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, January 11, 2012

One year later...

It wasn't this one, I am sure...

It was perfectly bizarre, and ironic, and somehow appropriate, to see and hear a helicopter in the airspace ahead of me as I left the Boulder Vets Center today.  There are rarely helos ("choppers" if your service insists on that term) above this town, so rare that it's practically jarring to hear the rotors.  It caused me to smile and shake my head, as I'd realized earlier why the dates of January 8 & 10 consciously stood out to me -- they were the dates I left Kabul and Bagram, respectively, one year ago.

Kabul, Jan '11: Conference Room in Winter

Jan '11: Bagram bus stop

Jan '11: Bagram, amidst the haze...

Jan '11: Dawn over Hindu Kush...and barriers

Jan '11: Final departure...for now.

Not that it's the first time I find myself marking the passage of time since a deployment shook me from a completely different life in the U.S. and then returned me half-dazed...but as this latter experience was longer, and somehow more personal, I find that I'm paying more attention to the anniversaries.  The blog has definitely languished again, and for that I'm less than pleased with myself.  There are the experiences I never caught up to recount, as well as the developments and incidents which continue to unfold, including major shifts in strategy, organization and approach.  I'll highlight a couple of those here, and hope still to finally post photos and stories from the archives...and I tremendously appreciate every reader who has encouraged me to keep this active.  While my motivations for blogging from Afghanistan were many, that isn't the case for blogging from here.  In contrast, it's only the occasional urge to keep it up that motivates me to do exactly that, especially a full year removed.

Jan '11: Last glimpse of Afghan mountains...

Dec '11: Usual glimpse of Rocky Mountains

It gets harder and harder to find news out of Afghanistan, which often is attributed to 'war weariness' -- an excuse I truly doubt when such a small percentage of the U.S. population is even aware that the war trudges on.  The news that does emerge usually covers the latest attacks, which tend to occur outside of Kabul, therefore rarely are covered at the site by western media...and therefore lack context as a result.  A typical rundown from today follows, with discouraging news from completely different and unconnected regions cobbled together (and a quote from my old colleague Maj. Gen. Azimi)...

10 die as Taliban storm Afghan government building

More relevant to my forecast from last month's post about bitter divisions coming to the surface between Northern Alliance leaders and Karzai supporters is this intriguing development, brought to my attention by my former colleague and NTM-A counterpart Joe Holstead.  I find it significant that some of the leaders with whom the United States sided in 2001 now feel so threatened by the concentration of power in Kabul and the government's future direction that they openly warn against the peace process that our Coalition officially supports, something not much heard openly just a year or so ago...

AP Photo/Ferdinand Ostrop

Afghan opposition urges caution in Taliban talks

I hope to have more on-scene accounts of the 'view from the ground' as some good friends are either back in parts of Afghanistan now in various capacities, or on their way.  In addition, my cousin should be on the ground there by late Spring, and my younger brother continues to play an unheralded part in the war effort, as he and his soldiers train Jordanian forces to serve in the Coalition.  I look upon their deployments with a big brother's concern, but I admit a touch of envy too, as the restlessness rises to not only find relevance again in this pivotal struggle, but to see my Afghan friends again, and to witness firsthand the changes that are sure to come in the next couple of years.

Finally, here's wishing everyone a very belated Sal-e Now Mubarek (Happy New Year)!  I joined the Twitter beast at last, and have been forwarding insight, analysis & updates on Afghanistan -- I post much more often when it doesn't keep me up all night.  Follow me: @ MayorDelMundo


Anonymous LilSisArmyWife said...

Great anniversary post! I especially like the comparable photos of the mountain ranges in "the Stan" and the Rockies. Thanks for keeping up the posts!

January 11, 2012 at 6:23 AM  
Blogger Puertorican girl in Brussels said...

thanks Dan for sharing. I know it takes a lot to sometimes share these stories. Thanks for taking us every step of your deployment. s/f

January 11, 2012 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger Joe Holstead said...

Just passed the year reutrn point in December 2011, felt the same. Great post, as usual, Major. V/R, Joe

January 11, 2012 at 8:54 AM  
Anonymous LT GooWait said...

Happy 1-year anniversary of your USA return, brotha!
I can see why you still have mixed feelings on being so far from the country you got to know so well...
But we ("the royal we, man") definitely do appreciate you jumping on and sending your thoughts on current Afghan affairs, as well as linking stories that- as you point out- may otherwise go unread.

...Oh and thanks for the personal shout-out! In return I owe you another write-up, this one from Jordan in the next couple months

January 11, 2012 at 12:17 PM  
Anonymous Slappy said...

You wouldn't be Afghanidan if you hadn't left part of your soul over there ...

January 11, 2012 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger LV Cabbie said...

Yes, it's getting harder and harder to get "real" news out of Afghanistan and anywhere else in the area.
But, thank goodness for the blogospere!
I have found a follow a lot of blogs I learned of at that keeps me - and many others - informed about what is going on there. I then link to the good posts and put them up in my local newspaper's e forums.
If we keep spreading the word, the Lame Street Media won't be able to sweep it under the rug.
So, thanks for your posts - and your service!

January 11, 2012 at 6:28 PM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Thank each of YOU for taking the time to is appreciated more than you could know, seriously!

January 12, 2012 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

LilSis - In fairness, the Hindu Kush look a lot more like these Rockies, as my 2006 photos depict...and the southwest here has plenty of those crumply brown mtns too...but SO MUCH of A'stan does look like that in flyover.
LT Goo - You don't owe me squat! But any Jordan update will always be welcome. Haha, the "royal we"...
LV Cabbie - Thanks for doing what you do to inform, it's needed.
Joe - You can guest column any time you like ;)
Slappy - Better said than I could possibly have!
PR Girl - Muchas gracias a ti :)

January 12, 2012 at 2:21 PM  
Anonymous Dave B said...

A great offering, as always. It's hard to believe that a year has passed since your most recent departure.

As we often said, "your world will change in a day in Afghanistan." I've found the place much changed over the last year.

We were there during what I believe will be seen as the high-water mark for the U.S. The atmosphere is quite different now.

While many struggle to make a difference and far too many are still being injured or killed, there is a growing sense of resignation; a feeling that we've done as much as we can, that we're tired, and that it's time to go home. Many, 'though not all, efforts are focused on the last of these.

But for those who care to, there are still opportunities to make Afghanistan a better place (and in so doing, reduce the chances of our enemies using it as a platform to attack us). Many Afghans and a number of Coalition members remain focused on that mission. 'though the number is decreasing. That said, what can a person do but strive to make things better?

Thanks as always for sharing your insights, Dan.

Warmest Regards,


January 12, 2012 at 10:46 PM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Thank you, Dave. As I responded on FB re: your final question, people CAN do the people of Afghanistan owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for your dedicated striving to make it a better place.

My thanks also for the description of how things have palpably changed over the past year...I'd been looking forward to it. We know that combination of resignation and focus on closing up shop would take over the large force in place, but it must be surprising to see it happen so quickly. When you say "high-water mark", do you mean more the size & scope (presence, # of advisors, # of projects) or amount of work being achieved...or both? What distressed us often last year was how the vast majority of ISAF was focused on winning directly and training the ANA to be capable support, rather than the other way around. Has that shifted significantly?

I look forward to more, hopefully much more, about the current landscape when you can, my friend.

Keep your head down (you know, during those silly basement-hiding drills they're always conducting)...

January 13, 2012 at 1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One year later and still great articles and pictures! Thank you for caring.

January 20, 2012 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Major Dan said...

Thank YOU, anonymous! I'll do my best to keep at it.

February 4, 2012 at 5:29 PM  
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