2012 05 23 Powerpoint in Dari

Ahh, if it isn’t my old enemy…power point! And you got an upgrade…Dari…

Today I met my counterpart on the ANA (Afghan National Army). Nice guy, seems motivated, speaks a little bit of English thus making our exchanges a little easier. I’m doing this system where I hear an Afghan word or two, I write it down and try to apply it later, hoping to build some rapport. We’ll see how it goes, but my aim is the more I get to know them, the less likely we’ll have a misunderstanding resulting in another one of those ANSF on ISAF shootings.

But what amazed me today is the integration of our language into their culture. I’m astonished at how many of the Afghans are capable of a phrase or two beyond what I would consider entry level English, or English 101. In our society “Donde esta el baño?” or “Hola Isabel, mi llamo Jose” is about the best you get for Spanish 1. Oddly enough, I still don’t know how to say, “Where is the bathroom?” in Dari, “Onje Ast Dushman?” (Where is the enemy?) is a little more my focus. It’s impressive to consider the American breadth in other languages versus theirs. For a society where most of the living conditions are in the 1800’s, their emphasis on learning other languages far surpasses our own. English is not the only language of choice, either. My last interpreter was fluent in German. Today I met one that could speak French. This area hosted the historical trade routes for Europe and Asia, and perhaps that mandated a certain necessity for extensive linguistic skills to cater to customers.  Regardless, it is downright extraordinary.

But you have to wonder how much of this influx of Americanisms is from our pushing US culture upon the Afghans. You have to hope that they will take on the better aspects of our culture: coordinated operations driven by intelligence, supply chains that support the warfighter, or leadership that truly cares for Soldiers. But, as T. E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia, once said, “It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps you think it is.” Ultimately, it has to be the method they adopt in accordance with their culture, not your own. (If you haven’t seen the Lawrence of Arabia movie, it’s on the AMC top 100 films of all times list. )

Today, I saw an amazing adaptation of their ways and ours: Power Point. Yes, Power Point.  I’ll admit it– I was a bit entertained. Given General (R) Petraeus’ attitude towards our over reliance on PowerPoint,  I don’t know why it was introduced to the Afghans.   A more professional way of briefing, perhaps ?  I’ll never know; but okay, I can roll with it.

However, that was the moment when I realized the adage that no country with a McDonald’s has ever gone to war with the United States has been replaced by Bill Gates as the olive branch of the United States corporate influence as I heard an Afghan Colonel, during an Afghan powerpoint briefing, say in perfect English

 “Next Slide.”

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2012 05 21 Groundbreaking Women

We have been very busy as we are now intermingling with our Afghan comrades. I just finished an engagement where I was able to meet with several Afghan women police officers (and, surprisingly, their families). We talked about the challenges they face, their families, and their lives. It is interesting because most U.S. female soldiers only interact with women from one village, and even then it is only for one or two times.  I had the unique experience of interacting with working women and I will get to hopefully see them regularly.

Here is a light into the past – here I am talking with the female groundbreakers…the ones who are paving the way for their daughters and granddaughters. These are not naïve women – they recognize and accept the challenges in getting a job. They are educated; they know how to use computers and many of them spoke a little English. Some work because they are widows or just simply need more money. They may not have chosen this path willingly; but, they realize the importance of what they are doing. They all said it is a great honor to serve their country. I found more similarities than differences with them.

Mostly, I saw that they are the women of America’s yesteryear…they are the Ruths and Cheris and Bettys and Barbaras and Kathleens and Joyces of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and even 80s. The women from when secretary was the only suitable female job…and you certainly shouldn’t work once you have kids. I understood their need to provide for their families…that when you have four mouths to feed you must do what is necessary. Ruth and Cheri and Joyce and Betty and Barbara and Kathleen…you and countless others made it possible for me to be educated and to have equal rights…that I am able to do the job I do today because they withstood the challenges from back then.

So I thank you ladies and I promise to do what I can with these women so they can also succeed. Maybe in sixty years we will see a society not too dissimilar from our own.

Love and staying safe always,

Cat & Travis

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2012 05 16 Tough Week

After a long communications delay,  we heard from Travis and Cat:

I know it’s been quite a while since you last heard from Travis and me, but we’ve been busy moving to multiple locations and doing the “duffle bag drag.”  That’s where we have to haul all 4 of our bags from room to flight to new room back to flight…and repeat. 

We are happy to announce that we are at our final destination and settling in.  We are living in what we are fondly referring to as “college dorms.”  My room even has some leftover white Christmas lights hanging up.  Tomorrow I’ll be shopping for a pretty rug to go in the center of my room. 

