Sunday, August 24, 2008

Been There, Done That, Got the T Shirt/Final Post

We are back home! 447 days from the start of training to returning to the US. 87 days of training and 360 days "Boots On Ground". One day delayed due to mechanical issues, but here we are. I am thrilled! We are incredibly proud of the improvements made at the hospital while we were there. The hospital is now nationally reputed as one of, if not THE, best in Afghanistan. We made great friends with the staff and interpreters, and I get occasional emails from some of them. Although Navy represented less than one quarter of the military at our base, we made lions' shares contributions to both the quality of life and mission on base. I especially want to thank my wonderful family: Linda, my wife, who I spoke with just about every day via Skype, defense system phones and cell phones (at 55 cents a minute) and kept the home fires going; daughter Cristina who sent several touching greeting cards; son Andy who could always give me a chuckle; my sister Paula (who has a retired Navy aviator hubby) who sent numerous cards and care packages; my other bros Mark and Dave who kept in touch regularly; nephew Steve and family who sent an enormous care package in the spring; and the Oak Leaf Club of Naval Hospital Pensacola who sent care packages 3 times (other commands sent 1 at the most).
To my shipmates: Phil, who helped a "mature" doc make it through training; Captain Mark who headed our team during the year here and also helped me make it; to Chiefs Luis and Kelly who performed outstandingly as senior NCOs of the team; to "LT" our admin sharpshooter who kept us the best informed and cared-for of all; to Carl and Zack and their willing heavy labor (especially those donated books); DJ the artist; Grant the "care package monger" who got us on the list of every "America supports you" website out there; Chief Marc, my student; Chief Terry who set a great fitness example; Jim and Charlie, the kings of the OR. Especially thanks to Don, my battle buddy, bunk mate at Riley, roommate at Camp Stone and guy who always watched my six.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Final prep/Operation Medical Libraries in news

We handed in the body armor, cleaned the weapons, recycled the usable, sent home the keepers and basically got rid off most of the gear issued over a year ago back at Fort Riley. We got everything new; I know I wouldn't want to wear used gear that has sweat and Afghan dust permeating it. We also had group sessions to talk about stresses, "sustainables" meaning good stuff, and "improves" meaning areas needing corrections. A few more days and we will go west to America. How excited we all are.
American Medical News just published a story on the book donation project, Operation Medical Libraries. I'm quoted. You can see the article at

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life in Kuwait

As I mentioned, it's extremely hot here. Mid summer reached mid 120's, so we are happy it is "only" about 115 in the daytime. We are living in leaky, dusty tents that get over 90 in the daytime even with 2 AC units running. So, we avoid the tents while the sun is up. It's comfy at night. I cleaned a bunch of dust off the filters so maybe it will run better. They have a pool in another part of the base but I'm told it's warm so no thanks. The "cold" water at the sinks and showers are ambient temperature, so even showering in the morning is uncomfortably hot. I think those actually stationed here are better off. Otherwise, lots of free time and nice recreation facilities. Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Burger King, etc., all make us feel a little closer to home. We turn in our gear soon, get some counselling and in a few days, hop the big bird home. Can't wait!

Saturday, August 16, 2008


After a one-day delay, we left Kabul for Kuwait on the 15th. I was up around 1 in the morning unable to sleep even though our show-up time was 6 AM. Makes for a very long day. As is typical, the loading and convoy was delay a couple of hours, but that still left lots of time for the 2 PM boarding. The airport is only 10 minutes from Camp Phoenix. So, we waited 2 hours at Phoenix, then another 6 at Kabul International Airport. Temps were upper 80's and dry so not bad. We took a C17, the big 4 engine cargo jet for a 4 hour trip. The pilot informed us about 20 minutes after takeoff that we had exited Afghanistan airspace. Hoorah!

