A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Back Where It All Begins

March '09: The annual Allman Brothers' residency in NYC

I'm not talking about Kabul in this case...or Khost, or Bagram, or Camp Lejeune, or even Quantico.  I'm talking about New York City, and the annual run of Allman Brothers Band shows at the Beacon Theater.  We each have our markers, our reminders that more time than we possibly realize is slipping on by...and one of mine is a ritual that I missed in 2010 for the first time in a decade.  It was only Marine Corps service that ever caused me to miss a year since I started going 15 years ago, in fact...and as I sit in Colorado growing more grateful for what I have here, I'm positively fired up to be back there by this time next week.  I couldn't quite get my young Afghan brothers to dig the band's phenomenal range the way I do, but I'm willing to bet that they'd enjoy a live show every bit as I did the entertainers I was fortunate enough to catch in Kabul.

 KMTC concert, Oct '10: Qais, Joe and I crash the stage.

Shafiq Murid & Sita Qasimi, national talents, entertain the ANA.

Esmat checks out the view from in front of the stage.

March in NYC is also relevant to my beginnings as it's St. Patrick's Month (that's right...month).  It's a great time to be Irish-American no matter where you are, but New York is the epicenter.  As my family roots go through there, it was all the more meaningful to celebrate the 17th for years as a resident...and all the more bittersweet to spend a few anywhere else (although the surprise of coming across a bagpiper in Jalalabad made '06 just as special as any).  Marching up Fifth Avenue in the world's largest parade, as the fourth generation of my family to do so, was simply one of the greatest thrills that military service afforded me.  I'm not talking about donning neon green beads, shamrock-shaped glasses and a "Kiss Me, I'm Drunk" t-shirt; getting trashed at 9 am on Paddy O' Hurricanes and green-colored Bud Lite; and singing "Why don't we get drunk and screw?" until everyone pukes all over the sidewalk.  Nothing against drunken shenanigans, but this time of year actually means a celebration of heritage, faith and family for a lot of us...something that enabled me to relate to major holidays in other parts of the world that would seem on the surface to have nothing in common with this one.  OK, and Guinness.  And maybe Jameson's.  But those are strictly optional.  Erin go Bragh!

A bunch of Irish hoodlums clean up for the season's start.

March '11: Joe & I reunited under more civilized rules...

...and bring a touch of Afghan-Irish class to Grand Central.

The post title applies in another sense.  While I normally wouldn't comment on an unresolved command decision in Afghanistan, it's noteworthy that my director, mentor and friend Dave is soon completing his year in Kabul, and there are no clear answers on the future structure of our Public Affairs development mission.  That is not to imply that advising and training in our functional area is about to cease -- for one thing, my dear friends and dedicated teammates still there haven't let up one bit, and continue to devote themselves day after day to building the capacity and capabilities of our Afghan allies.  But it does complete an arc which saw a robust team structure, one with a disproportionate share of experience, re-energize the task at hand.  It was that newly-formed structure, built from what Joe, John, Pam, Esmat & Qais were somehow doing on their own last March, that I was fortunate to jump into when I arrived ten months ago.  Without that lead-in and guidance, I surely would have gone crazy as I tried to figure out the ins and outs of the Defense and Interior Ministries...instead of waiting until I got back to the States to lose it (insert madman laugh here).

The team as I departed: Pam, Senior, John, Qais, Esmat and Dave...
Along with six of my favorite Afghan colonels.

Dave in the ISAF garden, holding a periodic team meeting...
(conveniently when our camp was on a lock-down drill)

So my heartfelt wishes go out to all who remain, as they tirelessly continue the daily grind of meetings, site visits, meetings, translations, meetings, presentations, justification pitches, and more meetings.  It's not glamorous work, even if you do sometimes find yourself meeting with the country's biggest power brokers and most famous faces.  I hope you all know how much you're in our thoughts every day.  My best wishes go out as well to the others who've moved on, from those who long preceded me and got the ball rolling, to those about to make the leap back to this side of the world in the coming weeks.  In the spirit of tomorrow's great holiday, here is an Irish blessing in (hopefully accurate) Gaelic, with the translation following...

Go raibh tú daibhir i mí-áidh
Agus saibhir i mbeannachtaí
Go mall ag déanamh namhaid, go luath a déanamh carad,
Ach saibhir nó daibhir, go mall nó go luath,
Nach raibh ach áthas agat
Ón lá seo amach.

May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
quick to make friends,
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward. 

 Another departure: Brig. Gen. Neasmith leaves today.
He was an outstanding, calm & personable.
Here he presented me with a coin on my last advisor meeting.

 My last time feeding Casper, who wolfed down a steak...
Her empty belly clearly showed she had her litter!

 The pups I never got to see, courtesy of my successor, Edward.

 Weeks later, the scrappy one he named "Major."
Now THAT is back where it all begins.


Blogger Joneser said...

Well done. I'm really impressed that in one blog post, you managed to touch on the challenges faced by those serving in Afghanistan, the impact that Irish culture has had on your life (and on your ability to appreciate other cultures), and the awesomeness of the Allman Brothers. Happy St. Patrick's Day, Irish twin!

March 17, 2011 at 7:06 AM  
Blogger Joe Holstead said...

Wonderful (I'd say that even if there were not pictures of me.)

March 17, 2011 at 7:52 AM  
Anonymous Padraig said...

From the Allmans, to St. Paddy's Day, to Afghan advising & military ops ... now THAT, my friends, is quite a glimpse into the socio-cultural kaleidoscope known as Afghanidan.


March 17, 2011 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Ava said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 18, 2011 at 11:42 PM  
Blogger Jami said...

Thanks for sharing the puppy pictures. They are adorable and look like they're doing great! I enjoyed the post too, but I'm a sucker for the chubby little puppy belly.

March 20, 2011 at 7:32 PM  
Anonymous Stephen's My Name said...

A timely response on my part as usual, apologies Brother...
But, really an excellent post! Joneser and Slappy commented prfectly already, but it's great that you can talk about (what I think we 3 also believe) how we see St. Patrick's Day vs. say, most of well as be thinking about your friends who are still in Kabul continuing to do their job day-after-day.
(On and the title you chose for this one? Spot on! :)

March 29, 2011 at 12:27 PM  

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