Sunday, June 17, 2007

Too Hot to Handle

Want to check out the weather in Jalalabad, Afghanistan?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Would You Make The Cut?

Warning!!! This has nothing to do with things happening to our family....

This was emailed to me by my lovely sister-in-law. I've seen several versions of it in the past and am happy to have a copy in my inbox.

The Citizenship Test...

How well would you do if you took the citizenship test.
24 out of 30 is considered a Passing grade.
Go to the link below. Take the test and be surprised at what we don't know!

I'm sure that George will pass it. He loves history. But, the sad thing is approximatley 96% of high school seniors, and 50% of all individuals over the age of 50 fail this test.

With all the talk about immigration in the news lately I thought it appropriate to point out how lucky we are to have been born within the borders of this country, and not have to earn our citizenship. I spent the two years during grad school working with survivors of political torture seeking asylum in the United States and after graduation ran a program that provided mental health services to refugees that were resettled in the US. I can't tell you how this experience changed my life except to say that every day and every challenge (including my life during Geo's deployment) has been made a bit easier. I have a new respect for the trials and tribulations of immigrant, legal or not. The immigrants that we hear about on the news today are made out to be individuals from economically depressed countries, namely Mexico, who have crossed the border in search of American jobs. Although they make up one catagory of immigrants they are certainly not the only ones.

Many of the people that I worked with had to escape their county of origin because of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. In order to first enter into the county legally they had to provide the appropriate documentation. This documentation, a legal and valid visa, was terribly difficult, and in most cases impossible, to obtain from officials in the country that are responsible for the persecution. In order to escape many forged documents or paid someone to assist them. This was their only chance for survival. Once they enter the country they can begin an application for asylum at any point of entry. In most cases this mean having to change into an orange jumpsuit and be detained in one of the many jails or prisons. In and around Pennsylvania, asylum seekers (including children) without the appropriate documentation are detained in York County Prison in the general population. (And because they're not American's they are not afforded the same rights as Americans...such as interpreters and attorneys). If they know that this will happen they don't start their plea for asylum at the point of entry....the enter the country and try to seek safety in the community until they are able to navigate the (very, very complex) legal system in the US.

I could go on for pages....

This is just another group of individuals that are "sneaking" into the United States. They too will be affected by the immigration reform policies that are currently being battled out. Let us not forget just how lucky we are to have been born in the United State where, for most of us, severe economic depravity, torture, inhuman treatment and persecution are read about in books and heard about on the news. Not everyone can stop it by turning off the television.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What is Business As Usual?

Dear Family & Friends,

I realized that I keep talking about business as normal, but I don't think that I have ever really given you a whole lot of details about what exactly our business is.

To understand our job, you should know that our mission is normally performed by the special forces. During Vietnam for instance, Green Berets did the same thing that we are doing now: living with the local forces, providing them with access to our fire support and medical evacuation, and acting as a go-between with the "big Army." The ultimate goal is to work ourselves out of a job, so that they can stand on their own.

Now us "regular guys" are doing the same. Although the romantic images this mission evokes is of a Lawrence of Arabia-type dressed in native garb leading the Afghans in a desperate fight, the truth is quite mundane. Most of what we do is logistical to build their Army and prepare the ANA for the fight. For example, today I was helping some of our small arms repairmen sort through a shipping container full of weapons that had been turned in to the UN so that we could pull parts off of them to repair ANA weapons because we cannot get them repair parts through their poorly managed supply system.

Out in the field, the mentors are solving all types of problems with the ANA, such as: increasing force protection at an outpost by constructing perimeter walls, purchasing air compressors to help them clean the dust out of weapons and air filters, building septic systems, and even hiring mules to haul water from a stream to the outpost so that the men can bathe. We are entrusted with controlling the money that the US Government has dedicated to buidling the ANA, so every month we have teams that draw money from US Army finance offices that we then spend throughout the month to make all of this happen.

I think that National Guard Soldiers are extraordinarily qualified for this mission for several reasons. For one thing, the majority of us have jobs outside of the military and diverse life experiences that help us handle the myriad of responsibilities that are not on the "job description." As Guardsmen, we have also had to deal with training constraints that the Regular Army is not familiar with, so we are able to help the ANA make the most out of what they have when it comes to training -- the second biggest part of our job.

While we are trying hard to get the ANA capable, ultimately we do what it takes to get the job done. The Pennsylvanians are leading the way in this effort, and working primarily with the brigade headquarters and the combat service support functions, we have the ability to have a big impact.

