Corruption – My Last Straw

Me loading a big roll of HA blankets.

It started off as a perfect morning.  I had some extra time for breakfast and enjoyed a fluffy egg omelet, fresh fruit, and washed it down with some mediocre tasting coffee.  Omid and I loaded the truck with large bags of clothing, blankets, and first aid kits.  In addition, I had some boxes of hygiene items and some other gifts to present to my ANA counterparts as parting gifts.

Our first stop was the Kandak Religious Officer (RO) and Mullah’s office.  We ran into the ANA Sergeant Major and I asked him to boil some water for chai because we would visit his office next.  The Mullah was in the RO’s office and I didn’t have to chase him down.  They were both happy to see me and more so when they saw I had some gifts.  Previously the Mullah was having trouble with his cell phone and asked if I could find one for him.  At my previous camp, the ANA Sergeant Major gave me two cell phones to use, even though I rarely used them.  I suspect he felt guilty about gouging me on the contracts I gave him, he would reciprocate a little.  So instead of giving the phone away to another soldier, I gave this phone to the Mullah.  His eyes really lit up when I presented it to him.  The RO also had a request.  He had a problem with his memory stick, so I replaced it with a new one.  He too, was very happy with his gift.

The Mullah and RO were sad to see me go and thanked me for everything I did in supporting the literacy class and for distributing humanitarian assistance in the villages.  I joked, “I’m not ready to be converted to the Muslim faith and that I was going to remain with my book (Bible).”  The Mullah, a man of few words, “Wished me the best with my travels back to the United States and happiness to my family.  They will be sad to see me go.” Before leaving, we took a picture together and I thanked them for teaching me about Afghanistan and the Koran.

Saying goodbye to Kandak Religious Officer and Mullah.

Our next stop was the ANA Sergeant Major’s office.  We walked into his room and the teapot was boiling water and bubbling over the sides on to the table.  He was still using the same bag of tea leaves that I previously gave him as a gift.  Since the SGM is supporting 12 children, I presented him several boxes of hygiene items for his family to use.  I also gave him an opportunity to pick through some of the clothes that were loaded on the back of the pick-up truck.

While sipping our chai, he revealed some information about the ANA school supply distribution.  Some of his soldiers participated on this mission.  According to his soldiers, after the school supplies were loaded on the back of a truck, they made a detour before arriving at the school.  The truck stopped at the ANA Brigade Surgeon’s house and he had the soldiers off load several boxes of school supplies and a portion of the Beanie Babies.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!  Here was a man I entrusted and to save face and keep our promises, I divided the school supplies and Beanie Babies for distribution to the village school.  This is the same village where the ANA surgeon was born at.  Now I find out he deprived his own people of goods only to enrich himself.  I was livid and still am!!  Interestingly enough, he is not a real doctor either and apparently knew someone to get his position and title of ANA Brigade Surgeon!  Furthermore, we already suspected him of taking medicines from the pharmacy along with some of the other medics.  Coincidentally, they all own pharmacies in Kabul city.  After this school supply thievery, I would not be surprised he is also stealing medicines from the ANA medical warehouse to resupply his privately owned pharmacy.

ANA Brigade surgeon who allegedly had school supplies dropped off at his house.

Note:  I am still contemplating what to do.  I have no real proof and a soldier will not provide testimony against an officer.  Even if he did, there would be little ramifications due to a weak and inadequate justice system.  Somehow I want him to know that I know what he did. I will have to sleep on this one and determine my course of action.

The ANA SGM still wants to give me a gift too.  He wanted to take me to his house and eat a home-cooked Afghan meal together.  But he knew for security reasons this wouldn’t be possible.  Instead, he is going to bring the food and offered to make me lunch tomorrow.  This will be his parting gift to me.  I am not sure if the man knows how to cook, but tomorrow I will find out.  It’s the thought that counts.

Our next stop was at the ANA Family Support Center.  The garrison Religious Officer and his assistant were waiting on me and the truckload of supplies.  I tried to assist with offloading the truck, but the RO insisted the soldiers do it and for Omid and I to come into his office to chat.  This is the officer who formerly served as a Mujahedeen commander under Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance who fought against the Soviets and the Taliban.  To be cont’d…..

ANA On Their Own

Afghan children hoping to get more school supplies.

