Sunday, September 30, 2007

R & R

R&R, Rest and Relaxation, no worries and no responsibilities. No place to be and no meetings to attend. This is Qatar and I certainly rested and relaxed. Some people had claimed that coming to Qatar was not worth all the hassle of the travel, but I disagree, it was well worth the time and effort to get here and enjoy a few days of free time. Some of you may think this was a vacation spot, an Oasis in the desert so to speak, it was not necessarily that, but it was different than Afghanistan and that fact alone made it worthwhile. Although there were no drink girls at the pool serving me funny drinks with umbrellas in them, they do have a pool and a very nice one at that. I spent a couple days at the pool just lounging and reading and it was a great diversion from the usual routine at Eggers.

Pat Meriwether and I started our trip at Bagram Air Field where we spent 2 days waiting for a flight. We did have a room so it wasn't like we had to live in a terminal like Tom Hanks in the movie "The Terminal". We went to the gym, the dining facility, the computer room and the movie room to watch football, so it was a mini vacation. We checked in each day to see about flights and we ended up catching a C-17 flight out that was transporting HR (that is Human Remains). We all stood at attention as they moved the flag draped metal casket passed us and into the belly of the plane. We all sit in the belly of the plane because it is a cargo plane. We all sat with the casket firmly secured in the middle of the cargo area. I did not know the name of the man we were travelling with, but Rebecca did her research and found out his name is Army SFC (Sgt First Class) Matthew D. Blaskowski, 27, Levering, Mich. When we landed, the passengers once again stood at attention as SFC Blaskowski was taken off the plane. (Editor's Note: SFC Blaskowski was serving in the 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy. He was killed when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire during combat operations in Asadabad, Afghanistan. SFC Blaskowski was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his action in May 2005 in Afghanistan. This is part of his Silver Star Medal citation – “The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Matt Blaskowski, Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as 3d Platoon Weapon Squad Leader for Company C, 2rd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry, in action on 3 May 2005, in Afghanistan, Staff Sergeant Blaskowski displayed undaunted gallantry and valor without regard for his own safety under heavy enemy machine gun and RPG fire for over four hours while wounded near Bulac Kalay, Afghanistan in the Arghandab Valley. Numerous times, Staff Sergeant Blaskowski placed himself at great risk while engaging the enemy positions and relaying directions to his machine gun crews.” Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of SFC Matt Blaskowski for the grave loss suffered. He is in our prayers.)

After finishing our check in process at the Aliudid air base we waited for transportation to Qatar. This took almost 4 hours of waiting in a small tent with a TV. I can understand how some people would think "this is not worth it" but we were fed and still had no responsibilities and our liaison officer from Qatar eventually showed up. We loaded on a bus and we were off to our vacation spot. When we arrived at Qatar, we received our welcome briefing which consisted of all the rules we were to follow. We also learned that because it is Ramadan, many of the tours were cancelled. It really did not matter to me, I was there to relax. We were taken to our barracks which consisted of rooms built in the inside of warehouses. Apparently Camp Asilyah was a forward staging base for equipment, so many warehouses were built in support of this effort. After a drawdown, the warehouses were emptied so that left a lot of empty buildings. Someone had the idea to create an R&R base for soldiers and thus Camp Asilyah became the "Club Mideast" for the military.

So this does not become a 10 page e-mail, I will give you some highlights of activities. I slept and then I slept some more. Actually, I did catch up on sleep but also enjoyed some activities. I mentioned there is a very nice pool and spent a couple days lounging and reading. We also went on a beach trip. We travelled by SUV's across town to swim in the Persian Gulf. On the way, the tour guides took us on an offroad trip through the desert sand dunes. This was quite an adventure as we did not know the driving skills of the drivers and while on a trip to the beach we witnessed 3 vehicle accident, so our confidence was not high. Our concern was confirmed as we were driving up and down the dunes when the vehicle in front of us stopped suddenly and we were forced to go around. That vehicle took the high road and we took the low road and eventually the first vehicle took the low road too as it rolled over off the side of dune. The vehicle sat for a moment and toppled over in slow motion. Fortunately it righted itself and no one was hurt, but the vehicle had its winshield smashed and roof crushed. Everyone immediately started snapping pictures and laughing about the whole incident. I am glad I was not in that vehicle. We arrived at the beach and they had a great set up with cabanas and lunch prepared for us. We swam in the warm water of the gulf and sat out in the sun. It was a good beach day.

Another event was a visit to the mall. Hard to believe I could get excited about going to a mall as if I were a teenager or something but when you have limited access to things of home every little thing helps. The mall was exactly as any mall in the US would be, just a lot of different people wandering around. Since it was Ramadan the stores did not open until 7 PM and then it became just like any other mall. We wandered around shops and grabbed a bit to eat. There was one interesting thing as we walked we saw a line forming near the middle of mall and we noticed it was a line of children waiting to see some lady sitting in a chair giving out small gifts. It was like the line to Santa Claus, except this lady was giving out toys and not just lollipops.

The other event that made Club Mideast good was the fact that we could drink. It had been a long time without a beer and we wanted to get our fill. Each night, we are allowed to have 3 beers. Now these are not Yards of beer, these are 12 to 16 ounce beers (depending on type) just enough to get you warmed up. In any case, they had Guinness on tap and that was worth the hefty prices they were charging. One good thing the beer helps with is Karaoke night, it helps loosen the pipes and nerves. I did not sing, I am more of 6 beer Karaoke man.

For dining they have a real Chili's restaurant and we ate there once and then decided to eat most of our meals at the dining facility for free. The food was pretty good and it was different than our regular dining facility so it made it alright. We also played games of putt putt golf and bowling. Overall quite a good little vacation. We were also fortunate to have a visit from 3 Heroes of the Diamond. These were 3 former major league baseball players who decided to tour the mideast and visit troups. We met pitcher Jack McDowell (mostly known for time with the White Sox), infielder Frank Menechino (spent time with the A's, I had never heard of him either), and infielder Darren Bragg (who bounced around many clubs but did some time with the Red Sox). It was nice of these guys to show their support for the troops. Once they left Club Mideast, they were off to Afghanistan to visit various FOB's (Forward Operating Bases).
Now we are waiting to go back to Bagram and then somehow work our way back to Eggers. It has been a good time here in Qatar and I am glad I came. For now I will say, I'm so glad we had this time together, just to share a laugh or sing a song, seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say "so long". So long everybody. (Yes, that is from the Carol Burnett Show).

Peace to you all,


Sunday, September 23, 2007


So what does this title mean? You may have thought this was some spammer sending you some secret code and you immediately deleted it and therefore you will never know what is the mystery of BAF. For those who took the chance and opened this e-mail you are in luck as I will reveal the secret. BAF is the 3 letter call sign for Bagram Air Field, here in Afghanistan. Bagram is one of the major airfields in Afghanistan, the other is Kandahar Air Field (can you guess what we call that one?) The creativity level is very high here.

(Editor's Note: Bagram Air Base is located at the ancient city of Bagram in Parvan Afghansitan. BAF had a single 9852 ft runway built in 1976. However, the United States spent $68 million dollars building a new 2.2 mile (11,500 ft) long runway for the airbase, which was completed in late 2006. The new runway is 2000 feet longer than the older and is 11 inches thicker, which gives it the ability to handle larger aircraft if necessary. The newly-built runway is capable of serving large military and commercial aircraft. Bagram Air Base has three large hangars, a control tower, and numerous support buildings. There are over 32 acres of ramp space. There are five aircraft dispersal areas with a total of over 110 revettments. )

Right now I am at BAF, waiting to go on my Pass (that doesn't stand for anything). We are allowed a 4 day pass (basically some free time off) to go to Qatar for some R&R, so I am beginning that journey.
(Editor's Note: Here's are some interesting facts about Qatar: Expatriates form the majority of Qatar's residents. The petrochemical industry has attracted people from all around the world. Most of the expatriates come from South Asia and from non-oil-rich Arab states. Because a large percentage of the expatriates are male, Qatar has the most heavily skewed sex ratio in the world, with 1.88 males per female.

The country has undergone a period of liberalization and modernization after the current Emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, came to power after becoming Emir in place of his father. Under his rule, Qatar became the first country in the Persian Gulf where women gained the right to vote. Also, women can dress mostly as they please in public (although in practice local Qatari women generally don the black abaya). Before the liberalization, it was taboo for men to wear shorts in public. The laws of Qatar tolerate alcohol to a certain extent. However, public bars and nightclubs in Qatar operate only in expensive hotels and clubs, much like in the emirates and Bahrain, though the number of establishments has yet to equal that of the United Arab Emerates. SO hopefully- as I understand it from friends who have been to Qatar - there is a beer or two in Patrick's not so distant future.)

Now a 4 day pass takes at least 8 days when you count the travel, which doesn't count as part of the pass. I left on Saturday from Eggers and convoyed up to BAF and I hope to get a flight out on Monday. Pat Meriwether was able to get the same time off so we are travelling together and hope to relax a bit. So far so good, we got a chance to watch some college football late last night and hope to catch some pro games tonight. It is nice not having any responsibilities for a little while.

Hanging out at Bagram for a couple of days is interesting. I have run into several people I know as many people must pass through Bagram to get back to their FOB (that is forward operating base). Bagram is pretty crowded and you run into a lot of people you don't know and make small talk while dining. Everyone has a story of where they are from and what they are doing in Afghanistan. You could ask the same question of so many people and everyone's story is different, amazing how diverse the group is in Afghanistan and yet how similar everyone's situation is; we are all in Afghanistan. I suppose you could do the same thing at any airport in the US.

So I am here in the computer room at BAF writing my update and letting you all know that I am well and looking forward to some time off. I hear that Qatar is pretty nice even though it is a bit of a hassle to get there. I will tell you about the trip in my next update.

This is a short update and I should have some good stories after my trip.

Peace to you all,


Friday, September 21, 2007

Non-Potable Water

Here is a sign you don't see often in the United States, "Non-Potable Water". The complete sign actually reads, "Non-Potable Water, do not drink or brush your teeth with this water." So this water is so bad that you don't even want it touching your lips or teeth for fear it may get into your system. Non-potable water is a term meaning the water is not fit to drink, of course it is OK to shower in. I am not sure what is in it because I left my portable water testing kit at home, but my guess is there are nice little germs in there just looking for a crevice to attack. Don't worry my skin is not falling off or anything like that and I am sure the rash will go away in time (just kidding).

We have plenty of bottled water here to drink and brush our teeth with so I make sure and brush my teeth once a week whether they need it or not. I thought about showering with bottled water but it was really hard to rinse my hair and I ended up with some really flat hair. So I take my chances with the water and will go through a deep cleaning when I finally get home. Maybe I can go to one of those stations where they spray you down after you have been in a building that has been infected with some rare airborne disease.

This week we had the DOD IG inspectors here. We gave some briefs and toured several facilities. I made sure to give them lots of tap water in hopes they would all get sick and the inspection would end sooner; I did not get any takers though. Actually, the inspections went well and they were a good group of guys.

Back on the homefront, our good friend Stacey was married. I have known Stacey for about 14 years and I have seen her grow up. It is hard to believe she is married now. Rebecca gave a lot of support, making favors, programs and flower arrangments. I am sure it was a wonderful event.

Peace to you all,


Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Burn

Every Thursday night, the crew gets together and puts on a big burn. You might ask what are we burning? In the military we have lots of documents that cannot be thrown in the regular trash for fear that some terrorist may see sensitive documents... or maybe even personal love letters. So we make a fire in a big trash can and burn all the papers. Now don't get the wrong idea, it's not like we stand around the fire and recite strange incantations... although I have heard a couple people chanting something under their breath. I am sure they were just putting a curse on the Taliban.

So Thursday night everyone grabs their boxes or trashcans full of papers to burn and heads out to the burn pit. Often we will bring some near beer and cigars to make a big event of it. We have to find entertainment where we can. Of course, there are a few rules to the burn. Any piece of paper in the burn barrels is subject to scrutiny by all the burn members. Just to make it entertaining people often write up incriminating notes about others that happen to find their way into the hands of innocent bystanders. The notes are read aloud for all to hear and mock the individual who the note is supposedly to or from. Often the notes are invoices from specific on line purchases someone has made, I won't get into what weird things are alledgedly purchased.

There is also a "stick man" for the fire. This is an important job and takes a minor bit of training. You see as a fire burns and more papers are added, the fire can go out if the papers are thrown in without first separating them into small bunches. The "stick man"
stirs the fire to keep the flames going. He also must proclaim what a good "stick man" he is as he makes the flames rise 3 or 4 feet above the top of the trash can. He must also be careful he does not get burned as he moves the papers around to ensure all the scraps are burned.

Right now the burn gets a little hot and you can only stand to be the stick man for so long. I am sure when the cold weather hits, we will all be huddled around the fire and volunteering to be the stick man. So that is how we spend about an hour of our week, burning paper and telling stories on a Thursday night.

This week consisted of planning meetings and a couple visits to locations. We now have HUMMWV's due to recent incidents. Because I am one of the few people with a HUMMWV license here in CJ4, I do the driving. Good thing I had all that training at Fort Riley. We had a nice meeting with the Deputy Minister of Defense and with the head general of logistics for the ANA. We had a very nice lunch with the general which consisted of some grilled lamb, rice, potatoes, and some other stuff that I couldn't recognize. It was all very tasty.

I had several meetings with my leadership team developing plans and goals for the group. We then had a full team meeting with the entire Operations crew. We are making progress in building the team and identifying roles and responsibilities for everyone.

Back on the homefront, Rebecca turned 40. Hard to believe isn't it. She is not doing much celebrating as she is waiting for me to return. I did get her a ring and earrings with Sapphires that I bought here in Afghanistan. She said she really liked them. Ginny or Gamma, the kids Grandma, came to San Diego for a visit. Not sure they all have too many plans, but I am sure it will be a nice visit. My brother Matt who flies for FEDEX also made a visit over the Labor Day Holiday, the kids really enjoy seeing him.

Peace to you all,


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

General Order One

Being in Afghanistan has its challenges and it can be hard sometimes. It is especially difficult being away from our families for such a long time. A nice cold beer at the end of the day would certainly be enjoyable. Of course you have all heard that drinking is not allowed here. This is mandated by General Order One (GO1) which states in addition to no drinking, sex is not allowed either. Of course without drinking the possibilty of sex occurring decreases, or so I've heard.

We all live by GO1 so I was very curious the other day as I was shopping in our little exchange here at Camp Eggers. Right next to the razors, soap and shampoo... there were pregnancy tests. So I asks myself "Self, if there is no sex why do they need pregnancy tests?" Then just further down the aisle, I see condoms. So again I asks myself, "Self, if there is no sex, then why do they sell condoms and if the store sells condoms, why do they need pregnancy tests?"
This will just have to remain another one of life's mystery to me, but given the chance I would like to talk to the guy who orders the stock for the store.

Again while in the store... I really don't spend that much time there, I just happen to be the kind of person who notices things and I suppose you notice things more when you are far from home... I see they are selling vacuum cleaner bags. Not just any vacuum bags, these bags are for the Hoover Wind Tunnel, which I am told is a mighty fine machine. Guess what? They don't sell Hoover Wind Tunnel vacuums. I am sure this was just some oversight by the stock ordering person, but again, I would like to get into that guy's head. I am sure I could learn a lot.

I recall when I first got to Afghanistan, I knew all about GO1 (doesn't that sound much better or at least friendlier than General Order One). I was in the store and noticed they had a cooler of beverages (there I go again noticing things). Much to my surprise they had beer in there. I thought, what is this some cruel trick to get us in trouble? Did they think we would just pick it up only to get caught at the register with contraband and be forced to stand before the General to explain our actions? So while I was thinking about how to get the beer out of the store, I peered through the glass of cooler to notice that it wasn't real beer, it was near beer. The stuff that looks real but has no alcohol. Again, another cruel joke, tempt us and then fool us with fake beer. Well, I was not standing for this and I left in a huff with my two six packs. (Editor's Note: Sadly for Pat, here in San Diego the same keg purchased in December is in the kegerator behind our bar. Matthew, Pat's brother the FedEx pilot, is here on a layover this weekend and we made sure that the Karl Strauss was still good. I think the near beer torture is sufficient payback for the 20 months that I had to drink fake beer during the gestation of our two children.)

On to work. I told you about those GAO (U.S. Government Accountability Office) "we're here to help" auditors. We had a couple meetings with them and a site visit. Overall it went pretty well, they did not dig too deep, although I know they will be back. In addition to the audit preps and meetings, we continue to work on moving all the equipment to the Afghans. We have lots coming in and lots going out, still amazes me how much stuff an Army and a Police Forces needs. The team of people we have here are really great. Even though we work hard we find the time to laugh and joke and enjoy each other's company. You have to keep a sense of humor here.

Back on the homefront. I was able to get a video call in with Rebecca and the kids. Last time I tried, the computer kept freezing up... so it was not much of a conversation. This time I was able to see them but could not hear them. Perhaps a blessing, as I caught them in the mad rush to get ready for school in the morning. First week of school seemed to go alright for the kids. They like their teachers and they actually do like going to school. Rebecca told me about Thomas' STAR testing results. I am really proud of how well he did, he actually got a 600 out of 600 on the math portion; he must get that from his mother.

I hope you all have a wonderful Labor Day. We will be working here, after all it is Labor Day and not Vacation Day.

Peace to you all,