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Sunday, February 27

I recently helped the Afghan Ministry of Defense handle media for a ceremony marking the donation of approximately 50 trucks from India to Afghanistan. Part of the mission of the Office of Military Cooperation, where I'm working right now, is to solicit and process donations of military equipment, training, and supplies from the international community for the Afghan National Army. India has donated well 100-200 other trucks previously, plus other equipment. They are also helping the Afghan government in other ways. Other big doner countries are of course the U.S.A., and several eastern european countries that use former soviet style equipment. One of the keys to outfitting the ANA is building an army they can afford to sustain long term. The soviet style equipment is much more affordable and less expensive to maintain.

Here I am in front of the formation of Soldiers at the ceremony and line of new Indian trucks.


Here's a line of the trucks along the side of the ceremony, which was held in a motor pool in a corner of the Presidential compound. They had a Soldier standing in the turret hole where a machine gun would be mounted for the truck/convoy's defense.


The trucks are a brand called Tata. Here are Afghans that were trained by Tata on how to maintain the trucks.


Here's the signing of the transfer of ownership documents involving an Indian official (Indian military attache, General Nair standing in colorfully decorated camo uniform), OMC-A official (in desert camo), and Afghan official (sitting in civilian clothes). There were several speeches including one from the Indian Minister of Foreign Offairs-- like our Secretary of State.


Minister of Defense Wardak, silver hair and black overcoat, surrounded by media after the ceremony answering questions. Min. Wardak was a big mujahadeen leader fighting against the Russians. I'm told he later lived in the U.S. and tought university. He is educated, intelligent, well articulated, and projects a feeling of power and prestige.

Thursday, February 17

I was just writing some friends in response to an electronic Birthday Card they sent me and thought I'd thank all of you publicly on my Blog.

It's been wonderful to hear from you throughout my deployment and particularly on my birthday. What's a birthday like in Afghanistan, you might ask? Well. It's starts at about 6 a.m., you get a cold shave and get dressed in the dark so you don't wake up your roommates. Then you breeze through the chow hall to grab some orange juice, cereal, and milk to eat while you check email in the office. At seven you head out to the Afghan Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC) to fire your weapon on a freezing cold range. Nevertheless, it's always fun to launch bullets down range. After you get back to the office and check in with your coworkers you change into PT clothes and go to the gym. You run on a treadmill for about 45 minutes and then lift some weights. Then you head back to your room and take a shower (hurray-- there was warm water for your birthday shower!). Then you go to the chow hall and eat Cajun meatloaf, chicken nuggets, pork and beans, and some radishes. After chow you walk back to the office to push some public affairs projects along, and feel really good and refreshed about your workout, warm shower, and the sunny but crisp weather. A card from your coworkers is sitting on your desk and they say they're going to buy you a cup of coffee later in the afternoon. My fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines here are wonderful people and make the year pass easier. So does the support of friends and family back home. We didn't get any mail for over two weeks because of the bad weather, but it started flowing two days ago and I have received over 25 birthday cards! Thanks a million.

Sincerely,

Rick

Tuesday, February 15

I'm currently working on a story about the first computer training ever to be given to Afghan National Army Soldiers. Basically, the Coalition's Office of Military Cooperation is setting up computers and networks at all the ANA's Regional Command Headquarters and have a short contract with a company to maintain them. The ANA Soldiers receiving the training will go out to the field to take over maintenance of the networks and PCs when the contract runs out. I'll share the article once completed. As a teaser, here's a photo of Kabul University's Cisco computer lab. Yes, this is it. Nothing fancy, but the University and ANA are starting from ground zero in building their computer science departments and are dependent on donations for their resources. This lab was donated by Cisco and a faculty member was trained by Cisco in Pakistan. What you can't see is about six PC's that are part of the lab's network. They also have a computer classroom with about 50 PC's provided by the U.S. through the Afghan Ministry of Defense.

Saturday, February 12

Recently the first 'Plebe' class of Afghanistan's new National Military Academy reported in for basic training. This is Afghanistan's equivalent to West Point. My office went there to write a story about it and shoot some video for future use in a story about the Academy. Here's the story that LTC M. ended up writing. It was published in the Pakistan Tribune as well as a number of military related publications and websites.

