Saturday, April 30, 2011

Season Opener...

So as most people have heard, the Taliban have announced that the "spring offensive" starts today.

We're fine. They've cancelled all movements for a few days until we see whats going to happen. Keep in mind, I'm sitting at a base in the middle of the green zone in Kabul. Vehicles have to pass through lots of armed checkpoints before they get near our compound.

It seems to be like the beginning of deer season in MN. Everyone gets all excited, except for the deer. They just keep going about their daily are we.

Don't worry...I'm fine.

Orphan Education Center

Before I came here some people on base decided they wanted to try to help some of the children of Afghanistan. The years of fighting in this coutry have created many orphans and disabled children. They wanted to try to help.

People here began speaking with the local nationals that work here on base to try to determine how we can best help and reach as many children as possible...the neediest of kids.

We were informed of an Orphan Education Center in Kabul. It is an all-boys school for orpahed and disabled kids. They don't live at the site, they live with a relative or somewhere else but attend this school daily. There are 160 students of all different ages.

We started a collection. Several people here reached back to family, friends and their home USACE district to collect school supplies for these kids. Sadly, my district office in Portland was not contacted to donate, I would've like to participate.

We were able to receive a ton of supplies...and money, too. In addition to the supplies we received, we gathered about $1600 to purchase more stuff. Our LNs went shopping for us to get the rest of the supplies that we needed. With the money and donations that we received each boy will get a backpack filled with: several notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers, crayons/colored pencils, puzzles, a few toys, ruler, caligraphy tool and ink wells.

We also collected about 30 lbs of toiletries and candy in case the kids need either of those necessities.

The caligraphy tools are very interesting. They are essentially bamboo-type sticks with the ends cut. The written language here is very artistic and there are subtle nuances with the written letters that can't be conveyed as well with standards pencils and each child gets a few of the caligraphy tools and 2 ink wells.

After filling our quota of school supplies, our LNs spent some of the leftover money on soccer balls, volleyballs, basketballs, and air pumps for the school. You know...all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. In wonder what the Afghan equivalent is for "Jack"...

We were planning on going to the school tomorrow to make our delivery, but our movement was cancelled for some reason. We're hoping that we can do it in a week or so.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


The story behind the video that was posted the other day...
Kristi posted it. We're trying to trouble-shoot how I can view videos that she takes of the boys while I'm gone.

The videos are too big to email so she tried posting them on the blog to see if I could watch them. I can't, it turns out that my computer here doesn't have the necessary plug-in to see the video. If you can view it you'll notice that the boys are learning how to use the monkey bars.

So the "easiest" way for me to see videos of my kids is to have Kristi post them to snapfish where I then login and download them, burn them to a CD, and then bring them to my room to watch them on my personal computer. Such a pain in the butt...but it is better than not being able to see my boys in action.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


"Who wants to hit this bag of Cheetos with me??" I hollered after opening the package I received from my niece and nephew. It is good that they sent 2 bags as there were lots of takers. I hid a bag and kept one for sharing. Some night I just may strap the spare bag to my face and chow down.

A big thanks to H and M for the package...I got some great stuff: coffee, hand sanitizer, peanuts, some great reading material, and some candy. It was very thoughtful.

I actually got 2 packages on the same day. My family send me an Easter box, too. From them I got some homemade granola bars, artwork from the boys, a workout journal, candy, and a big ROCK!

Evidently, Kristi was on a walk with the boys and they were talking about sending me a package. Matt picked up a rock from somebody's yard and send he thought I would like it...he wanted to send it to me. Little does he know that one thing that Afghanistan has excess of is rocks. It is a pretty big rock for a little guy to carry but he carried it 3 blocks home and then picked out some wrapping paper to wrap it before sending it. I guess partway home he got tired and asked Kristi to carry it, but she told him that if he wanted to send it to me he had to carry it all the way home...after a little rest he found some energy reserves and carried it the rest of the way.

Kristi also sent me some KEEN sandals. I hate sandals and swear that it has been over 20 years since I've worn a pair. But, Kristi wants us all to have KEENs when we go on our waterpark I guess I'll give a little on my no sandal thing. I still wear the pants in the family though, even if it is pants with sandals.

Also, awhile ago...after being a crybaby about the crappy coffee here some friends from Portland sent me this wicked coffee press that fits right on top of my coffee cup. Its kind of funny looking but makes a really fine Americano...Thanks T and S!

Other than that, things are pretty boring over here. 500 insurgents escaped from jail the other know, everything is pretty boring...

