Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Week 19--Progress

Well, progess continues on the hospital. Some major milestones were passed in the last few days. The hospital in now tied in to the main water lines for the FOB.

Later it will be tied in to Prime Power. No generators, except for backup power. Ah, the luxuries of progress.

One day we will be providing healthcare in a clean, dust-free environment. With no leaks and no puddles when it rains.

And the basic plumbing is in place.

One day we will have indoor plumbing. No more walking outside in the rain to go to the bathroom! What a luxury.

And the foundations are being poured.

And as you can see, the foundations and the plumbing are interconnected. We had a quick meeting before the plumbing lines were laid and the foundations were poured to ensure we had sinks and toilets in all the right places. It gives new meaning to the phrase, "locked in concrete"!

Other construction projects on the FOB are also ongoing. The true meaning of our "Brick and Mortar" buildings was revealed in one look at a ongoing project.

"Brick and Mortar" acccurately describes the buildings in which we live. As I said in a previous post, all this work is done by hand. It's interesting to watch. It still reminds me of the area at the County Fair where they show you how they did things "back in the old days".

I guess we're going to be here for a while. All over the FOB improvements are being made. One day we may even have paved roads! And indoor plumbing in our living quarters! And peace in Afghanistan! Okay, maybe I'm just dreaming, but dreaming is okay. It's what keeps you going when you are here for twelve months, or fifteen, or more.

On days like today, when the sun is shining and the work is at a reasonable level, I love being here. On other days, the sun does not shine and the work is more difficult, and I feel differently. Of course, it really doesn't matter how I feel, the work goes on, the patients arrive and depart and the days tick by one after another. It's way too early to start counting the days until I go home, so for now home remains a theoretical concept to be pondered and debated, but not anticipated. Not yet.

Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting the troops and the families, wherever you find them.

Phillips Out.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Week 18--And the Beat Goes On....

Well, unless the war ends soon it looks like it will be a long summer. There appears to be no shortage of sick and injured in this part of Afghanistan. The days are long, but morale at the hospital is high. Even with everything that is going on, it is hard to blog every week. By the time I subtract anything that would violate Operational Security (OPSEC) and anything that would violate someone's privacy (my own rule) and anything the Army would consider detrimental to good order and discipline (so they don't shut down my blog) sometimes I'm not left with much to say!

But I can always write about life on the FOB, or occasionally off the FOB. This week I was off the FOB on a mission, so I took a few pictures.
I'm always amazed at how difficult life is in this part of Afghanistan, and how resilient these people are.

With the roads around here, four wheeling is an important skill.

But in contrast to the obvious poverty, there are signs of increasing prosperity.

And wherever you go, kids will be kids.

With gas prices so high at home, I always wonder how much they pay for gas here. I do know that their gas stations don't offer many amenities.

And even here, you encouter traffic jams!

And at the end of the trip, it's nice to find a paved road to take you home.

With respect to life on the FOB, one question I am often asked is, "How is your life different?" Well, it would probably be easier to list the things that are the same. But here is a partial list of things that are different for me here:

I wear a uniform all day, every day. No civilian clothes allowed.
If I get to wear my physical training uniform (PTs) for a day I consider that a day off!
I carry my weapon with me everywhere I go. And I keep it clean and ready for use.
I live in a bunker, and there is a reason why!
When it's time to eat, I've got to walk about 1/2 a mile, one way.
When I want to take a shower, I walk about 100 meters to the shower trailer.
To go to the bathroom I walk about 20 meters to the latrine trailer.
I live and work with the same people, day after day after day.
The patients keep coming, day after day after day.
My office has no indoor plumbing.
The hospital has limited indoor plumbing.
I live in a bay with five other men. We each have our own space, separated by wooden partions and wall lockers and curtains.
My duty day lasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Despite the list above, I enjoy being here. Working with the Soldiers and Airmen in the hospital is very satisfying. The work we do, the lives we save and change for the better, makes the separation and danger worthwhile. When my time here is done I'll be ready to go home, but I will miss this place and this job and these people.

Thanks for your support and prayers and comments. God bless you all.

Phillips out.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Week 17--The Summer Heats Up

Well, the summer is definately heating up here in Khowst Province, Afghanistan. Our temperatures have been in the 90's, except when the thunderstorms roll through.
We had a big thunderstorm with lightening and hail last week. The hospital survived without any major damage, but a few Soldiers received minor scratches from grape-sized hailstones.

