Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A last minute Christmas request

Don't worry, it won't require any money or trips to the store.
First let me share with you an excerpt from an email we got from one of Mark's cycling team mates. He is in the Air Force and recently left his wife and 6 (I think) kids behind
for an special assignment in Afghanistan.

I think most of the stress of being here is wondering if things are okay at home. I have included an updated narrative of what things are like here below. I know it is long, so don’t feel obligated to read it. The clock is working for me with each passing day, and I can’t wait to get back to the family and the team, ready to race late May! It is “ghetto training” over here, but I’ve had to be creative before. It is dirty, stinky, and war torn. My pedal stroke may be square for a while after getting back, but the cardio should be okay

My hope is that each one of you and your family have a pleasant holiday season. I am grateful for small things here, but I think what means most are family and friends. You guys have been very good to me…….thanks.

It is difficult to describe the surroundings, but the land is rugged, war-ravaged, and totally lawless. I think this is perhaps one of the most dangerous places on the face of the earth, and any straying from the confines of the installation subjects you to thousands of mines and the real potential for kidnapping and death. The war effort is in full force. The military machine grinds forward, non-stop, 24/7. I am attached to the 101st Army Airborne “Screaming Eagles”, and am part of the Combined Joint Task Force 101. You can visit the website at http://www.cjtf101.com/ Despite what the liberal and biased media reports, I live and see what we are doing daily. Our Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are busy getting running water and electricity to people who live in remote villages ravaged by poverty and disease even though they (our teams) are under constant fire and IED attacks. Tuberculosis, Malaria, hepatitis and other diseases are rampant and the teams vaccinate the little ones and provide both medical and dental care. Unfortunately, the Taliban doesn’t want us here and want the people under strict Islamic law, which is remarkably oppressive. We build things, they blow them up. We build schools, they blow them up. Life has little meaning here for these people and the average life span of the male is only 43 years old. The infant mortality rate is among the top 2 in the world. Along with our attempts to rebuild the infrastructure of the country, those who are picking up arms to oppose us are dying quickly. Our special forces are some of the best in the world and if you go into the website above, you can read about their craft. Everyone, no matter how steeled, is afraid of the IED (improvised explosive device) that the enemy has perfected. It is a terror weapon that can’t be beat. Because we have hundreds of locals who work on the installation, I am constantly wondering when an infiltrator will breech the base security and blow himself up in our chow hall where several hundred people are at any given time. Our only defense against it is a good offense---stopping those who are emplacers, makers and trainers of IEDs. Our kids are dying as well. It is real. My very first night here I couldn’t sleep (still can’t) because my body wasn’t adjusted yet and I lay in my bed wide awake at 0200. The “giant voice” (a speaker system that announces mortar alerts and so forth) suddenly comes to life and announces that there will be a “fallen comrade procession” beginning at 0305. We have thousands of troops here and out of respect when a soldier falls, everyone lines the street, no matter what time, to pay our respects. It was sobering to see an old Toyota 4-wheel drive truck come down the road with an aluminum coffin draped with the flag in the bed of the truck along with the guy’s buddies, wiping away tears. That is someone’s brother, son, father, uncle or other in that coffin. He was killed by a suicide bomber near a checkpoint at one of our FOB’s (Forward Operating Bases). We rendered a slow, deliberate salute in honor of the ultimate sacrifice as the casket was enroute to be loaded by the honor guard and flown to the states. Who knows what awaits his family on the other end. All of us are resolute in prosecuting the war. What happened on 9/11 was no different than what happened on Dec 7, 1941. It is just a different enemy that fights a different war. We have the most capable, smartest, and motivated military on the face of the earth. We will keep coming as long as it takes….

Unfortunately, I cannot elaborate on what I do here, but I work with the enemy every day, face to face. The experience is so over the top that at times it is surreal. It is an enemy that I respect a great deal due to his culture of warfare forged over the last 30 years of steady conflict. It is hard to believe that the 9/11 attacks were planned and trained for not far from us here. The culture drives the war fighter here. If you are their friends, you have a friend for life and they will give you everything they have. Conversely, they are a people who hold grudges that last generations. Vengeance is always to be exacted and the culture is organized by tribes, Klans, villages----similar to the “Hatfields and McCoys”. This won’t ever be changed by the military. Some of the fighters are extremists, some are conscripted against their will, some are fighting for money offered by Iran or Pakistan, disagree with the Government, or simply to feed their family etc. Killing is something they are good at doing. We typically work 10-12 hrs per day, 7 days a week. I am proud to serve. We enjoy what we have because of the soldier and the flag represents everything we stand for. I wish parents, spouses, children and the general public knew what sacrifices were being made rather than the junk shown on the news that depicts us as invaders/occupiers that are killing people indiscriminately. They would be sobered. Tragically war is, as they say, Hell, and it is always the women and children who suffer the most. Nobody wants to be here and there is some level of constant despondency, but we all believe in what we are doing. The military family also pays a serious price and I appreciate all the support you have offered to Camille and kids.


This is my request.
As you gather your families around you this Christmas season.
Please pray for Steve, for his family and all the men and women
who give so much to make this world a better place for mothers, fathers and children everywhere.
We are so blessed... let's not forget them.

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