I've been in the office all day every trips to the field in a while...but Sunday we're going out to make a delivery of stuff we collected to an orphanage...
I'll write more later, I have to go to the gym and work off 700 calories of Cheetos...

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jesus and machine guns...

We had a 6 am Easter church service on the steps of Qalaa House yesterday. We were the most rag-tag bunch of church-goers that I've ever seen.

Some people were dressed in their cammo, others in shorts or jeans, and some we dressed to the nines in the dresses or nice shirts and pants. Also, soldiers that carry weapons as part of their job brought their weapons to church. Having a bunch of people "packing heat" during church added to rag-tagginess.

The pastor was from Cananda so he was a "Padre Something or other" and not "Father". I gotta say, Padre is way better than Father...Canada has the US beat on that front. He said a-boot for about a couple of times...adding to the rag-tag.

We had a church band! It consisted of: a keyboard, 2 guitars, and a saxaphone. I think it is the only quartet in the history of the world with that instrument list.

We also had a gospel choir that performed a song! And a duet sang a song, too.

It was very interesting...but it was nice though. It was really nice that there was a place for anyone that had a gift/talent that they wanted to share.

All in all, it was a nice church service...but I would've rather been home with my family.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

9 weeks and counting

Only 9 weeks until my R&R...

I'm taking 3 weeks off near then end of July to meet my family in MN. I'm pretty excited, I have my flight already booked. Between me going to grad school and those expensive kids, we haven't had much for family vacations in the past.

We're going to take the boys to Wisconsin Dells for a few days. We're staying at Wilderness Resort...the boy's heads will likely explode when they see all the great waterslides and such. I'm really looking forward to this time with my family. I'm excited to teach the boys the Hace Family vacation tradition of ordering pizza and eating it in bed! The only time you ever get to eat pizza in bed is on VACATION!

If you've never had pizza in bed...try it...if eating pizza in bed is wrong, I don't want to be right!

I'm also looking forward to: Valleyfair, MN backyard BBQs, going to Duluth, playing frisbee, trampoline with my kids, niece, and nephew, great outdoor play structures, catching up with my wife, friends, and family. It is going to be a nice family vacation.

Then it is back to the desert for a couple months and then deployment is over...September will be here before I know it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I got an email the other day from one of the local nationals that work here on the compound and his email signature had the following Arabian proverb with it:

"It is not the road ahead that wears you out -- it is the grain of sand in your shoe."

It got me thinking about baggage that I carry around with me: people I've wronged and never forgiven myself for...people that have done the same to me...arguments that I've had with that I replay over and over again trying to find a different end result...

We all have instances where we've been hurt, or have hurt others...I think it is important to learn from those instances, but I think it is a totally different thing to carry those events as baggage, weighing us down...

I'm writing this mostly for myself, to remind me that when I get back I want to have used this time to figure some things out for myself...about myself...about who I want to be going forward: as a dad, husband, coworker, and friend.

There are things that I don't want to change, but then there are other things...

...random thoughts from the other side of the world...

I've been getting some questions about safety lately, maybe I'll cover that next time.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's been awhile...

I logged on today and realized that it has been a few days since my last post...sorry, there just hasn't been anything interesting to report...

I've gotten lots of emails related to must-have music for my nephew, Henry. Thanks everyone, keep the recommendations coming. I think I've decided on a few must-have full CDs and then some mix CDs that have a few songs from lots of artists. I'm working on it and will let you know as I get a little further on the project. I've heard from at least one person who wasted an entire day online going back to listen to music that they hadn't heard in quite some time. Glad I helped some take a walk down memory lane.

Things are up and down here. I went outside the wire again yesterday to go look at a few construction sites: a water treatment plant, water tower, and a new police station. The sites were off the beaten path and the roads to get there were crazy. Potholes were so big they our big Excursion was bottoming out.

The first place we went to see was a water treatment plant that is almost completed. The are having some trouble with the tanks leaking a little so they decided they needed my "expert" opinion. It is laughable that they would ask me, but we did the best we could to help them out so this project can get completed in the next couple of weeks.

They fed us first sampling of Afghan cuisine. We had mountains of wonderful rice, beef stew, fruit and turkish coffee. It was very gracious of them to provide us with such a wonderful lunch.

After lunch we went to look at a water tower that may need a little assistance. I got to climb to the top of this thing. For Corps employees that read this...don't bother asking about EM-385...

