We Got Him

Okay so time for a new update, I want to start out with saying thank you for all the Easter care packages, I think I have enough peeps to last me until next year. Life has been pretty good, my deployment is now on the decline as for my time here and recent news of Bin Laden has helped comfort a lot of people. I’ll go more into detail about Bin Laden later on. It has been sometime since I last posted and I apologize this update hasn’t been sooner.

The operations have been going well, although the fighting season has officially started and more of our Squadron’s vehicles have been getting hit. Thankfully the engineers that have designed our vehicles are geniuses and they do a damn good job at keeping us safe. I have seen what IED’s can do to vehicles and it’s amazing that Soldiers can walk out without a scratch or concussion. Your tax dollars really are saving lives and helping this country.

It’s pretty crazy how Afghanistan is so connected with other countries and contracts from the United States. Not too long ago a friend from Virginia Tech informed me that her friend was going to be in Kandahar. At the time I was thinking she was probably a Soldier making her way to a FOB on the outskirts just passing through KAF. I found out it was just the opposite. This friend of a friend “Alex” was from DC and she was actually being sent to Kandahar to prepare an audit for her company. Talk about a business trip straight into a war. Alex and I were able to meet up at the boardwalk and grad a bit to eat while I was at KAF for a convoy. It was awesome to meet up with someone through a friend all the way across the world, as well as get to talk to someone the same age….thanks Maria.

I also ran into someone from my Basic Officer Course from Fort Lee at KAF. The convoy I was on had some extra time so I headed to the USO to relax and maybe take a quick nap. I dosed off and woke up to someone nudging me a couple times to find out it was another Lieutenant that I graduated with. It’s funny how no matter where you are in the world you always have the potential of running into someone you know.

Easter over here was definitely something I’ll never forget.  Besides getting care packages exploding with that fake grass and stuffed with peeps it was also a true challenge.  For those of you that know me ice cream is my true weakness and the fact that the FOB has ice cream here is definitely something I enjoy.  So giving it up for lent was not the easiest thing.

Easter Sunday was also something new.  I never went to the Easter Vigil Mass before but I decided to go.  There were about 5 Soldiers and maybe 10 contractors from other countries.  The priest actually caught me off guard and asked me and several other Soldiers to help out because there were so few Soldiers that showed up.  After the mass was interesting, because all the contractors came up and really wanted to talk and get pictures with all the us (the Soldiers).  It was nice too because the contractors are the ones that serve us our food, take care of the laundry, and complete random duties around the FOB.  I always make a point to ask them how they are doing whenever I’m in line to get a meal.  I think most people over look how much work they put in to make sure we the Soldiers are taken care of.   Most of them could only speak broken English and it was funny because they all wanted me to visit their hometown of GOA India, which apparently is a really nice tourist area in India.

That Easter mass actually helped me realize how lucky I am to have the family and friends that I have.  I really miss everyone, and I can’t wait to get back and see everyone.   I thank God for the life I have because the family and friends that I have are incredible.

A couple weeks ago I heard that Gary Veynerchuk came to Virginia Tech.  I have to say I was pretty excited to hear that he was coming to VT.  Gary Veynerchuk is a big name in the wine world and has a lot of insight to offer in terms of wine and the economy.  Last year I took the Geography of Wine course at Virginia Tech and loved it.  I have to admit when I started the course I was not a fan of wine at all.  The closest thing I drank was…cough.… Arbor Mist…cough…..and that was only at functions like Privates, but by the end of the year I was trying all different types and trying to describe them with friends.  In fact one of my favorite things senior year was going to Boudreauxes on Wine Wednesdays.  During the class though our professor had us watch clips every week from Gary Veynerchuk and we would get quizzed on the videos.  Gary Veynerchuk is very enthusiastic about wine and some of the ways he describes wines are just insane.  I talked the class up so much I was able to get my sister to take it this year.  I really had to twist her arm….,,not really when the words wine and easy A came out of my mouth I’m pretty sure she was sold.  My sister got to talk to Gary after the lecture and the next day I received a personal email from Gary Veynerchuk himself.  It wasn’t much but it was pretty cool to get an email from him…Thanks Bethany!

So something new and exciting I took part in the other day was something my Mom probably wouldn’t like me doing…but it was the first time I gunned for a convoy.  Officers don’t normally gun but the opportunity arose and snatched it as quick as I could before someone could tell me no.  Usually for the convoy I’m the commander of a gun truck so I’m in control of all the personal and actions of that truck.  In this case though I was the gunner, so I climbed up in the gunner hatch of a Maxxpro and took the M2 50 Cal.   By the time we got off KAF it was pretty late but lucky for me the stars were out in full force and I had a M2 50 Cal. in front of me.……. It was awesome.  The ride was incredible although I felt every single bump and my legs were pretty sore the next day, but it was definitely worth it.