Yesterday I mentioned that the ANA visited a village school and dropped off school supplies and Beanie Babies for the children.  Today I had an opportunity to discuss the trip with Mir Wais, the interpreter who accompanied them and took these photos.

Since there was so much stuff to transport, they piled everything into a 7 ton truck including some of the vitamins and medicines our medic provided.  The shelf life on the medicines was expiring soon, so this was a beneficial way to dispose of them instead of throwing them away.

Beanie Babies and school supplies waiting to be handed out.

The ANA Brigade surgeon along with his contingent of soldiers drove to the village school.  This school hosts both boys and girls during the same time period.  However, the buildings are segregated and inaccessible to each other.  One side has the girls’ classrooms and the other side houses the boys.  But in typical Afghan fashion, the girls are not provided the same resources as the boys.  None of the classrooms for the girls has any desks in them, except one designated for the teacher.

Afghan girls pose with school supplies.

But all the boys’ classrooms have antiquated desks and benches.  The girls are required to sit on the worn out floor mats while the teacher conducts the lesson or sits at the only desk present in the room.

Notice only one desk in the classroom for the teacher.

The principal insisted on handing out the school supplies to the boys first and then

Afghan boys reaching for pencils.

anything left over be given to the girls.  What was really surprising is that the girls have a female principal and she was totally unaware of what was going on.  Otherwise, they could have split the school supplies equally.  So the boys prevailed this time and received notebooks, pens, pencils, and Beanie Babies.  Only a handful of girl classrooms were given any items.

Afghan girls receiving Beanie Babies.

I’ve mentioned before in my blog, we aren’t just trying to rebuild a nation, but the real challenge is changing a culture.  I’m sure I have critics who disagree with me and even the term “ nation-building” is not PC, but I really don’t know how else to explain it.  Our taxpayer dollars contribute to 50 percent of this country’s national budget.  Much of it is specifically coded for the ANA and the ANP salaries and resources.  In addition, we are expending hundreds of millions of dollars for building infrastructure projects to include roads, dams, wells, electricity access, sewage systems, etc.  We are building schools and refurbishing them along with providing agricultural assistance in the form of seeds, saffron bulbs, etc.   So if that is not nation building, I don’t know what is.  I suppose the correct term is a generous aid package for rehabilitation.

What really gets me upset is the amount of corruption that continues to fester in this country.  I am a big proponent of education and seeing these young girls forced to sit on raggedy floor mats is appalling.  This school is less than 10 miles from the capital city where corrupt government officials are becoming wealthy by siphoning off the aid that is received in this country.  Sure they try to legitimize it by paying high consultation fees (bribes) or charge American prices on contracts only to subcontract it out and pay pennies on the dollar while pocketing the difference.  One could argue that at least these girls have a school building and are permitted to attend, unlike the remote villages where females are prohibited from going to school and the female illiteracy rate is above 80 percent.

Women are not treated equally here, including the women who serve in the ANA and ANP.   Even the women elected to Parliament (who I recall compose one third of this body) are powerless and vote according to the powerful warlords and businessmen who put them into office.  In the next paragraph I have copied an article from today’s local newspaper.  I will let you form your own opinions.


MAZAR-I-SHARIF – Afghan officials have banned women from having an exclusive day for visiting the main shrine in the northern city of Mazar-i Sharif, saying the restriction was imposed for security reasons. The head of Balkh Women’s Affairs Department, Fariba Majeed, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the restriction was in place both for security and traffic problems. Before the restriction, at least the initial five Wednesdays of each solar year were reserved for women to visit the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam. Ms Majeed said a number of ‘immorality incidents’ were reported during those exclusive days, which led to the women’s visit ban. She argued that a girl, who eloped with a man and then returned, told the interrogators that she had met the man on a Wednesday at the Shrine. However, the ban was welcomed by religious scholars, but not by women in the city, saying the move was a violation of their right. They argued that moving around ‘independently’ in the courtyard of the shrine on every Wednesday provided them opportunity to enjoy and entertain themselves. However, the women’s affairs director said that small parks had been constructed for women in different areas of the city and they could go and enjoy their leisure hours there. A local Maulvi, Abdul Rahman Rahmani, said the shrine was a sacred place and not an area of enjoyment for women.

