Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

It's Mother's Day...

I'd like to take a few minutes to say "Thank You" to all of the ladies in my life.

Motherhood is a state of mind.  The gifts of nurturing and caring for children and others are evident when watching the women that I've spent much of my life around.

When I was a young child, my dad was off working much of the time, so my mother and grandmothers took care of me.  My aunts and great aunts doted on me whenever they saw me while growing up.

Soon, I was dating, and though I wasn't ready to marry and have my own children, I learned to look for ladies who would be a good mother eventually.  Eventually, I married my sweetheart and turned her into a mother!

I appreciate all the service that has been given to me in my life.  My role has turned to one of breadwinner and provider while my sweet wife stays home to be the mother for our children.  She has a different style than her mother, her sister, my mother, and everyone else.  She's her own woman, and I love and appreciate her for it.

Thanks to all of you ladies... And Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I Admit It. I'm a Writer!

I started writing last month in order to complete Connie Green's 30 day challenge, to find my voice, and to share a few things that I've seen or learned while here in Afghanistan.

It's hard to believe that I've established a new habit that I don't want to break, at least not yet...  As I walked around today, I noticed that I noticed things that I might have ignored before.  

As I walked, I thought, "I need to write something about how the Afghan vendors eat lunch together each day."  

"I hope that helicopter takes off so that I can get a good picture."

"How can I communicate this thought to others? "

"How do I describe this feeling?"

Then suddenly, the thought occurred to me: "Gasp!  I must be a writer!"

In my life, I've written quite a bit.  A lot of technical documentation.  News stories and even a few magazine articles.  Lots of evaluations and award recommendations.  Writing was something that I had to do for work.

But recently, I've been able to write whatever I wanted.   A challenge and an opportunity.  

Recently, I thought of Maria in the "Sound of Music" as she's on her way to meet the Captain and the children for the first time.

She starts off tentatively, quietly...

What will this day be like? I wonder.
What will my future be? I wonder.
It could be so exciting to be out in the world, to be free
My heart should be wildly rejoicing
Oh, what's the matter with me?

I've always longed for adventure
To do the things I've never dared
And here I'm facing adventure
Then why am I so scared?

Much like starting to write.  What to write about?  How to capture the essence of an experience and to communicate it to friends and family?  How much should I open up my thoughts to the world?

Luckily, I have some friends who have taught me and inspired me.  

Geoff of has been particularly uplifting, inspiring and educational.  I purchased his and Steve's "On Writing a Short Story" course a few months ago, and it really helped to get me started.
Helen Raptopulous of has also been very encouraging and inspiring.  Her energy and enthusiasm keeps me motivated.

This Challenge was Connie Green's brainchild, so of course, I'm grateful to her as well. is her website.  She's a great coach.

Of course there are many more people that I'd like to thank, but I can't even list them all.  
(And it's already 3 a.m.)

Like Maria, I started.  Bravely, she continued and her enthusiasm overcame her fears.  I continued, and though I'm not willing to commit to blogging every day, I will continue to share my thoughts with you.

All I trust I lead my heart to
All I trust becomes my own
I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see I have confidence in me!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Afghan Proverbs

I risked life and limb again today by walking to the nearby base through the mob of children.

I saw all the same boys as yesterday, but the one in the back of the crowd in this picture walked with me for a few minutes along the way.  He spoke the best English of them all, and as we walked, of course he wanted me to buy a few bracelets made of beads and tied together with string.  

They're not bad looking little bracelets, but I don't typically wear them!

He offered to sell me a small English-Afghan Dari Dictionary with some proverbs in the back.  I admit it, I caved.  It's a cheap little book, but I bought it because of the variety of phrase and proverbs inside.  I knew at a glance that I wanted to have it as a souvenir for my boys to see...

Of course, I can't read the Dari, and many of the English translations are misspelled, but it is interesting to see that they teach what they know in the book.  For example, in a section with phrase related to building a house, it says nothing about drywall, insulation, or carpentry.   Nothing about wiring, inspectors, or permits.

Instead, it has the words for tin roof, mud, and stonework.

The proverbs are also enlightening.  For example, "A good year is determined by it's spring."    The book says that the meaning is that character and quality show up early, but I can't help but think that the root of that phrase is because this is such an agricultural society.  If there isn't snowfall on the mountains and rain in the spring, drought will make it difficult to graze herds and raise crops.  A dry spring will mean a hard year for these people.

Also, Afghans are know for their hospitality.  "The first day you meet, you are friends.  The next day you meet, you are brothers" is another of the phrases in the book.

My favorite, though, and the main reason I bought the book was a phrase referring to someone who gets dressed up or "moved to a higher position unworthily."  The phrase is "The same donkey, but with a new saddle."

In any country, an Ass is an Ass...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Back Street Boys

I've mentioned a few of the boys before that beg for money or try to sell their bracelets and such on the streets between the bases.  As summer is here, and the weather is improving, more people have been walking around, and the boys have been out in force.

Many of us are parents, and it hurts our hearts a little to see these kids hanging out all day long, begging for money and generally putting themselves at risk by running out into the streets or hanging around the vehicles.

We're trying to teach them to stay out of the street, to be polite instead of aggressive.  One of my buddies told them that he wouldn't pay them to beg, but he'd pay them to carry his bag between the bases... So he'll give a kid a buck or so to walk along with him for the half mile between bases.

