Friday, February 27, 2009

Meet the Office

I have been describing aspects of my interesting and eye-opening life in Kabul -- Italian roommates, the international community, and the various shops and restaurants on our compound. Now I'll introduce you to my officemates and my responsibilities. As a Public Affairs Officer, I'm responsible for communicating the facts about coalition efforts in Afghanistan. It's an exciting job with a great deal of responsibility. But I am just one of a large group of talented Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines supporting the rest of our military effort here by telling the stories of their hard work, perseverance and progress on the ground in Operation Enduring Freedom. Each of them works hour after hour, seven days a week, to ensure that the international community is successful in Afghanistan.

The picture above is of my co-workers and me. My boss, Colonel Greg Julian, first row standing in the middle, is a great professional and a wonderful person to work for. He has become a true mentor to me. His job is a tough one, especially since our command is only four months old. Not only does he serve as the primary spokesperson, but he manages a growing office and numerous outreach initiatives. Considering the challenging working conditions and worldwide attention on Afghanistan at the moment, he is doing an outstanding job.

As time goes on, I will introduce you to more of my co-workers. There may be some bias toward the Navy, but I will try my best to be objective!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Another Base VIP

I have described the political VIPs that visit ISAF, but we also have other very friendly visitors. Stray cats inhabit the base and are everywhere. Domestic animals in Afghanistan do not hold the same esteem as they do in the States. Driving through Kabul, we see stray dogs in the road, and even some goats! But on our base, cats are our only wildlife.

Since they aren't "fixed" you can hear them throughout the base at certain times of day. Feline mating calls certainly have a unique sound! We found one furry friend who is one of the most lovable cats I have ever known, just begging to be petted! I have not named her, but I'm open to suggestions....thoughts anyone? By the look of her, she is fed pretty well by the soldiers here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Speaker Pelosi comes to Afghanistan

Kabul is beginning to feel more and more like Capitol Hill with the steady appearance of official visitors from Washington! Most recently, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, attended high-level meetings at ISAF (and I caught a glimpse of her). One thing that feels very different about being here is the lack of partisanship I sense and how being and American, not defined by party, predominates. We are grateful to see our elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans, show such deep concern about the challenges facing this war-torn nation. They see for themselves the devastation and critical situation and can return to Washington with clearer perspective and deeper knowledge and understanding of what’s really happening on the ground.

It takes real courage to come to Afghanistan. It’s dangerous and definitely not a comfortable place to be. But their visits are tremendous morale boosters, for their trips here show concern and earnestness to us in the military as well as to the Afghan people.

What I look forward to are many more visits by elected officials and diplomats from the U.S. and other NATO countries. I am convinced that along with our military presence we can find a working solution to vastly improve the situation here. This is an extraordinary country with a rich past and proud people deserving to reclaim their nation.

Friday, February 20, 2009

La Bella Italia

The Italians have become central to my international experience here at ISAF. I now know more Italian words than I do Dari, the native language here in Kabul. Beginning with my first trip to Italy at the age of 12, I have felt drawn to Italian culture, food, and history. With my many Italian friends on this base, I sometimes think I'm really in Napoli or Milano!

Last night my roommates invited me to a party at the Italian NSE. An NSE (National Support Element) is a building for each country that serves as its headquarters here in Kabul. Soldiers go to their NSE to deal with their administrative issues. But the Italians use their NSE for social events as well, which is not surprising! The party featured delicious cuisine that one would find in an upscale restaurant in Rome. Troops from dozens of countries attended--a great cultural exchange.

Soon, I will start eating some authentic Afghan food; but for now, being in Italy is fun! Here are some pictures from the event, including one of Amadeo, my other roommate, and me.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

International Flavor

One of the benefits of living on the ISAF compound for "foodies" like me, is the plethora of native cuisine from NATO-represented countries. For breakfast, for example, along with bacon and eggs, there is an excellent selection of breads, cheeses and meets, as well as museli, reminding me of trips to Amsterdam and Germany. Even more exciting, is that many of the nations have their own little shops. My personal favorite is the Italian store (Chiano, pictured here), which has great specialty foods I've seen only in Rome; but there are also shops from Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands.

This is the first time soldiers from so many nations have served on a mission like this, and never before have they lived together and integrated on a base like ISAF. It feels like a great experiment, and for me, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Here are some photos of some of ISAF's more popular establishments! In addition to Chiano, there is the Danish PX, and the Nordic Palace. It seems like Scandinavia has quite a presence here in Afghanistan!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Holbrooke Visits Afghanistan

President Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan came to Kabul this week to hold several high-level meetings with President Karzai and other leaders. He had a press conference with the media and conducted an interview with a local TV station, which my colleagues and I helped to coordinate. It was an amazing opportunity to hear first hand his thoughts on the strategic importance of this mission.

It's hard to believe that we are in the middle of a worldwide effort that for years we read about or watched unfold on TV. Being here makes me even more passionate about what the international community is doing to stabilize this country, and I hope that we can help enable an eventual success.

