Sunday, June 03, 2007

Back Home and the forgotten WAR

Well a month back home and things are going pretty well for my family. We got a new house and did the moving process within the first couple weeks of being home so things have been busy and finally settling down and getting bored with staying home and I guess getting ready to go back to work, then there are times I want to continue to be lazy. I plan on starting back the 11th and will receive a promotion to full time reporter by the end of the month and I'm looking pretty forward to that.

I was planning on waiting awhile to do another Blog until after I started back to work. I decided last night I couldn't wait to get a few things off my chest. I have seen and heard a few things that I just wouldn't let go without saying a few things about it, because I knew you guys would give me a few words of encouragement and would be just as upset as I was when I experienced my recent rants.

I guess there are somethings I shouldn't gripe about or complain about but I feel I've earned the right to gripe about this and I've been very disappointed in all the people back home after all the wonderful support I got from all of you guys. I guess I got spoiled by you guys, sending all the kind words and great encouraging emails. I just returned home and things were so different with how the people treat the military and how they show their appreciation.

Here are my examples..

My disappointments started the day I flew home, we were sitting in the airport at Colorado Springs and one of the Flight Attendants asked if we were coming back from Iraq. I leaned over and told her "No we just spent a year in Afghanistan and where heading home." She leaned back over to ask me without skipping a beat "whats going on over there?" WOW I was stunned and when I started to explain a little thing called 9/11 an elderly couple stepped in and proceeded to tell her what was going on over there and did so ever so kindly!!

A few hours later I landed in Oklahoma and was as happy as I could be for the next few minutes. Well let me back up a few days, my wife didn't know what day I was actually planning on coming home. So I wanted to surprising my wife and daughter. I had made all the plans including renting a car and driving down to Ardmore to surprise Jodi and Bayleigh. Well now I can fast forward to the day I landing in OK. I was greeted at the airport by one of my best friends Jake. It was great being able to see a friendly face as soon as I landed in beautiful Oklahoma. I grabbed my bags and headed to get my rental car from a "wonderful" company Enterprise. I spoke with the clerk at the front desk and he started getting me ready to head on my way.. Well that wouldn't be the case, after showing my ID the clerk as for 2 utility bills because I was returning the car to the Ardmore Enterprise lot. I stood there wondering what 2 utility bills I would use considering I had just got back from Afghanistan. I tried my best to get past the request and after 15 minutes of no help from the clerk I lost my cool. The week long trip home and spending the day flying from Colorado was just a bit much and I lost my cool. But please give me a break where do you expect me to get a bill or how could you even expect me to bring one or expect to show one. Maybe I was just stressed or to excited to get home..

After the next few days passed and I got home I would notice things more and more, one day it was the local paper The Daily Ardmoreite. They had several articles about the Iraq War and how people needed to support the Troops over there and how so much needs to be focused on Iraq. A couple days later in the same paper a local car dealership was taking thank you cards and care packages to send to Troops in Iraq.

Please forgive me if I sound a bit jealous or even mean or just whatever you think I might mean. I am having a huge problem right now with all of the support for Iraq and not an ounce for Afghanistan. I know its an American War and Soldiers are Soldiers but Iraq is not Afghanistan and by far not the same War by any means. We need to be in Afghanistan and I'm leaving that one there.

Anytime a Soldier is home its from Iraq every time a Soldier dies its in Iraq, every time a Soldier gets deployed its to Iraq. There is another War out there and we have our Americans losing their life over there as well. I can't see how things are so forgotten and just passed over like there is nothing going on.

I'm not sure if these Wars are turning into Vietnam but things are not the way they should be. These last 2 weekends have really bothered me and just adding more to my rants and raves.. The Memorial Day weekend was more about sales at the mall and parties than it was about remembering our Hero's. My Mom planned a welcome home party for me just for that weekend and it seemed that there was nothing going on around town to remember the Troops. This last weekend just pushed me over the edge when my wife and I went to a concert. While we were at the concert Jodi decided to ask one of the ushers if there was anything they could do since I just got back home a couple weeks ago. The lady was nice with Jodi and got back with us to inform us that she told the Promotions Director and he would see what he could do for us. So they allow some people backstage for a meet and greet and hand out some free meet and greet passes and we sit there. The show starts and a DJ from a local radio station comes out and says "I just found out that we have a couple Soldiers in the audience who just got back home from Iraq and I just want to welcome them home." Half the audience stood up and gave us a standing ovation and that was it. So I didn't just get home from Iraq and that was all they could do for us. I don't expect much and I'm not complaining about not getting things. I just know what we've seen and what we've done and I think Soldiers deserve more than a small amount of appreciation. I've always asked for just a simple thank you and that was it and it seems like that's even a very big price for some people to pay considering the price the Soldiers have paid for them.

