April 2015 – North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington D.C.

1-9 Apr 2015

Unplugged from the phone and internet I am enjoying the quiet of Cascade Lake in North Carolina. On April 1st I left Asheville and traveled to Cascade Lake near Brevard, NC. You live, you learn! I start off on this next leg of my adventure when I notice that my side mirror cameras are not working and I can’t get the radio/video system to turn on. So, thinking that a fuse had been blown when installing the CB radio I returned to WNS RV service to solicit their advice and assistance. David, the retired Air Force NCO comes to the rig prepared with volt meter tester, power screw driver and a smile. He asks me first if I had shut off the batteries for the RV. I told him that yes, I had flipped the switch to ‘store’ verses ‘use’ as I was hooked up to electricity at the RV camp. A miracle, when I changed the switch to ‘use’, power to the radio/video monitor returned. Problem solved. I still don’t understand when you would use the ‘store’ or ‘disconnect’ function of the battery but maybe that would be used if I were not traveling full time.

I stopped at the Camping World along the way. That was an adventure unto itself. Traveling from Asheville the Camping World complex is on the right side of the road, so I turned right and took the first right turn thinking it might be on a service road. This road led absolutely NOWHERE! At the end there was a turnaround that I was able to manage and as I’m on this road I encounter another poor soul trying to also find Camping World. I turned him around and went to the gas station to ask directions. You cross the interstate and turn left, again the entrance is not identified and I drove a mile down the road before turning around and just out of the corner of my eye did I see Camping World – oops, too late! Once again I turn around and finally enter the Camping World store. When checking out I mentioned my misadventure to the clerk and she said it is a Hendersonville restriction on signs and that I’m not the first to mention it. My intention was to purchase an indoor/outdoor thermometer with a weather station and to just look around to see if there was anything I couldn’t live without. I found the weather station and I also found the small portable desk I had been looking for in Indianapolis that I can use, like right now, sitting outside in my camp chair. Of course my camp chair is an American flag; red, white and blue! I also fly a small American flag on my antennae while not in motion. As I typed this a mist began to settle in on me and with the slight threat of rain this afternoon I chose to put everything away and move inside. I like that I can now write from the barrel chair (where many people place a work desk in place of the chair) instead of from the dining table that is at an uncomfortable height for me. Besides the barrel chair is more comfortable than the bench seats at the dining table. I was enjoying the 55 degree temps outside as I glance up at the lake with its ripples and geese.

When I arrived at the camp on the 1st I found that the outdoor sensor needed AA batteries. I unstrapped my Montague Paratrooper folding bike from the bike rack and with wallet in hand rode to the front office. Dang, those hills bit me in the butt! But I made it, however beat my legs were, and with batteries in hand rode back the long way which is a smoother road than the shortcut I had taken to get there. Not really knowing where to place the sensor I have used a ziptie to place it on the ladder with my CB antennae. I don’t know if I’ll remove it before traveling or not, but I assume that it is designed to weather the rain and other adverse conditions as it is an outside sensor. This may be another of those – live and learn exercises though. Dang, I forgot that I was going to ask permission to have some mail forwarded here. No phone so I had to once again straddle that mountain bike for another trek up and down the grades of the RV Park! Sweating I arrive at the office and luckily the lady that originally signed me up a week ago was there and she gave me permission to have mail sent. I texted Troy as I didn’t have phone service at the office either! Whew! Now for the ride back to my site.

Nestled in the woods with a full hook-up and a gorgeous view of the lake!

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The View from my site!

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The manager did comment to me that we have interesting wildlife out here. A Black Bear likes to swim in the lake and there is a pack of Coyotes that roam the area. Today is the first day of the park being open so hopefully the animals won’t be scared away! My RV site backs up a steep forested incline. I am so pleased to be in nature. I scouted around and have collected enough wood to satisfy a couple of nice fires. I’m not much into the bonfire thing unless I have company though. The only sounds are the occasional oar splashing into the water and birds calling in the woods.

For dinner I used my electric Weber grill to cook a packet of veggies that included red bell pepper, zucchini, asparagus and garlic. That and a grilled pork chop completed the dinner. I broke open the bottle of wine given to me when I purchased ‘Harry’ and I made a toast to retirement, family and enjoying America the Beautiful.

So what have I learned today? I learned that I enjoyed listening to Mozart as I fried bacon and eggs on the Weber grill. (I’m trying to avoid cooking on the RV stove to keep cooking odors out of the bedroom!) I learned that I should get some boards to roll the wheels of the RV on to help level the rig when not on a level pad. I learned that I should level the table I’m cooking on as the grease runs downhill quickly! I have added binoculars to my shopping list as I continue to search for a telescope. Alexis has recommended Bear Spray but I haven’t found any yet. I learned that I can take a real shower, that I don’t have to take a Navy shower of wet the body, stop the water, soap the body, start the water to rinse and get out. The 6 gallon water tank I have seemed to do just fine last night as I took a complete and longer shower than I’ve taken before. I was prepared to do a final rinse in cold water and I’m very happy that I didn’t have to do that! I learned that taking a nap after a couple of strenuous bicycle rides is not necessarily a good thing as I found myself wide awake at 0200. I find that sleeping with the blinds up allows me to view the lake as the sun rises. During the half hour or more that it took the sun to completely rise above the tree tops it was mesmerizing to watch the slow transformation of light on the woods and lake. I wish I had a fishing pole!

