Saturday, March 24, 2007

Happy Afghan New Year!!

Hope this post finds you doing well. Thing in Phoenixville have been rather busy this week. The strange weather patterns seem to be effecting Afghanistan and the US. I am blessed to have a neighbor that insists on taking care of my driveway when it snows. So, I haven't had the opportunity to use the snowblower that Geo and I invested in prior to his deployment. Not that I'm disappointed!

We're in the home stretch of the pregnancy! Monday marks the beginning of our 34th week! Although the baby is growing much faster than at any other point in the pregnancy we're still feeling good and are healthy. Lately I have been cooking up a few big dinners during the week so I can freeze the left overs. I'm sure that I won't want to be slaving over a stove after the Pea is born and if there isn't healthy and semi-convenient food on hand I'll be ordering from my favorite pizza place!

In addition to the yummy healthy food, I've also been making Spring Eggs. I'm so excited to see the snow melt and Spring to rear her head that I'm hoping some candy-making will convince her to hurry! Below is a picture of a beautiful mess I made while working on the eggs.

I dropped the measuring cup into the mixer as it was blending the ingredients!

The Pea's very first experience with her Mom's baking. In addition to the walls and the counter, she was also showered with sugary goodness!

All ready to be dipped and shipped:)

Here is Geo's most recent update:

Dear Family and Friends;

Happy Afghan New Year! 1386 has gotten off to a rather quiet start fortunately, although some units in the ANA are on stand-by. The weather has been great, and the Afghan tradition is for families to get together for the new year holiday, and find a patch of grass to walk through or picnic on. Surprisingly, in the hills around us, grass has started to grow, and we have seen families going for walks. All of the rain we have been having has paid some dividends.

The ANA brought in a band on New Years Day, and they spent most of the day entertaining the troops on the parade field. They played traditional music, and there were many soldiers who danced (see attached). I have it on good authority that LTC Whitney really "got jiggy with it," much to the pleasure of the Afghans.

I hope the good weather holds out through Sunday. Many of us visit the bazaar that is held out behind our camp that day, and it seems like it has rained every Sunday since we have been here. We get a surprising large number of vendors and wide variety of goods. Even though the guys are learning the art of bargaining well, LT Green may have increased the Afghan GDP with all of the purchases he has made. The little kids, even though they are only selling homemade slingshots and stacks of old currency, seem to attract a lot of the attention of the service members here.

Next week promises to me more of the same -- the ANA will spend a lot of their time in parade practice.




Monday, March 19, 2007

Support from Home Article in the Morning Call

Support from home helps guardsmen in Afghanistan
Pamela Varkony

The ground outside the guard station shook as the two giant vehicles rumbled through the gate. I'd been standing in a cold Afghan rain for what seemed like a long time, waiting for a representative of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Thanks to Lt. Col. Von George and the Adjutant General, Jessica Wright, I was to interview some of Pennsylvania's finest who are stationed just outside Kabul.

The armored Humvees stopped in front of me and I heard a voice say, ''Ma'am, your ride is here.'' Following the voice to the top of one of the gun towers, I found Sgt. Todd Walter displaying a mischievous grin. As I slipped on the Kevlar vest and heavily padded helmet that are mandatory, my escorts tried not to laugh. It took three of them to maneuver me in and out of the vehicle, leaving my journalistic dignity in the Afghan mud.

Rumbling through the streets of Kabul in these behemoths offered a new perspective on the city. The driver of my vehicle, 1st Sgt. Kendall Potter of Mountain View, Wyo., was the only non-Pennsylvanian in the group. He spoke into his headset with his gunner and the Humvee behind us. Passing a series of butcher stalls with carcasses of goats and sheep hung outside, Potter looked over and said, ''There's a sight that makes a man hungry. After a hard day of conquering the world, you just want to chew on some raw meat.'' You have to love that American sense of humor. It helped to break the tension.