OKAY so now I want to shed some light on Mr. Usama Bin Laden.  I found out just as I was waking up to a new day in Afghanistan.  My Laptop was right next to me after I fell asleep watching a movie, so I checked my email and saw the news all over the Internet.  At this point in time all I could think about was we finally got him.  I walked outside to go grab a shower and the first thing I always see when I walk out are the Pakistani Mountains that run along the border and eventual help form the Hindu Kush.  That morning I didn’t think Oh there’s Pakistan, I thought wow just over those mountains less than 300 miles Northeast was Bin Laden and we got him.  As more news came out things became a little clearer and people around the FOB were quickly finding out.  Although there were no celebrations, or people running around waving the flag or anything like that.  Soldiers on the FOB went about their day like honestly nothing has changed.  Reason for that is because we still have a mission to do, which did not include finding Bin Laden. Yes there was obviously a Task Force still focused on him, but as for the US Forces in Afghanistan our mission is something a little different now.  For the most part like I stated in an earlier post it’s to conduct COIN operations, not to find and hunt down Bin Laden.

I have to say the amount of pride that I felt being an American was something indescribable.  That man was the face of evil, and now he’s nothing but a memory.   To think I was in 8th grade when September 11th took place and that event was what helped shaped my aspiration to join the military.  It’s pretty crazy that Special Ops were able to raid Bin Laden‘s complex and take him down.  It sounds like it was straight out of a movie.  America land of the free because of the brave.

“I’ve never wished a man dead, but I’ve read some obituaries with great pleasure” – Mark Twain

Something else I’ve also been doing on my free time is searching for a house when I get back.  I think I have it narrowed down to about 3 or 4 that I really like and in the price range I had set for myself.  It’s kind of overwhelming thinking I’m going to buy my first house, in addition to finding out about all these extra costs attached.  If anyone reading this knows of any realtors that could offer me advice can you send me their contact info please?

I hope everyone is doing well, and it’s hard to believe I’m already on the down slope of the deployment.  Even though I’m on the down slope this is now the fighting and harvesting season for the Taliban.  So our job now gets more active with everyday that goes by especially leading into the summer.

I want to congratulate everyone that is graduating in the coming weeks, and a special shout out to Steger and O’toole for finishing up their Masters you guys are awesome!

Again Thanks for all the support and Mom I love you and just wanted to say Happy Mothers Day! 

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Hokies in Kandahar

Okay sorry I’ve been kind of slacking on the updates I didn’t realize it has been 3 plus weeks since I last posted one.  There has been a lot going on since my last update and things over here have been pretty busy with the weather warming up.

So maybe 3 weeks ago our company did a convoy up to KAF and I got to meet up with another Hokie.  It was funny because in the Corps of Cadets he was my mentor when I was a freshmen and he was a junior.  He just got to KAF and is stationed there for the rest of his deployment with the 101st.  We got lunch down by the boardwalk had a good time catching up and grabbed a picture in front of some of our vehicles.

The boardwalk on KAF is pretty funny to be honest.   I would have never guessed that a Nathans Hot Dog stand and TGIF is located all the way in Afghanistan.  I still haven’t gone to TGIF yet maybe because it cost a fortune to eat there. The reason it cost a fortune is that no one out here is really spending money so all the American food vendors jack up the price because they know people will pay for it.  “Supply and Demand.”

The boardwalk is basically a bunch of shops and places to eat.  It’s a cool place to grab a bit to eat, relax, and just people watch whenever I make the trip up to KAF.  There are people from all over the world that are located at KAF.   In addition to all the contractors here that range from people from third world countries hired to work, to CEOs taking a business trip from the states to check on there defense contracts.  The Canadians built a roller hockey rink in the center of the boardwalk, along with a small softball field, and a basketball court.  All along the boardwalk there are vendors and small jewelry stores.  I think its good that I don’t make it to KAF that often or I might be spending all my money on real food or brass camels.

