Thursday, December 31, 2009


If home is where the heart is, then home is with Scott.

Scott and I made it home! The travel was absolutely miserable but we made it home in record time. We landed in London at 6am and made it Cambridge around noon. When we arrived to our home, we discovered that our neighbors let one of their friends stay in our house during the holiday season. It was pretty creepy to see sheets on our bed that were not ours, hairs in the shower that did not belong to us and food in the refrigerator that we did not leave. I was (am) pretty traumatized, but Scott was (is!) amazing and handled the situation.

After that was taken care of, we went into town. But first we had to find some civilian clothes to wear and that was quite a task. We had a hard time remembering where everything in the house is located, including coats and gloves. It was frustrating. Once we got into town, we wandered around and not much has changed. We spent a lot of money on alcohol and now we are settling in for a movie, so I gotta go.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 18, 2009

New Kind of Care Package

I've officially given up on counter insurgency. Now I'm all about helping people. And I've been meaning to post an entry on the school situation for a long time, so here it is.

It seems like in Afghanistan when you go to sch
ool, you either have a roof over your head or school books. You can't have both. The conditions that these children attend school are amazing. They walk several miles, their teachers do not receive a salary, they have no books, no pens, no paper. The girls risk their lives to attend school and if the school does not have a privacy wall, parents will not send their girls to school after a certain age. The classrooms are bare except for a blackboard and some chalk. I've gone out to two schools that the PRT has completed to inspect the buildings for warranty items. I have been able to see the children in their classroom and it breaks my heart.

I have received several boxes of school supplies from my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Mike. But I would like to but the request out for more supplies. Instead of sending me a care package, use that money and send these kids some paper and pens!! Here's a list of things they could use:

- Chalk (white and colored)
- Blackboard erasers
- Maps (World maps, maps of Afghanistan or t
he region)
- Paper

- Pens
- Pencils
- Notebooks

- Folders
- Crayons

It's been a while since I was in school, so anyt
hing else you can think of would be great. Nothing in Afghanistan goes to waste.

And I want to share some pictures. The first set is of an open air girls school in Jalalabad City.

These next set of pictures are from a site visit earlier this week. It was an all girls school, grades 1-9. There were many younger girls, about 30-35 in each class. But as we toured the different classrooms, higher the grade, the less girls that were present. It was interesting because all the teachers were male. Yet I could see how much they cared about the girls' education and how they thought it was important.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Foward Operating Base Finley-Shields

A long time ago I received a comment on the blog asking me to post pictures of the FOB. This soldier was friends with one of the soldiers who the FOB is named after.

It's taken me long enough, but here are the pictures. We are very lucky as we have one of the nicest, if not the nicest FOBs in Afghanistan. This FOB used to be a R&R destination for Russian soldiers in the 1980s and there are a lot of permanent structures, which is a luxury in a war zone. When the US "discovered" this area, they spent many years and dollars renovating the buildings and turning it into a base. There is also a lot of green, which is again rare for Afghanistan.

The main entrance to the FOB.

For a while we had some puppies, but they have since found a better home.

The gym, where I spend a considerable amount of time working off the unlimited supply of Baskin Robbins ice cream.

A nice porch where you can take an hour of your day and play some ping pong.

The CE lair. If it looks messy, that's because we're busy!

The Hotel. Need I say more?

I posted this picture in an earlier blog, but I did not mention that this is the garden.

Top Dawg

A couple weeks ago the top enlisted Airmen came to visit the PRT. He is called the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force (CMSAF) and his last name is Roy. He is a civil engineer by trade--a dirt boy (heavy horizontal) to be exact. And we took him on a QA/QC mission. It's the first time the CMSAF has ever been on a combat mission outside the wire. Sergeant Newland, the engineering non-commissioned officer in charge took him on the mission. Below are some pictures and a link to a news story.

Jalalabad vs. Gardez

Jalalabad may be brutally hot in the summertime, but it is quickly making up for the heat now that it's December.

So anyway, back to Jalalabad vs. Gardez. I think the pictures are pretty self explanatory...



I get cold just looking at Scott's pictures!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Questions to Ponder

1. If the 9/11 attacks were somehow prevented, would the United States still have invaded Afghanistan?

2. What is more of a threat to the security of the United States: being owned financially by China or terrorists in Pakistan?