This is a water storage tank that is at a rural police station in surburbs of Kabul. There are some concerns about how well this was constructed, so I climbed up to take a look. The tower itself is great, but the tank itself needs some help, I'm not sure what we're going to do about it.

As I've mentioned before, all business happens out of small stalls throughout the country. We passed by an area that appeared to be the main place to get your car fixed near this village; there were about 15-20 little stalls where everyone was working on cars. The craziest part of this was that whenever they needed to work on the underside of the car, they would just move it over to an area where they had dug a pit about 1-2 feet deep. Move the car over the pit, slide down and lay in the bottom of the pit and work on the car. Based on the dry, sandy soil in this country, it is amazing that the sides of the pit don't just cave in.

I'll attache a couple more pictures without much is late, I need a little sleep.

Gas Station

Car Repair Place

House on a Hill

Thursday, April 14, 2011

You can't say that anymore...

When I was a young whipper-snapper and our teacher wanted us to sit on the ground for something, we were always to told to sit "Indian-style".

Since it is not politically-correct to use that term I've tried to tell the boys to sit "cross-legged" but it doesn't roll off the tongue very well.

I sometimes wondered what they say in schools...but last night I found out.

When it was story time last night, the boys told Kristi to sit "criss-cross applesauce". How cute is that.

They also told her that during story time, they sit criss-cross applesauce and they keep their spoons in their bowls...(hands to themselves in their laps). Pretty neat, huh?

Matt also decided he wanted to sent me a package, so he got a box and raided the pantry with stuff he wanted to send me. A few of the items he felt I needed: powdered sugar, minced onion, mac-n-cheese, brown sugar.

The other day he found a big rock that he wanted to wrap up and send. He is a sweet boy, but one thing Afghanistan is not short of is rocks.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Boys...

Kristi has reported that the boys were calling her "Jo' Mamma" the other day. It comes from when I would be home with them and I would see Kristi walking home from the max or I would hear the garage door open and I would tell the boys..."Jo' Mamma is home!"
Kristi had to tell them that they can just call her "Mom"...they can skip the Jo' part.

I miss those boys.

Also, Sam calls bluetooth headsets for wireless phones "chellos". I had mine on one time and he was asking me what it was for...I told him that when someone calls me I press the button on the side and say "Chello!" He'll ask from time to time to try on my chello...funny boy.

Nothing much else to report...pretty uneventful existence in Afghanistan.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

I had a movement yesterday...

I've been waiting for weeks to use that blog title...
A movement is when we go somewhere off base..."outside the wire".

We took a trip to a base for the Afghan National Army that is currently under construction. The drive took about 40 minutes to get there. The vehicle we were in is an "up-armored" Ford Excursion. Up-armored means that it has bulletproof windows and plates in the doors to make them blast proof. The doors are super can really feel it when you try to open the doors.

Here is a picture of me in my full "battle rattle"...standard attire when going for a drive. The vest is not called a flack jacket or a bulletproof vests, but instead is called an IBA...Interceptor Body Armor...probably weights about 25 lbs.

City streets of Kabul are CRAZY. We started out on this wide street that had a dashed center line running down the middle. Being a naive American, I just assumed that maybe the dashed line divided lanes/ lane going in each direction. How stupid. It means nothing. You can drive in either lane going either direction, pretty much as fast as traffic will let you...same goes for walking or riding your bike. You can ride your bike either side of the street, either direction....or in the middle if you like. Also, there are no stoplights or crosswalks in the entire town. It was wild...and very busy. I took some pictures, my apologies for the lack of quality, they were taken from a moving vehicle with my ipod.

Next to every street were these little shops, that had everything: from food to windows, bicycles, tires and welded metal parts. Each shop had something different and they were all packed together. During our drive we went through little districts that had lots of specialized stores. One area had at least 5 shops that made fur coats while other areas had at least 4 welding shops and another area had people making custom windows and doors. Evidently there are certain parts of the city that you go to when you need a specialty item.

As mentioned above, no stoplights. There are lots of roundabouts and then just lots of places where traffic just passes through one another...somehow. As we were passing through these intersections I got to thinking about the circus trick where they have a group of motorcyclists driving around in a steel globe and they all pass within inches of each other...inches from a crash at all times...but just so choreographed that everyone stays relatively safe. That is what driving in Kabul feels like...traffic flows through like organized chaos...somehow.

The city is surrounded by steep rock hillsides and homes are built into/onto these hillsides...hopefully you can see it below. It is amazing...stairs also get cut into the rock and dirt hillside to provide access to homes.