Here is a link to an AP story that highlights the upcoming strategic review by the United States and Afghanistan for the future of the mission:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Your Military in Winter Wonderland

We have been getting plenty of snow in the Kabul these past two days. Since we don't commute--all life takes place on base--there are no "snow days" such as the ones the DC school system is famous for (and even the federal government, for that matter). The snow is definitely bringing out the inner child in people here, with snowball fights happening all over the base. I certainly miss my high shool days when we would get the day off simply because there was a chance of snow in the weather forecast.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sweet Home Kabul

I have been on the new compound for a couple of days, and despite yesterday's attack which was quite jarring, I am actually starting to enjoy myself. The Afghanistan effort is run by NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), comprised of 39 nations working together to rebuild Afghanistan and bring stability to a nation that has suffered decades of war. Not only do I have the opportunity to help improve conditions in Afghanistan, but I get to be the foreign exchange student I've always wanted to be --in multiple countries at the same time! It's a rare and extraordinary gift.

My roommate, an Italian Army officer, is from Naples. We connected immediately. Francesco has shown me around the base and is helping me to adjust to the new surroundings. Perhaps he'll teach me a few Italian phrases, as well!

There are many members of the British military on this compound. The UK has close to 10,000 troops in Afghanistan. My first exposure was at the airport when the Brits greeted us and gave us a ride back to base. Perhaps when this entire experience is over I will have many new homes away from home all over the world!

I have included pictures in this post of both Francesco and one of my new British friends. Can you tell who's who?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kabul Attacks

Today I was hoping to describe all the fascinating people I have met so far, and to offer you my thoughts about living in such a great international environment; however, we were in a state of shock a few hours ago when the Taliban launched coordinated attacks on several Afghan government buildings, some just blocks from our our base. Nineteen people were killed, with many more wounded. We on base are safe, and most of us didn't even hear the attacks. It was startling, nonetheless, to know that deadly bombings were happening in such close proximity. We went on a state of alert, locking down the base and requiring all personnel to wear body armor when outdoors.

Now, I really feel planted in a dangerous a war zone. Let us hope that our efforts will lead to a more peaceful Afghanistan. For now, those of us here working to improve the lives of the Afghan people face daily risk.

Here is a link to a story on the attacks:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kabul, at Last!

Our arrival in Kabul was smooth! We took another military transport and landed at Kabul International Airport (KIA). It's very cold here and the air is not exactly clean. This is definitely a war zone. There are razor wire, sand bags, and security everywhere. The picture to the right is in front of the airport terminal on the C-130 that flew us here. More to come!

There was an important article in today's The Guardian outlining President Obama's new Afghanistan strategy. It's exciting to be here helping to make it a reality. You can find the article at:

UPDATE: First photo from Bagram

I'm here with my other shipmates. You can see the mountains in the background!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

First Impressions of Afghanistan

We arrived at Bagram Airfield about six hours ago. After an overnight flight via military transport, and hours of safety briefings, we finally have some time to relax. Bagram is a temporary stop, as I will be heading to Kabul in the next day or two. The base is comfortable, and I write this from the Pat Tillman USO Lounge, a renovated house that was once the home of a Russian General during the Soviet occupation.

My first impression stepping off the airplane was one of absolute beauty. I have never been surrounded by such beautiful and snowy mountains, extending up to 15,000 feet, Think Rockies on steroids! The landscape is picture perfect. What a shame that this gorgeous country has been scarred by violence for so long.

In a few days, I'll send further impressions, details and news, along with photos (internet too slow now). For now, know that I'm safe and sound, full of curiosity and excitement for this life-changing journey.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Back from Nowhere

We have just returned to our camp in Kuwait following three days in the middle of nowhere, otherwise known at the Udairi Range -- a large training area for troops heading to Iraq and Afghanistan. There we had some of the most intense and realistic experiences so far, mostly convoy simulations, taught by contractors (former military) with experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Their knowledge is impressive, actually, amazing. We learned a tremendous amount.

We slept on a tent floor (no cots) with 50 of our closest friends, and ate MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) for the entire time. There are more than 20 different menu options, and most have heaters built in. We dined on such delicacies as Pot Roast, Cheese Tortellini, and even Sloppy Joe's -- far cry from the K-rations consumed by our brothers in arms during WWII.

Just a few more days until Afghanistan!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Kuwait Tent City

Camp Virginia, designed as a temporary camp for military transients, is where Navy forces stay en route to Iraq and Afghanistan. It is situated in the middle of the desert with a vista of sand that seems to extend beyond the horizon. The camp was built to fold up instantly, if necessary, leaving not a trace of former habitation.

We recieve briefings in large tents, reminding me of the temporary Eastern Market on Capitol Hill, on cultural awarness, range safety, and information about future travel. We sleep in small tents with 10 cots in each, and eat in portable trailers. Even the showers are in a trailer. It's a very strange place. I have included some photos of the camp, pretty much showing what life is like.

In a few days, we head to the Udari Range, for some final training before the final leg of our trip to Afghanistan. We will sleep 50 to a tent, and eat MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat), the modern version of military rations, only much better tasting!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Welcome to Kuwait

Twenty-four hours later, with a refeuling stop in Amsterdam, our chartered Northwest flight arrived in Kuwait to our temporary quarters set up for personnel traveling into Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone here is in transit, except for a small permanent staff. We are in the middle of the desert, with absolutely NOTHING around us except for a highway, Starbuck's (from whose WiFi I write this), Mc Donald's and other familiar fast-food icons!

Our time in Kuwait will be spent adjusting to the new time zone and climate. The military does an excellent job transitioning us into the theater, ensuring that the cultural change is smooth and gradual. We'll have a few meetings and briefings, followed by some additional convoy training next week.

Military life is pretty good!