Category Archives: Travel Journal 2015

Travels since March 2015 to October 2015

October 2015 Texas, Mississippi, Florida

16 October 2015

I left Albuquerque in a rain storm! The rain was much needed for the area and I was OK with leaving Albuquerque for Dallas where I had some work done on the RV. There was a protective rubber flap just in front of the rear dual tires that had come loose and was all chewed up by the tires – that was replaced and the door latching posts were ‘swelling’ in the heat to the point where the door would not open. That was also fixed. While at the MHSRV dealership I also looked at the ACE and AXIS RV models but I wasn’t sufficiently impressed enough to upgrade my unit.  I’m a happy camper with what I have! I have since purchased a front windshield cover that allows me to open up during the day but still has a sunscreen that allows in light!

After Dallas I drove toward Gulfport, MS where I met Vickie. Vickie and I are to travel the next week to the Panhandle of Florida and she was kind enough to let me stay in her yard with water and electricity. While in the Gulfport/Biloxi area we went to a couple of eateries featured on one of the cooking shows: Darwells and The Shed.

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The owner of Darwell’s came out and talked to the patrons. It seems he used to be a prize fighter and has recently been drawn back into that fray. Meanwhile the ‘Cruisin the Coast’ event is gearing up and the auto below will be in the ‘Cruise’.

Florida here I come!

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The skies were cloudy, overcast for the first few days.

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This didn’t stop people from visiting the beaches though! As you can notice this girl is in it up to her chin!

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Tom and I walked the sandy beaches of Santa Rosa Island for exercise before venturing off to the zoo with Vickie where she fed every animal there!

A visit to Florida isn’t complete without seeing a pink flamingo!

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We reported this guy as an escapee!

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And then it was time for another Florida sunset!

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And for the life of me I can’t understand why my travel-mates were upset when I sent this photo of the sunrise to them?! I was still lying in bed, looked out my back window, snapped the photo and went back to sleep. I can’t help it that they couldn’t go back to sleep!

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The next day we loaded the bicycles into Tom’s van went to Fort Pickens on the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  This facility was constructed by slave labor from 1829 – 1834 to provide Homeland Defense using 21.5 million bricks. 15 inch cannons were used in addition to 12 inch guns that would elevate over the wall for firing.

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And then it was time for refreshments:

We met another RV’er at the Margaritaville before going to dinner.

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An evening out in the kayaks provided an amazing way to experience the sunset.

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Vickie had to return to Mississippi for an appointment and we left Navarre Beach for Carrabelle, FL. On the way we stopped beside the Mexico Beach where I made a sandwich and walked on the beach.

Carrabelle, FL is home to ‘Ho Hum’ RV resort. Here is where I’ve learned to appreciate Kayaking in the intercoastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I found my inflatable kayak to be TOTALLY unacceptable and so we went on a search for a better kayak that would satisfy my desire to kayak on the Gulf, in rivers, on lakes and also allow me to fish. I guess I made a good choice as I was able to catch this small hammerhead shark, a sun perch and a catfish on my second day of owning the kayak.

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On the pillars holding up the dock at the Ho Hum RV Park are some of my favorite treats – blue crab!

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Some of these guys are at least 8”! Around the dock are also many hermit crabs with some very nice shells. I don’t want to kill the hermit crabs so I’m not collecting these shells but they are very tempting.

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On the first day I had the opportunity to use the kayak Tom and I paddled to a small island nearby that is only occupied by birds.  I did find a star fish on the beach though.

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What a wonderful way to get exercise.

I just had to exercise the Jeep too. Tom and I went to Tates Hell Florida State Park where we were able to put the Jeep in 4 wheel drive to traverse a sandy back road before visiting the Dwarf Cypress Tree forest.

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The Cypress tree loses its needles in the fall. Some of these tree trunks are really twisted.

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To celebrate catching the Shark and going Off Roading in the forest I prepared the Elk steaks that Joe had given me in Washington State. Yummy is an understatement! I had enough to share with a fellow RV’er who had shared her crab dip with me. Her husband was ecstatic as it had been decades since they had had Elk steak. Just another Ho Hum day in Paradise!

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I left Ho Hum RV park in Carrabelle, FL after fishing with the Dolphins, catching 6 fish and enjoying a catfish dinner cooked by Tom and shared with Tina.  Yes, I knew these were Dolphins when they showed their rear flippers as they played in the Gulf! As is the case with every RV park I’ve been in the people were exceptionally friendly and I make new friends. The manager of the Ho Hum loaned me their kayak the first time I went out on the Gulf as I was already convinced that my inflatable one was not acceptable for my intentions.  Maybe on a river but definitely not in the Gulf!

The trip to Homosassa River RV Park was uneventful as Tom and I caravanned on Route 98 enjoying views of the Gulf along the way. I had no way to transport my new kayak so Tom volunteered to carry it in his 15 passenger van. Thank goodness for friends.

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I picked up a roof rack for my Jeep that will allow me to carry my own Kayak; that is all good! Today Tom and I will complete the installation then put my Kayak carrier on and then the Kayak. I’ll keep it to one side so that I can also carry a second one in case a friend needs to transport their kayak!

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kayak rack

After getting the kayak squared away I ordered a bicycle rack that attaches to the spare tire of the Jeep so that I can transport the bike on a rack rather than folding it up and having it inside the Jeep.

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While I was at it I have now placed an extension cable on my CB antennae that allows me raise the antennae above the roof of the RV. On the trip from the Florida panhandle to Homosassa I wasn’t able to keep in contact with Tom and I hope this extension will allow me to communicate with fellow travelers. I also changed out the water filter and bought a folding step for the front entry way to alleviate that ‘first big step’ when getting in and out of the motorhome.

I have been riding the bike each morning and hopefully with the rain moving out we can re-energize kayaking in the afternoon.

I was also finally able to find a seafood shop that had blue crab. Too bad they are so small but oh so good though.

Friday night crabs

I’ve now picked up Stone Crab claws that I’ll enjoy when Patti arrives. Patti is another Hoosier that is driving down from Indiana to enjoy some time in balmy Florida.

September 2015 Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota

September 17, 2015

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I apologize for not keeping the travel log updated but I have been very busy as you will read.

While still in Washington State I provided Alexis with the opportunity to visit her twin sister in Indianapolis before she had to begin the Proton Radiation treatments. Their birthday is October 2nd and with Emily in school this was the best time for them to celebrate their birthday early.  After Alexis returned I helped her move into her new home in the Fremont area of Seattle near Green Lake. She is sharing this home built in 1908 with a friend and her loyal and loving Dalmatian Dog! I love the neighborhood and just\\  know that it will be a healing and growth place for Alexis.

Lunch is always better when you can share it with friends and battle buddies. I was able to have lunch with Eric Mehler and his family – Mother, Brother and nephew. Eric (with the US Embassy) and I worked together in Afghanistan trying to help the United Nations personnel ensure that our tax dollars were being correctly applied toward paying the Afghanistan nation’s police force. His family home is in Anacortes with 22 acres of beautiful Pacific Northwest nature surrounding it. We enjoyed great conversation and fresh fruit and vegetables from the garden.

So begins a big adventure with Mary Eileen. I worked with Mary Eileen in Kabul, Afghanistan and one day last fall we were sitting in the Duck and Cover Club on the US Embassy grounds and talked about traveling the United States in a Motorhome. I gave her an open invitation and now almost a year later she is joining me for a 10 day Western United States RV tour!

I left Seattle behind as it was raining and traveled to Boise, ID where I was able to do some laundry and get the RV ready for a visitor.

The next morning we are off to Henrys Lake State Park, ID.  With a small diversion on the way we found the Craters of the Moon National Monument and preserve.

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At Henrys Lake State Park we parked right on the edge of the lake.

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It was cold at Henrys Lake but that did not stop the fishermen and tent campers from enjoying the Labor Day weekend. As we set up camp and prepared our evening meal the sunset was one to admire:

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Labor Day found us celebrating in Yellowstone National Park’s southern loop and the Teton National Park. We had lunch at the Inn next to Old Faithful while we waited for the appointed time of Old Faithful to show us her grandeur.

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The Old Faithful Inn.

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We didn’t have the aerial view but the colors were still vibrant.

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Layers

This is the flow from the geysers as it enters the Firehole River.

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We drove out of Yellowstone National Park and visited the Tetons National Park.

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Our first ‘Elk Jam’!

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And of course the ‘Buffalo Jam’!

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An educational adventure as well:

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On our second day at Yellowstone we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the Northern Loop. By far we would recommend the Northern Loop if you are limited on time. This loop had more variety of animals, rock formations, forest and everything than the southern loop.

Porcelain Basin

Porcelain Basin

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

We did find that there were prohibitions in Yellowstone!

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A perfect setting for our picnic lunch!

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Upper Falls

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At the Lower Falls

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Mary on the brink of the lower falls

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Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Little Big Horn

Leaving Henrys Lake State Park in Idaho and the Yellowstone National Park we traveled into Montana with the goal of seeing the battlefield of Little Big Horn.

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We were not disappointed as we were able to view the Custer Museum and the battlefield itself. The headstone markers are placed where the soldiers fell on that fateful day. As you’ll see in the photos that follow the Little Big Horn is a tribute to both the Indians and Cavalry that participated in the battle.

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The Memorial at the top of ‘Last Stand Hill’

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The battlefield extends for 5 and a half miles.

 

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George Armstrong Custer

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From the Little Big Horn we begin the drive to Mount Rushmore through the Northeast tip of Wyoming.

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Then we enter South Dakota

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We pulled into a campground called Horse Thief Camp Ground near Custer, SD at about 1900. The manager tells us that we should go to Mt Rushmore at 1930 to observe the lighting ceremony at the monuments. He states that there is a short movie about the monuments and then after the lighting ceremony all veterans are invited to the stage to participate in the lowering of the American Flag. How could we resist? The movie was educational and enlightening and our Ranger gave a great presentation. I’m glad we elected to go at night and participate in the flag ceremony. It all made me proud to be a veteran on Sept 10th, the eve of 9-11.

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September 11, 2015

We began the day with a visit to the Crazy Horse Monument. This huge monument to the American Indian was first envisioned in the 1930’s and started in 1942.

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The original vision of what this huge undertaking will be is represented in the two scaled models below.

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No government funds are being used in this endeavor. All funds are received from private donations, admission fees and gift shop sales.  While the memorial will probably not be finished in my lifetime the museum was well worth the visit. I stopped by one artisan’s table and I asked what the ‘survivor’ pins displayed were.  She explained they were for cancer survivors of all categories and that she herself was a cancer survivor. One had a pink skirt so I purchased that for my daughter Alexis and told her that she was experiencing breast cancer for the second time and she gave me another pendant to give to Alexis. I got those off in the mail on Sept 17th!

The museum was full of different articles:

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We left Crazy Horse and traveled to Wall, SD and after a visit to the Wall Drug Store we enjoyed lunch locally before facing the ‘Badlands’.

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Another tease, this sign, as we never see the animals that are being shown! Perhaps a good thing!

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We found Bighorn Mountain Sheep here in the Badlands.

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On the way back to our Horse Thief Camping area we drove the ‘wildlife loop’ of Custer State Park and somehow missed the herd of Buffalo at the southern section of the loop. We did find small numbers of Buffalo, Antelope, Deer, Turkey, a playful Grey Wolf and the parks begging mules. Then the sun set in a display of wonderful colors that is not really captured here.

Deer

 

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Turkey

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Begging Burros left over from the minors of yesteryear

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Playful grey wolf

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Denver and the Rocky Mountain National Park – oh and the Coors Brewery

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The 12th  of Sept is a travel day from Custer, SD to Ellis Park, CO. A battle buddy and friend from Afghanistan lives in Denver and her parents own a home in Ellis Park. They were phenomenal hosts. We learned a new dice game and a card game during the evenings while we explored the Rocky Mountain National Park during the day!

A flood a few years ago changed the landscape forever.

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Karen, the Rocket Scientist I knew in Afghanistan on the flood plain.

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And of course she is an adrenaline junky – I’ve blown up the photo  to reveal her at the top of the falls in the photo below!

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Karen has way too much energy – Thank goodness she is young as she runs up the mountain at 12,000 ft elevation.

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Then looking down.

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Just resting at this elevation

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The Aspen trees are turning fall colors already

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Glaciers!

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After enjoying the rugged beauty of the Rocky Mountain National Park we headed toward Aurora down the back way avoiding I25. We attempted to see moose at the Brainard Lake but Oops! Moose hunting season was open so no Moose for us.

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And finally after running the main street of Blackhawk with all its casinos we made it to Golden Colorado, home of MillerCoors company for the Coors factory tour!

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This really is ALL about the educational aspects – nothing to do with the three free tasting glasses later – wink wink

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Notice how Mary Eileen smiles as she stands in line for the first free sample of a fresh Coors product.

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And then we are outside before driving to Karen’s house and tomorrow, the 15th is Mary’s flight back to Washington DC and her new assignment in Montreal.

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I took advantage of this break to wash the RV and Jeep at her house.

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I departed Denver on the 16th on my way to Albuquerque to visit my son Jeff. I did stop in Castle Rock for breakfast.

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Driving across the plains was quite the challenge with the gusty winds blowing and blowing and did I mention the gusts of wind that would blow you off the road?!

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Albuquerque, NM

I was born and grew up in southeastern New Mexico and thought I knew a little bit about its history. I was humbled and enlightened when my son Jeff and Berenika took the Jeep to view NM Highway #1 and a piece of old Route 66 near La Cienega, NM. Berenika is an environmental impact engineer and has surveyed much of New Mexico. She is so knowledgeable about unique historical places and prompted me to explore the NM Hwy1 and Route 66. The first photo below is where we stopped the Jeep to determine if the road was still passable.

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This is the road that we determined was in fact passable with the Jeep.

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The road actually is a series of switchbacks built about 1901 that followed a stage route across the mountain as the Santa Fe River blocked passage through the canyon for cars.

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I must admit that it was an adrenaline rush to slowly maneuver the Jeep across this road as the first time I’ve ever really gone truly ‘off road’ (Sorry Jennifer, that little diversion we had in New Jersey doesn’t count now that I know what off road means.) Someone had gone this route before us since the last rain and I followed those tracks as much as I could to avoid rolling the Jeep over. The road is actually a historically significant engineering feat.

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Mounds of rocks were considered to attract moisture during dry farming in ancient times. Below is a mound of basaltic rock. The photo following depicts a line of mounds. If this were New England you could almost say that the line of rocks represents boundaries or just rocks from clearing the fields.

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No visit to the desert is complete without capturing a picture of a cactus. This one is in bloom.

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As we were departing this area we passed a sign stating ‘Petroglyphs Site’ so we stopped, backed up the Jeep and headed to see the Petroglyphs.  There were many stories expressed in Petroglyphs over a large spread out area of rock at the top edge of this mesa near La Cienega. Below are only a few that I captured.

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I thought Berenika was going to hit me as I stopped in the middle of the road and took this photo of flowers beside the road. Colors in the desert are so vibrant!

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So Berenika is acting as our guide and she asks if we would want to take a longer route back and have a drink at the Mine Shaft Tavern in an out of the way town called Madrid. I told them I was game as long as I could also have an appetizer to help offset the beer as I was driving. Berenika has a shortcut that cuts us off toward Waldo. Where’s Waldo became our chant as we left pavement at the Waldo Cement site. We never did find Waldo but we did find this quaint little artsy town consisting of maybe 20 buildings (I’m being generous).

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As we entered Madrid, a town with a population of 150 we find lots of commercial tourist shopping! And of course the Mine Shaft Tavern.

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Jeff and Berenika as we enter the Mine Shaft Tavern.

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Once inside the shaft we discover that this establishment is also a museum.

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I now know that I’m in the Olde West Madrid, New Mexico as I look across the street and see a horse tied up at the restaurant/saloon!

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Then as I turn my head the other direction I see a couple of Cone Heads that express “Greetings Earthlings” to us! OK, wake me up, where am I? Really then in comes a couple of girls dressed up as the Blues Brothers and as the beer goes down there are other characters coming in. I’m drinking out of a plastic glass and see that everyone else but us seems to have real glasses so I ask our friendly waitress why that is. She tells us that the limited menu and plastic glasses are because of the variety show being held tonight. I ask about this and she tells me that it is Madrid’s annual fund raiser and this year is a knock off of Saturday Night Live. All tickets are sold out though.

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We order fish and chips as it is about 1830. As we are eating the waitress approaches me with the opportunity to purchase tickets as 4 were just turned back in from people in Los Angeles that are unable to come. What the heck, life is a series of events and when presented with an opportunity one should not reject the prospect of an adventure to add to an already fantastic day – NM Hwy #1 and Route 66, Petroglyphs, great company and education about my home state.

I buy three of the tickets and wait for 2000 when the show starts. Meanwhile I get to experience a fabulous New Mexico sunset. The show was a combination of a drag show and Saturday Night Live. The event started 24 years ago to help fund care for those with AIDS. Now the funds go to locally supported medical causes but the original concept of a LGBT, gender bending event has been retained. We laughed and we cringed as the local actors entertained us for the next couple of hours. If it wasn’t so late I would have loved to remain for the after party.

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Aug 2015 Washington State

5 Aug 2015

A year ago today at just about this time of day I was informed that a friend, my mentor Major General Harold Greene had been killed by an Afghan soldier in a ‘Green on Blue’ insider attack. I had a restless sleep last night where my thoughts would focus on the man, Harold Greene. I was privileged to have worked closely with him. I was honored to have him joke with me and allow me to become part of an inner circle of persons he trusted. I will honor Major General Greene today. I am on a Swinomish Indian Reservation with no contact to the outside world as far as news, internet or television and no cell phone connectivity. I don’t know if his memory is being honored by others.

I am choosing to honor this man as an American Hero. To me he was a bigger than life figure. His voice was always loud wherever he was. You could hear him at the other end of the hall as he greeted people on his way through the building. He had a ready smile that gave you encouragement and an energy that was contagious. There were times when I would be waiting for a meeting with him and he would walk into his office with the weight of the world upon his shoulders and he’d look at me wondering why I was there until he was able to focus. The burdens of command in a war zone took their toll on him. Depending on who else was in the meeting I would attempt to provide a diversion from his troubles for a moment and then talk about progress being made and then approach him with what did his heart the most good ‘I would involve him and request his advice, guidance, support or a particular action’. He loved being of use, having a purpose. I vividly recall after the first big meeting we had with the US Embassy and United Nations concerning the Police payroll. I had briefed a room full of staff members involved in the personnel and pay of the Afghan National Police two nights before and then the General the morning before. All of this was based on a paper I wrote to him expressing my concerns about the ability of the United Nations to pay the Afghan Police timely and accurately. At any rate after this very successful first meeting with a senior US Embassy representative and senior representatives of the United Nations he clasped me on the shoulder and asked if he hit them in the nose hard enough for me? This is the kind of guy he was. He supported me in many ways over the 7 months I knew him. He would always stop and chat with me if we met by chance. On Memorial Day he was climbing the stairs with his senior enlisted Air Force Sergeant and we stopped on the stairway to chat. He tells me that he is going room to room in the headquarters building greeting people, thanking them for their service on this day. He asked me what I would normally be doing on Memorial Day. I told him that I would carry both my American Legion hat and my VFW hat with me and switching them out I would celebrate the fallen from previous wars, especially Vietnam as I had spent two tours of duty there. He seemed surprised that I had spent time in Vietnam as he didn’t think I was that old!

He had a great sense of humor as evidenced by this email exchange based on a package I received from my daughter that I shared with the General:

From: Greene, Harold J US MG DCG CSTC-A [mailto:harold.j.greene@afghan.swa.army.mil] Sent: Wednesday, June 18, 2014 11:57 PM To: Coffer, Paula J US CTR CSTC-A RM HQ ISAF <paula.j.coffer@afghan.swa.army.mil> Subject: (U) Thank you

UNCLASSIFIED

Paula, found a package on my desk today.  Inside, I found a very nice note, a wonderful coin and a banner.  Really appreciated the note and the coin, but the banner……I just don’t know what to do with it.  I don’t think it would provide much heating value if I burned it.  I thought about sitting on it, but it didn’t look like it had much value as padding.  I think I may use it for a target on a punching bag.  Or, better yet, I will put it underneath my Tom Brady bobble head.  Tom can stomp on the Colts there, just as I hope he’ll do on the football field on 16 November (Sunday night game which will air at 0600 hrs local here).  I’ll still be here.  If you are still here then, it will give us something to discuss.

GO PATS!!

MG Harry Greene

DCG, CSTC-A

I thought by meeting with Colonel Rodgers at Arlington National Cemetery, meeting his wife-retired Colonel Sue Meyers and several of my fellow Afghanistan compatriots that I would overcome my sadness. I don’t think I’ll ever overcome the sadness of the loss of this wonderful person, this military leader, this humorous man, this brilliant engineer. Here are my two favorite pictures of MG Greene:

In the first one the General and I had walked together from our office complex to the Destille Gardens on July 4th discussing typical cookout/picnic menus. He had me go first through the line and then he got caught up by others and lagged far behind. We crossed paths and he glanced at my plate and commented that it looked like I had everything from my ideal menu. The second picture is the General dressed for the British Queen’s birthday party. Todd Schafer and the General went together to the party at the British Embassy. I had caught him walking into our work building and asked him if I could take his picture. Here is the email conversation when I sent it to him:

—–Original Message—–

From: Coffer, Paula J US CTR CSTC-A RM HQ ISAF

Sent: Wednesday, June 04, 2014 6:19 PM

To: Greene, Harold J US MG DCG CSTC-A

Subject: FW: (U) Emailing: IMG_0414

UNCLASSIFIED

WOW Sir, I can’t believe how young you look in these pictures!

Paula

From: Greene, Harold J US MG DCG CSTC-A [mailto:harold.j.greene@afghan.swa.army.mil] Sent: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 9:26 AM To: Coffer, Paula J US CTR CSTC-A RM HQ ISAF <paula.j.coffer@afghan.swa.army.mil> Subject: RE: (U) Emailing: IMG_0414

UNCLASSIFIED

Paula, are you trying to say I normally look old?  🙂  Thanks.  We’ll see if my wife thinks I look young.

MG Harry Greene, DCG, CSTC-A

MG Greene (2)

2014-06-04 17.04.34

I pulled from my journal and will include my entry from the day a year ago. I’ve included some of the articles from the time relating to his assassination by an Afghan soldier.