Anyway I will stop the complaining and move on and just see how things go for the next few weeks. We get about 6 months off from drill so as much vacation from the Army will be pretty good and Monday I will start back to the TV Station. My vacation is coming to an end but its been a good one and I hope to keep people up to date and write at least one blog a week about our life and how things are going. Thanks again for continuing to read my Blog and I hope you all continue to enjoy it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bye from Afghanistan

Well my last Blog from Afghanistan, there were times I never thought this would happen and times I wanted it to happen that day. It’s been an experience and an adventure I will never forget and will always remember some of the things I’ve seen and done for the last year. I never thought it would be like this and never thought I would do and see the things I’ve done or seen. So a year in Afghanistan and I’m heading home, at times it seems the year went by fast and then I think about how much Bayleigh has grown and I realize its been along time and I’ve missed a lot in her life and my family’s life.. So the next year you can bet I will be making up for every minute...

My Mom asked me if I could go back to the day I signed my contract with the Army and if I would do it again. I’m not really sure what I would do, I’ve learned a lot and done a lot of things only a few civilians can say they’ve done and seen, but I’ve missed a lot of things as well. It’s hard to decide but I’m glad I did this and I’m glad I had the opportunities I’ve had over here. I will miss the people I’ve made friends with. I will miss the “good kids” and the Elders. I can’t say I will miss them enough to stay any longer but its time to be with my family and friends back home. Its time to continue on with my life back in the States, there is so much I have missed and ready to do all those things as much as I can.

I have a lot of memories I will take with me, from all the Med Caps to all the lunches with the Elders. It’s been fun and I have a great story to tell when I get home and can’t wait to tell it. I will always remember the smiles from the kids when we gave them something or when we returned their thumbs up... There is still a lot of work to be done over here but I know people will continue my goal and hopefully things will continue to change for the better and will one day be the Afghanistan of the 60’s and 70’s.

I hope all of you know how much help you gave and how much easier you made my job and time over here. If you weren’t sending boxes of clothes you were sending goodies for me. I appreciate everything all of you did more than you know. I never thought I would receive so much support but you guys are heroes and I’m so glad I had the chance to talk with so many amazing people. You guys are great and I hope you continue to help support the troops and the people of Afghanistan. Thank you all for everything you have done...

Well I guess its time for my final sign off from Afghanistan; I plan to keep writing in my Blog about my family, friends and everything going on in my life. I hope you all keep reading and stay in touch. Thanks again for everything and thanks so much for reading my Blog. You are all great Americans and I’m so glad I live in a country that supports its military as much as all of you do.

So long from Afghanistan...

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Wrapping Up!

Well my days are numbered and I love every minute that counts off the clock. We’ve been staying pretty busy the last couple weeks and I haven’t had a chance to get on here but I’m glad we are keeping busy cause its passing the time away pretty fast. I got an email a few days ago from Shaun Pierce who is the Promotions Director at 101.5 The Word. The Word is a Christian station out of Pittsburgh, PA and they want me to do an interview about my experience over here and the things we’ve done to help the people. I was pretty shocked to say the least that a station so far from home was enjoying what I do and the goal we are trying to reach. I got to thinking though and that’s the reason all of you read this, not because you know me but because you appreciate what we do as Soldiers and as Humanitarians. I enjoy what I do and glad that all of you enjoy reading what I do and the life I live over here.

So back to my busy week, we had 3 backpack drops mostly from the donations that all of you guys have brought in. I’m still getting box after box each day!! I’ve received stuff from Boys and Girl Scouts from around the country and things from people on other Deployments themselves. It’s over whelming what we can do as a Nation and Americans. We are the best Country in the world and I think once we get together we show that in so many ways. (I drift a lot don’t I?) So my Hero for this Blog will be all the Boys and Girl Scouts that have donated so much stuff. Cookies, clothes, shoes, school supplies. Thank you all so much for being such a big help. I hope you guys know how great it is to see kids helping in our cause and getting involved in World Problems. When I was a kid I never thought I would be sitting here today and I never knew much about the problems outside of my own, but I’m glad you kids are learning now. So thanks for the wonderful cookies the Thin Mints are the best!! And thanks for helping me out and sending all the stuff for the kids here…

We had a big Humanitarians drop last week as well giving out food and clothing to 20 families who lost their homes with all the recent rain and flooding the country has received, but the rain is really a good thing for the country, they have had over 30 years of drought. So we handed out oil and beans, rice, flour and then shoes and clothes and blankets. Most of the shoes we gave out were what we had left over from all the shoes we bought this winter. We are trying our hardest to get rid of all the stuff we had in our Conex.

