Final Entry
So this will be my final entry as, in a few days, I will begin the odyssey of my return trip home! February was a tough month. In addition to burn out, snow and mud, the cold and a general running down of my body-there were a couple of attacks in the area and when we weren't out on missions in the freezing cold we were stuck on base fighting boredom because our helos were grounded by the bad weather. Most of the month I was also busy investigating a suicide bombing at the base on the Pakistan border. It is a tiny base shared with the Afghan border police and few comforts from home; (ever seen the movie "Platoon" with the wooden toilets that have barrels underneath, the waste is collected there and has to be burned by some unlucky joe three times daily)and obviously dangerous. I can't go into the circumstances but I do want to tell you the story of the three dogs that saved US lives that night. The dogs were all local mutts friendly to the Americans (maybe because we treat them well and don't abuse them like the locals). On the night of the bombing the suicider knew exactly where to go (the US barracks) but fortunately the three dogs were outside the door sleeping. They not only alerted the guys inside but also held on to the bomber until, in frustration, he detonated himself in the doorway. A soldier lying on his cot had gotten up to see what was going on and had he stayed on his cot he would've died. One of the pooches (appropriately named VBIED) survived. Although deafer than a post now, the medic cleaned him up, shaved him and sewed up some cuts on him. Otherwise he is fine and being treated like a king by the US soldiers. As soon as I can I will post some pictures of it as the soldiers there are trying to adopt it and take it to a good home back in the states.

These months have been the longest of my life but it has been an experience to grow and learn from, as well as to make me more thankful for all the blessings of living in the US. I feel for the Afghan people since all they have known is war for 30 years. I have also seen how pashtunwalli and religion can be used only for individualistic or clan benefit. I really think education is the key. Our team has gone on over 300 convoys and completed over 60 projects (leaving the next team a much more manageable number, thus helping keep better tabs on quality and preventing graft and corruption). We conducted dozens of rule of law, women's rights, and vocational classes. Still the road is going to be a tough one and this country will likely remain very impoverished. The key is to empower local government until an educated population can be attained in the far future. Then through good intelligence work prevent al qaeda from returning; we can leave this place one day but cannot ignore it like we did after the Soviet pullout. thanks for tuning in. MAJ William Hogan-out.

(no subject)

the FOB
the FOB
My home away from home (not for much longer hopefully)

Pendulum Swings
Things are going ok. It's hard not to get frustrated. We are making progress in many fronts and getting a big boost from the "civilian surge". We now have a couple of USAID guys to go out to the major population centers as well as an Ag expert from the US Department of Agriculture. It's also getting crowded on our little FOB (picture of our glorious Qalat above taken during summer). The frustration comes from all the corruption and overall lack of development. A lot of money and time have been wasted. Also, there have been more attacks in relatively safe Gardez since I got here than at any time since 2001. Part of it is the mild winter and the Pakistani Army finally taking it to the Taliban in their sanctuaries across the border. Counting the days until I get back to civilization!

back to the grind
Happy New Year! I just got back from a 2-week R&R leave where I spent some time visiting Germany, Austria and Czech. The 72 hour ordeal getting there and back made me wonder if it was worth it at times but, yes, getting away from here to a civilized, christian country-especially over Christmas was worth it.

When I got back I wanted to get right back into the swing of things. I guess there had been two attacks on Government buildings in Gardez while I was gone. Then we heard about the one in Khost and had to check everything over across the base. Two days ago, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the crowded "Spin" Market in Gardez. The blast left 8 Afghans dead and over 20 wounded though it didn't make the major US news outlets. I guess Tiger Woods' affairs are more important (sarcasm). That's about all for now. More to follow.

Winter Ops, creative excuses and dogs
We are busy getting out as much as possible before the
hard winter sets in. In a couple of weeks all our construction projects stop
because of road closures and low temperatures. Going to one of our
school projects, our interpreter was berating the supervisor for the
poor construction of several walls (the bricks were not aligned and
concrete could be picked out with your finger). The Interpreter said:
"these people are guests in our country, this school is not for them
it's for your village and your children" I hope the message got
through. In one case, I wasn't their but the excuse given by the
foreman was "the Taliban comes here at night and builds crappy walls to
make us look bad". What?!! That was the pinnacle of creative excuses I
have heard.