One thing I really enjoy about my FOB rather than KAF is our barbershop.  At KAF like everything else is contracted out to some guy who doesn’t speak English and thinks everyone wants their whole head zero’d.  At FOB Spin Boldak there are a couple Local Nationals (LN) who cut the hair.  In fact they charge 4 dollars and no joke they are some of the best haircuts I’ve ever gotten.  One time I went in pretty early in the morning and sat down in the chair.  The afghan was getting ready to cut my hair and then all of a sudden the other afghan/local nation opened then door and said “no no come and join us for tea first”  it kind of took me off guard but I had time so I joined them.  So there I was having breakfast with two local nations, who later I found out through broken English and Pashto they were actually brothers.  We talked about what they went through when they were living in Kandahar and what it was like when the Taliban was in control.  They expressed how grateful they were that the United States came and pushed the Taliban out of Kandahar and out of power.  It was a pretty cool experience sitting around Indian style drinking chi tea and sharing a type of bread that was like a peta bread.  Inside the pot we sat around was a dip that had tomatoes, onions, cheese, and some herbs…..it was actually really good.  So after breakfast I had my haircut and went about my day.  I have to say though that was probably the coolest haircut I’ve ever had.

The actually barbershop is in a container or metal conex.  Along with the px (walmat) and post office.  They are basically metal conexes 20 ft long and 6 feet wide.  Needless to say all the walmart has is basically cigarettes and dip……so I have so reason to even go there……..even if I did have a reason its open at the most random time throughout the week.

The weather is starting to get a lot warmer.  The average high has been around 82 degrees and it still rains once in awhile.  But when it rains it pours, they have some pretty intense thunderstorms over here that’s for sure.  With the warmer temperatures though brings more activity from the Taliban.  A lot of it is connected to the poppy harvest.  Due to the fact a lot of the funding from the Taliban comes from harvesting drugs like poppy.  Our FOB has been pretty quite but the surrounding area has not been so lucky.  Especially the closer to Kandahar/KAF the more activity there is.

I’ve also started taking over some of the XO duties and have been more involved within the company in keeping track of certain reports.  These reports are an essential part of our company’s mission and I’m pretty excited that my leadership sees that I’m ready for bigger and better tasks. These reports require me to brief higher-ranking officers on our status and the capabilities of the company.  It’s good because it helps me become more familiar with my unit’s capabilities as well as helps me get to know the other officers in the squadron.

One thing that has happened fairly recently and causing major problems in Afghanistan are the riots going on all over the country.  My question is why isn’t there more news about this back in the states?!  If you haven’t heard what’s going on, basically some pastor from the US decided to use his freedom of speech to burn a Koran. Well word travels fast and as soon as the Taliban found out about this they used it against us and provoked mass riots in major cities.  It’s a pretty serious thing right now, so keep an ear out in the news for it.

Something else in the news that I did catch, was the “government shutdown”  I got to catch a little bit of it in the DFAC and read about the rest of it online.

With all this talk of the military not getting paid and what not, personally I don’t care cause because I know I’m going to get paid either way, and right now its not like I’m headed to Best Buy every weekend…But people that I do care about like my Soldiers with families will definitely be affected by this.  The Soldiers themselves might not be spending money but think about their spouse that has a house payment, bills, and kids to feed.  I really don’t know how this will play out, but why did the government wait until the last second to fix this?

On the same note as spending money I have to say that war is not free.  After seeing the amount of money we spend over here….your tax dollars ……I would think it’s in your best interest to know what your money is being spent on……so follow the news and what’s going on in the world!

Before I head to bed I just want to encourage you to leave a comment so I know who is reading and its nice to hear from people that read my updates. I hope everyone is doing well and thanks for all the support!

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Making History

So my responsibilities have expanded into bigger and better things.  Everything is going well as I near the two month mark.  It definitely does not feel like I’ve been here for two months already but I guess that’s just because I’m learning something new everyday.   The things that I am learning are really helping me build a solid foundation that will really help my future.  I’m getting to experience unique and challenging events that are really laying the groundwork for success later on.

A pretty cool coincidence happened the other day.  I ran to the dfac real quick to grab a bite to eat.  I sat down and started to eat just so I could move on with my day.  I looked up to see a four star general at the salad bar line, “I thought to myself why is a four star general here?” But that was about it and went back to eating my lunch.  I noticed that someone was kind of hovering over the table and saw that it was the four star general and he asked if he could sit down at the table. ……how could I say no to a four star general anything he wants he gets.