Preparing for ANA School Supply Drop Mission

One of two truckloads of school supplies.

After delivering the school supplies, our convoy departed the school and returned back to camp.  But my day was only half over and after lunch, I would have to prep the items for the ANA mission the next day.  Keeping my promise, I divided the inventory in half and waited for the ANA to come to my camp and retrieve the items.  A few of my teammates helped load the items.  We filled two pick-up trucks to the top with all the school items and then transported them to ANA land.  The ANA Brigade Surgeon was happy to see me and couldn’t believe how many boxes of items we brought.  We filled his office with boxes of school supplies and a large crate of Beanie Babies.  There was barely any room to walk around after we finished.

ANA Brigade Surgeon's office overflowing with boxes of school supplies.

We sat down in his office and drank a customary cup of chai together.  We talked about this morning’s mission.  The ANA surgeon talked about today’s goodwill and its effects.

Little girl outside the school from morning mission.

By having the US military accompany the ANA, the children had a chance to see the joint partnership in action.  He also said when the students go home tonight; they will show their parents the school supplies distributed by the joint US/ANA team.  He really hoped we could accompany him on tomorrow’s mission too.  But this was impossible since we didn’t recon the village, nor did we receive approval to do this.  The ANA would have to do this on their own and this is ultimate pinnacle of success in COIN

Afghan school classroom ... no desks only floor mats.

operations.  I don’t think this happens too often, because the US mentors are always with them for this type of village visits.  Ultimately the plan is to give all of the military operations to the ANA so we can leave their country and they will assume responsibility for the national security of their homeland.

School boys holding up their notebooks and pencils.

While sipping our tea more information was revealed about today’s school principal.  I’m a pretty good judge of character and earlier I mentioned about some reservations about this principal.  There was something about his demeanor and nonverbal gestures that perplexed me.  I came to find out the reason the school principal did not want us visiting in the morning; it’s because he really doesn’t like the idea of girls going to school. So because of these personal feelings he didn’t want the female students to receive any of the school supplies. Instead, he wanted them distributed only to the

ANA Surgeon handing out school supplies to the little girls.

boys.  At first, I was rather appalled by this revelation.  But after studying the culture of this country and living here for almost a year, it was understandable even though I didn’t agree with it.

Since Omid wasn’t available, I was using Mir Wais to translate for me.  He volunteered to accompany the ANA to the school tomorrow and take pictures with my camera.  I just got my camera back and I am posting a few pictures of the visit.  Tomorrow I will discuss the trip with him and the ANA Brigade surgeon in detail for additional information.

AF Captain handing out humorous awards.

Later in the evening, my teammates met in the office for a unique presentation.  One of the AF captains who has a great sense of humor and too much free time on his hand, created some humorous awards.  He tried to pinpoint down our peculiarities and then penned it to appear as an official award from the Air Force.  He even signed it as the Chief of Awesomeness.  Using his warped sense of humor, he presented me the Information Superiority Medal focusing on my blog and nicknamed me “Brother Teresa”… lol.

Celebrating with cigars and smoked salmon.

Afterward we went to the outside pavilion for some cigars and smoked salmon.  I have been saving these items for a special occasion.  They were donated by readers of my blog.  According to the label on the smoked salmon, the expiration date was 2013, so it should still be palatable.  It was very good along with some Ritz crackers.  Since I didn’t have a humidor, the cigars were a bit dry but it was the thought that counted.


Manas Update: Initially the events occurring in Kyrgyzstan caused my team to delay their departure from the camp.  But now the flights have resumed and next week we will all leave the FOB on the same day and start our journey home.


MILbloggie Award for Air Force category:  I am truly humbled and surprised to win this award.  I am grateful to everyone who voted for me and especially moved by the energetic support of my wife Liisa.  I really didn’t think I had a chance to make it past the nomination round and then to make it in the finals was a big surprise.  It was a truly unique anniversary gift from my wife (she was the first to nominate me and to vote for me) that will be always be memorable.

The competition was really tight between my blog and “30 Days Through Afghanistan,” the blog published by two seasoned journalists from the ISAF Public Affairs Office, TSgt Nathan Gallahan and TSgt Ken Raimondi.  The government firewall prevents personnel from viewing my blog, but theirs was accessible on government computers.  It didn’t help matters that on the last day of the competition, the private internet was down all day long at my camp and the system was so slow at MWR, my teammates and others could not cast a vote because the Internet kept timing out.

