Leaving Afghanistan, Parting pictures

Inside the C-17 aircraft.

As I write this entry, we are on board an Air Force C-17 aircraft flying to Al Udeid AB, Qatar.  Originally, we were supposed to fly into Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan.  But ever since the uprising it has affected our travel plans.  One day they are accepting inbound and outbound flights.  The next day all flights are suspended.  Nobody on my team projected a regime overthrow in Kyrgyzstan; therefore our departure mission has been see-sawing back and forth.

Throwing concrete at the wall.

Yesterday I made my final trip to ANA land.  At one of the entrance gates, some Afghan local employees were working on a new building.  It was a bit comical to see how they were applying the concrete mixture to the exterior wall.  They would use their trowels and scoop up a gob of concrete and then throw it at the wall.  Only half of it would stick, but they were persistent with this process.  Then another employee would come along and smooth out the concrete.  I guess this additional layer of concrete is to strengthen the integrity of the concrete block wall.

Smoothing out the concrete wall.

I met up with Omid and had hoped to see the ANA Sergeant Major one last time.  We went to his office and found out he was still out on mission.  So I will never know what kind of a cook the SGM is.  I still appreciate his gesture of kindness and wish him and his family the best.

Our next stop was the Kandak Assistant Religious Officer’s office.  He wasn’t there, but the ANA Mullah was present.  He invited us in for some tea.  He seemed to be upset about something.  I learned his superior was trying to take away the cell phone I had presented to him.  Somehow, this person was under the impression I gave the phone to the Mullah to present to him.  This officer is also a former Mujahedeen commander, but I never had the opportunity to interview him.  Based on my research, he was one of the financial managers for Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance.  He also had a dislike for Americans.  I rectified the cell phone issue and the Mullah was happy.  We drank our tea (my last cup of chai in Afghanistan) and said our goodbyes.

The rest of the day I spent packing my gear, uniforms, books, etc.  I was quickly running out of bag storage space due to my last minute impulsive shopping trip to our small bazaar outside the camp.  These merchants will be sad to see me go…lol.  But Mrs. T should be happy with my purchases, especially these igneous and metamorphic rocks that I bought at bargain basement prices.  Some people refer to them as gem stones and are very appealing, especially the corundum.  The time quickly flew by and before long it was night time.

Fastening tarp on LMTV holding all of our luggage.

In the morning I packed my final belongings and we loaded them on an armored LTMV for transport.  This would be our last mission and this time, we would all be passengers in the back of the MRAPs.  Our 173rd Army brothers would be our chauffeurs.  It was time to pass the torch because now they will be responsible for running their own

AF TSgt assists Army SFC with .50 cal machine gun.

missions.  We had a small hiccup with the radios not communicating with each other and took some time to resolve.  My Air Force team made a habit of checking the vehicles and communication equipment the day before the mission to prevent delays the day of the mission.  But this is no longer our worry and hopefully this Army team will come together as a team and figure it out the same way we had to.

As we drove through the capital city one last time, I took notice of my surroundings.  Being a passenger allowed me to look further back into the side streets and focus on the people longer than I normally would if I was driving.  It was only fitting we had to dodge around hundreds of people gathered in the market area and swerve around a horse cart.  I don’t recall seeing too many horse carts in Florida, although near my home in Pennsylvania, the Amish still travel around in them.

Horse cart in the middle of traffic.

We arrived at the Kabul International Airport (KAIA) military terminal and off-loaded the truck with our bags.  As luck may have it, after several hours of waiting, we were able to

Military terminal at Kabul International Airport.

leave there the same day.  Our first stop was Al Udeid AB, Qatar.  This is the temporary processing center until the situation in Manas gets resolved.  It was obvious they were still struggling to accommodate the large influx of passengers and clearing customs there can be a royal pain in the butt.  Unlike most other Air Force personnel processing through, my

Waiting for our plane.

team was rather unique.  We still needed to turn in our Army weapons and gear.  The Army is a real stickler for accountability and we are personally accountable for thousands of dollars worth of gear.  No inventory, except for the weapons was performed.  Instead, we filled out name tags and attached them to our bags of gear.  Some of it has to be shipped to Manas AB, once they start allowing flights, while the majority of the gear and weapons will be returned to Fort Riley, Kansas.  Either way, it was a relief to return these items.