We landed in Kuwait about 6:00 PM local just before sunset with the temp about 115. We boarded buses for the 2 hour ride to Camp Arifjan where we do all our check-out. Most of us were pretty beat by this time but we still had to unload all of our bags, about 1000 of them. So we spent 2 hours in the dark 100 degree heat sorting sea bags, frame packs and back packs, then hauling them to our hot and dusty tents. I finally hit the rack after midnight local, over 24 hours after I got up. Still a bit loopy, but only 5 days to go! We are safe as well; no shooting is going on here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


During my year in west Afghanistan, we lost two American military from our base to hostile activity. One was a soldier who died in a firefight far to the south just before Memorial Day. The other was a Navy Corpsman (our version of medics) within the last week during activities far to the north. The first made our Memorial Day on Camp Stone that much more profound. The latter was observed even here in Camp Phoenix. Over 100 assembled to pay respects. Two of our Navy enlisted, one a corpsman, formed the honor guard. The National Anthem was played; the chaplain, another senior officer and the senior Navy Chief Petty Officer all spoke of this fine young man. The role was called; 3 others from Herat answered "Here, Chief"; the fallen sailor's name was then called three times with no answer. 21 gun salute was followed by taps. We could then each go forward to give our respects with a slow salute. Many left mementos to be forwarded to his widow and parents. I left a Command Coin from Herat. God bless this young man, his family, the suffering people of Afghanistan and our great country that believes in things worth dieing for.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Weather report

Kabul is not as dusty as Herat, seeing that it's the largest city with lots of buildings to block the wind. A helicopter landing on the exercise field did raise an impressive cloud of dust though. However, you can usually smell smoke from the wood fires used by locals for cooking. And don't be downwind when they pump out the portapotties. Sunny, a few clouds, highs low to mid 90's, about 70 at night. High altitude as well, over a mile above sea level. I was really gasping on a 5 K run this morning. Kuwait will be close to sea level but highs will be around 115 and lows in the mid 80's. We hear they have a swimming pool there.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Keeping productive

Doing lots of internet stuff, even keeping up with the bills at home. Watched some movies, working out (not easy 6000 feet above Navy, I mean sea level) and shooting the breeze with the guys I trained with. Most of the 160 from who trained with us at Ft. Riley are now back. I completed some online med education. Finally, I visited the clinic here at Camp Phoenix and they were happy to have a volunteer. So, I've attended a couple of clinic sessions to take the load of the current providers, teach a bit to the medics and get re-familiar with the online medical record AHLTA again. Home in 12 days, or, as my erstwhile roommate would say, 11 days and a wakeup!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


That's the "A Little Travelling Music" stance from Jackie Gleason as "away we go" in front of my empty rack. Next is my roommate Don, myself and our team leader CAPT Richerson in front of the HUMVEEs that took us to Herat Airport. The third photo shows the exit from Camp Zafar, the ANA base adjacent to ours. This takes us out to the main road to the airport. Finally, a shot of the control tower at Herat Airport with "goodbye" in Dari and English.
Not much to do here in Kabul, so I work out, read, watch movies and do online medical education. Home in 2 weeks!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back at Phoenix

Camp Phoenix is the main HQ for US and coalition forces in Kabul. We convoyed from Camp Stone near Herat to the airport Sunday morning on August 3, our last look at our home for the last year. We saw the mud hut villages and locals tending a flock of goats along the way. We flew out on an Italian C130 (4 engine prop plane) packed in cheek and jowl for the over 1 hour flight to Kabul International Airport (yes, we call it KIA). We hung around for a few hours before our convoy took us over to the base. We are billeted into the same sorry grubby tents as we were when we arrived last 1 September. The difference is we have a lot of down time and we are headed home.
The last week in Herat had 100+ temps every day. We are now at 6000 feet above sea level so it is several degrees cooler, low to mid 90's. Kabul still has substantial air pollution, but we are obviously happy to be here.
I will spend some of the time working on an article with 3 other family docs around the world for American Family Physician journal on caring for military and their families when returning home from deployment.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Getting Ready

Same title as the first post on the blog. We've sent most of our gear ahead of us to our redeployment base near the capital. The picture shows the sea bags for a couple dozen Navy folks ready to RIP out (Replacement In Place). We're completing paperwork, cleaning our weapons, saying good bye. We will have a "Hail and Farewell" to greet the new Navy team and God speed the "old" team. We have not had a formal awards ceremony since not all have been approved by the Navy. We all get several additional ribbons like the NATO ribbon, Afghan Campaign ribbon, and the Overseas ribbon. We will likely have ceremonies for individual awards back at our commands. More posts to come as we move along the redeployment path.
Also shown is a war trophy, an SUV taken when a Taliban leader was captured about 80 miles south of here. I drove it over to the hospital to see a serious patient after hours about 4 days ago; it's right hand drive, but no problem.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Hospital Farewell