If you still want to keep sending things here is the new address. I will be leaving within the next 2 weeks so Major Roper will fall on the privilege of picking up all the mail!! Once his replacement gets here from South Carolina I will give you his address.

Mark Roper
Camp Phoenix
APO, AE 09320

Well a short Blog but I just wanted to give you an update and I’ve been getting lots of questions on the address. Anyway I will have one more entry before I leave country and will keep you all updated when I get home.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Counting the days!

Less than a month and I will be headed home! I’m sure these next few weeks are going to be the slowest days of my life… I am ready just as ready as all the other Soldiers but holding my wife and that beautiful little girl is gonna be great. That’s all I think about just spending time with them as much as I can. If I didn’t have to go back to KXII, I wouldn’t but nothing is free so we would need money sometime... ; )

Well the last week has been busy as I’m sure the rest of my time will be just as busy so hopefully time will go by fast with us being busy. We had another Med Cap last week and treated over 600 people. I decided not to take a whole lot of pictures and instead stay outside and help with the crowds and make sure people aren’t trying to sneak back in. I did get the picture of the baby playing on the front of one of our Hummvee’s just something that caught my eye as different but cute. Anyway we have been getting in lots of school supplies and we are doing a backpack drop today for a school with over 3000 kids. They go in 2 shifts, 8am-12noon about 2000 kids go and then from 1pm-5pm there are around 1400 kids. So lots of school supplies will be handed out within the next few days.

We had lunch yesterday with some of the elders and they brought up their concern that they haven’t received this much help and support from any Army group that’s been here since the start of the War in 2001. It made me feel good that they know how much we’ve done for them and show us just how much they appreciate it. I know we will make sure our replacements do the same work and hopefully can do the same amount or more.

We also had a pretty cool guest over the last few days. One of our Lieutenants has a friend who is an International IT Coordinator for Build a Bear Workshop.

For those of you who don’t know what Build a Bear is, it’s a store usually in malls. Mainly for kids, you can pick out and design your own bear, monkey, frog whatever kind of stuffed animal you want. I have spent my fair share of money there and I believe Build a Bear has a huge Military following. I like it is because you can put a recorded voice box inside the bear and record whatever you want to say. I bought a couple for Bayleigh before I left just telling her to be a good girl or that daddy loves her very much. For just a little over 30.00 you can have a stuffed kitty cat with clothes of your choice and a voice box of your choice. It’s a pretty amazing place and just a fun 30 minutes for the family. (I should be a Build a Bear salesman!!!!)

Anyway Vadon Willis is Lieutenant Marmen’s best friend and thought he would fly to Afghanistan after he had some work to do in India. Mr. Willis is originally from Oklahoma and thought he would come and check on Oklahoma Soldiers and brought over 200 bears to give out to the Soldiers. Things like that are really what drive us, people showing us how much they appreciate us by taking their time to show us in a big way or a small way by saying thank you. Its important for people to show a little appreciation to every Soldier they can. I’ve had my share of people putting me down or telling me I’m a baby killer or just telling me what we do is wrong. I blow it off and could care less because I know there are wonderful people out there doing the same thing Mr. Willis does. So thank you to everyone who has ever shaken a Soldiers hand or told a Soldier thank you for what they do. I’ve said before we may not all agree with the War or the Politics of War but we go out and do our job like we’re told and we’re not baby killers or murderers. We are stopping terrorism and keeping the U.S.A a free and wonderful country. I really don’t think anyone in their right mind would want to live like Afghanistan has lived the last 30-40 years.

So for my weekly award this weeks Hero is 2 people well 2 people and a group of people so let’s just say a lot of people!! I can’t figure my self out either sometimes!!

1: Mr. Willis for taking his time to come by Camp Phoenix and risk his life to visit us and give out bears to the Soldiers. Thanks for the visit Mr. Willis and thanks for your time and the bears.

