07 May 2010

Mission Complete

My tour of duty is done. I'm heading home.

03 May 2010

3 May 2010

Today is a significant milestone in my deployment. It was 180 days ago today I arrived in Afghanistan.

I did not give it much thought until I was sitting outside my room this morning and soaked in what going on around me. Fighter aircraft and helicopters were taking off on combat missions; a unit was conducting permission checks on their weapons and vehicles before heading out to some village to the north of here; and there was construction vehicles working on a new cargo pad.

It was the construction site that drew my attention. They were prepping the same area where our original living quarters use to stand when we first arrived in country. Now all that has changed.

And I asked myself, “what has changed in my life over the past 180 days?”

I can honestly say I am not the same person I was when I got here on 4 Nov 2009. Spiritually, physically, and mentally I have changed.

Spiritually, well this is new territory for me. I was raised Catholic, but did not really give it much thought. For reasons unknown to me, I stopped going to church shortly before entering the military in 1995.

It was not until 13 Oct 09 that I realized how much I needed God back in my life. That was the day I was completely broken down by life’s circumstances. Since then, and with continual support and prayers of some close friends and family, my faith has grown by the day.

Attending ChapelNext on Sundays and Bible studies on Thurs have kept me grounded. Through God, my perspective on life has changed.

Physically, I have learned to push the limits of my body (x3 surgeries on my lower back--it's fused L4 – S1) and overall I’m stronger now than I was in my early 20s. As for my cardiovascular condition, I have reached a totally new level of endurance.

It started when I ran in the New Year’s Eve 5K. 28 degrees and running in full sweats, I finished in 28:24--had to walk a bit after the 2.5 mile mark. Needless to say, I was a bit peeved. Since then, I have run in four more 5Ks, improving my time on every run. Last one was this past weekend where I finished in 22:02.

The importance of physical fitness in my life has changed.

Mentally, I have had to deal with a lot, both professionally and personally. Being deployed in a combat environment, you quickly come to grips with the fact you have no control over what happens.

Professionally, all you can do is roll with the punches and react according to training and quick wits.

Personally, you realize you can do very little about decisions made or events that happen 10,000 miles away. I have had to fight daily to deal with the mission at hand along with the feeling of helplessness as life back home continued to change.

Mentally, my focus on the important things in life has changed.

This morning also brought me back to a conversation I had with a friend last week over a cup of coffee. She told me when she left home her life was one way. Now when she returns in a couple months, it will be very different.

I feel the same way.

So, what has changed in my life over the past 6 months?


26 April 2010


Relief in-Place/Transfer of Authority.

That is what the Army calls it. In simplest terms, train your replacements, hand over the reins and fade away.

The RIP started back on 13 Apr. A very long and drawn out process (no it's not suppose to take this long, but being an Air Force unit executing an Army mission, it's hard to convince "Green" that "Blue" knows what to do). The TOA took place today. No formal ceremony, no formations, no speeches (thankfully). Simply woke up this morning, handed the new guy the cell phone and went to the gym instead of the office.

My job now is purely and advisory role. Absolutely no authority whatsoever. My only responsibility; ensure my Airmen stay out of trouble until we board the "freedom bird" in 10 days. 10 very long days away!

I remember arriving in country 173 days ago. We took over for another AF team (the first to perform the law and order mission here). They did a great job laying the foundation. We had the opportunity to evolve the mission, refine tactics, techniques and procedures and build a hell of a reputation in the process.

For the past 5 months, my cops busted their tails to build an organization known for it's professionalism and performance. I could not be prouder of them and what they accomplished (and sacrificed).

On a daily basis they selflessly faced the best and worst of what a combat environment has to offer -- death (via explosions, gun shots, overdoses and suicides), assaults, illegal drugs, rocket attacks and the seemingly natural hatred for police in general.

And through it all, they performed magnificently. Accolades abound, we will hold a simple awards ceremony before we leave to formally acknowledge their accomplishments. As an
Air Force puke, I always get a kick out of seeing my Airmen recognized by the Army for a mission well done.

I can not say I'll miss this place, but I sure have learned a lot about leadership, myself and the true patriotic spirit of all the men and women who choose to volunteer to serve our Great Nation.