Oh, and for the mothers’ assurance, the building we live in is reinforced concrete.  Thus, you can sleep easily knowing we have a sturdy and safe roof above our heads.  In comparison, Travis was lucky to have a tent over his head during the last deployment (In Travis’ words, we’re in an impenetrable fortress of safety for sleeping).

And we received another update:

The past two days have been spent getting settled in. The food has been excellent – for breakfast this morning I had a true, cooked in front of me, Belgium waffle. Travis had an amazing omelet that many restaurants wish they could make. The food is served by the local population so I try to use a few phrases that I know…sometimes they understand me but most of the time I get a smile back and the local speaks to me in English. That’s the amazing thing – many of the locals and officials speak fluent English. I guess with us being in Afghanistan for the last 11 years, they’ve picked up the language.

I bought a rug today from the bazaar. It is a beautiful peach, white, and red rug and fits great in my room. The shop owner sold it to me for $40, he started to bargain with Travis but Travis said, “it’s her wallet.” I had to laugh –the wife in American culture is in charge of shopping. Travis says it’s because he won’t let me touch his cash reserves…I only get to use my own…(for now ).

I loved the mother’s day card. It came at a great time since Travis found all these old pictures and videos of Wesley at various stages. We’ve peeled through them and laughed at the memories. I wish I could hold the real thing but I’m glad he is safe and happy in Tennessee. We’ve been meeting lots of people and enjoying the company here. We miss you all and look forward to finishing these next few months and come home.

Love and staying safe as always,

Cat & Travis

It’s really good to read that they are in a safer place than Travis’s first deployment,  as it was a tough week for our friends with 2 young LT’s who are leading on the front lines.   The first lost 3 men with 2 more severely injured in a massive IED attack,  while the second (who was knocked unconscious)  had several severely injured (double amputee, another with a broken hip and perforated kidney, a female specialist with severe burns) in 2 IED attacks and firefights.  Even their interpreter lost 3 limbs in the blast.  Thoughts and prayers going to a lot of families right now.  For some,  this was a Mothers Day to be truly thankful.   For others, it was a very tough weekend. 

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2012 05 03 Mission ON

After several months with constantly changing dates, we are now in full deployment mode with Travis and Cat off to Afghanistan. I have not been updating the blog because the dates have shifted from as late as 1Q2013 to their current dates, and we still did not know definitely that they would deploy until they returned from Block Leave in late April. They did, and best of all, they deployed together.

We dropped them off at their designated point on Saturday night, and headed home with Wesley running a fever. I think the stress and pace that everyone was under has worn down the bodies.

They reached one of the staging points, and Cat commented:

Made it through the first leg of the journey – we aren’t Afghanistan
yet but at least we have some good internet. Travis and I ended up on
opposite sides of the plane. He was in the last row and I was in the
first. I got to ride in first class so I had a pretty good time.

Travis’s unspoken thoughts…” Gee, thanks honey… I ride in the cattle car while you…” :-)

We managed to have a video Skype call and Wesley told Mom and Dad “Hi ! ” and “Bye” – it wasn’t long but seeing each other was wonderful.

Today’s message from Cat said that they are moving closer to their quarters. If anyone has doubted the importance of the USO, here’s what she is experiencing (thanks for your support ! ) :

Well, we’ve made it to our next leg of our journey – we are officially
in Afghanistan. Not sure how long we’ll be here at this FOB but I
must say the USO site is gorgeous. They’ve got tons of computers, TVs
with PlayStations and xBoxes, snacks, and pretty artwork on the wall.
They really have made this a gorgeous place.

We joked that Cat was doing most of the writing, but Travis noted that he wrote the first update after they actually flew into Afghanistan. We’ll see who has the most free time after they reach their FOB. They are at the same location, but will not be in the same quarters. And if they have free time at the same time, forget blog posts… grin ! But we would not want it any other way. ;-)

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2012 02 08 Advisory teams heading to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The No. 2 U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that U.S. military advisory teams will start deploying to Afghanistan this year to help Afghan combat forces as they take a more prominent role in fighting the Taliban.

The plan described by Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti envisions U.S. and other international troops beginning to step back from their leading role, so that responsibility for the war is fully in Afghan hands by the end of 2014.

Read more at:  


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Starting to Ramble… Again

It’s almost time to start Ramblings again.   Welcome back to the new address and contact me if you have any trouble subscribing (either by RSS or email).

Don’t expect much until there are stories to post, but you’ll know when to watch if you are following  WoofTales…    or better yet,  just subscribe now and you’ll get a surprise one day.