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In the early morning hours of 4 April the clouds cleared and a full, bright moon appeared over the lake. I lay awake looking at it hoping that at sunrise I would be able to experience the eclipse, sadly the clouds returned and if the eclipse was viewable from here, it was not to me.

My heart soared this morning as I read an email from Mark stating that Major General Semonite was to appear on Tolonews in Kabul presenting the United States position on fiscal accountability for the use of our funding. I wrote a short note to General Semonite thanking him for his continued support in holding the Afghan Ministry of Interior accountable. I hope that I will be able to access the printed version of his presentation.

My phone is able to periodically receive email and I’m able to send/receive text messages but I have no internet nor phone service. Strange but OK!

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After visiting Hooker Falls and Triple Falls today my friend Cindi and her daughter Hannah took me to their home for the evening and Easter services tomorrow. A nice reprieve from the ‘no service’ campground! So I’m sending this email to let all know that I’m ok.

5-9 Apr 2015

Much needed rain dampens the forest here in North Carolina. Thank goodness the storms that are causing damage elsewhere are staying away from these mountains. There is something therapeutic about rain on a metal roof! This week will have temperatures in the 70’s with rain of course and the possibility of showers as the warm weather comes up from the south.

This spot I’m parked in has just opened up for this next weekend. At first I stated that I would remain here for two more days but after a few minutes of thought I decided that getting onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and traveling to Cherokee is a better choice. Besides I only want to stay one week in each place I go and I’ve overstayed this area already. As I gather my camera and umbrella I walk to the office to tell them of my decision and then I take the hiking trail behind the ‘little lake’. As I approach the little lake I see a chain of buoys depicting a designated swimming area and a truly inviting beach. A small girl is alone on the beach playing at the water’s edge with a shovel, scooping sand. There are several tent camping sites here that made me think of my friends Marla and Sondra who are experiencing their own adventure on the west coast, Oregon and Nevada. I walk on a trail wet from last night’s rain where the leaves are packed on the ground making my walking almost undetectable. I hope to sight some form of wildlife to take a photo of but all I saw were fish in the lake! Note to self, even if the hiking trail is only a short distance, less than 3 miles, take camel backpack with first-aid kit just in case it is needed. Besides the small backpack can hold phone, keys, snack or whatever might be needed on a hike.

I sit and meditate on the water’s edge for a couple of hours today. This is early enough in the season that there are no mosquitoes or other bugs to bite me! I carried Brenda Peterson’s book, “Your Life is a Book; How to craft & publish your memoir” but when the water began to make waves as I was reading I found myself getting a little motion sick and chose to meditate on what I had already read. Part of the Easter service was about finding that focus, that goal, that reason to direct your actions. I phrase it as ‘thoughts are things’. What positive outcome do I want from my book? The one I’m currently writing is about my 2014 adventure in Afghanistan. I want people to know what it was like to work with the international community in concert with the leadership of the American military forces and the US Embassy. The challenge presented by the Law & Order Trust Fund and how we (CJ8 and EF1) pushed the United Nations Development Programme to be accountable and how CJ8 personnel developed computer applications for them that provided insight on how the Ministry of Interior was actually spending the funds contributed by the coalition governments. The brave persons who challenged the Afghan Colonels and Generals that are responsible for the payment of the 157,000 policemen and the US government civilians that thwarted the efforts for accountability because of their egos and incompetence. Of course these are my opinions only and not necessarily the opinions of the command.

So my meditation is about ‘what does my targeted audience want to read about’. I think I know how to deliver it and so now I’m reviewing the daily journals I wrote at the time to glean pertinent data that can be related in an everyday way that instills intrigue and a desire to turn the next page to see what happens next. Wish me success in this endeavor.

As I am sitting here in the RV eating a breakfast of bagel, cream cheese and locks looking at the heavy fog lift off a mirror smooth Cascade Lake I spot the ghost of the Pisgah National Forest.  Bounding among the dense foliage and wet pine needles is a white squirrel. He stops to preen himself and I admire him too long before I pick up my camera as he scampers off into the woods once more. Record high temperatures are expected today as well as rain this afternoon. Tomorrow I will make my way to the Blue Ridge Parkway for the next leg of my great American Adventure with Harry. For now I drink a strong cup of coffee, listen to Enya and write on my book.

Today it is summer! In the 80’s with lots of sunshine! Woo Hoo!  Tomorrow promises to be the same so my drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway should be a beautiful one. I’ll keep my dash cam on.  I’m hopeful that this video inserted here will play for you. The peace of sitting by a running brook.

