Sunday, April 19, 2009


We have just returned from Kandahar Air Field, one of the largest bases in Afghanistan, in the volatile southern city of Kandahar. It is the birthplace of the Taliban, and was the hometown of the infamous Mullah Omar. Violence is an everyday occurrence in Kandahar, and stabilizing that region will be key to a successful outcome in Afghanistan.

President Obama recently announced an increase of 17,000 troops in this country, and most of them will be heading to Kandahar. The media have now begun to focus on Kandahar, and we traveled there to plan for the many upcoming embed-journalist requests. Working with large numbers of media requires a tremendous amount of coordination. Where will everyone sleep and work while waiting to be embedded with various units? That infrastructure does not now exist in Kandahar, and building a much-needed media-operations center, while important, will take time.

On a lighter note, Kandahar Air Field is an exciting place. After traveling to all the major bases in this country, I was surprised to learn that this one has more recreational activities than any other place, including beach volleyball, outdoor spinning classes, and even a hockey rink for the Canadians. Finally, what would a military base be without fast food!

Sunday, April 12, 2009


The last stop on our trip was Mezar-i-Sharif. Actually, it wasn't much of a visit, as we were there connecting to our flight to Kabul. Mezar is city in Northern Afghanistan, and the reconstruction effort is led by the German Army. The base where we landed is home to more than 2,000 Germans and very few people from other nations.

As one would expect, the base was immaculate, with paved and lit sidewalks and well-manicured landscaping. Even the chow hall was spotless, with traditional German cuisine. I must say, it was an interesting experience being on a German military base with so few Americans, especially seeing the Iron Cross on the military vehicles.

World War II was 60 years ago, and we are now in a different time. Germany is one of our closest allies and an integral part of the effort in Afghanistan. Many of my close friends here are German. While history will always be etched in our minds, I am happy that former adversaries of tragic wars in the last century can now work together rebuilding one of the world’s poorest nations.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


In my last post, I failed to mention the reason for our trip. My boss, Col. Julian, my good friend, LT Dave Hecht, and I took a team from CNN to see development efforts in Afghanistan. We are barraged in the media with images portraying the negative side of this conflict, but there is much else on which to report. Significant progress has been made here during the eight years. As a Public Affairs Officer, I am blessed to have the opportunity to see so much of the country. Many soldiers never leave base. While traveling in Afghanistan is dangerous, I want to seize every opportunity to know the country better.

Our stop after Bagram was the ancient city of Herat in Western Afghanistan. Herat is on the famous Silk Route and one of the largest cities in the country. Since the fall of the Taliban, the international community has transformed the area, and Herat now has 24-hour running water for the first time in its history.

The Italians and Spaniards have led the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Heart. The camp where we stayed is called "Little Italy." To give you some perspective on the international efforts here, the camp is home to nearly 2,000 Italians and only eight Americans! The food was delizioso. The pizza is as good as any I've had in Rome (or at Matchbox or Sonoma on Capitol Hill).

By the way, "Esercito," written on the side of the helicopter, means "Army" in Italian.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Our trip to Herat began with a drive to well-known Bagram Airfield, housing the largest base in Afghanistan. More than 17,000 soldiers, mainly American and Polish, are stationed there. Most flights around the country originate at Bagram.

Bagram is nestled in the middle of the beautiful Hindu Kush mountain range. On a clear day it sports perhaps the greatest view of any airport in the world. During its long history, Bagram served as the main base and air hub for the Soviets during their occupation of Afghanistan. It was also the location where former President Bush and candidate Barack Obama spoke to the troops during their visits to Afghanistan.

Since we were here as a stopover while waiting for our plane, there was time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Not only did we enjoy American fast-food favorites, but we watched a volleyball game and were able to head out to the flight line to see planes take off and land.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Travels Begin

The last 10 days have been a whirlwind filled with constant travel. Now that I can finally sit in front of a computer, I'd like to spend the next few days telling you about the reason for my trips and the experiences we've had along the way. Last week, we flew by Blackhawk helicopter to Laghman Province, east of Kabul, to attend the first graduation of the Afghan Public Protection Force, a new program designed to give local villagers responsibility for the security in their villages.

Similar to community policing in the United States, recruits are chosen by village elders to attend training offered by the Afghan National Police and then sent home to patrol their own neighborhoods in Wardak Province. While it is a brand new program, the concept is groundbreaking and we are rooting for its success.

The graduation ceremony was fantastic. Seeing the new recruits standing proud as they received their certifications was as poignant as it gets. General McKiernan, along with the Afghan Minister of Interior and the Provincial Governor of Wardak Province, addressed them. I had an opportunity to speak to several Afghan students and instructors, and all were proud of the work they are doing. It is inspirational to see this nation rebuild itself with such diligence and pride.