God Bless Them All.

18 April 2010

Drug Bust!

Drugs, both illegal and prescription abuse, are a problem here at Bagram.

We continually run into hashish, meth, steroids, cocaine, heroin and pain killers. With a large population of civilian contractors and local nationals, as well as new and inventive ways to hide them in mail, there seems to be an endless supply chain.

And demand is high (no pun intended).

Last week, this was sent through the mail in a care package. At 1.792 pounds, it was one of the largest finds we've had during our tour. In fact, this is the third such find in a span of 3 months.

Ironically, all 3 packages were addressed to me.

Yes, my mom sent another batch of her home-made fudge. It made a huge "thud" when we dropped it on the drug scale. This fudge is SO GOOD, my guys have dubbed it "Black Tar Heroin." One piece is never enough ...

We are always thankful when she sends some. We're even more thankful when it's gone. Raises hell on a diet, but cheating has never tasted so good.

THANKS MOM! You're the greatest.

14 April 2010

Around Afghanistan

My job here in Afghanistan, in the grand scheme of things, is not very dangerous.

In the simplest terms, I run a military police department in charge of law and order for a base population of over 32,000 US/Coalition forces, DoD employees, civilian contractors and third world country/local nationals who work and live on base.

My team's job is to ensure the safe and secure environment for all other forces who's job is to go out and prosecute the war here in northeast Afghanistan.

Just like any civilian police department, we deal with all sorts of violent crimes (murders/sexual assaults), suicides, illegal drugs, assaults, drunk and disorderlies, vehicle accidents and all the petty little things that pop up on a daily basis. Throw in post-rocket attack operations and distinguished visitor security details and you begin to see the full scope of responsibilities we have.

As Bagram's Provost Marshal (think chief of police), I work for Combined Joint Task Force 82 (82d Airborne Division), charged with all law and order operations in Afghanistan. Unique for two reasons. First, my entire team is comprised of Air Force cops working directly for the Army. Second, being stationed at the same location as the 82d ABN DIV Headquarters element, I have had a unique opportunity to travel to all the law and order dets around the country to evaluate their operations and train them on the ever-changing tactics, techniques and procedures.

These missions have allowed me to see a lot of this country and provided several unique experiences, many of which I have documented in this blog.

On my very first mission back in Nov 09, I decided to take a picture of my daughter--one I had pinned to the wall of my living quarters--with me. I have carried it on me ever since.

In fact, it is one of two pictures I have on me at all times.

On every mission, I have found an opportunity to pose while holding Jenna's picture. To date, she has flown on fixed-wing aircraft over the Hindu Kush mountains, on helicopters skimming the terrain, been a part of several intra city convoys in the country's capital and responded to countless law enforcement situations. Jenna has been to Jalalabad (x3), Kabul (x2), Kandahar, Zareh Sharan, Khowst (just off the boarder of Pakistan), Pol-e 'Alam and of course Bagram.

Below is a collage of our best pictures. The coolest; top left, a hybrid pic (had to take two, then morph due to low lighing) taken in front of Air Force One at Bagram.

Flat Stanley Has Nothing On Jenna

"The Picture"

The other picture, I've carried every day next to my heart. It's of my wife ...

10 April 2010

The Last Mission

Went on my 8th mission the other day. It was significant for two reasons: 1) it was my last mission outside of Bagram; and 2) when I returned, my replacement was here. Oh happy days!

Like all the other missions I went on, this one had a couple of special moments.

We flew via CH-47 helicopters in a 2-ship formation to Pol-e 'Alam, south of Kabul. The ride was a blast, lasting just over two hours and taking us on a race track route to four other operating bases before we reached Forward Operating Base Shank.

Changing altitudes and directions at random intervals, we were able to avoid any ground fire from the little mountain men below. Our special passenger had a great time; a beautiful black Labrador, part of a military working dog team. If dogs love sticking their heads out car windows, sticking their head out the back of a helo flying about 1,000ft off the deck must have been pure heaven.

Pol-e 'Alam is 7,000ft up; a mere 500ft higher than Bagram. I was not expecting to experience any problems with regard to maneuvering in full gear at this slightly higher altitude. I was wrong.

