So six months have gone by quickly!
Sorry, my last entry was the day after christmas. In my defense it was hard to top that prisoner exchange story on christmas eve, things got a little routine, but i did jot down some notes.
First, the Super Bowl. Had some die-hard football fans who got up at 0200 to watch the big game. Great game, best part was the power outage. Where we live, that happens 2-3 times a day, so it was kind of nice to see it happen during the prime time superbowl.
In the February timeframe, i was able to close my desk in Camp Leatherneck, aka "the moon". Thank god for that, I have told many people my time in Afghanistan has been much better than my time in Iraq, especially where I live in Kabul, but i earned my paycheck on the moon. After the new year is the start of rainy season in southern afghanistan, so not only did i have to put on shoes to go to the bathroom at night, now i was carrying an umbrella. A decreasing workload is the reason we closed my desk there, but i have to say it was a great feeling. I was the only "banking" person in an office filled with contracting officers, but they gave me a great sendoff, a commanders coin and "T-wall" gift, and allowed me to say some nice things. I'd been there off and on for about 6 months, I cant say that I enjoyed it, but there were some wonderful people there.
In March I was able to take my second Rest and Recouperation period, and I made it home in time to see my favorite University of Dayton Flyers Mens basketball team play their one and only game in the A-10 tournament in New York City. I am a huge fan having grown up in Dayton, and thanks to the Brewer Family in Ossining NY I was able to stay with them, take a train in to the city and catch the Flyers. I also was able to make the Brewer St. Patricks Day Party, which i had not attended before. Aiden is from Ireland, so its a national holiday there. I went to college with Stacy, she married an Irishman and adopted two Russian children so the Brewer house really does have an international flavor to it. I've long been attending their world famous Memorial Day Parties for year, but have never made the St Patricks Day bash. They have wonderful friends and neighbors, I had a great time, but i will say it does not rival the Memorial Day Party for outrageous stories.
My second week of vacation I made it out to visit Dad at Indian Lake, Ohio. An awesome place to visit in the summertime, but i have to admit, not so awesome in March. But we had a good time, my visit with Dad ended on Thursday March 21 at exactly 0900, and that was as planned. Two hours driving later i checked in to a hotel in North Dayton Ohio, which was strategically located at the last remaining Hooters in the Dayton/Columbus area. Twenty years ago there had to be 6 or 7, but now, only one remains.
As most of you know, I am a HUGE fan, of both Hooters, but most importantly, of the third Thursday in March, when the greatest four days in sports begins, March Madness. I started taking leave from the Navy in the mid 1990s to watch the first two rounds of March Madness, because during those first four days you get the CInderalla upsets. The #15 seed beats a #2 seed team that nobody saw happening, and its just a great feeling. Over the years more and more people have followed my lead and are taking that Thursday/Friday off, and I have to say the place was packed by noon. During my last two tours in Washington DC, a friend of mine Brendan would join me for the first day, we'd have our picks out and watch the games on a barstool from noon to midnight. I told guys from work that i was taking days off to sit in a sports bar down the road from work, and they didnt believe me the first year. They came to visit at lunch, then after work and they couldnt believe i was still there. I said not anyone can sit on a barstool drinking beer/eating chicken wings for twelve straight hours, you have to train for that, so of course they were impressed.
I didnt have my drinking buddies with me this year, but the Hooters girls made up for it, I have some awesome photos I need to post, and I will shortly. The most memorable moment for me, was Friday, the second day, I arrived at 11am, just as Hooters was opening, and i was the first customer. The waitresses were bored, and you know what Hooters waitresses do when they are bored, handstand races. I kid you not, these girls had races around the bar, the winner actually ran "backwards" on her handstand, it really was a beautiful moment. Thank you very much to all the Hooters girls in North Dayton, pictures to follow.
Last, before i forget, not only did i get to enjoy lots of basketball, chickenwings, and beer, but Ohio has passed a law since i left, allowing Casino gambling. I am also a huge blackjack fan, and just a short one hour north of dayton, in Columbus Ohio, is a recently opened casino. My routine for three mornings was to get up at 6am, drive to the casino, get in two hours of blackjack, and make it back in time to get a good seat for 12 hours of march madness.
My life on the Moon and Afghanistan leaves a lot to be desired, but I really did make up for it during that vacation.
Merry Day After Christmas!
During my time in the Navy Ive spent several holidays away from home and some of them I was pretty down, but this holiday in Afghanistan has really been okay. My co-worker has missed Christmas with his wife and two little girls the last three years, so I really feel good about holding down the office and allowing him to spend time with his family in Virginia. I enjoy the job Im doing, I like the people Im working with both in Camp Leatherneck and Kabul, and I was able to see Its a Wonderful Life at the chapel in Camp Leatherneck before I left, so Im doing fine.
On Christmas day I went in to work in the morning, as I said in the previous post. For the afternoon I was able to see Captain Mattimore one last time before he departs Afghanistan, he has been away from his family for one year, no breaks, and leaves in just a few days. I made it over to his place in Camp Phoenix, Brendan is the expert shopper/negotiator I mentioned before, we did a little shopping looking for those Christmas Day sales here in Kabul.
Brendan has developed quite the reputation as the precious stones expert in Camp Phoenix, he was literally called in on a couple purchases from some of his people while I was there. They call him up on his cellular and say "Captain, I'm thinking of buying 2.5 carrots of Black Diamonds for $60.00, is that a good deal?" We find the shop where they are located, Brendan sits down at the counter, starts picking the stones apart, pulls out his flashlight for closer inspection, he's like Quincy that damn medical examiner from the 1970s TV show!
