Last in country radio conversation

Rex with his MRAP on a mission in Afghanistan.

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is on his way home; he’s made it to Ali Asaleem, Kuwait. Before leaving his camp in Afghanistan Rex did one last “in country” interview with WUSF Radio’s Bobbie O’Brien about his deployment year, which aired last night in Tampa during NPR’s “All Things Considered” and again this morning during “Morning Edition.” You can hear the chat by clicking on this link

4-15 MLT Rex Heads Home

or if you’d like to read the entire transcript, it’s available here.

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.

An Interview With Female ANA soldiers

Two female ANA Captains pose with their military uniform, but seldom wear it.

No Tom Foolery here!  It was one more thing I could cross off “My Things to Do” list.  Today I had a unique opportunity to interview two female ANA officers.  Judging by their attire they were wearing, you would easily mistake them for a housewife or local citizen and never know they were proud officers serving in the Afghan National Army.

After our morning meeting, I loaded up several boxes of humanitarian assistance to include hygiene items, clothing, candy, stationary, and Beanie Babies.  I borrowed an interpreter and we drove to ANA land with the supplies.  My plan was to restock the family support center with these items.  They give these items to ANA widows and wounded soldier families.  I did this on a previous occasion and since have depleted their stock.

Breakfast with the garrison Religious officer.

The ANA Garrison Religious officer invited me into his office and the Assistant Religious Officer was preparing breakfast.  This is rather unusual because most men do not cook in Afghanistan.  Instead they relinquish this duty to their wife or older children.  So when the assistant put his homemade cooking in front of me, I was a bit envious because I miss cooking.  He mixed up some sort of egg mixture that was contained chopped up tomatoes, onions, and peppers in it.  I’m unsure of what spice he used, but it was rather tasty.  To wash it down, we had our customary cup of tea too.  In addition, it was accompanied by some warm flats of Naan bread which we tore apart in pieces and dipped into the egg concoction since there were no utensils.  I tried to avoid the peppers because they were a bit too spicy for me.

Bilingual sign about praying.

The officers thanked me for the humanitarian supplies and I left their office to visit with the women who run the ANA Family Support Center.  While walking to their office, I stopped by the literacy classroom and noticed they still haven’t relocated it.  I took some pictures of the bi-lingual signs posted on the outside door of the classroom.  I didn’t have the heart to tell them that “preyer” should be spelled as prayer.

My next stop was the ANA Family Support Center.  Inside I was greeted by two women dressed in traditional Afghan clothing, complete with the hajib hair covering.  But these two women are not civilians; instead, they are both Captains in the ANA army.  Using my interpreter, I asked permission to conduct an interview so I could learn more about them.  They agreed and I used my tape recorder to record our conversation.

Both of the women are married, have 4 children and similar educational backgrounds with completing high school and 3 years of medical studies at a local college.  The younger Captain has served in the Army for 20 years and the other 33 years respectively.  They are responsible for assisting ANA widows and wounded soldiers’ family members.  The younger captain revealed even as a child, she has always wanted to join the Army.  Her father was an Army officer and supported her dream and now her sister is in the process of becoming an ANA officer too.

I inquired why they didn’t wear the ANA military uniform.  They explained that due to culture perceptions and criticisms, it is better to wear civilian clothes.  The uneducated soldiers call them bad names and do not respect their rank.  They feel women should not be in the ANA and should be home cleaning and taking care of the children.  The younger captain is married to an ANP officer and he supports her serving in the ANA along with educated soldiers and officers.  The older captain had a much different story.  After she got married, her husband did not want her working for the Army.  Subsequently after 4 years of marriage, he left and disappeared in Iran never to be seen again.  Since then, she has been raising 4 children on her own.  The officers also explained the only time they wear their military uniform is when a high ranking delegation or VIP is visiting.  So they keep their uniforms locked up in their lockers for these rare occasions.

We discussed other issues to include the benefits of having coalition forces in their country and delved into the rampant corruption festering in their society to include the central government, ANA, and ANP.  I fear if the corruption is not controlled, this will become the downfall of Afghanistan.

Education was another topic we discussed and we mutually agreed that education is one of the keys to success in Afghanistan.    According to one of the captains, “Without education, the illiterate become rapists, murders, and thieves.”  The older captain also pointed out, “What Afghanistan needs are jobs.  The government should build factories and employ people.”  Instead, she said, “The government only thinks about their pockets and not the people.”

The female captains permitted me to take one picture of them holding up their uniform shirt.  They also thanked me for delivering the humanitarian supplies.  But when I said my goodbye and extended my hand to thank them for their time, they did not extend the courtesy.  I fear this may have been a faux-pa on my part and they reacted in the same manner as the Muslim schoolgirls I visited a few days ago.  But I respect their culture and returned to camp.