I’m still amazed how many people still tune in to read about my ramblings and my everyday life.  I know my family appreciated it and it saved me numerous hours of typing repetitive emails to them.  But it also provided me an opportunity to show the public what else happens in a combat zone besides combat.  I have a few more days left before starting my journey home.  If everything goes as planned, I am going to interview some former Mujahedeen fighters and try to provide some historical insight.  Thanks again for everyone’s support and votes. And my most sincere congratulations to all the other winners as well .

U.S. Army
A Soldier’s Perspective

U.S. Navy
Naval Institute Blog

U.S. Marine Corps
Castra Praetoria

U.S. Coast Guard
An Unoffical Coast Guard Blog

U.S. Military Veteran
Blackfive – The Paratrooper of Love

Foreign National Military

U.S. Military Spouse
A Little Pink in a World of Camo

U.S. Military Parent
You Betcha I’m a Proud Army Mom

U.S. Military Supporter
Not Your Average Brooklynette

U.S. Reporter
The Unknown Soldiers

And a great big thank you to USAA and General Electric for sponsoring the Milblog Conference in Washington where the awards are handed out on Saturday.

This week’s radio interview

Reporter & Producer Bobbie O'Brien

Here is a link to this week’s chat with WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien. We talked about the latest school supplies delivery mission, the preparations for it and how the children reacted. To hear the story, click here.

Anchor, producer and editor Joshua Stewart

Also congratulations are in order for Bobbie and her editor Joshua Stewart; the pair has won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for their work on this radio series. Now their entry moves into the national finals. If you would like to listen to the winning entry from WUSF, click here.

Organized Chaos

G Company loading truck with boxes of school items.

Now that we had a solution, it was time to implement an action plan.  The next day, my teammates and G-Company, 186 BSB combined forces and loaded a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) with the boxes packed full of school supplies.  Before loading them, we stacked them in the parking lot by type of item contained in the

Assembly line to load truck with school supplies.

postal flat rate boxes.  Then I divided the inventory in half.  We formed an assembly line and half of the boxes were loaded on to the truck and the remainder was placed back into the metal conex.  The boxes were then covered with a tarp and parked at the Motor Pool in preparation for tomorrow’s mission.

In the morning the convoy commander set

Sand table and walk through for today's mission.

up a sand table diagram (without the sand) and we walked through today’s mission.  He wanted to be sure everyone knew their security position and we discussed possible contingencies and egress strategies.  We weren’t taking any chances even though this appeared to be a safe village.

Everyone got loaded into their vehicles and we met

ANA soldiers receive instructions for today's mission.

up with our ANA counterparts.  I was pleasantly surprised to see most of them on time, although one third of them were still running late.  The ANA surgeon was all smiles and took charge of his men.  He lined them up in a row, took roll call, and then we started discussing the security parameters.  They seemed a bit uneasy since they visited

ANA soldiers readying all the school supplies for distribution.

a different village and didn’t have a chance to recon this village.  After a few minutes of discussion and describing our security plan in detail, they agreed with it and it was time to execute this mission.

Our armored convoy rumbled through the village and as planned, the vehicles established security at various over watch points.  Omid, our ETT leader, and I went inside the school and met the principal.  As part of COIN philosophy, we wanted to give the principal the opportunity to explain

Female soldiers handing out notebooks to Afghan girl students.

the best method of distribution.   By using this process, it gives ownership to the principal for the idea.  Often we may not agree with the Afghan idea, but we go along with it anyhow.  Such was the case today too.  He directed the boxes be stacked outside in the courtyard area and then the teachers would bring one classroom at a time to receive the items.  He also insisted that

Afghan girls pose with their Beanie Baby and school supplies.

no American soldiers distribute the items to the female students, except for the female US soldiers.  It was also permissible for the ANA soldiers to hand them the items.  I had hoped to go inside the school for security reasons and then we could limit the number of people grabbing for items in the open boxes.  I was especially concerned about the boys who were gathering outside the school complex and perching on top of the concrete walls.  Nonetheless, we off-loaded the items and ANA and female soldiers set up their distribution line.