 

News – Afghanistan

U.S. General Expresses Optimism About Decreasing Corruption Among Security Institutions

Saturday, 04 April 2015 20:49 Written by Tariq Majidi

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U.S officials expressed optimism about progress in curtailing corruption among Afghan security institutions this week. Major General Todd Semonite, the Deputy Commanding General of the Combined Security Transition Command in Afghanistan, told TOLOnews on Saturday that corruption in contracts and public spending in recent months has seen declines from the past. In an exclusive interview with TOLOnews, the American general has said that documented assessments indicate a positive change in corruption trends among military institutions in Afghanistan. A day after the inauguration of the national unity government, General Semonite had called corruption one of the biggest enemies of Afghanistan, calling on international troops to help fight corruption, in addition to equipping and advising Afghan security forces. General Semonite indicated he was honored to deliver the news to the people of Afghanistan that rates of corruption had decreased in the past three months, a stark contrast from the news more frequently heard in the past, that the country’s leaders were exploiting their positions of power at ever-growing rates. General Semonite added that his weekly meetings with the national unity government leaders had proven fruitful. “Since President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah have created the unity government, the level of corruption is unknown and as a result I can’t give you a number to somehow quantify that,” General Semonite acknowledged. “I will tell you that, from over 400 inspectors and advisers that we have, the president and Dr. Abdullah have put additional control at all levels to be able to limit any potential corruption.” The senior American general also assured that despite the decrease in the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the financial commitments of NATO alliance countries are still strong, and with effective cooperation, the Afghan government and its allies will be able to bring peace to the country. “I think the Taliban has to realize that there are very, very strong offensive forces in this country to be able to continue to defeat the insurgency, not just the Taliban, but there are also other elements that could be out there,” Gen. Semonite said. Touching on an important subject of discourse around the capabilities of the Afghan forces, the general praised the Afghan Air Force, which he said would soon be given new helicopter technology to enhance their operational effectiveness. According to Gen. Semonite, approximately 5.3 billion USD is given to the Ministry of Interior and Defense annually.

9-10 April 2015

I left Lake Cascade before 0900 to hit the Blue Ridge Parkway and enjoy the scenery. I stopped at a K-Mart in Brevard because it was next to an Ingles grocery store and I wanted to pick up a few items for the RV. I wanted to have some Neosporin on hand as I guess I left mine in the medicine cabinet back home. After locating the Neosporin I also picked up some Bactine antibacterial spray and some rubbing alcohol before heading to the sporting goods. My goal was to find another life jacket for the kayak, emergency triangle/flares in the event of a breakdown, and a set of binoculars for bird and people watching.  I was successful in getting a nice light weight life jacket and a great set of 16×50 binoculars. I’m very pleased with the binoculars. I had tested some at REI and Gander Mountain that cost 4 times as much as these but did not have to quality of magnification. These are bigger than I would have wanted but they are very nice.

Then; onward to the Blue Ridge Parkway. First I had to pass through the Pisgah National Forest. I passed Davidson River Campground that Cindi and I had gone to and that was just the start of the forest. The drive through the Pisgah and Smokey Mountain National Forests was nothing short of spectacular. It is still spring and many of the trees are still bare of leaves but that was to my advantage as I could see the valleys and other mountains through them. Later with the leaves on the trees I don’t think the same view will be available. Once I arrived at the Blue Ridge Parkway I immediately ran into a sign telling me that in 8 miles at the Black Balsam the Parkway was closed. I did travel a little down the road just to see what it was and the views were stunning. Of course looking over the edge down sheer cliffs was a little unsettling but all is good as Harry and I remained on the road. At one of the scenic overlooks I turned around and returned to highway with Cherokee, NC in my sights.

Cherokee is not yet completely open for tourist! I’m finding that even a 25’ RV is too big for most parking areas, whether it is a restaurant or the many shops along the main road, Highway #441. I did find roadside parking where I took up two parking spaces and went shopping. My intent was to buy a pair of moccasins to replace the house shoes I brought with me. Seems the sole of mine are separating! I did find some Minnetonka moccasins but quite frankly I am disappointed that they are made in the Dominican Republic and not in the United States. I chose a pair that had a rubber sole on them so I could also wear them comfortably within my campsite. With no restaurant open that could accommodate my RV I kept on Route 441 toward Gatlinburg in hopes of a picnic area to enjoy lunch. Below are a couple of photos as I stand in the door of the RV looking out at the fast running stream. I sat here and made a sandwich which I enjoyed with a cold glass of milk! I know, sucks to be me, but where did you have lunch yesterday?

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The drive through the Great Smokey Mountains continued to beautiful while I followed a river through much of it. The dogwood trees are in full bloom as well as many of the woodland wildflowers. I did make a side trip to see Clingmans Dome at an elevation of 6,643 foot, the highest point in Tennessee.  No room for RV parking here so I just drove slowly through the parking turnaround area hoping to find a place on the roadside where I could walk back. No such luck as there was many visitors here. And this was a Thursday! I found that putting the RV in 3rd gear would maintain about 35 mph travel going down from this height. 30 mph is the speed limit so all is good.

