The end of the Long Year

For anyone that has dropped by this space in the last 3 years, you’ll notice right away that I’ve been absent. It’s time to change that, especially since I’m headed to a place where I’ll be asked to write a lot more.

First things first, the “Long Year” for which I originally titled this blog has long since finished. It was one of the most rewarding years of my life by far. The perspective I gained and the relationships I forged were nothing
less than life changing. It was the first time in my military career when I truly realized just how arrogant Americans have become with respect to working with people from around the globe. After spending a year in an organization that requires full cooperation and dependence on its members, which encompassed representatives from a couple of dozen nations, it is obvious how interdependent we (Americans) are on the rest of the world. 

So, with all this new perspective (with a couple more years’ worth of aging), I am committing myself to blogging more and to sharing my thoughts and musings with anyone that takes the time to read them. Expect lots of references to hiking and Jeeps, my faithful dog, and outer space (especially Star Wars).


My own thoughts about Boston…

Two days ago, I woke up and opened Facebook and immediately noticed my friends’ posts about Boston. The posts weren’t specific but I knew something had happened. It didn’t take long to discover that someone had set off bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Before I keep going, forgive me in advance for getting long-winded. For those of you that read all the way to the end… Thank you.

My first reaction was something along the lines of, “Crap, here we go again.” I tried to gather as many facts as I could, but the details were still fairly thin. I saw a few of the photos. One reporter’s raw comment caught my eye… he referred to the flags that lined the course near the finish line. I headed to work, knowing that the rest of the day was going to be pretty somber. My colleagues and I shared what we had read or seen on the internet, still not much more than numbers of dead and wounded and the fact that no one had claimed responsibility. Interestingly, one of the groups that we are fighting here in Afghanistan made a point of stating that they were not responsible, but do support attacks on America and her allies. Thanks for the clarification….

Later in the day, I headed to the gym to run on the treadmill and that’s when I saw the videos that had started circulating. By this point, I knew that more than 100 had been injured, many with “traumatic amputations,” which seems too nice of a way of describing something quite horrific. I also knew that one of the three that died was an 8-year-old boy, the same age as my oldest. As I was running and watching the video clips of the explosion, the immediate chaos, and the actions of the first responders, that’s when a couple of thoughts and emotions hit me.

The victims – runners and their supporters – everyday people celebrating triumph and great accomplishment through sport – experienced the same sort of invisible, anonymous and cowardly attack that people in dozens of nations around the world have experienced way too often these past dozen years. That’s when I thought back to the reporter’s comments about the flags. In the pictures and videos, I could clearly recognize the national flags of some of my mates that I have served with here in Afghanistan for the past 10 months. The collection of flags still flying after the attacks seemed to focus my thoughts. Those flags clearly represent that the whole world is in this together. Whoever the attackers think they were targeting, the reality is that by attacking the Boston Marathon, they were attacking the whole world.

I have included a picture collage with this post. I collected most of the images from the web. One I took myself. My apologies to the photographers for not knowing who to credit them to. I wanted to use these pictures to show that some of our most notable endeavors and accomplishments are due to the efforts of people from around the globe. Two of the pics are from the attack. Two are from last summer’s London Olympics. The International Space Station logo clearly represents the contributions of many nations. The middle pic is a scene that I see every day in Kabul. America, we are not in this alone. Responding to this attack will involve the whole world.

Many of my FB friends have posted their own thoughts, most not nearly as long-winded as mine. One in particular I would like to highlight. My friend Shellie wrote, “This just makes me want to go into hiding with my family…but then they win. Continue to be good and kind and make the world a better place…then we win.” Thanks Shellie… so true.

So this leads me to where I think I’m headed with this. I think I can already see the beginnings of what could be a silver lining rising out of the sorrow and tragedy of the attack. I like to run. I’m no marathoner, so my short 2.62 miles on the treadmill yesterday seemed like a really small, yet immediate tribute. I know a few runners, and their spirit and comaraderie is beginning to spread in support of the victims of the Boston Marathon. Search for the hashtags #GoRun or #RunForBoston through any social media app and you will find examples of runners doing their part to counter the cowardly act of the attackers. Not everyone can be a runner, but for those that can, I simply use these thoughts to encourage you to support the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing by doing what they were doing. #GoRun


Cupcake Wars!

