Sunday, April 29, 2007

It *IS* better to give than receive

One of the wonderful things we have the opportunity to do here in Afghanistan is help the Afghan people. (Side note: people of Afghanistan are called Afghans and their money is called Afghanis so don't mix the two up).

I had the opportunity to visit a local school here in Kabul and see the beautiful children in class. We went on a humanitarian mission where we gave out chalkboards, pencils, markers, blankets, toys and candy. We visited a small school where they teach children ages 3 to 7. The instructors are all women and they run the school very well. The children were some of the most well behaved kids I have ever seen. When the teacher told them to sit they all sat on the carpeted floor and listened attentively. It is amazing how children all over the world are basically the same. They love to laugh and play and enjoy getting gifts and all of them love candy. We spent about an hour with the children and the teachers and Andy Bystrom who I am relieving actually taught the children a short lesson about right and left. It really was a rewarding experience to be able to make a difference for these kids and the school and they were all very appreciative. Camp Phoenix has many humanitarian missions and people here are very passionate about giving. Many of you have asked about what you can do to help. Well the soldiers, sailors and airmen here are well taken care of so the best thing you can do is send items for the Afghan people. If you would like to get involved, you may send items such as school supplies, toys, clothes and candy (not chocolate because it melts). If you send them to me I will collect them and make sure they are gathered up for the next humanitarian mission. You may send items to:

Patrick Wade
Navy ETT - Supply
Camp Phoenix
APO AE 09320

(Please note I added something to my address, Supply, to make sure it gets to me quickly)

I am still conducting my turnover with Andy which consists of many meetings and going through files and understanding what still needs to be done to train the people here in proper supply procedures. Basically, it is like any other job except you have interpreters here so we can speak to the ANA (Afghan National Army) and the civilian workers. I also work with the Army, Air Force and the Navy and for the most part we all get along and people are committed to getting the job done. There is still a lot of work to do in this country and we are all doing our part to ensure that Afghanistan can operate on its own some day.

Everyday, I travel in convoys to the different sites around Kabul looking at operations and learning more about how they run and who the people are. I also had the chance to enjoy some local cuisine at one of our warehouses. A local vendor provided a great meal of shishkabobs, rice, potatoes, meatballs and other fine foods. It was very tasty and I had no bad after effects, if you know what I mean. Of course if I do encounter side effects, I am armed with my Immodium. You see the water in Afghanistan is not fit for drinking, at least for Americans. Water is one of the critical things this country needs. They have a saying, "A little water, a little hope". Once again I am reminded, no water and a Navy guy, what is wrong with this picture? On the military bases we have have bottled water everywhere and people drink it by the gallons. It is amazing how fast you dehydrate here with the warm weather and dry climate.

I also had my first chance to drive over here. You have to be very careful while at the same time you must drive assertively because you do not want to stop as that increases your chances for trouble. The roads are dangerous and not just because of the other drivers. This is a war situation and you have to be ready for anything. Fortunately, in my short time, I have not encountered anything. There are many fellow military people who left Camp Phoenix this week to go down range to some pretty dangerous places. We all are hopeful that they will be successful in their missions, which includes coming home safely.

I realized I have not given you a Dari lesson lately so here is a brief lesson on some phrases we need to know. Baw ma byaw - Come with me. Estawda sho - Stop. Chop bawsh - no talking. Daowr bekho - turn around. Rooy ba del beft - lie on your stomach. Shor nakho - do not move. Maqawemat nako - do not resist. Wait a minute here. I just realized I think I have been "punked". I think someone gave me the lines to a cheap Afghan porn movie; lesson over.

On Friday the local bazaar came to town. This is the big bazaar with over 100 local vendors who sell their goods to the people here on Camp Phoenix. They are good negotiators so you must bring out your best bargaining skills. It looks a lot like a flee market in the states and they sell everything including carpets, blankets, jewelry, weapons, sunglasses, clothes and dust collecting trinkets. I bought a few things, but I need to learn more about the gems they have here such as rubys and sapphires before I buy any of them. I of course plan on putting the rubys on my slippers and see what happens. You never know...

