August 18, 2010

From the Front: 08/18/2010

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

AfghaniDan, Part II: Iftar! - Following up on the last post (Ramazan), I now have the most appropriate photos...thanks to a memorable night of hospitality and camaraderie right nearby in the neighborhood. Evening meal has become the high point of each day like never before, but nothing tops doing it right. At the behest of Richard Mackenzie (Agha), a dear friend and superb director who's now at work on a landmark television series focused on the Afghan army, my boss and I went out for dinner. The twist was that the chef and staff of a fine guesthouse in Kabul where we would dine were told that we were in fact fasting for Ramazan as well, so they did what any Afghans would...insist that we join them for Iftar, the traditional meal breaking fast immediately after sundown. We wouldn't think of turning down a request like that, and given the long history Richard has in Afghanistan and at this particular lodge, we couldn't wait. (READ MORE)

Andrew Lebovich: Daily brief: Kerry delivers message to Karzai - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry arrived in Afghanistan yesterday, meeting twice with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and delivering a stern anti-corruption message. Sen. Kerry helped convince Karzai in principle to participate in run-off elections for President last year, though the run-off did not take place; however, this time Kerry told Karzai that if he did not improve governance it would make it more difficult for U.S. troops to win over Afghans as well as convince Congress and the American public of the continued value of the war in Afghanistan. Kerry told reporters, "I'm not going to stand up and defend for one instant a policy that is based on supporting a corrupt government, if that's what it wound up being...But that's the test right now. That's why I'm here" Kerry also listened to Karzai's complaints of a heavy U.S. footprint in Afghanistan and purported infringements on the Afghan government's areas of responsibility. (READ MORE)

Molly Kinder and Wren Elhai: Why America needs to ramp up aid to Pakistan - "Heart-wrenching," said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Sunday upon surveying Pakistan's ongoing floods. The U.N. chief called the floods "the worst natural disaster" he said he had ever seen. The numbers explain why. More people have been affected by Pakistan's catastrophic floods than any other natural disaster on record -- over 20 million and counting. That's more than were affected by the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and this year's earthquake in Haiti combined. As millions of dislocated Pakistanis search for shelter and food and as health conditions deteriorate and disease spreads, the need for an immediate, large-scale humanitarian response is urgent. And this is just the beginning. Once the floodwaters subside from Pakistan's swollen rivers, the task of rebuilding will be staggering - with a price tag in the billions, and lasting for years to come. (READ MORE)

YASMINE MOUSA: My Two Worlds: Iraq and Canada - My friend called me and asked casually “how about I pick you up in a couple of hours?” We went to our usual coffee place. She had been to New York recently. I had been to Baghdad, where I grew up but left soon after the 2003 invasion. She told me that she had nearly missed a Broadway show that she booked in advance. I told her that I had narrowly missed a roadside bomb. When my fellow Iraqis, those who are still living abroad, ask me about Baghdad, I let them know how Abu Nuwas street is no longer the wasteland it used to be, how the River Tigris itself has been cleaned up. There are still bombs, and killings. But they are living in a different world now, and I don’t want to worry them. So while we sat at the coffee shop I noticed six-year-old boy, fussing over his strawberry smoothie. “It does not taste good. I want an ice cream,” he told his mother. So she bought him a chocolate ice cream, immediately. (READ MORE)

Bruce R: I'm actually beginning to think he means it - The President of Afghanistan has been known for discomfiting off-the-cuff remarks in the past, but he hasn't always taken it to the presidential decree stage. That said, a simple decree has proven insufficient to change realities in Afghanistan before, too. I recognize when most people think private military contractors in Afghanistan, they think scraggly-bearded Westerners. But the vast majority are actually Afghans, and many of them are employed by some of the President's closest political allies. It will be interested to see how he finesses this so the friends don't have to give up their guns, particularly those firms currently providing convoy security: will he deputize them into a new highway police? Or will the decree be narrowly construed to only impact foreigners? Anyway, this one is worth watching, particularly because ISAF itself has to finesse at least a partial rollback if it wants to continue to operate, without making it appear like they rolled over Karzai, and "undermine the legitimate government." (READ MORE)

Kit Up!: Balad Field Hospital Museum: Video Tribute - For many readers of this blog, the place conjures a host of memories. My first time in Balad was July of 2003 when I visited with 3/7 Cav after they’d taken over part of the base during the invasion and secured the 4th ID headquarters there for the beginning of the occupation. Then it was Camp Anaconda. Next Balad became the place of broken bodies, healing and death as the war took a turn for the worse and almost every trooper who was severely wounded went through the field hospital, which quickly became a MASH on steroids. The incredible bravery and heroism of the medical personnel there saved more lives from heinous wounds than in any other war in history. That’s what the Balad field hospital exhibit at Walter Reed is meant to do: remind those of us who have some connection to Balad of the sacrifice and triumph that happened behind its Hescos, Jersey Barriers and tent canvas. (READ MORE)

One Marine's View: The stuff nightmares are made of! - The stuff nightmares are made of.......waking up and realizing that you have no leg(s). Unfortunately, this is a reality for many of our wounded warriors. One thing they are guaranteed (I believe) is a replacement limb, a prosthetic leg that will allow them to stand, to walk again. First though, they have to heal from the wounds, survive multiple surgeries and then "learn" to walk again. One Marine has taken that a step further. He wants them to have the "option" to learn to run again. Why? There was a day, around 7 years ago, when it was thought by some doctors that "he would never walk again". [...] He is now a MGySgt and has trained in at least 4 continents, possibly 5 as he has prepared for his marathons. Yes I said marathons, because he first determined that he wanted to run a marathon way back when he was told about life as a paraplegic. Heck, why just learn to run when you can run in the Marine Corps Marathon, and so he did. (READ MORE)

Red Bull Rising: 5 Ways to Display Your Patriotic Flair - Many people demonstrate their support for deployed citizen-soldiers by displaying flags, ribbons, and yard signs. Such symbols can be important--and even inspiring--but they don't do much to engage people on a personal level. After all, when's the last time a stranger asked you about a bumper sticker on your car? There's also the matter of security. Let me ask you this: Do you stop your mail and newspaper delivery when you leave home for long periods of time? Do you arrange for the neighbor kid to mow the lawn? Why, then, would you put a yellow ribbon or blue-star service flag on your door, advertising that the soldier of the house might not be home for a long, long time? So, Sherpa, what's an outgoing but security-conscious patriot to do? That's easy, voice in my head! How about wearing one or more pieces of patriotic flair? By incorporating your show of support into your wardrobe, you can encourage the people you meet to personally recognize and remember your soldier's service. (READ MORE)

The Unknown Soldiers: The threat - As this propaganda poster seized by American troops in Afghanistan shows, terrorists have been determined for years to strike at U.S. interests around the world. Were it not for the efforts of our men and women in uniform since the attacks of September 11, 2001, our lives would be very different. On Tuesday, Americans, Afghans, and Iraqis witnessed the danger still posed by al Qaeda and the Taliban. In Iraq, al Qaeda is blamed for a cowardly attack at an Army recruiting center in Baghdad that killed at least 60 people and wounded over 100 more. As The Unknown Soldiers recently conveyed while profiling Spc. Faith Hinkley, coalition troops and civilians still face daily threats in Iraq, regardless of various benchmark dates negotiated by politicians. Even as thousands of American troops return in victory from the country, flags flying at half-staff in Monte Vista, Colorado, on Tuesday remind us that brave volunteers like Spc. Hinkley are still paying the ultimate price in Iraq. (READ MORE)

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