Sunday, February 24, 2008

400

No, this is not a new blockbuster movie called "400". (For those who did not see it, there was a movie last year called "300" with lots of cool fighting). This is actually the number of days I have been away from home. For many of us here, we have several other names for this thing called deployment. Here are just a few of the more clever ones (or maybe not so clever ones):

400 days of the Afghanistan Hostage Crisis
400 days of exile
400 days of our prison term (this is followed by the number of days left until parole)
400 days of Groundhogs day (more so we just call every day Groundhog day)

400 days alcohol free (OK so there were a few breaks in there with leave and pass, but you get the idea)

Now that is not very positive, although slightly humorous. You have to keep your sense of humor. Perhaps with the end so near, I have some other emotions bubbling out of me. I don't think so, it just seemed appropriate to give you an idea of what some people are thinking here. After being in theater for so long, I have seen people come and people go. I find it extremely interesting to watch people as they go through a personality transformation. From what I have observed, people go through four phases during a one year deployment. Now I am not a psychologist or anything, just a student of people's behavior, and it is truly interesting how people change.

The first phase is when people arrive. They are enthusiastic about their opportunity to serve and do some good for the people of Afghanistan. It is lovely to watch as people have incredibly ambitious thoughts as they see all the many opportunities for improvement here. They slowly see all the things that are "wrong" with how everything operates and vow to fix it all. In some respects it is sad, because they could not see what came before... and where it was... and the past progress that was made to get it to this point. This phase lasts about 3 months and is marked by an incredible generosity from the military people. They will give everything to the Afghans. They always say "yes" to all request that comes from the Afghans. Believe me, the Afghan people are more than willing to let you do everything for them... but that is not why we are here. This is their country and our mission is to make them self-sufficient and successful. It really does follow the old saying, "Catch a fish for a man and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for the rest of his life."

The second phase begins when the individual starts to realize he might be getting taken advantage of... but is not sure. S/he also realizes, this is not the United States. All things that seem so simple, obvious, common and easy are not easy in Afghanistan. S/he starts to realize what I call TIA (This Is Afghanistan). Nothing is easy, you must have incredible patience, and realize that things will take longer than expected no matter how hard you push. Of course some continue to push very hard, with the end result that the US military makes "it" happen despite the Afghans. But what purpose has that served? We all know the US military could completely run everything, and I am sure it would work just fine... and we would be here forever. We would not have improved the country of Afghanistan or the plight of its people. Soon enough people do "get" the real reason or purpose for what we are doing here. They begin to say no and say, "let the Afghans do it for themselves." Things progress and our subject has learned patience and instead of always doing, s/he teaches and is truly making a difference for the people of Afhganistan. This phase generally lasts for about 6 months and is marked by a sense of calm, instead of a frantic reaction to every demand that comes his way.

The third phase begins when the individual has been here a good 9 months and is starting to get tired and burned out. His/her patience is waning and it is difficult to stay calm when the demands keep coming. This phase last about 2 months and is marked by some relatively angry behavior that is almost spiteful. I have seen some people become beligerant toward the Afghans and say forget them, I am not giving them anything else. There is a feeling that s/he has given so much and they just keep wanting more... and there is so much left to do. The individual is counting the days until they can leave and return to their normal way of life.

The fourth and final phase here is the last month when the individual realizes his time is short and has started to transition duties and see relief in sight. There is excitement and general happiness about completing this tough assignment. There is a small amount of remorse or regret for things they never got to finish, and the loss of being part of something so big. I think they get over that, when they get home. At least I hope I will...

I have often likened working with the Afghans as dealing with spoiled kids. They are not bad people, but the US has spoiled them. We gave them everything because we felt sorry for them... and they became spoiled. They were trained to keep asking for more because we just kept giving them more. We did not have expectations for them, and there were no consequences for bad behavior. I am sure if Nanny 911 was here, she would recognize it right away. (Not that I watch that show, it just fit).

I believe part of what the military must continue to do is prepare people mentally for this adventure. Deployed military personnel must realize they cannot do it all, and their goal is to carry the "baton" and move the race forward as best they can... and then pass it smoothly to the next person. They must have a long term view of their duties and not merely try and finish their year. This is a third world country with history and customs far different than what we Americans are accustomed. This is worthwhile work and all the people that have come over here have done their part to make a difference for Afghanistan. It would be great to see something like a time lapse photography of the progress in Afghanistan. That would really put everything in perspective. Perhaps I should come back again in a couple years so I can see the continued progress here, NOT!

Back on the homefront, Madigan has now lost both of her front teeth. I am sure they fell out naturally, but she could certainly pass for someone who had been in a bar brawl and had her teeth knocked out. She is playing softball and having a great time, but she looks more like a hockey player. Thomas entered the school inventors fair this past week. His invention/presentation was on an automatic shoe tying machine. I suppose that could be useful especially if you don't like bending over to tie your shoes. I don't think he won a college scholarship or even a savings bond... and I am not sure we will be making millions on marketing it, but it certainly was creative. I can't even recall if I ever did a science fair project as a child, but I am sure if I did it was something lame like a portable talking device with built in camera and organizer. Hey wait a minute, I think I invented the cell phone over 30 years ago and didn't realize it.

Peace to you all,

Pat

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Harsh Winter

I bet you didn't know that this past winter in Afghanistan was the harshest in the past 30 years, I didn't. The article, below, explains just how bad the weather has been here. This illustrates just how fortunate we are in the United States to have all the modern conveniences such as well constructed homes, heating, ample clothing and food to survive harsh conditions. Most areas in Afghanistan are not so fortunate. The US and other coalition forces are helping to improve the situation. As you read the article below, imagine if this ever happened in the US. Then imagine the outpouring of support to help victims that would follow so it would not happen again.