One of the first places we visited was the highest point on Shank to get an overview of the entire base. From the bottom of the hill, it looked like an easy climb; only 45 sandbag steps to the top. We hit it at a quick pace reaching the top in not time. Only problem was in full kit (over 80lbs of gear--body armor, weapons and ammo) I was completely winded once we reached the top. I thought I was in pretty good shape; I was proven wrong. I developed a new found respect for all the Soldiers, Marines and Afghans who fight in the mountains at these higher altitudes daily.

Our mission went off without a hitch, even completing our objectives early. The bonus came when we found an Afghan bakery on post. Flat bread and hot tea. Nothing beats it around here.

Upon return to Bagram a couple days later, I met my replacement. The end is near :)

My CH-47 Helo. Tail ramp says it all: "Massive"

2-Ship Formation

Dog Heaven!

Post Flight Pic

The "45 Steps"

J at 7,000ft Overlooking Forward Operating Base Shank

Always time for Afghan flat bread and tea. The flat bread is to die for!

02 April 2010

31 And A Wakeup

With the beginning of April comes the down hill slide of my team's deployment.

As of the time of this post, we only have: 4.5 weeks; 31.5 days; 756.19 hrs; 45,371.11 mins; and a mere 2,722,266.49 secs left until we hopefully board the "freedom bird" out of here.

If April goes like March, it's gonna be quite a challenge ...

Sun sets on March 2010

29 March 2010

4th Times a Charm

Over the past month, we have tried to carry out a mission to Jalalabad, only to have it scrubbed time and time again for various reasons.

Finally, after three failed attempts, we were able to execute.

Now I don't know about you, but the words, "It's gonna be a bumpy one" are not the first words I want to hear out of the aircrew's mouth as soon as I take my seat. Not only did he place emphasis on this, he repeated it no less than four times before we took off, even adding "if anyone needs an air sick bag I have some up front." For whatever reason, I immediately started singing "La Bamba" in my head ...

Outside of a few sudden drops in altitude (harking vivid memories of Disney World's Tower of Terror and Jenna screaming "I'm not liking this!") and the plane briefly flying sideways now and again due to sudden wind shears, it was not that bad of a flight.

The mission went well. On this particular one, I had one of my younger Airmen with me so he could get some experience. Being young, he was easily baited into helping out the kennel master conduct some K9 training. Having been responsible for my share of military working dog programs, I know (and have personally experienced) how sadistic kennel masters can be. In fact, I have conned my share of high-ranking officers to don the bite suit for a little "fun." In the end, my Airman took it well and now has some cool experiences to share with family and friends.

This mission was special for a couple of reasons. First, it was my last trip back to Jalalabad. Second, it was my last flight on a Blackwater Aviation STOL aircraft. After 15 flights, always sitting in the same emergency row (seat 4A), I was ready to say good ridden. So, goodbye tail number N150RN. I never felt safe flying in you and you never failed to give me new and interesting mechanical noises to ponder as we flew over the Hindu Kush.

Forward Operating Base Fenty, Jalalabad

J back in J'bad

Sizing up his new toy



21 March 2010

Reality Check Pics

Pictures to accompany my last post (in chronological order).

Premission pic

Preconvoy prayer

Our British Convoy

Night foot patrol in Kabul w/meerkat

J on patrol with me

Our Aussie chariot

Lost in the village

Decompressing after Aussie convoy; recording my thoughts

A friend walked up to me while waiting for our ride home

Rocket impact site

16 March 2010

Reality Check

This past weekend was without a doubt the longest and most tasking (mentally, physically and emotionally) since I’ve been in country. Thanks to my strong faith in God and the support of family, close friends and comrades, I made it through and continue press forward.

It started with an unusual mission to Kabul. It was suppose to be a quick in and out training mission. While we got the training done, there were a few surprises waiting for us. These provided a new sense of adrenaline rush and fear I had not experienced before.

First one came when the regular US convoy we were going to catch from Kabul Int to our destination was cancelled. Luck intervened when we were able to attach ourselves to a British convoy heading to ISAF HQ—close to where we needed to go. Like most intra-city convoys, it was in armored SUVs. The British were professional to say the least and once we received the mission brief (what to do if attacked, local threats, etc.), we were ready to roll. By this time it was dark, around 6PM.