Peace to you all,

As always, if you can't get enough of these updates, the previous ones are posted on my blog.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I am sure you all remember that movie where Steve Martin and John Candy (rest his soul) had a miserable time traveling by all the means listed. My trip was not exactly the same and it consisted of Planes, Buses and Trucks (of course that didn't sound as good so I used the movie title). As I mentioned in the last update we arrived in Kuwait and waited. Everyone was anxious to get on with our mission so schedules were shuffled and we found a flight to a local base in Afghanistan, not our final destination, but much closer. We arrived in the middle of the night and fortunately there was a flight the next morning (actually the same morning because it was so late.) We stayed up all night and caught our flight to get us to Kabul International Airport (did you notice the initials, KIA, yes that's right the same as killed in action, so no one calls it that, we use the more friendly name of the Korean car). We then loaded up in trucks and made our way to our final destination called Camp Phoenix. This camp is a little like Phoenix back in the 1800's, lots of dust and dry and hot. Our trip from the airport to Phoenix was surreal. This truly is a third world country. As we drove we saw farmers working their fields, people walking beside the pothole filled road and children all watched as we passed giving us the "thumbs up" signs. It was just like pictures I have seen with the children dressed in rags with dirt on their faces, but they seemed happy. If you have ever been to Tijuana, I thought that was poor, well this place is far worse. The average annual income is less than $350 per year and it is amazing how they survive. One good thing is they don't have a weight problem like we have in the states. They have a long way to go to building a stable economy, but one step at a time.

A little about Camp Phoenix, it is a fairly nice base for Afghanistan. There is a Post Exchange, post office, laundry service (this is nice, you just drop off your laundry and they wash it for you free, its just like home with Rebecca except at home I don't have to count my underwear), a pretty nice dining facility (we actually had steak and crab legs on Friday night), a nice gym and recreation center. Of course there are large walls and razor wire surrounding the place and plenty of bunkers in case of attacks. I live in shipping container that measures 7 feet by 9 feet (it is actually half of a shipping container, but at least it is private), I think prisoners get an 8' by 10' cell, not that I have ever been in a cell and of course they gave me a key so I can come and go as I please. No matter how small, at least it is better than a tent with a cot, I have my own bed, nothing else in the room right now I will have to work on that. One great thing is I have internet access in my room so I am able to do e-mail at my leisure.

A little about Afghanistan, it is a relatively small country about the size of Texas. It is almost 6,000 feet in elevation so it beats Denver for elevation. I can definitely feel the effects of the elevation as I went running and was short of breath, of course the dust and smog in the air did not help. They say it takes about two weeks to get aclimatized. I am 11 and a half hours ahead of West coast time. Yes there is a half hour in there. You might wonder how they figured that out. Here is a brief summary of the time zones for your education purposes.
There are 25 integer World Time Zones from -12 through 0 (GMT) to +12. Each one is 15° of Longitude as measured East and West from the Prime Meridian of the World at Greenwich, England. Some countries have adopted non-standard time zones, usually 30 minutes offset. Some of those countries are: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Iran, Afghanistan, Central Australia, Newfoundland. Nepal is actually 5:45 ahead of UT. So with all the variations there are actually 39 time zones due to political boundaries and other offsets. The largest time gap along a political border is the 3.5 hour gap along the border of China (UTC +8) and Afghanistan ( UTC+4:30 ).

As I load my magazine with my 5.56 mm rounds (well not right now, I am typing and I can't do both at once, but I was loading my magazine and had to stop to type what I was thinking) I realize this is for real. These are not blanks and we are not playing. We are in war-torn Afghanistan and we need to be prepared for anything. I think for everyone here it has become real and people take it very seriously as they should. All our training will now come into play so we all come home safely.

