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Posts Tagged ‘Camp Eggers’

IT2 Gonzalez

IT2 Gonzalez, gathering gear for a support mission*

IT1 Beiser

IT1 Beiser and children during a volunteer mission**

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve got a GREAT team of Coalition Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in my organization.  But three have really stood out recently:

IT2 Gonzalez is a communications technician working in my Current Operations section.  He is directly responsible for providing mobile comm support for LTG Caldwell, the Commander of NTM-A and CSTC-A.

Because of his professionalism and expertise, IT2 Gonzalez was my #1 select to provide communications support to LTG Caldwell during his recent visits to forward operating bases in Afghanistan.  He flew ahead of the General and coordinated classified and unclassified telephone and network services with each host site.  He was recognized by the Command Sergeant Major for his ability to anticipate LTG Caldwell’s every communications need.

IT1 Beiser is my Afghan National Army (ANA) Tactical Communications Fielding NCO. In this job, he helps the ANA field the correct number and type of radios to the correct units, ensuring ANA Commanders have the means to effectively command their units in combat.  IT1 Beiser also advises an Afghan Colonel, providing valuable input into ANA radio equipment, supply, and storage plans.

IT1 Beiser assists the ANA Communications Support Unit (CSU) too, advising generator mechanics, radio maintainers and operators, and even First Sergeants within the unit.  While working with the CSU, he’s driven vehicles and been entrusted with Vehicle Commander and Convoy Commander duties as well.

Finally, Capt Grocki is my Afghan National Police (ANP) Budget and Program Support Planner here at Camp Eggers.  As my ANP Contracting Officer Representative, he manages $221M in sales of US communications equipment and services, and ensures 13 multi-million dollar ANP comm support contracts remain in scope and on schedule.

Capt Grocki also worked closely with the Kabul Regional Contracting Center, shepherding four contracts through technical evaluation and contract award.  He developed Quality Assurance plans for each contract and ensured Technical Oversight Representatives were assigned to conduct regular inspections of contractor performance.

Bottom line: IT2 Gonzalez, IT1 Beiser, and Capt Grocki are great Americans, making great things happen in Afghanistan.  I’m honored to serve with them here.

* Photo by LCDR Tony Saxon, USN.
** Photo by Lt Col Fred Kelsey, USAF.

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Mourning and night

Mourning and night...Memorial Day at Camp Eggers*

Chaplain

A Jewish chaplain speaks about 1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine**

Memorial Day will never be the same for me again.

On 20 May 2009, 1Lt Roslyn Schulte and Mr Shawn Pine were killed in an IED strike, while on convoy from Camp Eggers to Bagram Air Field.

1Lt Schulte happened to be Jewish, and by an amazing coincidence – some would say Providence – the one Jewish chaplain in all of CENTCOM arrived at Bagram Air Field the morning of the 20th as part of a tour throughout the region.  So he was there to participate in the ramp ceremony, where 1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine were slowly and formally loaded onto an aircraft for their final trip home.

And he was at Camp Eggers five days later, on Memorial Day.  1Lt Schulte and Mr Pine worked with the Afghan National Army as advisers, so scores of Afghan officers attended the ceremony.  Like me, they heard a Jewish chaplain’s prayer in Hebrew, followed by a Muslim general’s eulogy in Dari.

Bottom line:  At Camp Eggers last Memorial Day, Jews, Christians, and Muslims all wept together.

* Photo by Stephon M. Sterns.

** CSTC-A photo.

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Commando patch

Comm Support Unit adviser, proudly wearing the ANA Commando patch*

ANP Antenna

ANP radio antenna, supporting a District Headquarters in Wardak Province**

I’ve got a GREAT team of Coalition Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in my organization; here are three that really stood out recently:

Senior Airman Taylor is a technician working in my Operations  section, connecting NTM-A and CSTC-A.  He is responsible for the installation, operation and maintenance of the classified Coalition network (called Afghanistan Mission Network, or AMN) at Camp Eggers – 555 users, 360 computers, 25 printers, and 50 computer-based phones…growing every day.

Recently, SrA Taylor provided above-and-beyond comm support to the Joint Planning Group charged to relook the Command’s mission and way-ahead.  This has been an incredibly high-visibility effort, involving multiple meetings with LTG Caldwell, the NTM-A Commander and CSTC-A Commanding General.  SrA Taylor engineered and implemented AMN connectivity for the group despite starting with ZERO comm infrastructure in their designated meeting space.  He connected over twenty senior officers with secure comms and enabled in-depth analysis across fourteen different staff sections, allowing the group to chart the way forward for the Command.

