sharp but need help rebuilding its structures, getting past tribal and political issues, and setting up proper operations such a supply and training. I hope to fulfill my role by quickly learning, good listening skills, and leveraging the OPS experience that I have.. Or I'll make it up :).

I will be working on training plans, drivers training, communications, computer classes, ensuring proper uniforms, equipment and supplies are issued.. This past week I coordinated a trip for the ANA band to visit the 82d Airborne Band up at Bagram AF base. Some further examples of projects include completing barracks and office renovations; generators, adding A/C, painting, windows, and new walkways and asphalt drives. A soccer field, building a new vehicle maintenance facility, and upgrades in dining facilities (wood to propane)..

The culture of Afghanistan is very warm and welcoming and we see this everyday at work in soldiers and civilians.. Lifestyles and traditions are quite different than the western world, but people are people, kids are kids, all over the world. This culure is very old and people really aren't in a hurry to do anything- unless it involves $ since it is so scarce around here. The Muslim religion is a big part of peoples lives, but no where near what you'd think from watching U.S. news.. When you meet an Afghan, much handshaking is done, usually they will place both hands on yours and when you get to know someone well and become friends, you touch cheeks (I don't know anyone that well yet), and you place your right hand over your heart as a gesture. Salaam means 'hello' in Dari, or you may say Soob Bah Khaar or 'Good Morning'.


Another aspect of the culture is the chai tea and casual talk before business- you ask about family, what's going on, before business. I have seen no coffee served anywhere except on coalition bases- chai is the thing. Along with chai and conversation is usually some flat bread, the best raisons i've ever had, walnuts, small yellowish kernals like corn.. Communication is accomplished via 'terps' and we have 2 assigned to us that are smart 20 something guys that are a lot of fun.. Our group has lost a few that got U.S. visa's as these guys can go to America and earn a ton of money as interpretors stateside.

**By the way, if anyone has any musical connections, we could use some 'slide grease' and 'tuning oil', and bathroom sundries, candy is always good to keep the kids and troops happy as well.##

Future updates on my job, the posts, landscape, and any questions you readers have.. in future postings.


Mark

2 comments:

popzi said...

Mark...thanks for giving us all a look see at what you're up to over there....some interesting stuff!
Keep it coming!

Thanks too for serving our country.
Freedom isn't free.

Stay safe,
Dale L. Zimmerman

C said...

M3,

Great to hear from you and see you as well. Stay the course and keep up the important work, we all appreciate it. Next haircut let's go a little shorter on top please.

Take Care My Friend,
Chris, Teresa, Cole, & Ella Rose