Friday, March 31, 2006

Unique Leaders, Unique Visit

I just finished a very busy but reewarding cycle in my capacity as the protocol officer. We were just visited by Lt. Gen. Noori, Vice Chief of Staff of the Afghan National Army and our future commanding officer, MG (USA) Durbin, Commander of Coalition Forces Command-Afghanistan. The visit was unprecedented. Noori, as small in stature as he is enormous in experience and courage is one of the two top leaders in the most respected institution in his country. He spoke to us in Farsi through his interpretter in a quiet, yet proud voice of his delight to witness such professionalism from the Citizen-soldiers, Sailors and Airmen whosr training he got to view. Maj. Gen. Durbin, a man with 33 years of military service, spoke with tremendous personal respect for the man he accompanied. "Our mission is to mentor not to monitor," he offered. Lt. Gen. Noori's own requests were aligned with tose of Durbin. When asked by a young non commissioned officer what the one thing that is most important for Noori and his soldiers to receive from the members of the task force, Noori did not hesitate, "Train them as you would your own, enforce the same standards you expect from your soldiers. Teach them from the standards you hold for your own men." Speaking over breakfast this morning to the soldiers that have the highest priority of our effort, the Embedded Training Teams that will live, train, eat, and sleep with their Afghan counterparts, Durbin warned them, "You are going to find that I am a demanding person." Speaking of the hard work he has offered the service and Nation over the past three decades, he explained, "I have never worked harder than I have since taking command of this organization." As the mentor/advisor to the newly appointed Minister of Defense and to the top leaders of the Afghan National Army, men such as General Noori, that fought the decade long insurgency against the Soviet Union's occupation and haven't stopped fighting since, he explained "By arriving in theater in the uniform you are wearing, you have instant credibility. It is up to you to continue to deserve that respect. You will be surrounded my somoe of the toughest fighters in the world. Soldiers that effectively kicked the Soviets ass years ago as a guerilla force. They know tactics, but lack the organization of having a professional military force. It is your job to ensure that they become the best force they can possibly be," he concluded.

When the official party arrived, we were to brief them in our operations tent. Immediately upon their entry, I recognized one of the newest members of Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan, Col. Michael Harrison. Harrison, the tall, serious, career Infantry officer had served in Hawaii within the same brigade that I had served a little over a decade ago. Harrison had commanded the "Cacti" battalion 2/35 Infantry, of the Third Brigade at Schofield Barracks. I remember him for his broad smile and direct presence. When he was with you, you were the most important thing in his mind. Harrison will have a deliberate role in oversight of our organization, focusing his efforts on resourcing our training efforts to ensure that we will have the tools we have to get the Afghan Army to its highest possible level of readiness. It will be good to have a friendly face to turn to in the higher headquarters during this historic time.

Brig. Gen. Pritt, my commanding officer and the man that first brought me into the Oregon National Guard, just left my office for the night. We were discussing the visit and some of the upcoming "Dee-Vees" (Distinguished Visitors) we expect to host during our stay here at Camp Shelby. We were discussing the uniqueness of the visit of Generals Durbin and Noori and I mentioned how the embedded journalist with us, Scott Kesterson, had an exclusive interview with the second highest ranking officer in the Afghan National Army and how this was the first of hundreds of unique opportunities we were going to experience.

"Are you kidding, Arnold?" he smiled. "With leaders like this, during this historic time in the history of Afghanistan, with the training we have going into this? We are all going to have the most extraordinary military experiences of our lifetime."

It is hard to have any problem with morale when you are led by leaders like these.

(Photos by my great friend Tech Sgt. Nick Choy)

-Out here.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Hooah! Training. Back from the M9 Range. Yesterday, I finally got out of the operations center and got to qualify on my assigned weapon, the Berreta 9mm Pistol. For the first time in a long time, I didn't shoot expert, but missed it by two shots. I had a ball doing it though. Marksmanship is one of the things that makes being a soldier fun. We finished the range about 21:00 (9 p.m.) last night. This morning we took the test that you can not study for, forced hydration through the night aids the process of the morning... "The Piss Test." the fun never stops in the ARMY. Hooah!

From there we immediately went to have a teleconference with our peers in Afghanistan. The unit we are replacing this summer now has a face. It was good to connect with them and to understand their view of the situation. Suffice it to say that I think we are going to do an extraordinary job over the course of the next fifteen months.

After that we took some mass training time during which we watched a series of video clips. It was footage of the preferred methods of the enemy, the infamous IED or Improvised Explosive Device. It reminded me of the losses with the Oregon National Guard and of my wife's work at commemorating the loss of 1,000, then a year later 2,000 servicemembers lives on the step of the Capitol of Oregon. It has been a difficult few years for so many.

Who do you know that has been touched by this war? I mean personally. Deployed their husband of wife to war for a year or more? Has lost a friend or relative? Had to deliver the news to a family of the loss of their son? How many of you have volunteered to help those people that are so directly impacted by this war? Offered to cut the lawn or help to do the food shopping?