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Wedding picture in a combat zone in Afghanistan.

HAPPY 4TH ANNIVERSARY TO MY LOVING WIFE!   Due to poor connectivity, I was unable to post anything commemorating our wedding anniversary.  I was trying to think of something original and the ideas I had didn’t materialize.  In our 4 years of marriage, we have only been able to celebrate our first year, because military duty has kept us apart for the other 3 years.  So on the surface; I have a pretty bad track record of 25% being present for our anniversary.  Even if I don’t miss another celebration for the next 26 years, I will still be at 90%.  Unfortunately, this is one of the sacrifices a military family makes.  But since I am retiring soon, I will have the rest of my life to make it up to her.

For inquiring minds, this deployment

C-wire at camp.

has actually strengthened our marriage and I have gained a new respect for my wife.  We had a strong marital foundation before I departed and since then, we have reinforced it and built upon it.  I attribute this to open communication and the sharing of similar beliefs, goals, and aspirations.  This deployment has been the

My wall collection of items sent to me by my loving wife.

greatest challenge of my 27 year career, but knowing I had a loving wife who supported me helped to minimize the stressors of being in a combat zone.

Sure it might be argued I was the one exposed to the dangerous perils of IEDs, rockets, mortars, RPGs, gunfire, and attempted ambushes, but I still think the military spouse has the hardest job.  Uncle “Sugar” took care of my basic needs and provided shelter, food, uniforms, etc.  But my wife had to provide for her and 2 needy dogs.   I am fortunate to have a strong and independent wife who took care of the house, finances, automobiles, and our 2 furry children, (Charlie and Sam).  Knowing these matters were being cared for alleviated my worries and I could stay focused on my missions.

There wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t think about my beautiful and caring wife.  Our wedding picture reminded me daily of my soul mate I left behind.  What I tried to depict in the photograph is that war is keeping me from my loved ones.  This is just another intangible sacrifice that only a military person can understand.    Honey, you are the best wife in the world and in a few weeks, we will resume where we left off!  I miss you and the boyz terribly, but soon it will all be over.  You are the best!!!

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

Blessings from Deployment

UT volunteers Sasha Lake and Keri-Anne Kolodiej prep packing boxes at Saturday's event.

Rex is safely back from his latest mission but too tired to write until tomorrow. So I am using the space to say thanks to some very special people. They are Keri-Anne Kolodiej and Christine Merry, students at the University of Tampa and leaders at UT’s Peace Center. In the last few weeks they have really rallied the students at UT to help with Rex’s school supplies drive and we can’t thank them enough.

Christine Merry - sorry I stole this picture from your Facebook!

Keri-Anne has organized and recruited volunteers for our “packing parties” and Christine has recruited volunteers and collected donations; both have worked non-stop to get the UT drive up and running at full speed and it’s been very exciting to watch it all happen.

Also, I have special thanks for Dr. David J. Bechtold, Assistant Professor at UT’s business program who specializes in leadership, corporate responsibility, and strategic planning. Thanks to a community involvement requirement in his class, we got some

Dr. Bechtold's students (from left) Zack Claisse, Nick Carr and Juan Valle show off Saturday's end result - 54 U.S. Postal Service flat rate boxes, 4 large cube boxes and one special box with whiteboards. Hope to see you guys at the next packing event as well!

extra help this weekend at our latest packing and shipping event. Three of his students did much of the heavy lifting on Saturday when we packed another 54 large flat rate

From left UT volunteer Alyssa Salagaj and Liisa pause for a picture while filling out customs forms.

boxes, four more large cubes and one special box filled with whiteboards. Dr. Bechtold – thanks for the help and maybe you can also challenge your students to find ways to collect tax deductible donations for our shipping fund? Because after this last shipment we are all out of shipping funds. (If you can help sponsor the shipping of

UT volunteers Zack Claisse and Daniel Lewin sort and pack donated supplies.

one flat rate box @ $12.50, please click here or find the “Donate” button at the top of this page.)

All of yesterday’s volunteers made a great impression on me but one who stood out the most was Daniel Lewin. This young man is a fulltime student who also juggles three part-time jobs to help get him through college. One of the jobs is at Starbucks, which obviously made me a huge fan right way. Another one of his jobs is head of Greek Life at UT – which I hope will lead to more Greeks getting involved in Rex’s school supplies drive. Despite his hectic schedule Daniel volunteered to drive around Tampa with me this coming week to pick up more donations since I am still not allowed to lift anything. What a great guy!

