Wednesday, August 17, 2011

First week at FOB Gardez

My first 10 minutes at FOB Gardez.
I arrived at FOB Gardez on Saturday  the 30th of August 2011 about 10:30 in the morning.  As we pulled up to the FOB the first people that you encounter is the security force that is manning the entrance gate.  This security force is made up of Afghan Army personnel.  Since we had US ID we were not scrutinized like the Afghans that were coming on the base.  We had to wait until a representative of the Nebraska Agriculture Development Team 2 arrived to escort us onto the base.  Any Afghan National that was entering the base was subjected to a pat down, and vehicle search.

Apple nursery --grafted Red and Yellow Delicious.
Once we pulled up to the area that the NEADT occupies introductions were made and we went into each of the 3 buildings that ADT are housed in.  One building housed the Security Team, one for the Ag Team and one for Administration.  There is also a barn and barnyard that houses a pair of goats, a pair of sheep and a BUNCH of chickens. 

One of my first missions upon arrival was to eat—it was chow time.  The mess hall is about ¼ of a mile from the Ag Hut which is where the Ag team is housed.  We walked over to eat which is somewhat of a challenge in that the rock on the ground is huge.  Not like what we have but more like 4-6 inches which is constantly shifting under your feet.  The food was very good.  It is like eating at Golden Corral every meal as Col. Heng—the Commander of the mission likes to say and he is right.  Several entrees to choice from, a grill, multiple sides, fruit, deserts, all kinds of beverages and then a rack with things like cereal, jerky, cookies, muffins, etc. that you can leave with.  First thing I was worried about going through the place for the first time was my diet.

Once lunch was finished we headed back to the Ag Hut.  I was set up at a desk with a computer that has access to unsecure information only and internet that has some pretty tight constraints on it.  Now I felt like a fish out of water.  New country, new office, new people and no idea of where to start---but that was short lived.  Just a bit after I got there plans were already in the works.  We started scheduling missions.  A mission is a convoy out of the FOB to a location that there is finished, in progress or proposed contract to do work.  The first mission I was scheduled to go out on was to the DAIL.

The DAIL is an interesting concept.  It is both a person and a place.  DAIL is Director of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock.  This mission was to cover several items; my introduction, other team members introduction and to sign a large wheat contract that would provide wheat seed to several hundred farms in the Paktia region of Afghanistan.  Paktia or also spelled Paktya is the region that FOB Gardez is located.  Each region has a DAIL and the Director of the DAIL is DAIL Zandran.  Within the Paktia region there are 12 or so districts. The DAIL is in charge of Extension for that region.  I was also introduced to the head of Extension in the region, Faroq -------.

The mission was scheduled for Aug 2nd.  It starts long before that but for me it started Aug 1st at 5:00 as all missions start the day before at 5:00 with a security briefing.  The participants of the mission meet in the security hut and the mission is outlined and security detail is appraised of the mission and how the mission is to be orchestrated to laid out.  Each mission rolls with 6-8 MWARP which is a large armed personnel carrier.  The crew consists of driver, leader in the passenger seat, gunner who mans the 50 cal or bigger on the top of the rig and a person that sits in the back facing out that keeps watch in his or hers direction.  Last but not least the passengers.  Everyone on the mission must attend the security briefing. 

The day of the mission, the mission for the security team starts 11/2 hours prior to departure. They load the trucks and get everything ready.  Everyone meets about 45 minutes prior to departure time and there is another briefing and the mission is again read through.  Everyone gathers in their truck assignment and as a group each truck walks through a dry run of how the dismount and reloading and movement takes place.  The groups are dismissed to get the body armor on and last things loaded and then you meet for a prayer and then you load up and head out.

Col. Ross Finley is a BIG hit.
My second mission was August 5th.  That mission was three pronged.  First we visited a cool storage facility; I stayed on the truck for that.  The second part of the mission was to visit a vet clinic in the village and the third part was to visit an apple nursery project that had been completed and evaluate the progress.   We had to park on the main road of the village.  The trucks park about 100 ft apart in case there is an incident and only one truck will be taken out with a hit of any kind.  The security team dismounts first and secures the area which takes 15-20 minutes and then those on the mission that are not security dismount with your armed escorts and they move you through the vehicles handing you off to the next team as you proceed through the line. We had to walk quite a distance to the nursery.  Down the main road through the alley or back road that runs parallel to the main road and on the backside of the shops and then into the nursery that extended several hundred feet. The nursery was primitive but the pant material was excellent.  They had grafted Red and Yellow Delicious, Fuji, several types of Gala and Red Chief.  I would have been pleased if they were mine.

The rest of my first week was about getting acclimated to the FOB and projects that were in the works.  All of these were hand-offs from the Oklahoma Team that preceded Nebraska.   We also started brainstorming about projects that we wanted to get going ourselves.  These included developing the demo farm, composting, cold frame, pine nuts, food dehydrator, mulberry for forage and about 20 others.  Next---The FOB Itself.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Travel to Gardez