Our team before leaving.

Lady Luck was still smiling on us and we caught another flight to Ali Asaleem AB, Kuwait.  This place is great and I am nicknaming it “Air Force Club Med”.  To be cont’d…..

Please vote for Rex’s blog in MILbloggies awards

Rex recording memos.

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is out on a mission and I am using this space to ask you for your continued support. A few days ago I asked that you help nominate Rex and his blog for MILbloggies awards as a special anniversary gift for Rex. You came through and now Rex has advanced to the finals. So again if you are a regular reader of his blog and like what he writes and photographs, please cast your vote at the Milblogging.com/votestandings page (you have to be signed into your account to do so).

This would be the best anniversary gift ever so please help me give it to Rex by voting!

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Here is more information about the online voting for the Fourth Annual MILbloggies

Thank you to everyone who participated so far, but it’s not over.  Congratulations to all the Finalists.  Voting has begun in the Fourth Annual MILbloggies, which will end on Wednesday, April 7 at 11:59 PM EST.  To find out who advanced as a Finalist in this year’s MILbloggies and to cast your vote in each category, go here. Voting is easy.  Just go to the Standings, click on a category, then cast your vote for one of the finalists.  (You have to be signed into your account to do this.)

Winners will be announced at the 2010 MILblog Conference on April 10th by this year’s Platinum Sponsors USAA and General Electric.

Help me give Rex an awesome anniversary present

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex has no Internet access today – our 4th wedding anniversary. 😦

So I’m using the space to ask for your help. I want to give him a special anniversary present and if you are a regular reader of this blog and like what you see, you can help me. I would like to get Rex nominated for this blog so he can compete for the most prestigious military blogging award there is – the MILBloggies. How to do it is outlined below – Rex is listed under “Afghanistan-My Last Tour on the http://milblogging.com/ website – but you can’t nominate him until tonight Eastern Standard Time (if you are a reader in Afghanistan, maybe you can help nominate him tomorrow your time?).

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The 2010 MILBloggies Kicked Off this morning (March 31, 2010) and they recognize military bloggers for their contribution to blogging, news and information

Here are the Rules and Instructions

The Milbloggies Award recognizes military bloggers for their contribution to blogging, news and information, and to the military over the past year.

Nomination and Voting Overview

1. A military blog can be nominated ONLY once by the same registered user.  However, a user can nominate as many military blogs as they wish and nominating your own blog is allowed.  However, please do not register multiple accounts in order to place more than one nomination for the same blog, as we have the ability to track this information.  If you encounter problems registering/activating your account, just send an email to milblogging@gmail.com and he will activate your account as quickly as possible.  Occasionally, the Activation email gets blocked by your Service Provider.

The nomination phase starts Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 and all nominations must be submitted online through Milblogging.com by 11:59 pm EST on Saturday, April 3rd, 2010.

2.  The top five nominees in each branch category will be announced on Sunday, April 4th, 2010 and those nominees will move into the Voting Phase beginning April 4th, 2010.

This is the type of abuse a military blogger's beloved personal laptop endures during deployment. Rex's busted up laptop was soon replaced after R&R in Germany. (He's on his 2nd camera at this point too.)

3. Nominees may be military blogs that belong to the following branch categories in the Milblogging.com database:

U.S. Military Parent
U.S. Military Supporter
U.S. Air Force (Rex qualifies in this category)
U.S. Army
U.S. Navy
U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Military Veteran
U.S. Military Spouse
Foreign National Military
U.S. Reporter

4. To nominate and/or vote for a military blog, you must be signed in to the Milblogging.com website.  Registration is quick and free and you will not receive any SPAM.  This helps maintain the integrity of voting by reducing possible click fraud.  To place your nomination, simply click on the listing in the Milblogging.com database starting the evening of Wednesday, March 31st, 2010, and click the Nominate button that appears at the top of the military blog profile.  Keep in mind, the Nominate button will not be shown on the website until TONIGHT on Wednesday, March 31st (this is Eastern Standard Time).

5.  To vote for a military blog (once the nomination phase is over), a chart will be published that includes the top nominees in each category, along with the ability to vote.

The Voting will close on Wednesday, April 7th at 11:59 PM EST.

