Change of Mission

Army SFC prepares M-240 machine gun for mission.

Yesterday after our mentoring sessions were over, we spent the afternoon readying our MRAPs for what would have been a long mission.  Had everything went as planned, we would have been driving on the road at O-dark-thirty hours.  Around 0800 hrs this morning, we were given the order to “stand down” (Army lingo to stop what you are doing).  Our mission was canceled and another unit was taking over.  In reality we were never given the execution order, but we prepared accordingly.  Since the vehicles were mission ready, our ETT leader decided to go on a different mission so some electronic repairs could be made to a vital piece of equipment.  We would all meet after lunch and depart for Camp Phoenix.

AF TSgt escorting soldiers to the shooting range.

While this was going on, some members of my team were taking the ANA soldiers out to the shooting range.  My teammates just finished providing M-16 rifle training to them and today they were going to practice their marksmanship.  The class has generally been taught by Army soldiers or civilian contractors, but the AF TSgt in the picture has been instructing them.  Once the ANA soldiers show their proficiency with the rifles, at a future date, they will trade in their Soviet AK-47 rifles in exchange for a NATO M-16 rifle.

Destruction from last insurgent attack on Kabul.

As planned, we met after lunch and mounted our machine guns on the MRAP vehicles and loaded the chambers with ammunition.  The morning was rather cold, but now the sun came out and was brightly shining and it helped to take the sting out of the cold weather.  The gunners are the ones who are exposed to the cold wind and elements, so they have to wear additional layers of clothing and face masks to stay warm.

Merchants selling their goods in Kabul.

We cruised through the city with ease and my Captain and I took some pictures of the Kabul street life.  The burned out building is the result of the last attack by insurgents on the capital city.  Some local businesses are trying to restore operations by selling their wares using the ground level cubicles that didn’t suffer as much damage.  According to a

Afghan man talks with traffic police.

local newspaper report, the insurgent activity resulted in 5 million dollars in losses and damages.

The traffic was surprisingly light in the city today.  But the merchants were still packed on the streets selling their goods and trying to make a living.  This is such a tough life and tough business.  However, when I do the arithmetic, the odds of selling an item is actually pretty good, especially when you are providing goods for a city of 4 million city dwellers.  It seems like everyone wants to migrate to Kabul and live.  Much of the developments and houses were built illegally and the infrastructure suffers tremendously due to the large influx of people.  Perhaps this helps to explain the rationale why people have to bribe government officials to be connected to electricity, water, and sewage services.

Army SGT shares camera pictures with ETT leader.

A few days ago I detailed about ANA computer programs.  Today I got to experience one of the US Army programs at the Army Supply store (SSSC….still don’t know what the acronym stands for).  Anyhow, I signed in and couldn’t remember my 6 or 7 digit alpha-numeric supply code.  Surely the computer database would be able to retrieve me by name, unit, or location.  Nope!  Not only that, without the supply code, they couldn’t verify I was authorized to shop there.  However in all fairness, they had a manual book about 4 inches thick with all the customer names in it.  Only problem, it was sequenced by supply code.  So after paging through ¾ of the book and reviewing every page I managed to find my authorization card and was able to purchase some administrative supplies.

Camp Phoenix food court.

The equipment repair took longer than planned, so several of my teammates decided to pamper ourselves with some of Camp Phoenix amenities.  We visited the food court (not sure that is the proper name for it), but they have Subway, Pizza Hut, Dairy Queen, and Green Bean Coffee.  I couldn’t resist buying a Caffe Latte.  It wasn’t StarBucks, but it tasted

Hey Captain, is that a double fudge triple chocolate chip muffin you are eating? You will have to spend extra time at the gym for those calories...

better than the coffee served at the chow hall.

The equipment was repaired and we fired up the vehicles preparing to return to camp.  The only problem was one of the MRAPs would not start.  We attached the slave cables (special jumper cable) hoping to jump start it, but to no avail.  The mechanics came out and was unable to repair it.  So we transferred everything over to the other vehicles including the crew members.  By now it was getting dark and we would drive back through the city that is barely illuminated.  We returned to camp and I missed chow, so I settled for soup and sandwiches which is always available.  Another mission is complete and who knows what tomorrow will bring.

COP Conlon, Eye Infection and IED

My team pulling security with the village animals.

