Thursday, 27 December 2007

FOB Lagman

Well, I've finally arrived at FOB Lagman. Like most FOBs here in Afghanistan, it's named for a fallen hero, in this case, Army Staff Sergeant Anthony S. Lagman, who was killed March 18, 2004.
To read more about SSG Lagman, and any of our other fallen heroes, check out this link:

FOB Lagman is not much to look at. It's like a refugee camp with a really big landing zone for helicopters.
I've been to several places in Afghanistan in the past two weeks; Salerno, BAF, KAF, FOB Apache and now FOB Lagman. It's important to note that we have Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines living all over Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and other less known places. These service men and women live in a variety of conditions, from luxurious to primitive and everywhere in between.

For some of us the decision is what dining facility to choose for this meal; European, North American or local national quisine.
For some of us the decision is warm shower, or another meal in the (one) dining facility. You can't have both because hot water runs out quickly, right around chow time, so you can get one or the other.

Amazingly, a Soldier's happiness with the deployment is not dependent upon which of the two extremes he or she has for living conditions. Some are perfectly happy at the austere locations, while others are miserable in a luxurious location. The difference between happiness and misery is much more dependent upon the job, the chain of command and the working conditions. I've seen happiness and misery at both locations, and I've personally been happy at Salerno and now Lagman, because at both locations I've had a job I enjoyed and good people to work with.
DFAC named for PFC Mykel F. Miller
Killed in Action September 6, 2007

Christmas decorations at the DFAC, FOB Lagman, Afghanistan

Fireplace (fake) and hearth in the DFAC

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all!

And a Happy New Year.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Luke 2:14

Let us pray for peace on earth...

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas in Kandahar

Christmas in Kandahar

Well, it’s not quite the trenches of WWI, or the Battle of the Bulge, but Christmas in Kandahar is special in its own way.

In a previous blog I noted that holidays are not the same when you are deployed, and that is true. Some holidays are even more special, more meaningful, when you are deployed, especially to a war zone. Christmas must be the biggest, and the hardest, holiday to spend deployed. There is nothing like Christmas with family and friends, but as you can see we do have our deployed family and our deployed friends to lean on during this time of year.

Tonight at the Christmas Eve service the chaplain talked about Peace on Earth, and how far away it seems in this place. Yesterday we spent an hour in the bunkers during a rocket attack. Tonight we’ve got three patients in the operating room, injured while the tried to emplace an IED. Sometimes it seems peace has forgotten Afghanistan, and some other places as well. I guess the best we can do, the place we can start, is finding peace in our own hearts.

I will be spending Christmas Day at the flight line and passenger terminal, welcoming a new contingent of Jordanian Army forces, then flying with them out to Camp Eagle, a remote ANA/Jordanian camp in southern Afghanistan. I will miss the traditional Christmas dinner, but I will have a traditional Jordanian/Arab feast to welcome the new Jordanian commander. I don’t think we will have turkey, but I’m sure there will be goat, rice, yogurt and fruit, among other things.

For anyone who is wondering, I was not fired from my other job. I was always scheduled to come down to Kandahar and Qalat after my unit finished it’s mission at FOB Salerno. For a number of reasons I was needed here earlier than expected, so I departed FOB Salerno on short notice and arrived here at KAF on 17 Dec. Now, with the arrival of the new Jordanian forces I will move to FOB Lagman, near Qalat, Afghanistan to assume duties as the liaison officer for the Jordanian Field Hospital.

I will be incommunicado for almost a week, while I am travelling to some places without internet access. Once I’ve settled again I’ll let you know where I am and how the mission went, and how the traditional arab dinner went as well!

Until later.

Phillips, out.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


Well, I've arrived at Kandahar Airflield.

This blog was never meant to be a "this is my life" blog. I originally concieved of it as just a good way to keep my family informed of my adventures in Afghanistan. I never thought anyone outside my immediate family would ever read this blog. But, since it is read by so many now it has become a way for me to share one Soldier's experience in Operation Enduring Freedom. And, in keeping with that objective, my last post and the next few posts will describe how quickly things can change during a deployment and the wide variety of living and working conditions one can experience throughout Afghanistan.