5 Aug 2014

This was not a good day in Paradise! As I am leaving the DFAC after a wonderful breakfast of 2 hard boiled eggs, a bowl of yogurt with cinnamon and raisons and a glass of milk I hear a loud voice “Well Paula, how are you today?” and of course I respond that I’m doing “Super Dupe! Just another great day in Paradise!” and as I pass him I touch his shoulder and tell him that in just two more days he’ll be in paradise. He tells me “That I will”  You see this was my friend that was going home for R&R in two days to see his family. He has a beautiful wife and one of his sons has graduated from West Point. He is one proud Papa! I always kid him about the #12 bobble head on his refrigerator as the first time I saw it (blue background with white numbers) I told him that I didn’t know he was a Andrew Luck fan. He tells me Blasphemy! I say, but that is the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck and he walks to the refrigerator and removes something from in front of the bobble head and it is Tom Brady.  That was back in March and we have had an ongoing banter about Tom or Andrew since. I even bought him a #12 Luck Jersey and gave it to him the other day. I have the picture where he brought it back to me and said he couldn’t take it but that he would wear it on November 17th if the Colts beat the Patriots.

This is a man that always carried on a different kind of banter with many others, a Major Carter who is a Ravens fan had the same kind of repartee as me with him. This man supported me in so many ways. I want to get a pay system to the Ministry of Defense now and he holds me back and tells me that we have to follow a process and he wants the best he can get for the Afghans and knows someone back in the states that can be brought over here to make it right and get the right kind of ‘process’ and ‘system’ to ensure that each and every policeman and soldier is paid accurately, on time with transparency and accountability.

This is a man who was killed today while visiting the ‘West Point’ of Afghanistan by the Afghan Army Officers he was there to support. A German General Officer was also shot but is in good condition, a young Captain was killed as well. More than a dozen soldiers were also injured and at this point I don’t know much else.  I ask that you keep the families in your thoughts and prayers.

This is making me re-evaluate why I’m here if such a good and hard working person can be so brutally shot down, what good do I possibly think I can do?! If this man can’t be protected, what makes me think I can be protected? Time for a shower, meditation and re-evaluation of life in general and what it is that I want to accomplish. Heck – I’m young! I don’t turn 62 until November and I have America to visit and my children to hold close!

Nathalie Hines came over this afternoon and asked me to take a walk with her. We walked arm in arm around the ISAF compound 3 times. She is encouraging me to stay as she states that I am that rare person who is able accomplish where others are not.  She tells me that my work here is not done and that I can still contribute.  I know that my loss is small as this soldier’s soldier meant something to many people and is a personal hero of mine. I’ve written about him many times as he has supported me and championed my causes.  Nathalie tells me that he had a great deal of respect for me.  WOW, and Nathalie sits in a General’s position.  I guess part of my issue at this moment is that why am I here, at 61 years of age, when I should be sharing life with my son and daughters, bringing inspiration to others in need of an uplift to their heart. Over the past 3+ years we have continually heard the President of Afghanistan tell us to go home, berate us for actions taken to eliminate the terrorist threat and over and over express that the Taliban were his brothers. So why am I risking my life to ensure his soldiers and policemen are paid when he obviously doesn’t care because he seems to harbor terrorist and corrupt politicians and officers. Maybe it’s just my time to come home and find friends and family that I can celebrate life with instead of wasting my time here. Now if I can just quit crying!

Report: Man in Afghan uniform kills U.S. general

A man in an Afghan uniform opened fire at a military training academy outside Kabul on Tuesday, killing at least one American, media outlets are reporting.

Details about the attack at Camp Qargha, a base west of the capital, Kabul, weren’t immediately clear. The New York Times, citing an unidentified Afghan military official, reports that a U.S. Army major general was fatally shot at point-blank range, the highest ranking U.S. officer to die in Afghanistan.

The Times also reports that at least two other senior coalition officers were killed — and that only American officers were believed to be taking part in the meeting.

Lt. Gen. Afzal Aman, the director of operations at Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, tells the Times the academy’s commander, Brig. Gen. Ghulam Saki, was wounded in the shooting along with two other senior Afghan officers. The academy remained under lockdown and further details were unavailable, the Times said.

The Associated Press, citing Afghan military spokesman Gen. Mohammmad Zahir Azimi, said at least one U.S. soldier was killed and 15 coalition troops were wounded, including a German brigadier general and “about a dozen” Americans.

Azim said a “terrorist in an army uniform” opened fire on both local and international troops. Azimi said the shooter had been killed and that three Afghan army officers were wounded.

Terrorist in Afghan army uniform opens fire on NATO forces in Kabul

By Ghanizada – Tue Aug 05, 2:32 pm

An Afghan national army (ANA) soldier opened fire on NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers in Camp Qagha in Kabul city.

The incident has reportedly taken place following a verbal clash, with preliminary reports suggesting at least four ISAF soldiers were shot dead following the attack.

ISAF said, “We can confirm that an incident occurred involving local Afghan and ISAF troops at Camp Qargha today in Kabul City. We are in the process of assessing the situation. More information will be released as we sort out the facts.”

Defense ministry spokesman, Gen. Zahir Azimi, said the attack was carried out a terrorist who had disguised in Afghan army uniform and opened fire on Afghan army officers and international forces.

Gen. Azimi further added that the incident took place around 12:00 pm local time and the assailant militant was killed by Afghan army soldiers.

News – Afghanistan

Four Foreign Soldiers Killed by Afghan Soldier: Officials

Tuesday, 05 August 2014 15:24 Written by TOLOnews.com

Four foreign soldiers have been killed by an Afghan soldier at a military academy in Kabul City on Tuesday morning, according to security officials.

Two Afghan soldiers were also wounded in the attack.

An Afghan security official, on condition of anonymity, said the incident took place at a military academy in Qargha located west of Kabul City.

The nationalities of the four soldiers are yet to be identified.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has confirmed the incident, adding that an investigation is underway.

Details to come.

5 August 2014 Last updated at 10:52

‘Afghan soldier attacks’ British army academy near Kabul

The UK’s Ministry of Defence is investigating reports of an Afghan soldier opening fire at a British-run military academy near Kabul.

There are reports of the Afghan commander being injured and international casualties.

The officers’ training academy at Camp Qargha first took cadets last October.

Modelled on the UK’s academy at Sandhurst, it will be the only British military presence in Afghanistan when operations end this year.

The BBC’s Afghanistan correspondent David Loyn said he understands that an argument took place late morning or lunchtime between Afghans and an armed Afghan soldier, who opened fire.

General Mohammed Afzal Aman, the chief of staff for operations at the Afghan Ministry of Defence, told AFP that “three of our officers have been injured, some ISAF troops have also suffered casualties”.

From straitstimes.com

Afghan soldier ‘opens fire’ at NATO troops in Kabul: officials

Published on Aug 5, 2014 7:03 PM

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KABUL (AFP) – An Afghan soldier opened fire on Nato troops at a British-run military academy on the outskirts of Kabul on Tuesday, officials said, though they were unable to immediately confirm casualty details.

“We are investigating, but it appears that an Afghan army officer opened fire. Three of our officers have been injured, some ISAF troops have also suffered casualties,” General Mohammed Afzal Aman, the chief of staff for operations at the Afghan Ministry of Defence, told AFP.

Incidents in which Afghan forces turn their guns on their allies have killed scores of US-led troops in recent years, breeding fierce mistrust and forcing joint patrols to be monitored by so-called “guardian angels” to provide protection.

“We can confirm that an incident occurred involving local Afghan and ISAF troops at Camp Qargha,” Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

Man wearing Afghan uniform shoots at foreign troops in Kabul

By Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah

| Associated Press August 05, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A man dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire Tuesday on foreign troops at a military base, causing casualties, an Afghan military spokesman said.

NATO said it was investigating an ‘‘incident’’ involving both Afghan and international troops at Camp Qargha, a base west of the capital, Kabul, which trains officers for the country’s army.

Gen. Mohammmad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, wrote on Twitter that ‘‘a terrorist using (the) uniform of (the) Afghan Army’’ opened fire, wounding some. He did not elaborate. Afghan officials declined to immediately comment.

In its statement, NATO said that it was ‘‘in the process of assessing the situation.’’

The attack comes as so-called ‘‘insider attacks’’ — incidents in which Afghan security turn on their NATO partners — largely dropped last year. In 2013, there were 16 deaths in 10 separate attacks. In 2012, such attacks killed 53 coalition troops in 38 separate attacks.

Such ‘‘insider attacks’’ are sometimes claimed by the Taliban insurgency as proof of their infiltration. Others are attributed to personal disputes or resentment by Afghans who have soured on the continued international presence in their country more than a dozen years after the fall of the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic regime.

Foreign aid workers, contractors and other civilians in Afghanistan are increasingly becoming targets of violence as the U.S.-led military coalition continues a withdrawal to be complete by the end of the year.

Meanwhile Tuesday, a NATO helicopter strike targeting missile-launching Taliban militants killed four civilians in western Afghanistan, an Afghan official said Tuesday. NATO said they were investigating the attack.

The attack in western Herat province comes as civilian casualties from NATO attacks remain a contentious issue across the country. Almost 200 people protested against NATO in Herat on Tuesday, carrying the bodies of the dead civilians into the provincial capital and demanding an investigation.

The strike happened Monday night in the province’s Shindan district, said Raouf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial chief of police. He said Taliban militants launched a missile at an airport nearby, drawing the NATO helicopter’s fire. He said the NATO attack killed two men, one woman and a child.

In a statement, NATO said it was aware of the attack and was investigating, without elaborating.

NATO ‘‘takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and is assessing the facts surrounding this incident,’’ it said.

Civilians increasingly find themselves under fire as the 2001 U.S.-led war draws to a close, as Afghan forces take the lead in operations targeting the Taliban. The civilian death toll in the war in Afghanistan rose 17 percent for the first half of this year, the United Nations reported in July. The U.N. said 1,564 civilians were killed from January through June, compared with 1,342 in the first six months of 2013. It blamed

Insurgents were responsible for 74 percent of the casualties, the U.N. said, while pro-government forces were responsible for 9 percent, government forces 8 percent and foreign troops just 1 percent. The rest could not be attributed to any group.

Outgoing President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly clashed with NATO over civilian casualties.

Afghan security forces also increasingly find themselves under attack as the planned foreign troop withdrawal draws near. On Tuesday, a police car struck a roadside bomb in the eastern province of Nouristan, killing three officers, provincial police chief Abdul Baqi Nouristani said.

German soldier killed, 15 wounded in Kabul attack

By Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah

| Associated Press August 05, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Fifteen German troops were wounded, including a brigadier general, and one soldier killed in Kabul Tuesday, a German military official said.

A man dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on foreign troops at a military base, causing casualties, an Afghan military spokesman said.

NATO said it was investigating an ‘‘incident’’ involving both Afghan and international troops at Camp Qargha, a base west of the capital, Kabul, which trains officers for the country’s army.

Gen. Mohammmad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, wrote on Twitter that ‘‘a terrorist using (the) uniform of (the) Afghan Army’’ opened fire, wounding some. He did not elaborate. Afghan officials declined to immediately comment.

In its statement, NATO said that it was ‘‘in the process of assessing the situation.’’

The attack comes as so-called ‘‘insider attacks’’ — incidents in which Afghan security turn on their NATO partners — largely dropped last year. In 2013, there were 16 deaths in 10 separate attacks. In 2012, such attacks killed 53 coalition troops in 38 separate attacks.

Such ‘‘insider attacks’’ are sometimes claimed by the Taliban insurgency as proof of their infiltration. Others are attributed to personal disputes or resentment by Afghans who have soured on the continued international presence in their country more than a dozen years after the fall of the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic regime.

Foreign aid workers, contractors and other civilians in Afghanistan are increasingly becoming targets of violence as the U.S.-led military coalition continues a withdrawal to be complete by the end of the year.

Meanwhile Tuesday, a NATO helicopter strike targeting missile-launching Taliban militants killed four civilians in western Afghanistan, an Afghan official said Tuesday. NATO said they were investigating the attack.

The attack in western Herat province comes as civilian casualties from NATO attacks remain a contentious issue across the country. Almost 200 people protested against NATO in Herat on Tuesday, carrying the bodies of the dead civilians into the provincial capital and demanding an investigation.

The strike happened Monday night in the province’s Shindan district, said Raouf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial chief of police. He said Taliban militants launched a missile at an airport nearby, drawing the NATO helicopter’s fire. He said the NATO attack killed two men, one woman and a child.

In a statement, NATO said it was aware of the attack and was investigating, without elaborating.

NATO ‘‘takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and is assessing the facts surrounding this incident,’’ it said.

Civilians increasingly find themselves under fire as the 2001 U.S.-led war draws to a close, as Afghan forces take the lead in operations targeting the Taliban. The civilian death toll in the war in Afghanistan rose 17 percent for the first half of this year, the United Nations reported in July. The U.N. said 1,564 civilians were killed from January through June, compared with 1,342 in the first six months of 2013. It blamed

Insurgents were responsible for 74 percent of the casualties, the U.N. said, while pro-government forces were responsible for 9 percent, government forces 8 percent and foreign troops just 1 percent. The rest could not be attributed to any group.

Outgoing President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly clashed with NATO over civilian casualties.

Afghan security forces also increasingly find themselves under attack as the planned foreign troop withdrawal draws near. On Tuesday, a police car struck a roadside bomb in the eastern province of Nouristan, killing three officers, provincial police chief Abdul Baqi Nouristani said.

Afghan soldier opens fire at British-run Qargha military academy near Kabul

Both Afghan and Nato troops injured in attack at facility that will be only UK presence in country beyond end of year

Afghan recruits attend a lecture at the British-run Qargha military academy near Kabul. Photograph: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

An Afghan soldier opened fire at a British-run military academy outside Kabul on Tuesday, injuring Afghan and Nato troops.

The number of people injured in the attack at the Qargha academy was not immediately known, but the Ministry of Defence in London said it was investigating.

“We are aware of reports of an incident at Qargha. The incident is under investigation and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time,” a spokesman said.

General Mohammed Afzal Aman, the chief-of-staff for operations at the Afghan defence ministry, said it was also investigating the reports.

“We are investigating, but it appears that an Afghan army officer opened fire. Three of our officers have been injured, some [Nato] troops have also suffered casualties.”

Unconfirmed reports suggested an argument had broken out at the academy among a group of Afghan soldiers, including the one who opened fire.

The officers’ training academy, dubbed “Sandhurst in the sand”, took its first cadets last October and will be the only remaining British military presence in the country after operations end this year.

Incidents in which Afghan forces turn their guns on their allies have killed scores of Nato troops in recent years, breeding deep mistrust and forcing joint patrols to be monitored by so-called “guardian angels” to provide protection.

“We can confirm that an incident occurred involving local Afghan and Isaf troops at Camp Qargha,” Nato’s International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

“The camp, also known as the Kabul ANA Officer Academy, is an Afghan National Security Forces facility. We are in the process of assessing the situation.”

6 Aug 2014

This is not just another day in Paradise. While Paradise is a state of mind, a place where worries are dissipated and joy experienced; my paradise has been covered with clouds. The good news is that clouds only cover our perceptions of life temporarily. Clouds do move on eventually, some bring rain, some bring lightning and thunder. One thing for sure though, the air is fresher after a rain, the sun is brighter when the clouds move away and life is good, to be lived and experienced to the maximum. We each must make a choice on how this day goes for us. Today my emotions are controlling my tears but my heart is strong and my mind is strong and I know that Major General Harold Greene will appreciate that the mission continues in the spirit with which he led. Therefore I can choose to be the flower that breaks through the soil and is nourished by the spirit of a wonderful man and leader and bloom in the wind that blows across the plains of our lives. I can choose to enlighten, to strengthen the ties of humanity in the hopes that love and peace and the desire to live as spiritual beings in a human world will prevail. I can choose to smile and bring hope, to travel the higher road. I can choose to live my life and only hope that what I can accomplish will be recognized and appreciated in the spirit in which I live it. Much like MG Greene I only want to give, to support, to grow, to develop and to build. MG Greene pushed me, challenged me to dig deeper and to consider things that are out of my own box or comfort zone. He placed me in charge of important projects and functions and never doubted me.  For this I swear I heard him last night tell me “Paula, what are you going to do? Are you going to finish the pay system you’ve worked so hard on? Are you going to ensure that the Gender specific funds are spent? What are you waiting for?”

I received many notes of condolence and support and I thank you for that. A friend sent me a prayer/quote she carries with her and I’ve shared it with my colleagues and I now share it with you.

I’m so sad for the families of the men killed and wounded.  It is just all so senseless.

You have given years/months of your life to this cause and I can only imagine how heartsick you are right now.  Take good care of yourself.  I know you will handle this decision with the same dedication you have shown throughout this mission.

I will leave you with a quote I carry with me:

This is the beginning of a new day.

God has given me this day to use as I will.

I can waste it or use it for good.

What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.

When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; Leaving in its place something I have traded for it.

I want it to be gain, not evil;

Success not failure in order that I shall not regret the price I paid for it.

Take care dear friend and know you are in my prayers.

In response to this prayer from a workmate I wrote this:

This prayer from my friend does not mean I’ve made a decision just yet. I just have to consider what my value will be to the command and what contribution that I can make that would make General Greene’s death meaningful. I’m at the twilight of my career, my life and I need/want/desire purpose.

I wrote this also in response to another comment.

It is a struggle for me at the moment. I know it will get better – I just have to be strong enough at this moment in time to accept what I cannot change and change what I’ve been given the intelligence and ability to change. Life is good and should be honored. I must tell you that Major General Harold Greene was a very special person and I’m going to miss him dearly. A soldiers’ soldier and I’m nothing more than an old retired soldier!

I feel privileged and blessed today. I was placed on the manifest to travel by Chinook helicopter to Bagram where I was able to participate in the ramp ceremony as MG Greene was placed onto the aircraft for transport back to the United States and his family. I don’t know how many people were there, I lost count but I would say 1,000 of his ‘family’ were there to pay their respects. I am honored that I was able to hold my hand on the flag that covered his coffin, knowing that the energy passed to this United States flag by all of us here in Afghanistan will be transferred to his family, safe back home.

US general killed in Afghanistan assassination was engineer

Published August 05, 2014

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON – Harold J. Greene, the two-star Army general who on Tuesday became the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be killed in either of America’s post-9/11 wars, was an engineer who rose through the ranks as an expert in developing and fielding the Army’s war materiel. He was on his first deployment to a war zone.

Greene was killed when a gunman believed to be an Afghan soldier opened fire at a military academy near Kabul. More than a dozen other coalition soldiers were wounded, including about eight Americans, according to early accounts of the attack. It was among the bloodiest insider attacks of the war in Afghanistan.

The Army’s top soldier, Gen. Ray Odierno, issued a statement Tuesday evening saying the Army’s thoughts and prayers were with Greene’s family as well as the families of those injured in the attack.

In a 34-year career that began at Fort Polk, La., Greene, a native of upstate New York, earned a reputation as an inspiring leader with a sense of humility. He had been in Afghanistan since January, serving as deputy commander of a support command called the Combined Security Transition Command, in Kabul.

At the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks Greene was serving at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 he was a student at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Greene flourished in the less glamorous side of the Army that develops, tests, builds and supplies soldiers with equipment and technology. That is a particularly difficult job during wartime, since unconventional or unanticipated battlefield challenges like roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, call for urgent improvements in equipment.

In 2009-2011, for example, he served as deputy commanding general of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and senior commander of the Natick Soldier System Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland. During that tour of duty he gained the rank of brigadier general, and at his promotion ceremony in December 2009 he was lauded for his leadership skills and ability to inspire those around him.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes applauded Greene for a “sense of self, a sense of humility” and an exemplary work ethic, according to an account of the promotion ceremony published by the Times Union of Albany, N.Y., which called Greene an Albany native.

“In every job I had we got things done that I think made our Army better, and it was done by other people,” Greene was quoted as saying. “All I did was try to pull people in the right direction and they went out and did great things.”

Greene earned a bachelor of science degree in materials engineering and a master’s degree in industrial engineering, both from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He later studied at the University of Southern California and also attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, Kansas.

In 2010, he spoke at the opening of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center, a research facility at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with the mission of improving the Army’s understanding of social, information and communication networks, according to the Army’s account of the event.

“We’re in a fight now with an enemy that’s a little bit different and uses different techniques … and networks are a key part of that,” Greene said.

He said finding patterns in the tactics of insurgents was difficult because of the way networks evolve and otherwise change. So the goal was to bring to light the patterns and determine how to anticipate and influence the actions of insurgents.

“The enemy is every bit as good as we are at using that network to our detriment so this is essential work, this is about defending our country,” Greene said. “You must know that there is a direct application on the battlefield and we’re using it today, but we don’t really understand it yet so this is a critical element.”

His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Medal, a Meritorious Service Award and an Army Commendation Medal.

US general assassinated in ‘green-on-blue’ shooting at Afghan army training base

Published August 05, 2014

FoxNews.com

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A man in an Afghan Army uniform opened fire Tuesday at a military base, killing a U.S. general and wounding 15 people, among them a German brigadier general and a number of Americans troops.

U.S. officials identified the murdered American late Tuesday as Maj. Gen. Harold Greene. Greene was the highest-ranked American officer killed in combat since 1970 in the Vietnam War.

Greene, who was on his first deployment to a war zone, was involved in preparing Afghan forces for the time when U.S.-coalition troops leave at the end of this year. An engineer by training, he was the deputy commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said earlier that the assailant fired into a group of international soldiers at the Marshal Fahim National Defense University at Camp Qargha, a base west of Kabul, and was subsequently killed.

Another 15 people, roughly half of them Americans, were wounded. Among the wounded were a German brigadier general, two Afghan generals and an Afghan officer, whose rank the Afghan Defense Ministry did not provide.

The attack occurred during a site visit to the university by coalition members.

Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said a “terrorist in an army uniform” opened fire on both local and international troops.

The Qargha shooting comes as so-called “insider attacks” — incidents in which Afghan security turn on their NATO partners — largely dropped last year. In 2013, there were 16 deaths in 10 separate attacks. In 2012, such attacks killed 53 coalition troops in 38 separate attacks.

Germany’s military said 15 NATO soldiers were wounded in an assault launched “probably by internal attackers.” The wounded included a German brigadier general, who the German military said was receiving medical treatment and was “not in a life-threatening condition.”

NATO said it was investigating the attack, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned as “cowardly.”

It is “an act by the enemies who don’t want to see Afghanistan have strong institutions,” Karzai said in a statement.

Officials with the Taliban could not be immediately reached for comment.

Qargha is known as “Sandhurst in the sand”– referring to the famed British military academy — as British forces oversaw building the officer school and its training program. In a statement, the British Defense Ministry said it was investigating the incident and that “it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Soldiers were tense in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. One soldier in a NATO convoy leaving Camp Qargha fired a pistol in an apparent warning shot in the vicinity of Associated Press journalists who were in a car, as well as pedestrians standing nearby. AP photographer Massoud Hossaini said he and an AP colleague were about 15 feet from the soldier at the time.

“The vehicle before the last one, someone shouted at me,” Hossaini said. “The last one, the soldier opened fire.”

No one was wounded.

Such “insider attacks” are sometimes claimed by the Taliban insurgency as proof of their infiltration. Others are attributed to personal disputes or resentment by Afghans who have soured on the continued international presence in their country more than a dozen years after the fall of the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic regime.