Here's a view from my room, as I cowered in the safety of my "brick and mortar" hootch. It's not very clear, but the storm hit as night fell, and I wasn't willing to go out into the storm to get a better picture!

I felt sorry for those who still live in tents! No injuries were reported, but the next day you could see blue sky through the numerous holes in some tents.

The activity here is heating up also. Check out the following websites to see what's really happening here:

I find more stories about Afghanistan on other news sites besides CNN and FOX News.
It's interesting to be here and see an event first-hand, then read about it online and note the differences in the stories. I noticed the same thing during my time in Iraq. Of course, even participants in the same event have different recollections of that event, so I guess it's not surprising that different news outlets portray the same event differently.

While I'm here I try not to think too much about what I'll do when I get home, at least not yet. That's just too far away at this point. However, I did work with a British unit the other day and I got to ride in a Land Rover Defender again. I didn't get a picture, but I pulled this picture off the web. Of course, I have no logical reason for my affinity for Land Rover Defenders, but I guess passion doesn't necessarily need a reason.
Maybe someday I'll actually get a Defender, but until then, I'll just keep dreaming.

And speaking of passion, one of my interpreters recently brought his motorcycle to work, so of course I had to take a ride. It's not Harley, but since I've been deprived for many months it was nice just to ride for a few minutes!

Finally, I'm happy to report that construction on the new hospital continues on schedule. While I don't think I'll ever see the finished product, I know that someday Coalition casualties will be treated in a clean, dust-free environment, which will be a tremendous blessing for all. As I watch the construction I enjoy seeing the variety of vehicles and equipment used by the local contractors. This cement truck caught my eye, and I immediately named it the Barbie Cement Mixer.

As always, thanks for your prayers and support. The days here are getting long, and the weeks and months stretch out ahead of us like a long road. Maybe looking back it will seem shorter, but for now it seems a long, long time until I'll be back home.

Phillips Out.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Week 16--The Sun Comes Out Again

I guess no matter how dark the night, the sun does eventually come back out.
Using that analogy, it's morning for me here. Definately not the full light of day, but not the dark of night anymore.

Thanks to all who were concerned about me. I appreciate the emails and comments and prayers and kind thoughts. I did not mean to alarm anyone, but it is important for me to post each week, the good and the bad.

I'm approaching the four month mark on a deployment of undetermined lenghth. Fifteen months boots on the ground (BOG) is now the rule for Active Duty units. How that applies to Army Reserve Soldiers deployed to augment a USAF hospital is still hazy, much less how it applies to an Active Duty Soldier deployed with the Army Reserve in support of a USAF hospital! To say I'm confused is an understatement.

And now the Department of Defense has revised it's rules on blogging. Previously, we were required to register our blogs. Now it appears we may be required to submit our blogs for review prior to posting. If that's all that is required it won't effect me, but each individual unit has some leeway to manage the program as they see fit. My unit could forbid blogging completely. If so, I'll need to find another way to get the word out about my deployment. This has become a routine, and a way to vent at least some of my feelings and thoughts about deployment. I hope I can continue.

The new hospital continues to go up. All the columns are now poured.

The foundation is next. I can see progress every day. One day we will be done with the tents and working inside a new, "brick and mortar" facility. Of course, there's lots of work to be done between now and then, but at least there's light at the end of the tunnel. Watching the hospital go up is fun, especially if you like to watch the big equipment.

And it's not only the construction. We keep upgrading the existing facility; moving things around and improving how we provide patient care.

The old tents need constant attention; from floors to liners to lights and doors. I often think, "If these walls could talk, what stories would they tell?"

And all this happens here in Khowst Province, Afghanistan. It's a very strange place in many ways. I was reminded of that when I saw the parking lot for the Host Nation workers here on the FOB. As you can see, lots of motorcycles in the valet parking lot.

Our Afghani workers are vital to the mission and they risk a lot to do this job. And they do so much with so little. Even watching the construction projects is interesting. They use a minimum of power tools, even bending rebar with hand tools. It reminds me of the Clark County Fair, the area where the demonstrate "old fashioned" ways to do things.

As you can see, things are not perfect here, and the crisis has not passed, but things are looking up. Like hiking in the mountains, you struggle upwards toward a peak and celebrate the conquest, only to see another, higher peak ahead. There will be many higher peaks, but at least this can't go on forever. Twelve months, fifteen months, whatever the Army decides, eventually they must send me home and that will be a glorious, wonderful day.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for caring.

Phillips out.