The Last Post

Well – its time to end this journey.   If I had to wrap this all up in one word it would have to be Gratitude.     How can I not look at my wife and kids, all I have here in the United States of America, and be able to enjoy it all without body armor, or automatic weapons, or T-Walls and not feel blessed every single day?   What a great country we live in where you can live in peace, pursue your dreams and grow old with your loved ones.   How great it is watching my kids grow up knowing that there are going to be great experiences in front of them. Gratitude that all this is true.

And as this journey ends it comes time for Reflection.   It is always peaceful when one reflects.   My time in Afghanistan seems like it happened a lifetime ago.   Going back to May 1st, 2011 I can’t believe I actually went, came back and even got the t-shirt.  Afghanistan was an experience.  While in Afghanistan I meet some amazing individuals both in uniform and out of uniform.  The Aghans that I worked with go to work everyday knowing that by working with the USA and NATO they put their families at risk.  The Taliban is brutal – don’t let any one tell you otherwise.   The Americans that I worked with all left family back in the states for one reason or another.  Whether it was a noble cause or for the paycheck – being away from family is a price we all had to pay.  But I never had the fear of my family being kidnapped and beheaded.  The Afghans I worked with have this fear.   

On a personal note I really need to thank Thomas and Wally for working with me everyday over there.   I worked with a lot of great people and I need to mention them here.  Both Thomas and Wally helped me everyday.     Words fall short in trying express my thoughts and feelings for these two.   Thank you is all I can muster.

Afghanistan if full of stress.  There is a saying that stressful situations will develop character.  I like to disagree with that statement – I believe it reveals character.  I also believe that a stressful situations will reveal to you what is most important.   What it revealed in me is simple; life is short, relationships matter most, we live in the greatest country and I couldn’t have done this without my family.

Safety was such a large concern.  I tried to let my family know I was safe at all times.   Yes there was danger – but being smart and alert counted for so much.    After I left a VBIED (Vehicle Borne – Improvised Explosive Device.) hit the compound that I would have moved to if I stayed.   The blast wave knocked one friend down.   Guards were killed in the blast and all the bad guys died in the end with no civilians were killed.   I read that in the news while home.   Some guys on the team headed home right after that.   Would I have stayed?   Yes.   But I am glad (and so is Amy) that I didn’t need to make that decision – I was already home when it happened.   In some small way – maybe that is why I came home when I did.   Who knows what his plan is.   But we are all in it.

All right time to wrap this thing up;

I really need to thank Amy, Alexis and Brooke.    Am I proud of them?  Yes – They paid a price, just like millions of other family members do everyday, for me going over there.   They were with me every step of the way in this journey.  It pales in comparison with the price some families pay when one of our soldiers dies over there.  Thank You!

And thank you for reading this.   I hope you all enjoyed the journey as much as I have.

Sincerely,

Don Jalbert

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Random Thoughts

Well this isn’ the last post.   The last post if for reflection and big thoughts.   This one is more for the dumb stuff.   Like eating the same meal days in a row. Like;

  • The anxiety of traveling into a war zone on purpose – What was I thinking?
  • The chaos that is driving in Kabul – Boston on steroids
  • The dust – it is everywhere   (There is still some on my laptop.)
  • The HQ Office, how cramped it was, and being thankful I didn’t work in it.   In fact my office was one of the more “normal” in theater.   Only two people….almost private!
  • Skype-ing with my family
    • It was great to see Amy, Alexis and Brooke – but it only reminded me how much I missed them afterwards.
  • The joy of getting mail – it was never enough.  If you know someone overseas send them anything…..One box I sent over there once I got back had “Hello Kitty” fruit snacks.   The email back to me was almost immediately.
  • Learning about other people, cultures.   Not only the Afghans – but I worked with German, English, Scottish, Turkish and Italians.   There was about 40 countries supporting the effort.   We called ourselves the “Coalition of the willing”.
  • Realizing almost, and I do mean almost, that an armored SUV was great to drive around in – until you had to stop short.   It is easy to forget that 4,000 lbs of extra weight does impact your stopping distance.
  • Although there never was an “impact” – we did have insurance.  It was $400 in the glove compartment to buy off any victims.
  • The “quietness” of the “garden”.  Even with the sounds of traffic coming over a 20 foot wall and Blackhawk helicopters flying overhead – somehow grass, a few trees and patio furniture took you away from where your were for a few minutes.
  • The Kabul Cigar Club.   Smoking cigars, in 100 degree weather, on crushed rock, with no shade – felt great.   60 to 100 people getting away from it all for 1 hour every two weeks.   Again – a way to forget.
  • Alcohol – In the USA it is social – there it is to “kill the pain” of being there.   It’s hard to explain.   Don’t know if I should even write this – Alcohol was everywhere.   But it wasn’t happy hour – or even to celebrate anything – it was done to kill the pain of being there.    I drink less now then before I left.   Today I’ll drink a glass of wine with friends and smile.   And laugh.   Enjoying life.       Glad I’m not there.    Glad I went – perspective is everything.   More on this with one more post to go.
  • The office clerks who behaved as if they were in special ops.    If you work in an office, and push paper from your inbox to your outbox – do you really need a blood type patch on your shoulder?