As I continued through the Great Smokey Mountains I followed another diversion and drove to Cades Cove. I was able to secure a camping site here for two nights for $17. It seems that my senior national park access pass saved me 50% on the camping fees!  Pretty cool! Now I have a whole new adventure to experience as there are no hookups here and so now I can learn what I do or don’t have to make dry camping or boon docking a success.  I still have 1/3 tank of fresh water so I’m good on that point for the day. For dinner I had cold cuts, chips, beer and an avocado. No cooking required! I’m going to have to throw out my hamburger meat as I think it is getting too old to cook! For breakfast I turned on my generator to have a cup of coffee and use my convection microwave to toast a bagel. Yum, bagel with cream cheese and the last of the Trader Joe’s tasty salmon. Just before breakfast the sprinkles began so I opened my outside storage area to retrieve my 12volt to 110volt inverter. This I can use to power a fan so the interior of the RV doesn’t get too stuffy and also to power my laptop when its battery runs down. All is good in my world as I sit here in the Cades Cove campground while it rains outdoors. If it ever stops raining I would like to bike the loop and enjoy some of the historic buildings that have been preserved; John Cable grist mill, built in the 1860’s; John Oliver cable built in the 1820’s; three churches (Primitive Baptist, Missionary Baptist and Methodist); two cantilever barns and the Henry Whitehead place.

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Early the evening of the 9th I struck up a conversation with my neighbors who are camping in a pop-up tent camper. They are from Georgia and have been coming to Cades Cove for 20 years to spend their spring break from school. Ray is to parts of the auto industry much like a Chaplain is to the military. He is on call to assist the 2,100 employees across several states with their spiritual needs. Hospital visits, funerals, weddings, grief counseling but also disaster assistance such as with Katrina. His wife is an accountant who became a stay at home mom to raise their three children. What a nice couple! We spoke as we sat around the fire Ray had built for a few hours before I left them alone. Laura had mentioned that she would visit me when Ray went to Townsend to use a cell phone connection to check on a mission one of their daughters is on in Kentucky. I polished up the silver and emerald/ruby pegs on the Lapis and Jade Cribbage board in anticipation, but alas Ray chose not to travel the twisty, winding roads during the night hours trusting that the storms in Kentucky did not harm the mission his daughter was on.

The rain stopped just before noon and I chose to put water in my Camelback with a snack, first aid kit, toilet paper, keys and grabbed the binoculars. At the last minute I throw in my iPhone that doesn’t work out here but will take photos and is smaller than my camera. Off to a nature trail I go. I am probably the second person to take this trail in the past few days as there are few tracks and no one else on the trail. It is only a 1 mile loop but it has enough challenge to make it fun.  The second half of the trail takes you near a stream and you cross feeder streams several times as you crisscross over the terrain. Moss is prevalent everywhere.

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There must’ve been a terrible wind storm in the recent past as many trees are down, split as if a very heavy snow/wind combination felled them.

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11-21 April 2015

It has been a very busy time for me here in Sevierville, TN while attending my first ever RV rally with the Escapees RV group. I came a few days early to meet with the solo’s group and I have met some wonderful women and men that I will keep in contact with as they are a special group of people. Tom is a full time RV person who has a heart of gold and is as generous as I am. He had an extra printer cable that he gave me when I purchase a small all-in-one printer. When I finally discovered where the cable TV connection is located on my RV, he provided me with a cable to use! He provided a half dozen grapefruits from Florida as well as corn on the cob. Not only that but he provided much appreciated transportation as we made shopping trips and trips to recreation within the Pigeon Forge, Sevierville area. I miss him already! Bobbi also provided transportation as we visited the Bush’s Bean museum, restaurant and gift shop just across from one of their processing facilities. Have you ever had a pecan pie made with Bush’s beans? It wasn’t bad! Connie provided me with RV newcomer gifts such as bubble levelers, quick release water connections and lots of support. Connie, Bobbi and Tom were invaluable sources of information concerning my RV experience. From safety issues to travel concerns these RV’ers experience was shared and like a sponge I’ve absorbed the info and of course forced to make additional trips to Wal-Mart to acquire these items! From Wasp spray – as a protection device – to water couplings and sewer connections.

While in Sevierville we visited the Forbidden Caverns, Bush Bean Museum, Wonderworks and the Country Tonight song and dance show. We ate out several nights at the Smoky Mountain Brewery, Old Mill Restaurant and the Holstein Restaurant as well as pot luck dinners with the SKP’s and catered meals during the rally. I also won a trip from the Sky Med group so I’ll be using that within the next year too! It’s a good thing I’m already traveling around! Oh, I checked out the dash cam videos and while I missed saving the white squirrel I am truly impressed and amazed with the quality of the videos produced. I have Cades Cove loop on video as well as traveling the Smoky Mountain roads.

A great time and now it is time for me to go to Washington DC and visit my friends there. Along the way I will use my Harvest Hosts membership to stay at a vineyard overnight and maybe pick up a few bottles of wine for Maile and Steve’s wedding celebration.  See you on the road!

