Panetta Calls Gen. John Allen Outstanding, Selfless, Brilliant

The following is a statement released by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta on General John Allen’s Decision to Retire:

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense website.

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense website.

“Gen. John Allen has proven himself to be one of the United States military’s most outstanding battlefield leaders, a brilliant strategist, and an exemplary Marine, and I am deeply grateful for his many years of dedicated service to our country.

“I will be forever thankful that the international effort in Afghanistan was in Gen. Allen’s capable hands during much of my tenure as secretary of defense.  His leadership over the last 19 months will long be remembered as pivotal to this campaign.  The strategy he developed and implemented has put us on the right path towards completing this mission, with Afghan forces now on track to step into the lead for security nationwide this spring and to assume full security responsibility by the end of next year.

“Gen. Allen’s selfless dedication to our troops and to their mission was a source of inspiration to those who served with him, as well as to those of us here at home.  He has earned the lasting thanks of this nation for carrying the heavy burden of leadership with utmost professionalism and courage.  I wish him and his entire family all the best in the next chapter of their lives.”

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Afghan Allies Killing U.S. Soldiers – 53 Incidents This Year

New ANA recruits practice their marching, Afghanistan 2010. Photo courtesy of SMSgt. Rex Temple.

I shudder each time I read about an Afghan soldier killing an American service member or a coalition counterpart.

My mind is quick to think back to when Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple willingly went before a class of 100 Afghan soldiers and let them question him about being an “infidel.”

The ANA literacy class that SMSgt. Rex Temple was invited to speak to. Photo courtesy of SMSgt. Temple.

Twice he appeared at the invitation of the ANA Mullah and Religious Officer.

Temple was eager to learn about the soldiers and hoped they would be open to hearing about the U.S. He was shocked to find that virtually none of the soldiers in the class knew about the 9/11 attacks on America.

I remember discussing safety with him. He walked into those ANA classes armed only with his sidearm and boxes full of free pens and notebooks. Rex was rushed by dozens of soldiers at one point – not for his weapon – but for the school supplies. The soldiers were worried there wouldn’t be enough.

He is retired in June 2011, but from May 2009 to April 2010 Rex served on an Embedded Training Team in Afghanistan.

The ANA classroom Mullah hands out notebooks, pens, and pencils. Photo courtesy of SMSgt. Rex Temple.

He chronicled his year-long tour on his blog, Afghanistan My Last Tour, and during weekly radio reports with me on WUSF 89.7 FM, Tampa, FL.

The Afghan soldier attacks seem to strike at the very core of what Rex tried to accomplish just a few years ago.

Now, the “Green-on-Blue” attacks – as they’re called – are becoming all too common as pointed out by the Stars and Stripes.

For years U.S. military leaders downplayed the attacks, but now they are blunt in their assesment. This week, the top commander in Afghanistan, USMC Gen. John Allen, told “60 Minutes”: “You know, we’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it.”

But, as Brandon Caro writes in the Daily Beast, that the 53 Afghan attacks on U.S and NATO forces this year should not be a surprise.

Early in my tour, I was well aware that any of the soldiers we were training could at any time turn their weapons on me and my fellow advisers.

The first indication that the Afghans we were training posed a potential threat came on a fiercely cold morning in early 2007 in Darulaman. Before we set out on a routine convoy with our Afghan counterparts, we had to line them up shoulder to shoulder and collect their cellphones one at a time. We did this—it was already standard operating procedure—because our leadership feared that the Afghan soldiers might give away our position to enemy fighters.

I read these and other accounts and I think back to Rex and his ETT group that built a library for their ANA counterparts among other acts of “good will” like starting a school supplies drive for Afghan children.

I am left mystified … thankful that Rex returned home and sorry that so many others have not.

President Obama and President Karzai Sign Agreement

afghanistan

Afghanistan (Photo: The U.S. Army)

The following are comments by the presidents of Afghanistan and the United states upon signing a mutual agreement May 1, 2012 in Kabul.

PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (Interpretation begins in progress) — prosperity and peace for the people of Afghanistan.