The ride north on the “Highway of Death” was pretty much a repeat of the drive south.  We stopped at a few more ANA COPs and OPs.  At one OP, a herd of sheep was roaming freely about.  I didn’t see anyone guiding them, but the thought of savory taste of lamb kabobs was starting to fill my head.  Maybe it was because we didn’t have lunch yet.

SUV being transported on top of another truck.

Also notice in the other picture how a large truck is transporting a vehicle on its roof.  This is a common sight here.

We came upon a bridge that was being heavily guarded by the ANA.  As usual, the ANA general saw this as an opportunity to meet and greet his men.  After our Marine Lance Corporal checked out the bridge, my MRAP crossed over and we pulled off the side of the road next to a small village and

ANA OP protecting the bridge on Highway 1.

established security.  Originally the village children were engaged in a game of volleyball, but the sight of our MRAP piqued their interest.  Our convoy commander (AF Captain) saw this as an opportunity to meet and treat the children.  He decided to share a bag of red licorice with them.  Initially only 3-4 children approached him cautiously, but when the

AF Capt handing out red licorice to the village children.

other children saw him handing out licorice, others came running for their share too.

Our convoy continued our journey to FOB Airborne.  Our MRAPs were becoming thirsty for fuel from the long trip.  Before arriving there we listened attentively to the external radio traffic.  U.S. soldiers discovered an IED on the highway near COP Conlon.  This

ANA OP proudly flies Afghan flag.

was going to be our next stop after we refueled at Airborne.  Another group also located some leftover cluster bombs.  We were certain that the Explosive Ordinance Disposal team would neutralize the explosives, so we didn’t pay much more attention to it and continued with our journey north-bound.

We arrived at FOB Airborne and filled up the

Overlook from ANA OP.

large diesel tanks on the MRAP and prepared for the next segment of our trip.  The chow hall tent was still open too.  Even though it wasn’t serving hot entrees, they still had a sandwich bar and some hot chili stewing.  The soup and sandwich meal was good, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about lamb kabobs.  When prepared properly, the lamb raised in the Middle East is much tastier than the domestic lamb in the United States.  I still haven’t pinpointed why, but the flavor is much different, even when I cook the lamb at home.

ANA living quarters inside ANA COP.

While at Airborne my eyes started to itch and became sensitive to the sun light.  At the time, I didn’t give it much thought because there are so much dust and pollution particles in the air, this is a common occurrence.  The sun was slowly setting and we were losing daylight fast.  The command was given to board the trucks and depart for COP

My eye irritation starting to bother me.

Conlon.  The goal was to make it there before dark.  Somehow we missed the turnoff and our ANA counterparts took us to the ANA COP.  It took a few minutes to get sorted out, but the ANA general would accompany us back to COP Conlon.

It was during this

PFC Paul E. Conlon

segment of driving, my eyes became very sensitive to on-coming traffic.  It didn’t help matters that most people travel with their high beams on because there are no pole lights on the side to illuminate the road and since the villages don’t have electricity, very little light was being emitted from their wood-burning stoves.  Needless to say, it was pitch dark and difficult to see the road.  I kept my focus on the vehicle’s taillights ahead of me so I wouldn’t run off the road.

COP Conlon was named in honor of PFC Paul E. Conlon who died Aug 15, 2008 after his vehicle struck an IED and then received small-arms fire and RPG fire.  In June, prior to his death, he was injured and received a Purple Heart, but refused to go home and stayed with his team.  This Mashpee, MA resident and hero was only 21 years old when his life was taken in Wardak Province.  1Lt Donald Carwile who I mentioned earlier (re: COP Carwile) was also in the same vehicle when PFC Conlon perished.

Sleeping quarters at COP Conlon.

I’m uncertain whether COP Conlon was expecting us or our itinerary had changed.  Initially, they had no room for us to stay.  So they improvised by clearing out the gym tent and we set up 20 cots inside of the make-shift gym. All of the hot water was consumed, so I waited until 1130 pm to take a hot shower.  Just as I finished, the hot water ran out again.   My eye situation had worsened and I set out on my own to find the medic.  For security reasons, no white light is used, so I resorted to my headlamp and utilized my red light.  Barely able to see with the lamp and one eye, I stumbled into the mortar pit by accident.  Fortunately I caught myself on both hands and knees, preventing any major damage.

