Sunday, December 15, 2013

Settling in to Afghanistan

So many of you have been so supportive of me and my family as we began this journey apart for a year, so I thought I would give you an overview of our mission here in Kabul and a few pictures showing what deployed life is like, at least on my base.

On Thursday, December 12th, I took command of the 439th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. Our parent Wing is responsible for all of the Air Force advisors in Afghanistan. The 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group that I work for advises Afghanistan's Kabul Air Wing, advising on all areas of their mission: Fixed and rotary wing flight operations, maintenance, and base support. The 439th, my squadron, is responsible for that last area. The phenomenal advisors I have advise in the areas of security, supply, fuel, and troop and cargo movement. I, in turn, advise the Afghan Colonel, who is the Mission Support Group Commander over those functions. He has other squadrons under him similar to USAF Mission Support Groups, such as Civil Engineering and Communications, but, unfortunately, we no longer have advisors for those functions due to troop reductions.  Working together, the Afghans are maturing as an Air Force. Unfortunately, their culture is much different from ours, and we are sometimes guilty of trying to force methods or equipment on them that just won't work for them because we think they should be just like us. It's one of the hardest parts of this advisor mission: Helping them mature as a force, but in their own way, not ours. Nevertheless, the Afghans have come a long way, and they have great leadership under their Wing Commander who is a two-time national hero (equivalent to our Medal of Honor). My counterpart has been doing the job for 8 years and also knows his job very well. We mainly work together on how to break through bureaucratic blockades from other areas of the government. Imagine Pentagon bureaucracy multiplied by five or ten!

I'm located at a Forward Operating Base (FOB), known as Oqab, which means "eagle" in Dari, one of the two Afghan national languages, and, in addition to the advisor mission, I'm also the "mayor" of the FOB. That basically means that, like a Mission Support Group back in the States, I'm responsible for all of the base support functions here on the FOB from chow to facilities to security. Ironically, the only traditional base support function that doesn't fall under me is communications. Like a traditional Mission Support Group, though, I basically run a customer service organization, and rarely do people tell you thank you that the lights came on today, if you know what I mean. The funny thing is that the infrastructure isn't that good here in this third-world country, and so people really should be thankful that the lights came on, that there was hot water for their shower, that the toilets flush, that they have heat in their rooms, that there's hot food available...You get the idea. To be fair, I haven't heard any complaints yet, but it could be that the honeymoon's not over yet! All seriousness aside, one of my priorities is for everyone on this base to leave with a positive experience. We've got a mission to focus on and friends and family left behind on our mind. We don't need problems on base to be one additional stressor. We'll see how successful I am at that.

With all of that background, I wanted to show you a few pictures of the FOB and my personal space. Base size, facility types, and living accommodations run the entire gamut in the expeditionary world from being nearly a fixed base (as is the case in Qatar, where they have a TGI Fridays on base. I kid you not!) to being nearly all tents. FOB Oqab is somewhere in the middle. Our facilities aren't the greatest, but we have a couple of phenomenal contract partners out of the UK that help make them as good as they can be.

The headquarters building

The building my office is in

My office. It's still not quite decorated. It's missing my Sooner sign and 1st Combat Comm flag

A courtyard close to where my boss lives

The chow hall, or DFAC as we're supposed to call it now

The area where I live. That's mine in the foreground on the left

I live with my Defenders (cops), and this is on several of our doors, including mine. I guess that makes me he head of the ZORT!

My room. It's not much, but I live by myself (not everyone does), and there's plenty of space to sleep, read, and watch TV.

Just had to show a close up of my blanket with all my patches on it that Mrs Incredible sewed before I left

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