The new image in the header is a sunrise taken by Travis while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2009.   I was debating on the summer versus winter view… this one will have to wait until later in the year when it cools off:

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2010 08 28 Lessons

It’s been about a month since Travis has returned to Ft Lewis, enjoyed  some well deserved R&R, and has now reported back for duty.   Some of you have asked if there will be anymore “ramblings”…  perhaps,   in time,  at the right time …     But this deployment has come to a close and we’re so thankful for all of your support and prayers as we went through a long year together.  Right now we are focusing on re-establishing our family bonds.

Next weekend,  the family will come together for an overdue reunion.   Normally we gather every other Christmas,  but Travis was deployed and Wes was too small to travel… so 9 months late,   we’ll see each other,  laugh a lot, hug a lot, cry a bit, and of course,  pass around Wes to all the aunts, uncles, cousins, etc,    while we all eat some great food and give thanks for our family’s blessings.

2007 Christmas Family Picture

I learned a lot in the past year,  as hopefully you did, too… so I thought I would share a speech that I recently read,   a speech with some very powerful lessons.  Earlier this week,  a close friend and I shared an intimate discussion about life’s lessons as it always seems that the really important lessons sometimes carry the highest price tags.

Here’s the story of how one individual learned… I can’t think of a better way to express these lessons than the attached speech.   It’s long,  so give yourself time to read and reflect…and give thanks to our current service members and vets.

Thanks again for your support…

Breck and Cheri

LTC Guy Lofaro has taught at West Point. The text of this speech is taken from an address he gave at to a dining-in at the U.S. Military Academy.

Let me say before beginning, that it has been my pleasure to attend several dinings-in here at West Point and hence, I have some basis for comparison. You people have done a fine job and you ought to congratulate yourselves.

I guess I am honored with these invitations because there exists this rumor that I can tell a story. Cadets, who I have had in class, sometimes approach me beforehand and request that, during my speech, I tell some of the stories  I’ve told them in class.

For the longest time I have resisted this. I simply didn’t think this the right forum for story-telling, so I tried instead, with varying degrees of success, to use this time to impart some higher lesson – some thought that would perhaps stay with one or two of you a little longer than the 10 or 15 minutes I will be standing here. I tried this again last week at another dining-in and I bombed. Big time. Of course, the cadets didn’t say that. They said all the polite things – “Thank you, sir, for those inspiring words – You’ve provided us much food for thought – We all certainly learned something from you tonight, sir.” And I’m thinking – yeah – you learned something all right. You learned never to invite that SOB to be a dining-in speaker again.

So in the interim, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about what I would say to you tonight. What can I say that will stay with you? And as I reflected on this I turned it on myself

What stays with me?
What makes a mark on me?
What do I remember, and why?
How have I learned the higher lessons I so desperately want to impart to you?

Well – I’ve learned those higher lessons through experience. And as I thought further, I realized that there’s only one way to relate experience – that is to tell some stories.

So I’m going to try something new here this evening. I’m going to give you your stories and attempt to relate what I’ve learned by living them. I’m going to let you crawl inside my eye-sockets and see some of the things I’ve seen these past 18 years.

Lesson One

Imagine you are a brand new second lieutenant on a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula. You are less than a year out of West Point, and only a few weeks out of the basic course. You are standing at a strict position of attention in front of your battalion commander, a man you will come to realize was one of the finest soldiers with whom you’ve ever served, and you are being questioned about a mistake – a big mistake – that you’ve made.

You see, your platoon lost some live ammo. Oh sure, it was eventually found, but for a few hours you had the entire battalion scrambling.

Your battalion commander is not yelling at you though, he’s not demeaning you; he’s simply taking this opportunity to ensure you learn from the experience. And you do – you learn that people make mistakes, that those mistakes do not usually result in the end of the world, and that such occasions are valuable opportunities to impart some higher lessons.

Then, out of the corner of your eye, you see your platoon sergeant emerge from behind a building. He’s an old soldier – a fine soldier though – whose knees have seen a few too many airborne operations. He sees you and the colonel – and he takes off at a run. You see him approaching from behind the colonel and the next thing you see is the back of your platoon sergeant’s head. He is now standing between you and your battalion commander – the two are eyeball to eyeball.

Your platoon sergeant says, a touch of indignance in his voice, “Leave my lieutenant alone, sir. He didn’t lose the ammo, I did. I was the one who miscounted. You want someone’s ass, you take mine.” And you learn another lesson – you learn about loyalty.