The Official USO Blog

Cupcakes have become the Hollywood starlet of sugary snacks.

From “D.C. Cupcake,” to “Cupcake Wars,” to the scores of mom-and-pop shops springing up on every hipster city block, there’s no question cupcakes have put the “in” in “binge.”

If it’s hip and it’s Hollywood, you know the USO has to get our fingers in it.

On Sunday, July 1, Food Network’s reality program “Cupcake Wars” will be “Saluting the USO” at 8 p.m. EST as competitors battle for sweet supremacy with a shot at having their confections featured during last October’s USO Gala in Washington, D.C.

And in the spirit of competition, we at USO Arlington found a way to have a little cupcake war of our own.

While supporting the men and women of the U.S. Military, there’s often little time and few supplies with which to make a batch of cupcakes at our USO Centers. So what do…

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VIP Treatment

13 July

This post is almost a bit embarrassing in that I got to do something that I wouldn’t expect during a war. I got to experience a bit of the VIP treatment that some of our senior leaders receive as they travel around Afghanistan. As the picture shows, even lowly staff officers like me get to experience a bit of the good life while deployed.

Now, Afghanistan is a pretty big place, so when generals need to travel to different parts of the country, the military recognizes that it should provide an expedient way for them to get around. Most Soldiers find themselves going from place to place in armored trucks. Others travel via helicopter or in an Air Force military cargo plane. The VIPs, something quite different.

This past week, I had my first opportunity to get away from my camp. I was part of a general’s small entourage as he traveled to visit one of the many other camps we have scattered across Afghanistan. The camp was in southwestern Afghanistan and extremely remote. It reminded me of Kuwait because it was nothing but flat desert sand. Plus, the temperature was upwards of 110 degrees. My hat is off to the troopers that work every day in and from that camp. For most, that place will be the only part of Afghanistan they ever see.

For a long time, I’ve had serious reservations about how our military has evolved with respect to our general officer corps. I know that they are all great Americans and that they deserve the honor and respect of their rank. It is quite an accomplishment to become a general officer. I just think we have too many of them. Many writers, researchers, journalists, and the like have documented how our military since the end of the Cold War has increased the number of generals and admirals despite the significant decrease in actual uniformed service members. Most chalk this trend up to the typical explosion of government bureaucracy. I don’t have the answers to why this trend is the way it is. I will say that I’m concerned because it seems that big bureaucracies, similar to the military’s bureaucracy, are becoming less and less relevant in the era of smart phones. My studies have led me to understand that flatter, less bureaucratic organizations are demonstrating a higher degree of flexibility and effectiveness in recent years than big hierarchies. However, these more streamlined organizations have their own warts. Often, they are somewhat temporary in nature and actually need constant change to stay sharp. Otherwise, they begin to trend towards becoming bureaucratic. This dynamic scares a lot of traditionalists because it takes away the power of tenure and institutional inertia.

I hope that in the later years of my life, some diligent researcher / author spends the necessary energy to objectively examine the effectiveness of the organizations that the world used to solve the problems of Afghanistan these past few years. My theory would be that the grossly inflated bureaucratic headquarters wasted an incredible amount of time and energy across the duration of this conflict. I’m not sure how I would have done it differently, but my solution would probably have included a lot fewer generals.

So, even though I have a smile on my face in the picture below, inside I cringe at the time and resources that we apply to how we wage this war.



A Small World

8 July

I suppose after 17 years of military service, I shouldn’t be surprised when I run into old friends in unexpected places. This week, I crossed paths with a couple of military buddies in Kabul.

Quite a few years back, I worked in the Army recruiting world. A lot of great sergeants worked for me but I haven’t seen too many of them since I left that assignment. As I was walking through our chow hall, I saw one of my former recruiters sitting by himself. It was such a surprise to cross paths with him. He just completed his tour in Afghanistan and was waiting for a flight out. We sat and chatted for a good half hour.

