Monday, December 29, 2008

It must be Malaria Monday!

If I didn't have it on my calendar, I would forget about it. I would like to forget about it but it IS a requirement and in my opinion, worth it. What I am talking about is the necessity to take a Malaria pill once every week while in-country. Don't feel left out, if you end up traveling to a country that has the potential for malaria, you will enjoy taking the white tablets too. It is not just for the military. I have not had any of the typical manufacturer warning side effects that are described on the label. No upset stomach, I don't take it before bedtime therefore, no "strange" dreams. There are others, but it's not important - to you.

My smallpox vaccination is healing nicely, thank you. It did exactly what the lab technician said it would do: get red in the affected area, pus up, and then scab before healing into a small scar. I'm waiting for the small scar part. Since I don't have tattoos, I will consider the scar my first and only "tattoo" from deploying. I didn't even have to drink and pay a lot of money to get it! It was a freebie.

Oh, and after I arrived, I was due my last Anthrax shot. I got my notice in an email to report to the clinic to obtain my final shot. It was quick and painless, although sore for a couple of days afterwards.

Fortunately, I have not had any side effects that have caused me alarm. I am somwhat hesitant to subject my body to vaccinations, but understand the necessity to take precautions "just in case". I guess I should be thankful I am not part of some secret LSD type experiment!

Teachers: With your students, research Malaria, Smallpox and Anthrax from the military point of view and the civilian point of view. Biology teachers can get into the effects on the body, chemistry teachers can research the chemical makeup and history of the development of each vaccination. What are the pros and cons of each vaccination and why are they mandated?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

CIA using VIAGRA to bribe Afghan warlords!

The students are home now, salivating over their new electronic devices, so I think its OK to throw in a racy post,we'll get back to the learnin' in a week or two.

I was wondering if at some point sex would sneak its way into this war, it HAD to happen. Through trial and error, the CIA is using the old noggin. Wonder who came up with THIS IDEA? Was it the CIA operative or administrator who has taken a Viagra or two and knows of what he speaks? What took him so long to expose his plan? Maybe he was a little bit embarrassed to admit it to his buddies!

The article is correct according to our translators – They have mentioned during our culture conversations that if you give villagers a lot of money, they will do what a lot of people who come into large sums of money do here – they go out and buy something big and flashy! Can't hide that very well. And putting money into a college fund for your kid just isn’t seen as practical to the villagers. There is no immediate tangible gratification.
But if a warlord takes the little blue pill, he will most certainly experience tangible results and immediate gratification. Oh, and did I mention, this is a culture where men may have multiple wives. Everybody’s happy!

I propose we transition from missile development (we’re far beyond experts already) to the mass production of Viagra-like products. We throw leaflets out of C-130’s over villages, why not Viagra?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

An Afghani helped me realize something

Something happened this morning that got me thinking how us "westerners" worry about the possibility of offending others because their culture or religion may be different than ours. I’ve seen this in our schools and in our government, so everyone is appeased. "Shhh, can't say or do that, it might offend!"

What brought this up? I've enjoyed learning a little of the Dari language so I can communicate with the translators and Local National’s (LNs). LNs are provided jobs on base so as to help stimulate their personal and their country’s economy. I see a particular group of LNs daily and greet them as best I can in their language. They grin because they know I am trying to learn and of course they help me out with pronunciation.

Today, Christmas Day, at work I saw one of the LNs. With a smile and a hanshake, I greeted him “Merry Christmas!” That’s how we do it in the US, right? It’s ingrained in us. Guess what the LN did? He smiled, shook my hand back and greeted me. No scowl, no offense, no ACLU threat from him, just a simple eye to eye, knowing smile of acceptance and friendship.

At first, after we parted, I thought to myself “What did I just say to him?” He’s a - drum roll please - Muslim! It goes beyond that. I've noticed that as much as I want to learn about their culture, they also want to learn about ours.

The LN's concern is about surviving both economically and physically, there is no concept of being PC here. Unless, you call doing what you have to do to not be murdered by the Taliban a form of political correctness. For me, in a deployed environment, I needed to share this thought on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas! Salam Alai Kum, Tashakur.

Lapis is blue this Christmas

It’s alright to be blue once in a while, even everyday! But on Christmas? Come on Lapis, there are so many things to celebrate, why be blue?

Well for one, YOU CAN”T HELP IT, it’s in your nature! But readers, don’t worry, Lapis is my friend and doing well in Afghanistan. I get to see it every Friday, at the AAFES sponsored bazaar. LN’s or Local Nationals sell their wares and it is a hodge-podge of things Afghanistan. I never knew what Lapis was prior to my deployment, now I am a big fan because of it’s history and unique nature.