In the weeks ahead, some of the Marine mentors from our brigade-team may be featured in upcoming photo-essays in Time and Newsday; the photojournalist from Newsday is still out in the field with our guys. I'll let you know if and when the stories appear.

Fly the flag today for Flag Day and the Army's 232nd Birthday!

1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Arigga Bamboo

Soph and I went on an adventure this weekend! On Saturday afternoon we packed up and took the long trip to the Jersey shore to visit with Pop and the Fosters (and to escape the heat of Phoenixville). The weather was amazing! Warm days and cool evenings. Just the way we like it!

As you can imagine, Pop was delighted to host us for a few days. He has a very special way with children and I was excited to see him holding Sophia. All of the Schwartz women are working girls and he and Nana enjoyed watching after the grandkids while the ladies brought home the (soy)bacon. Here is the Proud Pop:
We called the Fosters on Sunday morning and they rushed over to greet us. Eileen didn't tell the kids that we were in for a visit so when they pulled in the driveway they had a big surprise. Nicole ran around the back of the Escape and exclaimed "IT'S FROM PENNSYLVANIA!!!" Both Tim and Nicole were great with their cousin, offering many kisses. During the visit I gave them the gifts that Geo sent home from Afghanistan. I would say that Tim was the most excited. He entered the house just a kid from Jersey and left Pop's an Afghan millionaire! George bought some Afghanis (the money...not the people) from the bazaar for Tim and he was so excited he insisted that he was going to lose his lunch. Nicole enjoyed some jewelery and Eileen appreciated her Pashmina scarf. Nicole and Eileen shared stories from their trip to DC for the largest sing-a-long in Girl Scout history. It was a celebration of the birthday of the Girl Scouts. Nicole gave us a live reenactment of the sing-a-long and ever since I have had Arigga Bamboo stuck in my head. The experience brought back a flood of memories from Camp Louise. Some good (the swimming relays while wearing a closet full of clothes, the camp songs, and the campfires) and some bad (the HUGE horseflies that bit us in the head when we were swimming). Now, I just can't seem to get the songs out of my head. So..... I've added some here for your enjoyment.

Now....there is NO excuse why you can't be singing along! Here are the lyrics:

Also Princess Pat(everything repeated)

The Princess Pat
Lived in a tree
She sailed across
The 7 seas
She sailed across
The channel 2
And brought with her
Arigga Bamboo

Arigga Bamboo
Bow what is that
Its something made
By the Princess Pat
Its red and gold
And purple too
Thats why its called
Arigga bamboo

Now Capt. Jack
Had a mighty fine crew
He sailed across
The channel 2
But his ship sank
And yours will too
If you don't bring
Arigga bamboo


Now, sit back and remember how lovely childhood was. Didn't the summers seem extraordinarily long back then? I remember the time off between school years going on and on and on.....

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Family & Frriends Update

Dear Family & Friends,

I guess no news is good news. Nothing significant to report with our continuing operations.

As you know from last week, for those of us out east, the US unit our ANA are working with officially changed out. The 173 Airborne Brigade is an illustrious unit with a strong heritage from the Vietnam War. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, this was the outfit that jumped into northern Iraq to start a second front. This is their second tour in Afghanistan in three years, and we are all impressed with their professionalism, vigor and cooperation. We are proud to work with them.

Often, as a part of the process of winning hearts & minds, we execute Medical Civic Action Programs (MEDCAP). We are fortunate to have a good number of medics and Navy corpsmen in the brigade-team; of the more than 100 US and French serving, 14 are medics and we also have one doctor. These professionals along with the ANA medics give us a great capability to provide health services to the local nationals. The French ETTs with their ANA ran a couple of small MEDCAPs in a province south of Kabul during an operation last week. This coming week, some of the guys will work with our 5th (Combat Service Support) Kandak, which has a Medical Company, to run another MEDCAP out east.

I know that the temperatures have been in the 90's back in PA, and it has been HOT here in the east too. Despite the confluence of two large rivers in Jalalabad, much of the terrain to the west is desert. when the wind is blowing from that direction, even at night, it feels like you are stepping into an oven when walking out of an air-conditioned building. Kabul, however, has been very comfortable in the 80s; it is not too often that you hear a bunch of Pennsylvania boys wishing it was in the 80's.

Don't forget to show the flag on June 14th for Flag Day and Army Day!