Today is Sunday, a regular work day here in Afghanistan. Friday is like our Sunday in the states due to the Muslim religion so Fridays are our one day off. But today is Sunday so we decided to go to the range and fire some weapons since we had not shot anything for about 3 weeks and everyone was getting itchy trigger fingers. Not really, it is however a good time to check our weapons and get some more practice. We set up our convoy and headed out in town which was quite an experience. Did you know that that they do not have driver's licenses here and they have no driver training. It would be obvious to you if you saw how they drive. I thought China and Italy were crazy, but this place takes the prize. There are no lanes and cars drive anywhere on and off the street. In addition there are potholes everywhere and dirt roads next to the main road. So taxes are really a good thing because without them you get Afghanistan. There were people all along the side of the road so you had to avoid potholes, crazy drivers and people walking along the street. We finally arrived at the range, which was really just the base of a mountain with some old Russian tanks out in a field as our targets. We shot our M4 rifles, M9 pistols, an AK47, a couple of other foreign weapons and then the big thrill was firing an RPG. This is a shoulder held rocket launcher and is pretty cool. You may have seen one if you saw the movie "Blackhawk Down". It was amazing how loud an RPG is. Overall a fun day. We knew it was time to go when a big dust storm started and we were getting blown away by sand and dirt. The whole place is dirt, so when the wind blows you need to find shelter. Have you ever gotten dirt blown deep into your ear? I did, so I guess it is good that I have some good wax buildup to stop it from getting all the way to my brain.

I am meeting regularly with the team I am relieving and learning all the progress they have made during their time and the issues I will face. It will be a very interesting and exciting year. For those who want to see pictures, they will be posted on my blog in about a week.

Peace to you all,

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

As Dorothy so brilliantly remarks in the Wizard of Oz, "Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore", I've got that same feeling because it is true. I have left Kansas for good. It was an experience and it was time to leave. We're not in Kansas anymore, but we are not in Afghanistan yet. We arrived in Kuwait after about 20 hours of plane rides and bus rides and now we are awaiting transportation to Afghanistan. The word of the day for Kuwait is "sand". This makes sense considering it is a desert. It really is quite a nice camp (that is what the army calls these overseas bases, kind of makes is sound a bit fun like summer camp only everyone's walks around with weapons and the "camp counselors" are grumpy army guys). So we are located at Camp Virginia (it is nothing like Virginia) and it really does have a lot of amenities for the troops. There is a movie theater, a couple small shops, a main exchange (that is like the Wal-Mart of the military), several fast food places (yes McDonalds and Subway have made it here), a gym, chapel (no I did not make it to church as we were traveling), basketball and volleyball courts. It is sunny and warm and there is sand everywhere. It is almost like being at a resort except for the lack of an ocean and the fact that we are in a military zone. We are living in tents that hold 14 people and we sleep on cots. So anything bad I said about Fort Riley accommodations I must take back to an extent. Fortunately, we did not have any work to do so we could enjoy the "resort" and relax all day. There is a bit of history here as well. This location is where some of the major battles of Desert Storm took place.

Getting here was interesting. We had all our duffle bags packed and of course the army ordered rain so when we staged our bags for loading on trucks everything got nice and wet. We then had our check in, which is called manifesting. We all got weighed in with our carryon bags and weapons (I won't tell you how much I weighed in at; it was all in my luggage). We received a motivational brief from the General and then we loaded up on buses for the beginning of our long trip. I was designated at the convoy commander for the whole trip, meaning I had to count people and keep track of them the whole time. It is a bit like being the teacher on a school field trip. "Everyone make sure you have your buddy with you so you don't get lost." I did not make them hold hands.

The journey continues and I will be right here for you reporting my experiences and hopefully some funny observations.