Difference between a day-time and night-time convoy is obvious—you can’t see very well at night. Your senses go into over-drive as you adjust to this limitation. One of the threats, don’t laugh, was a DBIED (donkey borne improvised explosive device).

Off we went, speeding through Kabul; our trail vehicle performing an impromptu ballet swerving back and forth at distances ranging from 30 feet to less than a foot behind us, keeping the constant flow of Afghan vehicles from passing us. Good tactic if you’re moving; useless when you’re in a traffic jam. Sure enough, a donkey cart passed us while we were stuck. A few tense moments later, we were moving again. Plowing through the streets at varying speeds we finally reached our destination. After sitting in the middle of a busy road waiting for about five nerve-racking minutes, the huge gates to the compound finally opened. Drive time, 50 minutes.

Now we had to get to our final destination, a compound about a mile away. Our only choice, a foot-patrol.

We pushed off into the dimly lit streets of Kabul. Shortly after leaving the safe confines of HQ, a group of local kids joined us. “I your body guard” one kid says and takes up position on my left. The others swarmed like bees around our formation, asking for money and whatever gear we would give them. Outside of the fear of the unknown, the mile went by quickly and we arrived at our destination safely.

My "body guard," who was very efficient at keeping the others away from my gear (or so I thought), finally whispers to me, “you have one dollar, just one dollar?” I told him no. His response, “maybe tomorrow.” Yeah right kid, maybe tomorrow. It was not until later during an equipment check did I realize the little swarm managed to steal one of my carabineers used to attach my helmet when not worn. Have no idea how they got it seeing as I’m 6ft and they were maybe 4ft max. It was secured near the top of my back body armor plate by my neck. Damn, those kids were good.

The next morning we had to get back to Kabul Int, and again all US convoys were cancelled. So this time we joined an Australian team heading there to drop off supplies. Same type of mission brief as the day before and we were off. This time in the lead vehicle. One thing that sucks about armored vehicles is they are so heavy, the shocks wear out quickly. Found this out the hard way when we hit the first of many pot-holes, slamming my head up into the roof. Thank goodness for helmets. When all was said and done, no fewer than a half dozen helmet checks occurred. Don’t ask about seatbelts.

Mid morning traffic was not bad so we reached our target gate in about 10 minutes. Problem was the Afghan police had closed it. Acting quickly the convoy commander chose a small side road leading into a nearby village. Imagine driving through narrow streets (about 12ft wide) in large SUVs never meant to fit on these roads, at break neck speeds to minimize chances of becoming easy targets. Helmet check. In such close confines, our heads were constantly on a swivel, looking for threats on roof tops, in the streets and alley ways. Adrenaline quickly takes over.

Now it’s never good when the two phrases you hear frequently are “F#ck Mate, that was close” and “I hope there’s a left turn around here somewhere.” We got lost twice and had to double back. Not good in Indian country. Finally we caught a glimpse of the airport perimeter through a break in the buildings and snaked our way back to safety. Once we dismounted, I overheard the convoy commander say “when I see so and so, I’m gonna punch him in the face for suggesting that route” (colorful language deleted). Travel time, 40 exhausting minutes.

After waiting around for 7 hours and enduring a rocket attack on the airport, we finally got on a C-130 and returned home.

That night, I received some devastating news. God and friends are helping me through that one.

Early the next morning, the base was hit by a salvo of rockets. One tragically found its mark. We responded to find one corner of a living quarters destroyed. Inside was an unfortunate soul who happened to be sleeping in his bed when the rocket hit less than two feet away. Our job was to search and secure the scene for the experts to come out and do their thing. Took about an hour. Then the body was removed. Yet another image burned in my memory. Found out later he was due to go home soon and get married.

I experienced all the above in a time span of 48hrs.

My reality check? This is a dangerous place where things often change on you in an instant and you better be ready for it. You surrender all control. You trust in God.