Foreign aid workers, contractors, journalists and other civilians in Afghanistan are increasingly becoming targets of violence as the U.S.-led military coalition continues a withdrawal to be complete by the end of the year.

In eastern Paktia province, an Afghan police guard also exchanged fire Tuesday with NATO troops near the governor’s office, provincial police chief Gen. Zelmia Oryakhail said. The guard was killed in the gunfight, he said. It wasn’t clear if the two incidents were linked and police said they were investigating the incident.

Meanwhile Tuesday, a NATO helicopter strike targeting missile-launching Taliban militants killed four civilians in western Afghanistan, an Afghan official said Tuesday. NATO said they were investigating the attack.

The attack in western Herat province comes as civilian casualties from NATO attacks remain a contentious issue across the country. Almost 200 people protested against NATO in Herat on Tuesday, carrying the bodies of the dead civilians into the provincial capital and demanding an investigation.

In a statement, NATO said it was aware of the attack and was investigating, without elaborating.

Civilians increasingly find themselves under fire as the 2001 U.S.-led war draws to a close, as Afghan forces take the lead in operations targeting the Taliban. The civilian death toll in the war in Afghanistan rose 17 percent for the first half of this year, the United Nations reported in July. The U.N. said 1,564 civilians were killed from January through June, compared with 1,342 in the first six months of 2013.

Insurgents were responsible for 74 percent of the casualties, the U.N. said, while pro-government forces were responsible for 9 percent, government forces 8 percent and foreign troops 1 percent. The rest could not be attributed to any group.

Karzai has repeatedly clashed with NATO over civilian casualties and strongly condemned the helicopter attack Tuesday.

Afghan security forces also increasingly find themselves under attack as the planned foreign troop withdrawal draws near. On Tuesday, a police car struck a roadside bomb in the eastern province of Nouristan, killing three officers, provincial police chief Abdul Baqi Nouristani said. Two other roadside bombs in northern Sari Pul province killed three people, including a district police chief and his driver, deputy provincial police chief Sakhi Dad Haidary said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

US general killed in Afghan insider attack ID’d

By Bob Fredericks,

U.S. Maj. Gen. Harold Greene

A gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform opened fire at an officers’ school near Kabul Tuesday, killing a two-star US ​major general ​– the highest-ranking officer to be killed in the 13-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Brandishing a light machine gun, the terrorist also wounded up to a dozen other Americans, three Afghan army officers and a German brigadier general who suffered a non-life threatening injury, authorities said Tuesday.

The US general – the first to die in the line of duty since 9/11 and first in overseas combat since Vietnam – was identified as Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the Associated Press reported.

“It’s just too much tragedy that’s hit this family,” said Harold Greene, 85, father of the General. “It’s so sad that this happened. As a father, you never want your children to die before you do. And now I have to bury my son. As a family we are just trying to stay strong.”

An Afghanistan Defense Ministry spokesman said the “terrorist in an army uniform” was killed after firing on the troops at Camp Qargha at about noon local time.

The BBC reported that the attacker was a soldier who was recruited three years ago, citing Afghan defense sources.

A US official said “about a dozen” of the wounded were Americans, but declined to comment further.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said officials believed the gunman was “a member of the Afghan national security forces,” and called the insider attacks “a pernicious threat” but had few other details.

The military academy base after an Afghan soldier opened fire on NATO troops inside the premises August 5th.Photo: Getty Images

“It’s impossible to eliminate that threat [of insider attacks] but you can work hard to mitigate it. Afghanistan is still a war zone.

The Taliban, meanwhile, praised the shootings – but stopped short of taking responsibility for the bloodshed.

It is rare for such a high-ranking officer to be killed in combat.

The last US general was the first officer of that rank killed in the line of duty since Lt. Gen. Timothy L. Maude was killed during the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

NATO said it was investigating the attack, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned as “cowardly.”

It is “an act by the enemies who don’t want to see Afghanistan have strong institutions,” Karzai said in a statement.

Qargha is known as “Sandhurst in the sand”— referring to the famed British military academy — as British forces oversaw building the officer school and its training program.

In a statement, the British Defense Ministry said it was investigating the incident and that “it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Afghan security officials stand guard at Camp Qargha.Photo: Reuters

An Afghan soldier stands guard at a gate at Camp Qargha.Photo: AP

After the shooting, a soldier in a NATO convoy leaving Camp Qargha fired his pistol in an apparent warning shot in the vicinity of Associated Press journalists and pedestrians nearby. No one was wounded.

The Qargha shooting comes as so-called “insider attacks” — incidents in which Afghan security turn on their NATO partners — largely dropped last year.

In 2013, there were 16 deaths in 10 separate attacks. In 2012, such attacks killed 53 coalition troops in 38 separate attacks.

Such “insider attacks” are sometimes claimed by the Taliban insurgency as proof of their infiltration.

Others are attributed to personal disputes or resentment by Afghans who have soured on the continued international presence in their country more than a dozen years after the fall of the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic regime.

Foreign aid workers, contractors and other civilians in Afghanistan are increasingly becoming targets of violence as the US-led military coalition continues a withdrawal to be complete by the end of the year.

In eastern Paktia province, meanwhile, an Afghan police guard exchanged fire Tuesday with NATO troops near the governor’s office, local officials said.

The guard was killed in the gunfight, and it wasn’t clear if the incidents were linked.

 

General killed in Afghan attack was engineer

By ROBERT BURNS AP National Security Writer

MG Greene
AP Photo

WASHINGTON (AP) — Harold J. Greene, the two-star Army general who on Tuesday became the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be killed in either of America’s post-9/11 wars, was an engineer who rose through the ranks as an expert in developing and fielding the Army’s war materiel. He was on his first deployment to a war zone.

Greene was killed when a gunman believed to be an Afghan soldier opened fire at a military academy near Kabul. More than a dozen other coalition soldiers were wounded, including about eight Americans, according to early accounts of the attack. It was among the bloodiest insider attacks of the war in Afghanistan.

The Army’s top soldier, Gen. Ray Odierno, issued a statement Tuesday evening saying the Army’s thoughts and prayers were with Greene’s family as well as the families of those injured in the attack.

In a 34-year career that began at Fort Polk, La., Greene, a native of upstate New York, earned a reputation as an inspiring leader with a sense of humility. He had been in Afghanistan since January, serving as deputy commander of a support command called the Combined Security Transition Command, in Kabul.

At the time of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Greene was serving at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and when the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003 he was a student at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Greene flourished in the less glamorous side of the Army that develops, tests, builds and supplies soldiers with equipment and technology. That is a particularly difficult job during wartime, since unconventional or unanticipated battlefield challenges like roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, call for urgent improvements in equipment.

In 2009-2011, for example, he served as deputy commanding general of the Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command and senior commander of the Natick Soldier System Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Maryland. During that tour of duty he gained the rank of brigadier general, and at his promotion ceremony in December 2009 he was lauded for his leadership skills and ability to inspire those around him.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Speakes applauded Greene for a “sense of self, a sense of humility” and an exemplary work ethic, according to an account of the promotion ceremony published by the Times Union of Albany, N.Y., which called Greene an Albany native.

“In every job I had we got things done that I think made our Army better, and it was done by other people,” Greene was quoted as saying. “All I did was try to pull people in the right direction and they went out and did great things.”

Greene and his wife, Susan, lived in the Washington suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, where neighbors recalled he would often go for morning runs, The Washington Post reported. The Greenes’ son Matthew also is in the Army and their daughter, Amelia, recently graduated from Binghamton University in New York state.

Greene earned a bachelor of science degree in materials engineering and a master’s degree in industrial engineering, both from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He later studied at the University of Southern California and also attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, Kansas.

In 2010, he spoke at the opening of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center, a research facility at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with the mission of improving the Army’s understanding of social, information and communication networks, according to the Army’s account of the event.

“We’re in a fight now with an enemy that’s a little bit different and uses different techniques … and networks are a key part of that,” Greene said.

He said finding patterns in the tactics of insurgents was difficult because of the way networks evolve and otherwise change. So the goal was to bring to light the patterns and determine how to anticipate and influence the actions of insurgents.

“The enemy is every bit as good as we are at using that network to our detriment so this is essential work, this is about defending our country,” Greene said. “You must know that there is a direct application on the battlefield and we’re using it today, but we don’t really understand it yet so this is a critical element.”

His awards include the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Medal, a Meritorious Service Award and an Army Commendation Medal.

Associated Press writer George M. Wash in Albany, N.Y., and Monika Mathur at the AP News Research Center contributed to this report.

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U.S. general killed in Afghanistan was key figure in training effort

A man believed to be an Afghan soldier has killed a U.S. general and wounded more than a dozen coalition troops after opening fire at a military training facility in Kabul. (Reuters)

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Patricia Sullivan August 5 at 5:06 PM Follow @Tmgneff Follow @psullivan1

The U.S. general who was shot and killed in an apparent insider attack in Kabul on Tuesday had served in the American military for more than three decades and was a key player in the current U.S. effort to stand up Afghan security forces.

Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene of Falls Church, Va., was the highest-ranking member of the U.S. military to die in the line of duty since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He was the deputy commanding general for the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and was making a routine visit to a training facility when he was fatally shot.

Greene, 55, was commissioned as an engineer officer in the Army in 1980 after earning an undergraduate degree at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. In addition to serving in Afghanistan, he had deployed to Iraq.

Greene’s family did not issue a statement Tuesday. But as news of his death spread to the quiet cul-de-sac where he had lived with his wife, Susan, neighbors remembered him as a fixture in the community who would go for morning runs. This past winter, the Greenes hosted the main course for the neighborhood’s holiday dinner, an annual event in which participants move from house to house for different courses.

“He was a good guy,” said retired Army Col. Duane Myers. “Harry was loved.”

Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene. (Courtesy of the U.S. Army)

The Greenes, whose son Matthew also is in the Army, had hung a Blue Star Flag to the right of their door, like many other families with loved ones serving in the military. Their daughter, Amelia, recently graduated from Binghamton University in New York state.

On Tuesday, while military officials stayed with family members inside, another neighbor, Joanne Caramanica, took a pot of yellow chrysanthemums and left it on the front porch of the Greene home.

“We’re all shocked and saddened. They’re just lovely people,” she said. “This is a very close community. We all knew he was going overseas. We were hopeful he’d be safe.”

Greene grew up as one of three boys in Upstate New York. During his career, he received a number of advanced degrees, including a master’s degree in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College and a doctorate from the University of Southern California.

Before his current posting, he served as the deputy for acquisition and systems management for the assistant to the secretary of the Army. He also had worked in research and development in Aberdeen, Md., and Natick, Mass.

His military awards include the Legion of Merit and the Meritorious Service Medal.

While in the Army, Greene was known for being a proponent of meshing the old with the new. To prepare a new generation of soldiers, he turned to the technology young soldiers had grown up with, such as iPads and video games, to create training tools, according to a 2011 New York Times story.

“We have to adapt to where they are,” Greene said at the time. “This is something we absolutely have to do.”

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Nicholas Caramanica, a Vietnam-era veteran, had tears in his eyes as he considered the death of his friend and neighbor. He lamented that, like dozens of other U.S. troops who have been fatally shot in Afghanistan, Greene apparently was killed by a member of the security forces he was committed to training.

“If we’re going to fight a war, fight to win, and get out,” Caramanica said. “We have our guys walking around in uniform. The enemy is in civilian clothes, so you don’t know who is the enemy and who is not the enemy.”

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

A treacherous Taliban surprise

The killing of a U.S. general attests to the persistence of Afghan tribalism

By Ken Allard – – Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Tuesday, the United States lost the first U.S. general killed in a combat zone since 1970, when Maj. Gen. George Casey died in a helicopter crash while commanding the famous 1st Cavalry Division in Vietnam. Troops of the Vietnam era gradually learned that airmobile combat also meant enduring the wider range of things that could go catastrophically wrong in helicopters. Their grandsons in Afghanistan have had to learn that “green-on-blue” casualties characterize an agonizing guerrilla conflict, where clan, tribal and family loyalties easily trump any notion of national identity.

Sadly, that same grim scenario played out again. The high-ranking American officer, identified as Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, was killed while inspecting Afghan cadets at their military academy outside Kabul, the equivalent of being assassinated while visiting summer training at West Point. In information-age warfare, symbols are often a substitute for victory. When an unguided rocket landed a mile away the main runway at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration suspended U.S. landing rights — and promptly handed Hamas its biggest “victory” in its profoundly suicidal war. Killing a U.S. major general provides the Taliban with their biggest triumph in the history of the 13-year Afghan conflict.

Why? Warfare in Afghanistan has never been about inflicting shock and awe, about installing puppets and saluting another victorious intervention. Those hard lessons of prevailing over a profoundly warlike tribal society have been learned and relearned many times — from Alexander the Great to the Soviet general staff. Our lasting national hubris was evident yesterday as well, with the Pentagon replaying its traditional role of always being the last to know. How else to understand the hapless Pentagon spokesman who asserted, against all evidence and common sense, that American trust for their Afghan counterparts remained unaffected. Wanna bet, admiral?

The irrefutable historical fact is that Afghan loyalties cannot be bought — but renting them is rarely a problem. Even when green-on-blue attacks peaked in 2012, the American command reacted by strengthening its “vetting” of Afghan soldiers, particularly those operating close to U.S. troops. Having spent the better part of an intelligence career running exactly those types of reliability investigations, I can attest that the potential unknowns are simply mind-boggling. What bonds of trust could even serve as a beginning baseline? “Well, has your cousin Abdul ever tried on a suicide vest? And if he had the chance, would he knock off an American general?” The fact is that we have no frame of reference remotely capable of bridging the vast cultural gap between our two societies — or distinguishing the good from the bad and truly dangerous.

The result is that our diplomatic-military establishment often operated blind, making great pronouncements about reversing the tides of Afghan history — but constantly being forced to recognize the intrusion of timeless realities. In “Little America,” his classic study of the Afghan war, Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes, “For all the grand pronouncements about waging a new kind of war, our nation was unable to adapt.” That failure extended across many institutions — diplomats who knew little about Afghan languages or customs, generals concentrating on their own agendas rather than those of the enemy, and development experts interested only in “making a buck.” His devastating conclusion: “For years, we dwelled on the limitations of the Afghans. [Instead], we should have focused on ours.”

One of those weaknesses is overestimating our ability to reform Afghan society while underestimating the ability of the Taliban to hang on long enough to thwart American will. President Obama chose to follow a strategy aimed only at withdrawal, camouflaged by the fig leaf that we would first train the Afghans to stand up for themselves. (You may recall that he promised something similar in Iraq, and just look how well that’s turned out.)

There should be no mistaking that yesterday’s attack was aimed with great audacity at the canonical symbol of Afghan self-reliance. The Taliban had the actionable intelligence and the operational savvy to place their agent at the prime time and place where he could inflict the most damage. The real targets: American hubris and Afghan compliance. If we can kill an infidel general, then which side should you be on?

For those of us who belong to the 1 percent of all Americans who have worn the uniform, those news bulletins arrived like a gut-punch. One of the cadets I trained is now a high-ranking leader of the U.S. contingent in the Afghan combat zone. The son of another now serves there as a platoon leader. The common factor for both of them is that combat is a daily reality and that their country owes them far more than a simple, “Thanks for your service.”

The Taliban understand the real value of that exceptional general: Do we?

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national-security issues.

Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, Army officer since 1980, is killed in Afghanistan

By Michael Martinez, Catherine E. Shoichet and Jim Sciutto, CNN

updated 10:03 PM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014

Source: CNN

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • NEW: Friend: Maj. Gen. Harold Greene’s focus was improving soldiers’ lives
  • He earned two master’s degrees in engineering and a Ph.D. in materials science
  • Greene was one of the highest-ranked U.S. military service members killed since 9/11
  • He was an expert in infrastructure improvement and logistics, the Pentagon says

(CNN) — Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene worked his way up the military over 34 years to become a training leader and infrastructure expert in the U.S. effort to heal war-torn Afghanistan, where he was killed Tuesday.

His service took him all over the world, and along the way, he earned two master’s degrees in engineering and even a doctorate.

Greene was slain when a gunman believed to be an Afghan soldier opened fire at a training facility in Kabul, hitting the general and several others.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno described Greene and soldiers who were wounded in Tuesday’s attack as “professionals, committed to the mission” in Afghanistan.

“It is their service and sacrifice that define us as an Army,” Odierno said in statement.

Greene was the deputy commander of the Combined Security Transition Command, which is responsible for helping transfer security control in Afghanistan to the Afghans.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said the general was a logistics and infrastructure expert helping to lead training efforts.

Throughout his military career, Greene’s focus was using technology to make soldiers’ lives better, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales told The Army TImes.

“He had a real sense of what was important,” Scales said. “Harry was always the one who always understood the tactical needs of the close-combat soldiers.”

And Greene was someone who many admired, he said.

“He was just very level, down-to-earth,” Scales told The Army Times. “It’s just devastating that you’ve got this great genius with this incredible reputation and education, and some Islamist wacko comes in and fires a 10-cent bullet and Harry’s life is over. There’s a certain unfairness in life that war brings.”

‘Singular ability to display wisdom’

A native of upstate New York, Greene received his commission as an engineer officer after graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1980, the Army said. He later earned a master’s degree in engineering from that school and another master’s in engineering from the University of Southern California.

He also earned a Ph.D. in materials science from USC.

After 1980, he traveled widely and served in posts around the country and the world: Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Monmouth, New Jersey; Army Aviation and Troop Command in St. Louis, Missouri; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Germany; Athens, Greece; and Istanbul, Turkey.

Greene had served as deputy for acquisition and systems management in the Army’s headquarters in Washington before deploying to Afghanistan, according to an Army website.

His prior assignment was the program executive officer leading the group responsible for “research, development, acquisition, and life cycle management of the Army intelligence, electronic warfare and sensor systems.”

When he was promoted to brigadier general in 2009, Greene earned praise for what one military leader called his “singular ability to display wisdom.”

“He has the rare abilities to make others better, and that’s something very special too because at the level he’s at right now his ability to inspire others, to show others the way, is so important as well,” Lt. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes said at the time.

Greene told people at the ceremony that his success was part of a team effort.

‘Get great things done’

“All I did was try to pull people in the right direction, and they went and did great things. So the reason I’m up here is not what I did, but what all of you did. I know it was truly you guys and gals that did the work the Army recognized today, and for that I thank you,” he said.

“I was very lucky. I worked with tremendous people, and over the years I was honored to have jobs where I could work with great people and we could get great things done.”

Greene ends command at Natick Soldier Systems Center in 2011.

In 2011, Greene gave a farewell speech at the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts, where he was the senior commander.

“We’ve accomplished a lot, but there is still a lot of work to do,” Greene said, according to a description of his remarks on the Army’s website.

He told the audience he wished he could have made more improvements, like replacing windows so more light would come in.

“The one thing I didn’t get to: quality of life and facilities,” Greene said. “I wish I could have stayed longer to continue to do more. The workforce here deserves better. We need to keep working to improve the quality of life for the workforce and the soldiers that are stationed here.”

Man in Afghan army uniform opens fire at base in Afghanistan, killing at least 1 American soldier

Published August 05, 2014

FoxNews.com

Aug. 5, 2014: A NATO soldier, right, opens fire near the main gate of Camp Qargha, west of capital Kabul, Afghanistan. A man dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire Tuesday on foreign troops at a military base, causing casualties, an Afghan military spokesman said.AP

A man wearing an Afghan army uniform opened fire Tuesday on foreign troops at a military base in Afghanistan, killing at least one U.S. soldier and wounding 15, officials say. A general is believed to be among those who were shot. Details about the attack at Camp Qargha, a base west of the capital, Kabul, weren’t immediately clear. Gen. Mohammmad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said a “terrorist in an army uniform” opened fire on both local and international troops. Azimi said the shooter had been killed and that three Afghan army officers were wounded.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press that one American soldier was killed and “about a dozen” of the wounded were Americans, but declined to comment further. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss details of the attack by name on the record. A senior U.S. military official told Fox News that one of the dead was an ISAF service member and the shooting left a “significant number of wounded, both Americans and Afghans.” Germany’s military said one NATO soldier was killed, while 15 NATO soldiers were wounded in an assault launched “probably by internal attackers.” In a statement, NATO said that it was “in the process of assessing the situation.” Qargha is known as “Sandhurst in the sand,” as British forces oversaw building the officer school and its training program. In a statement, the British Defense Ministry said it was investigating the incident and that “it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.” The attack comes as so-called “insider attacks” — incidents in which Afghan security turn on their NATO partners — largely dropped last year. In 2013, there were 16 deaths in 10 separate attacks. In 2012, such attacks killed 53 coalition troops in 38 separate attacks. Such “insider attacks” are sometimes claimed by the Taliban insurgency as proof of their infiltration. Others are attributed to personal disputes or resentment by Afghans who have soured on the continued international presence in their country more than a dozen years after the fall of the Taliban’s ultra-conservative Islamic regime. Foreign aid workers, contractors and other civilians in Afghanistan are increasingly becoming targets of violence as the U.S.-led military coalition continues a withdrawal to be complete by the end of the year. In eastern Paktia province, an Afghan police guard also exchanged fire Tuesday with NATO troops near the governor’s office, provincial police chief Gen. Zelmia Oryakhail said. The guard was killed in the gunfight, he said. It wasn’t clear if the two incidents were linked and police said they were investigating the incident. Meanwhile Tuesday, a NATO helicopter strike targeting missile-launching Taliban militants killed four civilians in western Afghanistan, an Afghan official said Tuesday. NATO said they were investigating the attack. The attack in western Herat province comes as civilian casualties from NATO attacks remain a contentious issue across the country. Almost 200 people protested against NATO in Herat on Tuesday, carrying the bodies of the dead civilians into the provincial capital and demanding an investigation. The strike happened Monday night in the province’s Shindan district, said Raouf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial chief of police. He said Taliban militants launched a missile at an airport nearby, drawing the NATO helicopter’s fire. He said the NATO attack killed two men, one woman and a child. In a statement, NATO said it was aware of the attack and was investigating, without elaborating. NATO “takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and is assessing the facts surrounding this incident,” it said. Civilians increasingly find themselves under fire as the 2001 U.S.-led war draws to a close, as Afghan forces take the lead in operations targeting the Taliban. The civilian death toll in the war in Afghanistan rose 17 percent for the first half of this year, the United Nations reported in July. The U.N. said 1,564 civilians were killed from January through June, compared with 1,342 in the first six months of 2013. It blamed Insurgents were responsible for 74 percent of the casualties, the U.N. said, while pro-government forces were responsible for 9 percent, government forces 8 percent and foreign troops just 1 percent. The rest could not be attributed to any group. Outgoing President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly clashed with NATO over civilian casualties. Afghan security forces also increasingly find themselves under attack as the planned foreign troop withdrawal draws near. On Tuesday, a police car struck a roadside bomb in the eastern province of Nouristan, killing three officers, provincial police chief Abdul Baqi Nouristani said. Two other roadside bombs in northern Sari Pul province killed three people, including a district police chief and his driver, deputy provincial police chief Sakhi Dad Haidary said. Fox News’ Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Afghan troops’ rocky past offers clues into shooting that killed U.S. general

An Afghan National Army soldier searches passengers at a checkpoint near the Marshal Fahim National Defense University, a training complex on the outskirts of Kabul on Aug. 6, 2014. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

By Pamela Constable August 6 at 11:28 AM

KABUL — Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the highest-ranking U.S. military officer killed in a war zone in four decades, died not at the hand of a sworn enemy but from a burst of gunfire by a soldier in an allied army who had been largely paid, trained and equipped with American and NATO support.