Once again, peace to you all,


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

There's No Place Like Home

Training in Kansas provides many opportunities to think of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, in fact the Wizard of Oz museum is located not far from Fort Riley. I, unfortunately, did not get a chance to visit this fine tourist attraction although there were many times I felt like I was in the land of Oz with the wonderful wizard at the controls. We had some relatively calm and slow days for our final week at Fort Riley. Our time was devoted to cleaning weapons, cleaning up our spaces, packing and turning in some of the training gear we had been issued. We also scrambled to change airline flights as we found out that we were given a couple extra days of time off before we ship out to Afghanistan. We ended our week with a small graduation ceremony and said our short "see ya laters", (we were going to be back in a week and see each other again, so no need for tears, besides which there is no crying in the Narmy!)

So after graduation, I clicked the heels of my desert boots together and said my lines just like Dorothy, "There's No Place Like Home." A short 12 hours later I was home in San Diego after waiting around the airport and experiencing a short delay in my flight. I did manage to get a direct flight from Kansas City to San Diego on Southwest Airlines so that saved some time. For those who have flown on Southwest you know they have open seating and have a letter code for boarding. You can either be an "A" and be the first group and be excited at getting a good seat, have B and hope for the best, or be in the "C" group and be assured of getting a crappy middle seat. Since I had purchased my ticket with a military discount (which was still $450 because of the late booking), Southwest required that I check in at the airport instead of using the on-line check in 24 hours before my flight. I was pleasantly surprised to get a "B" as my boarding assignment and thought I had a chance to at least get an aisle in the way back of the plane. As everyone was standing in their assigned lines (an hour early of course, because everybody wants to make sure they get a good spot) I began to notice there was nobody in the "C" line and I was at the end of the "B" line. I started to realize that my odds were not good and I was going to be squished into a middle seat. I was sadly correct, and wedged myself into my middle seat for my flight home. I did not care much as I was going home. As I flew home, I thought about that very clear lack of "C" boarding assignments. Was the airline trying to create a sense of false hope by not giving anyone the dreaded "C" boarding pass? Did people actually feel better when they got a "B" instead of a "C". I know I did for a moment. Perhaps Southwest felt that giving people hope was part of their duty and having that hope ripped away at the gate was merely a circumstance beyond their control. Kind of like when the Navy sent me a notice confirming my 20 years would be completed in May 2007...

As I was saying, there's no place like home. I was very fortunate to spend some great time with Rebecca, Thomas and Madigan. Whether we were playing a game together or just having a meal with each other it was great just being with them. Rebecca asked me what food I missed the most and I said "sushi", so we went to lunch together at our little sushi place at the shopping center, Sushiyama, and enjoyed some great fish. Not too much sushi in Kansas, and I doubt there is any in Afghanistan.

We had a wonderful Easter holiday and the Easter Bunny hid lots of eggs and two very nice baskets for the kids. He snubbed me as usual and left a big mess of the carrots we left out. I will have to talk to him next year; I wonder if you can send letters to the Easter Bunny? I also had a nice time with Thomas and Madigan shooting off rockets at the park. Pretty amazing how high and far those things go. In fact one went so high and so far that we lost it. After about a half hour of searching we called off the search party and decided it would be easier to buy another rocket. On Tuesday we went to Legoland. We got there right at opening so we were able to jump on a bunch of the good rides before it got too crowded. After the crowds came we spent time in the various playgrounds at the park. It was a beautiful day. Rebecca and I had some alone time and she had the great idea to do a picnic at the beach. We sat on the sand with the waves crashing a few feet away and shared a nice bottle of wine munching on some cheese and shrimp cocktail. I will definitely miss the beach, if you check out a world map you will notice that Afghanistan is land-locked, a perfect place for Navy personnel. On my last day in San Diego, I had the chance to go by WD-40 Company and see some of the folks at the office.