I also want to thank Karen McAllister, Audience Editor at Tampabay.com, the website of St Petersburg Times. She’s published items about Rex’s deployment from time to time and was kind enough to do so again yesterday this time focusing on the school supplies drive. Her write-up is currently on the front page of Tampabay.com where it has the potential of reaching literally thousands of readers who visit the popular news site every day. Thank you, Karen, very much for helping to spread the word!

It’s amazing how many wonderful new people Rex and I both have met thanks to the deployment and Rex’s school supplies drive. We are very blessed to have so much support.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you

Donated school supplies from WUSF viewers and listeners.

Rex is out on a mission and asked me to update his readers about the latest developments with the “School Supplies for Afghan Children” project.

It’s been a busy week.   On Tuesday I picked up another carload of donated supplies from WUSF Radio and TV on

Donation drop off location at WUSF's lobby area.

University of South Florida’s Tampa campus. The station has served as a drop off point for the school supplies drive since November and it was time to collect everything they had collected so far for shipping. The pile was impressive; there were all sorts of school supplies and one listener alone sent in 500 pencils. Those 500 pencils will turn into a thousand pencils in Afghanistan as the kids break them in half to help share the donations.  We also received a gigantic trash bag full of Beanie Baby toys. The anonymous donor even left a sweet note for the children; I will send that note to Rex and hopefully his interpreter will help explain it when they hand out the toys on an upcoming village mission. We are truly grateful for everyone who

A note and 142 Beanie Babies from an anonymous WUSF donor.

heard about the drive through Bobbie O’Brien’s news reporting or through the special University Beat coverage Mark Schreiner put together. Your donations will make a difference in the lives of these Afghan children who live in the remote rural areas of Afghanistan where Rex and his team travel to on their humanitarian aid &

UPS Store on Tampa's Platt Street.

medical missions.

Later the same day I visited another school supplies drop off site in downtown Tampa. Back in September we got an email from Tom Ruth and the The Tampa UPS Store (http://thetampaupsstore.com/ ) on Platt Street. He had seen a feature on the local Fox television channel about the school supplies drive and offered the store as another collection point. We gladly accepted and provided one of the posters for the project; the store staff set up a collection box and the supplies started coming.  And they kept coming – one generous USP Store customer who visits the store every week brought in at least five separate bags of supplies as well as three

Donations from one UPS Store customer.

whiteboards. Our sincere thanks to her and all the other UPS store donors and especially the staff at the store: Tariq Khan, Chris Watson, Tom Ruth, Wes Keen and Luis Adams.  This wonderful gang of five plans to keep the donation station open for the spring as well hoping to collect many more bags and boxes of supplies to ship to Rex.

From left: Tariq Khan, Chris Watson, Tom Ruth, Wes Keen and Luis Adams of the Platt Street UPS Store.

Also on Tuesday we got an e-mail from Catherine Chappell, a wonderful 3rd grade teacher at Lake Magdalene Elementary in Tampa; her third graders there have wrapped up their school supplies drive and are ready to hand over all their boxes. I hope to pick up their donations later this week and take them to our central drop off location at SS American Victory, the museum ship at Tampa

S Channelside. Their boxes will join some 120 other boxes now waiting to be shipped to Rex (he has so many boxes right now at the camp that Rex asked me to wait a few more weeks before sendingmore).  Lake Magdalene is one of seven schools now actively collecting supplies for Rex’s project so in the coming months we’ll be able to send many more shipments to help the children of Afghanistan.

Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr is the commander of Air Mobility Command headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On Wednesday night I also had the honor of meeting with Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr. and his wife Diana, who were on their first official visit to MacDill Air Force Base here in Tampa. Gen. Johns is the new commander of the Air Mobility Command; as the commander, Gen. Johns oversees all mobility air forces including more than 130,000 personnel from the active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve. The General and Mrs. Johns were both very supportive of Rex’s school supplies project and said they hoped to be able to help with it in the coming months. It was an honor to meet them both and their help will truly make a difference as we move forward with the “School Supplies for Afghan Children” project.

Now back to making shipping labels and filling out customs forms. And if you are new to Rex’s blog and interested in this project, please click on the “School Supplies for Afghan Children” tab at the top of this page.

Supporting the ANA Family

ANA recruits with imaginary rifles.

This morning after the daily briefing I went outside to watch some of the new ANA recruits.  Not too long ago, these were farmers and unskilled labors wearing the traditional garb or what we nickname “man jams” or man pajamas.  But now they are going through military boot camp and have been issued combat uniforms, boots, and some gear.

ANA recruits practicing patrol missions.

