Sunday, 20 January 2008
Here’s what a road in Afghanistan looks like:
I don’t know how many paved roads there were in Afghanistan before we arrived, but there are still not many miles of paved roads even now.
At this time of year, the unpaved roads in Afghanistan turn to mud, and the mud to quicksand.
We were out driving near the FOB one day when we saw a coworker just off the road, so we went to see what he was doing. As we got closer, we noticed he was not moving. He was stuck in the mud. Our plan was to pull him out of the mud with our tow strap on the front of our HMMWV, until we noticed that we were also sinking, and eventually stuck, in the mud. After we got out to evaluate the situation we noticed another coworker approaching in his SUV. Realizing what was about to happen, we attempted to warn him away, but our waving only served to lead him on until he, too, was stuck in the mud. So there we were, three vehicles from the same office stuck in the mud; one, two, three. And of course, no one gets stuck on a sunny day; there was a steady mix of rain/sleet/snow falling on a cold, foggy day. We were not far from the FOB, but in Afghanistan, not far from the FOB is still a dangerous place to be.
The military convoys that passed by were smarter than we were, they kept driving and called in our location and situation to the Tactical Operations Center. While we tried to extract ourselves, quite unsuccessfully, kept an eye on our surroundings and tried to keep warm. It seemed like hours, but soon our rescuers arrived. Our rescuers came out to us with a….forklift. Not your standard recovery vehicle, but it was all they had at FOB Apache for this situation. Fortunately, the rough terrain forklift is equipped with off-road balloon tires and an extendable fork. Thanks to a very skilled driver, and with a lot of hard work, he managed to free first one, then another and finally the third vehicle.
I wish I could say this was unusual, but unfortunately it is all too common. When the weather gets bad around here the mission does not stop. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are out day and night, in all weather, chasing the bad guys and rebuilding Afghanistan. And when you get stuck in Afghanistan, there’s no AAA wrecker to call. Self-recovery, your unit and your friends are all you can rely on. Fortunately, that’s usually enough.
On a side note, while I enjoy my job I often feel “stuck in the mud” trying to accomplish anything. Working with the Jordanian Army, while they mentor Afghans, can be a real challenge. I often attend meetings with two translators; one to translate from English to Arabic and another to translate from Arabic to Pashto. As you can imagine, conversations take some time and are subject to much confusion and misunderstanding. And while it’s great to have the Jordanians here to help the Afghans, they are culturally very different. The only thing they have in common is religion, but just because they all practice the Islamic faith does not mean they are the same. Finally, the Jordanians are not part of NATO or ISAF, so their status is hard for most of the bureaucracy to understand. My job as the liaison officer to the Jordanian Field Hospital is to facilitate their mission, to make sure they have what they need to teach the Afghans and what they need to live in Afghanistan, to deal with the contractors and Coalition Forces. So, although I never fail in the long run, I seem to spend much of my time “stuck in the mud”, spinning my wheels. Oh well, such is life as an LNO, Army-speak for liaison officer.Phillips, out.
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Well, I’ve settled in to my new job, and in the process learned more lessons about the wide variety of living conditions experienced by deployed Soldiers. They really do very widely from place to place in Afghanistan. And interestingly, smaller is often better.
My new job is interesting. I’m working with the Jordanian Armed Forces, specifically the staff of a Jordanian field hospital. They are here working with the staff of the Zabul Provincial Hospital in Qalat. I’m here to facilitate their mission, to help with the logistical support and any other issues that arise.
To celebrate the arrival of the new Jordanian commander they cooked a mansaf, a traditonal Jordanian dish. It consists of rice and lamb, covered with a goat’s milk yogurt. And for really special occasions, on top of the mansaf they place a lamb’s head. Very appetising. Of course, the lamb’s head is cooked, so the special guest can enjoy a real delicacy; lamb’s tongue! I can tell you from personal experience, it is quite tasty. In fact, it tastes much like a chicken liver or gizzard.
And I’ve moved to a new FOB. The Jordanian’s live on an Afghan National Army (ANA) base, Camp Eagle. I’m now living at FOB Apache, which is closer to Camp Eagle than FOB Lagman, and I can go between the two without an armored convoy because they are connected. FOB Apache is very small, about the size of two football fields. It’s a great FOB; small, but neat and orderly, and it has a good gym and nice MWR. I’ll actually be spending time at both Apache and Lagman since I’ve got business to conduct at both.I’ll keep you posted on how things go with the Jordanians, and the mission. And I’ll let you know if I have any more new culinary experiences.
Until then, thanks for the support and prayers.
Sunday, 6 January 2008
FOB Salerno Hospital Construction
There is not much on the website as of today, but I would expect much more as they get settled in to their new "home".
