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May 16, 2005

Report from afghanistan

MSG Keith should transition today from "light on the skids" to "wheels up" on his journey home from Afghanistan. (Yes, I know I mixed rotary/fixed wing metaphors... on purpose!). He sent this valedictory last week, which I've held until today (didn't want to jinx that last week!).

Well, my time is short here. I leave Kabul on 14 May, and will be wheels up headed for Ft. Benning on 17 May for out processing. When I got here the first week in October and made the first of many trips from Bagram to Kabul, and seeing the dust, and sand and rocks, all about the same dirty tan color, I remember thinking to myself, "What were the Russians thinking when they invaded this place?" I can remember sitting at my computer in the Public Affairs Office, and seeing the fine dust coming through cracks and crevices that were unapparent to the naked eye. But then, I started going out on missions and taking photos. I got here two days before the Afghan National elections and got to see history being made as they elected their first president in their 5000 year history. Three days later, I was standing at the base of the Bamian mountains, where 120-foot tall Buddha statues used to stand. I got to go to Takhar and Kunduz, up next to Tajikistan border; Jalalabad, Paktia and Kandahar down on the Pakistan border; Herat on the Iranian border; Mazar-e-Sharif, up on the Uzbekistan border; and the most beautiful place in the world, the Panjshir Valley. I got to go to the Blue Mosque, see the minarets in Herat. I stood at the door of Massoud's Tomb, the Lion of the Panjshir. I stood in the Castle in Mazar-e-Sharif at the monument to Mike Spann, the first U.S. fatality of the war in Afghanistan. I have eaten many meals with Afghans, drank lots of chai, eaten many almond knuckles. I met Afghans from all walks of life who want something better for their country than the past 25 years of war. I've heard stories from my interpreters of what they endured from the Russians and from the Taliban. Safa, one of my terps, graduated from the Univ. of Oregon in 1967. When the Russians came in, they considered anyone schooled in the U.S. to be CIA. They threw Safa in jail, "They beat me for 20 days, and did other stuff...before they figured out I was not CIA." He never did say what the 'other stuff' was... I've seen children laughing and playing, girls and boys, the future of Afghanistan. I heard a high school aged girl complaining in very good English that they needed more facilities for learning. Something that four years ago would have caused her to be shot in public for disrespect. This country has a long way to go before they can stand on its own two feet. There are still parts of Kabul that don't have running water, electric or even basic sewage service. But they would give you the shirt off their back or the last bit of rice in the house if you are a guest. I am sad to be leaving because this has been the highlight of my military career. Someday, I hope to come back again. Hopefully to include another trip to the Panjshir Valley.

For those who have donated books, videotapes, and/or envelopes to the Read To Your Kids program, Thank you. We have completed 319 videotapes for families at home. Here at Kabul, a group of volunteers is taking over the program. Phoenix is still doing theirs, Bagam is rolling along and now Kuwait is starting up. Below are the addresses of those folks. Please send them any children's books, vhs videotapes, and bubble mailer envelopes that you may want to donate.

[If you wish to know more about this program, which provides a way for deployed soldiers to literally read a book to their children via tape while the soldier is deployed, drop me a line and I'll give you details. ed.]

Thank you everyone for your emails, letters, cards, packages and support. You DO make a big difference.

Stay safe.

You too, MSG Keith.

You can watch his Afghanistan video here. (If you're coming in dial-up, I suggest right-click and save)
You can view his photo album here.