Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day 18  (Thursday  April 16, 2009)...Great Food!

I tossed and turned all last night.  I haven't had poor sleep like that since coming here.  So, yet again, I slept in...yes I know, woe is me.

More of the same classes today.  But, this evening we had a group dinner in which the Afghanistan workers here at Fort Riley, cooked us a traditional meal.  As you see in the pictures, we had rice (similar to fried rice), chicken with a cumin/curry based sauce (at least that's what I thought) and salad with a light dressing (tasted like Italian).  They also served us tea, which was to simulate Chai tea, but I'm pretty sure it was Lipton's Lemon Ice-Tea.  While moving through the food line, I attempted to speak Dari to the Afghans.  Things I said were, "Salaam alaikum" (Hello),  and "As deedan-e shumaa khosh shudam" (I am pleased to meet you) and "Tashakor" (Thank you).  Washing hands is immensely important prior to eating in Afghanistan, due to the fact that they do not use utensils.  Thus, one must use your right hand to eat.  Why the right hand you ask(?).  Well, the left is considered dirty...sometimes they don't have access to toilet paper...I'll let you draw your own conclusions from that.  So, we all used only our right hands to eat.  Oh, one food item I forgot was the bread.  It is a flat bread similar to Indian flat bread or pita bread.  If one is smart, they will use the bread to scoop the food.  This works with limited success.  Finally, you'll notice tables without legs, on the floor.  The Afghans do not sit on chairs, so we were not going to either.  All in all, the food was great.  In speaking with one our Afghan teachers, Hamraz, I am informed the food in Afghanistan is vastly better than what we ate.  If that's the case, I'm looking forward to the local cuisine.  By the way, as you look at the pictures above, it has become evident to most of us here that Hamraz resembles Eric Estrada, "Ponch", from the TV show Chips.  What do you think?  

As I settled in for the night, I realized I was out of clean underwear for tomorrow...RATS!  While I suppose going "commando" in my fatigues is an option, I will likely fight for a washer and dryer tonight.  Life's tough.  Good night.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day 17  (Wednesday April 15, 2009)...finally caught up.

Got up late today, 0630.  Some of our Navy crew put on the body armor and went for a hike this morning at 0530.  I felt compelled to get my beauty sleep and opted out of the exercise.  However, due to the lights being turned on in our communal living area, it was more difficult than not, to continue sleeping.  (Here comes the segue.)  To promote darkness in the early morning, I placed a sheet at the end of the bed and took my poncho liner and tied it up on the open side.  This provides me with a bit more privacy too.  Mike (my bunk mate) has dubbed my little hideout, the Hooch.  I think it's a reference to the Playboy Grotto, but I assure you, in the confines of our 40 man suite, it is all quite innocent.  

We were back in class again by 0800 and done by 1445.  I went on a 1.5 mile run and headed to the gym.  But, the night wasn't done.  We, as a class, had a cultural role playing exercise at 1800.  Two of our team members, with their Afghanistan interpreter, sat down with two Afghan soldiers and had a meeting.  The interpreter and soldiers were actual Afghans and spoke in Dari (their language), simulating what it would be like during the initial meeting we will eventually have with our counterparts (counterparts is our term for the Afghans we will be working with).  I have included a picture above.  The rest of us stood around to witness and critique the interaction.  

That's it for tonight.  Still tired despite my extra rest this morning.  Off to the Hooch. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Days 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15,, I'm really behind.

Day 10 (Wednesday April 8, 2009)

Unfortunately, it seems so long ago that it will be hard to relive that day.  It must not have been very exciting.  However, I have pictures to prove I existed.  (For all my pictures, please see the post at the top of the page.)  This was the day we received our cold-weather gear, helmets, body armor, ruck sack and sleeping bag/gear.  This is some nice stuff.  The only other notable was what we call a "field day" in our rooms.  Essentially, we had to clean our rooms and be ready to check out the next morning at 0600.  This was relatively minor cleaning compared to Officer Development School (the training I did before going to San Diego).

