Sunday, February 11, 2007

Assalamu alaykom!

No I did not have a spasm while I was typing the subject line of this e-mail, although it does look like that. I am merely saying hello or really, peace upon you, in Dari the official language of Afghanistan. So this is your first language lesson, it is pronounced just as it looks if you can figure that out, in any case peace to you and yours from Kansas. The short version of this is to just say "Salam" just like the meat without the "i", of course I don't think the Afghans eat salami so it would be a poor reference if any of you were Afghans or Muslims.

We started our "official" training after finishing all our mandatory training requirements (we call it death by powerpoint) and receiving all our gear. We ended up with over 4 full seabags (that is a big duffle bag for you civilians) of stuff. We also received our M4 rifles and M9 pistols. The heaviest thing we got was the kevlar vest which weighs almost 50 pounds, it is kind of like wearing a fat suit that stops bullets (not that I want to test that) and protects you against bumping into large objects as you stumble around from all the weight. So it is actually pretty useful. When we have our full gear on including helmet we look like the kid, Randy from a "Christmas Story" as his mother is getting him ready to go out in the cold. Speaking of cold, it is unbelievably cold here in Kansas, I think they set up the weather like that so we would get used to freezing our buns off because Afghanistan gets really cold. Kabul is over 11,000 ft in elevation so a little less atmosphere to protect us. I am sure we will have an oxygen deprivation tank training session to get us used to the elevation (not really). I don't know how we will train for the heat because it also gets pretty hot over there as well. I am sure sitting in a sauna with full gear on would do the trick. We actually did learn that Kabul has over 300 days of sunshine so it is just like San Diego except without beaches, nice buildings, great weather, people who speak English, bikini clad women, freeways, nice restaurants and OK you get the picture it is nothing like San Diego, but I hear it is beautiful from the travel brochures.

So this week was incredibly busy. We had Cultural Immersion for three days. Not that you could learn everything about a culture in 3 days, but they tried. We learned about the country and the people and it really was quite interesting. We had language classes, which is how I was able to come up with that catchy subject line. We also learned about religion. Afghanistan is about 99% Islam (you might call them Muslim, same difference). The majority are Sunni Muslims and the minority is Shia (I hear they don't get along). I am not sure where those 1% are hiding, but I bet they are probably just atheists who refuse to respond to official surveys. It is estimated that the literacy rate is only 20%, again not sure how they figure it out because who likes doing surveys, I guess if you don't respond you are illiterate, maybe that is what happened to Alabama, they just don't like surveys. Sorry to you folks from Alabama. This week was also filled with weapons familiarization. Fortunately, I was somewhat familiar with the weapons but it was good training. We also got to shoot on a range simulator, kind of like a X-Box but with guns with laser beams. It really gave you a feel for shooting the M4 rifle. I am not a big video game guy, but if you were it would really give you a leg up, so if you get a chance play one of those special forces video games they have at the arcade. I am happy to say that I can take apart my M4 in 65 seconds and put it back together in 90 seconds and I usually only have a couple parts leftover (just kidding).