Initially it was a very systematic and organized process.  The teacher would bring one classroom of students at a time and they were given a notebook, pens, and pencils.  Most of the teachers carried a small wooden switch and wasn’t afraid to use it to maintain order.   The children were elated to get the supplies and even happier when they got a Beanie Baby.  While this was going on, I went inside a 5th grade classroom to talk with the students.  They were studying basic arithmetic.  The black chalkboard the female teacher was using was in pretty bad shape.  Notice in the picture how it’s deteriorating and the slate or whatever the composition of it is, is falling apart.  Even though I was only permitted in one classroom, this was representative of the other classroom environments.

Boys gathering outside the school building hoping to get some handouts.

Outside, my teammates along with the ANA were rapidly handing out the supply items.  Now instead of one classroom at a time, they were bringing 3 classrooms at a time.  When the children saw the free items being handed out, they ran to get into line.  The boys who were previously sitting on the walls were jumping down and like vultures, they would make their way into the stash of supplies and grab a handful and run off.  The ANA soldiers were helpless to keep them all back and we asked them not to hurt the students either.  On previous occasions I have witnessed them remove their steel cleaning rods from their AK-47s and used this as a method of crowd control.  This is not a prudent way for the ANA to enhance their image among the local populace.

The boy from the shooting range and his friends.

Among the crowd I recognized a familiar face and he saw me too.  It was one of the boys I had met at the shooting range.  He ran over too me and in his best English said hello.  One of the ANA soldiers was trying to move him back from the other students.  Despite being one of the ornery boys jumping over the wall, I wanted to give him a special gift of remembrance.  So I got a notebook, pen, pencils, and a Beanie Baby for him.  Through one of the interpreters, I explained about keeping my promise to see him again.  He was very grateful and I asked him not to jump over the wall again.  He ran off with his booty and about 10 minutes later, he jumped over the wall again and tried to snatch some more school supplies.  I guess some things never change.

Me with the boy from the shooting range.

As the supplies dwindled, so did the fervor of the children crowding around to get supplies.  The boys from outside were jumping over the wall in throngs and we were losing control of the crowd and the supplies.  The ANA started to give out the teacher

Supplies running out, complete chaos.

supplies until I could convince the principal to take them inside and secure them.  Due to the ravaging boys, we ran out of notebooks and were quickly handing out pens and pencils to the remaining 25-30 students.  It didn’t help the situation when someone tossed a handful of pencils into the air because the students were pushing and shoving to grab these items.

The female soldiers put the remaining boxes on their heads and we handed out the remaining leftovers to some grabby hands.  One would think by their reaction, we were giving away hundred dollar bills.  Our ETT leader made the call to leave the area and mount up on the trucks.  It was time to go.  Outside there were several hundred boys pestering us for pens and money.  Somehow the ANA managed to hide a few boxes of school supply items in their vehicle and created even more chaos by handing them out to the boys.  But the distraction allowed us to get back inside our vehicles and within minutes our convoy was inching its way through the crowd of students.  We returned back to camp without incident.

Convoy departing the school.

By my estimates, we handed out over 600 notebooks, 2000 pencils, and 1000 pens to the students.  In addition, the Beanie Babies were a big hit and several hundred of them were given out resulting in big smiles on the children’s faces.  I had a great time and today, we won “the hearts and minds” of these students.  Before I left, I talked to the principal and explained the importance of education.  I said, “I really believe in education and these children are tomorrow’s leaders.”  He shook my hand, thanked me for the donations, and agreed with my statement.

Case of a Mistaken Village

Now that our mission is over, I will reveal what I couldn’t yesterday about the potential of being the biggest blunder of my deployment.  It took some real finesse and some sheer luck to resolve the situation.

Some 173rd teammates and I joined forces with G Company, 186 BSB and our mission was to perform a reconnaissance mission on a village.  I have been working on this project for several weeks and now it was coming to fruition.   Previously I had targeted a village school to deliver school supplies to.    It sounds simple, but it’s a very tedious process and involves a lot of coordination, logistics, analysis, and planning.  After all the atmospherics are completed and layers of bureaucracy of approval are granted, the next step is to meet with the appropriate village personnel and establish a date for delivery.

Bumpy road leading back to school.

