Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Afghanistan: It’s a Wrap…..Finished……

Well, what can I say?  My year in Afghanistan was very successful both financially and spiritually.  I met so many people from so many cultures.   Also made me realize how short life is.  I discovered that I had a lot of misplaced priorities.

My first 5 months went rather well even though half the time our container was without power which meant it was below freezing.    The winter is a slow time in Afghanistan not a lot gets done, decisions on making things work for the first 7 months seemed to be nonexistent.  Most of my time was in the Administrative area solving personal problems.   I had traveled to Kandahar numerous times to deal with, let us just say people problems.   

My wake up call came a week after visiting Camp Salerno.  The next week the places that I had eaten at and visited no longer existed.  Because of a 5-ton Truck Bomb was driven through the gate and killed a bunch of people outside and in the dining facility that was destroyed.   My walk to the dining facility a week earlier at the same time of day would have killed me and the person I was walking with.    

After that, the rocket that landed in our vehicle yard 30 feet from my office container in Bagram seemed irrelevant.    Of course; the what if’s?  They could drive you crazy and it did to some extent.     It is over for me now, Afghanistan.  But there are a lot of soldiers and contractors that went through much more than I did who it will never be over with it.  If they are completely over it; it is because they are dead.  I heard the other day when traveling a place gets inside you.  It is true everyplace you visit gets inside you for better or worse.  

On another trip to see a worker in Camp Sharona, I got to view the vehicle that was destroyed in an attack.    I had seen battled damaged vehicles before but in this one, a kid from my son’s high school wrestling team had died.  The vehicle had hit an IED which destroyed the vehicle.  There was a firefight that ensued.  Everyone in the vehicle was killed.   Although I had only met this kid a couple of times it still was a little personal, bring the war even closer to home.  Note that this is not the picture of the vehicle.

After being in Afghanistan for 6 months I met Terri in Dubai for a 10-day break.   We rode public transportation while we were in Dubai.    Then rented a car for our trip out west driving the UAE was fantastic.   It was the first time I ever saw camels at a rest stop.  We spent 5 days in the city of Dubai and 5 days at a small beach resort famous with Expats on the eastern coast of the Unite Arab Emirates.   It was the first time I have stayed in a hotel with no other Americans.   All most everyone spoke Russian.  I did snorkel out to snoopy Island at the Sandy Beach resort .    I have now swum in all the major oceans except for the Arctic.  I have to work on that one. While on the coast we did take a few car day trips.  Making a wrong turn one day we ran in into the border fence that separates the UAE and Oman.  We did backtrack and make it back to the sandy beach hotel.  The old city in Dubai is awesome also it was good to have a break. I plan on eventually writing a whole section on Dubai and the UAE.

Back to Afghanistan and then work another 3 months and it is a trip to France.  Terri and I spent 16 days in France; both in Paris then renting a car a traveling to Chamonix.    In Paris, we rented an Apartment for a week and lived like Parisian.    We will do this again.  Living in a city without a car could be a great life.  The boys were there in Paris with us for a few days this will always make this trip special.  In Chamonix, we hiked in the French alps and took the cable car up to Mt. Blanc and over across the glacier to Italy. 

Then another 3 months in Afghanistan and I’m back home. It was a long flight back home to Atlanta from Dubai.  Going through customs the TSA agent could see I haven't been to the US in a Year, with a big smile she said welcome home.   It was good to hear.

 It was a world wind trip that definitely still is inside me.   It really has to lead me in my decision to live a better life.  And gave me the courage to address some health issues that I had been ignoring before I left.  Thank You, Afghanistan.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Afghanistan (Day #3)

This post is 3 day of work in Afghanistan.   This is a little more coherent.   Disillusionment has yet to set in.