The hospital outdid itself with the biggest party ever given there (well, it's only 2 years old). They moved all the chairs into the lobby to say farewell and give thanks to the 13 Navy on our team leaving soon. Each of us received certificates from the Corps Major General Jandalar (shown), who is in charge of the Afghan Army for all of west Afghanistan. The hospital commanding officer Col Alcozai also presented certificates signed by him and the Surgeon General, Major General Yaftali. We received either a jama (loose Afghan clothing) and a beaded cap or a rug. I received a nice wool rug, hand stitched in Herat, depicting the two hemispheres with America and Afghanistan, and clasped hands showing friendship. One photo shows me receiving it from the CO. A wonderful gift. We had to miss part of the ceremony caring for an ICU patient, but it was quite special anyway. We bid farewell to our good friends and take pride in making the Herat Regional Military Hospital the most highly reputed in the country.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Welcome new team

Welcome to the hospital to the new Navy Medical Embedded Training Team! They arrived after 60 hours of travel from Kansas to Herat. We helped them unload, got them dinner and then they showered and zonked. We gave a general tour the next afternoon at the hospital. The following morning, we took our individual replacements and started showing routine duties at the hospital. Shown is the new team in the ICU. The subsequent morning, we did quick rounds and then took them on the obligatory tour of the bakery where they make the flat bread, naan, in fired ovens. Shown are CDR Boehnke who is replacing (shown) LCDR Sylvester as chief nurse mentor. Also shown is CDR(Select) Gutierrez, an emergency medicine doc and my replacement. Finally is a picture of Dr. Gutierrez and one of the OR nurses; they have a striking resemblance that all the hospital staff commented on. It was quiet at the hospital for the first few days. Then 3 ICU admissions over 3 days: a bleeding ulcer, an elderly man in liver failure, and a girl badly injured by a vehicle (she should make it). Two admissions occurred at night and they requested we go over and help assess. So, a busy few days, but that is atypical. Good intro though.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Some pictures to remember the camp by:
A couple of our corpsman like to cook up something on their own using a hot plate. Friday is the usual day since it is our off day. Spam is a frequent ingredient as is rice (one of the corpsmen is Filipino). Shown are the usual suspects enjoying a bread from the DFAC under the shade of an old parachute.
The sign is painted on a "jersey barrier" set in place to prevent vehicles ingress and also as a shield. It is a no-parking zone with 25 push ups as the tow-away fine.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Our replacements have arrived, a team of 13 Navy officers, chiefs and petty officers. They left Kansas and arrived here about 60 hours later after stops in Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Kabul and Bagram. They looked bright eyed and ready to roll. Our team took about 10 days to get here due to in-processing in Kabul that will be done here for the new team. They'll have a chance to settle in, then we will take them to the hospital in a couple of days. Home in less than 4 weeks now.
Shown is our last full moon here at Camp Stone about a week ago. I thought it was a nice shot. We get pretty clear skies here and can see the Milky Way in the late evening.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Operation Medical Libraries Donation

On 22 July, close to a ton of books and journals were donated to the Herat Regional Military Hospital and the Herat Medical Faculty of Herat University. These were provided by Operation Medical Libraries ( email or website under the tireless leadership of founder Valerie Walker at UCLA.
The Dean, chairs of surgery and medicine and two other senior faculty visited the hospital and were thrilled to receive such a large and much-needed donation. Shown is Dr. Said Azim Hussaini, the deputy commander/executive officer of the hospital, giving a tour to the faculty. Also shown is some of the books for the presentation. The next photo is a shot of the faculty. The last one shows me presenting a book to the Dean, Dr. G. N. Aram. The Dean expressed great gratitude and hopes for continued support in the future. He hopes to create a collaboration with an American medical school, and I will solicit my alma mater, Wayne State University in Detroit.
About 300 additional pounds of literature arrived the day before the presentation, and these were distributed. In the two subsequent days, we received 3 boxes more boxes from UCLA weighing over 100 pounds total. These will be handed off to my replacement who arrives shortly. He is Dr. Frank Gutierrez and has graciously agreed to continue the program as point of contact. Thanks Valerie, thanks Dr. Azim and thanks Frank!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Holidays missed