11 March 2010

Just a few pics

Mission near Pakistan

Over 7,500ft up

Pakistan in the background

Heading back to BAF

Quick pic before they started throwing rocks again (think David and Goliath)

Often wash up after long rain showers (two just above sign)

Friendly reminder

22 February 2010

Comm Check

We all tend to take for granted the reliability of electronic communications when we want them. It's nice to simply write a quick e-mail, make a phone call, send a text or even post on a blog.

I will admit, having access to the Internet (specifically hotmail and Skype) over here have made things easier. But being in a third-world country, you quickly learn access is one thing, reliability is something completely different.

It is only during the times when it takes 30mins to type a short e-mail (becoming the norm lately) or when Skype calls get dropped 3, 4, 5 times in a span of 10 mins do I get frustrated. Not a bitch mind you. Things are light years ahead of what Dad had to deal with in another time; another place; another war.

As I was walking around the other day, I saw this and took a picture. Speaks for itself.

Won't tell you how long it took me to post this entry...

16 February 2010

Finding Religon

Indirect fire attacks are common here. Basically the little mountain men lob 3 to 6 rockets at a time at us on a random basis. You can either worry about it, or accept it as a fact of life.

We choose to accept it as something we have no control over. Two positives: 1) they use old Russian rockets; and 2) because they are old, they are not as accurate.

Every now and again you hear about amazing and bewildering events that defy explanation. I responded to one the other day.

In this case, one of the rockets found its mark. God was definitely present and the soldiers in this hut are all singing His praise. Flight path took it through the roof and two walls before exiting via the floor, detonating 6+ feet under ground. It missed one of the sleeping soldier's feet by about a 1/2 a foot.

The soldier was to rotate back home the following day after his 1-year tour. Thankfully he did, albeit with wood splinters as a reminder and a new found faith in God.

Pics in order: Roof, Wall, Floor, Detonation Point

09 February 2010

What Have I Learned?

We hit our mid-way point last Thurs. 90+ and a wake up and hopefully we will all be back home safely.

During the first 90 days, I have seen and experienced a lot of things, from the hilarious to the tragic. My people have done phenomenal things to advance the mission we have been given. We have all sacrificed a lot, personally and professionally. I am thankful for the opportunity to lead my team. They are true patriots.

So, what have I learned? I know while we cannot control what we will face on a daily basis, we can count on each other to make it through anything. Simply put, we do what we are suppose to do; selflessly take care of each other.

This deployment has made me a stronger leader. A stronger person.

"God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the Wisdom to know the difference."

03 February 2010

Ask And You Shall Receive

Since our arrival in country it was evident we would have to resort to what just about every SF unit has to when they deploy ... scavenge & scrounge for supplies.

To date, my Airmen have not only "procured" needed supplies for our daily missions, but resorted to what AF SF are good at--self help. They started with the armory, building weapons & ammunition racks. Before guns were stacked on the floor and ammunition was literally kept in zip lock bags. Now, weapons are arranged by owner with ammo stored next to them.

Next they completely redesigned the law enforcement desk, tearing out the piece-meal furniture and constructing a solid wooden U-shape command and control counsel. Amazing work, complete with routed edging and finished counter tops.

All this done during their off time.

So, the other day I mentioned in passing how it would be nice if I had a desk that actually fit in my office. Current one was so big it took up half the office, leaving little room for equipment, let alone to maneuver in. My chair would slam against the wall every time I stood.

I got to work this morning and here is what I found. They even built a bookshelf to hold the printer, computer tower and all the other stuff that use to clutter the desk top. Impressive.

28 January 2010

Mission to Kandahar (KAF)

Got back from Kandahar on Tuesday afternoon. KAF is actually larger than Bagram in size, but we still have them in total population. Like the rest of this country, it was dirty but with a lot less pollution in the air. I will hand it to NATO though; they know how to bring in the creature comforts.

In addition to the numerous chow halls, each with a different European cuisine, they had a coffee shop that rivals the best Starbucks back home. Incredibly clean. Has Internet service, large flat screen plasma TVs and enough couches for 50 of your closest friends. Almost forgot where I was. I also experienced a few of firsts. One, I've never seen or heard of a TGI Fridays in a combat zone (just opened up two days before we got there). Second, I had to do a double take when I saw the outdoor Canadian ice hockey rink. Wow.