21 April 2015

I drove along I40 to I81 from Sevierville, TN to Bridgewater, VA where I stopped for the night at the Bluestone Vineyards. I joined a group called Harvest Hosts that provides farms and vineyards to RV travelers looking for a safe place to park their RV for the night. I called ahead and kept getting a busy signal and so I wrote an email to an address I found on their website. As I was driving I did not see that the email was responded to but I also was finally able to get through on the phone. It seems there was a storm last night that knocked out some of the phone lines!

The drive was beautiful and after not driving the RV for more than a week it was fun to get behind the wheel and be in charge of my destiny once more! If I wasn’t on a schedule to get to the vineyard by 1800 I would have stopped at Davy Crockett’s home site or at some of the state parks that looked interesting with their history museums.

After leaving the interstate for Bridgewater I immediately felt as if I was in another world. This world is green and lush rolling hills with a background of mountains. Bridgewater is a quaint little town that I passed through quickly. Upon arrival at the vineyard I was met by a young man on a tractor with an auger extended as if he had just planted a new fence post. He tells me that the tasting room has moved to the manor house on the hill. A beautiful setting with a commanding view of a river at the edge of the vineyard and of the quiet grassland scenery of the surrounding valley. I went to the tasting room and inquired about the process for me to check in to stay on the property overnight and I do believe that I’m the first visitor of the season! All is good though and I sit here drinking white wine, eating Gouda cheese and carrot sticks. The avocado with Catalina dressing is long gone and Enya is playing on the CD player. I’m going to have to learn how to properly stay at the Harvest Host properties though as the three bottles of wine were $65 and that makes for a pricey evening dry camping! But Maile and Steve will appreciate the wine for their wedding celebration.

OK, there are many of my friends in the Washington DC area. How about a reunion of sorts. As my time in Afghanistan covered 3 ½ years many of my friends did not know each other as their tenure was only a year. Dana, Amanda, Yolanda, Kerri, Ken, Don, Cheryl, John, Ben and others. A time of celebration? A time to acknowledge the effort and positive accomplishments we made with individual Afghan leaders? I’d like to suggest a time to honor MG Harold Greene. Colonel Ken Rodgers has offered to escort me to Arlington to pay respects to General Greene. I know that John would like to go also. While I’ll admit that I would like a private visit I also have to admit that that would be exceptionally selfish on my part. General Greene was the most proactive General Officer I encountered in Afghanistan. His sense of respect for each of us that worked directly with him was so strong that it truly inspired me to accomplish so much more as his support was always there.

I will be arriving in the Wash DC area tomorrow, 22 April 21, 2015. My cell number is 317-408-4015 and I would love to hear from you and coordinate a visit. To get a hug from each of you would mean the world to me. I am sitting here in my beautiful new RV gazing upon the grape vines that have yet to sprout their leaves and realize that I am the most fortunate person in the world. I have the privilege and maybe even the obligation to enjoy this wonderful view and listen to the birds and smell the grass. As a career soldier who began a career in Viet Nam and ended a government service career in Afghanistan I have to thank God each day for the abundance of blessings bestowed upon me. A wonderful family. A son, Jeff who is succeeding in organic farming and yearning to teach others how to succeed as he has. Twin daughters who support each other so strongly and especially Emily as she so aptly supported Alexis through her second, and hopefully last, experience with cancer. I’ve just spoken with Alexis and with weekly chemo treatments she is still unable to work. She should complete her chemo treatments in late June and then she will have at least a month of radiation before her treatment regimen is complete. If it is possible for you to help her, your reward will be in heaven for helping this young woman through this medical crisis. http://www.gofundme.com/AlexisKC

Among the blessings I have is each of you. To have known you for even a moment is inspirational as each of you have accomplished such wonderful things in your lives and each of you have shared a part of your life with me, even if for just a moment. Watch out DC! Maile is getting married and I’m bringing her wine!!

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This is the view out my front door. As you can see the grape vines have not yet begun to sprout green leaves but the promise is there, spring is here with green grass, plenty of early season water and sunshine.

I tried to capture the sunset in this photo as the view from my RV was so very peaceful and quiet. I sat on my doorstep for some time before retreating into the camper where I read for a few minutes before going to bed early.

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Scenes of the manor house where the tasting room is located as well as a few scenes looking across the landscape.

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22 April 2015

I left the vineyard early this morning with the sun in my eyes and Washington DC in my sights. I traveled through the beautiful Shenandoah National Forest and kept seeing signs for Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway so I must’ve been running parallel to it. For lunch I ate a breakfast sandwich of egg and scrapple at a small diner a few miles off the road. Yumm!

As I was driving down the road I heard something crash like dishes coming out of the cabinet. I glanced back and saw that a lower cabinet door had come open but nothing had come out so all was good. But I kept hearing something being batted around. When I finally stopped for my brunch I found that my bathroom cabinet door with the mirror on it had come off its hinges, well almost off its hinges as there was still one screw holding it on. WOW, so I pull out my handy screw driver with the square bit to replace the door and two guys approach me complimenting me on the RV coach. We talked for a while and I guess I’m living their dream by traveling throughout America, seeing all the sights. After I repaired the door and ordered my meal I made arrangements to stay 12 nights at Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington DC.