Stability in Afghanistan and peace in Afghanistan — people will sleep, will be safe in their house, and also law-abiding citizens.  Their life will be — will not threat their life by any forces.  The people of Afghanistan in past three decades, they didn’t have this, so now they want.  This is the responsibility of government of Afghanistan to fulfill the wishes of the people of Afghanistan to a better life, better future, and peace and prosperity and changing to reality for them.

For us, people of Afghanistan, this is a very important year in our life of our country and the people of Afghanistan.  The people of Afghanistan want the transition of Afghanistan before 2014, end of 2014, with all the responsibility and take the responsibility for the people of Afghanistan as one of our responsibility we have to take.

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Afghanistan: IED Destruction a Part of Reconstruction

An Afghan journalist videotapes a collection of explosive devices during a mission to safely remove, transport and destroy explosive devices being stored at an Afghan National Army compound in Farah City, Farah province, Afghanistan, Dec. 27.Photo by 1st Lt. Mark Graff

It’s been a few months since we’ve heard from Air Force 1st Lt. Mark Graff. He’s serving with a Provincial Reconstruction Team(PRT) in Farah, Afghanistan. Graff, a new husband  formerly based at MacDill Air Force Base, shared his thoughts and preparations prior to his first deployment.

Just last week, Graff’s PRT team completed an “important mission” working villages that want peace and with Afghan National Army soldiers to destroy hundreds of confiscated Improved Explosive Devices (IEDs) and other unexploded mines, suicide vests, mortars, etc.

Graff took photographs and wrote about the mission. Here’s a portion of his article:

FARAH, Afghanistan – Afghan National Army soldiers in Farah province worked with Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah and Explosive Ordnance Disposal Platoon 815 to hand over and dispose of more than 250 pieces of confiscated unexploded ordnance, improvised explosive device materials, mines and ammunition here Dec. 27.

The weapons totaled more than 1300 pounds of explosive material and more than 50 types of ordnance. The items were carefully transported from a secure location in Farah City and safely destroyed by EOD technicians on Forward Operating Base Farah.

“Most of these items were emplaced [as weapons]. The NDS got reports… and [we] came and got them,” said ANA Col. Abdul Razak, who organized the handover of the weapons.

Graff’s full article and photographic gallery of the mission are available HERE.

Veteran Rex Temple Still Dealing with Afghanistan Tour

SMSgt. Rex Temple shortly after his return from a year in Afghanistan in April 2010.

On this Veterans Day, I catch up with Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Rex Temple. We first met in May 2009 just days before he deployed to Afghanistan. Rex had started a blog, Afghanistan: My Last Tour, and agreed to  include a weekly radio series for WUSF 89.7FM, the National Public Radio affiliate for the Tampa Bay region.

Temple used Skype and morale phones to communicate and he never missed a week, unless he was on a mission. He took listeners inside makeshift Afghan schools, along the winding, mountainous roads and through congested intersections in Kabul. He introduced us to Afghan Army officers, women and men, and to members of his team.

Temple returned in April 2010 after his year-long deployment with an Embedded Training Team and retired June 1, 2011 after 28 years of military service.

But, as he told me during a radio interview earlier this week, he’s still dealing with incidents and images from Afghanistan.

REX TEMPLE: There were some things that we didn’t talk about on the radio, things that I didn’t write about. Things that I saw that at the time – it didn’t bother me then but when I came back. At night, I did, I had some nightmares. I had some of these flashbacks, but I reached out and I got help and I’ve been going through therapy now for a year for some of those things.

BOBBIE O’BRIEN: You’re finding you’re not alone there aren’t you?

TEMPLE: I think the hardest thing was to admit, okay, there’s a problem here, that this isn’t right, but there was also a fear of reaching out and asking for help.

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Taliban Suicide Bomb Attack Kills at Least 16 in Afghanistan

Taliban tactics in Afghanistan now include female suicide bombers as well as suidce car bombs and insurgents dressed in Afghan National Army uniforms according to a report Saturday  by Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service.

