Last in country radio conversation

Rex with his MRAP on a mission in Afghanistan.

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is on his way home; he’s made it to Ali Asaleem, Kuwait. Before leaving his camp in Afghanistan Rex did one last “in country” interview with WUSF Radio’s Bobbie O’Brien about his deployment year, which aired last night in Tampa during NPR’s “All Things Considered” and again this morning during “Morning Edition.” You can hear the chat by clicking on this link

4-15 MLT Rex Heads Home

or if you’d like to read the entire transcript, it’s available here.

Radio chat for this week

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex has departed his camp and is on his long journey home. Before he left he had a chance to chat with WUSF Radio’s Bobbie O’Brien. They talked about Rex’s recent visit with two female Afghan National Army officers. You can download that chat by click on this link  4-12 MLT women ANA or if you would like to read the entire transcript, you can see it here.

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…..

Time is Running Out

1Sgt does his “Jarod” impression.

Like an hourglass that has been turned upside down and the sand granules slowly deplete and amass on the bottom, so is the amount of time we have left on our deployment.  But the time is measured in days instead of hours.  Our ETT mission has officially ended and everyone is busy packing their bags and disposing of items they have accumulated throughout the year.  It’s amazing how much stuff and junk you acquire.

I am still tying up some loose ends and tomorrow I plan on delivering my last load of humanitarian assistance to the ANA family support center.  Today Omid, Mir Wais, and I sorted through large bags of clothing, first aid kits, hygiene kits, and blankets.  My plan is

Omid, my interpreter, sorting through bags of clothing.

to give one third of the items to the family support center for distribution to wounded soldiers’ families and widows.  Then the remaining items are going to be turned over to an Army SSG who is responsible for 7 regions.  He works closely with the Afghan National Police and has assured me the items will be distributed to needy villagers.  The demand is so great here that just about any village would qualify for these handouts.

Tomorrow I will also say my final goodbye to the ANA Sergeant Major, Religious Officer, and the Mullah.  I have some surprise gifts to bestow upon them provided they aren’t out on a mission.  I’m also excited about the opportunity to interview a former Mujahedeen fighter who was injured during the war with the Soviets.  So it should be an interesting day.

Teammates playing volleyball.

Meanwhile back at the camp, when we aren’t packing our clothes or preparing for departure, my teammates are taking advantage of the sunny weather.  The other day we played over three hours of volleyball while other teammates shot basketball.  I took an accidental elbow to my jaw while on the volleyball court and had a headache that persisted for two days.  But all is well now.  I will just add that to my extensive list of bumps and bruises …. lol.  This deployment has taken a toll on the body and I look forward to the day I wake up and don’t have to don any heavy body armor or carry a weapon around with me everywhere I go.

AF MSgt rules the basketball court.

I’m also doing some last minute shopping before departing here too.  I can’t pass up an opportunity to purchase some Afghan made goods like scarves, jewelry, and rugs.  I already have a place picked out for the rug in my room in our house and now we are contemplating changing out some of the other rugs as well.  It’s almost like planning a mission, because I have to wire the money to my interpreter, take pictures of the rugs for sale, and most importantly, have to get the wife’s approval on the change of décor.  Then I have to make the purchase and wait for mail day to send the items out.   I still think prints of big lions and tigers are manly and spruce up a room, but Mrs. T says that is not suitable for the dining room area.  So I have to trust her judgment and accept her choices … lol.

In this photo slide show you can see some of the many items available at the bazaar:

In local news:

KABUL – More than two dozens of suspected militants have been arrested on charges of carrying out militant operations in the fortified capital, Kabul, the Afghan intelligence agency said on Saturday. An official at the National Directorate of Security (NDS) said at least twenty-six people — in three separate groups — have been detained with some arms over the past three weeks. The militants were linked to the Taliban and the Hezb-e Islami led-by Gulbuddin Hikmatyar — the two leading militants groups in Afghanistan, the NDS spokesman, Saeed Ansari, told a news conference. The Afghan capital was under a number of coordinated attacks over the last one year as groups of suicide bombers, armed with rifles, had attacked key government buildings and guesthouse, favored by foreigners. A dozen of the detained militants were Kabul residents, who were charged for having hands in suicide attacks, providing ammunitions and arms to insurgents, Mr. Ansari said. Ansari added that the detainees confessed during interrogations that they were trained in the Shamshatu refugees’ camp on the outskirts of the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Meanwhile, Kabul police have also arrested 14 other insurgents on charges of planting bombs, launching rocket attacks on the capital and kidnappings over the past three weeks, Kabul Police Chief, Lt Gen Abdul Rahman Rahman, told in the joint conference with the NDS spokesman. (Pajhwok)

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
DoubleTapper

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.

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