It will probably never be known what led the shooter, identified as a man in his 20s, to hide in a bathroom at a military training base near the capital Tuesday, then emerge and open fire on a delegation of visiting American and European military officers, before being shot dead himself.

It was also unclear what provoked two other “insider attacks” this week: a firefight Tuesday between an Afghan police guard and NATO troops near the governor’s office in southern Paktia province, and an incident Wednesday in Uruzgan province in which an Afghan policeman poisoned his colleagues’ food, then shot at least seven of them before fleeing in a police truck, officials said.

But the troubled 11-year history of the post-Taliban Afghan security forces, including the Afghan army, offers an ample range of possible explanations for such deeply disturbing incidents, whether aimed at Afghan cohorts or foreign military dignitaries.

The army, the most professional and popular of the new defense forces, has drawn recruits from across the country who have been expected to replace local and ethnic loyalties with adherence to a national government and its defense. The aim has been to forge an army of about 80,000 men and officers who could be weaned from foreign tutelage by now and prepared to take on the Taliban alone, then gradually grow to as many as 120,000 troops.

Brigadier General Harold J. Greene. (US Army)

From the beginning, however, the project has been plagued with problems. Soldiers have gone AWOL and deserted in high numbers. Ethnic imbalances between officers and troops have been sources of envy and friction. Equipment has been old and expensive to replace.

Perhaps most problematic, the American mentors who have “embedded” with Afghan units were slow to arrive, and Afghan fighting traditions — honed over decades of anti-Soviet guerrilla combat and civil war — have been both more brutal and egalitarian than the orderly American ethos of haircuts, salutes and pre-dawn drills.

In a 2009 report on the state of the Afghan army, the Rand Corp. and the Royal Danish Defense College found that while steady improvements were being made in professional skills and combat readiness, the army was still very much a “work in progress” and would need continued international support for the foreseeable future. Despite significant gains in some areas, the report said, “operational effectiveness remains very much in the balance.”

Five years later, some problems have eased but others have arisen. American military officials report that Afghan troops participate in all combat operations against the Taliban and lead at least half of them. The domestic popularity of the force has grown, pay has increased and desertions have shrunk. But reports of high-level corruption have soured morale below, and enthusiasm for the fight has faltered as Taliban insurgents have become better armed and more rapacious.

One of the most vexing developments has been the spread of insider attacks, in which Afghan personnel have opened fire on their foreign military counterparts. The phenomenon became noticeable in 2008 and surged for the next several years. In 2012, there were 60 such attacks, including the fatal shooting of two American advisers by a government worker inside the Interior Ministry. By June of this year, 87 insider attacks had killed 142 coalition troops and wounded another 165, according to the Long War Journal, an online publication focused on counterterrorism and Islamic radicalism.

The motives behind these attacks have ranged widely. In some cases, insurgents infiltrated the services and waited for the chance to attack foreign troops. In others, Afghan soldiers and police attacked their American trainers after taking offense at certain orders or perceived insults. Some have been angered by civilian bombings or reports of Korans being burned at U.S. bases. Others have professed Taliban sympathies or railed at U.S. foreign policy in the Islamic world.

The fatal attack on Tuesday was an acute embarrassment to the Afghan military leadership, because it occurred inside the Afghan equivalent of the U.S. military academy at West Point, and was aimed at a Western VIP delegation that had come to assess the army’s progress in being able to defend the nation as Western forces prepare to leave.

Afghan officials said the shooter, who used the single name Rafiqullah, had just returned from a patrol around midday and was still carrying his weapon when he concealed himself in a bathroom within close range of the delegation, then opened fire. His weapon, described as either an assault rifle or a machine gun, would have been issued by NATO. More than a dozen people were wounded, including eight Americans, a German general and a top Afghan commander of the training facility.

Officials said there was no indication that he was part of a conspiracy or had Taliban sympathies. But the timing of the attack was particularly sensitive, with presidential elections derailed by charges of fraud and an audit of all 8.1 million ballots repeatedly suspended by disagreements. Afghans are hoping to have a new leader inaugurated in time for a NATO summit in early September, and a stalled bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States is on hold until a new government takes office in Kabul.

The number and scope of Taliban insurgent attacks has been increasing in recent months, with dozens of deadly incidents involving unusually large numbers of insurgents. Officials have said the Taliban is testing the strength of Afghan security forces as U.S. and NATO troops continue their withdrawal and prepare to place the nation’s defense largely in Afghan hands.

Several analysts in Kabul said the attack exposed deep flaws in the control and competence of Afghan military leaders, who had apparently not prepared adequate security for the foreign visit. They also said it revealed ongoing problems with the army’s lax recruitment policies and faltering efforts to build a loyal, unified fighting force after more than a decade of foreign investment and training.

“This sad event is a major blow to our international alliances, and it shows that we cannot build trustworthy and credible military institutions,” said Javed Kohistani, a military analyst, former Afghan army officer and former national intelligence officer. “Whoever was behind this attack has achieved their highest goal. It is no coincidence that a two-star American general was killed.”

But Martine van Bijlert, of the Afghan Analysts Network, said she believed the shooting was an “act of opportunity” by a soldier who happened to be in the base and was not an indication of any broader conspiracy. A spokesman for the Taliban issued a statement praising the soldier for his “honorable” action in attacking foreign “occupiers” but did not claim any connection.

“Symbolically this is very telling, but whether it is telling about the broader ability of the army and its international relations, I don’t think so,” van Bijlert said. Despite intensified screening efforts and other precautions, she pointed out, “you still can’t know the thoughts and moods of every soldier and recruit. It would be different if this had been a planned and targeted attack, but it looks like this was more a target of opportunity.”

Pamela Constable covers issues related to immigration policy, immigrant communities and international figures and issues that crop up in our local and regional midst

15 Aug 2015

Deception Pass State Park and Anacortes, Washington

I apologize for being out of touch for the past 10 days and I thank you for the phone calls and emails asking if all is OK. I have changed locations from the Thousand Trails RV Park at La Conner, WA to the Thousand Trails RV Park at Bow, WA (Mount Vernon). I have cell phone reception here at the Mount Vernon location and for me that is a safety factor and good thing. I don’t have internet unless I go to the lodge but that is OK as it keeps me off of facebook and on track with my writing.

During the past 10 days I have been busy writing on my book. At the time that I thought I was complete I changed my mind and have decided to expand the book to match its title ‘Sandbox to Sandbox’. This means that I’m going to include my experience in Afghanistan (2011-2013) in the book of my personal story. I’m hopeful to have this book completed by the first day of fall.

Alexis continues to improve in spirit as well as physically. She tires easily and she is always trying to do more than she should but most importantly she has a wonderful smile and a great spirit about herself. She is currently looking for another apartment in a safe neighborhood of Seattle where her, a roommate and her Dalmatian dog Orion can live. She is working toward enrolling in the University of Washington to pursue a microbiology degree with an intention of using her education to research cures for the cancer that has riddled her body twice. It would be wonderful if she did not experience cancer a third time!

I remained three weeks at La Conner, WA. The historic town of La Conner is only a few miles from the La Conner RV Resort that resides on the Swinomish Indian Reservation. Anacortes is a quaint village only a few more miles down route 20. Deception Pass is an area with a very scenic bridge that connects to Whidbey Island. The Deception Pass Bridge has a walkway on both sides that allows you to walk across for even better scenes of the Deception Pass State Park and beach.

Deception Pass

A view of Deception Pass Beach behind Alexis as we prepare to cross the bridge.

1

Deception Pass Bridge and beach.

2

Whidbey Island is the home of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. I checked out the ocean view from the RV Park and considered changing locations but the Park was full. The jet aircraft taking off and landing reminded me of the ‘sound of freedom’ that we experienced in Kabul with the helicopters.

The Deception Pass State Park beach had a few surprises for us. Not only was there great amounts of driftwood but the shoreline consisted of huge rock formations that could be volcanic but the land here was influenced by the glaciers of the ice age.

A view from within the driftwood on the beach.

3

A makeshift house of some sort constructed from driftwood.

4

Orion playing with the surf as the tide was coming in. He would walk out on the rocks and then rush back to avoid getting wet as the tide waters moved onto the beach.

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As the tide was moving in we almost got trapped on the wrong side of these rocks as the water encroached upon the beach. Alexis and Orion telling me to hurry up with the photo – the water is cold!

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In Anacortes we drove to the Camp Sante Park that provided us with a panoramic view of the waters off of Fidalgo Island and the Anacortes Marina.

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Alexis in a Yoga pose at the Camp Sante Park looking at the Fildago Bay.

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I am accustomed to the Maryland Blue Crab from the Chesapeake Bay. These are small, very tasty morsels that you have to work at diligently to obtain the meat. The Dungeonous crabs obtained locally are HUGE in comparison. The locally made crab cakes do not use the lump meat from the body of the crab but rather the sinewy meat from the legs and claw. Oddly though, if you purchase crab cakes from a store those are made from the lump meat of the blue crab. At any rate Alexis and I ate these large crabs and truly enjoyed the experience.

One of our favorite hangouts became the La Conner Brewery because they had some great pizzas and terrific internet service! Between the La Conner Brewery and the Starbucks in Anacortes we were able to stay somewhat in contact with others.

My friend Mary Eileen will not arrive in Boise, ID until late in the evening of the 5th of September so I will not depart this area until the 4th. The friend I was going to fish with on the way is starting a fishing class on Aug 31st and will not be available after all. So I’ll take a leisurely drive and try to stay at one of the Harvest Host wine or farm facilities on the way. Then I have booked 3 nights at Henrys Lake State Park right on the water. This will give us a nice place to relax after each day’s adventure in Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. I’m looking forward to the hikes and scenery of one of nature’s greatest gifts.

North Cascade National Park

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The North Cascade National Park isn’t in my National Geographic Road Map of National Parks. I decide to drive the Jeep to the park anyway and at one of the stops along the way I overhear a conversation that mentions the vistas at the Diablo Dam. The vistas along Route 20 as it follows the Skagit River are pretty amazing all by themselves.

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I stop at the Park Visitor Center and was greeted warmly and provided with hiking maps of the Park and a description of each of the major trails that included distance and time to complete. The butterfly with wings spread gloriously soaking up the sun was just a bonus!

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I was fortunate that I have cell phone reception as I provided Alexis with a plane ticket to go from Seattle to Indianapolis where she can visit with her sister and friends before her radiation treatment starts. Emily starts college again this fall to earn her Engineering degree and so this is an opportune time for them to visit. As Alexis landed in Chicago to learn about a delay she called me as I was sitting on the Ferry docks on Diablo Lake near the Environmental Learning Center. I enjoyed a lunch with this as my view.

These two pictures do not do justice to the exquisite color of the water. Glacier melt lends a special hue to the water that is almost turquoise.

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The Diablo Dam is rather impressive. The following pictures show the dam from Washington State Route 20, the view from on the dam and the road on top of the dam.

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A view the support facilities for the Diablo Dam.

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July 2015 Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Washington

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What a wonderful day! I awoke to the sound of rain with Thunder and Lightning that blew quickly across the Aquidneck Island and Newport. I truly enjoyed lying in bed listening to rain. The thunder was another story as it was a rolling, rumbling thunder that vibrated everything.

Paul Saunders joined me around 11am and I followed him in my Jeep to his house. From there we began a walking tour of Newport from the perspective of a native that grew up here. He showed me the home he grew up in, he lives in the house his wife grew up in and then he continued the tour with a continuous dialog of who lived where and how it was in his youth, mostly his teenage years. We walked past the Newport mansions on our way to the ‘Cliff Walk’. Mind you Paul didn’t mention we were taking a long walking tour so he is in flip flops and I am wearing some heavy duty leather top sandals that have plenty of tread on them. I say this because our walking tour on ‘Cliff Walk’ was 5.45 miles before we stopped off at the ‘O’Briens Pub’ for lunch that included a local beer brew. The fish and chips were great and the two beers better.

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We then took another mile walk around the piers, all the while Paul is giving me a history lesson. I loved the entire experience!

According to Wikipedia Newport is a seaside city on Aquidneck Island in Newport County, Rhode Island, United States. It is located 30 miles (48 km) south of Providence, and 70 miles (110 km) south of Boston. Known as a New England summer resort and for the famous Newport Mansions, it is the home of Salve Regina University and Naval Station Newport which houses the United States Naval War College, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and a major United States Navy training center. A major 18th-century port city, Newport now contains among the highest number of surviving colonial buildings of any city in the United States. Newport was known for being the city of some of the “Summer White Houses” during the administrations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

Here are a few photos of Cliff Walk, the mansions and other sights.

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No hike is complete without the flowers.

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A view from the Cliff Walk

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The ’49  Steps’

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Walking Cliff Walk

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A Rhode Island law states that the ocean access belongs to all. While there may be no parking, the city maintains access roads.

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Memorials are placed in the rocks on the beach to recognize those that have died on/in the sea.

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The Vanderbilt’s Tea House

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We passed through two tunnels on the Cliff Walk.

My Battle Buddy Paul Saunders

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All the rock formations and this Island were formed by the Glaciers of the Ice Age.

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Beggars Beach for all of us normal people on the right and the oh so rich people’s beach on the left!

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A couple of the beautiful trees in the neighborhood.

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Now a home but this used to be the garage for the owners of the Mansions cars and carriages or stables for the horses at the turn of the century 1880-1920.

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A very old graveyard in Newport.

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This building is not used for blacksmithing any longer but still retains the logo.

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4th of July 2015

Yesterday Paul and I again walked all over Newport. This time we headed toward the Newport Downtown area. We passed through the shopping area and he explained what the shops were when he was a teenager and the trouble he would get into! We passed through the historic area with all the colonial homes and it is amazing how close together many of them are. As he stated more than once, you can shake hands with your neighbor while in the bathroom!

We gathered up Cherie, Paul’s better half and we visited two wineries and beer brewery. I bought Paul a bottle of white port and myself a bottle of dry white dry Vidal Blanc. Cherie belongs to a couple of wine clubs and she picked up multiple bottles of wine from each of these vineyards. It seems that twice a year you receive an assortment of wines produced by the vineyard.  It was her time to receive her assortments. The peacefulness of the vineyards is a definite draw to slow down and have a quieter life! Hmmm, think I should retire and travel from quiet and beautiful spots to another equally as appealing? We stopped at the market and Paul purchased steaks for dinner and I contributed vegetables that I had in my fridge, acquired from a farm market in New Jersey as we never had time to prepare them with all the rain at the festival.

I went to Paul and Cherie’s house a little early to take them up on their kind offer of letting me use their laundry facilities as I will be leaving Newport tomorrow. After the laundry was in the washer Cherie and I left to go visit another vineyard. Paul is all about the beer and doesn’t especially like the vineyards. It seems that there is a prescribed tasting protocol at these vineyards. You either pay a fee to taste the wine or you are a member of the vineyards club and receive wine tastings as perk of membership. We received the basic 5 wines to taste and each vineyard seems to have 2 additional selections that you can pay additional money for.  The young man provided me with one of the bonus wines and thanked me for my service. How sweet of him.  Cherie and I visited a second vineyard but honestly I didn’t care for the wines of Newport. I thought they were weak and without body. Nothing to write home about!

Paul grilled vegetables and chicken for dinner and we talked until the fireworks started. As none of us were interested in joining the crowds I chose this time to leave Paul and Cherie to beat the crowds. I thanked them both for such a wonderful visit. This visit would’ve been more complete with Elena and Martina but I was able to come to closure with the issues from Afghanistan. Seeing Paul was the last step in this for me. I don’t tear up every time I think of MG Harold Greene and SGM Wardell Turner. I am now able to discuss them and the events in Kabul without emotion. I do hope that I’m not just suppressing it all as I have so many other tragic events in my life.

So, lessons learned on the road. I boon docked in a Knights of Columbus parking lot the entire time in Newport and the day before in Kearny, NJ. My fresh water was basically empty and my gray tank was basically full. So no shower before I went to bed on the 4th! The cost to purge my tanks was $20 and I didn’t like the looks of the place so I elected to drive the 120 miles to my next destination, Westover Air Force Reserve Base, Massachusetts before emptying my tanks and acquiring more water.

Some favorite photos from Newport.

The Providence in for repairs – Mast is broken

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Public Park at the North end of Newport near the old Colonial homes.

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The Harbor.

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One Crab riding another

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Oldest active Armory in the U.S.

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Cliff Walk

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11 July 2015

Westover Air Force Reserve Base, MA was a pleasant surprise as some of the reviews were pretty critical of the state of maintenance and cleanliness. The showers/restrooms were very clean as was the sites that I viewed. The grass did need cutting but that was my only complaint. The first thing I did upon checking in and dumping my black and gray tanks was to take a shower! The rest of the 5th of July was just checking out the Base. They have a bowling alley with snack bar and a fairly well stocked PX. The gas station and food shop included chocolate ice cream so all is good in Paula’s world!

On Tuesday the 6th I reviewed and edited both books I have in process: Afghanistan 2014 and my personal story. I had originally planned on staying all week at Westover and then head to the Good Sam’s Samboree in New York. I found out that the rally actually started Wednesday with tours of the local area and that I could check in on the 7th. So I changed my reservations at Westover and conveyed my plans to the Good Sam’s northeast director.  This is the camp site at Westover Air Force Reserve Base.

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All was good until I spoke with Alexis. She received her treatment schedule going into 2016 and she is having surgery on the 16th of July and would like for me to be there with her. Awesome, can you say ROADTRIP in a big way!? I’m sitting in Springfield, MA and I begin planning the trip to Indianapolis, IN and then onto Seattle. About 4,000 miles! I have 9 days to get there! I boondocked each night to save time and money. In Pennsylvania the Pilot station on I80 at exit 75 is a total NO GO! You cannot get in and out easily. I could have parked on the side and just blocked some of the parking spaces but the guy using the pump next to me had a very long trailer so I had to wait on him to finish and then he went inside the station on a shopping excursion. Of course by the time he finally pulled out my chosen spot was taken. I followed the signs for parking only to find that it is a dead end parking area and I cannot back up with the Jeep in tow. Yep, you guessed it, I had to unhook the Jeep, drive the RV to the area that I originally wanted because it is now empty! Then drive the Jeep over and hook it back up.  WOW, another lesson learned – walk the area before driving into it. Oh, it rained and rained some more just to make sure I am adept at driving with sheets of rain hitting the windshield. I survived. Maybe I’ll be able to take some of this rain to Seattle as they are having a drought!

I arrived in Indy on Thursday the 9th and used the afternoon to do laundry and Emily, Devin and I went out for a Sushi dinner. Lucky me I was able to talk to Gene Tumbarello and his wife Heidi for a few moments as they were also having Sushi for dinner.

Friday morning found me once again on the road west! I elected to travel northwestward on I74 through Illinois then Iowa, then on I80 to Omaha, NE to catch I29 to Sioux Falls where I began travelling on I90. I arrived in Rapid City, SD early enough to go to Mount Rushmore and take a couple of photos. Below is my first ever selfie.

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The horse in the foreground overshadows the Presidents on Mount Rushmore in the background!

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I’m finding that Flying J and Pilot gas stations are a hit or miss adventure. Most (not all) Flying J’s are good with having RV lanes that you can get in and out of. Pilot seems to have made their basic model on only cars or trucks. If I used diesel then that would be great but getting into and out of a Pilot is a challenge and I’ve learned to do a quick recon first to make sure I can get out! Flying J in Montana doesn’t give the discount to Good Sam’s members either. One station attendant gave me cash back and in Butte, Montana they told me too bad, no discounts offered.

Montana is pretty though. Just look at that sky and clean, clear air. I stopped at the border and ate lunch. I would’ve pulled up more if I had known so many other cars were going to pull over and take this same photo.

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I have reservations at the Thunderbird RV Resort in Monroe, WA for Monday, the 13th. I shouldn’t have a problem getting there as I’m averaging 600 miles a day.

Getting that first view of the mountains in the distance.

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On this trip I have crossed the Continental divide twice. I think the first time was in Pennsylvania and then here in the west too. Poor RV struggles up that last leg before seeing 6393 ft elevation at the Continental divide

Driving across the plains is somewhat of a challenge as there are strong wind gusts and trucks passing me that require quick adjustments to keep from being thrown off the road In Wyoming I kept passing large herds of Antelope. Joe would appreciate the ‘racks’ on some of these! These Antelope are much bigger than the ones I grew up knowing in the southeast corner of New Mexico.  I’ve seen many animals on this trip, many of them roadkill; porcupine, skunk, antelope, hawk, llama, goats and of course horses and cows.

So to pass the time on the road I am listening to music through my Bose noise cancelling earbuds because 1) radio reception is spotty, 2) using satellite radio via my iPhone uses data and I’ve almost used 15 gigabyte of data and my plan goes through the 17th! and 3) hearing the on my RV radio is bad with all the truck noise. I’m rocking out on the road listening to Enya, Jim Brickman, Burt Bacharach, Kenny G and other great easy listening artist! I know, you didn’t realize that these artists are road warrior rock stars did you?

Rain seems to have followed me for most of the trip and once in Washington State it was only a slight mist that messed up the windshield without the benefit of a soaking rain that is desperately needed here. It is very cool here though. 63 degrees at 0930! Definitely jacket weather! A strange phenomena that I’ve experienced in both the East coast mountains and the West coast mountains is the feeling that I am driving downhill when I’m actually driving uphill! My RV Rand McNally GPS has the option to provide elevation to me and I watch the numbers increase when it definitely appears that I’m going down. Optical illusion or old age?

Montana seems to be the land of the gas station casino. Names like Lucky Lil and American Indian names highlight the billboards. The road conditions in the western United States are MUCH better than those in the Midwest and East. This surprises me because the roads out west go on forever with many more miles and Interstate 90 gets horrible winter snows that close the road. The scenery is overwhelming in that nature and what the glaciers did to the land are ever present as I drive. I would have preferred to travel these states with an intent of taking a long, long time and just wandering the backroads but I’m ok with this fast trip. I passed by Yellowstone and marked that it is about 800 miles from Alexis so we may still be able to make the trip before she resumes her life again after surgery and radiation treatments.