As we left the center of Kabul behind, the speed and defensive maneuvering increased. Three men approaching on bicycles with saddlebags caused the most concern, guns in position, we watched them pass by. The road to Camp Durlaman wound by the King's Palace which had been destroyed in the civil war that followed the Russian occupation. Up the hill but not visible from the main road was the Queen's Palace, a magnificent structure reminiscent of the grandest French country palaces. Although badly damaged, pieces of soft pink stucco remain. Our translator told me a tunnel connects the two palaces. When summoned, the queen would ride a horse cart through the tunnel so she would not be on public view.

The terrain surrounding Camp Durlaman is brown and barren, the only point of interest being a round glass building jutting out over the top of the hill; the former officer's club for the Russian army. The camp has been rebuilt for the Afghan National Army; new barracks, recreation center, and mess hall, where the cooking is done on wood stoves. Modern stoves were refused because the Afghan cooks didn't want them.

The clean, brightly lighted American dining hall was welcome refuge from the cold, wet day. The conversation turned quickly to the mission; one month in with 11 to go, the focus is on preparing the Afghan army to be self-sustaining. Asked how it was going, the answer was ''hoobas''?good. ''The soldiers of the ANA are tactically competent,'' said Team Leader, Lt. Col. George Schwartz. ''As warriors, they know how to fight. We're here to train and mentor so they can sustain operations after we're gone.'' Sgt. Joel Kramer, added, ''I've done reconnaissance with their NCOs. From day one, they gave me a warm welcome and let me inside?we are brothers.''

Everyone had a story about coming under fire. ''We man three outposts outside of Kabul,'' said Schwartz. ''We all think it's going to be a bad spring.'' The brigade will be moving along the border with Pakistan, near Jalalabad, soon. That area is critical in the fight for Afghanistan's future.

That future depends on U.S. commitment and that of the world community. 1st Lt. Joe Mitchell said, ''The Afghans are nervous as to whether we'll stay committed. They need to trust us and to trust our system so they will implement what we tell them.''

Asked about home, the responses were unanimous; family, friends, employers have been there all the way. Every member of the team knew his or her job, from state trooper to truck driver, would be waiting when they return. Internet service keeps everyone connected, and mail arrives daily. The youngest member of the team, Spec. Michael Maritato comes in for heavy ribbing because his mother writes to him every day and sends care packages filled with goodies and toiletries.

As I prepared to ride back to my base, there was one message I was asked to carry: ''Tell our families not to worry. We're all looking out for each other.''

Message delivered, along with my gratitude and respect for service above and beyond to: Lt. Col. Schwartz, Lt. Col. Judah Whitney, Maj. Robert Jorgensen, Capt. Pat Pellegrino, Capt. Joe Junguzza, 1st Lt. Robert Gallagher, 1st Lt. Victor Yartz, 1st Lt. Michael Green, 1st Lt. Mitchell, 1st Sgt. Todd Walter, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Bittenbender, Master Sgt. Scott Ball, Sgt. Jan Argonish, Sgt. Kramer, Spec. Robert Gerrity and Spec. Maritato.

Pamela Varkony is a writer and commentator living in Allentown. She is a former member of city council. Her blog, ''Perspectives ... public and private,'' can be found on-line at

Friday, March 16, 2007

Update and Home Town Team Blog Entry

Geo's mosts recent update:

Dear Family & Friends,

We seem to be locked in this interminable pattern of two-three days of nice weather, followed by at least three days of precipitation. After a couple of beautiful days here, the wet period is starting again today -- it is gloomy and drizzly and the next couple days are going to be the same.

With a few minor exceptions, the Pennsylvanians are doing great. The Sergeant-Major has been very disappointed with the performance of the Flyers, but is holding out hope for the Phillies. He has done a tremendous job improving the quality of life for service members on our camp, and one of his improvements has been to get delivery of the Stars & Stripes newspaper, which are usually only a day or two after their published date. This has improved everyone's morale except his own because now he gets the most up-to-date reports on their miserable season.