6.  Winners will be presented awards at the 2010 MILblog Conference on April 10th.  Winners are not required to attend the conference in order to receive their awards.

Twitter Hashtag:  #milbloggies

A Visit to the Past

Decaying walls of 14th century ruins.

My curiosity finally got the best of me and today I would pacify it.  I’ve driven past it dozens of times and had hoped to see it up close.  Today a handful of teammates and I would visit the 14th century ruins that reside on a portion of ANA land.

We were a bit skittish at first, because of rumor concerning landmines.  But I was assured if we stayed on the paths then it would be safe.  I led the way as we followed a dirt path to these ruins.  For me it was like taking a trip back into the past.  I’m still uncertain of the exact history, but I presume this might have been a garrison fortress at one time.  I have been told it dates back to the 14th-15th century.

14th century Mongul ruins.

Due to hundreds of years of erosion and war, the structure is in poor shape and badly deteriorating.  But the erosion effect provided a glimpse of the construction and architectural methods utilized during this time era.  Although I can’t be certain it’s possible the original structure was modified throughout the centuries and served as different purposes.  It

AF SMSgt peers over wall of 14th century ruins.

appears the foundation was built of fired mud brick and stone and then the mud mixture coated the outside forming a protective barrier over the brick.

Based on my research, crushed egg shells and straw was used with this mortar mud mixture to strengthen it.  Remnants of straw could still be seen in the mud mixture.  I tried to envision a

My Capt and ETT leader pose next to 14th century ruins.

garrison of Mongol soldiers living within the large confines of this structure during the 14th century.  It has been documented that Genghis Khan attacked and pillaged Kabul around 1221.  Then in 1398 the city was recaptured by the Emperor Timur (Tamerlane) who married a daughter of the governor.    Later in

Tajbeg Palace seen through wall opening of 14th century ruins.

1504, the city fell to Babur who set up his headquarters in Kabul.  So based on this snippet of history and the close proximity of the capital city, I will make the assumption this fortress was probably used by the armies of Tamerlane or Babur in the 14th or 15th century.  I seriously doubt this monstrous structure was abandoned.

Me standing on top of 14th century Mongul ruins.

Today the ruins take on a different personality.  The vacant interior has been used as a dumping ground for broken concrete, rebar rods, and soil.  At one time the ANA used it for a volleyball court too.  I looked around for any hidden artifacts, but was unable to find anything.  I’m also unaware of any plans to preserve or protect these historical ruins from further decay.  So I violated one of my own rules concerning archeological ruins and climbed up on the deteriorating walls for some pictures.  In one of the pictures you can see the towering Hindu Kush Mountains in the background.  While we are experiencing 80 degree temperatures at 5800 feet above sea level, these goliaths still have snow on their peaks.  I might also point out these mountains pale in comparison to the monsters up north who soar over 20,000 feet above sea level.  Now Honey that is a serious hiking trip!

AF Captain shoots jump shot.

With the weather heating up, so are the outside activities after duty hours.  Some of my teammates are engaged in sand volleyball games, while others take advantage of the new concrete slab poured for the basketball court.  I watched two of my teammates; an AF Captain and MSgt compete in a one-on-one competition.  The MSgt is the one who has religiously worked out at the gym and sports his 19 inch biceps.  The Captain was outshooting him 2 to 1, and I was certain the MSgt would lose.  But in the end, the enlisted prevailed over the officer….lol.

Brain Injury Awareness Month = facts about head trauma

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: While Rex’s is out on a mission, I’m posting this piece in honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month.

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) — Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, has been labeled a “signature injury” of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also occurs in non-combat settings in association with motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, assaults and falls. In 2009, Department of Defense officials reported 20,199 cases of TBI among military service members.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month and representatives at Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center locations will be hosting various activities promoting the Brain Injury Association of America’s current campaign, “A concussion is a brain injury. Get the facts.”

According to DOD guidelines, traumatic brain injury is defined as “a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain.” Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of such an injury may range from “mild,” characterized by a brief change in mental status or consciousness, to “severe,” involving an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury. More significant TBI can result in short- or long-term problems with independent function. The vast majority of TBIs fall into the mild category also known as “concussion.”