On 12 December I was at FOB Salerno, happy and content with my life and my mission, when I received an order to "get to KAF as soon as possible". Well, as soon as possible is not always very soon in Afghanistan. On 16 Dec I finally got a flight to BAF and after about 36 frustrating hours I got another flight to KAF on 17 Dec.

On the C-17 to KAF.

I'm now at Kandahar Airfield (KAF, in OEF-speak). It's bigger that FOB Salerno, but much smaller than BAF. And it's got character....

The building we use for a passenger terminal is knows as the TLS building, which stands for Taliban Last Stand. Rumor has it that this is the building where, obviously, the Taliban held their last stand before the fall of their regime in the opening months of Operations Enduring Freedom. Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban, and still a very unfriendly place for Coaltion Forces.

Tomorrow (19 Dec) I move out of KAF to FOB Laghman, where I will be working with a Jordanian Army Field Hospital which is in Afghanistan to teach and train and mentor Afghan providers at one of the provincial hospitals. My day-to-day activities will be in and around the capital of Zabul Province.

KAF is a multi-national FOB, with forces from Canada, Romania, the Netherlands, the US and several other nations. It's a great experience and a real adventure.
Land Rover Defenders wherever you look!

Since I'm on the move I'm using computers at the MWR, so I've got limited time to post to my blog. I'll update it as time permits. For now, let me just say that one's experiences in Afghanistan depend a great deal on where and when one serves. KAF today is not what it was in 2002, nor what it will a few years from now. BAF, KAF and SAL are all FOBs, but all very different places.

My time on the MWR computer is up. I'll post more later.

On thing I've noticed, on all the FOBs I visit, there is no shortage of memorials to fallen heroes.

Phillips, out.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Change of Mission

Be careful what you ask for....

About a week ago I changed my status on my Facebook account to "ready for a change of mission".
Little did I know how close I was to exactly that!

It's been the plan for some time now that after I finished my command at the Salerno Hospital I would move too Qalat, Afghanistan to serve as a liaison to the Jordanian Field Hospital. I was planning to do that on or about 3 January 2008. Well, late on 12 December I got a call from my boss, "I need you in Qalat on 14 Dec!" For anyone who has served here, getting from point A to point B is rarely easy, and never quick.

So, after a whirlwind 3 days getting my personal and professional affairs in order I departed from FOB Salerno on 16 December, heading to Bagram to catch a flight to Kandahar to catch another flight to Qalat. But, Bagram is always backed up with personnel trying to get to places throughout Afghanistan, and at this time of year the mail has priority over most passengers, so everyone can get their Christmas packages on time! So, here I sit in Bagram, waiting for a flight...

I'll keep up the blog from Qalat, and I'll see if there is someone who will keep up the blog for the Salerno Hospital from FOB Salerno.

I'll post more when I get settled, in Kandahar or Qalat, or wherever the next mission takes me.

Phillips, out.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Salerno Hospital in the News

For those who are interested, the Salerno Hospital has been in the news recently.

The Christian Science Monitor did a story about our Chaplain, CPT Kurt Bishop. He's assigned to Task Force Desert Hawk, the Aviation Task Force from the Arizona National Guard. He has also adopted the hospital, voluntarily, I might add.

Also, CNN did a story about the training program we have of Afghan doctors. They interviewed members of my staff, both US and Afghan.

Here are the links to both stories:

And don't worry, I'm still working to add pictures to the Holiday post. My internet connection is intermittent, so adding pictures is an exercise in patience; yours and mine!

Phillips, out.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Deployed Holidays

There’s something bitter-sweet about holidays when you are deployed.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas is just around the corner. Holiday lights and Christmas trees decorate the hospital and offices and hootches, alongside weapons and body armor, patients, medical equipment and supplies.