My other run-in with old friends was more planned. A couple of great friends from my college days were attending a coordination conference in Kabul right next to the headquarters I work in. I knew they would be there, so we made a point of linking up. I think it has been close to 10 years since I’ve hung out with them, but like most military friendships, you pick up pretty quick where you left off. We got to have dinner together and promised to get together again soon, if possible.

It is always fun when you get to catch up with old friends. Before I deployed, I made a point of having dinner with my best friend from high school. I also got to spend some good time with another one of my college buddies (who happened to marry the girl I took to high school prom, REALLY small world.) In the age of social media, we often defer the long term connections because the short bits needed to ‘stay in touch’ are so easy. A couple of years ago, I told a new friend that I was not a huge fan of social media because I prefer the face to face connections that make relationships more meaningful. Since then, I’ve explored social media more and more, and while I still prefer face to face relationships, I now understand the value and the power that social media has brought to our world.

I’ve been reading a book called Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold, originally written 10 years ago. Its all about the social revolution that mobile communicative technology could bring about. He wasn’t trying to predict the future but he was trying to point out the trends that cell phones, texting, wifi, and other technologies were taking and how certain social interactions were starting to change. In his book, he discusses criticisms of these trends and he hit on a key aspect for why face to face connections are still important. “Human discourse without eye contact has its dangers.”

So, while I’m now a fan of social media and have actually professionally studied it to some degree, I will always lean towards the face to face connections that provide the defining moments of our lives. Here’s to using social media to enhance the real world, not replace it!



Independence Day

4 July

Its always a little bittersweet being deployed on the 4th of July. You miss all the wonderful activities that folks back home usually do. Whether its going to the lake, or picnic’ing, or baseball games or whatever, the sights and smells of Independence Day in the good ol’ USA are sorely missed. I know that Americans all over the country are enjoying themselves in many very deserved ways.

For those of us that are deployed overseas, the military bends over backward to try and make holidays like this a little better than any other day. The base camp I am assigned to hosted a 4th of July 5K first thing in the morning. About 100-125 runners showed up. One of the cool things about my base camp is that it has a significant presence of Soldiers from many other nations supporting our efforts in Afghanistan. I ran with folks from half a dozen or more European countries and Aussies and probably a few others that runners represented. It was good to see more than just Americans running. The 5K went well, but alas… no souvenir T-shirt.

Another visible part of the 4th of July celebration was in the chow hall. From the moment you walk in the door, the red, white, and blue decorations were nearly overwhelming. I can only imagine what the Soldiers from the other nations were thinking. The chow hall had a 4th of July themed menu for lunch, with BBQ ribs, apple pie, and many other dishes that help remind us of home.

Finally, at the end of the day, the group I work with has a regular synchronization meeting. At today’s, one of our younger American members provided a humorous presentation about America and how the other nations represented by members of our team have contributed to our history and culture. There’s too many great tidbits of his presentation to share here, but I will say that it was a great chance to reflect on how America became the way it is. I tend to be a ‘glass-is-half-full’ kind of person, so despite the divisions that many of us have back home, its obvious that the fact that we can have all of those differences is what truly makes our nation great. I am anxious to get home and help contribute more towards that greatness.

Happy 4th of July everyone!


Afghanistan ~ First Impressions

1 July

I’ve been in Afghanistan now for a few days. I haven’t had a chance to leave the base camps, so my first impressions are limited to what I can see from inside the wire. The Mojave Desert comes to mind. Nevada, southern Utah, southeast California… these are the locations in the USA that Afghanistan reminds me of. I’ve been on two different base camps and both of them are surrounded by mountain ridges. Its obvious that this is a dry area because the hillsides don’t seem to have much vegetation on them. Plus, there is usually a fair amount of dust in the air.

I’m living and working at the airport outside of Kabul and I probably won’t have much of an opportunity to escape this place. When I do, I will do my best to take in the sights and sounds and smells of the local countryside and city life of the places I visit. I’m thankful for the opportunities to get out and about because staff work as a military planner can get pretty monotonous. I’ve already figured out that the base camp I am on right now will start to feel pretty small soon. More about life on the camp later.

For now, I’m getting used to my surroundings and to my daily schedule. Its time to truly get down to business.