A concussion is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Most concussions involve a brief period of altered consciousness, characterized as being dazed or confused without a loss of consciousness. Some common signs and symptoms of concussion include headaches, dizziness, memory loss, concentration difficulties, irritability, fatigue and anxiety or depression. These symptoms may be noticeable immediately or within the first few days after the injury and normally resolve rapidly.

Research on TBI in the civilian population suggests that approximately 85 percent of individuals experience resolution of post-concussive symptoms within three to six months after a single concussion.

There are many reasons why symptoms persist. The course of recovery is individual and varies, depending on the cause of injury as well as the environment or setting in which the injury occurred. If symptoms persist or interfere with normal activities, follow-up with a physician is important.

Additional information about traumatic brain injury and Brain Injury Awareness Month can be found at Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center or at Brain Injury Association of America.

(Story by Ken Breaux, Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center; Maren Cullen contributed to this article)

A Long Friday

Yesterday we did our sensitive items check (weekly check of our weapon serial numbers and other devices), which allowed us to sleep in a little bit longer today.  Today is also Jumaa and our ANA counterparts are off or at least most of them.  They are preparing to celebrate the New Year on Sunday.  So this allowed us to have some personal time to sleep in, wash laundry, clean rooms, or catch up on emails.  I used this time to enjoy a hearty breakfast and catch up on some local and national news.

AF teammates get comfortable while waiting for Army teammate to bring the keys.

At 0930 hrs we were scheduled to conduct our Preventive Maintenance Checks (PMCS) on our fleet of vehicles.  Most everyone showed up on time, except for our Army teammate who controls the keys.  Because of his tardiness, we were all excused and the latecomers were rewarded with conducting the PMCS on the vehicles.

I went to my storage conex and started segregating the mountain of stacked boxes filled with school supplies.  This is no easy task and with the temperatures in the low 80s, these metal storage containers get very warm.  I sorted through stacks of notebooks, boxes of pencils, pens, glue sticks, scissors, erasers, and a few miscellaneous items.  I had quite a few on-lookers pass me by and inquire about my school supply project.  Some of these camp mates have their own villages they try to support and are interested in acquiring some of my supplies.  So I made a deal that if they help me sort the items and permit me to accompany them to their villages, then I would provide them with schools supplies and Beanie Babies.  For OPSEC reasons, I will wait until I visit these places before providing any more details about them.

Massive box of pencils.

After spending 5 hours in a toasty conex, I returned to my room to rest.  Outside my B-hut, there were several Army campmates playing a toss game.  I have never seen this game before.  They constructed wood square boxes and mounted a piece of PVC pipe in the middle of it.  Then from a distance they toss large washers at these containers.  If a washer lands inside the wooden box, you receive points and even more points if it falls into the PVC pipe center.

New version of horseshoes.

I read an interesting NY Times article on the web today about a wedding ceremony in India.  Farmers are selling off farm land and have become wealthy (by India’s standards) overnight.  In turn, these “rich” people are buying luxury items and flaunting their wealth.  In the article it details about an elaborate wedding renting a helicopter and a Lexus to transport the couple.  The whole impetus behind the article is about show off their wealth to their neighbors.  This isn’t isolated to India or the United States, but it’s also customary in Afghanistan to have an expensive wedding.  I recall at my former camp some of the interpreters were getting married and they were planning on spending 2 years salary for this celebration.  I just don’t get it!  Why is it so important to impress the entire village, because after the nuptials are ratified, the couples live with the groom’s parents inside a mud-brick complex and then spend the next few years paying off relatives from whom they borrowed money to afford this lavish festivity.

Yet the more I think about it, we have a similar problem in the United States.  Too many people are living above their means or from paycheck to paycheck.  Perhaps the largest difference is in the US, we can whip out a piece of plastic and charge it and then make minimum payments on the interest or minimum payments for the next 20 years. Note:  MasterCard, Visa, and AMEX love you if you fall into this category. If that doesn’t work, we use our house equity as an ATM machine (or we used to until house values plummeted) and then when the economy sours, we rely on the government to bail us out.  Except, the little guy isn’t getting much bailing, instead they seem to be footing the bill.  Maybe that economics class in high school paid off, because I don’t find myself in this situation but don’t anticipate having any Social Security benefits by the time I am eligible.

If I had to summarize, I would use a quote from the scripture, King James Version, Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”  If you think about it, this would explain all the unnecessary deaths in Mexico related to the drug cartels, many of the crimes committed in the US and abroad and one of the leading causes for divorce.  It’s all about money and wanting more of it.