Today I had a reason to come off of the base to offload some equipment from a truck that was too big to come in through the gate.  Of course, the boys were all around, darting in and out of the vehicles and traffic.  So I again "drew them off" about ten feet to the side so that they'd be safely out of the way of the vehicles while the offloading was completed.

I asked them their names, and where they got their hats.  Of course, they were asking me for money, and I told them I'd come back later with something for them.  One young fellow, on the right in the picture asked me for twenty dollars, which he promised that he'd share with his friends.

I found out that a round piece of bread, like a small pizza crust costs about 10 Afghanis, so with the official exchange rate of about 46 Afghanis to the dollar, you'd think that you could buy four or five pieces of bread, but the boys have a worse exchange rate.  They say they only get 30 Afghanis to the dollar!

I promised I'd come back later... So I did.  I collected a few toys that had been donated, the last four boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, and a few quarters, figuring that they could probably buy a chunk of bread with that if they wanted...  I asked a coworker to accompany me, and off we went, back outside the base.

Of course, when the boys saw me, they immediately started to run out to cross the street, but I told them to stay over there and I'd be with them in a minute.  We crossed over with my plastic bag full of goodies and started to talk to the boys.  I told them I wanted to take their picture, and they lined right up.  It seems that most of these children, and the adults, enjoy having their picture taken.

They started crowding me and jostling about and I told them to stop being "grabby!"  The boy in the back of the picture said something, and amazingly, all of the kids sat down in a semi-circle around me!  I told them that if they were polite and patient they'd get more gifts, because people wouldn't be unhappy with them...

I distributed some plastic "slinky" type toys, and some super bounce balls, along with the cookies and two quarters each... They didn't want quarters, they wanted bills!  In any case, I was amazed that they were able to sit still and pay attention, even if only for a minute.

Then, when it was clear that I was out of goodies, the shout went up and they ran off.  A crowd of "new customers" was walking down the street, and they rushed off to greet them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Surf and Turf

(Warning, late night rambling ahead.  Be prepared for sudden stops, starts and changes of direction.)

Friday evenings, most of the bases around here have a "Surf and Turf" theme.  They'll have a big BBQ grill running outside and lots of steaks on the grill.  Inside, they'll have huge crab legs or shrimp.

Of course, that's most bases, not ours.  So we'll often make a little trip down the street to sample the cooking of our neighbors.  The flames will be jumping up around the steaks as they cook... The smoke from the grills carries that sweet smell for hundreds of feet.

I'm in favor of eating beef, but not so much in favor of crabs, shrimp or lobster.  I don't eat cockroaches, grasshoppers, ants or crickets, so why would I want to eat larger insects that happen to live underwater?

I'm told that they taste great, but my theory is that almost anything dipped in a tub of butter is going to be at least tolerable.  Why not try some Irish Soda Bread, or yeast rolls to consume with your butter?

And speaking of butter, I'm looking forward to going to one of those steak houses where you can get honey butter to spread over your hot fresh rolls.  Cinnamon Butter is also good, especially on a sweet potato.

But I digress... (Can you tell I'm looking forward to a change of menu?)

Heck, I even overheard myself speaking with a hint of sadness over not having a McDouble in six months.

Overhearing yourself is an interesting concept too.  You're speaking with someone and suddenly realize that you've said something and you're not really sure where it came from or why it came out.

Missing McDonalds?  That's crazy talk.  Oh, but what I'd do for some White Castles about now...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The End is Near!

It's much like a race...

In the Army, a couple of times a year, you are required to take the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) or PT test.  Nobody really enjoys the PT test, but it's just another thing in a long list of things that must be done if you're going to be in the Army.

The Army PT test consists of 2 minutes of push ups, 2 minutes of sit ups, and then a 2 mile run.  Each service has a similar but slightly different test.  The test is scored according to your age, so generally the expectation is less as you age.  (Work Smarter, not Harder!)

It starts off with some instructions, and even a demonstration of the event.  The instructors will show both the right and wrong way to do a push up or a sit up, then a grader will count your repetitions for a full two minutes.   (Army Photo)

That's where it gets a little tough.  The first minute or so is work, but for all but the strongest, the second minute is a balance between more repetitions and rest.  If, for example, you went "down" on a push up but were unable to return properly to the "up" position, then your event is "terminated."  So for me, it's a good practice to rest every few repetitions to allow a few more deep breaths before continuing.

The same thing goes for the sit ups  Fail to come up, and the event is "terminated."

The two mile run is the endurance event though...  Many people line up eager to "get this over with."  When the command to "GO!" is given, like jackrabbits they rocket across the line and around the curve...

I on the other hand, know the pace that I can manage throughout, and start out at that speed.  By the time I've reached the one mile point, I've already passed most of the people who took off in a sprint.  For most of my career, I'd probably finish in the top 10% or so of the group, though I've slowed considerably the last few years.

It's a lot like work on a deployment.  Some people start out at a sprint, working eighteen hour days for weeks on end until they burn out.  Cigarettes, coffee and other sources of caffeine keep many people going, but it's a dangerous crutch to depend on chemical enhancement...  That sort of schedule might be necessary in some cases, but it's not a healthy long term choice.