I went back to the chow hall/MWR center.  This facility houses the chow serving line, dining table made from plywood and a handful of computers and 2 telephones to contact loved ones.  It was still filled with soldiers actively engaged in playing the game of Risk and people typing and chatting on the internet.  As luck may have it, the medic was playing Risk and went back to his clinic and returned with some eye drops.  To be cont’d …. Tomorrow my ride with the culvert clearing crew ……

Afghan dust & deployment conditions claim laptop

Rex's busted up laptop during R&R in Germany.

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex’s beat up laptop has most likely taken its last breath. It was being held together by tape and sheer good luck when I last saw it in Germany – and now it appears to have died completely. So Rex has to figure out a workaround (hopefully through MWR) or simply go shopping at Bagram. Which means no blog entry or new pictures today.

Charlie snuggles up with Rex's clothes.

On a totally unrelated note, here is a photo of our dog Charlie after he found Rex’s unwashed clothes from Germany. I was about to do the laundry from the trip but now our “kids” – two Goldendoodle dogs Sam and Charlie – have decided otherwise. Apparently they really like the scent of their “Dad.”

Donated school supplies at WUSF Radio and TV

And another totally unrelated tidbit – I got this photo from Mark Schreiner at WUSF TV and Radio; all these supplies have come in from the stations viewers and listeners for Rex’s School Supplies for Afghan Children project.  According to Mark some unknown Santa also dropped off almost 150 Beanie Babies and other stuffed toys at the station with a note that said: “Some toys for their desks.” (If you are new to reading Rex’s blog, please check the school supplies project tab at the top of the page.)

Time of Thanks

The war is not going to stop today, nor will it stop tomorrow.  But for a brief moment in time, I am going to take a departure from writing about my daily activities and write something different.  Today the traditional Thanksgiving holiday is being celebrated in millions of homes in the United States and around the world by U.S. citizens.  Kitchen tables are overfilled with basted turkeys, baked hams, sweet potatoes, cranberries and cornbread stuffing.  Decorative bowls are garnished with cranberries, deviled eggs, and candy.  The aroma of fresh baked pumpkin pies (with a pinch of cinnamon) fills the air and a container of fresh egg nog waits to be poured.  It’s a joyous occasion and families return to their homesteads to reunite once again.  My family will be doing the same thing too.   My mother will start prepping food early in the morning and then continue to cook throughout the day.  By the time she is finished, she will have made enough food to feed the entire neighborhood.  My family is no different than the millions of families scattered throughout the United States or celebrating overseas.  Before everyone enjoys the fabulous meal my mother made, my father will say a special prayer and give thanks to the Almighty Creator for everything he has bestowed upon us and our family.

Still together on Thanksgiving even if it's just via Skype!

Meanwhile there will be a few empty seats at the dining table.  One will be for me and the other for my wife.  My wife will be sharing Thanksgiving in Savannah, Georgia eating turkey and ham with SPC “Kit” Lowe’s family.  According to Mr. Lowe, they are preparing 3 turkeys to feed the hungry masses.  Since that tragic day in August when SPC Lowe

SCP Kit Lowe talking to Rex at Thanksgiving lunch.

was shot in the leg by an insurgent, my wife and Kit’s mother Sandi have formed a supporting bond and the Lowes have embraced Liisa like family.  So she will not be alone during this festive holiday.

Army colonel carves up the steam round roast.

Throughout Afghanistan the dining halls will prepare a special Thanksgiving meal for the troops.  My camp will do the same and try to create the Thanksgiving spirit.  Some of the soldiers won’t be this lucky and will settle for an MRE or whatever they can find in their freezer or food barrel to cook.  But I’m certain almost every soldier, airman, sailor,

AF LtCol and Army Major serve the hungry patrons.

and marine will pause for a moment to reflect for the things they are most thankful for.  At the top of everyone’s list is their family.  Our family members are the source of our motivation to succeed in this war and in life.  Never again do we want our country to have to live in fear like they did on 9/11.  As such, we risk our lives in the name of freedom and

Elaborate display of goodies at the DFAC.

democracy to root out those responsible for the tragic events of September 11th, 2001.  We are prepared to give our life in support of this mission.

Today I can’t be with my wife or my family members, but I am still blessed.  I am blessed to have the best wife in the world.  Liisa motivates me in ways I will never understand and not only is she my best friend; she is surely my soul mate.  In addition, my other family members and friends provide me additional moral support to stay strong and focused on my missions.  Serving in Afghanistan has been the greatest challenge of my 26 ½ year career.