The other point of contention has involved the release of the movie "The 300." Since it has been out for at least a week, we expect to see bootleg DVDs of it available in our bazaar as early as this Sunday. LT Gallagher has threatened to buy and watch a "first edition bootleg" which is sure to be of the worst quality. Everyone else wants to wait for the Russian bootleg version to come out because as everyone knows -- except me it seems -- it will be a much better bootleg version. So, in order to keep most of the troops happy, I had to explicity order LT Gallagher not to buy a cheap first-version bootleg. When we are able to get a DVD that CPT Junguzza and LT Mitchell are satisfied with, we'll have a special movie night here.

I had written before to let you know that Pamela Varkony was going to do a blog article on us, and it was just posted on Thursday. Apparently, there were some technical problems that caused the delay. She is also going to write a Sunday column on us. If you go to the blog ( there is already a link from the entry to the column that you will be able to check out on Sunday. Due to mission requirements that day, not everyone was able to participate in her interview or get in the picture unfortunately.

Although most of the week was routine, we had a safety stand-down yesterday. We had some presentations in the morning on vehicle safety, and then performed intensive maintenance in the afternoon (see attached). You may have heard about the industrial accident in Kabul this past week too. Five civilians died in the explosion, but there were no coalition forces involved at all.

Next week will be business as usual too. About 400 soldiers from the ANA Brigade have been preparing for a big national parade at the end of April, and there has been a LOT of parade practice. Also this coming week is the Afghan New Year on the 21st; they'll be partying like it is 1386! Their use of the Persian calendar is one of the challenges we have to work through all of the time.

So, I wish everyone a happy and safe Afghan New Year,



1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

The aforementioned blog entry:
Home Town Team

I came to Afghanistan to write about the work of the CDHAM team and to report on the status of healthcare in the country, but I was not going to leave without spending some time with the men and women of the Penna. National Guard, stationed at Camp Darulaman outside of Kabul.

125 Americans are at the camp, working with the Afghan National Army. 16 are from the Penna. National Guard, serving as trainers and mentors.You would be hard pressed to find a nicer group of men; dedicated, focused, and funny!!
Second Note: The white spots on the photo below are not a technical error, they are the Afghan version of snow; huge flakes mixed with ice. Afghanistan's weather is famous for its extremes.

The camp is on the site of a former Russian base, but has been completely rebuilt, courtesy of the U.S. Dept of Defense.

My visit was memorable not only because I got to spend some quality time with the "home town team" but because every one of them was positive about their mission. There was no one who was downtrodden or negative about being away from home; they made it clear that they understand the importance of what they are here to accomplish. I look forward to telling you more about our dedicated "First Defenders" in the days to come.

Until then, I want to express my thanks to the men of the Brigade Team from Pennsylvania for their courtesy and candor. Your home state appreciates your service and sacrifice and is awaiting your return.

I'll be detailing my time with these wonderful soldiers in my next column this Sunday, March 18, including my first, and probably my last, ride in an armored Humvee.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dear Friends & Family Members,

Another week has sped by, but unfortunately, it has not brought us closer to any better weather yet. We still go through a wet period every three-four days. Today is wet with snow and rain.

Sundays are bazaar day here where local vendors set up tables out our back gate. I haven't been back there today, but there might not be too many vendors today. Attached is a picture from last Sunday's bazaar, and a young vendor.

This past week, some of us were out for a reconnaissance in some other provinces that our ANA brigade will probably be operating in. It was actually warmer there than in Kabul, so it was a nice change -- sort of an early spring.

Our Brigade also completed an operation with the French Battle Group here. They searched several areas for weapons caches and they distributed humanitarian aid to poor villages and a clinic.

We are just in a normal operational schedule this coming week, nothing special coming up.

Best Regards,


1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

This is a photo that George took of the road from Jalalbad to Kabul. The cut in the mountain is amazing.