You see Lapis is a rock. The PC way to address it is “semi-precious stone”. As you can see by the picture, Lapis is beautiful.

For Teachers: When your students return, have them research the what and where’s of the rock, uhh... I mean “semi-precious stone”. Find other pictures of it, what properties make it valuable? Once done, have them break into groups, choose a country, province or state and have them find out about the region’s unique geology and perhaps what it is famous for. Example being – Afghanistan is known for it’s Lapis.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Break

Well school should be out for students in many regions. Two to three weeks off to enjoy the holidays. Have a nice time teachers and students! I will still attempt to post items that I think will be useful to you in your classroom so when you return you can put some ideas to work. If you are reading this, help me out and give me some ideas. What might you be interested in finding out about at a deployed environment?

I'll brainstorm for a second to tell you what some future posts will feature: What happens to the tons of garbage we produce? What medications and shots are required to deploy? Why can't we drink the local water? See where I am going? These are but a few of the subjects that will be posted on prior to your return from holiday-ing. I warned you I would talk about the mundane at times, but apart from fighting this war, there is a whole background of busy bees working hard to keep this infrastructure running smoothly, things you wouldn't consider. I'll get to it, don't worry...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bathroom humor

As you can imagine, having the luxury of your own bathroom is pretty much non-existent here. Port-a-potties are plentiful as are common-use bathrooms, some better/cleaner than others. Had to laugh when I saw these two signs in the same stall while visiting KAF. The first, on the stall door was a warning by one of the residents. The second, is what I think was the Captain's final straw of disgust after the first sign didn't deter the scoundrel.

Which leads me to graffiti. I see going to our bathrooms and port-a-potties as a cultural adventure. It is a chance to witness expressive, witty, sometimes offensive graffiti, penned by the best and brightest the US has to offer. I'm not amused so much by the statements I read but am amused at thinking of the time someone took to think them up and write them down on a bathroom wall; was it spur of the moment or planned? Who goes around with a Sharpie in their pockets to write this stuff? A side note to my co-workers at home - I've seen some gang tagging and recognized it right away. Jeez, can't even get away from gangs in Afghanistan!

And on and on... from the profane, sexist, humorous, racist, political, pornographic, and witty. From the earliest raw cave drawings to the port-a-potties in a war zone, it appears man/woman must express themselves graphically. (As a caveat, the contractors here DO try to stay on top of things and erase offensive graffiti where they are found.)

Can't wait any longer to thank you all!

If you are reading this back in the States, then this is one, generic, big hug (or a manly shake of your hand for those averse to hugs), and THANK YOU to those selfless, dedicated souls who have chosen (and it is a choice) to take time out of their busy schedules to send those wonderful "Care Packages" to the troops wherever they are deployed. I am awed and humbled by your kindness and more proud than ever to be an American soldier serving our great country. Don't know if you get the thanks you deserve, but here is mine and I'm sure I speak for many.

I won't be able to name everyone, because you are all special in my eye, but here goes - To Iris and her church group from Dayton, OH who continue to sponsor a troop abroad (me), sending packages of yummy, tasty, home-made cookies my way; to Roy Wood Jr., a comedian (someone's gotta make us laugh!), who I e-mailed because I have a funny phone prank he did on my iPod and saw on his website that he supports the troops and sends out FREE CD's if they so request them - which he did; and of course to my family - my wife Anne and the kids, Uncle Frank & Aunt Margaret who sent more than enough goodies to share with my fellow soldiers, and members of the Cuz Buzz who all help give me moral support and know I like music so they sent me a signed Lydia Pense CD as a surprise. And there are more, I know there are other packages on the way.

Joan from Books for Soldiers included a note with a book her organization sent which partly reads: ..."The US Military makes my family and me very proud. We are thankful for the job you do and we are aware everyday how dangerous it is. You are stopping the threat to our country before it gets here. You are protecting my right to vote, to drive a car, have a gun, read whatever I want, go wherever I please, talk/write to whomever I want to (like now), dress in any way I care to. All the men and women of the military protect and defend me and mine every day. You serve so my family and I can be free. To you and everyone with you, THANK YOU for all that you do to keep us free."... "You are in the unique position to see just how women and men are being denied what we consider basic rights. Whether it is a religious or cultural thing is moot. You are protecting what I consider are my rights. I know that all of you are doing fantastic work. Always remember that you are making a difference. Our family wishes you and your fellow troops a Happy Christmas & Merry New Year." This from a woman I've never met out of NC.

