Saturday, July 30, 2011


First things first, here is a picture of the MRAP that was on the compound the other day.

I moved...unfortunately, though, it was not by helicopter. I just got a ride in your run-of-the-mill armored 4-Runner while wearing body armor...just another normal day.

I'm at forward operating base (FOB) Airborne. It is SW of Kabul by about an hour. It is a mountain base, we're at about 8000 feet.

The drive here was pretty crazy. It was a 2 lane road, drive as fast as you want, pass whenever you like. One of the vehicles that is pretty common around here is the old toyota minivan that was a bit boxey...don't remember what it was called. But they are taxis here and everywhere you go, you see about a dozen people crammed in to them. The side doors are always open so they can get some ventilation into the van. We passed one that only had about 5 or 6 people in it, but it did have 2 full-sized goats in the back taking up the extra space.

One of the things that I'll never get used to is the over-whelming poverty here. On the drive yesterday, we were stuck for a bit in a traffic jam and there was a little boy, probably about 11 or 12 years old, walking between the cars with a brush in his hand and a big water jug strapped to his back. He was offering to wash the windows of anyone stuck in traffic. It is sometimes very hard to see. But several times during the drive, I did see kites being flown. Kites were out-lawed under the it was nice to see them being flown.

So for the next month or so, I've been loaned to one of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). Everyone on my team is part of the military, mostly reserves...except for me. I sat in on a daily briefing the other day where we briefed the Colonel on what everyone on the team was working on. This team is focused more on making positive changes in the lives of the local Afghans. They are building bridges that can link communities and economic opportunities. The commander spoke about wanting to connect villages so everyone can have access to the centralized provincial government. He also spoke about doing things to model democracy. One of his ideas is to have some of the different offices hold weekly staff meetings in one of the nearby villages so that Afghans can see what democarcy and open governance can look like.

It is very different here from back in Kabul where our focus was primarily on building things for the Afghan Army and Police. Here it is about bridges, OB/GYN clinics, schools, highways, and governance centers. It is different work and I'm looking forward to having a few weeks here to help in any way that I can. It should be interesting.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Petting Zoo

Today at lunch we are having a petting zoo!

Slightly different from your conventional petting zoo, this is an opportunity for us to get up-close and personal with IEDs (improvised explosive devices). It is a seminar about how IEDs have evolved over the years here in Afghanistan. It also gives us a chance to see what the enemy is using as a means of attacking US soldiers. Should be pretty interesting. I'll take some pictures.

They are bringing in an MRAP for us to check out, too...which should be really cool. MRAP stands for mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle. Here is a picture of a typical MRAP.

It should be one of the more interesting lunchtimes I've had in awhile.

Monday, July 25, 2011

7-weeks to go

The countdown has officially started.

2 things that I wanted to do while I was here is shoot a machine gun and ride in a helicopter. With only 7 weeks to go, the odds weren't looking good. appears that things may be looking up in this area.

I may be heading out for a little while to assist the army with construction assessments at one of our bases in Afghanistan. From what I've been told, everyone that gets to this base...goes by HELICOPTER!

I may get that helicopter ride afterall. I'll keep you posted.

Maybe when I'm there, they'll have some spare machine gun ammo for me to burn. Fingers crossed! Either way, the countdown has started for my flight out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

National Sport

Recently, they started sending out emails to those of us working on our compound that have a Dari word of the day and something about life and culture in Afghanistan. Here was today's, about Afghanistan's national sport.

Afghan 101: Buzkashi (بزکشی)

Buzkashi, meaning "goat-killing" is the Afghan national sport. It is team sport played on horseback where skilled riders grab a goat or calf from the ground while riding a horse at full gallop. The goal of a player is to grab the carcass of a headless goat or calf and then get it clear of the other players and pitch it across a goal line or into a target circle or vat. Competition is typically fierce. Prior to the establishment of official rules by the Afghan Olympic Federation the sport was mainly conducted based upon rules such as not whipping a fellow rider intentionally or deliberately knocking him off his horse. Riders usually wear heavy clothing and head protection to protect themselves against other players' whips and boots. The boots usually have high heels that locks into the paddle of the horse to help the rider lean on the side of the horse while trying to pickup the calf. Games can last for several days, and the winning team receives a prize, not necessarily money, as a reward for their win.

The game consists of two main forms: Tudabarai and Qarajai. Tudabarai is considered to be the simpler form of the game. In this version, the goal is simply to grab the calf and move in any direction until clear of the other players. In Qarajai, players must carry the carcass around a flag or marker at one end of the field, then throw it into a scoring circle (the "Circle of Justice") at the other end. The riders will carry a whip, often in their teeth, to fend off opposing horses and riders. Horsemen are frequently carried away and in their excitement they will bump, hit and jar opponents. When they return, they are usually bruised or have a broken limb. Sometimes, they choose a site for pitch near a river and a few horsemen conspire to drown their opponents. The Afghans play for very high stakes and take the game very seriously. It is not uncommon for riders to continue in the game with cracked ribs, broken limbs and various head injuries

Buzkashi is often compared to polo. Both games are played between people on horseback, both involve propelling an object toward a goal, and both get fairly rough. However, polo is played with a ball, while Buzkashi is played with a dead animal. Polo matches are played for fixed periods totaling about an hour; traditional Buzkashi may continue for days, but in its more regulated tournament version also has a limited match time.

Buzkashi continues until a team is announced the winner. At the end of the game, a horse race is arranged which is known as 'paiga' . Horses used in paiga races are different from those meant for Buzkashi. Younger boys are not allowed to participate in such races because race horses are not saddled. Some ride their mounts bare-back and others use a thin saddle blanket.

Pretty interesting, huh? I'm starting a league when I get back to Portland.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I'm Back!

I'm back in Afghanistan...but I'm in a great mood!

I have less than 60 days until my deployment is over. It is a great feeling. I know it is getting close because I already have to start filling out paperwork to leave. There is light at the end of this tunnel!

I got back from R&R a few days ago. This time, adjusting to the 12 hour time change was a little bit rough. I had a couple of sleepless nights. Finally, the other night I popped a few Benadryl before bed and was out for the count...all night long.

One weird thing, I went on R&R as a 36 year old and came back as a 62 year old. I have to get up to pee at least once every night! It is really annoying.

R&R was great! We had a wonderful time in MN and WI. I can honestly say, I hardly thought about Afghanistan. It was very relaxing. We swam almost every day and had a great time seeing family and friends. I cannot imagine a better way to spend a was really wonderful.

But, I'm back in the promised land for just a couple more months. What I've been promised is mountains of work, heat, and sub-par food.

But, nothing could sour my mood today...I'm planning a backpacking trip for me and the boys for a few days when I get back. I'm pretty excited to be done.