Because so much here is brown and dusty; colors, seem brighter and more vivid than normal. We saw lots of children walking/biking to school. We passed a very large all girls school where all the girls had bright white head scarves. We passed an all boys school, where the boys all wore bright blue button down shirts. Some kids were biking to school...sometimes 3 little kids all on a single bike...sharing the road with us in our up armored vehicle. All the children seemed so happy...laughing and playing, arm in arm with their friends. They live in a 3rd world country and have so little, but they are still happy just playing with their friends. They recognize us as Americans and wave and give us a thumbs up. It feels good to be here. It may feel a little better if we were building more schools than military buildings, but I guess security may need to come first.

Below are some pictures of the former palace. Evidently this palace was destroyed in the civil war that followed the Russians leaving Afghanistan.

Here is a picture of a mosque that we passed. Easily the most beautiful building that we passed...and so large...the picture below only shows a fraction of the property.

In the green zone, all properties are surrounded with hesco barriers (like 4 foot thick sandbag walls) and concrete blast barriers but as we pass gated entrances you can see embassies, hotels, and other buildings with beautiful properties and trees. I would've loved to see this place before the barriers were installed, it must've been a very beautiful place. I feel very lucky to have been given this opportunity to see this part of the world. Even with the brown and the dust, it is a very beautiful place.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Things are nice and boring here in Afghanistan...and I've been thinking about music.

I show up every day plug in my ipod and work the day away with my own little soundtrack playing in the backgroud. After work, I hit the gym and plug in again while I spend some much needed time on the elliptical.

I spoke to my nephew, Henry, the other night. He is always listening to music now and very interested in exploring new music and trying out new stuff. He was asking for recommendations and it got me thinking...

As the good uncle...with time on my hands...I started trying to make a list of the 10 albums that every kid should experience...albums/artists that have no expiration that really has legs and can span generations. Henry has a birthday coming up and I think it would be really amazing to get him music that has roots...history.

It's really difficult to pick 10 albums that span generations that could maybe appeal to kids today...

I immediately considered The White Album by the Beatles. It has has roots, but I don't think it "applies" or appeals to today's young people. Maybe I'll wait until Henry is 17, or older, to get him The White Album...there is a history that goes with the album that I don't think he is really interested in. I think he is exploring music that is fun to listen to, without all the other stuff.

Bob Marley: Legend. There is a good chance Henry's mom would shoot me dead if I got Henry a Bob Marley know, the whole Rastafarian thing. But from a musical experience point of view...Legend is a pretty great album. Lyrics are not is fun...different from the norm...worth experiencing.
Top 10 musical experience albums? Maybe.

When I was younger, Led Zepplin II was an album that really showed me what different music could sound like...what music could be. I think prior to getting this album, the most cutting edge thing I had was Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. No offense to S&G lover's out there...but from a musical experience standpoint...I don't think their album makes the top 10. Back to Zepplin, though. Does it have legs to carry into appeal to younger audiences? I don't know that it does...but I'm not sure. I have it on my computer here, I may have to listen to the whole thing start to finish and see what I think.

Talking Heads...I'll definitely include one of their albums in my top 10 for Henry. Don't try to argue "roots" and "legs" and whether or not they were groundbreaking...I like them...I've liked them for years. One of the few personal musical constants in my life...they make the cut, end of story.

Beck to listen to, different from everything else...really great album from a guy always doing his own thing. My friend Tracey got me listening to Beck so many years ago. I haven't listened to Odelay in awhile, going to have to change that real soon. That could make the list...

Pink Floyd: Learning to Fly?
Nirvana: Unplugged?
Michael Jackson?
Flaming Lips?
Joe Satriani?

So I'm looking for that every kid now needs to experience...
Post here or send them to

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What I do...

People have been asking about what I'm doing over here for work...

I work in the strucural engineering group here at Qalaa House. We review drawings, calculations, plans, etc. for all types of structures to be built around the country. If the designer forgot to consider something in his/her design, we let them know and have them fix it and return it to us before something gets improperly built and someone gets hurt. There are 6 of us. Similarly, all building materials must meet a number of standards for strength and quality, we review all this information before the contractor gets the OK to start building.

Buildings for the ANP (Afghan National Police) are being constructed all over the country so they have police stations, jails, court houses,training facilities, etc in even the remote towns. The idea is that a well-trained, well-equipped police force can keep intimadating forces like Al Qaeda out of areas long after the U.S. leaves. When you consider that Afghanistan didn't have much of a police force or police stations of any kind until about pretty recently...and we need to build them all from is quite a large number of facilities.

