Friday, September 29, 2006

New Assignment

It has been several weeks since I have posted any new content. There has been a lot of change in our organization and this has led to a new opportunity for me to serve in a new and challenging role. I have been assigned as the chief operations officer for the Kabul Military Training Center.

This role is a major move and represents an opportunity to earn the trust of a new command in a role that will return me to my roots as an infantryman. I will be working for Colonel Jim Lyman, who serves as the U.S. Commander and Senior Mentor to the Afghan National Army's primary doctrinal training center. Located just a few miles from my current assignment, I will continue to serve in Kabul and be in close proximity to the command here.

It represents a new beginning in a new command. I am thankful for the oportunity to serve in this new role and look forward to the change. It will enable me to diversify my experience and grow back toward the management of current and future operations. It is very exciting. I assume the role within two days.

For now, I must pack up my gear and relocate to new quarters in a new location, closer to the role we are all here for, training the Afghans.

This is going to be great.

-out here

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Ago, One Year Ago, Today

Today is September 11th, 2006. We have just emerged from a 48 hour internet and telephonic "Blackout." Two days ago, we lost two NCOs from CJTF Phoenix. As it has been 24 hours since the notifications, the prohibitions on identifying the fallen have lifted. I cannot speak to the legacy of Staff Sgt. Fuga of the Missouri Army National Guard, as I did not know him, but I can deduce a little from his commitment to service. A member of CJTF Phoenix since Phoenix III, he had recently extended to stay for a full second year tour.

Of Staff Sgt. Nathan Lindsey, I can tell you that I knew him for the four years I have served in the Oregon Army National Guard. A committed soldier, a veteran of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Southern Relief (Katrina), he was always a smiling face and a firm handshake, a cup of coffee not far from his hands at any moment that he was always willing to share. Nathan was a good man that touched all of us. His loss is a loss all of us feel. We offer our prayers toward his family back home. His wife, a Guard supporter and mother and wife of veterans of Iraq, is on all of our minds.

We honor you, non-commissioned officers, leaders of men, who died as they uniform leading soldiers in harm's way.

-out here


Five years ago today America was attacked. While we all remember what happened that morning, where we were, how we responded, there is one thing I remember with equal clarity. I remember the sound of F-15 Fighter jets flying over Portland and the Willamette Valley. That was the sound of the 142nd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard, the first fighter wing in the United States to be 100% operational, fully armed, and protecting the skies of America from any potential threat.

One year ago today, I was in a boat floating through a lake that had been a residential street only two weeks before. I realized the date when an emergency crew, also in a boat, cleared a home and marked it with a big red spray-painted “X” with number next to it “9-11.” Oregon’s 41st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) was amongst the first responders to the disastrous consequences of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, an entire brigade mustered, manifested and deployed into operational missions on the opposite side of the nation within 72 hours of their alert, on the Friday morning of Labor Day weekend, no less. In less than a month, we had conducted hundreds of rescues, evacuations, civil relief missions, security patrols and humanitarian assistance missions, a fortuitous preparatory for the future that would await us within months.

Today, I am again deployed as part of a great team led by the 41st BCT of the Oregon National Guard on September 11th. Re-designated Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix, we are the fifth team to serve as the primary trainers and mentors of the Afghan National Army. In five years, this force has built an impressive track record thanks to the contributions of thousands of men and women from a dozen nations and the will power and support of the national leadership of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Since the fall of the Taliban regime, the Afghan National Army has emerged as the first fully deployed institution of the country. Like its namesake, the mission of Task Force Phoenix is to raise a force of strength from the ashes of over three decades of civil war.

For the first time, CJTF Phoenix is a fully joint and combined enterprise with service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps; men and women from both the Active and Reserve components. Under the leadership of fellow Salem resident Brig. Gen. Douglas A. Pritt and the headquarters of the 41st BCT of the Oregon National Guard, the task force includes thousands of members from 42 states, the District of Columbia, and the Territories of Guam and Puerto Rico as well as soldiers from partner nations Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mongolia, The Netherlands, Norway, The United Kingdom, Slovenia, and Spain. Each of these service members is fulfilling combat, logistical and administrative roles in addition to the task force main effort, the Embedded Training Teams or ETTs. In support of the diversity of this effort, we have temporarily changed our official motto from “Jungleers, Warriors, Oregonians” to “Jungleers, Warriors, Patriots.” Our team is spread across the nation of Afghanistan, often in remote and austere locations in rural areas where the trainers eat, sleep, train, fight and live alongside their Afghan counterparts. Truly, “Patriots” is a much more accurate title for these brave Soldiers.

While mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces is the primary mission of Phoenix, the task force is equally involved in the parallel objectives of facilitating development and mentoring stable local governance in the institutions that it touches daily. Whether building schools, helping to open community centers, or distributing much needed medical care, the warriors of CJTF Phoenix continue to set the standard in helping to renew a stable Afghanistan; a Phoenix, rising from the ashes.

We often rely on donations from organizations and individuals back in the states in order to facilitate this transformation from ash to renewal. To date, we have distributed backpacks full of school supplies, quilted pillows, food stuffs, socks and shoes to needy children, all donations from citizens and organizations back home. All of your contributions are already making a difference to that most impressionable and important audience of reform here in Afghanistan, the children. Every week, we are helping to build and open schools from the elementary through high school levels. But winter is fast approaching and we are hoping to help these children prepare for a cold winter. We need your help to do our work effectively.

The men and women that make up this task force are no different from you or your peers. They are simply motivated to serve their fellow citizens, whether within our borders or across the globe. We are so thankful for your thoughts, prayers and support during this time away from the beautiful Northwest. It is our honor and our privilege to serve. On this Patriot’s Day, we only ask that you will remember those that have fallen and those who serve, whether five years ago, one year ago, and today.

-Major Arnold V. Strong, a Salem resident, is deployed with the Oregon Army National Guard’s 41st Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan as part of its year long mission to train the Afghan National Army. The former spokesman for the Oregon National Guard, Strong served as Special Assistant to the President of TRM Corp. until being mobilized. He maintains a blog about the CJTF Phoenix mission at He can be reached at

Friday, September 08, 2006

ABC Nightline and Suicide Bombers at Massoud Circle

No member of our task force was hurt.

That said, we lost two of our fellow servicemembers here in Kabul this morning. Right after we had concluded a two hour patrol in suburban Kabul in a part of town we call "Little Mogadishu" while escorting Terry Moran, Anchor of ABC Nightline, we returned to Task force Phoenix. After about an hour's time with our commanding general, BG Doug Pritt, we got the news. A vehicle borne-suicide bomber had driven into a US HMMWV, killing two soldiers and up to 18 Afghan citizens at a major traffic circle.

What a loss. As we approach the fifth year anniversary of 9-11, we are all more conscious of the threat, with any number of whackos wanting to turn the Koran inside out and find a Divine justification for their pathetic ambitions, pawns in the strategic chessboard of devils who want to keep the people uneducated, poor and oppressed in order to maintain control of this segment of Earth's Mortal Coil.

I have done my best to keep as much opinioning out of my comments, but there is so much good going on in this country and then something like this happens and everyone will claim how the Taliban are more and more in control, when if all it took to assume control was to deploy hopeless illiterate twenty-thirty something men to their deaths because they haev no hope of achieving anything were what it takes to assume control, this country owuld have fallen long ago and the progress we witness daily would be yet anoter pipe dream.

Our patrol wa a perfect example of the positive change we see daily. the weather was warm compared to the past few weeks as it has been cooling significantly. We were moving with Alpha Company, of the Security Forces battalion. Alpha is made up predominantly of soldiers from the southern Oregon units of 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry. Commanded by Capt. Garry Repp, a second tour veteran of Afghansitan, and 1st Sgt. Santoyo, the men are hardened and used to the streets of this city by now.

We took a short dismounted patrol down our main avenue then broke into "Lil' Mog" and while we witness some suspicious behavior and the occassional sideward glance, for the most part it was children and elders, placing their hands over their breast and greeting us "Salaam Aleikum" About two thirds of the way through our hike we stopped and met with about a dozen men, truck drivers that openly discussed with us the situation they witnessed daily. With the help of our interpretter, we learned that they were truck drivers that had much of thier livlihoods limited by the untrafficablilty of the 'Ring Road' the main highway through most of Afghanistan.

But, in speaking with Terry Moran and the patrol leader, Staff Sgt. Blake Moser, they also expressed theiri belief that the government of Afghanistan is doing the right job and the best it can under the terrible situation facing it. They said that they belive that education for women is a good thing, one of them stating that he wants both of his girls (both apparently under the age of eight) to attend college and escape the poverty they lived in. After that, we brought the "Doc" medic forward and he offered a letter to the father so that his daughter could get treatment for an affilication at our medical center on Camp Phoenix.