Friday, November 27, 2009

Stop Violence Against Women

It's been a while since my last post and I have a lot of things to say and pictures to share. The next several posts will be out of order, but I'll get everything down.

First off, a couple days ago I went to a Stop Violence Against Women Conference. It was somewhat comical since violence against women will never stop in Afghanistan, but it was my first time to observe a gathering of Afghan women in public. When the PRT arrived at the conference site, there were around 70 women already seated. They weren't wearing burqas, but they were wearin
g headscarves that covered everything but their eyes since men were present. When we walked into the building, 70 pairs of eyes immediately focused on us. It was really eerie looking back at all these sets of eyes. The women were also very skittish, like antelopes that could be dinner for a hungry lion at any moment. They each carried a burqua as just another accessory like their cell phone or purse. When the conference was over and it was time to leave, they put on their burqas (heaven forbid someone should see their eyes) and left the compound.
As far as Thanksgiving and the holiday season, I think it's best to pretend like these events don't exist. It makes the pain of being stuck in Afghanistan, away from loved ones much easier. I do have a bright spot: it looks like Scott and I will be able to take leave together and go back to the UK in January. It won't be a long time at home, but a day there is a day that I'm not here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Deh Bala

Not long ago we went on an engineering mission to check up on some of our road projects. This is one of my favorite missions because we can check on three important roads at once and the scenery is beautiful. I also got to check-up on the village where our MRAPs were stuck. I recognized one little boy and gave him a life saver, even though he wanted a pen. Go sugar! We ran into a little trouble on the way back with a flat tire, so we're all convinced that this particular mission is cursed.
Our convoy commander, Mac, gives the crew a convoy brief at the Cinema before we roll out.

The scenery in southern Deh Bala is so beautiful because the Spin Ghars (White Mountains) make up half of the district. They have a history of insurgent activity.

Torkham Gate

A couple weeks ago, the new PRT Commander visited us for his orientation. He's a great guy and we showed him some of our high visibility projects. We went to Torkham Gate, on the border with Pakistan. That place is a lot of fun. We even were hosted by an Afghan Border Police (ABP) Colonel who showed us around the ABP compound, which is built into the side of a mountain. He was a real character.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Women of Wigal Valley

"The women of Wigal Valley are very beautiful, just like you."

About a week ago the PRT dropped some humanitarian aid (HA) off in the Wigal Valley. The HA was for the women, mostly widows, who make a living by carrying bags of cement up a mountain side. They are very poor and have many children to look after. So, the PRT gave them winter clothing and pots
and pans. The women were very hardened and did not want us taking pictures of them. The mission was successful and I made some friends along the way.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cutest Child Ever?

Is this the cutest child ever, or what?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Today we had a farewell party for one of our local national engineers. He found a higher paying job in Kabul and we are very proud of him. He's been with the PRT for a year and a half and has done a great job. Unfortunately, the PRT does not pay enough money compared to some of the NGOs, so our engineers often leave for a better pay check. We had a very nice luncheon and I wore a kuchi dress--a typical pattern for the nomadic people in Afghanistan.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Good Morning Afghanistan

A couple weeks ago the news team from Good Morning America made a visit to the PRT. I got to spend a lot of time with Chris Cuomo and the crew as we took them to several of our project sites. I did some interviews, but it looks like they never made it on the air. So, here are the links to some pictures:

The last link has a video and I'm in there a a couple times, although a little bit out of context. I think the backhoe on one of my projects got more air time than I did.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Tonight, for the first time in a long time, I cannot sleep. A lot of thoughts are swirling in my head, so the blog is my outlet.

I think many people have forgotten why we invaded Afghanistan. And I also think many people think that Al-Qaeda and Taliban are synonyms.

I try to see the positive aspects in life, but I'm afraid that I can longer see that in Afghanistan. The lack of direction, guidance and strategy is say the least. The newness haze of my situation has warn off and I'm staring the truth in the eyes. What we're doing here is not an effective counter-insurgency strategy and no one knows how to make it right. And we will probably never get it right.