Thanksgiving on FOB Salerno was just like any other day, except for the meal. The Dining Facility went all-out, and did a great job. The lines were long for turkey, roast beef, stuffing, candied yams, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, ice cream, coffee, tea, soda or water. But before and after, there was still work to do. The patients still come, holiday or not, and for a hospital the mission never stops.

Now, the decorations are popping up all around the FOB (but no outside lights on FOB Salerno!) and Christmas music is heard wherever you go. Naturally, everyone begins to think of home and family and all they are missing while they are away. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas with our deployed family, we think about our families back home.

For the Soldiers of the 396th Combat Support Hospital, our time in Afghanistan is drawing to a close. Since most of the 396th CSH Soldiers will be home soon after Christmas, many are planning a late Christmas celebration. At home the trees will stay up and many of the presents will remain unopened until their Soldier returns home, and then the celebration will make up for all the holidays missed over the last year!

When I was deployed to Iraq in 2003 my family and I celebrated Christmas together over Thanksgiving weekend while I was home on R&R leave, then again separately in December. Since I’m not coming home from Afghanistan until April, and my R&R leave was in October, this Christmas will be subdued for me and for my family back home as we celebrate anther holiday apart.

I think a little austerity at Christmas is good; it makes me thankful for all I have. While the Christmas carols play in the emergency room, singing of peace on earth, we treat patients with gunshot wounds and blast injuries from IED and RPGs. While we shop and send home gifts for our children, we think of the many Afghan children we treat; the amputees, the orphans, the sick, the malnourished, the scared and lonely and hopeless. While we line up for Christmas dinner, we think of those children who go to bed hungry every night, and the parents who worry about them and their future. Yes, a little austerity is good.

And we end the holidays with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Traditionally, these days for looking back to reflect upon all we have accomplished in the last year, and looking forward to all we can expect in the year to come. For us, we will look back and reflect on all we have accomplished; the patients treated, the friendships made, fears overcome and the loneliness endured. And we will look forward to the year to come, and pray for peace on earth so our sons and daughters and friends and relatives do not have to leave home and family to fight in foreign lands. The realists among us will say this is just a dream, but it’s a dream that we dare not let die, for if we stop dreaming of peace we must resign ourselves to continual war. Afghanistan is truly a place were you can see firsthand the consequences of war, continual and violent and unpredictable. It is impossible for anything to flourish in the poisoned soil of war and violence and death.

Progress requires peace and safety and security.

Well, that’s probably enough philosophy for one blog entry. I don’t write often enough, but I write whenever I feel I have something to say.

Thank you for reading, thank you for caring and thank you for praying of me and my Soldiers and Airmen and patients.

And don't worry, pictures will be added shortly.

Phillips, out.

(pictures now added!)

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

R&R Leave

I’ve been terribly remiss in posting. Let me get back on track and tell you about my R&R (Rest and Recuperation) Leave.

All service members deployed for 12 months or more are entitled to R&R leave, more correctly titled Environmental and Morale Leave (EML). If you’re deployed for 12 months you get 15 days leave; if you are deployed for 15 months you get 18 days of leave. I’m deployed for 15 months, so I got 18 glorious days of R&R leave with my beautiful wife, Joyce.

R&R leave sounds simple, but the logistics of moving a few hundred thousand Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines out of country to their desired leave location and getting them back again is extensive and amazing. To illustrate, I’ll tell you about my trip to and from Germany.

First, I had to get from FOB Salerno to Bagram Airbase (BAF), which for me required a STOL flight-- a CASA 212, which carries passengers and mail around Afghanistan. In order to catch your flight on time you need to leave a few days early. Wait too long, and weather or maintenance can delay your flight, causing you to miss your flight out of BAF.

Once at BAF you wait around a few days in the Transient Billeting. For some, that means staying in a big fest tent with a hundred of your closest friends. For me, I was fortunate enough to score “VIP” quarters, basically a metal container with two or three other officers.

From BAF we all go to Kuwait, to an Airbase where they sort everyone out based on final destination. For me this flight was on a USAF C-17, a workhorse cargo aircraft.