As I passed through Coeur d’Alene I was reminded of Lake Tahoe and my summer excursions while a Finance Director with Job Corps where we would ride an old boat on the lake while socializing with other directors from around the country. The landscape after Spokane turned into desert! The highway follows the Columbia River for a period.

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As I approached Seattle I wanted to find a National Forest park to sleep before completing the trip on Monday. I finally found a place in the Wenatchee Nat’l Forest. This was not without its own drama though! The signs stated that there were two campgrounds. One was clearly identified as being across the highway and I chose to follow the one of this side of the road thinking it would be closer. There were also picnic areas identified on the signs but no real indication of where the campground was. The first road I turned down ended in a barred road where lots of cars were parked, apparently day hikers. No way to turn around so I had to disengage the Jeep, turn around and re-engage to travel on. I did find the correct road for the campground on my third try and drove the few miles through heavily wooded, twisting and winding roads. At the campground itself the entrance appeared to me to be a one-way exit so I continued on the road a short distance until I realized I was outside of the campground and that there would be no entrance. Yeppers, you guessed it. I had to disengage the Jeep, turn around and then re-engage the Jeep to tow it to the campground. I’m getting pretty good at this! But it was worth it. The campsite was nestled in among huge trees towering into the sky. Just at the entrance to my site is the roots of a fallen tree that must’ve really shaken the ground when it fell!

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The photo below puts the size of this tree in perspective!

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I arrived Monday, the 13th at the Thunderbird RV Resort in Monroe, WA where I will be until the 23rd. I’ll make arrangements on Tuesday for another location on or near the coast but still close to Alexis in Seattle.

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That first hug from Alexis was so anticipated and it did not disappoint me. She stayed for dinner and we just talked for a while before taking the Jeep so Alexis could take photos of the cows and the river. At the river we were able to drive out on the rocks for quite a way due to the low level of the water. I sure hope it rains soon! Apparently there wasn’t the snow fall last winter nor rain this spring to support the river and I hear that California is almost out of water.

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A fitting end to a wonderful day is the lavender sunset seen through the trees at the Thunderbird RV Resort.

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17 July 2015

Yah! Alexis has successfully completed surgery and is in terrific spirits! As I was called into the recovery room I find that Alexis is already munching on cheese and crackers while drinking orange juice.  I’m so glad that I was able to be here in Seattle for her. Now she only has 28 Proton radiation treatments to accomplish over a 5 ½ week period. She should be able to start those within the next three weeks.

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On the way home we stop and purchase her some extra boxes and packing supplies that included mattress covers and sofa covers. Now it is all about helping her to move into a new apartment. While not visiting with her and my friend Joe that lives here in Seattle I am getting back to writing on my books.

First let me tell about a couple of innovations I have done with the RV. I went to Lowes and purchased ‘Sun Screen Fabric’. This is a roll of fabric that is 6’ by 15’. Perfect size as the sides where the sun is killing me here is 7.5’ and cutting a roll in half has provided me with the needed sun screen for this location. I bought 2 rolls though and have used a decorative duck tape to seal the edges against unravelling so that I’ll be ready for the next location that may require me to place the screen across the awning length. I was able to get light holders and S hooks at Wal-Mart that allows me to connect to the grommets that I placed every 2’ on the screen. Life is much more pleasant with the bright sun screened off and the temperature is actually lower in the shade!

Next I purchased a much thicker rubberized shelf liner to help keep things from sliding around. Now I just have to envision how to organize/reorganize my shelf space as I put it in place. I was able to secure the three burner stove top better so hopefully I won’t have as many issues with the shake, rattle and roll noise as I travel down the road!

Last night some of the children from the RV Park put on a concert. They even wrote out and issued tickets for the event. I did record a couple of their songs on my iPhone as a memory!

I woke up this morning to 55 degrees. By noon it was over 80 degrees but I like to sleep in the cool so having all my windows open at night has  been very pleasant and then sitting outdoors as much as possible, catching the cool mountain breezes as it passes through these tall pines is so sweet. It was cool so I decided to prepare breakfast inside the RV this morning. I prepared what I call the Jennifer daily vegetable omelet.  Jennifer stated to me that she gets her daily dosage of vitamins by sautéing vegetables and placing them in an omelet each morning. So I chopped and diced a scallion, a Yukon potato, some zucchini, some yellow squash, a baby portabella mushroom and a sweet red pepper to sauté prior to adding a couple of eggs and cheese.  Well as I was chopping the veggies I was also cooking the sausage using the induction plate. Even though it was chilly outdoors I had to open the door as the smoke/fire alarm goes off! I should’ve just been cooking outside anyway!

I’m going to have to find some biking or hiking trails near here to provide me with some exercise or else I’ll spend all day writing and eating and drinking. Isn’t retirement sweet?

29 July 2015

My how time has flown by! I don’t remember days of the week or even the dates of activities but here is what I’ve been doing. Most importantly is Alexis and her health. She is feeling great and is getting much better as the chemo works its way through her body. She is still waiting on news from her medical team to begin radiation therapy. She has no body fat and that concerns them. Proton radiation may be out and regular radiation in because of that. I’ll let you know when radiation starts. I am scheduled to be here in the Seattle area until Sept 4th and hopefully she will be finished by then. A state department friend of mine, Mary Eileen, is planning on joining me after Labor Day and we can begin traveling eastward and visit the Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons and Mount Rushmore. I don’t know how much time she will have but I’m really looking forward to a travel companion for a while.

Alexis picked the hottest day ever – 99 degrees – to have me come help her pack up her apartment and move a few items into storage. At least the day we loaded up the UHaul truck it was only 77! Two loads that we finished at about 1930 and I was exhausted. I’m so glad that her friend Jeff stopped by and helped with many of the heavier boxes and bulky items. Then Alexis cleaned the apartment and I stayed at the RV Park and recuperated!

Alexis and Orion, her Dalmatian pet came and stayed with me as she is now officially homeless! I moved from Thunderbird RV Park to La Conner RV Park where I will be until the 14th of August. Alexis was with me as we made the move and we found this nice little spot with full hook up. Alexis cleaned up the table and placed a tablecloth on it and I hoisted the colors! Ready for visitors and relaxation!

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La Conner is actually on an Indian Reservation and we took a walk on the beach before going into town and enjoying a local restaurant.

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Alexis asked me to come in and help get her new apartment together. Alexis and I took on the yard work while her new roommate Janice began in the house. A trip to Home Depot proved fruitful as we were able to get a weed eater, lawnmower, paint, paint brushes/rollers and pans, electrical cords, materials to make screens with (had to build 3 to cover windows where there is no air-conditioning), air mattresses for the girls to sleep on until the furniture can be moved in, rake, hoe and of course trash bags. After just a couple of days the landlord is unable to believe the transformation that the apartment has undergone. Janice is a whiz at patching and plastering and has made major improvements by patching large areas in all the rooms. Every room has been painted and looks so much better than the before pictures would ever suggested. Each night I have cheated and returned to the La Conner RV Park where I have showered before going to bed. The girls have not been able to shower for a couple of nights because the bathroom was totally in shambles. Yesterday the shower curtain was put up and I hope they were able to enjoy a luxuriating shower!

While I was scouting the neighborhood to see if I could find a dumpster to use for the multiple trash cans and bags that we had accumulated I encountered the self proclaimed ‘man of the neighborhood’. As I began walking toward him he warily looks at me and asks if he should be afraid of me. I immediately answered ‘absolutely’. We had a long conversation and he gives me the history of the neighborhood. It seems that all the work the girls and I have been doing is noticed by others in the neighborhood as some of the neighbors are now cutting the grass by the street and picking up around their yards. The ‘man of the neighborhood’ asked me yesterday if I was taking applications for yard work as there was much more to be done! I told him no. I’m done! So now the house is freshly painted and I’m just waiting for the girls to tell me when moving day is so I can come in and complete the task!

La Conner is an interesting place. As I’ve said this is an Indian Reservation with a beautiful view. I’m not certain what these pavilions are for but they look like volcanos and are at an angle. Then the view of the mountains has a ‘wow’ factor!

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June 2015 Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, New Jersey

June has started out to be a fun month. Today is the 7th and I’ve just finished a 3.1 mile hike in Coopers Rock West Virginia State Forest. The hike took me from the campground on McCollum Trail where the only sound I could hear was the cracking of the nuts under my feet.

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I crossed the trail to Raven Rock and followed the Roadside Trail to the Overlook area.  At Coopers Rock Overlook where I enjoyed the view of a river separating a couple of mountains. If the Park attendants ever come back I may try to stay here for a few more days and try to get some pictures of the Mountain Laurel.

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Cheryl returned from her Yoga class in Belize with her back still burned but in great spirits! I got up early on the 5th and moved all my things out to the RV and prepared the house for Cheryl. I used my own cooking items while she was gone because I wanted to learn how to use the new induction plate I have to use while traveling. I love it! Quick and easy. I drove the RV to Alex’s house and parked in his driveway anticipating to remain there for the night. John and Norma Gruehl, Don Sheehan, me and Alex and his wife enjoyed an evening of sharing stories and getting to know one another. A wonderful time and Alex and his wife are the consummate hosts!

The morning of the 6th I took off toward Indianapolis with my GPS set on ‘no highways, no tolls’. After a couple of hours travel though I removed the ‘no highways’ restriction because I realized I was going to be traveling in and out of the Shenandoah Valley and I couldn’t see where the road was taking me. So I was then directed toward a circuitous route to I-68. This runs somewhat parallel to I-70 and the road was a new experience for me as I had always traveled I-70. I-68 intermingles with I-40 with I-40 being a more scenic road. I tried to stay at a ‘Bear Lake recreation area’ but it was full and while the lady trying to find me a spot was working at it diligently I truly don’t think she knew what a ‘Class C, 24’ Motorhome was based on the questions she was asking and the mumbling I could hear. Oh well, I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I traveled until I saw a sign for Coopers Rock State Forest and as I have never slept in my RV in West Virginia, off I go. The spot intended for me was #12 but there was a huge group of Afghan men there having a discussion and cookout. They were supposed to leave but the Park Ranger allowed me to stay in the ‘Host’ location next to the check-in and camp store. A great location! I can stay here and there is internet, cell phone and quiet! The bonus is that I can take a long hike each morning and write on the book in the afternoon!

8 June 2015

http://paulacoffer.com/

This is my latest blog site where I am posting all of my travel adventures. When viewing the pictures that are posted be sure to click on them as they are only thumbnails, meaning they are smaller versions of the real picture. J

It is Sunday night and the two young women that work this area were beginning to have their own cookout. It seems that each Sunday after all the campers leave that they treat themselves to a cooked out dinner to celebrate the end of the week. I volunteered my Weber grill and NUWAVE induction plate to help them in the preparations. The park ranger is an Army veteran who is married to a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel that flew Cobra Helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan. We talked while they prepared dinner and enjoyed sharing military stories. Afterwards I grilled asparagus, sweet peppers, zucchini and chicken tenders for my dinner. No alcohol is allowed so don’t mention the beer I had with my dinner!

I guess I was tired because I didn’t get out of bed until 0830! After a leisurely cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal I prepared my camel/back pack to hit the trails. Today I again departed the campground on McCollum Trail to complete a 5.6 mile hike but at the intersection with the Raven Rock Trail I followed it to see the Raven Rock Overlook view of the Cheat River canyon. I kept stumbling on roots and rocks on the trail because I was busy looking at flowers on the trail and looking for wildlife. I had no idea that Mountain Laurel was a tree. The two pictures below show the tree and a close up of this beautiful flower.

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These weren’t the only flowers along the trail which wound around to end on top of a ridge with a truly commanding view.

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About the only animal I saw other than 2 hikers was the worm in one of the photos above! I kept thinking that a bear or deer would show itself as all the tourists are gone with the weekend over.

I will tell you now that heights and I don’t get along anymore and with the wind blowing in a thunderstorm I wasn’t about to go to the edge and look over. My heart is in my stomach just thinking about it! But I have photos to prove that I was at this overlook. I know why it’s called ‘Raven Rock’ and that is because only the Ravens should be there!  As you can tell in the photo below I didn’t get too close to the edge. But just think about those brave souls during the depression working on Roosevelt’s CCC program that built Camp Preston, now Coopers Rock State Forest, and the power lines that you see at the very top and edge of Ravens Rock! This area was purchased at $5 an acre to make a state park and wildlife preserve to attract hunters and help the region economically. Just like the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah Mountains.

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At the Coopers Rock overlook concession stand I bought a jar of honey only to be somewhat disappointed because it is wildflower honey from Georgia. I don’t have anything against Georgia honey but I did want some of the local honey. All is good though, honey in my coffee is just perfect no matter where it is from. I ordered a cheeseburger and water from the concession and went to one of the pavilions to eat it. At the other end of the pavilion was a European looking gentleman. Very tall and lanky, perhaps 6’6” or more in very loose fitting clothes using the fire grate to cook. As I was finishing my meal I commented that whatever he was cooking smelled good. I said this to make conversation as all I could really smell was the wood fire itself. He tells me he is making a mulligan stew and I see cabbage peeking out of his bag. He asked about my meal and I told him a burger to build my energy for the completion of my hike. As I approached him he raised the lid on a very large but shallow steel pot to stir his stew. I’m not sure there was meat in there. His accent was appealing as he began to explain about the unusual fauna in the area. I showed him the photo of the mountain laurel and he took me over to an area of the park leading to the overlook and showed me a ‘Lady Slipper Orchid’ that he states is a rare orchid that only grows where there is a proliferation of moss as is pictured below.

In this picture you can see where I’ve just missed the orchid blooming. There were maybe 10 or more plants surrounding this large tree with moss all over the ground.

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I asked about the trees that had also just completed their blooming period as there are petals from their blossoms all over the ground and he tells me that these are Rhododendron Trees. This forest is full of them and I can only imagine what it must have smelled like when they were in full bloom.

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So I’m walking back toward the campground and I’m on the ‘Roadside Trail’ that I have to follow for .8 of a mile. I hear this odd fluttering sound and stop to listen. I hear it again and it seems that there is a woodpecker inside a tree working away for a meal. After this tree I noticed others that the woodpeckers were burrowing into. At the bottom it seems the ground squirrels are feasting also. Life is good in the forest of West Virginia.

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So now I have called to change my July 9th Dental appointment to June 11th. Yah! This give me freedom of choice after the Rock, Ribs and Ridges Festival in New Jersey. Maybe I can contact some friends in NYC before heading to see Paul Saunders in Rhode Island and others in Maine.  Or I may be heading to the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone with 3 of my favorite girls!  Do I hear ROAD TRIP in an RV?

Regardless, I am sipping on a Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoying the aftermath of the thunderstorm that raced through here. Thank goodness I was able to get my 5.6 mile hike in before the rain!  Do leave comments and let me know how you are doing too.

9 June 2015

On this date in 1970 I entered the U.S. Navy as a recruit! In many ways it seems like it was only yesterday or that it was only a dream as the memories fade. It rained off and on all night long so I’m chilling out at the campground today preparing for departure tomorrow morning for Indianapolis and writing on my book today.

Each day is a learning experience. I’ve been sitting in the same campsite for two nights. Tonight will be my last before I depart tomorrow morning for Indianapolis. I turned on the TV and as usual the reception was very poor. The NBC and ABC stations were just static but the PBS stations came in fine. After dinner I walked to the Campground bathroom and looked at my antennae wondering if it could rotate as well as just go up from the roof. By pulling down the dial I was able to rotate the antennae and now I have reception. It is the small things in life!

I see a big black Lincoln Navigator pull into the office and pay for a site and then pull across from the campground from me. Remember that I’m sitting in the ‘Host’ position because a group of Afghan men were in a very serious huddle for hours in the site that I had been assigned. A woman with long blonde hair and a billowy summer print skirt exits the SUV, opens the back and begins to spread out a tent. Fascinated that a woman in a skirt is putting up a tent, like a train wreck I keep watching. A toddler, about 2 years old wearing the cutest hat helps by getting the tent pegs out of the SUV and rushing back and forth between the SUV and the tent. This woman was proficient in getting her tent up and situated for the night. I was impressed!

With all the rain last night I decided to not go hiking on the Rattlesnake trail and rather stayed near the campsite writing.

I put West Virginia in my rear view mirror early in the morning of the 10th and pointed Harry in the direction of Indianapolis. I still have the vision of a cherry red Jeep Wrangler with an automatic transmission. I just think these Jeeps are so cute. I’ve tallied together all the things that I didn’t like about the Jeep Wrangler that I drove while in Alexandria. It was a lot of work having a 6 speed manual transmission, especially in heavy stop and go traffic. This particular Jeep had a really nasty smell to it but that was probably from the kinds of equipment/tools Rod hauled in it. Also the noise was overwhelming, so much so that I couldn’t hear the radio even on the highway as I went to Aberdeen Proving Ground. So – quiet, automatic transmission and ease of ride is a criteria.

I arrived home in the early evening and visited with several of the neighbors. Wonderful people that I’ve missed being around. The condo was a welcome site and except for the 3 months of mail piled up on the kitchen counter was just as I had left it. The deck is being stained and the smell is overwhelming! Maybe I should have waited a couple of days to come home.

The morning of the 11th dawned with me wanting to go car shopping before my dental appointment at 1550. I searched all over the house for the title and I think it is in a briefcase packed away in the outside storage room. Oh well, off I go anyway. My first stop was at CARMAX to have my Pathfinder valued for a cash price to me. The Black book has it valued from $24,000 to a high of $29,000. I was offered $27,000. So now I have to decide if I just pay cash for a vehicle less than $10,000 or sell/trade in my Pathfinder and buy something nicer/newer. My 2013 Pathfinder Platinum has 16,500 miles and after 2 passes through the Sparkling Image carwash and some tender loving scrubbing it looks just like new! I did see several viable cars on the CARMAX lot but I packed up my car and took off for Tom O’Brien Jeep next door to see what they had as I really liked the look of the new Jeep Renegade, or at least what I had seen in the online ads.

At Tom O’Brien I found a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 106,000 miles for $8,990. While driving it though it just felt ‘loose’, meaning that it just didn’t seem quite everything that I wanted. I looked at the Renegade but it is not listed as towable. I told the salesman that I would like to look at the Wranglers and he had a 2015 with 7,024 miles on it. A local man had traded it in on the Renegade. Apparently the Renegade has only been out a couple of months and this man wanted the more enclosed Jeep.  Lucky me because I bought this Red, 2015 trail rated Jeep Wrangler Sport with automatic transmission! This Jeep is so fun to drive! I’m a happy camper. Oh, did I mention that the girls are pleased with my choice and can’t wait to take off the top and doors, put on big tires and go Mudding! NOT! I don’t think I’m the mudding type but hey, you never know and life is short so maybe it’s a ‘GO FOR IT’!

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On the 22nd I am having the Blue Ox towing system and electric brakes installed and on the morning of the 23rd I will be on my way to New Jersey for the Rock, Ribs and Ridges Festival. I took it by some of my neighbors to show them and it seems that I everyone agrees that I’ve made a good decision. If I had purchased the 2004 Jeep not only would I have had to concern myself with repairs but also the question begs of ‘Why do I have a like new SUV sitting in the garage and not being used?’ This Jeep can be my usual car when I quit traveling and is the perfect size for a tow vehicle and for me to get around in when stationary.  Life is good!  Ann and Mark asked that I invite some of the neighbors to their home tomorrow night for a BBQ cookout just because they like to entertain and they want to celebrate summer.  How cool is that?!

12 June 2015

Preparing for the next leg of my journey

I have been on the road for 3 months and I now have some experience of what is needed and what is not needed in the RV Motorhome a I travel. Today I made several corrections from my original pack-up of the RV.

I have plenty of room for clothing that folds so I can afford the room but can I afford the weight now that I’m towing the Jeep?

I have spent a considerable amount of time reorganizing where stuff is stored. I’ve moved the pots and pans (those that I use often verses the ones that are nice to have!) as well as how I store canned goods, my fireproof safe, rice cooker, slow cook crock pot and other kitchen items.

The under the bed storage area now has plastic containers that organize my sporting items like the inflatable kayak, snorkeling, fishing and hiking gear. These plastic containers have wheels to allow me to easily remove them from this compartment. I’ve stored my initial set-up materials such as water connections and pressure regulators but separated from the sewer connectors and sewer hose lifters and leveling blocks. All is good and readily accessible.

I have now placed my mountain bike, a Montague Paratrooper folding bicycle, in this compartment and I’m leaving my ‘city bike’ at home. I’m leaving the washer and dryer at home also rather than carrying it around all the time. If I find that I need anything that I’ve left at home then I can have that item sent to me along my travel path!

Monday I’ll get my first oil change and be ready to travel on the 23rd for Fairfield, NJ to attend the ‘Rock, Ribs and Ridges Festival’ where I’ll meet up with Jennifer.

A pleasant surprise is that my friend Ann from Phoenix (who served in Afghanistan back in 2011 with the US Air Force) flew into Indy and we were able have breakfast and talk for a little while. She may even join me for a long weekend while I’m on the road to enjoy a break from the daily grind.

Another pleasant event occurred where I was provided the opportunity to apply for the Chief Financial Officer position with the United Nations in Afghanistan. I shared the photo of my Jeep and RV and declined to apply. But it was very flattering to be thought capable of performing the duties. I have very mixed feelings about this though because I know that I have the knowledge and experience to be of great benefit to the program. But I also have to begin enjoying my own life, finish my books and see the United States.

20 June 2015

Today is the 20th and it is hard to believe that more than a week has gone by in Indianapolis. I did take a few days off and go to Grand Lake, OH to visit my friend Cyndi and her puppy Pippa. I took my bicycle anticipating a ride around the lake but we were pretty much rained out each day. The flooding is really bad and I’m hopeful the farmer’s crops will not be washed out. Thursday I returned to Indy to receive the running boards I ordered for the Jeep. It only took me a half hour to put both running boards on. I think they look great and functionally they make it easier to get into the Jeep!

Friday my longtime friend Tiffany and I went to the ‘Metropolis’ mall area of Indy in Plainfield for dinner. The Harps beer and Corned Beef with Cabbage entrée was very nice at the Claddagh Restaurant.  I was asked to provide insight to a new person working in Finance in Afghanistan and put together a nice package of funding reconciliation issues that existed in 2011 and remain to this day.

When I put my bicycle on the bike rack on the Jeep I decided that this is a better option for transporting it than in the basement storage area of the RV. We’ll see how it works out. I’m not concerned with theft or damage in a RV park or State/National park but when traveling that is always a concern in the back of my mind. Temptation is sometimes just too much for some people to resist.

It’s now the morning of the 23rd of June and today I’m off for the Rock, Ribs and Ridges festival in Fairfield, NJ. Yesterday the Blue Ox base plates, towing system and brakes were installed on my new Jeep and I pulled a TOAD for the first time. Today will be interesting as I take to the highway! So now I must finish closing up the condo, contact the Jeep dealer to find out where the paperwork is to register the Jeep and hit the road. I may have to remain in Indy for one more day but I hope not.