I've tried to pace myself from the beginning, aiming for the 12-14 hour mark.  It's still a lot, but honestly I don't have much to do besides work!  I'm getting closer to the end of my tour, and starting to tie up loose ends.  I'm fixing things that I've been tolerating, and finishing things that I've left undone.  I'm picking up the pace, now that the finish line is almost in sight.  I want to ensure that my replacement gets off to a good start, since this is a relay race.  I'll pass it to him and he'll pass it to someone else.

There's a point in each PT test or race... You're cruising along, doing your pace, when suddenly you realize that you've only got a short distance to go, When you realize that you're going to make it, you refocus your energy and speed up, hoping to make it over the finish line with a burst of speed as the last of your energy is exhausted.  I'll tell you, the best part of a PT test is when it's complete.

You take some deep breaths, walk around for a few minutes, stretch and recover.  Soon, you may find yourself proud of your effort and accomplishment...

That's my goal... To finish strong and well, pass the mission to my replacement, and then to go home and stretch out.  To be proud not only that I completed my assignment, but that I did it well.

Two Hugs and a Hooah!

You’ll find many characters while on a deployment overseas.  Though the military will try to rid you of personality in basic training, most people regain their individuality sometime during their first assignment.
The kid who always told jokes will soon be joking.  The one who likes to read will find a book.  Everyone’s character starts to show after a while.  And of course, many of our deployers are civilians here and haven’t had their character suppressed.

Speaking of characters, we had a few leave for home in the last few days.  Some folks stay to themselves, others find a friend or two to chat with or eat meals with.  Other folks go out of their way to touch the lives of those around them.

One of these leaving us was a somewhat strong willed woman who ended up being the honorary "Mother figure" for many of us here.  Shopping was one of her specialties.  

She spent hours of her time interacting with the local vendors, and helping everyone who accompanied her to get the best deal.  Don’t feel too bad for the vendors though, she probably bought enough stuff to support an entire village.

Where she really excelled was in her ability to coordinate the production of “Shadow Boxes” to commemorate people’s sacrifices by deploying to this corner of the world.  A Shadow Box is a deep picture frame set up to display certificates, flags, medals, ribbons, coins etc...  

She worked to determine what the most appropriate contents of the box should be for each person, placed the orders and oversaw the final assembly of each presentation piece. 

Truly, people have had tears in their eyes as they considered their new wall art, though some were probably crying as they realized how much it would cost to ship the shadow box home!

All in all, she made this a better place for many of us.  Of course, she was intent on ensuring that everyone got their final hugs before she left.

Gun Bunny left as well, so I spoke with her for a minute or two before she loaded up.  She already had her body armor on, so the quick hug we shared felt a little funny.  Like holding onto an ice cream sandwich, you feel the hard outer shell, but you know there’s a soft gooey center in the middle.  It caused me to ponder our conversation from a few days earlier.  I wish her the very best in her next adventure.

I actually missed the departure of the “knife warrior,” though I had said goodbye the night before.  He was a soldier with an obsessive affinity for cutlery.  At any given moment, he would be carrying half a dozen or more knives in sheathes and pockets and on clips all over his body.  Two large fighting knives and a variety of smaller throwing and stabbing blades… 

He actually was a very personable and friendly gentleman who just happened to be very knowledgeable on martial arts and fighting with knives.  A hug might have prompted a discussion about close combat cutting techniques, so my farewell ended with a simple “Hooah!”

“Hooah!” for those of you who don’t know, is a multifunctional and multipurpose word primarily used in the Army to signify an affirmative response, or to describe a motivated individual. 

“That soldier finished first in his class at Ranger School.  He’s Hooah!”
“Do you want some Ice Cream?”  “ Hooah!”

Their replacements have arrived, with their own stories and personalities, and I'm just starting to get to know them.  We've all shared a common experience that relatively few Americans have.  We've left friends and family behind to work in another part of the world, hoping that it becomes a better place.

Some come for duty, or adventure.  Others for the paycheck and the sense of accomplishment.  All of us have come together.  So ironically, by leaving friends and family we've gained new friends and family.  We'll all go home at some point and have to say our goodbyes.  At least until we meet on the next deployment!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Who's Got the Gator?

Do you have the Gator?  Do you know when I can get a turn with the Gator?

No, we don't have a new pet crocodile that we're sharing.  

Most of the time, we use our Leather Personnel Carriers (our boots) to get around the base, carrying heavy bags and such.  

On special occasions though, we can commandeer the use of "The Gator."  It's a small All Terrain Vehicle made by John Deere that has a pickup style bed.

Today I was able to borrow the Gator for a little while to run a few errands.  The mission?  Deliver four sheet metal boxes full of carpets and clothing to the post office to mail home for someone who just recently left.

The Gator makes it much easier to get around with a load.  

We also used it to haul mail from the post office back to our main building for distribution.  

When we had a BBQ the other night, we used it to transport the food, drinks and supplies across base from the dining facility.

Of course, we can't drive fast or far with it, but taking a trip around the block with it is a little bit of fun in an otherwise uneventful day.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Daring Adventure

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing” said Helen Keller, an American writer who was struck blind and deaf by disease at the age of nineteen months. 