Finally, I worked out at the NATO gym. In order to get in, I had to have a clean pair to running shoes. Imagine having to give your shoes a shower before you worked out. Now walk the 1/2 mile in AF PT shorts, jacket and combat boots (clean shoes in hand). Talk about sexy. Should have taken a pic. Once inside, I surrendered my boots to a counter attendant who promptly put them in a bag and then on a shelf. To their credit, the gym was very clean, with all the latest and greatest workout machines and free weights. Made the commercial gyms back home look like holes in the wall.

All in all is was a good mission. The perks mentioned above made it memorable.

Jenna goes everywhere with me.

Canadian Ice Hockey Rink

Afghan Sept 11th monument in middle of base

On the roof of KAF PMO bldg

24 January 2010

Moon Dust and Rocks

Everything here is dirty. They call the dirt "moon dust". It is fine, almost like baby powder. Gets into everything. Everything. The constant smell of dirt is only eclipsed by that of the trash incendiaries which burn 24/7 (pics below). The combination of smells makes this place a pleasure to walk/run/work in.

There is no sense trying to keep things clean. Sweep floor or dust your computer; dirty again within minutes. In most places when it rains, the water will clean off the sidewalks and streets. Here, it only makes a muddy mess. The video below will give you an idea of how fine the dust is (yes I felt pretty stupid walking around video taping my feet). The rocks. Well, the rocks were spread all over the place to counter the dirt. End effect. Dirty rocks that twist ankles and knees if one is not careful.

The moon dust and rocks are simply another fact of life here at Bagram.

So is the pollution.

24/7 operation to get rid of trash for over 30,000 people who live/work on base.
Altitude (~6,500 feet above sea level), dirt and pollution; makes for healthy lungs...

19 January 2010

Feel Like a Hobo

My NCO came back early for emergency leave. Hiding out in one of my Airman's room now until new room opens; hopefully tomorrow...

UPDATE: Moved into new room on 21 Jan. Went from 10'x10' wooden cubicle to a 2 bedroom suite with lounge area. And this is Army living. Rank/Position does have its privileges.

15 January 2010

Home Today. Gone Tomorrow.

About 10 days ago when I got back to my room (10' x 10' cubicle inside center wooden hut below) after working out I was approached by the Camp Mayor. He asked me, "Sir, you want the bad news?" Sure. "You have to move out of your room immediately; we are tearing down all these huts so the AF can build a new cargo pad."

No problem. I told him I was scheduled to move 20 Jan anyway. His reply. "That may be so, but I need you out of here now." It was only 5 Jan.

Defiant to the end, I stayed put thinking there is no way they are going to tear down all these huts before the 20th.

Fast forward to the other day. I get back from work this time and the Mayor was waiting for me again. "Sir, you REALLY need to get out now." Knew he was serious because they had already torn out the HVAC units and were starting to rip down other parts of the exterior.

Couple of phone calls and with the assistance of 5 of my cops I found a temporary lodging within the hour. Only place open was with two of my NCOs (all my gear is shoved in Tim and my Lt's room). Fortunately for me, their other room mate (live 3 to a room) is back in the states on emergency leave, so I'm sleeping in his bunk (who says rank does not have it's privileges). Hope he doesn't come home until after the 20th.

Returned from work the following day; my hut was gone.

11 January 2010

More Training

One of my Airmen came in the other day and told me he found the pictures from the Combat Life Saver (CLS) course we all took once we arrived in country. As first responders to post attack operations, traffic accidents and other daily law enforcement stuff, the training is invaluable.

Like the title suggests, CLS teaches advanced first aid techniques to treat such things as gun shot wounds, sucking chest wounds, amputations, massive head trauma and severe shock.

The ABCs of first aid: Open Airway; Control Bleeding; Maintain Circulation. CLS is simply basic first aid on steroids.

One important skill was how to hook up an IV. Simple if you are a medic. Not so much for a bunch of cops. As always, my partner was Tim Fearney. While I did alright on him, he had a little trouble figuring out when the needle was in my vein. Not positive, but I don't think there is suppose to be this much blood...

Not bad.

Trust is everything

And he still passed.