I like to call one of our USACE Engineers "Demolition Man". He will
kick over, chip away at and topple walls and other shabby masonry over
and over until the contractor does it right. He is big burly guy but
today he fell in love with a little puppy, no more than a month
old, at the District Center. The puppy was playful and very cute.
Unfortunately we can't take him and in a country where dogs are reviled
and hated I don't expect he will have an easy life, too bad. On the
other side of that coin, we have a pack of wild dogs (big ones) roaming
around on our FOB. They don't seem aggressive but you can hear them at
night fighting over trash and they sound pretty fierce. I know we have
traps out (cages with bait) and hope we can humanely move them off the
base soon.

In other news, one of our convoys got hit again in Zormat but the
Taliban probably wish they hadn't started shooting. That day one of our
Air Force Commo guys (aka Geek Squad) was manning the turret on one of
the MRAPs. Every one of our enlisted Air Force guys is cross-trained as
a gunner or driver so that we can use them outside the wire as well. As
soon as the convoy took a turn off the main road they entered a wadi or
dry river bed. As everyone slowed down they started receiving mortar
fire. Soon machine gun fire started coming from a tree line. Well,
Alex began returning fire, firing 140 rounds until the weapon jammed
then he switched to his personal weapon (with grenade launcher
attachment) and fired off a couple of well placed 40mm grenades after
which the firing stopped. Great job! I guess all those hours playing
Halo payed off..

Happy Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving was pretty decent even though we still worked we didn't
send any missions out. Mostly everyone just took it easy and did
laundry, caught up on mail or reading. We got a pretty good spread.
The chow hall had ham, turkey and roast beef plus all the trimmings.
One of our Air Force sergeants won awards as a baker back home and he
made some really amazing cinnamon rolls and bear claws. We are now
encouraging him to make them once a week for the PRT. A bitter-sweet occasion
for sure being away from family but still celebrating with my fellow soldiers and airmen.

After this down day we'll continue doing what we do. Some of the initiatives
the PRT will continue no matter the weather include Rule of Law training for teachers (especially women), in order to start teaching ethics and human rights to the next generations; MidWife training program since Afghanistan was recently nominated the worst place to be born after Somalia (very high infant mortality especially since in the tribal areas teenage brides abound); and our vocational programs. This winter we will also assist the WHO in immunizing Afghan children against polio.

November whizzing by too!
For Veteran's Day I got to do something pretty cool and sent a short video clip to my nephew's middle school. I am glad my friends at Abingdon Heights school enjoyed the short clip. Thanks for all the Veteran's Day wishes too!

So it looks like we will stay busy into the winter months. The Pakistani Army is finally making things hard for the Taliban on their side of the border which means their sanctuary is not so safe anymore. We are going to continue with our many projects including two major roads and 30 schools (most are for boys and girls unless there was an existing girls school separately), wells, district center refurbishments and others. In addition to construction, this PRT facilitates civics and rule of law training for teachers and women across the province. We also sponsor vocational training programs (see my entry from August). I think we are making progress though most of our work has been catching up to the large workload the last team left. Unfortunately their emphasis was quantity over quality and this left us open to shabby construction and as well as corruption. We'll drive on.

Friday the 13th
No missions today, we usually take a breather on Fridays since most Afghans don't work on this day anyway (like Sundays for us back home).

We got our first snow three nights ago and I am not looking forward to the 20 below zero temperatures we can expect in January. Right now when the sun is out and wind is down it's fairly pleasant.