Two of our corpsmen put up decorations for Halloween last October, the first "decorative" holiday since our arrival last September. They decided to leave them up and add new ones as the holidays rolled by. Shown are the results. We missed Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah,Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year's, MLK, Valentine's, St. Patrick's Day, Spring, Easter, Memorial Day and 4th of July. We will be home by Labor Day. Booyah!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hot, hot, hot

The hottest time of the summer. Highs 97 to 104 with 100+ most days. Light winds at sunrise then 30-40 MPH by midday and blowing grit. Gawd, I'll miss this place. We do 2 round trips to the hospital most days, about a klick each way, so about 2.5 total each day. Feels like you opened an oven. Can't wait to be back in balmy Pensacola where it's only 95 every day.
We continue on with the teaching and patient care. 3 patients were in the ICU yesterday and seemed to be getting the right kind of care. One of the midwives consulted me on a lady issue and was grateful for the info I shared.
We also had visits from an ANA General, a district commander for the police and an important village leader who brought his son (broke his leg in a motorcycle accident).
Despite the news from Afghanistan, our part of the country is quite peaceful, so don't worry y'all. I'll be home in a month or so.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Visitors & Compliments

We received visits from docs stationed in Kabul. One shows Air Force Col. Hall and Navy CAPT May, both physicians, who are senior mentors to the Afghan Surgeon General, MG Yaftali. They visited, met and toured for 2 days as part of their responsibilities with the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan. Also shown is Navy CDR Huynh, a trauma/combat surgeon who mentors surgeons at the National Military Hospital. She is demonstrating a small portable diagnostic ultrasound that can quickly diagnose internal bleeding in the abdomen. She also gave a series of lectures on quickly managing injuries. All of our visitors complimented us on the progress the Herat Regional Military Hospital has made and unabashedly rated us the best of all the military hospitals, including the 400 bed National Military Hospital. The hard work and persistence pays off!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mass Casualty drill

We received a 4 day visit from CDR Huynh, a trauma surgeon assigned to mentor at the National Military Hospital in Kabul. She and her colleague gave a series of superb lectures and demonstrations on handling combat injuries and setting up protocols to manage disasters. We also staged a mock mascas, or mass casualty drill with 10 mock patients ranging from a stable fracture to a heart attack. Shown are the arrival and care of the staff. Well handled although the event was not a surprise as we wanted.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Nice tribute from our Spanish colleagues

We share Camp Stone with Spanish, Italians and Slovenians. The following was sent to all of us from one of the Spanish officers:

It was between 1778 and 1783 when the Spanish Regimiento Fijo de Infantería de la Louisiana attacked and conquered Baton Rouge, Manchac, New Orleans, Mobile, the city and Bay of Pensacola and afterwards the whole Florida peninsula from British hands. Doing so, it opened the Caribbean Sea ports to the main flux of supplies for the new American Army. General Bernardo de Gálvez was the Commanding Officer of the Spanish forces supporting the American Revolution. The City of Galveston, Texas, was named after him.

This was part of the Spanish military contribution to the Independence of the United States of America. That is why on 8 November 1779 Thomas Jefferson wrote to General Gálvez, expressing his thanks for Spain's assistance to the revolutionary cause. George Washington toasted Spain for its support during the war and finally, in 1784 the U.S. Congress cited General Galvez and the Spanish government for their aid during the Revolution.

Today, as we did then, the Spanish military, who come from one of the eldest nations in the world want, once again, to congratulate our American friends on their Independence Day.

We wish you a lovely day. We also encourage you to follow the struggle for Justice and Freedom all around the world. In your effort Spain will never let the US walk alone.

Yours respectfully,

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July

Even a week in Afghanistan would make me appreciate our freedom, people and prosperity, let alone a year. We celebrated our 232nd birthday with a camp wide festival. Lots of good stuff to eat and enjoy. We had 3 on 3 basketball, 3 point shots, timed weapon assembly (shown), voting and absentee ballot registration (shown), a visit by a camel and donkey, a raffle, excellent barbecue and the always-popular volleyball tournament. About a dozen teams this time and shown is a shot of Chief Kelley going for a low one (successfully). Great turnout and a good time despite 106 degrees.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Thank you CAPT Richerson and family

Our team lead, CAPT Richerson and family provided the t shirts shown for the entire team of 14. His family also sent Halloween treats, goodies at Christmas and has generally helped lighten our days here.
The T-shirt: Operation Enduring Freedom is the overall mission name here in Afghanistan. The caduceus represents our medical orientation and mission. Herat is the nearest city and provincial capital. We're an embedded training team serving as mentors at the local hospital. Great and unique souvenir for just our team.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Books Without Borders is now Operation Medical Libraries