Notice they haven’t given them any rifles yet.  Instead they practice their formations and maneuvers with “air rifles”.

We have been seeing a large influx of new recruits since they increased the pay for the ANA soldiers.  This increase of forces also coincides with Gen McChrystal’s vision of expanding the size of the ANA.  Currently their forces are spread too thin or they are not trained sufficiently to take on the Taliban and the insurgents by themselves.  To hone their skills, they rely on the coalition forces to provide mentoring and support.

I also had a unique opportunity to meet with some female ANA officers.  They were in charge of

ANA Family Support Center

managing the family support center.  These ladies provide support to wounded soldiers, their families and to widows.  Previously they had American mentors and were given some humanitarian assistance to provide to the family members.  But now the Turkish forces have assumed the role of mentoring the garrison personnel and they do not have any resources to give them.  Occasionally they get some private donations or some support from the garrison.

I saw this as an opportunity to enhance our relationship and provide some of the humanitarian assistance that is stockpiling in our metal conex.  An interpreter help me load 2 dozen boxes of toiletry items, stuffed animals, Beanie Babies, and several boxes of school supplies.  The ANA ladies were very surprised and well pleased with this gesture of kindness.  Now they plan to distribute these items to the children and family members.  They were really excited about the notebooks and pens.  They explained that most of the soldiers were too poor to give these types of items to their children.  In addition, we discussed about doing a joint venture and visiting a local orphanage in the future.

Mrs. Diana Johns, my wife Liisa and Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr., the commander of Air Mobility Command headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Meanwhile, my wife Liisa also had a unique opportunity last night.  She met with Gen. Raymond E. Johns Jr., the new commander of the Air Mobility Command.  General Johns was visiting MacDill Air Force base and at a private reception met with my wife to discuss my blog and the Afghan school supplies project.  I never thought a 4-star general would be reading my blog, but he seems to be quite cognizant of the content, especially the school supplies efforts.  But in reality, if it wasn’t for the kindness and generosity demonstrated by our donors, this project probably wouldn’t exist, except for the occasional care packages my wife sends me.

In local news, the Taliban media is spewing their nonsense again and the local newspapers regrettably print it.  I have reprinted it here:

JALALABAD – Angry residents took to the streets to denounce the killing of children in what they called a hand-grenade attack by US forces in Rodat district in the eastern province of Nangarhar Wednesday morning. Four children and a policeman were killed and eighty-two others, mostly students, sustained wounds in the incident that local officials characterized as a roadside bomb assault on a joint Afghan-NATO convoy in the Mazina village. Rejecting the official version as false, village dwellers accused US soldiers of hurling hand grenades at school-going children. Irked by the casualties inflicted on children, they closed the busy Torkham-Jalalabad Highway as a token of protest. One resident named Moeen Shah, who took part in the protest, told Pajhwok Afghan News the soldiers threw cookies and chocolates while passing through the village. When the students assembled to pick the eatables, he claimed, the NATO-led troops tossed hand grenades into the crowd. As a result, four children were killed and scores injured, he added. Another resident, Qari Nangyalay, said there were no signs of any roadside bombing in the village. He denounced the local authorities of trying to conceal the crime of American soldiers by portraying the incident as a bomb blast.

Can you believe this horse crap?  To allege US soldiers baited the children with cookies and candy and then toss hand grenades at them is just preposterous!  Here is another version of the incident:

Forty-two others, mostly school-going children, were wounded in the blast, the Interior Ministry said in a brief statement. The NATO press office in the eastern zone acknowledged three International Security Assistance Force soldiers were among the injured. One ISAF vehicle was also damaged by the blast. The explosion happened in the Mazina village of the district at about 10am, Abdulzai said, adding Afghan and NATO security personnel were on their way to the site of a reconstruction project in the area. He said the improvised explosive device (IED) strike wounded 13 people including five minors. But Public Health Director Dr. Ajmal Pardes put the number of those injured at 42, mostly children, who were shifted to the Jalalabad Civil Hospital and a clinic in Rodat.

Sadly, 2009 was the deadliest year for Afghan children.  More than 1,050 children under 18 years of age were killed in suicide attacks, air strikes, improvised explosive device blasts and crossfire between warring parties in 2009, according to Afghans Rights Monitor (ARM).  This equates to about 3 children per day and many others were wounded or unreported.  In addition, I also read a report that most of the suicide bombers are aged 12-18.  Today I read about the methods used in Pakistan (Waziristan) to brainwash these children with promises of virgins and rivers flowing with milk and honey.  Because these children are uneducated, they only believe what they are taught and giving their life is an expedient way out of poverty and a road to heaven.

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