We drove down a bumpy road to get to the quaint village which was nestled in the foothills of the towering mountains seen off in the distance.  Most of the homes were simple and crudely constructed of mud brick and part of the road was lined with green leafy trees.  I saw some power lines too.  This was an indication part of the village enjoyed electricity.  We also drove past some wandering scraggly sheep and cows, which is typical in almost any Afghan village.  As we passed by, the citizens watched us and the children were fixated on our armored vehicles mounted with lethal crew serve weapons.

Exterior of the village school building.

Our convoy pulled up next to the school and our dismounts were taking notes of the surrounding terrain and village dwellings.  Since it was the largest building in the village, I assumed this was the school building.  My first impression was it looked like an abandoned warehouse building complete with missing windows and painted an ugly tan color.  The structure was surrounded by a solid concrete wall and the adjacent land which we used for a parking lot was filled with rubble and piles of large stones.  According to Omid, my interpreter, and the sign attached to the building, this was the village school.

Village next to the school building.

A few of us dismounted from our armor vehicles and was immediately approached by a tribal elder inquiring our purpose for being there.  I informed him that we would like to visit their school in hopes of distributing school supplies to the students at a later date.  The elder was very cordial and agreed to give us a tour of the school complex.  He introduced me to the principal and then I unveiled our plan.  Both the elder and principal were hesitant to allow us to visit in the morning when the school is occupied by the female students.  They suggested we come in the afternoon after the shift rotation and give the items to the boys.  I was very diplomatic because our mission was set for the morning and too often the girls are left out and receive nothing.  They gave in to my request and looked forward to our visit the next day.

Water source for the school.

Originally the ANA Brigade Surgeon was supposed to join us and introduce us to the tribal elders and principal.  But he was nowhere to be seen and nor was he answering his cell phone.  Meanwhile, our vehicles attracted attention and the village children were starting to crowd around our vehicles.  Some members were trying to be hospitable and interact with them.  While they were being distracted, the children removed the pens exposed from their uniforms and were badgering for more.  I completed my conversation with the principal and knew it was time to depart before the entire village would swarm around the convoy.  Our security experts got the information they were seeking and we then departed for the second leg of our journey, which I wrote about yesterday.

Army medic talks with small children.

The ANA Surgeon called me on the phone and wanted to meet to discuss tomorrow’s delivery.  I went to his office and he inquired where I was this morning.  I explained that we went to the village on a recon mission, met with the tribal elder and principal and solidified our plan to deliver school items tomorrow.  He revealed that he also went to the village and met with the tribal elders and the principal and he too promised delivery of school supplies.  Suddenly a dark cloud filled the room and I sensed something was wrong.  How could we have both been at the village in the morning and not seen each other?  It was because we visited two different villages about two miles apart.  Both villages had identical names except for the last four letters.  So now we had a dilemma.  The ANA surgeon was obviously concerned because we both had made promises.  I had to think fast on my feet and come up with a solution.  I proposed to divide the school supplies in half.  This way we could deliver to both schools and both of us would not lose face and keep our promises.  The ANA surgeon accepted my idea and he ordered some chai to drink while we worked out the final details.

Discussing security positions with ANA Brigade Surgeon.

Communication is so vital and is also the most challenging aspect of mentoring.  I was certain all of this time we were discussing plans for the same village school.  When in fact we weren’t.  Fortunately I had a large supply of school items or this could have been ugly, thus the potential to be the biggest blunder of my deployment.

Note:  Because I am super tired, tomorrow I will discuss the school supply mission in detail. I will refer to it as “Organized Chaos.”

I want to thank everyone who is supporting me in my wife’s efforts to give me an anniversary gift by nominating me for the MILblog competition.  If you like my blog entries and would like to vote for me, please go to and follow the instructions.  I’m really surprised that I made it to the finals for the Air Force bloggers’ category and now am just one vote behind the seasoned Air Force PAO professionals.

WUSF Radio interview for March 30

This week’s conversation with WUSF’s Bobbie O’Brien covered our mission to a girls school to drop off donated school supplies and President Obama’s visit to Afghanistan. The story aired Monday during NPR’s “All Things Considered” and will run again this morning in the Tampa Bay area during “Morning Edition.” Or you can click on a link to the audio and the transcript here.

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