This young lady was bouncing around and flirting with some of the Marines as they worked.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Morning Call

George's newest message:

Family and Friends,

We had a great visit today from Pamela Varkony who writes blogs and opinion articles for Allentown's The Morning Call. She was very interested in our experiences, interviewed several members of the team and took a group photo.

She told us to expect an article about us in an upcoming blog entry (and maybe an article). To read about us:

1. Go to URL:

2. Click on the Blogs pull-down menu on the banner.

3. Select "Perspectives"

She also has another interesting blog on the Morning Call website that is called "Afghan Journal" about the work she has been doing to imrpove health care in Afghanistan too.




1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Friday, March 9, 2007


Several wonderfully generious friends and family have asked me where we have registered now that the baby is on the way (8 weeks! YIKES!). Because of the geographical diversity of our social network (ooh...we sound far more interesting than we really are) we decided to register online.

The Registry can be accessed by :
1. Clicking here:
2. Enter: Nicole Schwartz and click Enter
3. Nicole and George Schwartz, Phoenixville, Pa will pop up. Click View Registry.
4. Enjoy.

(*Note* Our mailing address appears at the top of the registry next to our names in the event that you are unable to visit.)

Thanks, again, to all those who have requested the information. We deeply appreciate your kindness!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Busy as a bee...

It has been a few days since I've been in front of my computer and I have to say that it's nice to be back! I guess I never realized how much time I spend on this piece of modern technology! This weekend was spend playing mostly. I drove down to New Jersey and spend time with the Schwartz family.

On Saturday we ignored the weather and went to Smithville, NJ. It's a small colonial town just a few minutes north of Absecon. We walked around the lake and watched the ducks. My wonderful niece, Nicole, and nephew, Timothy stopped long enough to get their photos taken. Aren't they adorable? Tim was making quite the scowl, but don't be scared he's generally rather friendly. Nicole, on the other hand showed off her Captain skills by masterfully maneuvering a remote controlled boat around various obstacles (including a huge lighthouse). That girl has talent!

Sunday was another cool (and by cool I mean freezing cold) day. We made the most of it by driving around a wildlife refuge spotting various waterfowl and cracking jokes on the two-way radio that ensured constant communication between my car and the one carrying most of the Foster family. On Sunday evening I enjoyed a delicious meal (big enough for a small army) prepared by Chef Pate' (who just happened to celebrate her birthday on 5 March). Below is a pic of Super Alex and my brother-in-law David. We have 8 weeks left on the baby countdown. Things are still going great. I have been meeting with my midwives every two weeks. The baby is positioned perfectly (if you consider living on your head so you can kick Mom's ribs perfect!).

I also wanted to share a photo with everyone. The Schwartz boys just love their girlfriends. When George was in Kosovo I received photos of him holding hands with numerous (4 foot tall) blondes and brunettes. Most of them were from the school in the nearby town the his unit had "adopted." He just loved his girls! So, he has been in Afghanistan a few weeks and he has already started posing with lovely ladies.....The ladies are actually French soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. They are in the infantry, an MOS that is restricted in the US Army to males only. So when he saw the "chicks with big guns" he was in love....instantly. Ahhh....boys...

Here is the latest update from George.


Dear Family & Friends,

It seemed like only yesterday that it was Groundhog Day--the first month has flown by. Daily operations continue, and we have all been very busy. I am happy to say that the Pennsylvania Guardsmen are having a noticeable impact on our ANA Brigade. Our small team has been operating in three key areas, and I can see improvements every where.

Fortunately, the weather was rather good this week. Yesterday the air was perfectly clear, an we had the best view of distant Kabul that we have had yet. (Usually it is covered in smog, like LA, because of all of the traffic and the wood stoves.) The lights of the city were especially beautiful last night, and they had electricity for much of the night!

The weather was good again today, and some of the team members pitched in for a "Pennsylvania barn raising" to complete our new maintenance building. It was also good enough for our KBR (contract) mess hall to grill out steaks for our dinner tonight.

This coming week will be much like this one, although we do have some of the unit out for a joint operation between the ANA and the French Battle Group.



1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)