Friday, January 28, 2011

A Note to the Department of Agriculture (DA)

I wish to express my disappointment with your continued lack of action on shipping, and your continued double guessing on, the type and amount of seeds we need over here. Our farmers are doing the best job they can but, since they are the ones working the soil, sometimes they have a better grasp of the type and amount of seeds they actually need. I understand that the seeds they want are sometimes expensive and that the “book” answer is not in line with their plowing methods.
As you know the work our farmers do is very dirty. They work hard every day, for countless hours, in fields sown with dangerous things that put them and their equipment in grave danger.  The farms they toil in are very much unlike the 9 to 5 office environment that DA bureaucrats work in at the multisided building in D.C. I ask that you cut the red tape, place your personal agendas aside and get our farmers what they need. We cannot taste the fruit of victory without the harvests our farmers can make possible. It is incumbent upon you to provide them with the kernel of hope that carries our nation’s vision to end the hunger here in this corner of the world.   
There is one thing you have provided us with that is in good supply here. You have been helpful above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to supplying us with fertilizer. It is beyond reproach that the DA is the supreme supplier of fertilizer above all other bureaucratic agencies on this earth. You talk fertilizer, you know fertilizer, and you give out fertilizer freely to any and everyone; whether they ask for it or not. I salute you.
Now. How ‘bout them seeds?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Somehow, today a batch of locally made pastries made it up to the J-4 section. I think the DLA (Defense Logistic Agency) guys across the hall were working with a bakery outside the gate trying to get a contract going to supply us with said pastries. They had several different types of examples that they brought up. Among the buns, rolls, and breads was a couple of packages of doughnuts. Fruit filled doughnuts, actually.

It is no secret that I have significant issues with this country and most of the people in it. But as the title above says, I must give credit where credit is due. So here goes. I ate one of those doughnuts. It was probably one of the best I have ever eaten in my life. The dough was light, airy, sweet, and had a texture that seduced my palate. It is no exaggeration when I say it melted in my mouth. It was almost like eating air. The flavor and the ever so delicate texture kept it real. The powdered suger was clean, crisp in it's sweetness, and fresh. Now, honestly the strawberry fruit filling was no better (or worse) than any other I have ever tasted. The rest of the pastry overshadowed it in any case. Though average it was a fitting final touch to something beautiful one rarely experiences here.

Nothing really, to look at. However I equate the experience of eating one of these doughnuts on par or better than eating sliders at the Cozy Inn in Salina.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I sit here and wonder if what I am doing here is the right thing to do. Am I the right guy for the job?  Kinda late to think about that now, huh? Sometimes I feel so comfortable here. I can be so spot on and in control. At other times I am so far out of my comfort zone I want to cash in my chips and go home. Sometimes I look around and just shake my head in disbelief.
I guess most of us have our moments of doubt. I am frustrated by things out my control and, in retrospect, how I deal with them. Rarely in my real life do I fail. Here, failure can reach up bite at any time. It is so frustrating for me to know that I am 100% fully in control and then, a moment later, something appears out of the blue (purple?) and because of my inexperience or pig headedness I peer into the black abyss of failure. I think that I have fallen in on at least one occasion. Certainly the edge has crumbled underfoot. Nothing has become of it yet. Time will tell.
I have become stubbornly rigid and somewhat apathetically complacent. A dangerous and complex oxymoron if there ever was one. I want to do well. It is my duty, after all. I look around me and I have nothing but contempt for some of the people and most of the country around me. They say this is a joint command. There is no jointness. We’re a hodgepodge of DOD officers, civilians and contractors, all of which speak a different dialect of DoDese (or no military dialect at all), looking to get in, get out, and move up. Am I any better? No. I guess I just have a conscious.
After saying all this there are a precious few shining lights of hope here. Most are retired U.S. military, some are contractors and some are DoD civilians. These “old” guys have seen it before and are not keen on reworking or reliving the stupid stuff. Their voices are not always heard, however.
Despite my feelings I will soldier on. I will work to overcome my challenges. It is important to me to support the soldier in the mud. It is my job to ensure they have the ammunition they need when they need it and plenty (but not too much) of it. This is what I do best. To paraphrase a comrade in the ammo world “A soldier without ammunition is just a tourist.” The challenging part I have is pleasing faceless bureaucrats and staff members trying to justify their existence. Some of whom are looking for penny ante governmental waste in my AO  while a few hundred feet from where I sit decisions are made, though done in good faith, which will result in BILLIONS of wasted U.S. dollars. I will soldier on. Yes. I guess I just have a conscious.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My Official Passport - Final Chapter

Today I recieved my Official Passport in the mail. It was in a package I recieved from my wife. I applied for it back in 2010. August, I believe. It actually made it here to NKC in October. I never recieved it because the mail room failed to inform anybody it was here. It was sent registered mail so it required a signature for pick up. The mail room returned it to the passport office at Fort Riley after it layed around here for a while.

