MacDill Airman: Fall in Afghanistan Means Melons, No Apples

Lt. Mark Graff (far right) dines with Afghan provincial leaders at an iftar - a dinner marking the end of Ramadan fasting - held at his base in Farah Province.

Temperatures in Afghanistan are cooling down stimulating thoughts of home for many of the U.S. forces serving there. Former Tampa MacDill Airman Lt. Mark Graff is missing the annual apple festival held in his Illinois hometown.

Graff is currently deployed in Afghanistan, Farah Province, as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). He told me via Skype a few weeks ago that melons and pomegranates are the prevalent fruits served there.

“Things are going well here. We’ve actually experienced a break in the weather thankfully,” Graff said. “You wake up in the morning and it feels like a spring morning.”

Yet, mid-September daytime temperatures still reach 100 degrees in Afghanistan. Graff was a bit surprised to find that he was missing the change in seasons and change in activities. Fall to him always generated that “back to school excitement” and a chance to go hunting.

Lt. Graff with some of the Farah Provincial leaders during the iftar dinner held at the U.S. base.

Graff said they’re making progress one mission at a time and in intangible ways. His team was returning a few weeks ago after checking on a road construction project when they spotted a fire at a distant village. Welding equipment had caught fire and burned down one of the village buildings. The Afghans had used all their water fighting the fire. So, the PRT donated the cases of bottled water they had in the trucks so the villagers would not go without.

At the end of Ramadan, the U.S. team also invited the Afghan provincial leaders to the base for an iftar – a dinner marking the end of the Muslim time of fasting.

Graff also was part of the leadership team that dined with the provincial governor.

“He’s a very smart man, he understands all of the different aspects at play here,” Graff said adding that Farah Province, which borders Iran, is very diverse. “You’ll see anything from a desert to the Farah River which cuts through the heart of the province to the mountains to the east.”

The cooler weather also reminded Graff of his wedding. This month, Graff will celebrate his first marriage anniversary – but separated from his wife. The couple is looking forward to his mid-tour leave that they’ll get to spend together later this year.

Graff talks with WUSF every month or so during his deployment for Off the Base – an ongoing series about, for and by military families both active-duty and veterans.

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