Electronics Technician First Class Peterson works in my Afghan National Army Communications section, supporting ANA command and control.  He serves as the satellite communications trainer/adviser for the ANA Communications Support Unit (CSU).  As an adviser, ET1 Peterson helped the CSU with their first operational deployment, ever.  I’ve written about this deployment before, but the short story is until ET1 Peterson and the CSU arrived, the Commando Brigade Headquarters had only radio communications.  Only two days into the deployment, Commando leaders had video, voice, and data comms with the National Military Command Center,  allowing them to effectively respond to the 18 January insurgent attacks in Kabul.  And today, the Commandos are participating in major combat operations in and around Marjah, in central Helmand.

Additionally, ET1 Peterson provides direct support for the American Forces Network (AFN) television broadcast  system on Camp Eggers.  He helped replace cable and perform maintenance on the Camp Eggers AFN system.  In the process, he isolated and fixed an intermittent problem with AFN reception affecting our headquarters building.  These trouble prevention and troubleshooting skills earned the personal recognition of LTG Caldwell.

Last but certainly not least, Lieutenant Commander Stewart serves as the Radio Fielding Branch Chief in my Afghan National Police Comms section.  He’s driving a $10 million plan to install over 400 VHF radio repeaters throughout Afghanistan, enhancing the tactical command and control capabilities of the ANP.  He developed a strategy to use existing commercial cell phone towers, saving significant time and money compared to building towers from scratch.  LCDR Stewart is also finishing up a UHF radio system installation here in Kabul.  This is a trunked system which allows almost unlimited talk groups…which means local police, fire fighters, medical providers and other first responders in the capital can use their radios simultaneously, without stepping on each other’s voices, even during a major crisis.  He has already started operational testing; I expect the the system will soon be functioning as designed for more than 3,700 users.

Finally, LCDR Stewart has been directly responsible for working with Afghan Ministry of the Interior officers to field more than 300 vital pieces of radio equipment for Afghan Gendarmerie Force units participating in Operation Moshtarak near Marjah.  Afghan and Coalition forces are currently clearing the area of insurgents; LCDR Stewart’s radios will help Afghan police forces hold the line against an insurgent return, providing the Afghan government time and space to build capability within the area.

Bottom line:  I offer SrA Taylor, ET1 Peterson, and LCDR Stewart as shining examples of the best qualities of this Command – agile and adaptive, culturally respectful, and innovative.  It is my pleasure and my honor to serve with them here.

* Photo by ET1 David Peterson.

** Photo by ITC Greg Laskowski.

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Coalition forces

Coalition members commemorate all those who've served*

Silence

Two minutes of silence, in honor of those who've fallen*

As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t do many ceremonies here at Camp Eggers.  But Veterans Day (also known as Remembrance Day, Poppy Day or Armistice Day) last November was an exception.

It’s a very powerful thing to pause, even for only a brief moment, and honor those who have served before us.  And it was even more powerful to do so, here in Afghanistan, with other members of the Coalition:  Albanian, American, Australian, British, Dutch, French, Polish, South Korean, Spanish, and Turkish forces alike.

Bottom line:  There’s a poem, famous within the Commonwealth, that speaks to  the need to keep the faith with our veterans:

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

Thanks to all who help hold that torch.

* Photos by SSgt Larry E. Reid, Jr., USAF, from DefenseImagery

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Khan Neshin

The Afghan national flag, raised above Khan Neshin castle the first time*

Half-staff

An all-too-common sight at Camp Eggers: US, Afghan, and UK flags at half-staff...

I always appreciate seeing the Afghan national flag flying from a building or tower.  To me, it represents a symbolic acknowledgement that Afghanistan is more than just a loose collection of tribes…that there’s a real nation here, proud and strong.     

There are conflicting descriptions of what the colors represent, but I like this one, paraphrased from Flags of the World:    

The three colours of the flag represent a different page in the history of Afghanistan.  The black represents the 19th century era when Afghanistan was occupied and did not have independence, red marks the fight for independence and the green shows independence had been achieved.    

Additionally, the colors have specific meanings within the Islamic faith.  We’re taught that green stands for service to Allah, red for sacrifice, and black for martyrdom.  Along those lines, I see the flag colors as symbolic of the members of the Afghan National Security Forces and the Coalition serving here in Afghanistan.  To me, the green vertical represents service, writ large…service to each other, our families, our Service, our nations, and the God of our choosing.   The red vertical is the sacrifices we make in order to build Afghanistan and protect its people…for some, a blood sacrifice.  And the black signifies those who have given their lives for Afghanistan…445 Coalition members and 1,030 Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army members in 2009 alone.    