This, or a similar phrase, “Every day is a grand adventure,” has been my motto ever since college.  If I were to call you on the phone, you could bet that I’d ask “What’s new and exciting?”

Excitement and adventure are great concepts.  Snowboarding in the mountains, sailing on the ocean, trekking across Africa are some examples that people would think of when referring to an adventure.

I still have that sense of adventure, but I’ve noticed it changing, developing into something different.  Age and personal painful experience have led me to realize now that snowboarding is fun, but crashing is not.

Sailing could be fun, or it could be hours and days of monotony punctuated by moments of terror mixed with nausea. 

Trekking through Africa could be interesting, if not for the insects, wars, diseases, and all manner or crocodiles, lions, and other animals that would waste no time before eating or crushing you if you stumbled upon them.

In short, everything has its downside.  Which leads me to believe that every downside must have an upside. 

We most likely would never heard of Helen Keller if she were not stricken with disease.  The cares of the day would likely have distracted her.  Would she have taken the time to read and study as she did if she could run freely and play like the other children? 

Perhaps she would have married and raised a family, never learning much of Shakespeare.  Perhaps she would have been too busy doing her chores to walk through the woods noticing the “delicate symmetry of a leaf” or the “smooth skin of the silver birch.”

We each have challenges to face.  We must choose how we respond to our challenges.

One older lady that I know fell and broke some bones, and ended up in the hospital for weeks before returning home in a wheelchair.  She mourned her loss of freedom for a few days, but then confided in me that she was becoming grateful for the accident.  Before, she had always been on the move, babysitting, helping people, running errands.  Now, she had time to sit, to read, to think, and to pray. 

She especially was appreciative for the opportunity to truly sit and think and pray on behalf of her friends, neighbors and family.  Her fall turned out to be a gift.  She has made some progress, but still is in a wheelchair most of the time.  She still prays for friends and family.

A few years ago, I sat on the ground, shocked and dismayed.  I had injured my knee while playing a game with a bunch of Army folks, and I was unable to stand.  A couple of guys helped me over to a bench on the sidelines while another one went to fetch my car for me.  

I thought about what this injury might mean.  I was frustrated, hurt, and strangely alone for a few minutes.  As all tough guys would do, I’d said that I was fine…  So the other guys went back to playing the game for a few more minutes as I watched.

I was out of the game.  On the sidelines.  Broken.  Obsolete.

I was determined to turn this negative event into a positive experience.  Through therapy, surgery, and then much more therapy, I was able to regain much of my strength and ability, though I no longer play those fast moving, twisting games of youth.

Now I understand that every day IS an adventure, even if you don’t “climb every mountain” or “ford every stream.”  

I can appreciate the little things more than I used to.

Like a momma cat carrying her kittens to a new home on base.  New life, brought forth in the dust and gravel.

Like the hugs of new found friends as they prepare to return home.

Like the ability to touch lives, one at a time, whether with a kind word, service, or a small gift.

Helen may have said it best:
“A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.”

Not everything is new and exciting.  Often, old and comfortable is also worthwhile.  I’m starting to see the values of taking a little more time to enjoy the experience.

Every day still is a grand adventure, but now I know where I want to be when the adventure is over.  More importantly, I know who I want to be with.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Did You Miss It?

It was "Queen's Day" or "Koninginnedag" yesterday!

You celebrated, right?

One of the interesting things here about interacting with people of other nations is the ability to learn a little about their culture.

For the Dutch (people from the Netherlands), Queen's day is a celebration of the Queen's birthday and it's supposed to be a day of national unity and togetherness.

They have open markets all over the country.  I imagine it's the biggest flea market and yard sale that you've ever seen.

The Dutch national colors are Red White and Blue, but many of the decorations that are used during this holiday are orange, as the Dutch Royal family is referred to as the "House of Orange."  It's called the "orange craze" or "oranjegekte" where orange is everywhere.

Here, we had orange banners and streamers decorating the dining facility, and of course, several orange foods were served.  (I admit that I'm cheating on this picture... It was taken a few weeks ago on a day when much of the food was also orange.)

The Dutch contingent here had their own little party set up outside, and many of them were wearing orange shirts and hats.  One young lady was wearing a traditional long dress.

Open Air concerts and festivities are part of the experience back in the Netherlands, making it a popular time to visit and for homecomings.  If you ever want to go, you must plan ahead... A little research let me know that you'll have to book your accommodations months in advance!

Though I'm sure many of them missed the all day experience from back home, they brought a spirit of fun to the base for a few hours.

Friday, April 30, 2010

More Whirleybirds

Ubiquitous as Hueys were and Blackhawks are in the military, sometimes the mission requires a helicopter that can carry more weight or just fly higher.  That's where the CH-47 Chinook comes into play.

Most helicopters have a tail rotor to counteract the torque of the main rotor system.  Chinooks don't because they have two counter-rotating main rotors so that the torque is balanced out.  With the high mountains throughout much of Afghanistan, their capabilities to fly higher are often needed.

I've only ridden on a Chinook once, from Fort Lewis to the Yakima Training Center, both in Washington state, but on different sides of a mountain range.  I took off on a beautiful day in the late summer  from Ft. Lewis, with lush green grass and beautiful trees to be seen in every direction.  A little over an hour later I walked off the tail ramp of a Chinook onto what may as well have been the lunar surface.