Although I am feeling blessed, I am also experiencing a see-saw of emotions.  I am a bit saddened tonight because the mercury is plummeting again and my thoughts revolve around the poor Afghan children who are sitting on dirt or cold concrete floors.  They are huddled together around a wood burning stove or wrapped in a blanket in attempt to stay warm and survive the night.  I am encouraged knowing the thousand blankets we handed out recently will provide some additional warmth and comfort.  But I find myself angered at the corrupt Afghan government ministers and officials who continuously siphon off foreign aid intended to better this country.  Even now as I write this entry, 15 of the current and former ministers are under investigation for corruption, President Karzai refuses to sign their arrest warrants and revoke their special immunity so they can be arrested and tried in a special court.

I also think about the hundreds of family members who have lost a military member in this war.  Their chairs at their dinner tables are empty for a different reason.  These brave men and women had their life taken while fighting in defense for the freedom of Afghanistan and our country.  My thoughts and prayers go out to these families as they try to mend together their lives that have been forever changed.  I also think about my military brothers who have suffered an injury in this war.  Some of these injuries are not visibly apparent either and disguised as PTSD.  I pray that God will comfort them on their road to recovery.  Union General William Tecumseh Sherman once said “War is hell” and today is no different.

Tomorrow will be another day and while many will look forward to the weekend football games or shopping excursions, know that the security of our country there and abroad rest with the all-volunteer force who serve our great and proud nation.  Happy Thanksgiving to my wife Liisa, my family in Pennsylvania and to America.  We are so blessed, lest we never forget that.

Shaken, but not stirred

Last night I was struggling to fall asleep.  It was R&B night at the MWR center which is approximately 2 B-hut lengths away.  The participants had the bass turned up and the vibrations made it difficult to sleep.  Just as I dozed off, at 12:21 am my bed started shaking and I immediately sat up in my bed.  I was certain the MWR sound system wasn’t responsible and narrowed it down to an earthquake tremor.  This morning I confirmed my suspicions.  Afghanistan experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.2 on the Richter scale.  The epicenter was located approximately 167 miles northeast of Kabul and shook buildings in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Islamabad.  Because it happened in an extremely remote area, it may be awhile until officials can determine if there were any casualties or damage.

Moving to new concrete shelter.

Moving to new concrete shelter.

Today our ETT team leader directed an inventory be conducted for missing property book items.  Yesterday the custodians conducted an inventory and some items could not be found.  So the team was split into 3 different teams to search for these items.  We searched all of our vehicles, connex, and rooms.  About lunch time we finally located all of the missing items.  Our next project for the day would be just as work intensive, but accompanied with a side of humor.  My team was going to pretend for the next few hours that they were carpenters and install doors on their wooden cubicles.  Surely, how hard can it to be attach some hinges and hang a door.

AF Captain drilling screws into door.

AF Captain drilling screws into door.

But in all fairness I need to depict our challenges to help explain our dilemma.  We would have to cut out the doors from a standard 4’ X 8’ sheet of ¾ inch plywood.  The circular saw was battery operated and the blade’s teeth were much too large teeth for cutting.  The hinges were 1 ½” wide so they could not be mounted on the side of the plywood (like a normal door) and for safety reasons the doors have to open from the inside.  The wood screws were too long and the door frames were not square and varied by ¾ inches.  We managed to scrounge up all of the materials along with a broken tape measure and a battery operated drill. Before we started cutting the wood, I passed on some words from my father

AF MSgt cutting plywood for doors.

AF MSgt cutting plywood for doors.

who is a perfectionist carpenter.  I also recalled these same words from my woodworking class in high school.  “Measure twice, cut once.”  As you can see by the pictures, the wood was measured twice and cut once.  But aren’t you supposed to cut in a straight line?  Nobody would admit to sawing this piece of wood.  It didn’t help matters that the battery

AF MSgt installing hinges on door.

AF MSgt installing hinges on door.

was only half-charged and the old crosscut saw we borrowed should be placed into a museum or hung on the wall at Cracker Barrel.

In the first building, 5 doors were hung.  It seemed like each person had their own way of attaching hinges and the location of them.  But in the end, they were all functional.  Some of them had big 3/4 inch gaps

Oops, a little bit short.