The past several weeks have been hard. Our R&R program was canceled without reason. Leave is not available to everyone in the unit. And the shop has been busy.
We had a flash flood destroy a critical bridge on one of the highways and we had to find a solution. We also had twenty new projects to award...and that meant reviewing 450 proposals, selecting a winning contractor and signing the contract. In 12 days. We can build all these schools, but are they, alone, really defeating the insurgency? When we visit a school that the PRT built five years ago and it's had no maintenance since, tell me what I should think about the 20 school projects we currently have under construction. Governance has not caught up to development.

I love the quote, "Where the road ends, the insurgency begins." I believe in it 100%. Why else would the Taliban have attacked our road projects over a dozen times in the past three months? Why else would they intimate the construction workers and contractors? Why else would they kill effective village elders who support the road? It's because the project is effective to their demise. But will the PRT be building any more roads in the near future? The answer is no. I've been told by higher headquarters that it's not the PRT's job and that we need to focus on small scale projects. I've been told by an aeronautical engineer that the PRT does not have the expertise to build roads, but his organization does. How many civil engineers does it take to convince people that we have the expertise, experience and capability to build excellent quality roads? Because I have 10 and we have the roads as our proof!

Unfortunately I feel that I am at the end of my rope. This PRT experience has been so disappointing that the only way I can cope is to stop caring and continue to count down the days (184). And we don't have the best team one could wish for, which amplifies the disappointment. I'm ready to move to Switzerland and just forget.........Afghanistan what? Where's that? And civilian clothes look better and better as I'm on my 186th straight day of choosing between the green outfit or the blue outfit. I wish Scott and I were on the same page, like we usually are. But when it comes to this issue, I'm afraid that we are reading different books. Hence, the source of my insomnia.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Last night it rained for the first time since I've been in Afghanistan. And rain it did. The wind, thunder and lightening woke me up at 3am and kept me up all morning. After it stopped, I could not go back to sleep.

When we reported to work, we found out all the damage that occurred. There was pretty much a flash flood across the entire province. Lots of people dead. Lots of damage. Right now I'm working on a critical bridge that was washed out. Completely gone. It was made out of concrete and there was no water flowing underneath the bridge until this morning. Insane.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


The election is over and hopefully there won't be a run off. :) Now we're in the season of Ramadan. It's a very spiritual time for Muslims and to be in a Muslim country during Ramadan is a neat experience. Afghans only eat and drink right before sunrise and after sunset. During the day, they fast from food and water. Construction continues, but the contractor will adjust the hours. You can tell the fasting takes a toll on them. I think the hardest part would be fasting from water, because it is over 100 degrees.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Independence Day

Today in Afghanistan is Independence Day. Not independence from the Taliban, the Russians or the mujaheddin. Independence from Britain. This day dates back to 1919, when the British finally left Afghanistan. Usually the Afghans will celebrate, but this year since it is so close to the elections, there is not much celebrating. Everyone is pretty tense about pre-election violence. The turnout, compared to 2004, is expected to be huge. I guess we will just have to wait and see what happens.

In other news, the weather has started to cool down a bit. Yesterday evening it was 92 degrees and it felt very comfortable. I'm going to go back to England and freeze my butt off!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sitting Duck

On my latest mission I went a little picture crazy. We had quite an ambitious day planned. We were going to check up on four of our road projects, plus have a meeting with some village elders. We didn't accomplish everything we wanted to do, but we still got a lot done and validated an important project. We went to the district of Deh Bala, which is in the southern part of Nangarhar. It was so beautiful out there and I instantly thought that I wouldn't mind living here. The road project is doing well. Some pictures are below. These guys get paid $4 a day.

The Engineering team with one of our contractors.

This guy is building a wall and asked for some cement from the PRT.

Talking on the cell amongst the goats.

On our way to the second road project, one of our MRAPs got stuck in the soft mud. So we backed up a second MRAP to pull it out and the first MRAP only got more stuck and the secon MRAP became stuck. So we backed up a third MRAP and that got stuck too. We were stuck until the bulldozer from the construction site came and pulled out us out. By the time this happened, it was dark outside, and anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan knows you don't want to be outside when it's dark. The villagers where we got stuck were very friendly (one even helped us dig out the MRAP) and said they kicked the Taliban out. The police there said they've taken fire from the surrounding mountains. We were only 20km from the Pakistan border. It's a good story and our MRAPs were going to get stuck sooner or later. I'm just glad we didn't have to spend the night out there.
Our salvation!!