The RV camp is near a busy road, but then aren’t all roads in and around DC busy? A nice concrete pad that was installed last year with new tables and BBQ pits. Tonight I used my new induction plate to pan fry asparagus, summer yellow squash, strips of red bell pepper and salmon. This was my first time to test the induction plate and I love it!

After more than 10 attempts I was finally able to contact the rental car company here on Andrews AFB. Tomorrow afternoon I will have a car delivered to me so I can meet up with some of my Afghan friends. I spoke with Don last night and Gina today and then Amanda and Liz sent me an email and John asked me to contact him after I’m settled in. So I’ll send a separate email to the 12 folks that I know are in town to coordinate a reunion as Don has volunteered his home for get together.

23 April 2015

Just another day in Paradise! I woke up this morning to the wonderful sounds of traffic at 0615 from the road a short distance from my parking spot in the Andrews AFB FAMCAMP. There must be quite a bump in the road as I’m fortunate to share the sound of the ‘bounce’ as the trucks hit it! So much better than a ‘Duck and Cover’ announcement or learning of an IED close to the base. Life is good.

I also woke up to several emails from my Afghan compatriots that are excited about meeting up. Heck, a couple even want to be a tourist with me in the DC area. Maile has moved her wedding date to the 3rd and has graciously offered the Gazebo at Occoquan Park for a reunion location on May 2nd. How cool is that!?

I’ve shut off the water from the RV Park as it is brown. My neighbor tells me that the water has stained her shower and sinks! Wow, what a bummer, but she did say that the weekends were better as more people use the water and the rust isn’t quite so bad. I’m surprised the water was as brown as it is because I have a water filter attached to the inlet hose.

The weather here is in the 50’s for the next week. Hopefully by May 2nd it will be in the 70’s for our get together. Hopefully I will be able to get together with others this weekend and during the week. Windy is also another term for the weather here. Sporadic rain showers and wind!

Maile and Steve’s moving of their wedding date to May 3rd has opened the Gazebo they had rented at Occoquan Regional Park. I can’t believe the good fortune of being able to be on the water in a Gazebo with a grill and surrounded by fellow veterans of Afghanistan, Kabul in particular. May 2nd will be a reunion at Gazebo #2 and if you know of someone that is in the Wash DC area please send them there. I’ll buy enough hot dogs and hamburgers with buns to feed 20 in hopes the vets and their families come to say hello. If you plan on coming drinks and chips and maybe potato salad would be nice.  As I’ve only rented a car for one week I’ll be in my RV so we’ll have a refrigerator available.

I love it when a plan comes together!

26 April 2015

I have just spent a couple of wonderful days with my friend Gina, a retired Colonel and friend from Camp Eggers and ISAF in Kabul, Afghanistan. She was leaving Kabul just as I was returning in January 2014. A wonderful soul that is so very generous and kind. She took me on a world wind tour of the monuments in Washington DC as Alexis had so wanted to see Washington DC during the time of the Cherry Blossoms.  While I’m a little late for the Blossoms I was able to find some and enjoyed my day with Gina as my guide.

The Washington Monument and the Capital building in the background as I look across the reflecting pool. I could almost see Forest Gump wading into the water after having just received the Medal of Honor.

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It is spring and time for tourists to buy souvenirs!

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I love the view of Gina’s majestic nose and chin on the left and the reflection in the mirror as I grabbed a quick shot through her window!

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The Viet Nam ‘Wall’ Memorial. My second time to visit. I usually avoid going to this wall as it always brings a tear to my eye and a sadness to my heart. I don’t even look for those that I knew and served with.

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Of course no visit to the Washington DC area is complete without eating Maryland Blue Crabs! A dozen was too much for me so after eating 6 I pulled the meat out of the other 6 to take home for later enjoyment. I know, many of you think that this is too much work but believe me – it is well worth it!

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Gina has a friend with a 15th floor apartment with a view to die for! This is looking at Wash DC as the lights come on. I only wish that I had taken my binoculars with me for this view.

Can you find the Washington Monument and other important National monuments in this photo?

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We dined in Old Town Alexandria with these friends of Gina at a wonderful Thailand Restaurant. Gina and I also enjoyed other meals of Crab cakes at a local venue to her home as well as a 50’s Silver Diner breakfast. Life is good on full stomach!

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I think this is Fredericksburg, VA. We passed through an old Civil War battleground on our way to the downtown to see the historic buildings. A very scenic community with lots of history.

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I think the two most important assets in my investment portfolio is #1 Friends and #2 Family. The love, respect, heartfelt generosity and expressed communication, whether through sharing time together or emails or phone calls is what makes this adventure we call life worthwhile.