Here's the address:
I wish them good luck, and great success. They've got a beautiful new facility and a great mission.
By the way, in the interest of full disclosure, I do want to give credit to the leadership of the 14th CSH, our predecessors, who conceived and advocated the idea for the new, hardened facility before we arrived. Things like this take time and the effort of many; the 14th CSH started the ball rolling, the 396th CSH managed the construction and the 48th CSH will move in and provide healthcare in a new facility 3 years in the making.
I'll still be blogging about my mission with the Jordanian Field Hospital, and life in Afghanistan in general. Join me, if you are so inclined.
Thanks for caring, and praying, and supporting our troops.
Friday, 4 January 2008
For me, a new year in a new job, in a new place.
High atop "Alexander's Castle" in Qalat, Afghanistan.
I have left FOB Salerno and the Salerno Hospital and begun my new job at my new FOB.
Unfortunately, you won’t find news about FOB Salerno or the hospital here anymore. I don’t know of anyone blogging from there anymore, but they do have a unit website with information. I will share that address as soon as I can.
Fifteen month tours are long, and it is nice to have a change of pace and a change of scenery at the 12-month point. I think the next 3 months will go quickly.
I am now the Liaison Officer for the Jordanian Field Hospital. It is not really a field hospital, it is the medical, nursing and ancillary staff sent to Afghanistan to train and mentor the Afghan staff at Zabul Provincial Hospital. They are here for 90 day rotations, and I am their US military liaison during their stay, to help resolve issues and guide them through the complex US Military, NATO and ISAF beauracracy. It’s an interesting job, but quite ambiguous. My orders are to “take care of the Jordanians”, whatever that means.
The Jordanian Field Hospital Leadership
So, now I live on FOB Lagman and work with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to ensure the Jordanians are supporting the overall medical reconstruction goals in Zabul Province. I get off the FOB some, which I like, convoying to the provincial hospital and the Jordanian compound. I have no authority over anyone, so whatever I accomplish is by negotiation and persuasion. I live in a shack and work out of a trailer and have to beg for rides wherever I go, and I’m very happy.
Visiting the FST with the Jordanian Medical Staff
It’s amazing the things Soldiers and Sailors and Airmen and Marines are called upon to do now. When I was a cadet at West Point or a 2LT at Fort Hood I could never have imagined working with Jordanians and Afghans and Romanians and Canadians to build or renovate hospitals or train medical personnel. Today’s young officers and NCOs expect to deploy multiple times, and are expected to fight and rebuild and train and mentor, all simultaneously. With minimal supervision and only general guidance young officers and NCOs are accomplishing the mission throughout Afghanistan and Iraq and all over the world. For the most part, they do a great job demonstrating the best of America to people who may have never met any other Americans. Their hard work and dedication and example literally saves lives, as individual Afghans or Iraqis decide that what we offer is better than what the bad guys offer. It’s too bad that most of the press goes to those who don’t do well, that tiny minority who cause problems and hinder the mission.
Well, for the next 3 months I’ll spend my time at FOB Lagman doing what I can to facilitate the training of the Zabul Provincial Hospital medical staff. While I’m here I’ll report on the things I see and the Soldiers I meet along the way, as Task Force Zabul attempts to bring peace and security and hope to a part of Afghanistan that has seen none of those things in recent memory.
Crazy traffic scenery in Qalat, Afghanistan
Wednesday, 2 January 2008
Happy New Year ! ! !
I received an email from TOP:
I haven't had computer access for a few weeks.
I did want to write you and tell you that I sent you a couple of disks with pictures on it.. a lot of them.
There is the old tent complex and then the new hospital...
Right now it is just a building and when the new unit moves in a few weeks, then it will be a hospital with personnel and equipment that can and will accept patients.
I contracted most of it and coordinated a lot of the building.
We had a building acceptance ceremony and then LTC Phillips left the AO.
The legacy we left behind was a hardened concrete roof over the patients heads so they don't have to evacuate the building during a rocket attack like we did in the tents. We came, we assessed, we planned, we built, we coordinated, we completed the building. That's the jist of it.
We made the place better, a whole lot better than how we inherited it.
We accomplished our mission..
We are working on getting back home.
1SG David S. Child
Task Force MED
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED . . . What a legacy our friends at FOB Salerno Hospital have accomplished. It would be good to hear from some of these warriors, who have already deployed home with their thoughts and recollections. For all involved, please know we are proud and thankful for all of you, and grateful for your service, and the support of your families. For those of you packing up --- fair winds and all our prayers for your wonderful reunions with family and friends. You all have been such a blessing for the United States and Afghanistan. We are thankful you have shared a small part of it with us. This isn't good-by, we will be having lots and lots of pictures of the hospital, and we still have LTC Phillips new mission.
Gratitude and Prayers