A four star general I would say is the same thing as say the CEO of a major corporation like Fedex, but I would venture to say a little bigger.  General McNabb, a four-star Air Force general in charge of the Transportation Mobility Command.  He was only in Afghanistan for a couple a days to see how everything was going over here….….talk about a business trip.  He wanted to check out some stuff as well as the Pakistani border.  A lot of VIPs come through to check it out.  I thought it was pretty cool that the highest rank an officer can achieve in the military and the lowest (me) were sitting at the same table talking.  We talked about CDS bundles (resupply through air drops) logistics in Afghanistan, which has been significant in terms of what has happened before with the Soviets in the 80’s and the British in the 1800’s.  It turns out that his daughter is attending duke as well which gave for a good basketball conversation.  Which moved towards who we thought was going to the NCAA tournament………Which is not going to be the Hokies unfortunately.   The lunch lasted for about an hour and at the end he gave me one of his coins.  It was the first time as a commissioned officer that someone gave me a coin and it was from a four-star general.

Some friends from back home have been asking about jingle trucks.  Jingle trucks are trucks that the Afghans use to transport supplies.  Whether it’s food, construction materials, anything really.  You see some pretty crazy ones.  The more decorated they are the more money the driver probably has.  They are all painted in bright colors and have chimes and bells attached to them.  I saw one coming back from a convoy with lasers and LED lights in all different colors.  I thought I was going to go blind if I looked at it long enough.  They also stack their shipment until the truck is about the tip.  I kid you not I saw a jingle truck with a shipment that was at least 40-50 ft high.  It started with boxes of some kind of fruit, then on top of that were tires stacked up, the on top of that was a car……….You see some crazy things over here

Most of the cars here are little Toyota Corollas rolling around.  A lot are still painted white with a yellow strip along the side from when the Taliban had control of Kandahar.  They claimed that every car was theirs and that every one of them had to be painted that way because in the name of “The Taliban” they owned all vehicles.  Most people don’t have the money to paint over it so they just kept it.   The term everyone uses for them is Taliban Taxis.

I just finished my second book here.  Blow the House Down by Robert Baer, I thought it was an awesome book.  I would say it’s one of the top five books that I have read.  It’s a book about 9/11 and the events that could have been the main cause.  This book is fiction but based entirely on facts.   It’s through the eyes of a CIA operative that tracks down a lead and finds something much bigger along the way.   The book that I just started reading is Once an Eagle by Anton Myrer, I’ve heard it’s a good book so I’m going to give it a try.  Ok so enough about books lets get into the good stuff.

The cool mission I had was awesome in the video below is only half the mission.  There were two Chinook helicopters that came.  In so many words it was a re-supply mission for another unit.  It was my first sling load operation since I went through the course at Ft Lee, VA back in August.  It was pretty crazy to actually plan it, set up my team, and hook it up.  A sling load operation is basically a mission where equipment, or materials can get transported by helicopter.  Anything from a humvee, canons, and cargo nets, the list goes on and on.  Through the planning phase I made sure everything was set with the receiving unit and checked with how many helicopters were coming and at what time.  That part was probably one of the most stressful because the time kept on getting changed.  It was changed all the way until 2am the morning of the operation when I finally got the official go time when the helicopters were coming.  The re-rigging wasn’t bad at all, there were several cargo nets which are the easiest to rig up for the sling load.  We were transporting hesco.  Hescos are pretty much over sized sandbags that are a lot easier to fill and emplace.  Whoever invented hescos is a freaking genius and extremely rich.  The military has been using them for about ten years now and everywhere I look there are hescos.  We had three loads to rig but one of them was shot gunned meaning we tied them together (the one in the video).

The actual hookup was cool this was my first time hooking up with Chinook helicopters as well as my first sling load mission that I planned, and it was all done in Afghanistan.   The Chinook helicopter can produce winds up to 120mph, which are category four hurricane winds.  Craziness

So the actual hook up was insane.  The crew chief of one of the helicopters came over and we talked what was going to happen and which one would go first.  So once we had it planned out the first Chinook took off and came headed our way.  I was on the first load that was going to be shot gunned.  In the video I’m on the left hand side of the two loads.  As the Chinook came over us I was literally holding on so I wouldn’t get blown off.  As the Chinook approached I could see the co-pilot looking over the dashboard and helping guide the pilot.  As the Chinook was directly over us the we could see the crew chief who basically was sticking his head out of a little opening in the middle of the belly to ensure a clean hook up.   Something about large rotors spinning directly over my head and the Chinook 3 ft above me definitely got my heart pumping.  In the video I was the first one to hook up the load to the Chinook and first one to jump off.  As I was clearing the pick up site it felt like someone was pushing me because the winds are so strong.  I have to admit though as I was watching the breakaways unlatch as the helicopter was picking up the load the only thing going through my mind was “God please let this work the way its supposed to.”  Since I was the certified rigger I signed off and inspected the loads so if anything happened it was on me.   As the load was being taken away, and after the thought of okay sweet its going to make it, I just thought that was really awesome.  It was almost better than a flyover at Tech….almost.  Which is a funny thing because at Kandahar I feel like there is a fly over every 5 mins.  The other helicopter came in to take the other load and I was able to get some pretty cool pictures out of it.  My Commander, XO, and First Sergeant were all there and were pretty amazed at what had just happened.  I didn’t know it but apparently that was the first sling load operation since the unit was stood up.  So looks like I’ll be going down in the history books.  Hopefully that was the first of many.