27 June 2015

It’s June 23rd, Tuesday afternoon. After receiving my UPS package at 4:15 PM I rushed to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to submit the title to the Jeep and affect the change in registration for my license tag. The BMV owes me money and will mail it to me eventually. I’m a happy camper now that my Jeep is legally registered to me and I have a temporary title. So, I’m on the road again heading out of Indianapolis on I-70 looking to see how far I can drive before nightfall.

At 65 mph I don’t even notice that the Jeep was being pulled behind me! There appears to be no drag or sway or anything to make a change in my driving/handling of the RV. In fact I think the RV may be more stable now, but I also adjusted the weight distribution while in Indy so I’m certain that has helped also. I just have to be very aware when pulling into a gas station to ensure that there is sufficient room for me to get out! In eastern Pennsylvania I tried to pull into a Pilot station but had to turn around in the truck area because the configuration of the gas station would not allow me to fill up with gas and be able to exit. When I finally pulled over at a SUNOCO station the pump stopped when it reached $100!

Below is pictured the Blue Ox towing system and then the brake for the Jeep.

Blue OX Towing

Braking System

I made it as far as just past (east of) Columbus, OH before pulling in for gasoline and asking permission to stay in their parking lot for the night. Once I was given permission to stay I had dinner at Denny’s and learned that my AARP card was worth more of a discount than my retired US Military card. While I was enjoying dinner in the Denny’s restaurant a truck pulled up next to me. I mention this because he left his engine running all night and it was noisy. I didn’t sleep well and waited for daylight to eat breakfast and begin the final leg of the journey to Kearny, NJ.

OK, the first day was easy, peasy! No mountains, heck barely even hills in Indiana or Ohio. Pennsylvania and New Jersey was a different story. My RV is a Ford E-350 with a V-10 engine that just does not have the power to climb the mountains without going into a lower gear and straining to keep up and not go over 3500 rpm. All is good though as I made it to Kearny, NJ and the Wilson-Gugelman Post 1302 of the VFW where I spent the night after meeting up with my friend Jennifer. Another Afghanistan liaison completed, so many more to go!

On the morning of the 26th we pack up the RV and head to the Rock, Ribs and Ridges festival at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. A beautiful drive through some steep hills and lush greenery. I only knew New Jersey to be that section of I-95 passing through the lowlands into New York City. After we checked in at the fairgrounds and parked the RV we took the Jeep to Stokes State Forest. Ok, I told the girls no mudding in the Jeep and we did NOT go mudding. We did get the Jeep a little wet though as we went off-road on our way to the Buttermilk Falls.

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Then we followed a very rough road alongside the Delaware River on the way to Millbrook Village.  Pennsylvania is on the other side of the river. A gust of wind had just blown the umbrella away from the family gathering area.

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And alongside the Delaware River we come upon the Van Campen Inn. If it were only open the view from the upper windows would be totally awesome!

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The best part of the trip was yet to come! Rain, rain and more rain! During a break in the rain Jennifer and I walked to the festival area and purchased a rack of ribs with coleslaw, beans and a dinner roll for dinner and a rib and brisket plate for lunch. We took these back to the RV as the rain is just not letting up. All the music we want to hear we can hear from the RV and there is NO need to drown like little rats.

Of note though is our Wal-Mart shopper that sprang into the RV/camping area and set up a tent in the rain. Notice the latest in fashion: barefoot with pants rolled up, duct tape patches to cover the holes in his jeans, clear garbage can liner for rain poncho and the new ‘wet hair’ look!

Later on these three gentlemen placed a shelter near the car and sat in total misery as the rain continued to pour down. Actually I can’t believe they pitched their tent in the rain in the first place. Oops, they are bringing the shelter tent back! A little earlier they had taken it down and carried it across the street. I thought that maybe they had borrowed it from someone else. As they put it up this time we have a change; they only raise it part way to keep the rain from blowing in!

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With all the rain Jennifer and I had ample opportunity to play cribbage and just talk. She showed me pictures from her military career days with the New York and New Jersey National Guard as well as photos from Afghanistan and Iraq. Jennifer is now a happily retired Sergeant Major. She looked mean as a soldier! Much happier now!

29 June 2015

The Rock, Ribs and Ridges Festival is a near wash out with both days of performance receiving record amounts of rain. The die-hard fans continued to show up to enjoy the music and food! Butch’s BBQ Ribs won the most votes, we ate their ribs because they had a line to purchase them and the other contestants didn’t! The rain finally let up enough on Sunday afternoon for Jennifer and me to take our lounge chairs, umbrellas and water to the concert site. The big blue umbrella that Dana left behind and I brought home from Afghanistan completely broke down but Berkley College had umbrellas as give away gifts and we each got one for the concert. It is a good thing we did as the rain continued off and on throughout the afternoon. At 2PM as the rain lets up the Artimus Pyle Band takes the stage. The lead singer, I assume to be Artimus Pyle, keeps talking a lot and explaining that he has had the band going strong for 44 years and mentions some of the big name bands he has opened for or played with. He should have retired years ago! His voice is gone and he can’t sing. It was a sad, sad performance. Next up was the Marshall Tucker Band. Some pretty old guys again hit the stage! Their performance was better than Artimus Pyle but again, these guys should have retired a while back.  Charlie Daniels did not let us down. His last song was his most famous song ‘Devil went down to Georgia’. I’ll admit that all of his songs sounded alike for the most part. It was almost like he was trying to recreate a hit like ‘Devil went down to Georgia’ but just didn’t ever make it.

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So now I’ve had a Rib and Rock-n-Roll Festival. I don’t think I’ll eat ribs for a while as I have had my fill of BBQ and my teeth aren’t used to chewing that much meat! I’ve also had my fill of concerts in the grass and I doubt that I’ll attend another one! Especially in the rain.

I did meet some terrific Good Sam’s representatives though. A combat engineer veteran and a retired policeman. Nice folks and their wives, very helpful and I now have a schedule of events throughout the Northeastern states in the event I’m here instead taking Alexis and Emily on a RV trip of a lifetime to the Grand Canyon via Route 66 and then Yellowstone National Park!

The best part of this trip was just being with Sergeant Major Jennifer Long and enjoying our chats. The off-road experience in the Jeep was stellar and I’m looking forward to more of that kind of fun. As we neared her apartment in Kearny, NJ this is the view of the new ‘One Freedom Tower’ and the lower Manhattan Skyline.

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New Jersey has been a special treat to me today. Jennifer took me to lunch as she ran a couple of errands and I’ve met some real characters out of ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Sopranos’.  Lenny is the owner of Brunos and is bigger than life! He is a large man, well over 6 foot and broad shouldered. He reaches out for a kiss on each cheek and a hug. He sits and talks with us as we eat our lunch, the Wise Guy sandwich – chicken, roasted peppers on a hard bun because the waitress thought it was better for us than the Panini bread on the menu!  I feel like I’m on a movie set or something. But he was a genuine guy that believes in America and was curious about what we thought we were accomplishing in Afghanistan and elsewhere. He respects the military servicemen/women but he really wants to know if we know what we are protecting; who we are fighting for. He doubts we are laying our lives on the line for the President or the politicians and feels that the average American doesn’t even know who these young people are that are putting themselves in danger in faraway places.  An interesting conversation to say the least. We paid our respects on the way out and he comes from behind the serving line to give another hug and kiss on each cheek, all the while wishing me safe travels and telling me that he respects and thanks me for all that I’ve done.

I am in Kearny, New Jersey named for Major General Philip Kearny and his family.

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Another historical tidbit is the tribute to the ship Dorchester that was sunk by the Germans in 1943. One of the 4 Chaplains was from a church in Kearny, NJ. Below is the monument to the Dorchester followed by a story from the internet about the Chaplains and the sinking of the Dorchester.

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Sinking of The Dorchester – 70th Anniversary –  Honoring those who Died
70th Anniversary of the Sinking of The Dorchester – Honoring those who Died In the early hours of February 3, 1943, a German U-Boat captain gave the command to attack The Dorchester.  Within 27 minutes, the transport ship with 902 people on board sank, taking the lives of 700 officers, servicemen and civilian workers. In that final half hour, the selfless efforts of four clergy on board helped save many men.  Working calmly, they located life jackets and helped direct the men out of the darkness out to the deck.  2013 marked the 70th anniversary of this tragic event.   Every year in early February, thousands of veterans, religious leaders, community volunteers and families gather at VA hospital chapels, American Legion posts and Jewish community centers to celebrate the heroism and faith of the Four Chaplains. The Dorchester, Four Chaplains, A Story Worth Telling The Dorchester, built in 1926, began its life carrying freight and passengers between Baltimore and Florida, up to 314 passengers and 90 crew. During World War II, with increased need for troop transport, The Dorchester was converted to military use.  Under the new wartime configuration, The Dorchester could carry 900 passengers and crew. Four chaplains, who eventually boarded The Dorchester, met in Army Chaplains School at Harvard University:  Rev. George L. Fox, a Methodist Minister, Rev. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed Minister, Fr. John P. Washington, a Catholic Priest and Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, a Jewish spiritual leader.  Despite their interfaith differences, they prayed together and became close friends.  Sharing a special kind of faith unity, they also found their strength.

Photos of the Four Chaplains on board the USAT Dorchester 1943 (public domain)

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On January 23, 1943, accompanied by a convoy of three Coast Guard cutters, the USAT Dorchester left from New York to Greenland with 902 people on board, most of them servicemen new to the military, heading to the war front. Approximately 14 months had passed since the attack on Pearl Harbor, since the start of the US involvement in World War II.  Packed into the bowels of the ship, the men’s living quarters were hot and uncomfortable. On February 2, just eleven days into their journey and 150 miles from their destination, the service men were warned:  “A cutter detected a submarine close by.  Sleep in your life jackets.”  Many failed to heed the warning and slept only in their underwear. Around 1am, with almost everyone but the four chaplains asleep, two torpedoes hit the ship.  The first torpedo left the boat in complete darkness. The second one killed 100 men instantly.  On impact, the ship tilted.  Clothing and life jackets were lost in the darkness, and panic set in.  The four chaplains, without thought or question, fell into their commitment to service.  They helped calm and reassure the men as they moved everyone upstairs to the deck, distributing the life jackets they could find. As the boat began to list more heavily and then sink, as water came over the bow, the four chaplains remained together on the ship’s deck, their arms linked.  Singing, praying, their heads bowed, they remained visible and audible to the survivors in lifeboats who watched The Dorchester slip beneath the waves.

The US Army Transport ship: The Dorchester (Wikipedia Creative Commons license)Ship

The chaplain’s story of selflessness is inspiring, taking on meaning well beyond the simple acts of enduring service and sacrifice in the last half hour of life.  Their legacy continues to this day.  Memorializing the Four Chaplains Many actions have been taken to memorialize the Four Chaplains including a dedicated postage stamp, a medal in their honor, an annual recognition day and a memorial foundation.

  • On December 19, 1944, all four chaplains were posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Service Cross.
  • On May 28, 1948 U.S. Postal Service issued a special stamp to commemorate the brotherhood, service and sacrifice of the Four Chaplains.
  • July 14, 1960, United States Congress authorized the “Four Chaplains Medal.” which was presented posthumously to the families of the Four Chaplains.
  • In 1988, February 3 is established by unanimous act of Congress is an annual “Four Chaplain’s Day.” Each state has its own way of celebrating the day including official proclamations, flags flying at half-mast.
  • Many churches throughout United States remember the four chaplains on February 3 every year. The day is also observed is the feast day of the church calendar the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
  • The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated on February 3, 1951 by Pres. Harry S Truman to honor these chaplains of different faiths. The chapel was located in the basement of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia. When the building in which the chapel was located was sold to Temple University
  • The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation is housed at the former U.S. Naval Chapel located at the former South Philadelphia Navy Yard. Its official mission statement is “to further the cause of ‘unity without uniformity’ by encouraging goodwill and cooperation among all people.”

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30 June 2015

I keep forgetting to tell about the critters Jennifer and I encountered Friday, 26 June during our off-road adventure. Wild Turkeys twice. Each sighting was of a family of Turkeys as they scurried across the road and into the protection of the surrounding woods. A deer crossed the road at a ravine and kept going at a quick pace and I finally have seen a Black Bear! He was walking across the road and by the time we arrived at his crosswalk he was scurrying away from us. I guess I thought the Black Bear into existence at the time we saw him as I was thinking about Black Bears and had just asked Jenn if they had Bears in New Jersey. And then, there he was!! Coincidence?

Jennifer met me at the VFW where the RV was parked. Before she arrived for coffee I hooked up the Red Tagalong so once again I am a RJBMH. (Red Jeep Behind Motor Home) Thanks Mark! She gave me great directions on getting out of New York City but when I plugged in the address to the location in Newport, Rhode Island the Good Sam GPS for RV’s tells me that the route I have selected prohibits propane tanks of my size and rerouted me. It was all good because I missed the heavy traffic and saved half on the tolls.

Some of the roads in Connecticut were in poor shape and the logic of backing up traffic to a standstill in the middle of the day to sweep the inside shoulder of the road is beyond me. From the comments being made by the truckers Massachusetts is no better. There were three large dump trucks with the flashing arrows pointing for you to move over and they were slowly moving about ¼ mile apart blocking off the left lane from traffic. Eventually we come upon the street sweeper doing nothing more than redistributing whatever items were on the road to the middle of the road for all of us to run over. Then the traffic picks up to normal as soon as you pass by. Amazing, after over a half hour delay in travel time.

I entered Rhode Island and was struck by the rustic forest that the highway 138 had me going through. So peaceful and serene, so ‘old’ looking. I met Paul Saunders at the Knights of Columbus building where I’m parking the RV and he took me on a tour of the Island. HUGE estates that constitute the summer homes along the cliff walk and then other areas around the old Fort that is so visible from the Jamestown Bridge and the New York Yacht club.

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Newport claims to be the most historically intact city in America boasting the largest number of pre–revolutionary buildings. President Eisenhower had his summer residence here and it can be rented out for weddings and other special occasions.

Paul drove me by a couple of the beaches and gave me a running account of the history of the Island as well as his personal accounts of how he grew up here and the places he used to haunt as a child indicating how much has changed over the years.

We stopped in at his brothers historic home built in the 1880’s and his sister-in-law gave me a tour of the home showing me the renovations they had accomplished as this home had been divided into apartments at one time. In fact when they purchased the home in 1999 there were two teachers living there that refused to leave because they said it was their domicile. The police were called and they did leave! A beautiful old home with a surrounding porch and huge beautiful trees enclosing a quiet shaded back yard sitting area.

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A sky view from the Newport, RI visitor’s website!

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May 2015 Virginia

1-2 May 2015

I failed to mention that on Wednesday after I left Arlington National Cemetery I stopped at Gina’s apartment and as I was talking with her friend, which was also staying with her, I looked down and found a 4 leaf clover. Maybe General Greene gave me a thumbs up signal after visiting him! I spent the day getting stuff ready for the Afghan service reunion to be held on Saturday and just chillin out!

Saturday morning at 0930 I left Andrews AFB for Occoquan Regional Park. Minimal traffic and by 1000 I was unpacking the car with much excitement as I was going to get to meet up with others that I had worked with in Kabul. The morning was perfect for a meeting outdoors as the sun was shining, children playing. The gazebo sits on the Occoquan River and I watched as kayaks and small motor boats made their way up and down the River. While cleaning up in the Gazebo I found a penny that I later gave to Maile as she begins this next phase in her life. Before everyone arrived I had the chance to talk with Robin, my niece as I was walking under a cherry tree. Based on her suggestion I made a short video of the blossoms falling to the sidewalk before continuing my walk along the Baseball fields and gazebos at the Occoquan Park.IMG_1126

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Dana Pennell, Liz Graham, John Gruehl, Gina Parker, Maile Parker, Steve Mackey and Don Sheehan came and spent a few moments at the park celebrating our return. John’s leg is healing well and he tells me the doctors feel that by the end of July he will have 100% mobility of motion in his leg. I’m happy for him.

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I’m hopeful that some of these people who served us so well in Afghanistan will keep up some kind of periodic meeting where we can share time with each other as well as introduce the family to those we worked so closely with. The older I get the more I realize it is the relationships built on shared experiences that allows us to bond in other environments and appreciate life.

3 May 2015

My last day in Andrews AFB. Maile and Steve’s wedding is at 1400 near where we had our cookout yesterday. I failed to mention that my freezer is now full of hamburgers and hotdogs!!

Maile and Steve have a bright full moon to celebrate their first night of marriage. It was a wonderful wedding. I was able to meet many more people I worked with in Afghanistan that would probably have enjoyed the cookout yesterday. When I get to a good internet location I’ll upload to facebook the photos from the wedding. Here are just a small sampling of the folks I worked with in Afghanistan.

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Paula, Maile and Bob Kelly’s wife

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Steve Mackey, ? , Maile Parker

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Maile Parker, Steve Mackey, ?

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Ladies of the wedding

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? Camacho, Gina Parker

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Stating their Wedding Vows – Steve and Maile

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The speech before the Vows! JP, Steve Mackey, Maile Parker, Steve Coonan

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Brigette Coonan, Steve Coonan, Maile Parker Mackey

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Tracy Taylor Kelly, ?, Maile, ?, Paula

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4-15 May 2015

I departed Andrews Air Force Base FAMCAMP on the 4th after returning my rental car. I called Enterprise on Andrews AFB and the attendant told me to wait until 1000 to return the car. I did as he asked and waited for over a half hour without anyone being in the office. Andrews had extra security for everyone entering the terminal this day and finally I departed the terminal to walk the four miles back to the RV FAMCAMP. A beautiful day for a stroll through Base housing and across the golf course.

I arrived at Cheryl’s home in Alexandria in yard working clothes as the backyard was to be attacked today. Recall that I had already visited her and helped her clean up the front yard, sow grass seeds and plant some bushes. This kind of workout is far more appealing to me than working out in a gym or running/walking on a track! On the 5th we began working in the basement. Our original intention was to move everything away from the outer walls as she has a contractor coming in to rip out the floor near the walls to install French Drains. Half of the basement area was carpet and half is tile. Due to the water damage and mold in the carpet we decided to remove it. Parts of the carpet and padding was soaked completely so we decided to remove the vinyl tiles that were underneath the carpet. Much of the tack strip was molded and rotten so I worked to remove much of the tack strip also. Cheryl’s brother is a manager at Home Depot and he brought one of his team to the house to pick up an old dresser and they also removed all the carpet and pad from the house.

The 6th was my time to take the RV to a local Thor Motor Coach dealer to get my tires looked at. They refused to help me and referred me to a tire dealer a few miles away. Next door to the RV dealership I filled up the propane tank at a Tractor Supply Store. I learned from this exercise that they have the least expensive propane. Good to know info! I arrived at the tire dealer and Robert took the time to remove the rear wheel covers and found that the air valve extension running from the inner tire was bad. He did fill up my tires to 70 PSI (Door tag states 75 front/65 rear) all around as each was only inflated to 50 PSI. The tire shop did not have a new extension so I drove back to the RV dealership. They had one that almost fits so I bought it as better than nothing until I can get it replaced.  I also purchased a vent cover to install while at Shenandoah. This will allow me to keep a ceiling vent open when it rains to circulate air.

The 7th found Cheryl and I traveling to Shenandoah National Park, Big Meadows campground where I had made reservations until May 15th. I had received in my new Good Sam’s Rand McNally 7” RV specific GPS and set it to ‘No highways – No toll roads’ and we took some back roads from Alexandria, VA to the North Starting point of the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park boundary. We each filled up our vehicles before beginning the trip into the park and ate at a local restaurant. So off we go! Oops, there is a tunnel that is closed at mile marker 30 something so we’ll have to take a circuitous route off the mountain and back up again to finally make mile marker 50 where the Big Meadows campground is. Nice countryside scenery so all is good. Just more of Virginia back country that I get to enjoy. I learned that there are 35 camp sites in Big Meadows that are ‘first come, first serve’. I only have reservations for 7-8, 10-15. Cheryl and I stopped at one of these where I kept the rig until the 10th. The lesson I learned from this is that the awning should be facing east when possible because the evening hours when you are relaxing outside the RV will then be shaded and much more comfortable. So on the 10th I relocated to a spot across the street from me that gave me the added bonus of a much more level site.

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Upon arrival at the campground and setting up the RV we went to the camp store and visitor center. Missed our opportunities at the visitor center to obtain trail maps as it was too late in the afternoon and they closed on us. I grilled pork chops and we opened a can of Bush’s grilling beans for dinner. We shared a bottle of red wine as we played Cribbage and UNO. While Cheryl was rusty at cribbage she proved a worthy opponent.

After a repast of bacon and eggs for breakfast on the 8th Cheryl and I went hiking. We took a 2.6 mile hike to the 67’ Rose River Falls and continued on the Rose River Loop Trail to complete a 4 mile circuit on this moderate, shady trail with stream, cascades and waterfall. A nice hike where we stopped often along the way to sit on the rocks of the Rose River where we enjoyed the view and solitude. Gemina – Cheryl’s African dog, enjoyed the hike as much as we did, at one point we took our shoes off and waded in the water – it was COLD! Gemina was not a fan either! I prepared a meal of grilled Salmon and asparagus with a shared ear of corn for dinner. Of course we also enjoyed glasses of red wine as we again played Cribbage and UNO.

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There were many small cascading falls along this river path.

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So nice and peaceful!

A light breakfast on the 9th and then we went to South River Falls for another 2.6 mile hike. This one kicked my butt as it was 1.3 miles down a steep trail and 1.3 miles back up that same trail. But we ate a sandwich lunch at the falls to replenish our energy and rested a few minutes before coming back up.  I think the payday candy bar may have been the real winner here! Gemina was mostly a nice puppy on this hike and was much more sociable with others, both human and dog. Sadly Cheryl had to return to Alexandria and prepare for her contractors coming on the 11th to demo her basement and implace the French Drains. I found the campsite very, very quiet after Cheryl and Gemina left.

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At one stop on the hike we noticed the fauna growing out of the rocks, much like air plants.

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And growing from the wood with moss.

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I noticed my fresh water tank just about empty and began to look for water. I was going to drive to the sewage dump site but one of my neighbors tells me about a water faucet just off the trail beside my RV. I realize that I don’t have a long enough water hose I approach my neighbors to obtain 2 ½ other hoses to reach my tank and fill it up! This gave me a chance to meet and greet my neighbors. One of the neighbors is a Viet Nam vet who served as a Navy Corpsman with the Marines and then later as a Registered Nurse in Desert Storm. He has prostate cancer as a result of Agent Orange and the cancer has now spread to other organs. He married his partner of 10 years only 2 weeks ago. Another neighbor wants to retire in a year and would like to travel with another couple for 6 or so months to visit National Parks throughout the western states. Another couple next to me spent years traveling in a 1979 class C motorhome much like mine and worked as camp hosts with the National Park system but settled down for a period to enjoy their grandchildren. They are looking for another Class C RV, probably a Minnie Winnie, to begin their travels anew next year. They were very informative regarding travel in Maine and Canada. He even broke out maps to show me routes and lakes to camp at.