The process in Kuwait is amazingly efficient,
considering the number of troops flowing through
every day. The average stay in Kuwait is less than 24 hours. At the airbase
there are hundreds of tents across acres and acres of desert, another chance to share a tent with 20 of your closest friends. For me, another VIP tent with only 12 instead of 20!

Most Soldiers go home to the US, but they’ve been known to go all over the world: Europe, Australia, Japan, almost anywhere you can imagine. For me, going to Germany, I took a commercial flight to Frankfurt Airport.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of going from the combat zone to the “real world”, from an austere FOB in Afghanistan to the land of plenty. Actually, the process of getting from the FOB to your leave destination is therapeutic-- a chance to decompress and relax with fellow Soldiers before you get home with “civilians”.

The 18 days in Germany were some of the best days I’ve ever had. Coming from Afghanistan, everything was better; the food, the wine, the beer, the city of Heidelberg, Germany, everything. Every day was a holiday, a perfect day. We slept and hiked and ate and drank (but not to excess!) and just enjoyed ourselves, just enjoyed being together after almost 10 months apart.

For the first week we stayed in Dilsberg, a small village outside of Heidelberg.

We hiked to another of our favorite villages,

Neckar-Steinach, the village of four castles.

For the second week we stayed with friends in Nussloch, a village south of Heidelberg. In Heidelberg we visited the castle, of course. And the weather that day was beautiful.

One day Joyce and I hiked up the Heilegenberg, to the ruins of an ancient monastery and along the famous Philosopher’s Way. It was a beautiful day, and a wonderful hike.

Hiking was lovely, but dining in Heidelberg, on the Hauptstrasse, with Joyce, was a nice way to end any day.

One of our last trips took us by train to a wonderful walled city, Bad Wimpfen. It is one of the prettiest villages in Germany.

As I said, every day in Germany was a wonderful, perfect day. Just being with Joyce, just being away from the daily grind of the war, was incredible.

But even wonderful, incredible vacations have to end.

The trip back is just a reverse of the trip out. The leave is chargeable, not free leave. Thankfully, the leave does not start until you arrive at your destination and it ends as soon as you arrive back at the airport for your return flight.

For me, the return took me from Frankfurt back to Kuwait on Lufthansa, then back to Bagram Airbase on a C-17 and finally back to FOB Salerno, Afghanistan on a CASA 212. And that’s it, that’s the process of R&R leave from Afghanistan.

And in the next blog, I’ll write about what it’s like to come back to the FOB, to the war, after R&R. I promise not to wait too long for the next post.

Phillips, out.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

I'm Back!

Contrary to popular opinion, I am alive and well at FOB Salerno, Afghanistan. I have not been in an "undisclosed location" with the Vice President, I've been on R&R leave in Germany with my lovely wife. I'll post again soon, with some thoughts on R&R, travel in Theater and a look forward to the next few months on FOB Salerno.

While I was gone I invited some of my co-workers to blog on my behalf. I thought you might enjoy hearing another perspective on life at FOB Salerno. I want to thank my guest bloggers; 1SG Child, MSgt Baker, SFC Fields, SSgt Webbs, and SSgt Morris. We are truly blessed with a wonderful team of healthcare professionals at the Salerno Hospital and I think you will all agree.

Thank you so much for your continued support and encouragement.

May God bless you all.

Phillips, Out.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Halloween at Salerno Hospital

Before I fold my tent, and . . . well, you know the rest !

Thanks Sergeants it's been fun. Hi Mike !

They are a great bunch of people. I've had a lot of fun, and hope you have enjoyed meeting some more of the wonderful warriors of Salerno Hospital. They continue to inspire LTC Phillips.

Just to put the rumors to rest . . . I've become involved with a good looking young surgeon, and what can I say. He's sweeping me off my feet. It may take a while to work him out of my life, so I'm folding my tent for now . . .
Gratitude and Prayers,

It's all treats at Salerno Hospital . . .

I decided not to put any names with these pictures
(TOP has the address to use for all the promised payola)

Okay, Brien, you can let LTC back in, now. Party, what party?