The missions over our area of operations are going really well and the non-kinetic (stability project) are going even better.  The road systems that we are emplacing are really helping the locals and making a difference.  The schools, hospitals, and shelters that are being constructed are also making a huge difference in our area.  A friend asked me what our mission was the other day, and it wasn’t until then that I realized that the majority of people right now in the States really don’t get what the “mission” is for the Troops over here in Afghanistan.  The mission as a whole is to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan population.   This war is all about the people and whoever has the support of the population will win the war.  That’s why it’s taking so long and that’s why it’s also so delicate of a war.  The Taliban understand that too, so that is why they are targeting more Afghans as targets.  I’m sure everyone has been hearing on the news at how the civilian casualties have increased, and that is directly due to the Taliban targeting them now instead of ISAF troops.  So basically the “mission” for the US Troops is to win the hearts and minds of Afghanistan.

I hope everyone is doing well.  The weather is finally heating up, this week I would say the average high was around 80, so its definitely getting hotter.  I heard about Tech not getting into the NCAA tournament again which was rough to hear…….especially since I told the four star general we could have a decent shot…. but there’s always next year.  Again I seriously cannot thank everyone enough for the notes and care packages.  I have been sharing the care packages with my Soldiers, and they all really appreciate it especially the ones that don’t get packages anymore.  Thank you all so much for the love and support.

…………………O Douls I’m still bitter about that

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Thumbs Up

Since my last update I’ve definitely been keeping busy. I’m learning a lot about Afghanistan and the surrounding area as well as my job over here. I’ve read multiple books on operations conducted in Afghanistan before arriving here, and felt I had a decent understanding of the culture and way of life.……It’s one thing to read it and another to see it and experience it first hand.

On one of the convoys I was on headed to another FOB we drove through a local market. The street was kind of tight for our trucks but the Afghans go about their business like nothing significant is happening. I guess after 10 years of seeing US Forces they are used to it. The Afghans live simple with shops that sell fruits, nuts, liquids, and different cloths. There are very few women that come out and are seen, mostly everyone in the market and along the routes we take are predominately men with occasional children with them.

One thing that I always enjoy watching are the kids. I would say 9 out of 10 kids will come running to the sound of our convoy with their thumbs up, or waving….….the other 1 out of 10 will throw rocks and try to crack our windshields………There’s always one in the bunch…… As for the kids that give us the thumbs up I personally think that is pretty cool, and I know that is something that’s going to stick with me for a long time. For me personally it shows me that we are making a difference and that they want us to help them. Even though the Taliban are very smart and manipulative it shows us that the youth of Southern Afghanistan want a better life. Kandahar was a very “Pro Taliban” environment at one time and to see the kids accepting us says a lot to the current counterinsurgency (COIN) operations going on.

Traveling to the other FOB much closer to the city of Kandahar is also very different experience. There are more villages that consist of mud walls and old rags/cloths that have been sewn together to make a roof. As well as more people out in the public. The other FOB was a lot bigger but also not as nice T –Wall barriers (concrete walls) lined the outside, and inside consisted of hescos, bunkers, and tents. I’m pretty happy with where I currently am rather where I could be.

Learning more about the surrounding area is something I’ve taken a personal interest in. Like I said earlier I really find the Afghan culture pretty fascinating, learning about the surrounding cities and cultural principles are interesting. The area that I am in is mostly Pashto. Although their code of Pashtunwali isn’t practiced as much down in the South as it is up in Northern Afghanistan. Pashtunwali is based off of three principles hospitality, shelter/asylum, and justice/revenge. In addition to what judges a man’s honor is gold, land, and women.

It’s interesting as well to know what happens around our area of operations and then hear about it on the news hours later/days later depending on how relevant it is. Most of the time the news will leave out a lot of information or misinterpret the information.

