Monday, April 25, 2011

The Chairman's Visit

Admiral Mullen was especially interested in the lessons learned over the course of three consecutive ADT's, all from Indiana.
You could say that Holy Week of 2011 passed by in a whirlwind, but perhaps a cyclone would be more appropriate here given recent events. Regardless, I continue to marvel at how fast the time is passing by.

Each week that passes means that we are one week closer to seeing our beloved families, but also one week closer to closing out our strategic projects while also beginning transition initiatives that will help bring our replacements up to speed with life in the Khowst Province.

FOB Salerno tornado- April 18, 2011
Although I've spent the vast majority of my formative years in the great state of Indiana, I can honestly say that I've never witnessed a tornado with my own eyes. Through my travels with the Lt. Governor, I've had the opportunity to see the tragic and devastating aftermath such storms bring; but amazingly enough I still can't say that a live twister has ever been in my sights. In preparation for a mission such as this to Afghanistan, service members are briefed on virtually every topic under the sun. From mountain climate cold weather survival tips to desert condition dehydration prevention, it seems the good folks back home in Washington have thought of everything. But hold that thought; Monday, April 18th of 2011 brought a spectacle that few ever thought was possible at this elevation. Even the locals were shocked to see that a funnel cloud was forming in the west, headed straight towards us as we sat like sitting ducks in the middle of the Khowst Bowl. As the storm neared the FOB, the loudspeakers that are typically used to notify us of incoming rockets or an incoming casualty were now essentially just giant weather radios. I guess one hidden benefit of hardened structures, normally intended to withstand the impact an incoming rocket round, is also a quite comforting level of storm preparedness. As the vortex started expanding, the massive amounts of dust in the area quickly began to spiral up into the epicenter. With the funnel cloud also came hail, fortunately these pellets only measured about a 1/4 inch in diameter and if you've seen any of the photos I've posted of the surrounding area- there aren't a whole lot of vehicles on the roads that would worry about hail damage. Fortunately, for all in the surrounding area and especially here on the FOB, Tornado Sal was short-lived and failed to grow much larger than the spaghetti strand you see in the photo above.

Just as we here at the 3-19th began to think that Monday's tornado would prove impossible to top, Tuesday brought some excitement of it's own. For several days, emails detailing an up-coming USO tour had been circling around email servers here on FOB Salerno. Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will soon be retiring so as a little retirement gift to himself- he decided to make a farewell tour. The tour would feature NFL Hall of Famer and (most importantly) former Purdue QB Bob Griese, his son Brian who is involved with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and a Cuban supermodel/actress named Mayra Veronica.

After learning that a fellow Boiler alumnus was going to be on the FOB, I thought it'd be nearly criminal for me not to offer my services as an escort to the delegation for the day. After several days of trying to connect with the event coordinator, I later learned that many others around the base had also volunteered their services. (I can only assume that most were interested in meeting the supermodel...)

Admiral Mullen tours the 3-19th ADT Farm with the team members.
A visit by any higher level military officer is often very well concealed. Today's visit was no different, the only official business I saw prior to the Admiral's visit was that he would be having lunch with a small number of soldiers.

Three of our younger, shining stars on the security portion of our team were selected by their platoon leader to attend the lunch. Aside from our several members involvement during the lunch, the ADT didn't have any specific responsibilities during the Chairman's visit.

Upon hearing that Griese would be present to sign autographs; I coordinated with Specialist Jared Sweet, a Purdue student who is currently on military leave from classes back in West Lafayette, to head over to the recreation area where the USO tour was scheduled to appear. As we arrived the area, we were greeted by the gentleman in charge of the event coordination. Apparently he felt bad for not returning my calls or emails in the days prior, so in an apologetic effort he offered to take us in to meet Griese and the others privately as they finished up their lunch. As soon as the staff whispered into Bob's ear that there were a few Boilermakers here to see him, he hopped right out of his chair and made a beeline to where Jared and I were standing. Bob's first question pertained to trying to figure out how a couple of Purdue grads ended up working here in Afghanistan. He was delighted to hear about the ADT concept though and found our work very practical after learning how dependent the Afghan economy was on the agricultural industry. After a few more minutes of describing our backgrounds to Bob, the topic turned towards Purdue. 

As for Purdue's recent dilemma regarding the Purdue Pete mascot, Griese was excited to report that the old Purdue Pete would remain the mascot. The three of us were all also in agreement that retaining Matt Painter as basketball coach was also a wise decision, as he's well worth the money.

Before parting ways, I presented Bob with one of our State of Indiana unit patches in addition to a camouflaged nametape that reads "Purdue" (ironically enough one of our team member's names is Staff Sergeant Alexander Purdue), before having him sign my camouflaged Purdue hat.  

Specialist Jared Sweet and I striking a pose with Bob Griese. Sweet is
a Purdue Law & Society student who is currently on military leave.
I'm not certain how Bob was invited on the CJCS's visit in the first place, but think it's awfully interesting that both Admiral Mullen and Bob Griese were each every part of 65 years old. Not that 65 is ancient by any means, but I'm not certain that I'd be real anxious tromping around in a combat zone.

Following our visit with Griese, I grabbed a bit of lunch for myself and started back to the office. Upon my return, I was greeted by our Operations Officer who was kind enough to inform me that the Admiral's plane had broken down and therefore he would be headed over for a visit on the farm- in ten minutes. As you might imagine, there were several dozen helping hands pitching in during an expedited farm cleanup session, but all in all we were pretty well prepared.

As the Chairman arrived (he came by foot, but following him was the typical motorcade of up armored SUV's), our Commander- Colonel Colbert greeted him and welcomed him to the ADT compound. Major Robbins (the high school Superintendent) was the point man for the visit to detail our Ag Education project, while I had the honor of showing him around several different areas of our farm.

I think the fact that the Admiral was an extremely intelligent gentleman probably goes without saying, but I will say that I was quite impressed at the many questions he asked to further detail our projects. It seemed he was most interested in our "lessons learned", as we strolled through the farm and explained our many initiatives.

The large photo at the beginning of this post shows he and I looking at a sample of wheat that I uprooted for him. The wheat here on our farm is dwarfed by wheat you see across the countryside, by at least a solid foot. He was very interested to learn that the Afghan's have been flood irrigating their crops for centuries, therefore the seed has mutated over time to adapt to local conditions. He also was quite interested in our solar dehydrators, a great initiative we're pushing especially in the women's empowerment field.

As the Chairman said his goodbyes and departed the ADT compound; with countless special agents toting automatic weapons and SUV's stringing behind him, I couldn't help but marvel in what had just happened. The highest ranking military officer in the United States, President Obama and Secretary Gates' senior military advisor, had just spent the better part of a half an hour touring around our farm. The last time I had seen Admiral Mullen, he was discussing operations in Libya while a guest on Meet the Press. Just a few weeks later, he was walking through the fields of FOB Salerno, cautiously watching his every step in an effort not to land in one of the many mud puddles that our recent rains have left us with.

You just never know what a day around the FOB might bring, but I'd have to imagine this was a rare visit. Yet another memory I'll take home and cherish from this "Afghan Adventure"...

As always, the solar dehydrators proved of interest to the Chairman.


  1. Very Interesting and well written Bart! The experiences you are having will be life changing.
    Be Safe

  2. Thanks for sharing. You all are doing great work.

    Be Safe.

    Irene Silva