Corruption....hmmm where to begin. Suffice it to say that it is everywhere and practiced at all magnitudes from your "fee" to process paperwork to actual extortion. We are doing alot more to mitigate it than the previous team and hope to come up with the right mix of oversight, nudging, cadjoling, threatening etc to bring corruption down to an acceptable level (for Afghanistan). My coworker mentioned something which illustrates how the Coalition is viewed as a sort of "cash cow". My coworker was approached by her local national employee with the proposition that the PRT give him a grant of $15,000 (not Afghanis, or Pak Rupees-Dollars!) because he needs to find a wife (Pashtun men must pay a large dowery to the father of the prospective bride, this makes for a large population of single males that have very little contact with females outside their family since most cannot afford to marry). He thought that even though he is payed better than most Afghans and gets free food he was entitled to get a grant for him to get married. This is no joke and he was absolutely serious!

Missions continue until the passes are covered in snow!!!

Done with elections
We just got news a few hours ago that the run-off has been cancelled
and Karzai declared the winner.  It is somewhat of a relief
since this event was going to occupy the next two weeks for us.
I am also glad for all the Afghan Security Forces
since they were going to bear the brunt of any attack across the country.
How do you justify putting yourself at risk for an election run-off where one of the two
candidates dropped out?  I digress.

Between planning for elections security and most of our MRAP's being out of action
(maintenance issues mostly but there were a couple of IED hits in there, thank God, nobody was hurt)
I have been out of the loop so here is a short update:

For Halloween, after our mission of the day and endless meetings and after action reviews, we had a scary movie marathon in the conference room.  In the middle of Friday the 13th redux, three of our soldiers came in trick or treatin'.  One guy had full Afghan dress on, another had turned his cold weather gear into some sort of Ninja outfit and the third had gotten ahold of a set of adult size Pikachu pijamas complete with hood.  It was a riot and we had plenty of candy to hand out.  Thanks to everyone that sent us care packages!

In the little free time that I have, I have been reading "The Great Game" by Peter Hopkirk.  It reads like a novel but is very
detailed in its history of how the "Great Game" between the Russian the British Empire helped get Afghanistan where it is now. 
Highly recommend.   Signing off for now.

Some thoughts on mission

As we prepare to support the Afghans in a run-off election (whether Dr.
Abdullah Abdullah is in it or not), I read an article recently where the
reporter had gotten a hold of several soldiers who did nothing but
complain and wonder why they are here.  I can't speak for that province
but my unit here knows what our mission is:  Protect the Afghan people;
set the conditions for continued development, assist the provincial
government in providing for their people and allow time for the Afghan
institutions (including the Security Forces) to stand on their own feet.
Everyone on this base assigned to PRT Paktya, from the cooks to the
mechanics to the Commander and his staff know these goals and know full
well that is the reason we are here.

If the US fails in this mission, several things will happen.  Islamic
radicals will claim victory over another superpower and will take this
momentum to export Jihad to every country from Egypt to Spain and to the
United States and Canada across the Atlantic.  There will be a replay of
the 90's proxy wars over control of Afghanistan where Iran, Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia and the Central Asian Republics will all fund
warlords/armies continuing the see-saw of war until Afghanistan is taken
over by the most powerful.  That group will then marginalize and
possibly "ethnically  cleanse" the weaker groups/tribes.  Humanitarian
aid delivery
and NGO operations in Afghanistan will grind to a halt
again, especially during the harsh winter.  Money will come in only to
fund warlords and radicalism will be the output.  Pakistan will
destabilize further, if you think the Taliban are conducting low
intensity warfare in Pakistan wait until they have sanctuary in
Afghanistan as well as funds from Opium.  The Central Asian Republics
will destabilize as well leading to higher energy prices.  Finally,
southern and eastern Afghanistan will return to being a no-man's land
where international Islamic radical movements will be free to rebuild
camps (using petro and narco dollars) to export Islamic radicalism

Unfortunately, Iraq became the focus as early as Spring 2002
(US forces dwindled to around 4000 troops in 2003, 4000 troops to
secure a country the size of Texas!) but it's not too late I think.
My honest assessment is that our Counterinsurgency strategy will work
but it needs time.  GEN McChrystal's strategy of protecting the
population will allow the Afghan government to get on its feet.
Corruption...well, that is a whole other story.  Stay tuned......


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