This Roshan phone I got is kind of funny, just when I was getting used to not having a phone on me the Army wants me to have another cell phone so they can get a hold of me whenever they want. Which I have to admit can be useful at times……but seriously I’m in the middle of nowhere in a 3rd world country and the Army still wants me to have a phone, I find that a eccentric. I also find it funny because it feels like it’s a toy with Arabic letters and numbers in addition to English letters and numbers

I shared this story with a friend and she wasn’t pleased with the ending, but… I feel that I need to give corporeal the honor of sharing his small life story. There was a stray puppy running around our FOB which is actually pretty normal. There are a lot of stay dogs running wild in our area. But this stray puppy seemed to take an interest in our tent, so guys in our company decided to adopt him and keep him around as a mascot or even just a moral booster. We named him corporeal and the soldiers really enjoyed seeing him around. So a couple days later I was at a meeting to find out that dogs are actually a bad omen to the Afghans and their religion. If a dog touches an Afghan they are considered unclean. A little later on we noticed that Corporeal hadn’t been around lately, and we were wondering were he went……..It turns out that an Afghan working for the Afghan Police got a little nervous with corporeal coming to close and shot him………needless to say we were all shocked when we heard this, so we are currently looking for a new pup.

This week I was also issued my 9mm, in addition too my M4 carbine that I have. It makes things a little easier now so I don’t have to lug around my M4 with me everywhere I go instead I can just take my 9mm around with me. Basically I have a side holster for day to day operations on the FOB and a leg holster for days that I have missions.

The weather is still pretty wet and the weather is getting a little warmer but not by much. I would say the avg is close to 40-50 degrees through out the day. The mountains have tons of snow on them and other people that I know that are in Northern Afghanistan say that they are getting snow by the feet.

I have a pretty cool mission coming up so I’ll keep everyone posted on how it goes.

The letters and packages have started to come, and I must say thank you! It’s a great reminder of home, family, and friends. If you send a letter/package I promise I’ll give you some type of response to let you know that I received it. I hope everyone is doing well and hopefully this weather will start to clear and warm up a bit.

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Did Someone Call For Rain?

Okay……so I lied about the rain. In the past week it has rained 4 days straight and caused major flooding in some areas. Some of the checkpoints are flooded with rushing water, and Afghans still think they can drive right through it with their little sedans. The mud is ridiculous and there are leaks in just about every room on the fob. By the way in Afghanistan you don’t need a license to drive so pretty much everyone drives like it’s the fast and the furious down here, which makes some situations kind of stressful.

I also found out I can’t use phone cards here. The MWR runs an online credit system and the Roshan cell phone I just got doesn’t take US phone cards either. They take Roshan cards which is an Afghan network. I figured out how to call the states and with my Dad’s help we found out how the states can call me.

In the past week though I have been able to get into somewhat a little better of a rhythm here. It’s hard to set a schedule because operations here change so often.

This past week there was again a lot of stuff that went on. I went to another range and zeroed my new weapon, which was the first time I used an optical sight to aim…pretty cool actually.

I have been able to utilize the gym on a more regular basis now. Since basically my daily routine after I finish my workload for the day consists of reading, going to the gym, and the internet. I mean I have facebook what else do I need. The gym is basically a big tent about 30 yards long with a plywood floor and walls that section areas off for different machines/equipment. I have recently picked up rowing. It’s something new and I think it’s a great workout with what’s available.

The chapel here is pretty simple, if I don’t have a mission or something vital that other people need from me I make sure I’m going to mass on Sundays. It’s hard to keep track of what day of the week it is because everyone is constantly going throughout the week. One thing that helps me are the meetings I have on certain days of the week and church on Sundays.

The Super Bowl! Well being from Pittsburgh I almost felt obligated to watch it. So I went to bed early the night before and got up at 330am to watch the game. They had it on in the DFAC (cafeteria) and actually decorated for the event. There were about 60 -70 people that woke up for the big game too. They had ordered something like 1000 pizzas……needless to say they had extras. But I would like to make it clear that if you heard of any news of all soldiers will get the chance to have two beers…..That was a lie! The only beer they had were O’ Douls……I mean come on that’s like drinking cough medicine because you like the taste……..If you don’t know what O’ Douls are they are non-alcoholic beer that tastes “like beer” but not really. Apparently soldiers in Iraq did get the beer but as far as the Kandahar province, Afghanistan goes it was nothing but O’ Douls for us. I did enjoy the game though even though the Steelers came up short I thought it was still a good game. One thing that really stood out was the fact that they had Staff Sergeant Giunta the recent recipient who earned the Medal of Honor. I think that’s great how an America Hero is welcomed like that and what better than the most watched event of the year.