Apparently the name Books Without Borders has been used elsewhere and merger did not fit the missions of both organizations. The UCLA Medical Alumni Association had provided support of the collection and shipping of donated medical texts up to now (actually, the untiring work of Valerie Walker) and establishment of a not-for-profit is the next logical step. So, Operation Medical Libraries will now be the organization collecting medical literature for the benefit of health care institutions and medical schools in Iraq and Afghanistan. No website yet but you can contact them at

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Amusing sights

Some things I'll never see at home. The gunners in the Italian armored vehicles usually have a bunch of black feathers stuck to their helmets. Maybe my father in law can tell me why. It adds some panache.
Also shown is a "jingle jitney". This is a 3 wheeled motorcycle, apparently quite common in all Afghan cities. It's covered on the back and has two facing bench seats inside. This is used by a construction worker who comes on base for building projects. Others are used as cheap taxis or as the family vehicle. They can be heavily decorated with appliques, sequins, tassels and small bells all over the vehicle. Trucks for hauling anything are similarly decorated and even the insides of buses have tapestry, curtains, bells and tassels galore. The transport trucks are therefore called jingle trucks since all the decorations jingle as they bounce down the bad roads. A great youtube video on driving in Afghanistan is at It's a video of driving from Kabul to Jalabad on J-Bad Highway.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Thanks to my siblings

Many thanks to sister Paula and brother Dave for their support of Books Without Borders via contribution. 20 boxes of literature weighing over 1000 pounds have arrived. We have sorted them by subject and will work with the executive director of the hospital to set the distribution to the local institutions. Thanks sis and bro!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

San Diego Union Tribune article about Books Without Borders

One of the participants with Books Without Borders is the University of California at San Diego. This project was started at UCLA to send medical texts to Iraq schools but has expanded to include Afghanistan. I have received over 20 boxes of books and journals which will be distributed shortly to the 4 local hospitals and medical school. The San Diego Union Tribune wrote an article for the front page of the local section; I'm quoted. See

Wind of 120 Days

This annual event occurs during the hot season. Four months of winds with frequent days of 30-40 miles per hour. Kicks up a lot of dust. Recent high temps range from 95 to 111 (about 35-44 C). Shown is the black flag warning that no outdoor exercise should be attempted and only light work with frequent breaks. Hard to believe how cold it was 3 months ago.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back in Herat

Had a great time in Qatar but the travel is always a challenge. We finally got back to Herat on Sunday the 15th (Happy Father's Day) via Kabul since flights from Bagram are unreliable. We opened the door to our room to hundreds of balloons; shown is my bunk. We spent the next 20 minutes popping and cleaning up. This was funny at 9 PM; it would suck at 3 AM. We got a great laugh out of it.
Also shown is a team picture. Now that WE ARE GETTING CLOSE TO GOING HOME, no one can be on leave or pass. So, we are all here and took a pose on a Humvee. Yes, we are smiling. About 2 months to go and our replacements arrive in about 6 weeks.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Last Day in Qatar

My friend Don and I signed up for the water sports day and had a blast. We rode the dhow as shown. 100 years ago they were sail powered and used for fishing and pearl diving. This had a diesel engine but had the old fashioned wooden rudder. We rode over to a low island across from the Doha skyline and anchored. We rode jetskis, swam and went tubing. They had a charcoal grill on the dhow and cooked up a great lunch as well. Great day yesterday.
Today, 5 hour plane ride and back in Afghanistan. Should be less than 2 months to go.