KABUL, Afghanistan—On a snowy day in February, Afghanistan’s first class of cadets took their place in history and reported for duty at the new National Military Academy Afghanistan.
The Academy is located on the grounds of a former flight technology school in Kabul.
Modeled after West Point, the Academy is a four-year, degree-granting institution that will commission 2nd lieutenants for the Afghan National Army.
Cadets will earn an engineering degree with an emphasis on civil, mechanical, systems or electrical engineering.
They will incur a 25-year service commitment upon graduation.
Assistant Minister for Personnel and Education Homayun Fawzi welcomed the first class, telling them to “be proud of their enlistment in this Academy.”
Planning for the academy began more than a year ago, when then-Office of Military Cooperation - Afghanistan Chief Army Maj. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry and senior Afghan Ministry of Defense leaders decided to establish an academy that would be the “crown jewel” of Afghan education.
Military Academy Study Team Chief Col. Barney Forsythe, OMC-A, and Maj. Gen. Mohammad Juma Nassar, MOD General Staff Working Group Director, submitted their initial plan for the Academy to the MOD and Chief, OMC-A in November 2003.
West Point deans and department heads then began the planning process, deploying to Afghanistan for several months at a time to write policy, develop admission standards and determine the curriculum. They completed all steps hand in hand with their MOD counterparts, to ensure programs were adapted to meet Afghan standards and culture.
Said Academy Superintendent Maj. Gen. Mohammed Sharif, “Our environments (U.S. and Afghan) are different. Planners considered all cultural aspects and did not impose anything on us. While the academy will be similar to West Point,” said Sharif, “It will not be the same.”
The MOD identified 1,023 potential professors with the necessary advanced degrees. OMC-A Academy Team Chief Col. James Wilhite and West Point faculty and OMC-A members Col. Ray Winkle, Col. Gary Krahn and Dr. Larry Butler winnowed the list, selecting 200 candidates with special criteria for teaching everything from world history to physics to chemistry to psychology.
The team eventually hired 30 professors to form the academic faculty.
By the end of November 2004, 353 cadet candidates had completed the competitive entrance exam. The MOD, in conjunction with OMC-A staff, then conducted personal interviews and selected the top 120 young men to join the first class.
Future classes will have between 250 to 300 students each, and upperclassmen will take on leadership rules in guiding the underclassmen.
Said Sharif of the Academy, “It represents all the ethnicities of this country.”
The curriculum focuses on engineering because, “Our country is war struck and devastated,” said Sharif. “We are in the process of rehabilitating it. We need more engineers because we need reconstruction.”
Cadets, who are between the ages of 18 and 23, will earn $80 a month as well as receive free books, supplies, housing and food, in addition to their education.
After seven weeks of basic combat training, graduates will begin their academic studies. In addition to their engineering curriculum, they will study military leadership, ethics and psychology, among other topics.
“Our objective is to make a very strong and reliable army for Afghanistan,” said 1st Lt. Abdul Haq, 2nd Platoon Leader and a military instructor at the Academy. “It should be accepted by all people. I was waiting to see the wars ended and see people take part in educational programs.
“I am thankful for your (U.S.) part in helping,” said Haq.
Sixteen officers and noncommissioned officers are staffing cadet basic training. Eight of them will remain on site during the academic year.
Platoon sergeant Sgt. 1st. Class Asadullah Nawabi echoed Haq’s sentiments, saying “I would like to thank the U.S. military in helping us get things done.” He was looking forward to teaching the cadets.
Some cadets had spent a lifetime planning for this day. Said Abdul Saboor from Baghlan Province, “Ever since I was a child I wanted to join the army. I left Kabul University and changed my major to come here.”
Top scorer on the entrance exam was Jamshiud Dehzad of Laghman Province. Top graduate of Shaheed Mohammed Arif High School in Jalalabad, Dehzad said he was not only happy to be there, but “proud.”
“We came to do our best to make our country successful,” said cadet Abudul Ghafar from Mazar-e-Sharif of his attendance at the school.
“It is my country,” said Platoon Sergeant Sgt. 1st. Class Ghazi Ahmad of Paktia Province as if puzzled by the question about why he would serve at the Academy.
If he did not serve his country, then who would?
U.S. Army Corps of Engineer personnel prowled the campus on opening day, completing punch lists of work to be done and fine-tuning adjustments to the heat and lighting. “We want to make sure our contractors understand the needs,” said Mike Rosales.
As old as the army are complaints about the food. What did the new cadets think of theirs?
“The food is great right now,” said Abdul Qodos of Paktia Province, “But I don’t know about the future.”
The future is bright for Afghanistan, and for these young men who have stood up to be counted and to take their place in history.