The 10th was a lazy day of recuperation and visiting with my new neighbors as I moved from C132 to C140 across the street.  The advantage of this move is the position of the sun. At site C132 the afternoon/evening sun was not stopped with the awning out. Even my tent camping neighbors would get on the other side of their car to enjoy sitting out reading and talking. So I am now a little closer to the tent campers and nearer to a toilet facility but almost everyone left during the day and the park is very, very quiet. My neighbor is a retired Navy Lieutenant Commander who after retiring in 1988 with 22 years’ service worked for Lockheed Martin in secure communications. He and his wife are both now retired and enjoying their grandchildren as much as possible. They have a lake house near Richmond, VA and their family comes during the summer to enjoy that environment. I steamed my snow crab legs and roasted an ear of corn for dinner. I realized that while I could probably eat all 4 clusters of crab that I should invite this nice couple to join me and share in my crab leg dinner.  They brought their beanie weenies over and joined me for conversation and the crab legs.

I must admit to some concern about a bus load of Muslim students. The girls were dressed with their skin covered except their hands and face as they passed a football around among themselves. Of course the young men were in shorts and t-shirts while they played volleyball. I was cautious around this group. I guess I carry a sense of distrust in my heart for the Muslim practicing people.

I woke on the morning of the 11th ready to take another hike. I left out of my campsite and headed toward the Visitors Center to get a map specific to the Dark Hollow Falls Trail. This proved to be a .7 mile trek on its own. I learned that the tunnel is now open so I’ll be able to return to Alexandria via Skyline Drive rather than via the detour.  Armed with a map of the 1.4 round trip, very steep trail to the 70’ falls I set off on my adventure. I stopped at a few of the crystal clear ponds on the way to observe the brown stream trout. I kept looking for salamanders too but I never saw one. Deer, squirrels, knats and ants is all I saw other than the trout. The falls were beautiful though and on the way back I followed the 1.8 mile easy circuit ‘Story of the Forest Trail’. While on this trail I took it upon myself to remove some of the fallen trees that lay across the trail so that the children walking the trail will have it easier.

Dark Hollow Falls!

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The beauty of the Dark Hollow Falls.

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Looking away from Dark Hollow Falls.

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The bottom of Dark Hollow Falls.

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This is the scene from the very bottom of the falls. I trekked an additional .2 miles down a very steep trail to sit on a bridge for this photo of what is not even the main falls.

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A tree blooming on the Story of the Forest Trail.

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Back at the campground I find myself surrounded by deer. Notice that one has an antennae around its neck.

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This is the end of my RV and I’m sitting typing this entry as the deer just meanders around.

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So nice that the deer don’t run away but just keep grazing. I watched several dandelion heads disappear as this deer hung around my RV site.

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One of my neighbors came by asking to borrow cinnamon to make French Toast for her husband and I guess we were talking too long because her husband shows up after 15 or so minutes. These are one of the couples that loaned me a hose to fill up my fresh water tank the other day. I didn’t have cinnamon but he tells me that he has internet on his phone at the lodge front door. I thank him for the info and in the afternoon trekked up to the lodge and not only did they have internet but I found this particular spot that also has cell phone coverage!  Yah! I sent out two journal entries so people wouldn’t think I’d fallen off the face of the earth – Thanks Betty for checking in on me! And I was able to call Alexis and speak with her and I could hear Emily in the background telling me hi too. Of the 148 emails I downloaded I immediately trashed 68 of them and will peruse the others later. I need to determine what I want for dinner and take a shower. Another great workout hiking to the falls. Cheryl, you will be proud of me as I picked up my pace coming up from the Dark Hollow Falls pretending that you were leading me! I think I’m in for rain later this evening and many of the tent campers have placed tarps over their tents. Smart folks. Oh, my vivo fit is very happy with me too as I have exceeded all the goals set for me!

Last night the wind picked up and the rain fell upon us in sporadic bursts of heavy pounding that must’ve kept the tent campers awake more than me and with the rain hitting the top of the RV with such force I was awake much of the night. Because of the rain I felt it best to rest today, the 12th and let the trails dry out.

The winds blew again last night but no rain, just cooler weather. A perfect day for making the Lewis Falls trail hike. Cheryl and I had been told by one of the ladies at the Visitor’s Center that this trail wasn’t as good as the others. I beg to differ with that woman as I’ve now completed the hike. I started off from my campsite wearing a jacket as the air temperature was only in the 50’s.  I began the trek at the amphitheater located on the edge of the campground and only .1 mile from the Appalachian Trail. I followed the Appalachian Trail for a mile before turning onto the Lewis Falls trail that is described as passing through a thick and beautiful forest that is sometimes quite rocky, and has several switchbacks. As the trail nears the falls, the trail gets rougher and the sound of the stream on the left grew louder. After crossing a stream (on rocks) at the top of the falls you continue on a rough but short route to a rock walled observation point. The falls are 81 feet total as the falls thunder down in two streams onto a large rock, then divide again and continue to drop. For the return trip I took a trail that runs parallel to the Appalachian Trail, just slightly lower down the mountain. This trail meets back up at the Appalachian Trail to make a complete circuit of 3.3 miles. While on the Appalachian Trail near the lodge I discovered that I had internet and cell phone service. I called Robin to say Hi! And see how she was doing. The round trip from my campsite was only 3.5 miles but the falls dropped 1,000 feet in elevation – and back up!

There are several lessons I learned today while hiking on the Lewis Falls Trail and the Appalachian Trail. First it was totally awesome to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail, if only for a short distance, and think of the thousands of hikers that have chosen to accept the challenge of hiking this trail alone. Just in the mile I was on it I met three hikers with all their gear on their backs. I was impressed. OK, so I learned that the Appalachian Trail is a developed trail. The edges had been shorn up with rock walls to support travelers. I imagine the reinforcements date back to the 1930’s when the Shenandoah Park was first established. Second I learned that shoes are a choice. My Merrill hiking shoes are light and easy to walk in but lack the ankle support and thickness of my Keen hiking boots. Hmm, light or sturdy? I learned that no matter which shoe you have on if you want to enjoy the forest and views around you, then you must stop and look around. If you don’t keep your eye on the Trail you will stumble over rocks and roots!  I learned that there is lots of color in the forest. There are purple, pink, yellow and blue flowers scattered throughout the Forest floor. I learned that getting up these mountain trails is all about attitude more than physical stamina. The more trails I walk, the less strenuous they are! Go figure! I’m hoping that when Jeff and the girls are 62 I’ll still be able to hike with them!

After this hike I visited the shower trailer to shower and wash my hair in preparation of the nights venture to the lodge. The showers are being renovated so there is a trailer in the parking lot for campers to shower. This building supports a laundry, showers and the purchase of wood and ice but is closed at the moment with a contracted agent supplying the shower facility. Imagine my surprise as I am prepared for the shower and step in to find there is no water! I get dressed in the clothes I came in and test each of the other showers to find that there is no water. I make contact with one of the workers who tells me that the guy responsible is taking wood to the main store and will return in 15 or so minutes. I ask if there is a valve that may have been turned off but he didn’t know of one. After 25 minutes I went to the check in station and asked the ranger about the water. It just happens that the camp host was there and went to investigate for himself. Guess what? Yep, no water in the showers. While I don’t think this gentleman is the sharpest tool in the shed and doesn’t have much of a personality he did trace the water lines and discover that someone had turned off the spigot as it was leaking around the building. With a great deal of satisfaction he announced that he had resolved the problem! After a long hot shower I stopped by the rangers’ office to thank them as I made my way back down the hill to my camp site. Another victory!

Below are views from the Appalachian Trail:

Flowers create a carpet over the Forest floor giving a colorful accent to the background of green leaves.

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Even the fallen petals provide color against the brown earth as I hike this historic trail.

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The Appalachian Trail marker near Big Meadows Campground and Lewis Falls.

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The Appalachian Trail. I’ll admit that I never imagined that I would be on it.

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Can you imagine walking 500+ miles on the Appalachian Trail with views like this? Of course there is an almost sheer cliff just the other side of these trees.

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These two deer didn’t seem to have any problem with me walking by.

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The hike varied from seeing the beauty of nature in bloom to the scene below where the distant mountain ranges call.

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It almost looks like basil.

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Then I make it to the falls after passing downed trees that were gratefully moved off the trail and other flowers in bloom. I feel blessed to have taken this hike today and will enjoy dinner and wine at the lodge while thinking of you.

It’s hard to tell just how rocky and steep this trail is. Just beautiful scenery!

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Don’t think these are too boring but by looking at them while walking the rocky path I almost went over the edge!

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I couldn’t resist these photos of the flowers.

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I was standing on top of the rock wall to get this photo of the falls splashing down on the rocks then separating again to another falls. There was another trail that had been forged precariously on the edge where I’m certain the view would have been more spectacular. Just call me chicken as this was as much risk as I was willing to assume.

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Mark, you’ll appreciate that I have attached to my camel backpack the British brass whistle that we picked up in the Afghan bazaar. I have it available in the event I am disabled or lost. I also have a small compass, first aid kit, flashlight with signal capability, snacks and of course water in the camel. I hope that all I ever need is the water and snacks!

The lodge opened tonight and I went about 1700 to enjoy dinner and wanted to hear the live music too but it didn’t start until 2100. Before I left for dinner I began to drool for a pasta dish. My first stop in the Big Meadows Lodge was the Tap Room. Their menu was a normal pub style sandwich menu. The dining room touted a gourmet menu and that it was. The night’s special was Salmon with asparagus, soup of the day and a rice pilaf for only $27. I thought about it then sighted a pasta dish. Penne pasta in a Basil Pesto sauce with roasted vegetables: zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper, onion, grape tomato, mushrooms, and pinion nuts. I had chicken added as well as garlic toast. So much on the plate that I now have lunch for tomorrow in my refrigerator. I didn’t get to take advantage of the cell phone reception as there were too many people and the reception was bad and the internet could not connect to my mail account!

20 May 2015

I left the beauty of the Shenandoah National Forest on the morning of the 15th to return to Alexandria where I could help Cheryl with her home renovation. Two hands are always better than one! We demo’d the basement, placed studs on the wall, painted in the kitchen and living room areas, cleaned construction gear out, mowed lawns and did I say anything about all the trips up and down stairs carrying heavy tiles out to the trash bins?

Time passed quickly and we even managed to clean up for dinner every once in a while. Cheryl has departed for Belize and I’m keeping her dog company or vice versa. 5 loads of laundry and I’m all caught up. Stinky, sweaty work clothes – ewe!

Mowing the lawn and cleaning the house and then Don’s birthday party was a success. Today I’ve put a vent cover over the back vent so I’ll always have fresh air available even in the rain! Yah! So now I’m trying to contact an RV dealer that will work on my RV where the paneling has come loose near the refrigerator.

Tomorrow I have to settle down and rewrite the first few chapters of my book.  All is good.

25 May 2015

Today is Memorial Day. Saturday night I was honored to have my friend Don Sheehan over for dinner. Before dinner we were able to catch the class VI store (liquor store) on Ft Belvoir before it closed and Don was able to stock up on some wine that saved him some money. Then I grilled ribeye steak and shrimp with a Vidalia onion and Don made a great salad. We talked for a long time and made a date to visit Mount Vernon on Sunday.  We couldn’t have picked a better day or better time to visit Mount Vernon as the weather was perfect with the sun shining and the crowd not yet too dense. Of course we were not able to have lunch at the Mt Vernon restaurant as it was closed for a private event. They seem to be closed a lot! But Don did get a souvenir wine and I got a Mt Vernon bottle opener for the RV.

The front of the George Washington mansion at Mt Vernon.

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A view of the Potomac through the portico at Mt Vernon Mansion.

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We saw the coach that carried our first President!

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A view of the Potomac from the porch on the Mt Vernon Mansion

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Slaves quarters on the Washington 8,000 acre plantation.

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The tomb of George and Martha Washington is on the left where the flags are.

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We learned the importance of spinning wool into thread for clothes and the value of clothing during this period of history.

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A sixteen sided barn used to separate grain from the stalks to be used at the Grist Mill to make flour. Bread and Clothing were necessities.

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Shearing sheep the old fashioned way.

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Washington only wanted to be a farmer, never the General or President!

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Mount Vernon has its own pier!

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My battle buddy Don Sheehan

After breakfast on Monday I took Gemina, Cheryl’s puppy dog, on a walk to Mount Vernon and onward on the bike trail next to the George Washington Parkway. The parking lot was completely full and the trail was very busy with bicycle riders, dog walkers and walkers! We joined this group and walked to the Riverside Park and then an additional half mile before turning around. An outstanding day for a walk and Gemina was so well behaved! As it is only about ¼ mile from Cheryl’s house to Mt Vernon we were able to get about 3 ½ miles walk in before 2pm when I showered. Of all the people that I passed today not one person recognized my ‘Viet Nam Veteran’ hat and said anything. I don’t expect everyone to say ‘thank you for your service’ but I would have thought that at least one person out of the hundred or so that I saw today would have said something. Oh well, this day is for those that did not return from the war, not those that did.

Hamburgers on the grill, watching the Dirty Dozen and Kelly Hero’s and sipping on a beer. Life doesn’t get much better.

In a way of tribute to my time in Viet Nam I have extracted a short history of the USS Oriskany CVA-34 for your reading pleasure.

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Cease fire 1/28/1973

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Oriskany underwent a restricted availability at Hunter’s Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco during January 1971, receiving a much looked-for upgrade in the SPN-41 all-weather carrier landing system. Refresher training passed uneventfully in March, and on 14 May the aircraft carrier departed Alameda for her sixth Vietnam deployment. During this 1971 deployment, the main mission remained to strike operations in Laos; and while there were no combat losses, CVW-19 did lose four aircraft to operational accidents. Two cases were fatal, with Cdr. Charles P. Metzler killed when his Crusader inverted and splashed while in a landing holding pattern on 21 June and Cdr. Thomas P. Frank drowned after ejecting from his stricken Corsair II following a catapult launch failure on 1 November. A week later, Oriskany aircraft took part in Operation Proud Deep, the successful 7–8 November strike (the largest in three years) against three North Vietnamese airfields whose fighters were beginning to worry Air Force planners. Following these last missions, Oriskany sailed south to Singapore for eight days of upkeep – eventually crossing the equator and adding 2,000 more Shellbacks to the realm of King Neptunus Rex. Oriskany departed Singapore on 3 December 1971, and crossed the Pacific to arrive at Alameda via Subic Bay on 18 December. As per her custom, Oriskany entered Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco, on 17 January 1972 for her winter restricted availability. Refresher training followed in April, 1972 and she embarked CVW-19 for qualifications in May. Events in Vietnam meanwhile, forced the warship into feverish preparations for deployment; and she sailed for her seventh Vietnam tour on 5 June. Following refueling stops at Pearl Harbor and Guam, the aircraft carrier arrived at Subic Bay on 21 June. The 1972 deployment was met with various problems, including a collision with ammunition ship Nitro (AE-23) during an underway replenishment, the death of Lt. Leon F. Haas, and lose of two screws (propellers) and one shaft, which required the ship much of August and November in Yokosuka, Japan to make repairs.[8]

With peace talks in Paris stalled, Oriskany‍ ’​s aircraft returned to Yankee Station and continued to pound communist targets in South Vietnam. Later, she joined the “Christmas bombing” campaign, for her sixth line period, 27 December – 30 January 1973. Attacks were then restricted to enemy targets south of the 20th parallel for the first two weeks of January and then below the 17th parallel starting on the 16th. With the Paris Peace Accords signed on 27 January, Oriskany‍ ’​s aviators finished up their last strikes over South Vietnam that same day. After a short rest period at Cubi Point in early February the aircraft carrier conducted one final combat line period, 11–22 February, when CVW-19 bombed enemy targets in Laos in a last effort to assist indigenous allies there against Communist infiltration. Following upkeep at Cubi Point 8–14 March, Oriskany sailed for home, arriving at Alameda on 30 March after completing 169 days on the line, her longest – and what proved to be her last combat tour; all-in-all receiving ten battle stars for its Vietnamese service.[8]

After her usual fast-paced refit and training cycle, Oriskany got underway for the Far East on 18 October 1973. After arrival at Subic Bay on 5 November, the aircraft carrier began preparations for operations in the Indian Ocean, a change of pace from her last seven tours off Vietnam. The aircraft carrier sailed south, transited the Straits of Malacca and rendezvoused with Hancock (CV-19) in the Indian Ocean. The two carriers conducted training operations there, and Oriskany visited Mombasa, Kenya, 22–27 December, before returning to the South China Sea in January 1974. The carrier then conducted various type training exercises out of Subic Bay in February and March, primarily concentrating on day and night flight operations in conjunction with other 7th Fleet units. Following a series of three Fleet exercises in April, the warship visited Manila in May before sailing for home, arriving at Alameda on 5 June 1974. Two months later, the warship entered Long Beach Naval Shipyard on 15 August for an extended availability that lasted until 9 April 1975. Following refresher operations with CVW-19, Oriskany sailed on her fifteenth and final western Pacific deployment on 16 September 1975. The carrier conducted war at sea and other exercises out of Subic Bay before returning home on 3 March 1976.[11] Owing to defense budget cuts, as well as wear and tear on the old carrier, Oriskany was tapped for inactivation on 15 April 1976.

29 May 2015

Today I sat and thought about the things I’ve learned on my journey so far. There really are too many great lessons learned but here a few that are poignant enough to share.

  • Your health is truly more valuable than riches. Even though my muscles seem to ache a lot I just know that this walking and work is helping to keep me healthy.
  • I know that my aches and pains cannot compare to what my daughter Alexis is going through or to what my niece Robin is going through. On a daily basis I can say that I’m ‘healthy as a worm’ but that Alexis has undergone surgery twice, chemotherapy twice and radiation to eradicate her body of cancer and she is only 29 years old. Robin suffers from Chronic Pancreatitis and has been given notice that her life expectancy has been reduced. I am healthy and grateful!
  • Alexis and Emily appeared on TV in Seattle Washington to share her story of surviving cancer in preparation for running the Puget Sound Komen race for the cure.

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Susan G. Komen Puget Sound

6 down, 6 more to go. Komen Puget Sound volunteer Alexis Coffer was first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was only 23 years old. She was recently diagnosed a second time at age 29. Let’s show Alexis some Komen family love and support as she starts the second half of her chemo treatments tomorrow. We heart emoticon you, Alexis! #survivorstrong

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I know that I can’t support her myself and that the prayers and show of love from everyone is what makes her such a special person. Help her by doing what you can at: http://www.gofundme.com/AlexisKC

  • I have learned that on a hot, muggy day the dog and I give out at about mile 2 and have to call it quits! Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
  • I have learned that by installing 3 MaxxAir Vent covers on my RV that cross circulation of the air is possible without rain entering the RV and that was a good investment on my part.
  • I’ve learned that friends are valuable assets that are always there just ‘lurking’ to be your friend. It is wonderful to reach out and to be reached out to. Life is good!
  • Dick called me during the Memorial Day Weekend to let me know that he had been thinking about me. What a wonderful surprise! I thanked him for appreciating all that I have done but honestly I am only a memory. Those that are doing now, protecting our great nation or whatever it is that they are doing is much more relevant than a past I lived that is only a memory now.
  • I’ve learned that life is so very precious and that it all can change in an instant. Rod, Cheryl’s brother had a motorcycle accident last Monday and now has a metal pin inserted in his leg from the knee to the ankle. He can’t drive or work for a month.

o   Gwen, my cousin was admitted to the hospital last night in Austin, TX and now has a pace maker inserted to keep her heart beating.

  • I’ve learned that the power of relationships can keep inspiring others. MG Greene will have a memorial at Aberdeen Proving Ground on Jun 4th that I will attend and share how he inspired me.
  • I’ve learned that cherries are addictive.
  • Learned that cooking on an induction plate with a cast iron griddle works when it is raining outside!
  • I’ve learned that having a dog sleep beside you provides warmth in the heart as much as warmth in temperature.
  • I’ve learned that I should say thank you to each of you and wish you well today because, well we just don’t know what tomorrow brings.

believe

30 May 2015

Another beautiful day in Paradise!

Yesterday I installed the last 2 of 3 vent covers and what a wonderful difference it makes in the RV. Having an outlet for the super hot air that collects when a vehicle is just sitting there makes it very comfortable entering the RV. The vents can stay open during a rain storm also as they are now covered. At any rate I’m sure it was a cheap thrill for Cheryl’s neighbors to watch me climb on top of my RV and scoot around with my tools during installation. My legs were cramping by the time I finished, but finish I did! After a shower I was laying on the sofa for a nap and Don called to ask if I wanted to come over to his place for dinner. I had also promised him I’d help him to get his gas grill to grilling as he has been using a very small charcoal grill since last fall. Of course I said yes and headed out into heavy Friday afternoon traffic. Much to my pleasure though the traffic was leaving town, not going into town so my drive wasn’t too bad. Gasoline prices in Alexandria are $2.79 to $2.91 so when I saw the price in Arlington of $2.59 I pulled in and filled up the Jeep Rubicon that I’m driving. What I’ve learned about this Jeep is that without a running board I have difficulty getting up into it! Also the 6 speed manual transmission isn’t something that I want, I’ll keep using an automatic! So Don isn’t at his house when I arrive but the door is open. I had been thinking about his gas grill and wanted to see if the hose was connected tightly to the propane tank as sometimes unless it is really tight then the propane doesn’t enter the hose.  I was right! I called Don to let him know that I was at his home and told him that the grill had been repaired and was ready to use. All is good! I shouldn’t have driven home after dinner and wine but I had a 0900 walking appointment with a friend and Gemina would never understand being alone overnight!

This morning I was up early and ate a breakfast of cottage cheese and a banana before hooking Gemina up to the leash and heading out for Mount Vernon.  We arrived early at the Mount Vernon parking lot and the trail head for the Potomac walking trail. It is a muggy July in May here in Alexandria! I couldn’t get Gemina to drink water but she knows herself best! Melissa arrived and we began what turned out to be a 5.5 mile walk. Melissa has a really nice Class B super van that she travels in and paid me the courtesy of coming by to view my ‘rig’ before taking off to record grades and other administrative chores as she is a teacher at the end of the school year. I was appreciative that she took out the time to walk and visit with me.

I am toying with the idea of returning to Indianapolis after Cheryl returns and selling my Nissan Pathfinder to CarMax and purchasing a TOAD – towed car for my RV. Then I can take off for New Jersey for the Rock, Ribs and Ridges festival with Jennifer. I have a salesman in Indy looking at towable vehicles for me and we talked for a long time about what I wanted and what price I was willing to pay. If I’m going to pay cash, then I should be able to find one fairly quickly.

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.