Whether it is family, friends, or strangers; being a civilian teacher back home and being able to experience the many facets of being deployed as a citizen soldier, truly makes me thankful to be an American. I feel the spirit of those back home who help support our troops - what more can I say? Thank You!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Didn't miss this

Although I missed President Bush's visit to our base this week, I made sure not to miss the USO show with these featured entertainers:

Kid Rock with Lac Brown - Rock star, singer/guitar player
Lewis Black - Comedian who regularly appears on "The Daily Show"
Kellie Pickler - American Idol Contestant and Country Music Star
Tichina Arnold - "Pam" from the hit Comedy show "Martin"
Kathleen Madigan - Comedian who appears on Comedy Central
John Bowman - Comedian who appears on Comedy Central
When: Wednesday, 17 December 2008, the show began at 0900L

The show was surprisingly enjoyable! I say surprisingly because except for Kid Rock and Kellie Pickler, I had not heard of any of the people listed above. But kudos to them all, they came and accomplished what they set out to do - entertain the troops. The show was a quick hour and was a mixture of live music and comedy. They are talented performers and made us laugh. The running joke was about how they had never performed at 0900 before; for some of them that was around their bedtime. I was impressed by Kid Rock because he lived up to his "bad boy" image, needless to say, his show was a far cry from the USO Bob Hope Show era.

My hats off to these entertainers for taking the time to come to Iraq and Afghanistan during this holiday season to entertain us, and do it well. I know I will remember their commitment to our troops (for some, it was their 2nd, 3rd or 4th USO tour)! A last pitch again for the USO - it is the end of the year and if you are considering a donation to a worthy organization for tax purposes, consider donating to the USO - I am seeing firsthand what they do for us who are deployed; as well as what they do for our troops stateside. I've even included links to their site if you are so inclined to make that Dec. 31 deadline. They are a very deserving organization!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Having a chance to reflect...

I want to be useful to teachers, students, and of course interested readers. Why? Because after reading other military blogs, I've seen a lot of "in the streets" or "blow the crap out of the enemy" genre type blogs. Not that that's good or bad; I suppose if that were my job, I'd write about that too. But I am an educator, an aging teacher at that, who happens to be an officer in Afghanistan, so my take is probably a little different from the young men and women securing villages, etc. who are just out of high school or college.

I've never written in this format so part of the challenge of this process is gaining confidence with the writing/sharing I do, not being sure if my observations are relevant to readers. The nice thing about writing is feeling the freedom to post things I would want to know if reading this. So far, I write what I feel and will continue to do so. I am trying to write to a particular audience and want my blog to be useful to those teachers and students who read it.
Oh, did I tell you I visited Kandahar Air Field for a few days?

Teacher and students: Research some other military blogs. There are hundreds if not thousands of them so it should not be a problem. Where would you start? Where was I for a few days, what part of Afghanistan? What is a NATO base? Who occupys a NATO base? Tell me about this region and what the people are like here, is the language the same as that in the north-east? What is Kandahar known for right now?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Afghan slant?

Stumbled upon the site Afghan Teens while researching a way to learn a little Dari, one of the languages of Afghanistan. The reason I want to comment on it is, I found their perceptions of "westerners" in the website interesting. Exploring the site revealed a contrary viewpoint that students should consider when researching Afghanistan. Questions are raised in my mind concerning this site., not so much for the content but as for it's intent. Although the domain name says Afghan Teens - is the site REALLY run by teenagers, specifically teen girls? Clicking on the links at the bottom and reading their ideas would suggest that it is not.

I sense the pride the writer has for their country/religion. Generally speaking, the writing does not reflect views held by our western culture. The eye opener for me is: Who is actually behind this site, is it really teens as the name suggests? The reason I ask this question is because I am familiar with the situation regarding education in Afghanistan, especially for youth. The illiteracy rate here is phenomenal, so I have a hard time believing an Afghan teen is capable of writing in their own language, much less in English. Also, knowing what it takes to set up a website, I wonder how this site is funded. I know that poverty is rampant throughout Afghanistan and computer access is sporadic. So what gives?

Teachers and students: I don’t have the answers to the above questions. After viewing the site and the others linked at the bottom, I think your students should be able to generate and sustain a discussion using my questions as a starting point. Note, I am not asking you to agree or disagree with the content of the above site but rather, discuss or write about how others have differing views of the world than ours.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Education News links

I've attached three links to news articles for this post - the first article deals with a supply convoy mishap. I can't say I'm surprised by news of death and destruction in a war zone but what was interesting to me were the comments from readers. What do you think?

The other two linked articles deal with the education dilemma in Afghanistan. I had the privilege of being invited to a telephone conference-call with the Ministry of Education's representative dealing with the effort to get textbooks out (safely) to the provinces. It was a very interesting meeting with the different players present, speaking to the Afghan representative and a US-AID rep (who was allocating money to help make this all happen).
What a fascinating process to observe! It is not part of my military job, but getting to know people here, I've shared that I am in education and therefore was invited to unofficially participate. Afghanistan is literally starting from the ground up in getting their school system up and running. From the variety of Ed newsletters I receive, I share relevant education articles with the Education officer - who is not an educator. He is grateful for the heads-up and I am appreciative for the opportunity to watch history take place for the budding education system in Afghanistan. Nice trade-off!