Some additional training we had was on communications training, this was how to set up and operate the various radios the Army uses on its vehicles etc. They say this is a basic skill that every soldier/sailor needs, I think we will need to review this again, but I am sure everyone will get it. They are basically $90,000 walkie talkies with high security that can be dropped from the top of a building without breaking. Just like anything they need batteries and if the batteries die and you don't have backup they are pretty much rocks. We also had MCP training, that is mounted combat patrol training, how to operate a convoy. MCP, just one of the thousand Acronyms we have to learn from the Army so in addition to learning Dari (that is the official language of Afghanistan, I referred to this earlier in the e-mail, but since this thing is getting a little long, I figured I would refresh your memory, I forgot to mention that about 40% of the country speaks Pashtu so I guess I will hope that my little bit of Dari will suffice), so where was I? Oh yes, acronyms, so learning Dari and all the Army speak is very interesting. Here is a lesson in Army while I am thinking of it. HOOAH! This is a "word" the Army guys use when they see each other, when they like what someone said, when they cheer, or when they get something caught in their throat, so it is good for just about any occasion. Actually, it is HUA (look at that another acronym, who'd of thunk it), it stands for Heard, Understood, Acknowledged, they just seem to have taken it beyond its original intent. Interestingly, many services have some form of guttural sound they utter. The Army has HOOAH, the Marines have OORAH, the Seals have OOYAH, the Airforce has LOOKOUT, I think, but the Navy does not seem to have a sound, so we thought about it here and came up with ARGH. Appropriate with the pirate theme and old time sailors, so ARGH to you all. OK, back to MCP, this was another pretty cool video simulation of driving around HUMMWV's (these are the military version, not the GMC H2 Hummer) and going out on patrol and dealing with insurgents who either attach your convoy or place IED's (Improvised Explosive Devises) on roads. Don't worry, IED's are pretty limited in Afghanistan, more prevalent in Iraq, but very dangerous. The greater worry in Afghanistan is land mines which have been placed throughout the country by the multiple wars the country has gone through. Again not to worry here, we were issued really long sticks as part of our gear so we are able to test them before we step on them (for you skittish people, I am kidding, they give us rocks which have a greater range).

So the days are long. A typical day starts out waking at 0515 (5:15 AM) and then PT (physical training) at 0530 (I am sticking with the military time, those who don't don't know how to tell military time are going to have to learn). Did I mention it is cold here, well PT in the freezing cold is not what I would call fun or healthy, after we finally work up a sweat, we have to walk in the cold ensuring that we get sufficiently chilled to neutralize our immune systems to receive all incoming attacks from germs. After PT we shower (yes we do shower, no bubble baths here, so you people who enjoy a relaxing bath, might have a problem) and then get some chow (that is food). The food is fine, nothing fancy but OK. After that we either head off to a training class or to one of the various other site training evolutions. We do get a lunch break which sometimes is an MRE (that is a fancy term for Meals Ready to Eat, full meals that come in bags, but can withstand a nuclear attack and still be eaten). They are not quite a frozen dinner meal, but I did have a very nice Turkey Tetrazina this week that was not bad. Better than some who had the franks and beans which caused the expected side effects that are not pleasant when you are in a room of 150 of your closest friends with no escape. It did keep us awake during the lectures though, even if we could not breathe or see with our eyes tearing up. I thought for a moment it was part of the training as a simulated poison gas attack, but then noticed the franks and beans packages and I relaxed and enjoyed the lecture. After the training sessions which go sometimes as late at 2000 (OK, I will help you on this one, 8 PM), we get to go back to our rooms relax and get ready for the next day.

I think the highlight of my week, besides getting to go out off post (that is Army speak for Base) and drinking beer, was a lunch I had with the Commanding General of US Forces in Afghanistan, General Durbin (may have spelled his name wrong). He was joined by the General of the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the General of the Afghan Security Force. They were visiting from Afghanistan to see how the ETT (Embedded Training Teams) training was going. 6 Officers were selected to join them for lunch at the DFAC (that is the galley for you Navy types) and we had some great conversations. It was interesting to hear direct from the Generals how they think things are progressing in Afghanistan and they were incredibly positive and enthusiastic about how well things have progressed. General Durbin has developed such a strong relationship with his Afghan counterparts, they consider him their brother (that is a big deal) and the Afghan Generals were so grateful to him and the US. It really was a very positive meeting, I was very fortunate to have this opportunity.

So it was a busy and eventful week and I will continue to move forward with training and learn everything possible to do my job to the best of my abilities. I think keeping busy makes the time pass and we are learning a ton. And of course we do get Sundays off so we can recuperate, I mean relax.

For those who want the address here it is below.

CDR Patrick Wade
Bldg 7006, D Co, 101st FSB
Class #17, Team: URF 8631
Fort Riley, KS 66442

Tashakor (that is Thank You)

Pat Wade

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