I guess what I mean is that there are so many doing so much and yet so many more that are not asked to do anything. I think it is sad, as if the greatest nation in history has so many of her citizens that won't do anything unless directed to do so.

There are ways to make a difference. To help those you serve. To help those in harm's way. Ways to help the people of a foreign land to stand on their own two feet and build a nation for themselves. I'll write more about that next.

For now, I am way tired. I think I am going to call it a night.

-Out here.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"Got a letter in the mail"

Things are finally starting to move on the public affairs front. Although I still do not have any of my equipment, I should have it by week's end. A top of the line digital still camera, the Canon EOS 1-D Mark II with Lenses, A Macbook Pro for editing and a Sony HD A1U Video Camera. Allegedly the materials were already purchased and I should have them and soon. There was alot of resistance to the Sony, as it is not a typical inventory item in the system...well of course it isn't, it is brand spanking new and the best in class. By taking this camera with me, I will be able to shoot high-definition video over the next year and get cinema quality imagery of our troops, the windswept lands of the roof of the world and the people of Afghanistan. Needless to say, I am excited.

The people are starting to come together and that is where I am seeing the limitless potential of this journey. I go, go, go and sometimes go a little more. That can be exhausting. Now I have found my match in the men that will help me tell the story of these great Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.

Mark was just promoted to Major this his son (see the photo). His son is now on his third deployment since 9-11, this one he volunteered for just to join his Dad. Mark is a good man. He holds his head high and sees the big picture, knowing that his job is to get Afghanistan "back on the front burner." He is already looking to form partnerships with hospitals in the U.S. that might work with us for vital emergency care for Afghanis that need it.

We were just joined by another officer, Paul. Paul left the active force in 2002 and was listed in the I.R.R. Spent the last few years at an Ivy League Law School following his service and had just graduated in the fall of last year, was planning to propose to his sweetheart on Christmas Eve, when, on December 22nd, he got his "recalled to Active Duty" letter. As the old marching call goes..."Got a letter in the mail, go to War or go to jail." So he proposed early, they got married, and he is off to a challenging start, but he is a first class officer, a great mind and guy who sees the forest and the trees for what they are, opportunities.

Another member of the public affairs team is a staff officer for one of our Senators back home.

My Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge, or NCOIC, is joining us in about a week. He is one of the most respected audio-visual producers in the defense community. Personally selected by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Tom is going to get some extraordinary footage and produce some worldclass videos of our time in Central Asia.

Like I said, we are building a great team.

-Out here

Friday, March 24, 2006

This is my first blog entry so we'll see how it turns out.

The weather here at Camp Shelby near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is quite nice at present. Sunny skies and a cool breeze blowing, keeping the air fresh and the heat down. We are getting ready for it to heat up, though.

I've been here about two weeks. The training to date has been pretty strong. Focused on orienting us on the combative environment we will soon be facing, we have a series of several score tasks that we need to be proficient in as well as collective or "group" tasks that we have to master. The training environment is such that we have "Combat Counterparts" that monitor and assist us in accomplishing our training objectives, mentoring us along the way.

I am limited in what I can accomplish right now because I am still waiting on some equipment to arrive, but soon I will have my cameras and be ready to post imagery as well as writings to this post and to those back home that want to know what we are doing.

It is interesting to be part of this Task Force. No longer a unit of the Oregon National Guard, we are a joint task force with elements from the Army, Navy and Air Force, servicemembers from 25 states and two U.S. Territories. Nightly we brief the commanding general on our work, our requirements and our plans for future operations. This is going to be a great voyage with an extraordinary team.

My team is coming together very well. Although I was not able to convince the leaders of the Air Force to bring my trusted right hand, Nick Choy, to join us (some prohibition against the Blue side of the force), he is here for a short term, an Airman learning the ways of Soldiers. He is having a great time and building solid relationships that will help us to get the story told back home in Oregon and beyond. Scott Kesterson, the embedded reporter that is travelling with us for the duration of our journey, is doing extraordinary work. Filing daily and training with a wide variety of units, he is re-learning the way of the warrior and realizing that the Guard is even stronger than when he served within our ranks over a decade ago. I will soon be joined by a real leader in the military photojournalism field, Tom Roberts. His work for the senior leadership of the National Guard is renowned across the nation. It will be great to duplicate the effort and get the benefit of his experience.

It is my intention to be the best storyteller of the men and women of this task force. Because that is my job. Above all else, it is to be a warrior first and the RANGER tab on my soldier is a daily reminder that "I accept the fact that, as a Ranger, my country expects me to move farther, faster and fight harder than any other soldier." Given that, I know that my role is to get the stories of these Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors into the front rooms, headlines, postboxes and mind's eyes of Americans and the world. Every day I meet another member of our team with another extraordinary story. I am honored to be part of the process that gets their story told.

"The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step." - Lao Tsu

This is the first step.

-Out here