There are so many memories.   And all the folks we still have over there and in other troubled spots in the world are never far from my thoughts.

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The Best Day!

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

I woke up over the Atlantic Ocean in a fog.  It’s Saturday morning in my mind and I will be landing in Atlanta soon.  The only good thing about being in this plane for 15 hours is it is taking me home.   Being up front in the first class section is a good thing as well.   But it still a groggy wake up.    When the wheels finally do touch down a sense of relief comes over me.  Its hard to explain.   Its been 120+  days since I was on American soil.  The travels to and from Afghanistan are long and uncomfortable – as is living in Afghanistan.   And considering it was less than three days before I found out I was coming home not only am I worn out physically but mentally as well.

As soon as I found out I was coming home, I let Amy know.  But on this weekend Alexis was at a dance competition.  That is only important in the fact just before they go on stage she has a lot of makeup on to be on that stage.  And that fact leads to the following events.   We didn’t want me showing up just before she went on stage and ruin the mascara.  So we kept the fact I was coming home from her.   After all I wasn’t suppose to be coming back to the states until March.   So the game plan was Amy and Brooke would pick me up at the airport and then we would go find Alexis at a “good” time.  Either way before her stage time, or just after it.   So the Surprise was in motion.   One of those surprise welcome homes that you see on TV.

So I landed in Atlanta.   So glad to be in the USA.   A few others came in from Afghanistan on this plane as well with what we called “The Contractor Look”:  Tactical pants, boots, neatly trimmed beard, a checked scarf around the neck and a blood type patch on the shoulder.   It looks straight out of central casting – and it usually meant some one who sat in an office – it is really a long running joke in theater.

Amy and Brooke were waiting for me as I got off the plane at Kansas City airport.   Not a dry eye among us.    Brooke let me know we weren’t the only home coming on this flight.   A young soldier was meeting his family there too.   As you read this it probably happening in an airports across the country right now.

The surprise was taking shape.   It was around noon and Alexis would be getting out of a workshop.   The goal was to go from airport directly to where the dance competition was being held – a hotel/convention center in Overland Park.   We had a partner in crime texting us the when and where of Alexis.   The 35 miles from airport to hotel took forever.

Side note:  About five miles from the Airport Amy looks at me, waves her hand in front of her nose, waved her hand and says “Honey – you stink!”   What can I say?   I still have the sent of Afghanistan on me combined with 48 hours of travel.    I look back at Brooke looking for a little support but I got this from her without hesitation “I wasn’t going to say anything”.   Thanks.

As we get closer to hotel/convention center we get an update:  Alexis is going to be coming out of the workshop soon.   We pull up to the Valet area.    I could care less if we double or triple park.   Brooke hops out with me.   Amy stays in the car – but she wants to see this surprise as well.  I spot our partner in crime and wave and as I turn around to the front door of the hotel I see Alexis.   Head down in her iPhone.   I get closer.

The last thing I remember for the next minute is hugging and holding on to Alexis.   Just before that I said “Hey Sweet Pea – you want a ride?”   She stopped, looked up and looked like she got hit by a bullet – then she came running into “me”.   It’s hard to describe.   For a moment it was just her and I in the world.   Both of us crying – just standing there.

Brooke filmed it.   Some of the other Dance Moms knew what was going on and they saw it as well.   The valet wanted to move Amy’s car but she explained what was going on so they left us alone.

The 20 questions happened – we explained the logic of the surprise, we went home, I took a shower and later that night I watched her perform on stage.   I didn’t last much longer that day.  So much was taken out of my physically, mentally and emotionally.

It is one day I will never forget.   It was the best day.

Don

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The Most Important Building

It’s not where the Commander Lives.  It is not the chow hall.  It is not the gym.

It’s the PAX Terminal.   It is the last building you are in prior to leaving Afghanistan.

A “PAX” is a person who travels in a conveyance, such as a plane or helicopter, without participating in its operation.   Here is the terminal on my last day in Afghanistan.

One thing about traveling as a PAX in Afghanistan is you are lower than cargo.   If there is an important piece of equipment that needs to get somewhere – you are bumped.      Here is the wonderful check in desk for my flight.     Check your ID, weigh your bag and you are good to go.

But that doesn’t matter.   The only thing that matters is the view from the plane as you leave.   As the plane pulls away all I could think about was the people I met, the good I tried to do and the price of separation from my family.   Even though this is the first of 3 take offs today it really has the “reflection”  part of my brain in motion.

With the reflection still going strong – one is reminded they are still in Afghanistan where nothing makes sense and there is no such thing as a direct flight.   So off the “puddle jumper” and into a single wide trailer that is the waiting room at the Bagram Air Force Base.   The connecting flight is delayed.