Well, it's day 3 of work only 362 days left to go.   It really isn't all that bad I sleep in a 8 man room but it is arranged so everyone has their own little cubicle.  People hang sheets around their bunks for further privacy I have met my roommates who seem to be good people.  Every time I have been in the room it has felt like I was the only one there even though there were 2 or 3 people besides me in the room.  I don't mind it because I am mainly there to sleep so it really isn't all that bad.  
I'm lucky I have my own office which I am in from 0530 to 1930 most days the people that work for me have a desk right outside my office. I also have people that are at different FOBs that work for someone else but I’m there company site lead for any company administrative issues.

The food is not bad but could be better; once you get your food you find a table to sit at usually with another person who you don’t know.  Today I had breakfast with an Indian contractor; who told me that he was from eastern India the city Visakhapatnam.  He was a friendly person who told me that his city was a popular tourist destination.  

We have a very diverse group of contractors on Bagram which is the number one job provider in Afghanistan.  Most of the non-technical jobs are done by Afghans, the semi-technical are done by Filipino or Indians.  The highly technical that require military logistics, IT, Maintenance is done by us American Expats.

The office I work in is a converted shipping container with my office with a door on one end and an entrance door with the open office on the other with one long desk with six works stations.  I would describe the office more but we are supposed to move in the near future.

Today my lost bag is supposed to arrive from Dubai.  Yesterday it was in terminal 3 and had to be transferred to terminal 2 for this morning’s DFS flight into Bagram, Afghanistan.

The lady I’m replacing Marry has been here for 5 years. Personally, I don’t see how she has done it but she explains it this way.  After her husband died she came over here and the people on the base became her family, but now it’s time to go.  She is 62 time to retire to her house in Florida to live with her sister.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Travel to Afghanistan (Day #1)

I wrote this in Afghanistan, it chronicles my travel to and 1st day in Afghanistan.  After 3 journal entries, I became too embroiled with everyday business to write anymore.  I had to vegetate and decompress in order to keep my sanity.

This was one of the best and worst years of my life, which will be explained at a later date.  Note I left this how I originally wrote it,  incoherent.       

24 Oct 2011

Afghanistan Day #1

Afghanistan what can I say; it’s about what can expect, it’s like any other army/airfield in the middle east.  It's dirty, dusty and 8,000 miles from home.  Had what I hope was my only glitch of the trip (it wasn't).  Emirates air lost my bag with all my clothes.  Oh well, add that to my list of things that will keep me busy for the next 364 days. 

The trip seemed fast actually, although it took 3 days of travel minus the 9 hours that Afghanistan is ahead of the states, the day here is almost at an end when it is just beginning in the states.  The trip from Houston to Dubai took nearly 15 hours luckily Emirates Air is an outstanding airline, heck all the liquor and beer you could drink for 15 hours.  The flight being half full made it a lot more comfortable. Needless to say, it is the last drop of alcohol that I will have until I leave to go on vacation which is in about 6 months. 

After landing in Dubai in the early evening it was an adventure at the lost luggage section talking to a luggage clerk in broken English who ensure me that my bag would be here in a few days and they would send it directly to Bagram.  After getting to the hotel and having a great buffet dinner at the hotel restaurant, which consisted of stuff I had never had before with a definite Middle East flavor.  The one thing I have learned about middle eastern food is that there are a lot of vegetarian choices which are actually very good,  but the lamb meatballs in curry sauce were the best thing I had all trip. 

After tossing and turning for 3 hours at the Dubai Holiday Inn Express, it was time to get up at 2 AM to make my 6 AM flight, shared a cab with another expat on the way to the airport going to Mazer Serif, on the same flight.  He was a big help navigating terminal 2 of Dubai International; it made his stories of his messy divorce bearable.  

The flight into Bagram was stunning how a country that is so beautiful be in such turmoil and strife for so many years.  After landing in Bagram it got off the plane and line up by what Forward Operating Base (FOB) you were assigned too.  The biggest group which I was in was staying at Bagram which is about 30Ks north of the capital of Kabul. 

There was another group that was boarding plane to leave Afghanistan they had a look of joy on their faces some running to get on the plane.  I guess the beer they serve on the outgoing flights might have something to do with it. 