Oops, a little bit short.

between the door and the frame.  Some of my teammates covered this gap with a strip of wood, while one teammate used duct tape to create weather stripping.

Attaching the hasps posed its own challenges too.  Initially the hasp was installed, but notice how the screws are exposed.  No need to cut the lock, because a

Shouldn't that cut line be straight?

Shouldn't that cut line be straight?

simple screwdriver would do the trick.  However, after it was installed the proper way, it was too short for the locking piece.  Warning:  Do not hire my teammates as carpenters.

By the time we finished with the first building, the tool batteries were dying and losing their charge.  For my building, our team leader rounded up a truck and we transported

Those screws should be covered.

Those screws should be covered.

our plywood over to the KBR contractor’s tool shed.  We gave them the measurements and they used their electric circular saw to cut the wood.  Somewhere between there and our B-hut we mixed up the doors because none of them fit.  Recall “measure twice” and mark the doors.  To make adjustments, we used a large hammer.  Nothing a large hammer can’t fix along with a wood chisel, saw, and some ingenuity.  Admittedly, you won’t see any of these ugly doors featured in Better Homes and Gardens, but they are practical and will serve their purpose.  The only injury was the AF Captain who pricked his finger on a woodscrew.  I jokingly saw an opportunity to practice my tourniquet skills, but he insisted on a band-aid instead.  Just another day in the combat zone.

Totally unrelated photo - Biggest guy on the team posses in a blanket.

Totally unrelated photo - Biggest guy on the team posses in a blanket.

Tour of ANA land and elections runoff update

Sign advertising the literacy program.

Sign advertising the literacy program.

We all crowded into our new office and held our first meeting this morning.  The plan was to meet our ANA counterparts and tour their facilities.  Previously the advanced team was given a quick tour and was introduced to the Kandak leadership.  Today the ANA commander along with his SGM was touring another FOB.  The religious officer was next in command and gave us a walking tour of the facilities.

In one of the training rooms, I noticed a sign advertising the literacy program for ANA soldiers.  Only 1 in 4 soldiers here are literate.  Because of this situation, it makes mentoring even more challenging.  Take a close look at the literacy sign and the misspelled words (wrightand and benfit).

ANA changing tires.

ANA changing tires.

My team was also given a tour of the vehicle maintenance facilities.  They do not have any hydraulic lifts nor do they have a tire changing machine.  Instead they rely on steel pry bars and use the manual method.  They claim the tire changing machine is on order with the Ministry of Defense (MOD) supply channels, but I heard this same claim at my

Boots being used by the ANA soldiers.

Boots being used by the ANA soldiers.

previous camp.  For some reason, the paperwork disappears between here and the MOD.  We give millions if not billions of dollars to the MOD to support their military, but getting supplies is like pulling teeth.  A good example is the boots they provide to their soldiers.  My understanding is the MOD is given approximately $80 to purchase a quality pair of boots for the ANA soldier.  However, they seem to be enterprising and budget conscientious and have learned to subcontract them for about $10 through an Afghan manufacture or distributor.  I’m uncertain if the combat boots are manufactured in Afghanistan, Pakistan or China.  But take a look at the boots the ANA soldiers wear.  Now the million dollar question is, where or who does the remaining money go to.  I could list a half dozen other examples too.  Is it a coincidence these officials are able to afford $30,000 Sport Utility Vehicles on their meager salaries.  The top ANA General only makes $1000 a month.  The average family income in Afghanistan is $150 a month.  Yet the roads seem to be populated with expensive SUVs and luxury cars.  Hmmm….perhaps they are better investors than me and able to stretch their money to afford these luxury items on a pittance of a government salary.  I will let my readers draw their own conclusions.

My desk where I write my blog

My desk where I write my blog

My room:  My trusty tape measure indicates my plywood cubicle is approximately 8’ X 10 ½’.  At least now I am living better than a US inmate in his 8’ X 10’ cell.  I managed to scrounge some plywood shelves to adorn my wooden container room.  My desk is rather original using a desktop from a broken desk, a cardboard box and a plastic storage container.  The handmade rug composed of 25% silk on the floor was a gift.  I did some research on the manufacturer and it’s made by Afghan Women under the AfghanMark trademark.