Kabul to Gardez was a very interesting trip. We left the compound about 7:30 in the morning for the 60 mile 3 hr trip. The convoy to get me there consisted of 3 vehicles—2 soft skinned and 1 armored. All three were Land Rovers. The armored vehicle was in the middle which is where I was. A Ronco security team was in charge of getting me there. At 7:30 am many people are trying to get to their assignments so there are a lot of vehicles trying to get out of the place and it is slow going. Each vehicle passes through a series of 2 gates with one gate opening and closing behind then the second opening leting you out of the compound. When we got to the street we picked up our armed rider for the vehicle I was in and we also picked up the 2 soft skinned vehicles each having 4 armed personel.  Instructions were if we take fire and are incapacitated then we move to the nearest mobile soft skin for escape.
Traffic in Kabul was crazy and everyone had to keep up with the vehicle in the lead. In and out of traffic, dodging bikes and motorcycles, avoiding pedestrians…just general chaos. Nothing looks clean or prosperous and everyone looks poor. Lots of men milling about, lots a kids running around but very few women. The word is that the women were at home or in the fields working while the men sat around talking. Lots of taxi cabs running around, as you drive around lots of people washing vehicles. Air compressors sitting at the curbs everywhere with tires in the shade and sometimes a conex with tools where cars pull up to get air or just fixed.
As you got ouside Kabul there were lots of little communities. Shops along the road that sold everything. Rugs, watering cans that they use for hygene, tea pots, tons of fruits and veggies, meat that is just hanging there covered in flies and pieces chopped off as sold, propane vendors. 100 pound canisters that people brought up smaller tanks to fill. Lots of little freon tanks being filled with propane. So all sorts of things being sold. No shop was really empty and most seemed quite full and people everywhere.
As you got into more rural areas there are lots of fields with all sorts of things being grown in small plots that they call jeribs which is a very inclusive term. Lots of them were empty so there is potential for some multi cropping of some type. Lots of sheep, goats, donkeys and a few camels. These generally have free range. As you look over the landscape you can see tents associated with these herds that house the Kuchi or the nomadic herders. These are a tribal people that really answer to no one but their tribal leader.  These nomads are also some of the primary beekeepers in the country. They move their bees with them as they migrate. They move using trucks, tractors with trailers or anything else for that matter.
We almost had a bad incident on the trip. Lots of people hanging out along the road. A lot of kids. We finally got to a straight away that the caravan gained some speed---not fast just sped up a little. A little girl ran out in front of the lead vehicle. He literally laid 40 to 50 feet of skid marks and went sideways and almost went into the ditch but regained control, came to an almost complete stop and then we proceeded on.
The final stretch of road to Gardez was very mountainous and dangerous. The security detail was pretty nervous about driving it as the Taliban can sit in those mountains and just pick you off and that happens regularly. It was actually a very beautiful drive. As we got into Gardez it was the same as all the other towns other than the fact that it is a University town. The University is only 5 years old or so. The FOB is just outside of Gardez.
We arrived at the gates of FOB Gardez right at 10:30 am. We went through security and waited for an escort onto the base. It took an hour or so for that to happen. Once we got in we met up with the ADT group immediately and were shown around their area and introductions were made. It was then chow time and the food is pretty darn good. It will be hard to stay on my diet here. We ate and then headed back to headquarters. John Morris and the security team left at that point and left me to the ADT gang. That was Saturday the 30th. Five days behind schedule or around here right on time—everything is in windows, nothing is right on time especially travel. Next….My first days with ADT

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


John Morris the Project Manager and Creed McCaslin the head of security for GTW Consultants arrived at the Bagram airbase around 8:15 to Drive me to Kabul. We made the trip in a reinforced Land Rover which means it had bullet proof glass and body armor. It was about a 20 mile drive that took an hour. That was a very interesting hour. First we had to get through the quagmire of vehicles that were trying to get on and off the base. Many Afghan support people and services were pushing their way onto the base as we were trying to get out. The Afghan Army actually mans the gates and takes care of security.

Once off base traffic opened up quite a bit but the roads were absolutely horrible. New asphalt that had gapping holes in it then abruptly back to the original dirt and rock road, No true shoulders so people walked and road their bikes on the edge of the road. The most interesting part of the trip was no driving laws. You make forward progress however you can. That means you drive on whatever side of the road that allows you to keep moving forward. You can pass on or off the road. If it is a divided highway and you aren’t moving forward as fast as you like you just jump the divide and make your way in those lanes. Accidents are taken care of at the scene generally a cash settlement. That includes pedestrians being killed. You agree to a settlement at the scene in most cases. Traffic police are there to keep traffic moving if it happens to get overly congested.

The land is desolate and the people very poor. Brick makers dotted the landscape. Many little roadside stands lined the highway. Herds of goats, sheep and some donkeys were prevalent on the plains. These herds belonged to nomadic tribes who set their tents up and graze the area then pack up and find a new spot. There is very little vegetation available to support the herds so movement is constant.

I was driven to a facility in Kabul called the Green Village. This is a high security facility in Kabul that houses contractors from around the world. The Russians own it and Nepal is in charge of security. You have to go through a series of solid steel gates which are guarded by armed personnel to gain vehicle entry. ID’s are checked and the vehicle is inspected for bombs. Once you gain entry you have to go through a metal detector also and security to bodily gain entrance.

The whole village is surrounded by 20 ft steel walls reinforced by 4x4x4 containers of sand that ate stacked to the top of the wall. Armed guards with machine guns are posted along the wall. A security detail of several dozen armed men patrol the grounds 24/7. All where very friendly and vigilant.

The compound consisted of 12 or so residence halls that each had 30 rooms, a office facility that contacting agencies housed, dining facility, soccer field, sand volley ball, basketball, swimming, shops and a spa. The place was very nicely landscaped using poplars and willows for trees and lots of rose moss and sunflowers for color. The court yard of the spa had seating and was very nice. The food was awesome—it had a very European flair.

I stayed at the Green village for the week recovering from the trip and the Kuwait experience. Arranging for transport also took some time. Travel on Fridays does not happen because that is their day off basically and if you drove the highways you would be a big target so travel is avoided as much as possible. Next....Travel to Gardez