There is no sports bar or lounge or Starbucks  as one waits for a connecting flight.   The big thing everyone is looking for is power.   Power to charge your iPad or tablet so you can listen to music or watch a movie as time stands still.   We all in this photo may be leaving Afghanistan but everyone in this photo hates the conditions.

And just when you think it can’t get any worse.   It does.    Here we are boarding the plane at Bagram to go to Kandahar to go to Dubai.   No jet way, no metal detectors, no x-rays.     Just a wet,  slushy, cold walk to get on a plane.

On the upside there was a group who got off this plane.  They are all starting on their 4 month, 6 month or 12 month stint in Afghanistan – so no matter the condition and the delays – I would much rather be in this group getting on the plane than coming off the plane.

It seems so long ago when I got on that plane on May 1st, 2011 – yet life in Kansas, Rhode Island or California pressed on.   Life in Afghanistan is will as well.   When I go back to read this I will remember all the people who are in AFG – working 12 hour days, 7 days a week.   When I wake up on a Saturday morning – someone in AFG will have been at work for 10 hours already.    But I have been there, done that (got the t-shirt), and this trip going home was amazing.

Even though the PAX terminals have something to be desired for.

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T-Walls

They multiply …..

They are everywhere…..

And it seems like we can’t have enough of them……

I believe their first roll in Afghanistan was to contain any blasts.

Then they thought it would be best to put them every where.

The T-Wall wall in this picture is ultimate in functionality    On the other side of the wall is a field.   The field goes back about a 1/2 mile.   So it serves no purpose.   A wall with a field on one side, and a road and field on the other.

It doesn’t matter where or why.   T-walls are part of the landscape.   Here some kids are walking home from school.   Along T-walls that take up the sidewalk so the kids have to walk in the road.

 

 

 

Here is the entrance to The Baron once you get through the first gate.   Yup – nothing but T-walls.

 

Maybe I am jealous….maybe I just want the government contract to make T-walls.

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It All Matters

NASCAR, NASA and Family

October 22nd, 2011

How could I put an agency that launches shuttles, plans missions to Mars and is responsible to ensure all our cars can say “Left Turn in One Mile” in the same sentence as a bunch of redneck hillbillies consistently taking left turns?

The other night the #48 put his car into the wall wrecking his chances at another championship.   He was trying to pass and got loose – one mistake.  One tiny mistake and his car and chances are ruined.  5-Time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson’s Crew chief Chad Knaus took the blame for Johnson’s fate, putting it on himself for ordering a four-tire pit stop that cost the No. 48 valuable track position when he had been running second to eventual race winner Matt Kenseth at the time.  Johnson came out of the pits in 15th after the call and, while Kenseth was able to fly around the track in clean air, Johnson remained stuck back there for the better part of the next 100 laps.

“Obviously we’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole again, unfortunately. It’s too bad because we had a good car,” Knaus said. “Midway through the race, I made a bad call and we took four tires. We probably should have taken two tires there and we just had difficulty overcoming that.   It was the traffic that Jimmie Johnson was trying to push it.

Small details – and understanding the impact matters.   Every little thing matters.   With NASCAR – and I am a fan, and NASA everything matters.   Take a look at this video;

Apollo 12 Launch

SCE to AUX  – and Pete Conrad was thankful for the little things.

Why do I write this post – because it all matters.   The little things.  In a successful moon mission to a NASCAR race to just loving to your family.   It all matters.

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Major Powers

Yep – he still exits….

In the movie Heartbreak Ridge the main protagonist played by Clint Eastwood has to deal with Major Malcolm Powers, “recently transferred over from supply”, as he reshaped a group of young Marines into a high-speed, low-drag fighting unit.   Major Powers, in the movie is an idiot.  He is focused on his way – which is always right, and refuses to listen to other people with greater experiences.   He right out of central casting in Hollywood.  One might think he only exists in Hollywood.   But he doesn’t.

My company, my software product and my team ran straight into the son of Major Powers.  This guy was nothing more than a speed bump to success for all involved.  This individual worked the US Government in Kabul and had “Program Oversight” over what we all did.   We could not do what we do unless the government representative in Afghanistan signed off on it.  The 6 people who had the role before this “Speed Bump to Success”, and the individual who has the role after him understands our role in Afghanistan and we work well with day in and day out.

But this “genius” thought his way was best.   This genius thought the way to change the process over there was not to sign off on anything – but he also did not reject anything either – he left the software programs twisting in the wind.   We used the time to improve our infrastructure and other software clean up activities – but our customers are the ones who really suffered.   The two major software programs support the US Army and NATO forces – and the Afghan Government and other agencies.   They are the ones who suffered.

So our tax dollars pay for this modern Major Powers to be in Afghanistan.    Well like Major Powers this genius went back to the States and found out all he did in Afghanistan was nothing more than  Career Limiting Moves.   It appears his leadership wanted him to sign off on progress for the customers of the software programs.    Will he get fired?   Heck no – who gets fired from the government?  This guy caused delays and impacted the ability for organizations to work as effectively as they could.  A lose-lose all around.

Thank you Major Powers.

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