Before moving into this wooden boxcar, I scouted other vacant B-huts and found a mattress of the right firmness and durability.  So now I am able to

My bed

My bed

enjoy a more peaceful sleep provided my new roommate doesn’t snore and rattle the single-ply piece of plywood between us.  It’s my temporary home for another 6 months so it will do.  Yes, I still fold my t-shirts and socks the same way I learned in Air Force Basic Training.  I even taught Liisa how to do it…lol.

My room.

My room.

Election runoff update:  According to today’s local paper, the number of votes cast for President Karzai has slipped to 47%.  Because the presidential share of vote has come under the constitutionally mandated 50%, a runoff election will occur.  Note:  This outcome was based on analyzing about 10 percent of the cast ballots.  I’ve read about unofficial reports alleging 30 percent of the votes cast for Karzai were fraudulent.  In fact, I recently learned about a tactic employed by Karzai supporters that was not mentioned by the media.  Karzai supporters took advantage of illiterate people.  These voters intended to cast a vote for rival challenger Abdullah Abdullah.  However, they were informed they would have to travel to the city of Kabul to fill out other paperwork.  Furthermore, that this voting station was only for Karzai voters.  Since Afghans really value the right to vote, citizens voted for Karzai because they didn’t have the money to visit the city.  But the truth is all of the candidates and pictures of them are on the presidential ballot.  In addition, the soldiers who were guarding the ballot box alleged very few voters cast their ballots.  But by the end of the day, the ballot box was stuffed with votes.  Is this what they mean by ballot box stuffing?

Why would Karzai supporters and henchmen go to such extremes to gain support for their candidate?  Perhaps they enjoy their new quality of life, driving SUVs, wearing expensive suits, and have grown accustomed to electricity and running water for their homes.  Would this all disappear if their candidate wasn’t reelected?  But the bigger question is how can they afford this new lifestyle?  Could it be this is part of the rampant corruption that is mentioned daily by the media but no real specifics are ever given.   Is it mere coincidence that billions of dollars of foreign aid is poured into this country, but very little reaches the outlying villages?

Camp pets and school supplies

Teenie, the scorpion

Teenie, the scorpion

Last night before going to bed, I overheard some contractors talking about Teenie and Boogie.  The more I listened, the more I became intrigued.  They were talking about the pet names for their scorpions and about the combat matches with camel spiders.  Boogie was the former champion scorpion until he met his fate when he fought 2 camel spiders at once.  Boogie apparently killed one camel spider but was viciously attacked by the other spider.   In the end, all three creatures succumbed due to their wounds. Now Teenie has entered the ring and holds the title.  This afternoon, a death match with a camel spider was scheduled, but I haven’t heard the results.  Earlier I took a picture of Teenie in its secured habitat.  Only one person has suffered a scorpion sting at the camp and was med-evacuated out to a hospital for treatment.  Guess I better shake my boots more often.

Hydie in her box (I call her Precious).

Hydie in her box (I call her Precious).

Hydie is the adopted name for the new camp puppy.  As you can see by the pictures, she is being well cared for.  Earlier today she gave everyone a scare when she was stung by a yellow jacket.  She cried for over an hour.  Someone cuddled her and wrapped her in a towel and gave her comfort.  Eventually she fell asleep and when she awoke, she seemed back to normal.  Hydie also enjoyed a big cup of milk and someone managed to find some sticks of Pupparoni to pacify her hunger.  I think she will make a great addition to the camp provided the vector contractor (fancy name for animal catcher who travels throughout the country) doesn’t find her.  She might have to learn to stay outside the camp, despite the French vaccinating her.

Hydie is sleeping

Hydie is sleeping

I conducted some additional interviews last night and tonight concerning our school supply project.  According to my wife Liisa, we are receiving boxes of donations.  I also ran into the Army Specialist who runs the Post Office and he told me to visit tomorrow.  Apparently I have a dozen packages waiting to be picked up.   I’m certain they are the school supplies unless my mother sent me a dozen boxes of cookies as a care package.  So I probably need to finalize my plans for distributing these items.  I have my eye on at least one all-girls school and would love to visit there because the Taliban is adamantly opposed to females receiving education here.  But it takes a lot of pre-coordination before we can simply hand the items out.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would have to be fully armed and wear protective gear to give a pen to a local Afghan student.  Thus is the reality of living in a combat zone in Afghanistan.

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