I had a group coworkers meet me at the DFS terminal that included the person that I am replacing We stopped at the PX right away so I could buy what necessities they had until my bag or boxes arrived from the state.  I got to Skype with Terri in Dubai before the flight into Bagram she has two boxes in the mail for me of clothes.  It should be here in about 7 days.

The first day was a whirlwind in which, I got most of my in processing done and most importantly got my network access request completed.  I finally got to my room about 7 PM it was a long day made my bed stuck my stuff in the wall locker and took my first crap and shower in Afghanistan. Tomorrow I will get my office set up and start working; although the conditions are harsh I plan to make it an enjoyable year.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Second 30th Wedding Anniversary Trip to Paducah

3 January 2014

Here is proof that travel does not have to involve great distances.  They can be short trips of a 100 miles or less.  The most import thing is to get out there, explore and experience the world. 

We have driven through and around Paducah Kentucky probably a hundred times or more but have never been downtown. I have heard in recent years that Paducah has had a revival of their downtown that is still ongoing. Today is our 30th Wedding Anniversary even though this past year we have been to Paris, driven through France to Chamonix which we call our Anniversary trip we still felt the need to get away. After having the boys visit for Thanksgiving and Christmas we had developed a case of cabin fever, so we decided to come here to the National Quilt Museum.

So I got online through and found a condo rental
across the street from the Museum here in Paducah with a view of the meeting of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. We made the 70 mile trip from Clarksville in the late afternoon and walked around the downtown I cannot believe that we have not been here sooner.

The National Quilt Museum is awesome and deserves a stop in Paducah Kentucky and is only 2 hours southeast of St Louis.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Great One Day Motorcycle Ride to the American West

30 October 2013

A motorcycle trip to cross the Mississippi by ferry is something that I have wanted to do for quite some time. Why you might say; ride 150 miles to sail on a boat then turn around and come home.  Again to me, it's all about the experience baby!   Cross that border to see what’s there, like in the Doors song; so I can “wake up on the other side”.  I'm just not staying the night this time.

Well, I start the morning with friends at breakfast at Shoney's on Riverside Drive in Clarksville trying to convince some others to ride with me.  After a couple trips to the heart attack bar, I have no luck.  They have these things called jobs.  What’s up with that anyway?  Oh, that reminds me I have to start looking for one of those, maybe tomorrow.

It is a good thing that I stopped first because I had forgotten the key that locks my ignition but more importantly opens the cover to my gas cap.   Once the ignition is unlocked I can stop and start the bike all day long without using the key.  I have gotten into the bad habit of riding the bike locally without the key.   But ride around long enough you are in the position to not to be able to put gas into the motorcycle, which has been a bad thing. 

I almost didn't go because of this, but I rode home 7 miles in the opposite direction to retrieve the key.   Deciding not to change my mind, I’m off.  There are so many reasons a person can come up with to not to travel, but like the commercial says; “Just Do It”.  Plus there are not going to be many more partly sunny 70 plus degree days again at the end of October, at least not until next April.

So, I take Highway 79 from Clarksville, crossing the Cumberland river going into Dover; I have driven this road hundreds of times, but today is one of those days where the fall colors and the crispness in the air make it special, where would anyone want to be but on this road on a motorcycle.  I stop in Dover, TN to take some Pictures of the Barn Quilts there; throughout the little berg of Dover, they have put Barn Quilts on a lot of the Public and Commercial Buildings; which I can say have really brightened up the town. 

After leaving Dover Crossing the Tennessee River I turn north onto highway 121, which is a small connector route that takes you into Kentucky and the University town of Murray.   The geographical area between Dover and Murray make up the region known as Land between the Lakes or before the dams on the rivers.  The land between the Cumberland and Tennessee River’s, these two rivers come together and dump into the Ohio River not more than 10 miles apart.  At some points, they are less than 2 miles apart from one another.  