Colonel Ken Rodgers and I spoke yesterday. We are coordinating to visit MG Greene’s (the Boss) resting place in Arlington Virginia on Wednesday. I can’t tell you how much this means to me. The Colonel also shared with me the ongoing progress being made toward the goal established by MG Greene of an integrated payroll and personnel system for the Afghan National Police and Army. I had to fight against the proposals from the advisors assigned to the Ministry of Defense (Teresa, Allen and Rich) to incorporate a homegrown system being introduced by Major Mucktar (he had stymied the previous CPS – Computerized Pay System requesting bribes). MG Greene’s idea was to bring in a systems expert from the Pentagon that could assess the requirements from the Unit level to the Ministerial level and create a system with internal controls and processes that would ensure that the right soldier/policeman was paid the right amount on time. A simple request on the General’s part don’t you think? To pay the right person the right amount and on time! But TIA – This is Afghanistan and this simple request was contradicted by our own advisors within the Ministry of Defense and by the United Nations via the organization LOTFA – Law and Order Trust Fund Afghanistan for the Ministry of Interior. To complicate it was the inadequately implemented AHRIMS – Afghan Human Resource Information System. The MoI Afghan leaders did not want the accountability that the coalition countries demanded.

The bottom line is that a systems expert has now spent three months in Afghanistan assessing the systems in place and the requirements necessary to provide accountability for the hundreds of millions of dollars we provide for the salary of the Afghan nation’s police and military. In August a team will go to Afghanistan and spend a year implementing new programs and processes to ensure General Greene’s vision of paying the right person the right amount on time is achieved. I couldn’t be happier. I think this would be an adventure I would enjoy being a part of.

27 – 30 April 27, 2015

This has been a busy and fun and personally rewarding last few days. On Monday the 27th Cheryl allowed me to visit her at her home in Alexandria where we spent the day taking turns raking leaves, planting bushes, sowing grass seed, and she mowed the lawns. We were hoping for rain to wet the grass seed when we finally hit the showers and a late dinner in Old Town Alexandria. We first tried to eat at Mount Vernon but there was a private event in progress and we were not invited! We both tried the sautéed crab cakes but they fell short as they were not the lump crab that I desire. Next time I’ll spend the extra for the ‘good’ stuff. Then on Tuesday Cheryl took a very well deserved day off and we went to the Historical Triangle of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.  Of course we arrived starving and ate at the Dog Street Pub before venturing into the Old Town of Williamsburg. We didn’t purchase the tickets to enter the homes as we wanted to make all three cities and our time was short. But for those military visiting the cost of admission is ½ the regular admission and I feel well worth the trip.

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Spring is definitely in the air!

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And then we went to Yorktown

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We missed Jamestown as it was closed by the time we arrived. Another time perhaps but we had a wonderful time exploring and sightseeing through American History.

Colonel Kenneth Rodgers honored me by escorting me to Arlington National Cemetery. Colonel Rodgers knew MG Harold Greene for 20+ years and worked directly with him for over 7 of those years. It was my distinct privilege to have him walk with me to the final resting place of both Major General Greene and Sergeant Major Turner.

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Ken Rodgers and I were able to sit on the grass with General Greene and just chat about the General and Afghanistan. We each shared personal stories from our interactions with the General.  We talked about unfinished projects that we had worked on with the General in Afghanistan and the final phase of the payroll project that will be headed by Colonel McVeay this next August. I told Colonel Rodgers that while the computer coding and systems portion is being taken care of by Colonel McVeay there was still the significant piece of getting the support and buy in of the Afghan senior leadership. I did state that I would return to ensure the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense leadership did buy into this solution as I know many of them and have worked with them ‘Shona-Ba-Shona’ – Shoulder to Shoulder and I am a known entity to them.  Then the Stars and Stripes article is forwarded to me by Paul Saunders, one of my co-workers on the MoI payroll system that just exacerbates the necessity of what needs to be done. I cannot express the gratitude I feel towards Ken Rodgers for sharing his time with me to visit and honor General Greene. His gentle kindness and friendship in taking me to the Generals resting place has helped to hopefully bring me closer to closure with this period of my life. On Saturday a group of us with Afghan service and their families are meeting at Occoquan Park in Virginia to celebrate our return and share a moment or two together. Sunday then is Maile and Steve’s wedding so I’m surrounded by friends as I continue my stay in the Nation’s Capitol.

As I departed Arlington National Cemetery I headed toward Old Town Alexandria for lunch before deciding what to do next. Of course that decision is out of my hands as I receive a phone call from the Andrews Air Force Base RV park director. It seems that the grounds man responsible for mowing and weeding the premises has damaged my RV. I left Old Town without eating and returned to Andrews AFB to assess the damage as the woman stated a plastic water valve was damaged but that they had stopped the leak. I just couldn’t phantom what plastic water valve could be damaged as I have brass water connections entering the RV where there is a plastic connection. But that connection is high up on the unit and if they damaged the water inlet, I would need to take my RV in for a repair job.  As it turns out the damage is to the fresh water tank release valve. As I was to spend the night with Gina I departed immediately to avoid traffic and then found a RV sales and service location near Manassas that understood what I wanted and actually had it in stock. I’ll put it on Friday and then refill my fresh water tank that has completely drained.