Nothing but dirt and tiny scrub brush for as far as the eye could see.  The rotor blades whistled overhead as I felt the heat and smelled the pungent jet fuel aroma of the dual engine exhausts washing over me.  I thought to myself, "What the hell am I doing here?"

Of course we have other types of helicopters, but I haven't seen them as often.  The Afghan government and some private companies fly old Soviet made "Hip" helicopters to transport people and equipment.

During an avalanche several weeks ago, the Afghan government was able to use their helicopters to assist in the rescue of over 1,500 travelers that were stranded when several avalanches swept cars, trucks and buses off the road as if they were toys.

Of course, we're in a NATO environment, so different governments are helping with a variety of missions.  One day, I was able to capture this French bird flying by.

In any case, I'm glad that we have the technology that we have for it's ability to help people.  The Wright brothers thought that the invention of the airplane would make warfare obsolete, since there would be no need to maneuver your armies to fight if the other side could easily see where the armies were arrayed.

Sadly, they were wrong, and aircraft are used for destruction as well as for helping people.

It's a pity that such a beautiful thing as the ability to fly has developed into the preferred method to fight wars...

Blackhawks at Sunset

I wrote about the venerable Huey helicopter yesterday.  It served the United States military for decades and they or their follow-on aircraft are still in service in many places around the world.

Times change for all of us as we age.  We're not as fast as the new kids on the block. Such was the case with the UH-60 Blackhawk.  I had the opportunity to ride on one as they were conducting a low level training flight while I was still in the Huey unit.  It was apparent how different the Blackhawks are even before I got on.
The Blackhawks have four fully articulated and narrower rotor blades compared to the Huey's two wide blades.  When they fly, they produce more of a whirring sound than the Huey's percussive beat.

As we lifted off, it was obvious that the pilots had a little showing off in mind.  We blasted into the air as if in a rocket chair and accelerated across the field faster than I'd ever thought possible.  Soon we were skimming the treetops, turning left and right as we skirted the hills and followed the valleys.  Everytime we turned it felt like we were looking straight down into the trees.

I enjoyed the ride thoroughly, but only had one other Blackhawk ride a few years later.  Until this week.  My trip took me so much less time than driving that it was amazing.  The pilots were flying smoothly on this trip, so no steep turns or rocket takeoffs.

Years ago, as a new airplane pilot I wanted to impress a female friend of mine with my flying skills.  I took her up and showed her stalls and steep turns and dips and climbs.  She was so impressed that she started turning  a bit green...  Must have been with envy, because she never wanted to fly with me again, even though I could hold a 45 degree bank for several turns in a row without losing or gaining any altitude.

It took a while for the lesson to seep through my thick skull, but it eventually did.  Years later, I took my wife for her first flight in a small plane.  Everything I did, I did as slowly and smoothly as possible.  When we landed, she said I was a great pilot.  I got the desired feedback, no one got sick, and she ended up flying on several trips with me over the next few years.

A few weeks ago I climbed up onto the roof of a building here and took a few pictures as some helicopters were taking off.  Up watching the sunset behind the mountains, it was a very serene feeling, despite the constant whirring of the rotors.

Since I've been around aviation for much of my life, I actually enjoy the sound of aircraft coming and going!  Even when they fly 300 feet over my "home" and wake me up, I smile as I identify the aircraft by the sound, and then roll back over for a little while. To dream...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Goes Around...

Years and years ago, I bought a T-shirt that said "Helicopters don't fly, they beat the air into submission." Others say that "Helicopters don't fly, they're so ugly the earth repels them."

I don't believe there's much truth to that... I'm sure that there are thousands of people who are alive because of a helicopter coming to rescue them. Most major cities have helicopters to rush severely injured people to the emergency room.

I started out in the military as a helicopter mechanic many years ago. I went to the school and learned to maintain the UH-1H "Huey" helicopters. They were loud, relatively slow, and looked like giant dragonflies in the distance.
With their semi-rigid rotor system, those two big blades would make a "Whop Whop Whop" sound that you could hear from miles away. I had several flights in my youth with my feet pointing out into the breeze as we cruised along with the doors wide open.

Typical startup procedures called for the helicopter to run at idle for a few minutes to allow all of the systems to reach operating temperature and to allow the pilots to check everything thoroughly. One time I did see an actual "Medevac" launch. The pilots literally ran to the chopper, fired it up, lifted off, nosed over and took off in less than a minute. They put their mission to save an injured soldier above their own personal safety.

Our pilots have to be a bit aggressive in order to complete their training and to take calculated risks each day. I had great respect for their ability to handle the aircraft. Many of them had started flying almost twenty years earlier in Vietnam, so they'd had plenty of practice.

I left the unit for another assignment after about two years. I heard later that one of our birds had crashed, killing a pilot and severely injuring the other three crew members. I met one of the survivors again a few years later.

March 1st of 1997, their helicopter had suffered a catastrophic mechanical problem while they were flying fairly low and fast over a forested area. The pilot had only a few seconds to slow their descent into the trees, and when the rotors hit they flipped the chopper down into the forest below.

There were three other helicopters in the air. The crash site was far away from any roads, and they believed it would be at least an hour until help could arrive on the ground, so another pilot decided to land his bird in the forest. He literally chopped his way down through smaller branches between the larger trees.