Monday, June 9, 2008

We went on the tour of Doha today, the capitol of Qatar. Doha has 1/2 million residents (out of 900K population for the whole country) but has the feel of a city the size of Chicago. About 1/3 of population are citizens and the rest are foreign workers hired to do actual work. Petroleum has given this 100x50 mile country the highest per capita income in the world; quite a contrast to Afghanistan which has the third lowest. Construction everywhere! 50 story high rises by the dozen rising within sight of each other. The City Center mall is near the growth area with 370 stores that include Pierre Cardin, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, Radio Shack, etc. Everything is in English and Arabic. There's ice skating at the mall. We also visited the old town market area where you can buy all kinds of native hand-made stuff. That's a picture of me have local coffee, which is very strong and sweet. We went to the jewelry district where there are at least 50 jewelers crammed together. We visited the Corniche which is a waterfront park that stretches at least a mile alone the bay that goes into the Arabian (Persian) Gulf. The pearl picture is my buddy Don in front of the monument to the historical pearl diving here. I took pictures of dhows, 3 masted lateen rigged sailboats that they used for fishing and pearl diving before petroleum took over the economy. Saw lots of western families with small kids everywhere. It is so safe that many merchants leave their shops open and empty while they catch a smoke or a bite. We saw the palace of the monarch and the Al Koot Fort built in 1882 when the Ottoman Empire ruled the area. We also went to animal market where they sell camels, goats and donkeys. Camel milk and meat is a local staple, and they race camels. Falconing is also quite popular. We had a terrific lunch of local foods, mainly rice, chicken and lamb.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Pronounced variously KOTter, kuhTAR, or even GHATter. Shown is my buddy Don Sylvester and me at Mullarkey's Irish Pub at the Qatar base that is HQ for Central Command covering the Middle East and southwest Asia. We are here for our allowed 4 day pass. We headed to the main airbase in Afghanistan 3 days ahead of time as instructed since flights from Herat are irregular. We got there fine but we then bumped by a general from our scheduled flight to Qatar. Over the next 3 days, we were bumped from another flight and 6 others were cancelled. On very short notice (actually no notice, I happened to check the air terminal and got lucky), we caught a cargo flight that left at 3 AM and landed at sunrise in Qatar.
We get to wear civilian clothes, sleep in comfy berths, eat at restaurants and hoist some brewskis. Tours and fun things like desert safari, boating, fishing and diving are available. It is a great break from the routines of deployment.
Since we are almost to the start of summer, daily highs are ~110 and it "cools off" at night to about 90. Very humid too since Qatar is a 100 mile peninsula off Saudia Arabia sticking north into the Persian Gulf, oops, Arabian Gulf. It has the highest per capita income in the world and gives all citizens free health care and education through college. It gave women the vote 12 years ago, women hold important posts and some degree of western dress is allowed. Only 1/3 of the population are citizens; the rest are foreigners brought in to do the actual work.
When I get back to Camp Stone, we will have less than 2 months to go!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


For Mine Resistent Ambush Protected vehicle. These have been heavily used in Iraq and now I have seen a bunch of them. Can't say where or even show a picture but these have been a vast improvement for protecting the troops. Only serious injuries so far have been due to failure to wear seatbelts. Great technology.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

One year done

June 3 2007 marked our arrival at Norfolk Naval Station to begin the Navy Mobilization Processing System. Glad it's behind us and only a couple months to go!

Sunday, June 1, 2008


We are allowed a single 4 day out of country pass so I and another on the team are heading to Qatar. We're at the major airbase in Afghanistan and hope to get the flight out in 2 days. The installation in Qatar is very nice and modern. No more plywood B huts and squatty potties.
We are now in June and looking forward to August when we come home!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hot, hot, hot.

Officially 100 for the first time this year. Not the last time, it is only May 29. Humidity 6%. So far our heat pumps keep the huts comfortable. No rain since mid April, and none expected until October at the earliest. Makes Pensacola seem chilly.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Grazie Alberto!

I have had the pleasure of free Italian classes by Captain Valent of Tuscany, a paracadutisti (parachutist) of the Esercito d'Italia (Italian army). Italy is in charge of Afghanistan Regional Security Integration Command West (ARSIC West) based in Herat, and Alberto is a mentor to the Afghan Army garrison here. He is heading home on rotation but will be back next year. That's me ("Biaggio") to the left and another Italian student, Giuseppe to the right, with Alberto in the middle. Ciao!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Memorial Day certainly has more meaning today. The entire camp (including our Italian, Spanish and Slovenian colleagues) gathered as planned for observance, dedication and ceremony. Yesterday, a soldier assigned to a FOB in southern Herat Province 60 miles to the south lost his life in a fire fight with Taliban. So, we especially remember him and his family today. We planned to dedicate and name four buildings on the camp already to others who died in service in Herat Province. We will add one more. Names were read, the CO laid a wreath, our flag lowered to half mast and taps played. And we rededicate to the defense of freedom and our country.
Today is also the second anniversary of my taking the oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. Thank you all for the support, and especially my best friend and wife, Linda