2: My Mom for trying her hardest to gather money for all the things I’ve been trying to do over here. She has gathered school supplies and money for shoes. She has been a huge help for my mission. Plus she’s my Mom so if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have the passions I have inside or the fight to do the things I do. Thanks for everything Mom and I know this year has been tough on you but I’ve learned a lot and helped a lot of people so thanks for everything you have done for me and these kids.

Also along with my Mom, all the people in her office at the Carter County Child Support Office in Ardmore, OK. Thanks for everything guys I’m sure Mom bugged you a lot for the money and the school supplies but know that they are going to great things.

Well another mission calling so thanks again for all the school supplies coming in!! Oh and Happy April Fools!!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Steve Bartman or Shawn Gralla?

So last week I talked about the sun and how nice it had been and well for the last week it’s been raining and chilly. So I guess I can’t get my way oh well home will be coming soon less than 2 months!!! I am so ready and I know every other Soldier is just as ready as I am...

Well I have been getting a lot of emails and comments about the letter to the Governor and I’m glad everyone agrees with me. I think Shawn Gralla is like Steve Bartman who gained notoriety on the evening of October 14, 2003, for preventing a possible play on a foul pop-up in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Florida Marlins at Wrigley Field.

So I hope that soon Shawn will be a Wikipedia hero!! She/he already made Sarge Charlie’s -- Yellow Bellied Sapsucker of the Week Award

Thanks for all of your support of us and the Oklahoma Governor. We cant always stand up for what people say or do to the Military but I know you guys can and you all did so thank you all very much!! So I think I’m gonna start doing an Afghan Hero of the week for people who send items or just help us Soldiers over here away from home…

So this weeks Hero of the week is one of my favorite Blogs and one of the biggest Military and Afghanistan Supporters I have met. She sends me letters almost daily and beautiful pictures from back home. So Cynthia and Karl of Bend, Oregon thanks for everything you do for the Soldiers and for the people of Afghanistan!! You guys are our heros!!

Well I have been getting a lot of email about helping out with shoes and clothes and school supplies. Keep sending is all I have to say! Anything and everything you want is wonderful, we have the room and I will keep taking packages until the day I leave and from that point I will pass over everything to my counter part and they will hopefully and maybe forcefully ; ) keep all of the wonderful people out there up to date. So send send send!!

We had another ribbon cutting and possibly our last for the deployment. It was for the footbridge over Jalalabad Road. Its one of the busiest roads in Kabul and the cause of a lot of accidents and deaths. So hopefully it will save a lot of lives and keep kids from running across 4 lanes of traffic to get to school. It was nice to see possibly one of our last Ribbon Cuttings for 2 reasons, one because it means we’ll be home soon very soon and the other because its one more check on the list of things WE have done for the Afghans. By WE, I mean everyone back home and here. You all have helped out so much and I want to thank you all for everything you have done for us as Soldiers and for the people. They may not know who all this help comes from but they do know it’s from America. I think of it this way, if I can put one pair of gloves on a kid and one day when the Taliban come looking for help that boy will remember what we all did for him and hopefully turn the other way. It’s just a simple thought and may not happen and may not mean anything but that’s the way I look at it. One day Afghanistan will have to stand on its own feet and hopefully that day will come sooner than later but until than I think we all have and will continue to make a difference! Just to let you know about this stuff. A couple weeks ago I had our clothing Conex (shipping container) about half empty. Well about 4 days later it was almost full again, that just shows you how much wonderful support there is out there!

Well I guess I’m gonna sign off for now but thanks again everyone and I hope to see more and more boxes flood in soon. Also if you could check out Jake Hudson’s Blog on my favorite links list. He is one of my best friends back home and was also a Chaplains Assistant with the Oklahoma Army National Guard. Jake was with me in Egypt on our last deployment and I know deep down he would’ve loved to be over here with me right now. He may not admit it but I know he would like doing the work I do and also helping the Soldier in their time of need.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Letter to the Governor From Mr. Gralla of Norman, Oklahoma

I received an email from Sgt Dubb today. I was shocked when I read the email and thought I better reply to the editor.. I hope everyone else will do the same!!!

This letter to the editor appeared in the Daily Oklahoman on March 14th- pass it along and get everyone to write a response.

My response is below.."