The crew extracted the 3 surviving members from the crashed chopper and flew them directly to the nearest hospital, most likely saving their lives. (They took the second chopper back to home base on a truck because of the damage the chopper had sustained during the extraction.)

Our pilots still use incredible skill and bravery to do their duty and to fly these marvelous machines to rescue soldiers and other people in serious need of medical care. I appreciate them!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

More Afghan Life

I thought that for today's post I'd include several of the pictures that I took on my recent travels. There are many interesting differences between cultures, and this is the zipping past in a vehicle version. I did sit down for several minutes with one of the Afghan vendors who works on base to get his comments on the pictures.

I encourage you to look at each picture for a moment to see what you notice and what you can learn about the people. I'll have a comment under each shot.
This boy looked intent on repairing his very colorful bicycle. In the US, we tend to associate colors with a variety of things... For example, most US boys wouldn't be caught with a pink or purple backpack, but here they don't care. Afghan culture doesn't have any feminine or masculine colors... They just have colors, and the more the merrier.

We saw this gentleman off the side of the road, and were wondering if he'd just parked in the wrong place. Turns out that this is one of the many places where afghans pull into a puddle or stream to wash their cars. Dust is pervasive here and a car in the lot will be filthy in just a couple of days.
I like Pepsi. I don't mind waterfowl. Somehow, hanging your dead waterfowl next to the Pepsi cooler makes me desire to purchase neither.
We were calling this the "pole depot." All over town, we didn't see a single american style lumber yard with cut lumber. However, we saw many of these pole shacks. I'm told that they use the poles as beams for houses and to provide bracing for floors in industrial construction while the concrete is being poured. They also use bamboo to make ladders.
These houses climb the side of the mountain steeply. Not much wasted space in the city. I'm sure that they get great exercise walking home each night.
Convenience stores are everywhere... Stop in for a drink and a snack.
If you're looking for some construction help, there are places where workers gather... Another interesting Afghan thing is that they crouch or squat often when most of us would just sit on the ground. That's a bit of challenge for some of us whose knees aren't as strong as they used to be.
Another market, slightly bigger with pots and pans for sale.

It's hard to see in this picture, but there are two little girls there amongst the mud and debris. There is a lot of garbage in the city, and it often gets spread out by goats and other animals who will dig through it for the food. Certainly not a healthy situation, but there isn't much of a streets or sanitation department. In the US, a street sweeper is a big truck with a vacuum and brush system. In Kabul, a street sweeper is a man with a broom.
I always enjoy seeing the children. Even flying over in the helicopter, you can see them run and play and explore. These are all on their way to school.
If you're having a big wedding, there are a few large wedding halls to rent out... Not sure what an afghan wedding would be like, but they do have a few nicer buildings to celebrate in.
Finally, just remember to take a moment to rest now and then. No sense busting your ass!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An Uplifting Experience

I had an uplifting experience today... Literally!

Took my first two helicopter rides in years!

It was just a short trip to another base, but since I've just recently taken over two hours on the roads to get there, flying over hill and dale and bumpy congested roads was a great experience.

Saw many homes from the air, with their mud walls that follow the contours of the trails and streams. Not like in the US where many houses are all built in straight lines on rectangular lots.
Here, the homes appear to be laid out in a helter skelter fashion. Many of them appear to have been abandoned and brought down to ruins sometime in the past. It's impossible for me to tell from the air whether it was two, twenty, or two hundred years ago...

Flying along, we saw nomadic people, living in tents, and tending to their herds. We saw people working in their fields, and children playing in the dirt yards.

While we travel in a "magic machine" that flies through the air, some of these people live lives no different than their Great Great Great Grandparents.

It's a strange feeling to know that there still are people who live in tents and herd sheep for a living. It makes me wonder what is necessary to live a fulfilling life... Is it a house, family, friends, money?

I watched the movie Australia this evening... I was told that it was good, and I agree. Early in the movie, one of the main characters, Drover, says something that caught my attention.

He talks about how some people own houses, land and things to feel secure, but that all of those things can be taken away. He says the only thing that's really your own is your story, so he wants his to be a good one!

Ben Franklin said something similar: "If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing."

I hope that my words are worth reading for you.

I went where I needed to go, saw who I needed to see, and picked up the stuff I needed to get. All in all, a productive trip and a fine day.

And tempting as it may sound on a busy day in cubicle land, I'm not planning to live in a tent and become a shepherd anytime soon.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Do or Diet

I've been fortunate to have been overwhelmed by love, well wishes, and goodies.

Lots and lots of goodies. And I felt it my personal duty to try every homemade cookie, girl scout cookie, brownie, cake, chocolate, toffee, caramel and sugary snack that arrived.

I stuck mostly to the sugar products, though plenty of salty chips, pretzels, chex mixes, jerky and other salty snacks arrived also. And Combos... Who ever thought to make little round pretzel tubes and to fill them with a substance vaguely reminiscent of cheese? Genius!

In any case, I wanted to thank you. So thank you. Now don't send me any more sweets!

Although I haven't gained any weight since I've been here, I certainly haven't released any. Since that's one of my goals, the sugar snacks have met their end.

I have a new "healthy diet" and workout buddy. We've set our goals to avoid snacking on the junk food and to make healthier choices in the dining facility, though I swear avoiding the place altogether may be the healthiest choice.