I eventually tracked it down and had my wife pick it up and send it again.

Where were the points of failure? Obviously the NKC mail room is one. No need to delve into that any further. I guess the main issue was the ordeal getting the visa for Afghanistan. It took longer than expected and I think the required date was written incorrectly on the application and it was put at the bottom of the stack in D.C.  The takeaway is that if you want an official passport with visa get it requested a soon as possible. It's been so long I cannot recall when I started the process and if I could have done so earlier.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow (Moisture?) Today

We received the first significant moisture today since I arrived on NKC back in October.

The hill behind NKC. I tried to get an image of the falling flakes but they were very small and do not show up well.

Some local Afghani government buildings (military hospital?). Again, behind NKC. I took these pictures from an external stairway. Not the best photography I've ever done but it'll have to do.

The parking lot in front of the admin building. Some of our Suburbans and Land Cruisers are out there. Note that the snow is not sticking.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Too Good To Do What Must Be Done or COIN And The Regimental Bhisti

I recently moved to a new office  It was a short move - just down the hall and around the corner. Outside the old office stands a large blue recycle bin for plastic water bottles and aluminum soda cans. These containers are everywhere on NKC. They are a small but integral part of our COIN strategy here in Afghanistan. 

The contents of these containers are emptied, when full, by the local national cleaning crews that work here. The bags of recyclables are given to a local entrepeneur in Kabul who recyles the cans and bottles and sells the raw materials to somebody in Pakistan. All while employing several people who would normaly be jobless. Good deal, right? Check out the picture below:

So, why is that container overflowing you may ask? Well, the container sits in an area that was put off limits to the cleaning crews. A reasonable step to take since in the offices around there we have material that must be kept away from prying eyes. It's a win win situation. The "Hajis" have less to clean and we, the imperial overlords, can protect our stuff. But wait. Why is that can overflowing?  When I worked in that area myself and Barry would take the necessary steps to keep that can empty. We would either take full bags outside to the dumpster or take the bag a few steps down the hall where another container sits in an unrestricted access area. See the below picture showing the other can. (The people in the picture are some of the cleaning crew. ) :

Again I ask. Why is that can overflowing? Well, in the restricted area where it sits, there is a distinct lack of lower enlisted soldiers, DA Civilians or contractors. The surrounding offices are overflowing, much like the container, with soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines of higher rank. Not one sees or maybe, more accurately, chooses to ignore the opportunity to contribute not only to COIN but to contribute to the well being, cleanliness, and morale of the organization.

I shan't forgit the night
When I dropped be'ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should 'a' been.
I was chokin' mad with thirst,
An' the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.
'E lifted up my 'ead,
An' he plugged me where I bled,
An' 'e guv me 'arf-a-pint o' water-green:
It was crawlin' and it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
It was "Din! Din! Din!
'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through 'is spleen;
'E's chawin' up the ground,
An' 'e's kickin' all around:
For Gawd's sake git the water, Gunga Din!"

Gunga Din (excerpt) - Rudyard Kipling

Monday, January 10, 2011

Traveling and Growth

I’ve never been to Iraq but everyone who has tells me that it is easy to move around by air within the country there. That is not the case here in Afghanistan. I don’t know why. Travel time is measured in days for a country the size of Texas. I can’t imagine it is due to a shortage of aircraft. Is it because of the bureaucracy from the many levels of Headquarters we have? Is it because of all the NATO and coalition countries with their own aircraft (or the lack thereof) that adds to the confusion? One thing for sure is that overland travel is much worse here and not moving in a direction where it needs to be. This is mainly because of a lack of a developed transportation infrastructure. Of course this is aggravated by the security situation as well.
They say we solved the air travel problem with an online passenger reservation system. I’m not convinced. Now you can log on to a computer and find out how many days until your flight leaves. I see no shortage of travel time just a clearer understanding how long you’ll wait and where.
I think that this country never really had a chance. What little infrastructure that was ever here was either destroyed by war, incompetence or negligence. A country, whether it has built the best or was given the best, must maintain and grow what they have. Lack of growth and development in all aspects of life will doom one to chaos.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The following is a slightly edited excerpt from an E-mail I sent to my wife earlier today. I guess it's OK to plaigerize oneself.

It was a macabre experience out there this morning. Our post office is a small metal shack. People have to wait outside until their turn to go in and mail their stuff. I was early, arriving just before the 8:00 A.M. opening time. I was the second in-line when we heard a big boom a couple of blocks away. I knew what it was immediately. Someone detonated an IED. The question was - how many hurt or dead? I looked on-line a little later and found out it killed an Afghani policeman. Some others were hurt, as well.

Life here goes on. As I mailed home a package brimming with love to my son a few hundred feet away death smiled and the life blood of a man ran into the gutter all because of a package filled with hate.

Happy New Year