As I write this, I am counting down the hours until I fly back to Kansas and then it is off to Afghanistan where I will spend a fun-filled year in the desert. You might notice this update is a little late, I guess I was enjoying myself too much to break away and sit at the computer. I will probably be a little bit out of touch for the next couple weeks as I get to Afghanistan and get settled. Also remember for those you have missed some of the e-mail updates, they are posted on my blog at

Peace to you all,


Sunday, April 1, 2007


Back in olden times as travelers went across the country they would look for stones in the road that would mark how far they had traveled. These were called milestones. This definition still holds true, but today we use the word to identify a significant event in our lives. I have reached one of those milestones in my journey. This week we completed the training here at Fort Riley and we graduate next week. This is significant because we are now prepared for our mission in Afghanistan, at least from a tactical perspective. As I reflect back on what we have learned, we have had some incredible learning. The entire team has been trained on numerous weapons, vehicles, equipment, and possible threats and learned a great deal about the language and culture of Afghanistan. I will learn the specific duties I will perform when I arrive in country and meet with my counterpart there. I am thankful we will have a short break prior to flying over to Afghanistan. We received some positive news and we should have about 7 days instead of the original 4 days. I am looking forward to seeing my family.

It was an interesting week because there was definitely a feeling of "senioritis" as everyone was excited about completing the final week of training. Fortunately, we were well trained and going through the exercises this week went smoothly as we conducted drills testing our knowledge of what we had learned. You can think of it as our final exam and our actions came very naturally. I suppose we are all "lean, mean, fighting machines". (Yes, this is once again another reference from the movie "Stripes", and I can think of no better movie to illustrate what we have been doing.)

Early in the week, I did have an opportunity to do some specific supply training, which consisted of the Army contracting procedures, how to handle funds and business ethics. Yes, just like in business, we have to go through ethics training. In summary, we are not allowed to accept goat milk or goats as gifts from our Afghan counterparts. Not that any of us would even drink the milk lest we suffer the consequences of a week long engagement with the toilet. You see some of the food and drink in Afghanistan may not sit well with our soft American constitutions. Later in the week we conducted more convoy drills and battle drills designed to put together all that we had learned and see how we performed. Our team did pretty well and the scenarios were very realistic. On one scenario, we traveled in our HUMMWV's to make shift village with our ANA (Afghan National Army) counterpart and had a meeting with the mayor of a small village. We discussed the situation in his village and he informed us that there were Taliban forces just a short distance from his village. So we mounted up and set off to meet our informant who would direct us to the insurgent hideout. We stopped atop a ridge and met our informant who told us the insurgent forces were over on another ridge about a mile away. So off we went on foot, down one hill and through the woods and then up another hill. There we met gunfire (we are all using blanks, so it is a bit like playing Army men as a kid), we returned fire and defeated the bad guys. It sounds like a nice little trek through the woods until you remember that we were carrying that 70 pounds of gear on our body. Needless to say, I was covered in sweat and dirt. It was a fun exercise though and the team then had an opportunity to offroad a bit in our trucks. I have attached a random picture of me holding our M240 machine gun, a little "Ramboesque".

At the end of the week we thanked our Army training team for the great job they did. I also got a visit from my brother, Bill, who came into town from Dallas. It was great to see him and we had a nice dinner and went out for some drinks with the Navy and Army guys. He got to experience what military guys do on liberty (OK it's not that exciting we just drink, tell stories and curse a lot). On Sunday we spent that day touring Fort Riley, there is an incredible amount of history here. We went to the cavalry museum and looked at Custer's house (that is General Custer) and saw lots of statues and monuments. In my time here, I had not had an opportunity to do that so it was great for me too.

Well we graduate on Thursday, I am sure it won't be a big hat throwing ceremony, although I am going to suggest we all throw some boots in the air since we have so many. I doubt anyone will take my suggestion, something about a safety concern with that. Can you imagine the report, "Following the Class 17 graduation, exuberant students hurled boots into the air; 4 personnel sustained concussions, 6 personnel suffered lacerations on their shoulders and numerous personnel suffered stubbed toes." I suppose I will just take my extra boots home.

When you hear from me next, I should be home in San Diego, enjoying a nice break.

Peace to you all,