Lesson Two

It’s a few months later, and you are one of two soldiers left on a hot PZ on some Caribbean island. There’s been another foul up – not yours this time, but you’re going to pay for it. It’s you and your RTO, a nineteen-year-old surfer from Florida who can quote Shakespeare, because his Mom was a high school literature teacher, and who joined the Army because his Dad was a World War II Ranger. The last UH-60 has taken off on an air assault and someone is supposed to come back and get you guys.

But the fire is getting heavy, and you’re not sure anything can get down there without getting shot up. You’re taking fire from some heavily forested hills. At least two machine guns, maybe three, maybe more, and quite a few AKs, but you can’t make out anything else. You and your RTO are in a hole, hunkered down as the bad guys are peppering your hole with small arms fire. Your RTO is trying to get some help – another bird to come get you, some artillery, some attack helicopters – anything. But there are other firefights happening elsewhere on this island involving much larger numbers. So as the cosmos unfold at that particular moment, in that particular place, you and that RTO are well down the order of merit list.

You feel a tug at your pants leg. Ketch, that’s what you call him, Ketch tells you he got a “wait, out” when he asked for help. The radio is jammed with calls for fire and requests for support from other parts of the island.

“‘What we gonna do, sir?” he asks. And all of a sudden, you’re learning another lesson. You’re learning about the weightiness of command, because it’s not just you in that hole, it’s this kid you’ve spent every day with for the last five months. This kid you’ve come to love like a kid brother.

There is only one way out and that’s through the bad guys. You see, you are on a peninsula that rises about 100 feet from the sea. The inland side is where the bad guys are. You figure you are safe in this hole, so long as they don’t bring in any indirect fire stuff, but if they come down off those hills, onto the peninsula, then you’re going to have to fight it out. And that’s what you tell your RTO: We either get help or, if the bad guys come for us, we fight. He looks at you.  You don’t know how long. And he says only four words. Two sentences.

“Roger, sir. Let’s rock.”

Appropriate coming from a surfer. Then he slithers back down to the bottom of the hole. Staying on the radio, your lifeline, trying to get some help. You are peering over the edge of the hole, careful not to make too big a target.

You’re thinking about your wife and that little month-old baby you left a few days ago. It was two o’clock in the morning when you got the call: “Pack your gear and get in here.” You kissed them both and told them to watch the news. Hell, you didn’t know where you were going or why, but you were told to go, and you went.

Then all of a sudden it gets real loud, and things are flying all around and then there’s a shadow that passes over you. You look up and find yourself staring at the bottom of a Blackhawk, about 15 feet over the deck, flying fast and low, and as it passes over your hole you see the door gunner dealing death and destruction on the bad guys in those hills. It sets down about 25 meters from your hole, as close as it can get.

You look up and see the crew chief kneeling inside, waving frantically to you, the door gunner still dealing with it, trying to keep the bad guys’ heads down, who have now switched their fire to the bird, a much bigger, and better, target. You look at Ketch and then you’re off – and you run 25 meters faster than 25 meters have ever been run since humans began to walk upright. And you dive through the open doors onto the floor of the Blackhawk. There are no seats in the bird since this is combat and we don’t use them in the real deal.

And you are hugging your RTO, face-to-face, like a lover, and shouting at him “You OKAY? You OKAY? You OKAY?” But he doesn’t tell you he’s OKAY since he’s yelling the same thing at you – “You OKAY? You OKAY?  You OKAY?” And then the pilot pulls pitch and executes a violent and steep ascent out of there and had you not been holding on to the d-rings in the floor and the crew chief not been holding your legs, you might have fallen out. Then you’re over the water, you’re safe, and the bird levels out, and you roll over to your back and close your eyes – and you think you fall asleep.

But then you feel a hand on your blouse, and you open your eyes and see the crew chief kneeling over you with a headset in his hand. He wants you to put it on so you do. And the first thing you hear is, “I-Beamer, buddy boy. I Beamer.”‘ You were in I-4 while a cadet, and that was your rallying cry. And you look up to where the pilots sit and you see a head sticking out from behind one of the seats. He’s looking at you and it’s his voice you hear, but you can’t make out who it is because his visor is down. Then he lifts it, and you see the face of a man who was two years ahead of you in your company. He tells you that he knew you were there and he wasn’t going to leave an I-Beamer like that. And you learn about courage, and camaraderie. And friendship that never dies!

Lesson Three

It’s a few years later and you’ve already had your company command. You’re in grad school, studying at Michigan. You get a phone call one night, one of the sergeants from your company. He tells you Harvey Moore is dead, killed in a training accident when his Blackhawk flew into the ground.

