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Friends and Colleagues,

I am writing you from Camp Phoenix in the East side of Kabul, Afghanistan.  I am sorry that that will come as a surprise to many of you, but it will also explain why many of you haven't heard from me and vice versa. 

In January of this year, I resigned from TRM Corporation in order to join my National Guard unit in its historic year long deployment to train the Afghan National Army.  I am assigned as the Director of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs for Combined Joint Task Force Phoenix V.  As the name implies it is a multi-national, multi-service unit that is in its fifth year of service to Afghanistan. So far, so good.  It has been a great time and I am serving with a very diverse group of people from across the globe, with a wide variety of skill sets and career backgrounds.

Since our mobilization in March, 2006, I have maintained a blog at http://www.majorstrong.com. It has served as a way to stay in touch with many people at once, as time is obviously very limited.  I hope you will take a look at it and glean some of what the battle rhythm is like here and share it with your circles.  Leave me a comment on the site if you enjoy what you read.  For the past several weeks, I have been here in Phoenix, which is to say, living a less stressful life than when I am forward with the units in contact.  I have only been here in theatre for eight weeks today and I still have so much of this extraordinary country to see, but I have already traveled to four of the provinces, mostly in the South and East, where it is hot, in more ways than temperature.

Afghanistan is a remarkable place.  Her people truly want a change and it is encouraging to work with the forces of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.   They are building a much more stable Afghanistan day by day, action by action. 

There are many damaging reports in the media currently that, I am afraid, paint a rather disastrous portrait of this country, often mistakenly linking the events of Iraq in with Afghanistan as some great mistake of foreign policy.  Most recently, the New York Times, a publication I have subscribed to for years, offered an example of what the Ambassador from India recently (see the blog) called "the absolutely erroneous information written by people on the other side of the world." I, for one, disagree with their assessment.  Afghanistan is a place that is growing in strength and economic viability every day.  Her programs of government reform are weeding out the weak and bad habits of the past with every step forward. 

Two weeks ago, members f the Afghan Parliament visited a training exercise (see blog) within one week they were back to see the training happening at Kabul Military Training Center.  It is one step in reform after another.  It is being led by the Afghan people on behalf of the Afghan people.  Don't believe the hype, friends. There is much more good here than you imagine from home in the Great Northwest. 

I had hoped not to get on any soapbox in this first contact with many friends that I haven't been with in a long time, so I will step down.

Currently, we are working on helping existing and developing projects in order to help the Afghan People to help themselves. We help them with a lot of wells, school building, and infrastructure projects.  The entire raison d'etre of this mission is just that: To get the Afghan people to lead, both on the operational side, with Afghan Army and Police units increasingly taking responsibility for establishing law and order in the Taliban oppressed outposts and, indeed, across the nation, but also, and perhaps more importantly, in the development of their own infrastructure.  Just yesterday, we got $10,000 committed to a women's clinic that is funded by the rug-weaving and embroidery efforts of the women that run the clinic.  Another $10k for a regional well project in Western Herat, that will enable the locals to continued to build themselves and their village a fresh source of running water for years to come.  I am learning much about emerging power technologies in this spartan desert place.  There are a series of micro-hydro projects going in to various portions of the more precipitous areas of the country as well as the NGOs that are doing their best to help the Afghans, be they Pashtun or Uzbek, Tajik or Hazara, Turkmen or Nuristani, to help themselves. 

The tenacious spirit of these long -oppressed people, all striving to move away from ethnic violence and prejudice toward an integrative whole is nothing less than awesome. It is so inspiring to hear a 14 year old boy, tell you, first in Dari, then in English that he has learned at school, a school he has only attended since he was eleven, "The Taliban want to keep us all afraid and illiterate so that we have nothing else to do but pick up a gun."

I have been behind in updating the local media, focusing instead on the local Afghan media and the Internationals, but keep your eyes and ears open, especially around 9-11.  One year ago this week, the same unit I am here with in Afghanistan deployed to the disastrous after effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and then again to South West Louisiana for Hurricane Rita.  We are looking to connect those dots in the news.  Wish me luck.

What a year. It has been an extraordinary journey so far, friends. Drop me a line or read my blog.  Thanks for your support from home. And raise a Rogue in my absence,

Your Friend,

Arnold

 

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