Bottom line:  Strips of cloth can be damaged easily, especially in a country like Afghanistan.  But a flag represents an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.    

* USMC photo by Cpl Aaron Rooks, from USCENTCOM

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Volunteer community relations mission

Unloading clothes and toys for a volunteer community relations (VCR) mission*

VCR football

Playing soccer (or football, to the rest of the Coalition) on a VCR mission*

One of the most important things we do is volunteer community relations, or VCR, missions.  Led by NTM-A chaplains from Camp Eggers, volunteers distribute clothes and toys to places like schools, orphanages and medical centers in Kabul and surrounding areas.  During the run-up to the Presidential Elections last year, the security situation in Kabul was the worst it’s been during my tour.  Many days, roads were ‘black’, meaning we could only travel on them for absolutely mission-critical activities, and even then, only with the permission of our most senior officers.  But even on those days, the VCR missions went on…the Command clearly demonstrated that VCR missions are a vital part of what we’re trying to accomplish here in Afghanistan.  And that makes sense:  VCR missions provide hope to Afghans that have none, and as the Afghans would say,

The world lives on hope.

In general, VCR missions take place once week.  Unfortunately, because of the security and transportation challenges, only a handful of people can go on the actual mission.  So the chaplains select randomly from the list of people who help out at the ‘VCR sort’.  This first part is truly a sight to behold: Scores of military and civilian volunteers putting order to the massive chaos of items donated by individuals and charities from all over the world.   It starts with a human chain, passing hundreds of boxes from the VCR storage area to a nearby open space.  The volunteers then sort the boxes into smaller piles, organizing them by type: clothing for infants, boys, girls, men, and women; toys; blankets; jackets; winter shoes; normal shoes; and so on.  Then it’s almost like Halloween:  A non-stop line of people with bags, stopping at houses, and receiving treats.  Except in this case it’s a line of volunteers with bags, stopping at each small pile, and receiving donated items from that station.  By the time a volunteer has looped all the way around the sort area, his or her bag is jam-packed with a complete mix of donated goods…one family’s worth of stuff.  A quick stop to tie off the bag and pick up another, then it’s back for another round.  The whole thing happens VERY quickly and with a very little formal organization…almost like a bunch of ants taking on a task that’s WAY too big as individuals but easy as a swarm.  Which is really the whole idea of the International Community’s work in Afghanistan…

Bottom line:  VCR missions change lives…both the volunteer’s and the recipient’s.

* USAF photos by SSgt Larry E. Reid, from Defense Imagery

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Accordion

Accordion player in the ANA band, before the ceremony

ANA Band

ANA band playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" *

National holidays aren’t really that big a deal at Camp Eggers.  First, every day is a work day…there’s just an infinite number of things here that desperately need doing.  Second, we’ve got service members from 47 countries involved in NTM-A (43 in the International Security Assistance Force, plus Mongolia, Egypt, the Republic of Korea, and of course, Afghanistan)…if we tried to celebrate all the national holidays we’d do nothing but hold ceremonies!  That said though, we did set aside a few minutes back on the 4th of July for a short cake-cutting ceremony.  The best part, by far, was the Afghan National Army band, which played the Afghan national anthem** and then ours.  The band played well…not great, but plenty good enough for a country at war.  And it wasn’t really about the tunes anyways, it was about an Afghan band, that we built, playing our national anthem, on our Independence Day, in Kabul.  As my kids would say: Epic!

The similarities and differences between the Afghan and US national anthems are interesting.  Both countries have a long, proud military heritage (though of course Afghanistan’s goes back tens of thousands of years, and the US’ a mere 234).  And both anthems were born in battle–Afghanistan’s during the current insurgency and the US’ during the War of 1812.  But the Milli Surood is much less militant than The Star Spangled Banner.  Except for one snippet (“…the land of sword, each of its sons is brave…”), it paints a picture of Afghanistan as “a land of peace” and “the country of every tribe”.  It’s not there yet, of course, but Afghanistan’s choice of national anthem gives me hope that it’s headed in the right direction…  

Bottom lines:  

This land will shine forever, like the sun in the blue sky
In the chest of Asia, it will remain as the heart forever 

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave! 

* CSTC-A photo 

** Here’s a recording of the piece (with lyrics and without), and also some sheet music, all compliments of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington D.C.

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