Cold Mountain view

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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Cherry B

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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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Yorktown

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

The Journey Begins! March 2015 – Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina

5 March 2015

While I still have good internet capability I am trying to find the best solution to record my travels. I only heard from two people concerning the travel blog that I created and only 3 people are following. Do you prefer I email? Let me know what you prefer, or if you even want to continue receiving communications from me.  I’m reposting the two entries I’ve made from the blog site and including a Pentagon IG report from the Stars and Stripes below:

  1. http://paulacoffer.com

Accepting delivery of my new Thor Motor Coach Chateau 23U in Alvarado, TX!

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This is the beginning of this new journey, the next big adventure in my life. Welcome to my blog, a place where I will upload photos, videos and stories of the places I go with ‘Harry’. Harry and I will travel the backroads and highways of America in search of peace, love, adventure, friendships in an attempt to live life to the fullest; honoring America and her people, culture and spirit.

  1. 10 March 2015

I arrived in Dallas, TX about noon on the 5th of March. My salesman at Motor Home Specialist in Alvarado didn’t think I was coming until the 6th so my new Thor Motor Coach Chateau 23U was not quite ready for prime time! This worked out well as I had been up since 3:30am to catch the flight from Indy to DFW. I was provided with a loner car to see the sites of Burleson, TX where there is a Camping World store. I did do some shopping there to pick up a surge protector/regular for power and a regulator for the water supply as well as a water filter. I had not toured my new unit and didn’t want to get anything else just yet.

I tried to contact Shirley, a friend I knew while in Afghanistan but she was starting a new business and couldn’t squeeze me in so I didn’t get to visit with her. After I completed the walk through of the RV and it was positioned on a pad as I would be spending the night I did contact Debbie and using the loaner car I drove to her home about an hour away from the dealership. By the time we finished dinner and talking it was much too late for me to return so I remained with her for the night keeping the sofa occupied! Even though I was totally exhausted I had a sleepless night, anxious to begin this new adventure. Upon arrival at the MHS lot I prepared the unit for travel while waiting for the office personnel to arrive as they were going to let me hand carry the Certificate of Origin to facilitate registration in Indiana. With certificate in hand and well wishes from everyone I get ready to load up while the technicians make a last minute check of the unit.  They handed me the keys and much to my disappointment the key fob did not work to open or close the doors.

Jamie at MHS has to be the most patient man in the world. He methodically went through a process of checking all the usual culprits to no avail. He contacted the manufacturer and they emailed him the manual which allowed him to identify where a ground connection was loose. He replaced the connector and I’m ready to travel the roads of life once again. During the few hours that it took Jamie to perform his magic I had the opportunity to talk with Boyd, my sales representative. He shared stories about his son (it is his 18th birthday) and his desires to join ROTC in college next year. Of course as a retired Army officer who also joined ROTC in college all I could do was support this decision. He learned of my enlistment just out of high school, my 2 tours to Viet Nam, my college time at New Mexico State University where I earned Distinguished Military Graduate honor, to assignments in Texas, Germany, Korea, Wash DC and Indianapolis. He was most interested in the 3+ years I spent in Afghanistan working to teach the Afghan government officials how to build the national budget for the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army. The owner of MHS has not served in the military but his family has and he has great respect for those that have. He provided me with a full tank of gas (55 gal tank) and a full tank of propane (12.2 gal) to start my journey!

My first stop was Star City, AR where I stayed two nights with Margaret. We went on a shopping spree to outfit ‘Harry’ with some of the basic items needed. You know, coffee pot, tableware and dishes, pans, cutting boards, etc. I still have some items to purchase to organize groceries and items in the cabinets to keep glasses and dishes from moving around and breaking. I left Star City, Arkansas ignoring the GPS as it didn’t want to take me the quick way out to Little Rock!

The origin of ‘Harry’ as the name of my RV. I named my RV for a person that I respected greatly while I worked in Afghanistan. MG Harold Greene was my boss and over a 6 month period we built a close working relationship. I would joke with him about Andrew Luck – #12 on the Indianapolis Colts team and he would jibe me about Tom Brady – #12 on the New England Patriots team. General Greene believed in me and would say ‘I trust you, get it done’. He was killed in action on August 5, 2014 and I know that he is still looking out for me and so I want the both of us to travel to the National Parks and historic sites, meeting people and sharing a story of bravery and promise. So in honor of the memory of a friend I have named my RV ‘Harry’!

Arkansas has the absolutely worst major highways for pot holes!! Bone jarring holes that make your teeth snap together and dishes come flying out of cabinets as the RV slams into these tire eating holes in the road. To give Arkansas their fair due there was a sign that stated ‘Pot holes, slow down’. Then for the next 10+ miles it is smooth sailing on a brand new road! Complacency is not a good thing. The traffic is back up to normal speeds, there is only a light rain and then ‘GOTCHA’ these holes from a horror movie appear and the traffic is trying to dodge around them – but that is impossible! For about 50 to 100 feet the road is so bad and eaten up that the state should sue the company that laid that stretch as the rest of the pavement is doing just fine!  Oops, that doggone complacency set in again and now things bang around again and I have to wonder if my tires and rims are ok as I see some of the passenger cars and trucks are on the roadside changing their tires.  WOW!

I decide to continue driving to Indy even though it is late as I am anxious to get this vehicle registered in Indy, put the tags on and hit the road.

It’s Tuesday and I’ve just returned from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles with a paper plate in hand. I’m so disappointed that I didn’t get regular plates but the rules in Indiana have changed and the metal plates will be mailed to me. So now I can’t go too far from Indy until I get these metal plates as I don’t know where I’ll be for how long! Life is Good!

This gives me time to shop the ‘Container Store’ and Lowes to find storage and organization solutions that will work for me. I’m a week away from starting my adventure and it is raining in Indianapolis!!

Pentagon IG: No effort by Afghans to prevent waste of billions of US aid funds

By Tony Capaccio

Bloomberg News

Published: March 11, 2015

WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars in U.S. and international aid for Afghanistan’s security forces are at risk because the ministries that manage the money aren’t preventing waste and corruption, the Pentagon inspector general found.

“Future direct assistance funds are vulnerable to increased fraud and abuse” because the Afghan government has “had numerous contract award and execution irregularities” and procurement-law violations, according to an audit labeled “For Official Use Only.”

The Afghan National Security Forces remain dependent on U.S. and allied financing as foreign troops depart. The Pentagon has provided $3.3 billion in payments directly to Afghan ministries since October 2010, and an additional $13 billion in such direct military aid is projected through 2019, three years after President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw all but a small number of U.S. troops.

The Feb. 26 audit bolsters previous assessments by the separate office of John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, that the country’s Defense and Interior ministries aren’t ready to manage the funds going to the military and national police force without major U.S. help.

“The ministries did not adequately develop, award, execute or monitor contracts funded with U.S. direct assistance,” Michael Roark, assistant inspector inspector general for contract management, wrote to U.S. and allied commanders in a letter submitting the new audit.

In one case cited in the report, the Combined Security Transition Command of U.S. and allied forces refused to provide a $15 million, or 25 percent, increase to an Afghan Army fuel contract that was requested five days after a contract was awarded. The command called it a “possible vehicle for corruption,” according to the report.

The Afghan defense ministry also “significantly overestimated fuel requirements” for military vehicles, generators and power plants last year, according to the audit.

In another instance, an audit by the combined command concluded that the defense ministry “lacked controls to provide reasonable assurance it appropriately spent” $120.5 million of direct U.S. assistance for clothing, the inspector general’s report found.

The audit criticized the transition command for inadequately training the ministries to manage U.S. assistance and instead doing the work itself, creating a “continued dependence.”

Officials with the command said “pressure to maintain hard-fought gains” on the battlefield “and not compromise” Afghan military operations” with poorly executed support contracts “resulted in the coalition overlooking ministerial shortcomings.”

The audit didn’t say what U.S. or allied entity was bringing such pressure to bear.

U.S. Army Major General Todd Semonite of the transition command, wrote Jan. 28 in a response to the audit that his organization will continue to withhold funds when necessary as leverage when documentation is suspect.

Semonite also said he was ordering new steps to improve capabilities, including imposing tighter temporary controls and hiring the Washington-based Oxus Consulting Group to work with the ministries.

“Improvement is expected in decision-making, procurement of goods and services and financial management,” Semonite wrote.

The command also is strengthening its program to train the Afghan military’s financial management personnel at the corps and regional headquarters level, he said.

18 Mar 2015

Greetings all!

I have not yet hit the road as my metal license plate has not arrived L. While waiting I received a note from my dentist for an April appointment, knowing I wouldn’t be here I went in yesterday. A perfect checkup with one exception: A crown was loose and upon investigation there is a little decay and so a new crown is going to be necessary. I don’t want to wait for 2+ weeks for a new crown to be made so I asked about the one day service that my dentist in Bloomington, IN had back in 1999. My dentist doesn’t offer that but tomorrow morning I have an appointment with another dentist that does so by tomorrow afternoon I should be ‘golden’ and ready to go as soon as the license plate arrives.

I have ‘tricked’ out the RV as much as I can in anticipation of my extended trip. I have purchased a 2 person Kayak and paddles, a dash cam to record the highways I travel (share with you when edited and of interest), a GoPro movie camera to catch the hiking and biking adventures, a 35mm digital camera with zoom lens to catch the beauty of a sunrise or sunset or to provide you with a view of one of nature’s beautiful monuments that I visit. I have everything in the RV except the food I will acquire on the day I depart. Fully gassed up at $1.95 a gallon! Still cost $72 to fill it up though. I’ve washed the rig to get rid of the travel scum as I went through the ice/snow/rain from Dallas to Indy. I can’t think of anything else to do before departing.

I know that everything happens for a reason and this delay must be a good thing, maybe to allow the weather to improve and parks to open? But I’m anxious and excited about getting on the road to experience fully this journey in my life.

Alexis has finished her first phase of Chemo and in a couple of weeks will begin the second phase consisting of 12 weekly treatments before radiation and reconstructive surgery. I thank each and every one of you for the prayers and well wishes you have expressed for her treatments and recovery. There are people from all over the world sending her good, positive healing energy. Emily continues to be the consummate care giver and I’m so very proud of her for being there for her twin sister.

The only two events I have scheduled is the May 2nd wedding for Maile and a June 27-28 festival in New Jersey with Jennifer. As the weather improves I’ll change my GPS to ‘no highways’ ’no tolls’ where now I’m traveling highways through the Smoky Mountains as some of the roads won’t open until May. I guess I’m jumping the travel gun, so to speak!

More another day as I begin the journey, I just wanted to answer collectively the questions about ‘how the road is’ when I’ve not yet started.

21 Mar 2015

My journey begins! I’m departing Indianapolis this morning. I have prepared ‘Harry’ as much as I can. Based on Karen’s observation that the bed wasn’t up to the standard of my home bed (after so much time in Afghanistan sleeping on inferior bedding I agreed with her) I purchased a 3” memory foam mattress to go under a 1 ½” pillow top mattress pad. I’ve not slept on it but know it will ‘heaven’. I have placed my new RV Indiana tags on the RV using a US Army Retired license plate holder. I’ve placed the bicycle rack on the rig and both of my bikes; one city and one mountain bike.

I went to the dentist and he could not replace the crown so he extracted the tooth and found an abscess that needed to be cleaned out. I guess it was a good thing that he couldn’t replace the crown as the abscess would haunt me later. But now I have to fly back to Indy on July 9th to receive an implant. Still all good! I’ll be with Jennifer the 27-28 of June and then I’ll decide if flying or driving is a better option. I still want to travel Maine and the Northeastern United States this summer.

My first nightly stop is in Knoxville where I will visit with friends before moving along to Asheville where I hope to stay a week and enjoy the area sites. I’ve been asked to attend a singles gathering in Sevierville, TN on the 12th -17th  of April. I’m thinking about it but it will depend on the weather and whether or not I have adjusted to the routine of being in the RV.

This first stay in NC and TN will help me to get organized and in a routine. I have received my Senior All Access Pass for all National Parks! Woo Hoo! This means free admission to all National Parks and 50% off most services. I also purchased a CB radio but haven’t had it installed yet. I’ll also purchase a satellite radio and have it installed as radio on the road is hit and miss and the cabover sleep area is blocking the radio signal (I think).

Anyway, I’m off on an adventure of a lifetime, thanks for joining me.

24 Mar 2015

Asheville is awesome! I arrived on Sunday afternoon and set up camp and just chilled. I had been on a Facebook solo RV women site and a woman named Cindi volunteered to show me around Asheville one day while I was here.

Yesterday was that day. How wonderful to have a local show me the places here that I should see and even a few that I should come back to for a greater look. We went to the Biltmore Village District and viewed the historic district and the multitude of shops – this is definitely a tourist area! We drove by 12 Bones BBQ where President Obama ate while here – of course it was another of his golfing vacations. We had stuffed ourselves at breakfast so passed on eating there. Then found out it was closed for dinner, oh well, maybe next time. We toured the River Arts District which appears to be inside old warehouses. Cindi took me to Grove Park Inn. This beautiful hotel was built in 1913 and room 545 is said to be haunted. We took an elevator that was built into the chimney to keep the sound away from other guests to view the haunted room and the elevator operator was freely giving us a history lesson.

Then we hit the Pisgah National Forest looking for places for me to park the RV after next Sunday. The park doesn’t open until April 1st and some of the roads are still closed. It was a much more peaceful place than the park I’m in, Bear Creek RV Park, which is just off I-40 and all its noise. Cindi had a lake RV park that she likes and wanted to show me a particular spot that is fought for as it is isolated and is on the lake where the sun rise comes across the water and you have a perfect view. Alas, the park is closed until April 1st and that spot is not available. So I settled for another wonderful location that is up a little with a view of the lake and surrounding mountains. It is a little isolated and I have a feeling it is going to be just perfect for me and Harry. You know me, I’m a bit of a bargain hunter. Well at the Cascade Lake Recreation Area where I’ll be staying I asked the woman in the business office if they had any discounts. She tells me that they honor Passport America memberships. I ask her how much of a discount and she tells me it is 50% of the $40 per day site charge. So I tell her that I’ll go online that night and sign up for membership. She tells me that they also sell memberships so I ask her how much the Passport America membership costs. I pay $109 for a 3 year membership and get $100 off my stay!  Is that not awesome! We return to Asheville, or more appropriately Hendersonville where she lives and pick up her daughter and go eat in downtown Hendersonville at a terrific Mexican restaurant. When Cindi takes me home and her daughter tours the RV I share a piece of Afghan jewelry and scarves with them for being so kind to me.

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Back at Bear Creek RV today I’m asking about the cost of tickets to the Biltmore Estate and if she knew of a taxi service she would recommend and Glenda tells me to call her in the morning and she will come pick me up and let me use her car to go to the Biltmore Estate. WOW, this is truly great southern hospitality that goes above and beyond.

I thawed out a rib-eye steak to grill, cut up potatoes, onions and garlic to cook in an aluminum packet on the Weber electric grill – another first! Yumm, tasted great!

For Karen, the mattress is great! No regrets! On Thursday I take the RV to have a CB radio installed. Per Jennifer’s recommendations I’m holding off on the satellite radio as I purchased a cord that will connect my iPhone to my Bose Wave radio to have Pandora or other music through the Wave radio speakers and I can already play the iPhone through the RV’s radio speakers, even if they are difficult to hear when driving down the highway. But all is good. Life is good and I’m enjoying meeting with fellow campers and sharing a moment or two.

25 Mar 2015

The Biltmore Estate

Today was chilly and overcast with constant drizzle or fog, depending on your definition. So much for the weather report J. I bought a discount ticket $59 for two days from the Bear Creek RV center and Glenda, true to her word loaned me her Ford Escape to drive to the Biltmore Estate. True southern hospitality above and beyond. When I returned from Afghanistan after my first two years there I had purchased 10 small lapis boxes and placed a typed note in each of them that reads;

“This is a ‘Pay it Forward’ gift for you!

I lived and worked with the US Military and NATO forces in Afghanistan for 2 years. To show my appreciation I had this lapis box made specifically to give to you when I met you. You are receiving this gift made by women in need from Afghanistan because you have provided exceptional service to me today. I want to thank you for being such a special person. The value of this lapis lazuli box is in your spirit and in your giving of yourself to others. I wish you success in your life!”

I brought 4 of these with me and today I gave one to Glenda for exhibiting a genuinely true spirit of generosity and customer service that is definitely above requirements using anyone’s standard.

So I get to the Biltmore and take a picture or two from the walkway.

The Front Entrance

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Just to the side of the main building are spring flowers!

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The Biltmore is a beautiful if not opulent building. I was disappointed that many of the rooms had the appearance of being on the tour but were not. When I asked I was told that I could purchase additional tickets to see different areas of the home. This reminds me of some of the castles in Europe where much is cordoned off and not visited by tourists. I read the pamphlets for the Biltmore prior to going there and knew much of the history and did not purchase the self guided audio tour but the visit would have been enhanced, I think, if I had.

This estate is 8,000 acres large! Imagine that this house was built for just one family and provided 33 guest rooms with swimming pool, bowling alley, libraries, gardens, living rooms, etc.

The front entrance is surrounded by gargoyles and intricate decorative themes that continue throughout the estate.

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The gardens were just beautiful and you can see what they will be soon but I’m about 2-3 weeks too early to get the full benefit of all that is the Biltmore Gardens.

At the Biltmore village I ate a very tasty lunch at the ‘Bistro’. The calamari and local pils hit the spot for me.

I went onto the Biltmore village and the Winery. As I waited for the 1pm tour of the winery I spoke with a young woman who had migrated from New York and her husband was from Zimbabwe. Her son is in the Army so we just chatted to pass the time. Then I was the only one on the winery tour to start and was only joined by another couple. This meant I received a great introduction and history lesson and I did ask lots of questions. At the end of the tour wouldn’t you know it, the wine tasting was facilitated by the same young woman I had spoke with earlier. I bought two bottles that I hope to share with Ken and his wife in Wash DC and perhaps one with Don. I can never repay all the wine that Don served me at the US Embassy in Kabul but I can share a special bottle from my travels! (I was a State Dept contractor for those questioning why I drank wine in Kabul, Afghanistan!)

There are sheep and fowl growing on the estate as well as horses. If the weather had been nicer a walk or bike ride around the estate would have been wonderful and I would have actually spent the two days enjoying everything this beautifully maintained estate has to offer.

I asked Glenda to join me for dinner and she has accepted. A couple from San Diego moved into the slab next to me and during a conversation I asked them if they were going to the Biltmore and when they said yes I gave them my ticket as it is good for tomorrow also. That will save them $63 (taxes, you have to love them) and they only need one ticket now.

26 Mar 2015

The southern hospitality continues to overwhelm me in Asheville, NC! While showing me Asheville and some of the Piqua Forest Cindi had mentioned a man named Todd that would probably be able to help me install the CB radio and antennae that I had bought and brought with me. Todd tells me that he isn’t the right person to do the best job but that a guy named Phil used to work for him and now has his own shop and to call him and use his name as a referral. I did and my appointment was today to have the CB installed.

Phil wasn’t there when I arrived but Jimmie started helping me out. As we discussed where the CB should be mounted we went to the antennae and we realized that I didn’t have a mounting bracket. We discussed where I wanted the antennae and I told him that the ideal position would be on the ladder in the back peeking up over the roof no more than what the air conditioner reached. So off we go to the truck stop where I buy a long coaxial cable and the bracket. He attaches the antennae and David (a retired US Air Force NCO) installs the CB and powers it up. Jimmie crawls under the RV and uses zip ties to secure the coaxial cable to the wiring for the taillights as they are up and away from the road and hazards. David discovers a plugged hole that we can run the cable through without drilling a hole or even widening another one out. For awhile I had the opportunity to speak with Kim and I think she is somewhat envious of me taking a trip like I am. But she has a grandchild she is caring for while his parents are going through a separation and feels stuck here. Jimmie even tells me that he has never lived anywhere more than 5 miles from here.

Magic happens and a couple hours after I arrive I have a CB radio with 7 weather channels to help me stay safe and informed on the highway. These are a great bunch of guys and we kept an ongoing conversation during the install. Now Phil had told me the cost would be $90 per hour and that he had anticipated 1 hour for the install. What I have is 2 men working 2 hours and he still only charges me $90. When I pull out my credit card to have him scan he tells me that the machine on the desk doesn’t work so I look in my wallet and all I have is $80 cash left from visiting the Biltmore. He tells me that the $80 will do! He’ll tell Kim, his wife and bookkeeper, that he gave me a military discount because she wasn’t here to run the credit card! WOW! I’m continually overwhelmed by the sense of belonging and of the hospitality extended.

The couple from California that I gave the Biltmore ticket to thoroughly enjoyed their time at the Estate. Because they were already $60 ahead they purchased the extra sightseeing tickets and toured the areas I could almost see on my tour. I’m glad I could help them have a better experience.

My other neighbor has invited me to coffee in the morning. He and his wife are settling down here in Asheville as their grandchildren are here and they have been traveling for two years. What nice and wonderful people I keep meeting.

I have paid for an additional 3 days here because it is supposed to get down to freezing temperatures this weekend and early next week. I’d rather be hooked up to electricity and water rather than in a National Forest with no support as things freeze.

30 Mar 2015

On the 27th a Mercedes with New Zealand tags checked into the RV campground. The trailer has an outside kitchen that pulls out from the side and a refrigerator/icebox in the front compartments. Held down by guylines the 27th was the night everything froze and even the bananas in their car froze.

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I spoke at length with this couple, Fred and Elisabeth. They arrived in Los Angeles and have been on the road for 8 months seeing the southwest United States, New Orleans, Florida and they are now in Asheville, NC. Their journey is a five year tour of the Americas, Europe, Australia and then back to New Zealand. Contact info: http://www.classicstrider.com Facebook / Classic Strider (most of their postings are here)

Yesterday I was able to attend church with Cindi and her daughter and then spend the afternoon in their home to end the day enjoying a pork rib dinner! Of course each time I venture out I find something that I don’t yet have in the RV that is necessary. Wal-Mart for shower shoes, aquatic shoes for the kayak and of course a Biltmore wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, to share over dinner.

Today was spent catching up on reading manuals and club magazines as the day started out chilly but really turned into a wonderful sun shiny day!

Wednesday I will relocate to Cascade Lake and have a more primitive camping experience. Quiet and remote on a lake! I’m excited! I’ll post an update Wednesday evening or Thursday morning with a photo of the campsite. I know there are those that worry about me if I don’t post everyday so I’m forewarning you that it will be a couple of days and not to worry.

I spoke with Alexis today and she is still most appreciative of your prayers and well wishes. This Thursday she starts the 12 weekly chemo treatments of Taxol. She is still incapable of self support and her gofundme site is still open and accepting gifts.  http://www.gofundme.com/AlexisKC

Emily has flown back to Indianapolis today after having cared for Alexis this past few months. I know that Devin will be happy to see her back home.