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Distinguished Visitor, III

Today, I consulted on a brigadier general of the Afghan National Police for western Afghanistan. He was very gracious and appreciative. We also almost met with the head of the regional civilian hospital, Dr. Rashid, but it was postponed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Distinguished Visitors, II

Wow, what a day. Shown is the Surgeon General of the Afghan National Army, Major General Yaftali with our team leader CAPT Richerson (same rank as colonel in other services). MG Yaftali spent the last two days meeting the hospital staff and mentors and touring the facilities. He is in charge of health care delivery for the soldiers and their families and is the top of the Chain of Command for the hospital. He spoke to a large meeting of the staff and mentors for over an hour in Dari. He concluded in English for the several mentors there. He observed the wonderful improvements in the hospital, thanked us and said "You came to Afghanistan, not to read a story, not to write a story, but to make a story". Wow.
After the meeting with the General, I was then asked to by the deputy commander of the hospital to meet another distinguished visitor, Haji Abdul Khaleq Mir, the Deputy Governor of Herat Province. They wanted me to review his test results and advise him on his health. What a privilege. Fortunately, he is hale and hearty, so a pleasant visit.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Command Coin

Just arrived, our official command coins. We on the Morale, Welfare and Recreation committee (MWR) put together the design, got bids and used raffle funds to purchase 300 which we are selling like proverbial hotcakes. The border on both sides states "Combined Task Force Phoenix" for the coalition command in Kabul collaborating on the rebuilding of the country; and "Operation Enduring Freedom" for the ongoing peace-keeping since November 2002.

The obverse shows a rising Phoenix (the mythical bird that dies in flames and rises anew from the ashes, read Harry Potter) with the Afghan flag above it. On either side are "Herat Afghanistan" in English and Dari. Below the Phoenix are the flags of the countries participating in the Herat area: US, Slovenia, Italy and Spain.

The reverse shows the country with the flag superimposed and a star marking the location of Herat. Camp Stone is our FOB (forward operation base). ARSIC West is the Afghan Regional Security Integration Command for the western country.

Command coins are mementos of duty stations and most military bases, even ships, have unique coins. The commander will also have special ones made to give in recognition for special accomplishments. It is also used as a challenge when buying drinks: if you ask to see someones command coin and he doesn't have it, he buys. If he does, you buy. Being a bit of a Navy rookie, I am sure others will chime in with other uses of command coins. Some collect them and display them. They can be traded with other commands, services, even foreign military. Just don't get caught in a bar without one.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Yup, an accidently self-inflicted wound. As he set the butt of his rifle on the ground, it discharged a round up into his armpit and out the top of his shoulder. Fortunately, no artery or nerve damage; only broke a piece of shoulder blade. He is extremely lucky and should have near full use of his arm in a couple of months. We had safety (duh, yeah!) pounded into us about our weapons, and so-called "negligent discharges" are extremely rare in US military. This will definitely send the message to the Afghan recruits. At least he correctly made sure his weapon was never pointed at anyone else, the first rule of weapon safetly. It reassures me that this is the first one we have seen in the nine months here, and we are on a basic-training base. Repeat after me: safety on, magazine out, chamber clear, safety on.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Parker of Arabia

We have been warned of the "120 days of wind" that come every summer. Today we reached 93 degrees, no rain in a month (none expected for about the next 6 months) and wind gusting to 40 MPH. Just talking allows a very fine grit to get in your mouth. Shown is HM1 Parker's solution to the problem with an inexpensive scarf bought at the bazaar.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Spring Festival

Great turnout today. We had a fun day of activities in the fall and planned this one for two months. Lots of competitions like 3-point shooting (won by a female Air Force medic), football toss (the Italians could not quite get the hang of an American football), horse shoes, water balloon toss (the final toss was almost 40 feet) and the perennial favorite, volley ball tournament. Shown are the Italians discovering the fun of trying to play catch with a water balloon. Also, a picture of our admin officer and me raffling a Wii and iPod to raise $$ for future fun. Eight 6-person teams competed in volley ball, including 3 Italian/Spanish teams, one team of Afghan interpreters and 4 mixed-service teams of Americans. Only disappointment was not being able to rent camels for photo ops. See the post for November 23.