Here is a photo looking out over the 'quad' from a second story window at one of the buildings being renovated for the academy.

This is a new cadet signing in.

This is one of the classrooms. As they signed in, they were sent to the classrooms to wait. The desks kind of reminded me of the ones on Little House on the Prairie. The students come from all ethnic groups and walks of life around the country.

This is LTC M. and our interpreter interviewing an Afghan Soldier about the start of the academy.

Reps from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers go over plans with the contractor and conduct a post-construction inspection in one of the academy barracks.

The academy dining facility and a table of new 'plebes'. They haven't received uniforms yet, nor any training.

Me eating with an Afghan Soldier. It was a dish Afghans eat every day for lunch called Kabali. I'm not sure if the spelling is correct. It's flat bread, rice with raisins and some veggies, with a side of chicken or a hunk of meat. They also drink Chai tea and have plenty of nice fruit for desert.

Here are some photo's of a group of women hired to clean the windows of a newly renovated portion of the academy dining facility.

This one was very shy and turned away every time we tried to take a picture of her. This shot was taken with a telephoto lense from close to 80 feet away.


Afghans working construction at the academy 'take 5' and try to stay warm.

Sunday, February 6

More snow! It seems to snow every day here. The Afghans say this is the most snow they've gotten in over 40 years.

You may have heard about the recent Kam Air plane crash near Kabul. The plane was waved away from the airport here because of the snowy conditions and crashed nearby. Again, because of the weather locating the plane took longer than you would expect. Since Kabul is surrounded by mountains, the plane went down in very rugged territory. The Government of Afghanistan deployed the National Army to secure the site and assist with recovery operations. We helped the ANA setup a media information center colocated with their operations center near the crash site. Here's a photo of ANA Soldiers in garrison marching towards the trucks that will take them to the site.


Here is a photo out the wind shield as we headed toward the ANA garrison. This is close to the embassies, so the roads are a little nicer.


These are some friendly Afghans riding in the back of a truck. I think they were getting muddy water sprayed all over them.


Here's a snowman that children sculpted right at the side of the highway.

Friday, February 4

We've been getting a lot of snow this winter. The locals tell me that it's colder and we're getting more snow than they have gotten in over ten years. Last night we got another foot of snow. The weekly bazaar has been cancelled four weeks in a row because of the snow, so those who have put in orders through me for stuff are going to have to wait a little longer!

Our buildings have no insulation other than what is inherent in the brick and cement they are made out of. The windows are single pane and the doors and windows do not fit well, so there are plenty of drafts. The buildings are heated with electric space heaters that can hardly keep up in this cold spell-- nearly zero most days. There are no heaters in the bathrooms and a short supply of hot water. If we're lucky we get a luke warm shower, even then as cold as the bathroom is you can see steam come off your body and you can see your own breath. Despite all this, we feel very fortunate compared to many of the other Soldiers that are out on guard/gate duty for eight hours straight in this weather, and compared to Soldiers patrolling out in the boonies.

Recently the Afghan National Army received a donation of ammunition from an east European country. The Office of Military Cooperation facilitates the international donation process for the Afghan National Army. Here's a photo of the Russian made plane it came in on.


Here are some Afghan workers unloading the ammunition.


I don't know if you can see how worn out some of the airplane tires are in this photo, but I can see a couple where the tread has worn through a few layers of rubber. When the Soldier in the photo asked the plane crew about it they said it was fine-- that the tires have seven layers of rubber!

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