It was a good day and Staff Sgt. Moser did one phenomenal job, both in controlling his patrol and keeping their focus on the right objectives and in speaking through the work they were doing to the anchor of one of the most important news media in the United States. Nightline, as I told the soldiers by way of introduction is viewed worldwide, but most significatnly to them, is one of the most watched news programs in the Capital of the United States, Washington, D.C.

It was a very successful patrol and made a lasting impact on the crew and journalist from Nightline. After we returned to Camp Phoenix, we spoke with BG Pritt for a bit, both informally, then while he was on the record as well. Almost immediatley after we finished the interview, as I was walking them to the gate, we got the word about the explosion.

It was aa terrible way to change the focus of our story from progress to ruin, the ultimatel objective of the Taliban and Al Queda, or any terrorist government: keep the people focused on fear and death, loss and hopelessness and you can control them any way you choose.

I choose to focus on the good. today we made a difference. We improved the health of a small girl and built trust with Afghan families that are living in poverty. Today the brave soldiers of Alpha Company, 141 Logistics Task Force recovered the vehicle that had been hit.

Today we made a difference and that is a good way to close the day.

-out here.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Rain and Hail

Well, it is starting to cool off here. In the past week, it has rained three times. Yesterday morning thre were thumb nail sized chips of ice falling from the sky...Hail. Hard to belive until one flies down your shirt. It rarely lasts here, but it came down in sheets this afternoon. A strong wind blew through for about an hour, sending the camp into a dust storm, the black clouds on the horizon blowing in from the North, chasing away the white Cumulous pillows of the South and replacing them with a dark washing of heavily laden combination Black Cumulonimbus and Grey Stratus. Then it hit. First the pitter patter of tiny pinpricks on the tin roofs of our buildings. Then a steady state of the sound of rain, then a torrent as the water let go flushing away the dirt of months of summer heat. It was refreshing to feel the cool air and the clean sweet smell of the plants, revealed from layers of dust and dirt.

It is clean here at Camp Phoenix. The half moon is bright, occassionally hidden behind a layer of the receding water vapor, disguised in cumulous shapes on the horizon.

The weather is getting slowly cooler. More and more jackets are emerging from the duffle bags and the smokers are going out into the smoker's areas less frequently. Soldiers are preparing for an early autumn, even as the leaves are beginning to turn back home in Oregon. The planet seems to shrink, the miles disappear in the realization that we are truly not so far from each other. "Home Is Where the Heart Is" just as the song lyrics of The Chameleons tells us. The heart here is warmed by the light shining on us from above, a half moon reflecting down on newly washed Kabul. It really is a beautiful place.

-out here

From A to Z: Antrim and Zalmai

In the past several weeks, I have been blessed with developing a relationship with two world class photographers, a beautiful American woman named Antrim Caskey (, and a Swiss citizen of Afghan heritage, Zalmai ( The two of them are a rare find here amidst the ravages of war. They met here in Kabul about seven months ago at the opening of a Shakespeare in the Park performance of Love's Labour's Lost...(Yes, I am talking about here in Kabul. Imagine that in a war zone and you may begin to question reckless doom and gloom editorial's like last week's NY Times piece "Losing Afghanistan") But they met here about seven months ago and have been working together ever since. Antrim, ("You know, like Tantrum but without the T" - in her own words) has documented Afghanistan previously, but most recently has been focused on her adorted home of New York City. Her recent focus is on the role of women in Afghanistan. We are trying to facilitate getting her access to the women of the Afghan National Army, alongside 2LT Straub to collaboratively portray some of the roles women are performing daily in this emerging state.

Zalmai is an artist that needs little introduction. We met him the other week at the event downtown in Kabul. His work has been featured in Time, Newsweek, Human Rights Watch and as a gallery showing at the United Nations. His focus is on the plight of refugees, especially in his homeland of Afghanistan. His newest project is focused on the work being done by the Afghan National Army. Some of that at the facilitation of the ISAF (NATO) forces here, but increasginly on their own.

From A to Z, I hope that we can facilitate the access of artists to the work that is rebuilding this country. Step by step, things are improving and for native sons like Zalmai, it is an extraordinary change. It is essential that the world not abandon this nation in its time of need. So much good is happening here and it is so nice to witness.

It is nice to be in a position to develop relationships with artists and journalists as well as service members. It is an honor to befriend the talented vision of such creative minds from A to Z.

-out here