The one purchase he reviewed, the store owner pulls out this new instrument, a "hardness" meter, and he puts it on the black diamond, it registers something, then puts it on the glass countertop, it registers something else...The customers are looking at Brendan, the shop owner is looking at Brendan, we wait in anticipation
and then Brendan gives it his thumbs up! He walks in to the shops and he is like the damn "mayor", the owners shake my hand, they give him big hugs!
It is not going to be the same once he leaves Afghanistan, and I fear he's going to return to the FBI, take a walk for his morning coffee and start negotiating with the poor Starbucks lady....C'mon you can throw that muffin for free, I bought a $5.00 coffee! Do you know who I am? I was negotiating Black Diamond purchases in Afghanistan just last month, and you are telling me you cant throw in a muffin??? Ahhh back to reality, no more captain Mattimore, just Brendan the old government worker from upstairs...
So we had a great meal in the dining hall, got some photos next to a pretty sad looking Santa, and I'm getting ready to depart back to my humble room in Green Village, when our security team calls me and says "Camp Phoenix is on Lockdown, we can't get on the base without approval." All these times visiting Brendan I've never had a problem, now its Christmas night and I'm stuck. So we walk around base, try to find the right guy to approve and of course Christmas night it is hard to find anyone in the office. We find one young LT in security, he tells me that I can walk out the gate to my security vehicle waiting on the other side, although he wouldnt recommend it unless I was wearing body armor. I told him, "Son, I was in Iraq during the surge with General Petreaus when you were still a glimmer in your Daddys eye, I dont need no stinking body armor." (okay maybe he was in high school
So we agree thats the fastest method to leave the base, phone calls are made, my security vehicle is outside the gate and Brendan walks me down to the guard shack and its like a damn prisoner exchange in the beginning of the Angelina Jolie movie SALT! The guard shack is as far as Brendan can go, so he gives me a man-hug, a young Sgt in full body armor and weapon walks me down the long road to the end where I can see our SUV waiting for me, I am like "this is so damn cool, I can't wait to tell everyone back home!" I really wanted to make a run for it the last 50 feet but thought they may not find the humor in all that...And then we drove home.
So how did Christmas go at your house? Did any of the kids spill anything at the table? Did you do any tough negotiating for the last piece of pie? Ahhh I'm sure you have some crazy stories for me
just let me know!
Merry Christmas from Kabul!
Can't say that I'm super happy about being here on Christmas day, but there really are a lot of good people here working hard, so it makes being here more bearable.
So I'm here in Kabul because my co-worker is back in virginia with his family, for the first time in three years at christmas. I feel good about getting him home and holding down the fort. So its me and our office of 4 local national Afghan banking experts. Obviously being Muslim, Christmas isnt a big deal for them, so I thought I'd try to add a little US culture to their plate this morning.
I wasnt really sure what i could get them, there isnt a lot to shop for out here, and i already gave them Moms cookies, so what could i leave on their desk wrapped up nice as a little christmas surprise? I noticed every one of them smokes, and they share one old broken lighter in the office, they click it like 100 times to get a flame, it bugs the heck out of me. So I hit the base exchange and got them 5 packs of good ole USofA Marlboro reds and a disposable lighter each. Not exactly the greatest christmas gift, but i thought pretty practical. I also left a note on their desk with the present, I took a picture and will tell you to go to the christmas photo section to see what Santa said!
Hope you all are having a Merry Christmas. After listening to some of your stories, I'd say i have it not so bad in war-torn Afghanistan! Somebody is getting a puppy christmas morning(i wont say who!) and the christmas gift is pooping all over the house of the gift givers the week before!
The holidays can always be tough, but I'm really doing fine over here, thank you for all the good wishes and my co-workers in Camp Leatherneck said my desk is filled with boxes right now so i need to get back there in the next week to see what Santa left me!
Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,
I have two work locations in Afghanistan, one in the southern region, at Camp Leatherneck surrounded by thousands of Marines, and one in Kabul, the country's capital, on a smaller base. At Camp leatherneck i am the EFT/banking representative for the area, so I work in an office filled with contracting specialist, but i'm the only banking representative. Our main office is in Kabul, and there I have a fellow contractor who runs the office, he was a banker in Iraq, then started working for the US in the EFT assistance center and has continued to do so for nearly five years. We also have four Afghanistan Banking experts, they are "local nationals" citizens of Afghanistan who are trying to earn their VISAs to eventually go to the United States. Its amazing what they have to put up with to come to work every day, but we've gotten to know each other much better over the last six months.
In November, one of the local nationals had his mom prepare us a traditional Afghanistan lunch, which was no easy feat. They did a wonderful job of not only cooking it, but transporting it from their home, to our front gate and then to our office, it really was a difficult evolution. It meant a lot to me, I wanted to return the favor in some small way, so I thought I'd tap in to some of my support staff back in the United States, namely Mom.
She makes some AWESOME sugar cookies at christmas time, i remember helping her as a little kid, they not only look nice and christmas-y, but they taste great as well. Thanks to the US Postal service, the cookies made it in six days, i requested two batches, one sent to Kabul to my co-workers, and one batch to me in Camp Leatherneck. The guys loved the cookies and sent me some photos from Kabul, and after taking my 1/2 of the batch in Camp Leatherneck, I put the half out for the Marines in the office, all gone in under an hour.
I'm not sure if it will bring peace to the Middle East but i know at least some Afghans and a few Marines are very happy with "Ricks Moms Christmas Sugar Cookies". Photos are attached.