KABUL, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The death toll from Afghanistan's harshest winter in recent living memory has hit 926, an official said on Saturday, adding the figure could rise further as access to remote areas improves with the thawing of snow. More than 316,000 cattle had perished since the onset of winter in mid December, Noor Padshah Kohistani of the National Disaster Management Commission said.
"The figure for human losses stands at 926 today. It could go higher, for roads have been reopened and we will find unreported fatalities," he said. Nearly half of the victims came from western areas and where more than 90 people have had their fingers or toes amputated because of frostbite. A special hospital is dealing with frostbite victims in the western city of Herat.
Apart from human losses, the deaths of cattle are regarded as a huge loss for Afghanistan, an agricultural country that largely relies on foreign aid. The United Nations World Food Programme last month appealed for extra food assistance for 2.55 million Afghans until the next harvest in June. More snow is expected in coming days in several parts of the mountainous Central Asian country which may trigger floods and avalanches.

On a more cheery note, my clock is ticking away and I am getting closer to going home. I mentioned previously that I would share a bit about the process of returning home and what we call redeploying. Here is a quick summary of the process.

After completing my IA mission, I will travel to Kuwait to go through the Warrior Transition Program (WTP). This lasts about a week before returning home to begin reintegration into life in a non-combat environment. This involves turning in gear and receiving lectures about how to reintegrate back into normal life. Some people do struggle with the return and can behave differently. I don't expect I will be too much different although I may have to try and forget speaking in acronyms or at least military ones.

Following Kuwait and the WTP I will go to the Navy Mobilization and Processing Site NMPS at Norfolk for about a week of outprocessing and reintegration to the Reserves. After that I will go to Port Hueneme where my home command is and check back in to my reserve unit. I will get my records updated and ensure that all documentation of my service is correct. Then it is back to normal life.

Here in Kabul, I have completed my turnover and now I am going to move over to another area to help out with future planning. I figured I had about a month of time left so I decided to help out in another area of CJ4. No relaxing for me.

And now for something completely different (you Monty Python fans might remember that one).

Here are the top 10 signs you might be a Taliban:

Number 10. You refine heroin for a living, but you have a moral objection to beer.
Number 9. You own a $300 machine gun and a $5,000 rocket launcher, but you can't afford shoes.
Number 8. You have more wives than teeth.
Number 7. You think vests come in two styles: bullet-proof and suicide.
Number 6. You can't think of anyone you HAVEN'T declared Jihad against.
Number 5. You consider television dangerous, but routinely carry ammunition in your robe.
Number 4. You've never been asked, 'Does this burka make my ass look big?'
Number 3. You were amazed to discover that cell phones have uses other than setting off roadside bombs.
Number 2. A common compliment is, "I love what you've done with your cave."

And, the NUMBER ONE SIGN you might be a member of the Taliban:

1. You wipe your butt with your bare hand, but consider bacon unclean.

Peace to you all,

Pat

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Turnover

Turnover, what is he talking about? Well, I am not talking about a tasty pastry or what you do at night when you can't sleep. Turnover is a term we use to explain a transfer of responsibilities to another person. That is what I have been focusing on these past couple weeks. (Yes, I missed my last update and I will explain a bit later). I have been writing down a long list of items to explain to my relief, Greg. I have to make sure he understands all the responsibilities of the Operations area that I currently oversee. We are going through some presentations and have some site visits planned. I hope to be done with my turnover in another couple weeks. Then I will be here to backup Greg as he runs things. There are plenty of projects underway, so I am sure he will need some extra support. My actual numerical relief will not be here until mid March, but since he is not relieving me of my current position, I am transferring my duties to Greg who is currently in theatre.

It has been two weeks since my last update because our internet was affected by the cutting of communications cable in the Mediterranean Sea near Egypt. So Walt Disney was absolutely right when he said, "It's a Small World Afterall". Or for you more modern types you might prefer Thomas Friedman's, "The World is Flat". It is truly amazing that a cable cut in Egypt afffected the internet in Afghanistan, but it did. We normal service was restored within about a week, but during that week we had limited access to the internet.

My time is getting short, in fact I will leave Afghanistan in less than two months. It is hard to believe it is almost over.

Back on the homefront the kids are going to school and playing sports. Madigan LOVES softball, Rebecca thinks it has something to do with Madigan's best friend being on the team. Thomas starts baseball soon and Rebecca will be shuttling the kids to various locations for practice and games. Rebecca is staying busy with work, the kids and projects around the house.

Peace to you all,

Pat

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Third Grade Mass at Saint Therese of Carmel

From the Editor (Rebecca):

Today was the Mass with Children at our parish (Saint Therese of Carmel), hosted by the third grade. Thomas was asked to read two of the Prayers of the Faithful. When I received the copy of the prayers, I asked if we could augment one of them a bit. The original read: "That the leaders of nations may serve their people, acting decisively and courageously as peacemakers." Thomas has been bugging me to speak up and add a prayer for Patrick's saftey when Father opens up the Prayers of the Faithful to the congregation. For some reason, I just can never do it. The words get choked up in my throat and usually someone else offers a prayer for the military overseas. I asked Thomas if I should ask the Faith Formation coordinator if we could add a prayer for the military and specifically Patrick. He agreed and the coordinator added a prayer for Patrick and other parents serving overseas. I have a nicer video (this clip is from my little point and shoot camera) but it's too large to upload to the blog.

video