Get back to work, governor . . . how much did Gov. Henry's trip to Iraq cost? How much did Oklahoma taxpayers pay for this trip? How many Oklahoman soldiers did the governor shake hands with? What was the dollar cost per handshake? Henry was elected and is paid to guide the state of Oklahoma. He wasn't elected and isn't paid by Oklahoma taxpayers to press the flesh and politic in international affairs in a war-torn country. Oklahoma taxpayers deserve more effect and results from the governor for their tax dollar here in Oklahoma. Henry should pay his own way and use his own time to visit Iraq. Get back to work, governor!" Shawn Gralla, Norman

Send comments to:Ed Kelley, Editor ( J.E. McReynolds, Chief Editorial Writer ( Owen Canfield III,Editorial Writer ( Christy Watson, Editorial Writer (

My response!!

All I can say is wow and what a strong opinionated statement! I am currently stationed in Afghanistan with the Oklahoma Army National Guard. I was right beside the Governor for his whole trip in Kabul and was amazed by how much the Soldiers loved him being here. It was an honor for every Soldier to shake his hand and be thanked personally by the Governor himself.

Its not everyday that we get to see people in Politics or people who do the talking for us back home. So when someone like Governor Henry gets to visit us and spend a day with us its an honor. As far as the cost of the trip, who cares he is the Commander and Chief of the Oklahoma Army National Guard. He is our boss and he came to check on our welfare and well being. I personally hope that Mr.Gralla's boss comes and checks on him as much as the Governor checks on us.

Its important for politicians to step outside of their bullet proof world and see what goes on in ours. Its important for the politicians to see what war were fighting and what were fighting it for. I'm sorry that people are too consumed by money to see what is going on and how important it is to make a change and see a change in a country as poor as Afghanistan. I pay my taxes and have no problem what so ever with the Governor coming to visit. I'm glad and happy that every Oklahoma Soldier fighting the War on Terror in Afghanistan was able to meet their Commander and Chief. So the Governor is working, the Governor is our boss and we elected him we pay his salary so he can come and visit his soldiers any time he wants.

As far as your view on the War Mr. Gralla, I feel for you, that you have never had the chance to see what changes can be made in a country that doesn't understand the Western Culture. I have stepped out of my Camp almost every day to the possibilities of getting shot, and what do I do it for? So my beautiful daughter can be free in our beautiful state and so she hopefully one day wont have to fight for our freedom, the freedom you have to write comments about the Governors trip to visit his Troops.

I would also personally like to invite you over to Afghanistan to see what we do and what we do to protect you...

Corporal Todd Larkin
1-180th SECFOR
Public Affairs NCO

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Governor Henry Visit

It’s been a pretty busy week but the busier we are the faster time flies... I’m getting a little spring fever to get home and be able to play outside with Bayleigh!! The weather is warming up so we have had some wonderful days here recently making everyone’s attitude a little better (including mine!!) But it has been a lot nicer around with the sun and warm weather, the Lake Murray will be mighty nice come June!!

Well we had a special guest Friday!! Governor Henry made a visit to Camp Phoenix and we were pretty happy to see him... He stopped by Phoenix for about half the day, had breakfast handed out some Oklahoma State Centennial coins, and gave out some awards. He informed me that he reads my Blog on regular bases, so I was pretty happy about that to say the least!! I took about 900 pictures and felt a little like a photographer for school pictures after the day was over. Every soldier had to have their picture taken with the Governor. That’s understandable he is a celebrity! It was a good day all in all and I’m really glad he cam over here because it shows he does worry about us and is concerned with what we are doing. He gave me an interview before he left to head back to Oklahoma, I’ve interviewed him a few times before with KXII but I think the interview he gave me yesterday was one of his best. He was very sincere about the soldiers and wanted to make sure that all of our families knew how much he appreciates them in their tough times without us. So I spent the day with The GOV!! I also found out my name was given credit under the AP News!! Thought that was pretty cool, any picture that made the news of the Governors visit was taken by yours truly!! Not bragging or anything but I take a pretty darn good picture!! LOL

Like I said earlier this has been a busy week, we helped move a ton of school supplies from an old school to one of the new ones we built. It made for a long day but we filled up 2, 5ton trucks with desks and office equipment. School will be starting within the next week so we will be having a big school supply drop. We are also looking at getting a road project for the school because it’s like a lake getting in and we don’t want the kids walking through the water to get into school. Well I guess I will wrap this up for the week and call it a day. Hope everyone is good back home!!