For the article on India:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/19/world/asia/19india.html?hpw

For an interesting article on Pakistan and the Water Mafias: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/16/world/la-fg-pakistan-water-mafia16-2010mar16

Excess Humvees to BAF

My team is still trying to clear up the property book and we have given away or transferred everything possible, but we still have some excess up-armored Humvees to dispose of.  When we merged with the Brigade, our vehicle fleet doubled in size.  We managed to transfer 90% of our vehicle fleet except for two Humvees that aren’t as heavily armored as the other ones.  The closest place to dispose of these Humvees is Bagram Air Field (BAF).  As you already know, BAF is not our favorite place to visit and dealing with the BAF-fites is always an adventure.  Unfortunately, it was a necessary evil to clear the property book and only the BAF-fites could assist us.  We all promised to be on our best behavior, salute the officers, and try not to get upset at the bureaucratic processes in place.

AF Captain and SMSgt secure Humvees for transport.

Since we lacked the proper vehicles to transport the Humvees, we coordinated with our ANA counterparts for a joint mission.  They would provide the tractor and trailer and be integrated into our convoy.  Two of my teammates help secure the vehicles on the  .  The ANA soldier boasted about having more experience and he wanted to chain the vehicles down himself.  That is quite a change for an ANA soldier to step up like that and volunteer his services.

When I walked back to camp, I stopped at the gate to see how Bernie was doing.  The new soldiers who arrived are dog lovers and renamed the puppy, especially after I pointed out the puppy’s anatomy of being a boy… lol.  Bernie was sound asleep taking a

Bernie is taking a puppy nap.

puppy nap between two cement blocks and had his chin propped up on a piece of wood.  He didn’t have a care in the world.

The original plan was for 4 ANA LTVs and the tractor and trailer to join us at 5:20 am to depart for BAF.  I originally tried to go to sleep around 10:30 pm., but my new B-Hut mate has a severe case of sleep apnea and makes choking sounds in his sleep.  If he isn’t bellowing and gasping, then he is talking loudly in his sleep.  I also think he has restless leg syndrome because he constantly crashes into the thin plywood walls.  I last looked at the clock around 1 am and my alarm went off at 4 am.  Fortunately I wasn’t driving and would be the truck commander today.

Afghan men hoping to get hired for the day.

All of my teammates gathered at the MRAPs at 5 am and we prepared for the mission.  The ANA was on time, except they were missing 3 LTVs.  Never did find out what happened with them.  Driving to BAF, we drove through a different part of the city.  In the Pashtun market, the unskilled laborers were crowded at an intersection hoping to get hired for the day.  So

Afghan National Police providing security.

many people migrate to the capital city in hopes of finding a more prosperous life, but quickly find the competition is fierce and the wages are low.  Established Afghan businessmen are keen on maximizing profit by paying low wages to these unskilled workers.  I think they have taken a page from the business models US contractors

Afghan mud-brick house.

are using here in country.  They charge a hefty price, but maximize their profit by exploiting cheap labor.

Security in the city has definitely increased.  The ANP have established more checkpoints and armed policemen are seen throughout the city.  I think as more ANP are trained, this will continue to be the trend.  But the

Tending the sheep.

ANP still has an image problem due to corruption, theft, and bribery.  These issues are constantly being addressed and it will take time to win the people over and for the ANP to modify their behavior.  Hitting passing cars with the butt of their AK-47s only causes resentment among the populace.

After leaving the city, we passed through some smaller towns and more agricultural areas.  The farmers were busy tending to their livestock and the small shops waited on customers to buy their goods or produce.  An

Elderly Afghan man thumbs his prayer beads.

older man sat on a tin box threading his prayer beads through his hand.  I could only wonder if he was a wise tribal elder or just an elderly gentleman who has survived over 30 years of war.

Potholes on road leading to BAF.

It has been quite awhile since our last convoy trip to BAF.  The roads are in much worse shape than I remember and the potholes have spread like a bad disease.  It didn’t help matters that the slack in my seatbelt wasn’t retracting properly.  As a result, I was bounced around the inside of the MRAP like a rag doll.  I’m certain to have some new bruises when this mission ends.  To be cont’d ……..

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