Something else also happened during the game, I saw a face that looked strangely familiar, no one that I knew on a personal level but had one of those faces that I have seen before. I went up the guy and asked if he had graduated from Virginia Tech, and have you know it turns out he a was about three years ahead of me in the Corps of Cadets there. Just yesterday I actually met another Hokie that graduated in 99 who is here as a contractor and helps with operations. Small word, there really are Hokies everywhere and I feel a great sense of pride coming from Virginia Tech. Even back home whenever I see a VT sticker on a car, or a T-shirt, its almost like I want to wave them down and meet them, or speed up to see if I know them. I love being a Hokie!

This past week has been a lot of firsts, some good, some not so good. There is a lot that goes on in Afghanistan and I’m sure I’ve only experienced a very minute part of it. I have been out on the road and outside the wire a lot more which is something I really enjoy, with that though you get to see a lot more. I really love seeing the culture and our “American/NATO” mission at work. While out and about I did see my first camel, or actually I should say herd of camels. It was pretty cool actually I saw one and just thought to myself…did I just see a camel!? Then I saw the rest of the herd…it was awesome I just wish I had my camera with me.

Another first was my first experience with an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), I can’t go into too much detail about it, but basically some Afghans found it and stopped our convoy so we didn’t hit it. After a couple hours EOD (American forces that take care of explosive materials) came blew it up and then we were on our way again continuing the mission…..it was actually kind of cool to see. The real crazy part was after our mission I went back to talk to the other Lieutenant in charge of EOD and he showed me what was recovered from the failed IED. There was a ball bearing the size of a golf ball along with some other components……..yeah.

The activity here is still relativity low while the cold/wet weather still lingers around. So its good to see the Afghan National Army and Afghan Police are eager to make their country a better place now and hopefully they will keep that attitude as the weather gets warmer and the activity picks up.

I’m doing my best at trying to learn Pashto, which is the main language in Southern Afghanistan. Our interpreter is pretty cool, he’s a couple years older than me and a really awesome guy who is helping us out a lot. Over all the activity right now is very low during the cold months, but certain events are still happening and if you follow the news anything within the Kandahar area/ Spin Boldak pertains to some of my unit…..So follow the news!

Thank you for all the support it really means a lot to me, I can’t thank you all enough! Whenever I get an email or facebook message it really makes my day. So thank you! I’ll hopefully be posting some pictures soon.

…………………O’Douls

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My First Step

I wanted to make this blog so everyone that is interested can keep up with what I’m up to half way around the world.  A lot has gone on in the time I have been here so I promise the updates to come in the future wont be as long.

I’ll start off with the trip over.  I left on January 19th from Fort Bragg, NC.  Fort Bragg is my current duty assignment and it is where I will return to after this deployment is over.   I’m with the 525 Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, which is spread out to over 50 locations all over Afghanistan.  My family came down to see me off and it was actually a little more emotional than I would have thought.  From Fort Bragg we (there was a group of about 19 other soldiers leaving with me from the same unit) left for BWI which was about an 8 hour trip on a charter bus.  Once we got to BWI we loaded our gear. I was allotted my ruck (which is basically an oversized backpack), an assault pack (regular sized backpack), a briefcase for my laptop, and two army issued duffel bags.

I would say it slowly dawned on me that I was headed into Afghanistan and it took a series of events for me to realize fully I was in a wartime environment, which I’ll explain as the events happen.

As I waited for the commercial plane to pick us up I made my last couple phone calls and then headed on the plane.  I have to admit I don’t consider myself a very emotional person but those phones calls were rough.  The plane went to Germany refueled then, to Turkey, refueled, and then stopped a Manis Air Force Base.  We left at 2200 on the 19th from BWI and got to Manis at 0400am on the 21st.  I feel like I was robbed a full day from the time zone difference.  It’s okay though I’ll get it back on my trip back home.  Manis AFB is a staging area where anyone inbound into Afghanistan has to stop and do some admin tasks as well as palletize their gear to be placed on a C-17 military cargo plane.   Manis is located in Kyrgyzstan two countries above Afghanistan.  It’s in the middle of nowhere.  Our group stayed in a huge open bay tent with rows and rows of bunks where soldiers from all branches were coming and going.  It snowed a little which delayed our flight into Afghanistan by a day but we didn’t mind because the food was good and there were free candy bars.