Lake Kentucky is the 5th largest manmade lake in America.  These rivers and lakes are fantastic geological features; imagine two Grand Canyon’s filled with water.  They are two reasons why I live in Tennessee.

Once arriving in Murray it was time to stop for lunch, what better place than a seasonal Dairy Queen.   This DQ served only ice cream and hot dogs; it was closing for the season on 31 October and wouldn't open until March.   Murray Kentucky is one of those towns that haven’t lost that small town feel.   Murray State University actually is the rival of my school Austin Peay University; this is the one college basketball game I like to attend.  Murray State has a beautiful college campus, especially in the fall.  Sitting there eating my chili dog drinking my coke a cola I could see the fall colors in all their splendor.   

Turning onto Highway 94 runs right through the middle of campus and heads straight west towards Hickman KY that sits on a Bluff on the bank of the Mississippi.   Highway 94 is a nice country road with light traffic.   In future trips, west must remember to use this road it makes for a very relaxing ride.  More barn quilts and no traffic.  

Like a lot of river towns Hickman has seen its better days, but there is some evidence that it is starting to make a comeback.   The ferry terminal is south of town below the bluff it is well marked, just follow the; To Ferry and Highway 94 signs. 

Once arriving at the terminal you have to park on the side of the road and watch out for gravel trucks because there is a limestone quarry right next to the Ferry and they share the road.   Once aboard the Ferry, the Captain ask me to hold my bike until he got the Tug turned around.  Most River Ferry’s that I have ridden are nothing more than small barges with small tugboats attached to the middle. They pivot to change directions.  
After riding the long slope down to the river and the ferry, I get my bike parked at the front of the boat.  It is just I and another car making this trip to the west; the deck hand asked, “How much money does everyone have?”  My response was, “Hey I rode all the way from Clarksville, TN because I heard that you get paid to ride the Ferry”.  The deck hand laughed; “It will be $5 for you when we make it to Missoura you can talk to dem about it” Pointing across the river, “but they’d gonna get der $5 one way or anodder.  Dem Missouri Boys are crazy I stay on this side of the river, try not to go over there too much; dem boys are crazy”.  We both had a good laugh, and then I handed over an Abraham Lincoln.  I know that the ferry was run by the Missouri County across the river; as he spoke I had visions Deliverance and banjo’s playing in my head.

I have crossed the Mississippi may times, it never ceases to amaze me, the magnitude of it.   The Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River Systems are the blood and veins of the nation.   The water was low the river has been brought down to its winter water level.  You would think with all the summer rain in the west it would be higher, but it wasn’t.   There were a lot of barges pushing coal.   It is also fun to Jet Ski in the wake of these barges, sometimes creating 10-15 foot swells on the river.  They can be jumped like a motorcycle ramp, except on the water.

Once on the other side of the nation, in the tail/boot heel of Missouri, it is already 2 PM in the afternoon, and my thoughts have turned to getting back to Clarksville.  From the Ferry landing, it is a short drive to State Road 77.   Highway 77 is an elevated roadway above floodplain farmland; this side of the river as an eerie quietness to it.   A lot of people who used to live in the Mississippi River floodplain have left over the year just so they don't have to deal with the constant state of flooding.  And with the consolidation of farmland because of agro-business, decaying homesteads litter the ride to Cairo.  There is an odd beauty to an overgrown farmhouse.

It is 31 miles up to the bridge back over the Mississippi into the lower tip of Illinois at Cairo and then over the Ohio into Kentucky.  Once in Illinois, the two bridge entrances are less than 100 miles apart.  It is a remarkable feature viewing the three states at once.

Once back in the Southeast it is a short 2-hour ride back to Clarksville on some roads that have been constructed or widened from 2 to 4 lanes.  The ride back through Land between the Lakes National Recreation Area on Highway 68, then I24 for the last 30 miles goes quickly.  It is good to get home, my ass is sore, but it won’t last long and it won’t be long before I have the itch to ride again.