Wednesday night I stayed with Gina as the movers planned to show up before 0900 on Thursday to move her household goods into a local storage facility. Gina is now a retired US Army Colonel that served 2 years in Afghanistan after her retirement from the Army and now has to accept delivery of her stored household goods. The transfer went off beautifully and her new storage unit is organized, all her property accounted for and in good condition so ‘all is good’.

From the Stars and Stripes! Déjà vu as we have said this time and time again!! As many of you do not read the Stars and Stripes I am including the article plus the related articles on Afghanistan.

IG: US can’t verify how money for Afghan troop salaries is being spent

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An Afghan National Army soldier provides security along a highway during a patrol in Panjwai district in southern Afghanistan. The district has traditionally been a hotbed of Taliban support, but last year a fragile peace took hold.
Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes

By Jad Sleiman

Stars and Stripes

Published: April 29, 2015

Note: This article has been corrected.

Related

SIGAR questions USAID program for Afghan women’s empowerment

Just months after criticizing the U.S. Agency for International Development for poorly tracking its efforts to help women in Afghanistan, a government watchdog is asking tough questions about the organization’s new program to get Afghan women into leadership positions.

Casualties, desertions spike as Afghan forces take lead

Combat casualties, desertion and other issues have left the Afghan National Army the smallest it has been since 2011, even as the country’s security forces face their first fighting season without major international military support.

US watchdog: Buildings at Afghanistan training range ‘melting’

A dry fire range in Wardak province is disintegrating because of shoddy materials, the builder’s failure to meet contract requirements and insufficient oversight, according to the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

Sopko faults leadership for ‘abysmal failure’ in Afghanistan nation-building

“I have not found anybody who’s lost a job for screwing up — and there have been a lot of screw-ups in Afghanistan,” said John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Poor attendance and personnel records, a cumbersome and error-prone payroll data system and lack of oversight mean the U.S. government cannot verify how billions of dollars allotted to pay the salaries of Afghan forces are being spent, a U.S. watchdog agency said in a report released Wednesday.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction also found that poor record-keeping prevents the Afghan military from accurately determining troop strength, a number crucial for planning operations and determining the need for uniforms, ammunition and food.

Maj. Gen. Todd Semonite, who heads the Combined Security Transition Command, said it “is setting the conditions for effective and sustainable (Afghan security forces), while remaining committed to improving Afghan management deficiencies and system problems.”

The command “has taken an aggressive posture in the past year, implementing systems and processes, now that we have transitioned from our combat mission to a train, advise, assist role,” Semonite said in a statement.

Since 2009, the U.S. has provided more than $2.3 billion to pay Afghan National Army, or ANA, and air force salaries, the report said. Because of the problems in the personnel and payroll processes and lack of verification, it is not clear whether that money is being spent appropriately.

“This means that some payments may be diverted to the wrong individuals and that deserving ANA personnel may not be receiving the correct amounts they are owed,” SIGAR said.

Since the effort to rebuild them started over a decade ago, the Afghan armed forces have been plagued by high attrition rates, including desertions and defections, with trained soldiers changing sides and joining the insurgents. In a separate report last month, SIGAR said that in the past year, the number of troops had declined by more than 15,000 because of desertion and retention problems, as well as combat casualties.

In Herat, SIGAR investigators found that spaces for signatures on an army roster were instead filled with check marks that “appeared to have been recorded by a single individual.”

In some commands, the investigators found that up to a third of a unit’s supposed strength was missing during their visit, that some servicemembers could not produce identification cards and that others had no personnel records at all.

The system the Afghan army and national police use for human resources data cannot differentiate between active and inactive personnel and cannot track personnel by their position and identification numbers, SIGAR said. Though that situation is expected to be remedied by July, the Defense Ministry now uses a separate, manual process to compile ANA personnel totals based on daily attendance records to submit monthly to U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.

“It’s not just a problem of how many soldiers you have, but which,” said Alex Bronstein-Moffly, a SIGAR spokesman. “Is a unit missing its captain? Its medic?”

Ideally, American officials should be able to confirm troop data from the ANA, but the report found that personnel shortages make it impossible for a U.S. regulator to physically confirm the roll numbers as they are taken at individual sites.

As the drawdown of U.S. troops continues, that is likely to become even more difficult.

“With the U.S. government and the international community planning to continue funding ANA salaries for several more years, it is crucial that [Defense Department] and the MOD improve their ability to verify the accuracy of ANA personnel numbers and salary disbursements,” the report said.

SIGAR recommended that U.S. Forces Afghanistan, in conjunction with the coalition and the Defense Ministry, implement additional controls on the daily attendance process at the unit level, including having oversight personnel present to verify the sign-in and sign-out process.

An electronic system to track and report ANA personnel and payroll data and calculate salaries should be fully operational by April 2017, SIGAR said.

Meanwhile, SIGAR said the U.S. command should implement a verification plan, which the command agreed was needed but said the Defense Ministry must play a leading role because of a lack of personnel.

sleiman.jad@stripes.com Twitter: @JadASleiman

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled the name of Alex Bronstein-Moffly, a spokesman for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

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