Monday, March 2, 2009

Oregon National Guard soldier relates experiences while deployed to Afghanistan

Feb. 22, 2009

Hello favorite friends and family,

Just wanted to say a quick “hi”. It is 10:25 p.m. my time here and I am most decidedly heading off to bed, but wanted to drop a quick note.

We've been having our worst weather of the year so far. A dry and dusty land with clay-like dirt did not take well to two days of heavy rains, particularly when the residential homes consist of mud huts. The draining here wasn't to hot either, but we at least have painted plywood on higher up cement foundations (three steps off the ground in height so we weren't too drowned). Not to mention, we own proper clothing for the weather conditions. But small wet pebbles are a lot harder to walk on than dry pebbles and the large rocks are a dangerous ankle busting pain, both wet and dry.

Anyway, with the flooding, the Afghan General we work with requested and coordinated a humanitarian aid drop. That was one of the quickest turn-arounds ever. Our colonel was away and we had to get his approval, get the convoy planned, assigned, and the ANA (Afghan National Army), and two 7-1/2 ton trucks loaded in just one afternoon.

I sent one of my two lieutenants to get pictures. I have the Public Affairs Officer assignment as well as the J1 (Personnel Office Manager). It makes sense to not allow people to leave camp without permission or equipment, and those with pure staff jobs are very seldom able to leave the camp. I try to let them go when possible, if they want.

It certainly makes a huge difference in seeing the bigger picture when you get an opportunity to see first-hand the poverty and need, but also to see the Afghans leading the way in trying to supply the vast needs of people whose country and infrastructure have been destroyed by decades of war and torture. It is an awesome blessing to be allowed to participate in the building and restructuring of a nation. It makes the sacrifice—and trust me, it is a sacrifice being away from our families—makes better sense.

My lieutenant has three kids, and this is his seventh and longest deployment. He is in the Navy, so that is pretty much a requirement of the job.

Unlike (the vision we have of) poverty in the United States, the people here live in mud hovels, without electricity or true indoor plumbing (it is indoors and it is used, but it doesn't flush, so it doesn't count). They burn dung, coal, oil, or propane for fuel in open pits or metal fire pots. This naturally leads to debilitating burns to the children. It also explains the brown air in Kabul. We are fortunate that the ANA Corps Hospital is able to provide charitable medical care on a very limited basis to some of the children.

I need to load more pictures on my Facebook account in addition to the ones I have already posted. Keep in mind that our connectivity is often reminiscent of dial-up and 10-year-old computers. The connectivity and bandwidth (or lack of) makes things interesting. Oh, and we have seven computers shared by the whole place. Thankfully, my ANA PAO counterparts are great and we share stories and pictures.

I have also been blessed with a terrific personnel staff. Everyone is awesome and makes stuff happen. We have a huge group of people heading home so we are working their performance appraisals, awards and close-out paper-work. We track all the normal personnel stuff, it is just a tad more difficult to visit the outlying offices and of course the usual difficulties with our Higher HQ.

I spent a couple days (when I could take a few moments) re-organizing and reconfiguring my hooch. Sadly, it takes more effort to fix up a 6x10-foot hooch than my house.

It is now 11:40, I NEED to go to bed, see you all soon,

Always, Meloni

Lt. Col. Meloni Beauchamp, of the Oregon Army National Guard, is deployed to Afghanistan as part of Task Force Phoenix. When she is not assisting with humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, she is the Plans Officer for the Oregon Military Department’s Joint Force Headquarters in Salem, Ore.

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