So for the next several weeks, it'll mean a little more gym time and a lot less snacks...
I'll eat some apples and maybe even some of those lousy pears...
And just so you know, I'm not saying they're lousy because of their mottled appearance. Rather, it's the texture and taste that leave me less than impressed. They're not as crisp or as sweet as most good apples or pears. These have a very subtle taste and texture that leaves me sadly unfulfilled.

Maybe my ability to fully appreciate the flavor will only come after a few days without overloading my taste buds with the artificially fat and sweet taste of cookies and chocolate.

I can only hope...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Breakfast Gratitude

One of the reasons that I volunteered for this journey to the far side of the world was to expand my horizons... To see some new things and to share some new experiences.

So far, some of them have been good...
Some not as good.

Just like the food... The breakfast at my normal base isn't very good. It's not what I'm accustomed to. The eggs are cold, the sausage is some strange European conglomeration of goo. If the overcooked bacon is available, it's Turkey bacon... Why in the world would someone eat turkey bacon? Yuck!

Cereal is the safest choice... No "Lucky Charms" here, just a variety of bran and flakes. The milk is ultra pasteurized and just doesn't taste like home...

Then I went to a base that served American style food. Biscuits and gravy, eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, a little fruit and even a cinnamon roll. Took more than I could eat, but I was certainly willing to give it a try. Enjoyed it thouroughly

It was interesting to go to another base for a change of pace.

There are things that must be done everyday and a variety of things that "pop up" each day.

Most days I stay in and around the office. But on occasion, I get out and about to visit our people at other bases. We have a good crowd of people who've volunteered to come out here and work.

They all wanted to try something new and to make a difference.

Today, I tried something new as well. It's another little thing, but I tried and ate a type of pear which I'd never seen until I came here. I'm not typically a big fruit fan, but I was told these tasted like a cross between a pear and an apple...

On this trip, I've learned several things, but mostly to be grateful for the things that I have at home. I'm grateful for friends and family.

I'm glad I tried the fruit. I have a few more that I'll eat over the next few days...

But really, it was just a lousy pear...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Little Things

I came to my building this evening, and noticed that there is a new pull handle on the door.

For four months, I've been having to grasp the edge of the heavy steel door or stick my finger in the hole where the door handle used to be in order to open it.

For four months, the door had never been fully closed, so that people could easily open it. It was probably opened and closed several hundred times a day for four months...

People have moved in, people have moved out.

Contractors have been in to check the lights, to clean the building, to repair the plumbing, but nothing has been done about the broken door handle... Until today.

It's not the right type of handle. It's not a repair on the door to restore it to new condition...

It's a "band-aid" fix. But at least I can open the door, and I appreciate it so much more than I thought I would.

No more worries about pinching fingers or getting smacked in the face by someone coming out while you're trying to get a grip on the edge of the door.

A simple handle. A little thing.

"What is easy to do, is easy not to do" - Jim Rohn

What in your life needs repair? What little thing could you do today to make it better everyday? What little thing annoys you just a little each day? A squeaky hinge? A burnt out bulb?

Find that little thing, and fix it.

Appreciate the little things.

You'll feel better.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Highs and Lows

Ever notice how people speak of their emotions in aviation terms? It could just be my flying interests that help me to notice when someone says they're "soaring high", or "feeling low."

Emotions can change in a moment here. Since we're "trapped" inside these walls most of the time, it's easy to become focused on just what's in front of you. More work. More of the same.

Many people here really relate to the movie "Groundhog Day" with Bill Murray. If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it for you. I'll just say that I really enjoy how the main character develops throughout the film. It's a story with a moral.

A few days ago, I wrote about how I'd felt frustrated when a box of Girl Scout cookies arrived.

(See Redheaded Temptation)

Yesterday, a new box was on my chair, filled with, you guessed it, more Girl Scout Cookies sent by some dear friends in Chicago. I laughed out loud! I had expressed my frustrated feelings earlier, but this time it brought joy to know that my friends had sent me over 30 boxes of love and goodness.

I wanted to share the joy right away, so I picked up the box and took it back downstairs to share with my coworkers...

I sent word into one of the main rooms here and just moments later a sailor came charging through...

He was a man on a mission, and a box of Samoas changed his day for the better instantly! Thin Mints were the ticket for another young sailor and a young army officer.

Even one of our Canadian partners scored a box of Do-Si-Dos for himself. In less than twenty minutes, all of the boxes had disappeared.

Though we can soar to "heights of joy," it's also easy to have a less joyful experience. People have problems at home, with friends and family. There are relatives in the hospital, kids struggling in school and friends out of work.

I gave a talk in church several years ago using an airplane analogy.

It takes a lot of power and noise to get flying when you're starting on the ground. But once you're up and moving, suddenly you're able to literally change your view of the world with just the slightest amount of pressure on the controls. Just as controlling your aircraft attitude is the key to safe flying, controlling our personal attitude is key in maintaining a productive life.

Though I had a good morning, I had an upsetting afternoon. I have applied for a few civilian positions that I was interested in, yet found out today that I wasn't selected for them. This was a major upset for me as I felt qualified for each and felt like they would be enjoyable and provide well for myself and my family.