Teachers: Read the above linked articles, then facilitate a discussion with your students concerning the state of education in Afghanistan. Compare it to our education system. Do we take education for granted as opposed to those who would put their lives in danger for the opportunity to attend school and better their plights. Share your comments with us.

Brrrrrr...Not! At least not yet

Wondering if we will have a white Christmas or not, it is still sunny during the day and I need a light coat at night because of the chill as we WALK to our destinations on base. Granted, people from places like the Carolina's and Florida are walking around all bundled up like it's cold or something - go figure! Someone even pulled me aside and asked if I was cold; he was all coated up with head gear , etc. as if he was trudging through the Alaskan Wilderness. I said, "No, it's brisk outside but I'm not that cold yet" He shrugged, smiled and walked away. Oh well, I have my thousands of dollars of US issued cold weather gear stashed under my bed; just waiting to put it on and look like an Eskimo when the time comes. Can't wait! Just hope I don't have to hit a graffitied port-a-potty when I'm all bundled up. At my age, might not make it!

Teachers and Students: What are the average temperatures for the next three months in both Iraq and Afghanistan - chart it out. Get into groups and divide the US into three, or four, regions and also chart their average temperatures for the next three months. Compare your results with our deployed locations. Dig further, compare all the locations on the globe's latitudinal and longitudinal lines? Does it matter where regions fall on these lines? You could do a lot with this!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Quote n' query

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction” – Blaise Pascal

And so opens Chapter 12 of the book The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. How interesting a quote! This book, recommended to me well before I deployed, is having quite an impact on me. Would reading it stateside have had the same impact on me as it does now? I’ll never know. But, I do know that things happen for a reason in their own curious time. Without going into too much detail, I whole-heartedly recommend The Shack to you. Now, to the quote. How opportune! In this environment, in this war, is a quote never more appropriate?

Teachers and students: Research wars, conflicts, genocides, etc. that were started to justify a religious conviction? Recently, there was an incident where two girls on their way to school (a newly accepted concept in Afghanistan) were doused with acid by the Taliban for doing something we in the US take for granted daily - attend school. Read the CNN article here.

Consider a discussion about peoples' beliefs and the ramifications on others because of those beliefs. Ask students to find out what happened to the Afghani schoolgirls; follow their story. Are there other current event articles that reflect stories such as the one above? Getting back to the quote by Pascal, research who he was and why you think he believed what he said. What is he most famous for?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Different Christmas Poem

Forwarded to me by my Cuz Robert, a Vietnam Vet. Thought I would share it:

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.

The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep,
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps. I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.

Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.
A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"
For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts...

To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.

No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here, like the fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,'
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile."

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home."

"I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother...
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money?," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

email originated from:
LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN
30th Naval Construction Regiment
OIC, Logistics Cell One, Al Taqqadum, Iraq

Teachers: What are your students' favorite Christmas poems? How about talking about what the above poem means to them. How's about if they create one and email it or snail-mail it to a deployed troop or family member? Don't know a soldier? As a class, research all the organizations who send things to troops, come up with a list and post it here or email it to me.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hello December!

Well Christmas month is here and the spirit is starting to flow. I've even seen some trees and lights put up already; Santa and his elves must be hard at work! No snow yet, just starting to get cold at night and am wondering if we will have a white Christmas? I am looking forward to seeing a USO show when they come to the base. Don't know who it will be yet but I will be curious because I am aware of the USO's historical significance, and old enough to remember seeing clips of Bob Hope and his tours/shows during a variety of wars whether it was from the Vietnam era or black and white clips from years past.

I am a huge supporter of the USO because I see firsthand what this volunteer organization does to help the troops, whether it is providing space at airports for traveling soldiers to rest and relax, or at each base providing wireless internet, video games, movies, books, coffee, phone calls home, etc. They are AWESOME and my hat goes off to them. (If you donate money to charitable organizations, consider making a tax-deductible gift to the USO )

Teachers, here's one for the students: Have your students get in groups and research what the USO is and what role they play in supporting our military. Different research possibilities are: Interview parents on what they remember about the USO; Who were some of the movie stars, entertainers, musicians and groups that toured with the USO? What countries has the USO visited? What wars did they play an important role in? Download some YouTube videos of past USO shows to share with the class; Plan a USO tour for our current troops - Where would they go? Who would they send? There should be plenty of archival history to have fun with this subject! domain from: