August 17, 2010

From the Front: 08/17/2010

Personal dispatches from the front and the home front. (New complete posts come in below)

A Little Pink in a World of Camo: Month Five - Well, I've made it this far. It still sucks and I still wonder how I'm going to make it so much longer... I had a rough night. Every night's been rough lately, though. Nights are stupid. I did fairly well during the day today though. Played guitar quite a bit. I bought one while I was up in Maine, Jonny always wanted to learn to play, I always wanted to learn to play, so I figured I'd learn for the both of us. I guess I thought I'd start out relatively decent though, like it would be easy for me to understand since I play a few instruments. However, I'm seeing that's not quite so, I've got a learning to do, and a lot of toughening up of my fingers - they are sore! I should get to doing my homework, I've got a little bit of running around coming up here in the next few weeks so I definitely need to stay on top of it. Lastly, I'd like to point out that I am not using my husband's death as an "earning" for myself. (READ MORE)

A Yummy Mummy On A Pink Park Bench: Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes... - There are a few changes happening here at the Pink Park Bench. The first one I am not so exciting about... Stonewall is "moving" to Maryland. Remember that job he got back in February? And remember the hour and a half drive to Maryland I mentioned? Yeah, well...it's more like anywhere from two to two and a half hours and it's getting the best of him. Actually, it's getting the best of both of us. He's miserable by the time he gets home after battling through rush hour traffic. Then I'm miserable that he's miserable, so then we're both miserable. Which is pretty miserable. Plus, the extra gas money is destroying our budget. Stonewall made an executive decision and found a room down in Maryland for an incredibly amazing price. He'll be living down there during the week and coming home on the weekends. We are hoping this will save his sanity as well as some money. (READ MORE)

AfghaniDan, Part II: Ramazan observed - It's the wee early morning of Day 5 of Ramazan here (the rest of the Islamic world says Ramadan, but Afghanistan does it her way). And I'm here to tell ya, people...it ain't easy. Not that going without food and liquids of any sort (yes, water included) sounded easy, but a fast is a fast. So a few colleagues and I figured that if our Afghan partners were observing, then we could too. It really is a fascinating experience so far...by night, after iftar (the break-fast dinner after sundown) we feel quite alright. But those hunger pains during the morning and all afternoon definitely make you see why you it's a pretty big deal when Eid finally rolls around at the end of 30 days. Why are we doing it? Primarily for the aforementioned reason: Our hosts do it, and our mission is to work closely with them in order to help build their capacity. We gain some newfound or maybe even enhanced respect from some of our dostaam (friends) by fasting along with them, and are looking to plan an iftar together here and there. (READ MORE)

Andrew Lebovich: Daily brief: Gates may retire next year - In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine published yesterday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested that he may step down sometime next year. Gates noted in the interview that a 2011 retirement would give him the chance to oversee the December 2010 Afghan strategy review and the completion of the additional troop deployments ordered by President Barack Obama while avoiding the need for Obama to look for a replacement in an election year. Gates also said there was "no question" that a drawdown of U.S. troops would begin in 2011, which appears to run counter to suggestions that ISAF commander Gen. David Petraeus might seek a delay in the scheduled withdrawal. This is not the first time Gates has spoken of retiring, as he attempted to retire at the end of his service to President George W. Bush, but was asked by Obama to stay on. (READ MORE)

RAJIV SRINIVASAN: Where’s My Generator, Spy? - The captain had finished his lunch and was lounging on a twin-size mattress in the corner of his command post — and by command post, I mean a small room with a single hand-held radio, a desk, a chair and his bed. His green beret gripped tight around his wrinkled forehead. His skin was coarse and furrowed from nearly three decades of warfare under the Kandahar sun. He was an old man for a soldier, I’d guess in his 50s. But despite his age, his hair was as black and as thick as mine. Like a lion, he had hazel eyes that burned with a fiery will to survive. He was the king of his jungle; not the weapons my platoon carried, nor the technology we had at our disposal, could faze him. “Asalaamu Alaykum,” I began with a nervous crack in my voice. I had barely left puberty, and yet here I was: a 23-year-old platoon leader representing the military might of the United States to a company commander in the Afghan National Army. (READ MORE)

TIM HSIA: The Increasing Role and Influence of Military Spouses - I am leaving active duty this month, and the biggest fan of this change is my wife. The decision to leave the military did not come easily. During required counseling sessions with my battalion and brigade commanders, these senior officers sought to persuade me to stay on active duty. Peers and subordinates also sought to persuade me, many citing the troublesome economy as a good reason to keep a steady job. But the counsel of commanders and soldiers, despite their good intentions, did not equal my wife’s influence and her recommendation that I leave. She no longer wants to deal with the hardships associated with deployments and training missions. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have continued, the military has become more attuned to the concern of the families of service members. The first lady, Michelle Obama, has sought to provide more support for military families, and the vice president’s wife, Jill Biden, has played a cameo role in the television show “Army Wives.” (READ MORE)

Charlie Simpson's War: Leavin’ on a Jet Plane - I’m headed back to Kabul later today. Vagaries of international travel mean that I don’t arrive until Wednesday. But at least I get to transit Dubai, instead of Manas or Kuwait. In the meantime, I’ve set up a new “widget” on the blog which tracks items I’ve “shared” from my Google Reader. (It’s not quite updating properly at the moment, but hopefully it will sort itself out.) Easy way to track what I’m reading. See you on the other side. (READ MORE)

CI-Roller Dude: News from "AT" - From the Soldiers side: AT = Annual Training, which is something National Guard and Reserves do each year. We train "one weekend a month" and 2 weeks for AT. This is when we usually go to a large military camp and do "Army Training Sir". This is going to be my last AT. I am putting in my retirement paperwork. As many of my readers (all 3 of you) know, I have always been invovled in training other soldiers (and cops). I can say that this first week of AT we have done some very good, high speed, low drag training. It's all advanced "Mess Kit Repair". I am very pleased with the instructors...my only regret is that I wish we had this training BEFORE my 2 deployments. As it turns out, I had to use my wits, common sense and friggin' luck to do some of this shit when I was in Bosnia and Iraq---the training we had this week would have saved me lots of frustration and confusion! (READ MORE)

FaST Surgeon (in Afghanistan): Picture Of The Day - 17 AUG 2010 "Triage" - "Triage originated in World War I by French doctors treating the battlefield wounded at the aid stations behind the front. Much is owed to the work of Dominique Jean Larrey during the Napoleonic Wars. Until recently, triage results, whether performed by a paramedic or anyone else, were frequently a matter of the 'best guess', as opposed to any real or meaningful assessment.[4] At its most primitive, those responsible for the removal of the wounded from a battlefield or their care afterwards have divided victims into three categories: Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive; Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive; Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome." In the Army, the surgeons are ultimately responsible for triage at Forward Surgical Teams and Combat Support Hospitals. (READ MORE)

Ghosts of Alexander: Re-creating the Tribal Khan in Afghanistan - This idea was suggested in a New York Times op-ed. An excerpt: "A second initiative is to bring back the traditional rural power structure. We have to restore the power of the tribal leader, the khan." What happened to the tribal khan/leader? The article offers an explanation: " The resistance to the Soviet occupation, steeped in radical Islam, overturned that traditional power structure. By the time the Soviets left, the village mullah had a higher social standing than the tribal leader or local political representative." Every single thing in that sentence needs to be qualified, and some of it needs to be tossed out. But if one wanted to say that traditional community structures were greatly damaged by the war then I would agree. So, how does the author propose that the tribal khan’s power be restored? I read that right, the solution is to (a) radically restructure the system of Afghan government that has been in place during the post-2001 period, (b) magically find the capacity to distribute aid locally at a rate umpteen times higher than it is now through programs like the NSP (drink from the fire hose!), and (c) become body guards for “key tribal leaders.” (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Spec Ops to Say Bye Bye to Beards (Again)… - The New York Daily News is reporting that the special ops command brass over in Afghanistan are — once again — ordering their snake eaters to ditch the whiskers. Long beards, khaki ball caps and Oakley wraparound sunglasses have long been the iconic image of U.S. secret warriors here. But commanders now want “professional-looking” soldiers in the field – at least those who deal mostly with Afghan troops, not civilians. They note that the ball caps are often adorned with macabre skulls, sending the wrong message to a populace weary of war and death. As many Kit Up! readers will remember, this is a seemingly perennial problem in the rugged battleground that attracts a similarly rugged persona. The bearded bubbas were rolling through the hills back in ’09-’10 sporting ZZ Top-like shags and biker bar caps with aplomb. Then the regular Army and Air Force moved in and Bagram became a salute base and the beards were banned. (READ MORE)

Military Mommy: Day 128 - I seem to have missed my 125 day countdown. I'm not entirely sure how that has happened, but I guess it's not a bad thing. I guess it signifies that the days are moving fairly quickly - or at least busy enough that they all seem like a blur. As I've mentioned to several people recently though, the days seems to drag on but the months seem to be flying by. We are almost to our half-way mark for R&R and I can't wait! And only about 8 more months before this stupid deployment is over! Obviously since, I didn't realize what day it was, I'm not planning anything special to celebrate the passing of another 25 days like I normally do. What I do have planned though is attending the Family Program Academy in Pittsburgh this weekend. Have any of you attended the same thing or similar for your FRG group? And are any of you located in the Pittsburgh area? (READ MORE)

Terry Glavin: How The Troops-Out Whirlwind Reaps Its Own Rewards. - The only question now is whether the damage is irreparable. It was only a few months ago that the Afghan women's leadership - 200 women's organizations, meeting in Kabul - was unequivocal about the lurid peace-talks exit-strategy counselled by the self-proclaimed "anti-war" movement in the rich countries of the west: "Based on the persistent violation of the rights of women and men by the Taliban whether when in power or after, objections were clearly and strongly expressed by all parties participating in this meeting regarding any negotiation with the Taliban." Their eight-point consensus statement was crystal clear. The International Declaration of Human Rights is "non-negotiable," there should be no power-sharing with criminals, the names of Taliban leaders should not be struck from UN terrorist lists, and so on. As Mary Akrami, director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Centre, explained: (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: Wings - Being a paratrooper was in Sgt. Christopher Karch's blood. Raised by an 82nd Airborne Division veteran, Sgt. Karch followed those proud footsteps so closely that he once slept in the same barracks his father stayed in during a stretch of his military career. To show his paratrooper pride, he displayed a tattoo of a pair of wings on his back. Despite his honorable service and love for the 82nd Airborne, WTHR-TV reports that the 23-year-old high school graduate planned to leave the military to pursue some new challenges after returning from his second combat deployment later this month. Yet Jeremy Brilliant's article also said Karch recently had a chance to leave his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, return home, and start planning his life's next chapter. He refused, saying that as a team leader, he couldn't leave his Army brothers and sisters in harm's way. On August 11, with 20 days remaining in his extended deployment, the Pentagon said Karch was killed in Arghandab Valley, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. (READ MORE)

The Captain's Journal: Going Soft on Kandahar - Recall from several months ago that operations were launched into Marjah, and the “government in a box” that General McChrystal thought would be so successful was a flop. He then called Marjah a bleeding ulcer after only a few months of counterinsurgency, like some impatient child waiting for candy. It became apparent that Marjah would be long term counterinsurgency work (is there any other kind?), but that didn’t stop General Rodriguez from postulating that it was the slowness of governmental services that caused the delays in turning Marjah into Shangri-La. It certainly couldn’t be the model, so it must be the execution of the plan. Or so Rodriguez concluded. This reminds me of a story. A man walks into the emergency room at a hospital claiming that he is dead. The doctors argue with him until they figure out a way to prove to him that he is not. They ask him, “Do dead men bleed?” “No”, said he. “Of course not! Don’t be stupid!” (READ MORE)

Blackfive: My Name Is... - Below is a "thank you" letter that was sent by a wounded Airborne NCO back to the medics and doctors in Afghanistan that treated him. I believe the letter has gone to all the folks on the medic teams, including the logistics teams that ensure that blood and plasma are brought into Afghanistan and the air carriers doing the flying. That is to say that front line soldiers usually don't know about the vast logistical and operational efforts (military and civilian contractors) that are in place to take care of them. However, this letter ensures that all of those hundreds and thousands of people in the supply system and in the triage centers know about the one soldier they saved. You're damn right he's worth it. "My name is Andrew Jennings and something I had never thought possible happened yesterday. I was able to personally thank someone who worked on me at Role 3 in KAF. A dutch gentleman who on vacation in DC stopped my my room in Walter Reed and told me he was my anesthesiologist." (READ MORE)

JD Johannes: The Road to Charikar - ‘The Soviets wouldn’t come up here with less than a battalion,” says Tim Lynch, a retired Marine Corps officer driving us down the two-lane blacktop that crosses the Shomali Plain, one of the largest and most fertile agricultural regions in Afghanistan. Alexander the Great founded the ancient city of Bagram on this plain, which opens up just north of Kabul, widens through Parwan Province, and finally dead-ends at the Salang and Panjshir rivers. Centuries later, Afghanistan’s Communist government would choose the same locale for a major air base, which today hosts the U.S.-led Coalition’s logistics-and-transshipment hub, Bagram Airfield. The Macedonians, the Soviets, and now the Americans: All have found their way to the Shomali Plain. “This area is primarily Tajik,” Lynch says. “The Tajiks fought the Soviets harder than the Pashtuns, but don’t seem to mind Americans that much.” There are pockets of Pashtuns, but the Tajik predominance makes the drive up the highway... (READ MORE)

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