Day 11 (Thursday April 9, 2009)

Well, up at 0500 to get checked out of our single rooms.  We moved down to Camp Funston this afternoon.  But, before the move we were issued our weapons; an M4 (similar to an M16 Rifle) and an M9 (9 mm pistol).  Additionally, we were given Night Vision Goggles or "NVG's" ... cool.  Admittedly, I was a bit nervous carrying these weapons around.  The first maneuver is to "clear" your weapon.  (I needed to have our Senior Chief show me...though I was not the only one.)  This process entailed disengaging the magazine (where the ammunition is held), checking the chamber (to ensure no ammo is present in the gun barrel, releasing the hammer (mechanism by which the ammo is discharged or fired) and placing the firearm in the safety position.   All the while, the barrel of the gun is pointed into a "clearing barrel" (big red barrel with bee-bee sized gravel in the bottom) as protection, should the gun fire.  We did this for both guns.  By the afternoon, we had boarded a bus and headed for Camp Funston.  Once there we received an In-Brief on what we could expect over the course of the next 8 weeks.  Then, it was off to the 40-man barracks...kick ass!  I love communal living.  (See pictures above.)  I am bunking with Mike, the radiologist from Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) were I work.  We didn't know each other prior to this deployment, but he's a good guy and we hang out frequently.  Enough for this day...oh, one more thing.  As good fortune would have it, we were able to check our guns into the armory (a secure enclosure) while we were not using them).  It will be nice not to have to carry them around for the next three weeks.

Day 12 (Friday April 10, 2009)

Only a half day of lectures on Afghan language and culture today.  This is fantastic, seeing as how it is Easter weekend.  We were released by noon and I was able to rent a car and drive to Lincoln, Nebraska to see my great friend, Brian Payne and his family (wife Melissa, and boys Dylan and Drew).  Isabella had to work on Easter Sunday, so she wasn't able to come visit this weekend...but I will see her soon.  Lincoln is only 150 miles away.  Nice drive straight North of here.  When I arrived, Brian and Mel were in church, but Mel's parents (Bob and Rita) were watching the boys at Brian's house.  As Bob greeted me at the door, just up the stairs was a recently bathed Dylan (3 years old), towel over his head and shoulders and nothing else on...  I'm not sure if this is a formal Nebraska Greeting or merely unexpected circumstance.  None the less, I felt welcomed.  I imagine Dylan will learn of this one day.  And as a rite of passage, I hope I am there to meet his prom date or fiance and, in all good fun, tell the story of Dylan's naked escapade.  

Day 13 (Saturday April 11, 2009)

I had a great day with the Payne family.  In the morning, we all went to the YMCA and worked out while the boys were at the Y's daycare.  Then, off to Taco Bell for lunch.  I haven't had Taco Bell in so long.  It was pretty darn good.  As the boys went down for their afternoon naps, Brian took me to the University of Nebraska to show me around.  We saw the football stadium and caught a glimpse of the playing field.  There was also a Track and Field event going on right next to the stadium, so I took some pictures and we walked around for a while.  Finally, Brian showed me where his office is located.  Brian is receiving his PHD in of the smartest guys I know.  (I hope you realize how proud everyone is of you and what you've accomplished.)  Later that afternoon, Brian and I took Dylan to Homes (spelling) Lake to try our hand at fishing.  Drew is only 19 months and probably wouldn't have the patience to he stayed with Mel.  While the fish weren't biting, Dylan was able to reel in the worm several truly is the little things in life that are important.  After dinner, the boys went to bed and Mel's sister, Mary, came over.  Brian had a itch to play "Pitch", a card game.  While I had never played before, the others patiently instructed me on the finer points.  Subsequently, Brian and I, as teammates, graciously dismantled the Widhelm sisters in the highly competitive game.  It was all in good fun.  

Day 14  (Sunday April 12, 2009...Happy Easter)

The Payne's allowed me to attend church with them this morning.  I thought frequently of Isabella and my family (the Becker's and Nguyen's).  While I would have loved to have been with them on this holiday, I could think of no better alternative than to spend it with the Payne's.  Brian and his family are incredibly generous.  They treated me as family; and in many respects, we are.  After the Catholic mass, we went out to brunch at the Embassy Suites Hotel, with Mel's parents and sister.  Awesome food.  I drove back to Fort Riley later that evening and prepared for Monday.  Along the way, I was able to speak with Isabella and Mom and Dad.  I even got a chance to say hello to Joce, Rick and Maddex on Skype later that night.  What a great weekend.

Day 15 and 16 (Monday and Tuesday April 13 and 14, 2009)

Good Monday everyone!  Class was to start at 0800...very civil.  But, in military fashion, someone turned on our lights in the barracks at 0515...thank you...that's sarcasm if it was not apparent.  So, up we go.  Tuesday was a repeat of Monday.  Our classes have been quite interesting to this point.  

The first hour of class is dedicated to learning Dari, one of the two dominant languages in Afghanistan.  We are told Dari is predominant in the region we will be going.  The remaining hours of our day (up to 1500 with an hour lunch break) are spent learning of the Afghan culture.  We are taught by Afghans, who have recently come to America, and an Army Major and Special Forces Commander.  The history of this country is remarkable and the people are very proud and dedicated to their religion, Islam.  I am fascinated by this.  I probably should have taken more history classes in college.