I went and took my supper alone, and then prepared to go to the gym. As I worked out on the machines, I felt some frustration and even anger about this event. Yet as each of these doors has closed, it's opened the way for me to pursue other options that may ultimately prove to be more fulfilling and appropriate...

Through exerting my personal power, I got myself back off the ground and flying again. My intention with this blog and my website is to be able to help others to break free of their struggles, to take flight and turn to a new course.

Who wants to ascend with me?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

May I Take a Picture of Your Chest?

I don't believe I've ever asked a woman that before, but today it felt strangely appropriate.

Considering the fact that she was carrying an assault rifle, a pistol, and enough ammunition to shoot me and several dozen of my closest friends, I did pause before I asked.

I call her "G.B."

It stands for Gun Bunny...

Her job is to ride around in vehicles transporting people around town. She helps to navigate, work the radios and watch for threats while enroute. If there is an attack on the convoy, she's prepared to fight.

She's part of a team, of course, as we all are. It just so happens that she's the only female on this particular team, although there are a few ladies performing similar duties in the area.

She grew up with brothers and learned to banter, fight, and hold her own. She'll soon be going home after several months of working out here. Driving in Kabul can be exciting at moments, but luckily no attacks have taken place against any of our vehicles.

I saw her as I was on my way to lunch and asked her if she'd like to join me. She agreed, so we gathered our spaghetti noodles with WAY TOO MUCH GARLIC, a pork chop and some vegetables and sat down...

As we talked about children, jobs, and future plans, the tough facade she's been wearing opened up just a little.

She said something about her plans that inspired me to make a small sketch on a napkin, illustrating how it seemed she was lining things up so that she would achieve success in her goal. Basically, she was aligning everything so that her wish could be fulfilled.

As I finished my drawing, I noticed she was fighting back tears...
"Oh no? What did I do?" I thought...

She then shared with me that she's been "walking with God," praying as she walks around each day. Recently, her nephew's been having some medical problems and she's anxiously awaiting her return home to see him before a surgical procedure. She'd asked God for a sign that she was doing the right things, and she interpreted my drawing as her answer from God.

So I smiled and gave her my napkin, and she stuffed it into a pocket.

I'm grateful that I was able to participate in a simple miracle today.

It wasn't even a very skillfull drawing, but it got the point across and touched a heart.

I'm also grateful to glimpse the soul of another human being here today. Someone who cares about family and friends, enjoys helping others, and at her core is a very kind-hearted woman. There's a real live person in there!

Of course, no one else here would believe it. She's played the "tough guy" role for months, and that's all some people will ever see.

When her plans all fall into place, she'll have room in her life for adventure on her terms.

It makes me wonder about each one of these people around me. Each one has a story and personality. Even the ones who "talk trash" and act tough have a softer side. They read, play music, coach their children's teams... They love to boat or ski or ride horses.

All unique, and all special. I'm grateful to serve with such interesting people. Everyday is an opportunity to interact and touch people's lives.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Street Racing in Kabul?

Took a little road trip through town today, and spent several hours riding to and from my destination in traffic... We fortunately were able to avoid running into or over any of the vehicles, animals or people along the way.

Cars, motorcycles, trucks, bikes, and donkey carts all constantly jockey for position on the road.
In the USA, if there is a slowdown or blockage in the roadway, we typically stop and wait for a few moments if we can't safely bypass them. It's not that way here...

Too much traffic on your side of the road? Try the other side!

These people drive as if they're in a race to the finish... Motorcycles and bikes weave in and out of the cars, off and on the roadway to work their way through traffic. Cars weave in and out of the trucks and buses!
Might often seems to make right as the biggest vehicles and most aggressive drivers tend to break through the crowd... Though I personally don't like to drive this aggressively, the truck doesn't belong to me, so I'm willing to push it a little. ;-)

The people behave in almost the same manner. They walk out into traffic all the time... I haven't seen a stop light or a pedestrian crosswalk anywhere so far, although the police do provide a little bit of direction at traffic circles or checkpoints.

Actually, for today's trip, I was just a passenger, so I had time to take numerous photos along the way. I'll share a little about the people and things that are constantly moving on and along the roads in addition to the vehicles..

Many children do attend school, so in the morning or afternoon you may see them walking to or from school. In some parts of the country, they do their best to keep their girls uneducated, but we saw both boys and girls along the road today.
Boys often wear similar clothes to the adults, but the girls often wear shiny or colorful outfits, Usually with a scarf or some type of head wrap...
The adult men wear a variety of clothes, mostly with a different and more traditional style, but it's not unusual to see men and young men in jeans or more contemporary clothes. Even saw one Afghan Man in an United States Air Force Physical Fitness Training Uniform this morning.
Women are almost always wearing some type of scarf or head covering, and many wear a black or blue burka. It's kind of amusing to see a woman in a burka, trying to see out of the little mesh portion. I'm always careful driving past them, since I wonder if they can see me!

Often, we'll see goats, sheep, donkeys or cows walking along or on the road, sometimes a small 5 or 6 year old may be driving a herd of sheep with a little stick or brush.
Various types of carts are also out and on the road each day, with people selling vegetables, fruits, sodas and cigarettes.
I'll write a little more soon about the lives that many of the people lead and their homes. And the shopping, don't forget the shopping...