The New York Times is reporting that 17 were killed  – including American forces, civilian contractors and Afghans. The suicide car bomb attack on a bus carrying personnel is said to be the deadliest attack on Americans in Kabul since the war began.

The Washington Post is reporting 16 were killed when a suicide bomber swerved a van into the armored military bus.

Below is the latest article from the American Forces Press Service article:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2011 – A car bomb smashed into an International Security Assistance Force convoy in Kabul today killing 13 coalition personnel, NATO officials said.

 Five of the dead are service members, and eight are ISAF civilian employees. The attack injured several Afghans and coalition personnel as well as innocent Afghan civilian.

News reports out of Kabul say the Taliban took credit for the car bomb attack, and reports indicate the car ran into what is popularly called a Rhino — essentially an armored bus.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was informed of the convoy attack soon after it happened. “His heart goes out to those who were killed and wounded, and to their families,” said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little. “Continuing our aggressive pursuit of the enemy will honor their sacrifice, and he is determined that the United States – working closely with our Afghan and NATO partners – will do precisely that.”

A second attack in southern Afghanistan took the lives of three more coalition personnel and wounded others when a man wearing an Afghan National Army uniform shot the soldiers.

ISAF Commander U.S. Marine Gen. John R. Allen condemned today’s terrorist attacks.

You can read the full article HERE.

Military Retirement Provides a Few Surprises for an Airman

Rex Temple trying out his civilian clothes while on vacation visiting a 13th century castle in Savonlinna, Finland, May 2011.

Senior Master Sgt. Rex Temple officially retired June 1st  after 28 years in the Air Force. I got to know the airman through his blog and our weekly interviews on WUSF 89.7 during his tour in Afghanistan from May 2009 through April 2010.

Temple said civilian life has brought some unexpected surprises like on his first day not in an Air Force uniform. He wore shorts and a t-shirt.

“It felt rather strange waking up the next day knowing I don’t have to put on this uniform. I don’t have to go to work. What am I going to do with my time?” Temple said.

After a two-week vacation in Finland with his wife, Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, he started back working on his masters degree “doing a lot of research and writing a lot of papers.”

“I’m trying to manage my time appropriately, but at least once a week I have a friend, he has a boat, we go out fishing in Tampa Bay,” Temple said.

Fishing was one of the things outside of his family and his dogs, Charlie and Sam, that he missed while deployed in Afghanistan for a year. A year and a half later, Temple said he’s misses a few things about Afghanistan.

“I miss the camaraderie of my team.” Temple was assigned to an Embedded Training Team that trained Afghan National Army soldiers as well as handling logistics. “I tend to go back and forth because I feel so safe here in the United States and I really cherish the freedoms that we have. And I know what the people what they go through over in Afghanistan and I feel sorry them.”

He’s adjusting to retirement and when asked offered some advice on transitioning from military to civilian life.

Retirement has allowed for a little more time to go fishing. Rex Temple with his friend George Leach after a very successful fishing trip on Tampa Bay, July 2011.

“You have to have a plan on what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it and that involves all your family members,” Temple said. “Part of having that plan is you have to be financially set. Especially now with recovering from a recession, you just can’t walk into a job the next day.”

After almost three decades of military life, Temple has found he is missing a few things like the camaraderie with fellow airmen and he misses “the mission.” He’s now viewing that as a stepping stone to the next part of his life.

Temple admits he didn’t know what to expect in the civilian job market despite taking classes on how to write a resume and prepare for a job interview.

“It was really totally Greek because all I’ve known for 28 years is the military. They’ve told me what to wear, what to do and how to do it,” Temple said. “And now all of a sudden, I’m on my own. So, it was a big learning curve.”

Part of that learning curve included what to include in his resume.

“I think sometimes in the military maybe we’re a little bit humble and we don’t want to broadcast our accomplishments, yet that’s what’s imperative to put in a resume. You have to be able to stand out from your competition if you want to get a job,” Temple said.

So, he revised his resume to include elements like his school supplies drive for Afghan children that he started while deployed and continues. They’ve shipped almost 18,000 pounds of supplies and he’s still speaking to community organizations about the effort.

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