Harvey Moore. Two-time winner of the Best Ranger Competition. Great soldier. Got drunk one night after his wife left him and took his son.

You see, staff sergeants don’t make as much money as lawyers, so she left with the lawyer. He got stinking drunk, though it didn’t take much since he didn’t drink at all before this, and got into his car. Then had an accident. Then got a DUI. He was an E-6 promotable when this happened, and the SOP was a general-officer Article 15 and a reduction one grade, which would really be two for him because he was on the promotion list.

But Harvey Moore is a good soldier, and it’s time to go to bat for a guy who, if your company command was any sort of a success, played a significant part in making it so. And you go with your battalion commander to see the CG, and you stand at attention in front of the CG’s desk for 20 minutes convincing him that Harvey Moore deserves a break. You win. Harvey Moore never drinks again. He makes E-7.

And when you change command, he grabs your arm, with tears in his eyes, and thanks you for all you’ve done. Then the phone call. And you learn about grief.

Lesson Four

And then you’re a major and you’re back in the 82d – your home. And one day some SOB having a bad week decides it’s time to take it out on the world and he shoots up a PT formation. Takes out 20 guys. You’re one of them. A 5.56 tracer round right to the gut. Range about 10 meters. And you’re dead for a little while, but it’s not your time yet – there are still too many lessons to learn.

And you wake up after five surgeries and 45 days in a coma. And you look down at your body and you don’t recognize it – it has become a receptacle for hospital tubing and electronic monitoring devices. You have a tracheotomy, so there’s a huge tube going down your throat and you can’t talk, but that thing is making sure you breathe. And there’s a tube in your nose that goes down into your stomach – that’s how you eat. And there are four IVs – one in each arm and two in the veins in the top of your feet. There is a tube through your right clavicle – that’s where they inject the high-powered antibiotics that turns your hair white and makes you see things. But disease is the enemy now and it’s gotta be done.

And there are three tubes emerging from three separate holes in your stomach. They are there to drain the liquids from your stomach cavity. It drains into some bags hanging on the side of your bed. And they’ve shaved your chest and attached countless electrodes to monitor your heartbeat, blood pressure, and anything else they can measure. They have these things stuck all over your head as well, and on your wrists and ankles.

And your family gathers around, and they are like rocks, and they pull you through. But there’s also a guy, dressed in BDUs, with a maroon beret in his hand, who stands quietly in the corner. Never says anything. Just smiles. And looks at you. He’s there every day. Not every hour of every day, but he comes every day. Sometimes he’s there when you wake up. Sometimes he’s there when you go to sleep. He comes during his lunch break. He stays an hour, or two or three. And just stands in the corner. And smiles. No one told him to be there.

But he made it his place of duty. His guard post. You see, it’s your sergeant major, and his Ranger buddy is down, and a Ranger never leaves a fallen comrade. And you learn, through this man, the value of a creed.

Lesson Five

And every four hours two huge male nurses come in and gently roll you on your side. The bullet exited through your left buttock and made a hole the size of a softball. The bandages need to be changed. Take the soiled wads out and put clean ones in. And a second lieutenant comes in. She seems to be there all the time. She’s the one changing the bandages. And it hurts like hell, but she, too, is smiling, and talking to you, and she’s gentle.

And you know you’ve seen her before, but you can’t talk – you still have that tube in your throat. But she knows. And she tells you that you taught her Military Art History, that now it’s her turn to take care of you, that she’s in charge of you and the team of nurses assigned to you, and she won’t let you down. And you learn about compassion.

Lesson Six

And then it’s months later and you’re still recovering. Most of the tubes are gone but it’s time for another round of major surgeries. And you go into one of the last, this one about nine hours long. And they put you back together. And you wake up in the ICU one more time. Only one IV this time. And when you open your eyes, there’s a huge figure standing over your bed. BDUs. Green beret in his hand. Bigger than God. And he’s smiling.

“It’s about damn time you woke up you lazy bastard, ” he says.  And you know it’s your friend and former commander and you’ve got to come back with something quick – something good. He’s the deputy Delta Force commander, soon to be the commander. And you say, “Don’t you have someplace else to be? Don’t you have something more important to do?” And without skipping a beat, without losing that smile he says “Right now, I am doing what I consider the most important thing in the world.” And you learn about leadership.

So there you have them. Some stories. I’ve tried to let you see the world as I’ve seen it at various points in time these 18 years. I hope you’ve learned something. I certainly have.

Thanks for your time. “Rangers Lead the Way!”

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