Similarly, we are building structures for the ANA (Afghan National Army) so they have bases to store and maintain equipment, train, etc.

Also, we are building compounds for the MOI (Ministry of Interior) so they have a centralized place where the government can continue to manage all aspects of the army, police, immigration, and law and order after we're gone.

There is no shortage of work over here...and there is a limited amount of time for us to review this stuff. Typically, we only have about a day or two to review everything related to a project before we have to get back to the designer with our comments.

The most annoying part of my job is that everything is given to us in the metric system. Stress is in megapascals, MPa, pressure is in kg/, dimensions are in meter and mm. It takes a bit to figure out if their numbers are reasonable or not as I have to convert everything in to English units first.

One really amazing thing that happened the other day is that we awarded a construction project to a woman-owned construction firm...maybe the first in this country's history. There are a number of people here that work in "capacity development"...teaching/empowering people and putting things and people in place so that the work that gets done while we're here can sustain itself after we leave. There are lots of people working in capacity development: Corps of Engineers people as well as lots of aid workers from many countries. Capacity development comes in many forms...I'm definitely not the best person to speak to all that has been done in this area. But, from my understanding, until very recently it was very rare in Afghanistan for businesses to be owned and operated by women...even more rare to have a woman-owned construction firm. But, we awarded the contract and are excited to see what becomes of it. I've been told that this woman has literally risked her life to establish her own buisiness and compete for work.

There are many different opinions regarding whether or not we, the US Govt., should be spending the money, time and energy that we are to help this country. I'm very lucky that I'm not a politician and not part of any of these decisions...I'm just trying to do the very best that I can over here to make sure that structures that get built can withstand many many years of use. The rest is up to others...

Saturday, April 2, 2011


So I've been fielding lots of questions lately about the violence over here and how close it is to my location. First I wanted to say that the guy that chose to burn the Koran is a...I can't even find a word that fits...nope...can't find a word that accurately fits. He gets do do whatever he wants while others pay the price for his is really horrible and thoughtless. As far as where things are happening in relation to me, it is tough to tell as the news reports have conflicting information. We don't get regular briefings about violence in the country so we typically rely on various major news outlets. Evidently there was some violence at Camp Phoenix...this is about a 30 minute drive by car from my location. Additionally, news reports say some pretty rough stuff went down at a UN compound, but I think that was down in Kandahar...further south from Kabul. All of us here have friends who work at bases in and around Kandahar so we're following the news and praying for their safety just like everyone is back home. For us, it is business as usual. We are located in...what feels like...a pretty safe area. We have a great security force here...I'm not going to worry until someone tells me to do otherwise.


Yesterday we went to the bazaar at the ISAF compound. It was a very interesting trip...evidently I have lots of friends here in Afghanistan as every shop keeper addressed me as "my friend, my friend" and invited me into their shop. There were tons of shops at the bazaar. There was no shortage of silk and pashmina scarves and such, but the two main things we saw people trying to buy were: gems and rugs.

We got an education in rugs from a couple of career military guys that had traveled everywhere and knew what they were doing. We learned that silk rugs only get hung on the wall or placed under a table that doesn't get used...they are not daily use rugs.

They also showed us how to tell the difference between machine made rugs and hand made rugs.

Some of the most beautiful were the wool rugs with the silk inlay. The shopkeeper was very gracious and offered hugs and tea to everyone that came buy. For some of the larger hand-made rugs, the bazaar price was upwards of $1,000.

Not sure if the information is accurate or not, but we were told that back in the states you may pay $12-15,000 for the same rug. Not that I'm buying, but they were really beautiful.

Maybe next week, we'll sit for an education on what to look for when buying loose gems and stones...lots of stalls had these for sale.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Unintended message...

I've heard that some may have read in my last post that you joined the military out of high school if you weren't very smart and couldn't do anything else...this was not my intended message, nor is it what I believe.

However, at my school...through guidance couselors and such...the military was not represented as recommended choice for "good" students. Through my time at the Corps, working at Fort Lewis, and deploying to Afghanistan...I have come to realize that the military is chock full of wonderful, smart, caring people...

The article I referenced on msnbc affected me deeply as the "crazed heartless soldier" gets lots of press...while the kind, intelligent soldiers that faithfully stand up for our country get much less.

Ok, short post today...just wanted to clarify any unintended short I have the utmost respect for those that have chosen to serve...