1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Latest and Greatest

I can definitely see both her parents in about you??
She's already grown and changed so much. She looks less like ET and more like a baby :)

Yesterday we had the pleasure of spending the evening with my mother. She is on a 7 day kayaking sojourn and one of the stops was at Lock 60 right outside of Phoenixville. Around dinner Soph and I packed up and headed out. I parked near Bridge Street and broke out the stroller (No, it isn't an $800 Bugaboo). It was a beautiful walk next to the canal. Soph enjoyed the bumps along the way. She didn't mind all the attention when we arrived either. Nana showed her off to all her new (fair-trade coffee drinking, hybrid driving, hippie) kayaking friends.

Enjoy your Friday!!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Commander Caught with Marijuana in His Helmet~ Photographic Evidence as Proof

News from the boss:

Friends and Family;

Well, folks, we passed the four month mark this past week -- we are officially one third of the
way through the tour.

Things continue to go well for the brigade ETT team and the Pennsylvanians. Several members of our team work with the Combat Service Support battalion that consists of a headquarters, a Transportation (trucks) & Supply Company, a Maintenance Company, a Medical Company, a Maintenance Company and a Signal Communications Company too. To best support the brigade, the unit is split between Darulaman, Jalalabad and Camp Fayez.

I was visiting some of the camps this week and spent some time at Camp Fayez. It is a very comfy camp in a mountain valley, right on a big river. The guys live well there, despite having to cook their meals. As you would expect from a group like us, most of their dinners are cooked over a roaring fire in the big brick grill outside.

Along with me during this trip were 1SG Walter and SPC Maritato. When we stopped at one of our camps, 1SG Walter's police-honed senses alerted to a marijuana plant growing across the road. It is actually a common weed here in Afghanistan. Through some nefarious process -- that did not involve me! -- a sprig of the aforementioned weed ended up tucked under my helmet band. I have been told that there is also photographic evidence....

For those of us out east, we have also experienced some of Mother Nature's power. Thunderstorms in this area have a monsoon quality, and knee deep water & mud can cover a road. One evening this week, we also had a mild earthquake.

This coming week, the US unit that we partner with in the east, is changing out. Gone are the Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division after a 15-month tour, and they will be replaced by the 173rd Airborne Brigade. This great unit has prior experience in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq.

I know that an invitation went out this past week for a Family Support Group meeting, and I hope that you will all participate in that event.





1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Also there was a blog posting on Memorial Day that featured Geo and his men.

Friends and Neighbors Serving Far From Home
Posted by PamelaVarkony at 6:07:48 PM on May 28, 2007

It is with a deep sense of gratitude that I write this Memorial Day post as a way to honor all those who serve in the United States military and to remember those who have fallen in that service. It is also a time to remind the Pennsylvania readers of this blog about our friends and neighbors who are serving so far from home.... LTC George Schwartz and his Pa. National Guard unit at Camp Darulaman Pa_nat_guard_wfriend outside of Kabul. When I visited them a few months ago, this wonderful group of soldiers welcomed me, shared their stories with me, and continue to include me in their weekly "Friends & Family" newsletter.

Memorial Day provides the perfect opportunity to once again say "thank you."

(edited to exclude names. Please view original post for information)

Like all our service members around the world, they do their duty while the lives of their loved ones unfold back home: Col. Schwartz is now the proud father of a beautiful baby girl he has never seen, SPC Maritato's mother still sends weekly care packages to everyone, including camouflage colored Easter baskets filled with goodies.

As the mission continues to unfold, the Pa. Nat. Guard unit has been joined by a French team ofUsafghan_soccer paratroopers who LTC Schwartz characterizes as "very professional". It didn't take long for the French along with one brave US Marine, to form a soccer team. The "Coalition Forces" bested the Afghan team in the first round of competition. There was also a very competitive volleyball tournament which was won by the Afghan team.

Recently, LTC Schwartz and his unit have dispersed to varying assignments in different parts of the country; about half of them are now stationed near Jalalabad, 3-4 hours south of Kabul, along the border with Pakistan; a very dangerous region. Some members of the unit are getting ready to provide mentoring and specialized training for the Afghan National Army and Police throughout the country.

I know the readers of this blog wish all our troops, and especially our friends and neighbors from the Penna. National Guard, a safe and happy Memorial Day. We are deeply grateful for your service and look forward to welcoming you home with us soon.

An interesting note: According to LTC Schwartz, the compound in Jalalabad that the troops are using as their temporary headquarters, was once an old Afghan fort and Taliban stronghold.Osamas_jalalabad_residence_2 The teahouse on the property is the last known residence of Osama bin-Laden.

(Do you think if we brought in some good ole American blood hounds, we might be able to find the guy?)