Once we got word that the flight into Kandahar Afghanistan was on, this was yet another small realization to where I was actually headed.  We boarded the military plane and flew into theater…… which is another term for Afghanistan.  Now the cool part, we did a combat landing which I was not ready for.  It turns out that a combat landing is something where the plane will turn sharply and then descend very rapidly until it touches ground.  Needless to say everyone was saying O-sh*t as no one was expecting it.  As the ramp opened and I walked out with my weapon in hand I took my first step onto Afghanistan.  I swear it could have been right out of a movie.  The sun was currently setting painting the sky a reddish pink. With military planes, helicopters, and the mountains in the background.

Kandahar Air Field or KAF is pretty big and the funny thing about it is that everywhere you look you just see the colors tan and blue.  Tan buildings/tents and the blue sky.  A really cool thing is that because it’s a large airfield fighter jets, UAV’s, and helicopters are always flying around. Something I’m still getting used to is the time difference I am 9.5 hours ahead of east coast time.  It was funny because every time I thought my body was getting used to the time difference I would lie down at like 1600 (4pm) and I would pass out until four in the morning.

It’s crazy to think that I’m in Afghanistan,  It seems like just yesterday I was walking to class in my cadet uniform at Virginia Tech.  Where my biggest worry was if I was going to be able to make it to TOTs Tuesday It’s also crazy to think that I was in eighth grade when the twin towers were struck and I’m finally getting my chance to serve nine years later.

At Kandahar my group conducted some mandatory training that all army personal need to complete before moving on…briefs, shooting, drills….etc.  Kandahar is pretty cool it is literally a melting pot of different NATO nations there for a common goal.

KAF is also where I fully realized I was in a wartime environment.  We were zeroing our rifles at a range on the outskirt of KAF late at night.  Out of no where the alarm sounds of an incoming rocket/mortar it was the first time I heard the alarm but I did as everyone else did and got down to take cover, not even a second later a rocket landed about a 100 yards away.  Now 100 yards really isn’t that close but it was close enough for me to realize that I need to be fully aware of my surroundings at all times.

After all the training was completed we hooked up with a convoy (a number of military vehicles traveling together) and went to our final destination Forward Operations Base (FOB) Spin Boldak.  The way there wasn’t bad, I got my first look at life outside the wire of Afghanistan which is so different from anywhere I’ve ever been to.

Spin Boldak is located in the Southeastern portion of Afghanistan. It’s right along the border of Pakistan and surrounded by mountains in the distance.  It’s really cool because at night you can see exactly where the border is due to the fact that the city of Spin Boldak does not have electricity and Pakistan does.  So all the lights are on the Pakistani side and the darkness lies within Afghanistan.  The night sky here is something else, hundreds of stars are visible on a clear night with no lights to obscure the view. It’s incredible.

The weather isn’t too bad here. It gets kinda chilly in the morning but warms up to the high 50’s later in the day.  The warmer weather is coming though, which will also bring more activity along the border.  It doesn’t rain here often but when it does rain it pours, and everything is caked in mud, it’s not too fun.

The food here is not bad and the living conditions are somewhat a little better than what I was expecting.  I think the best part is that baskin 31 robins supplies ice cream for dinner.  Although there aren’t 31 flavors they do have 4 and they happen to be my favorite.  To explain a little more about the FOB there is a small gym that has all the essentials, a MWR tent (Moral Welfare & Recreation) with phones/ computers/ board games/ and an old pool table.  The DFAC (cafeteria) is pretty good it’s a lot like Shultz but a better selection/ the food quality.   The surrounding area is mostly desert with Mountains close by that surround the FOB.  The best description I can give is this area is a mix a Southern California (palm springs) and Arizona …….if you’ve never been to either of those states you’re missing out.

As for my job I have a couple of roles were I’m in charge of a platoon a soldiers who focus on maintenance, logistics, and convoys.  I’m in the process of being trained up as a convoy commander so I can start conducting my own logistical convoys, which I am really looking forward to.   I really like Afghanistan…. for now anyways and I’m really enjoying learning about the Afghan’s culture and way of life….some of it disturbing but most of it very interesting.

I am very excited about serving here in Afghanistan.  It’s a lot different from the states but I really enjoy it.  It’s also an adjustment meeting everyone in the unit as well as my new soldiers that I’m responsible for.  I just found out the other day that I am the youngest officer on the base at 23.  I have a long road ahead of me, but I’m ready for the challenge.  The nice thing is that coming from Virginia Tech has some weight to it and that helps with first introductions with other officers.

A lot of people have been asking what I would like in care packages I like candy, sugar cookies, gum, jerky, phone cards or anything that is a reminder of home.  Though I really don’t need anything other than a written note I would really appreciate that more than anything.

Sorry this update was so long I’ll try to send one a week and keep them a little shorter.  I hope everyone is doing well and Go Hokies

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