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07/13/08 12:40 AM #1    

Scott Anderson

Well hello all. I would like to say it has been nice reading and catching up on some of my class mates lives. I have thought of you all over the years and its always brought a smile to my face. I'd like to say it was my privilage to go to school with you all. Be kind safe and happy

Scott Anderson

08/19/08 01:44 AM #2    

Cara Cosgrove

Hi Everyone,

Just a quick hello, and thank you to everone who worked to pull the reunion together! I had a fantastic time and I'm glad that I made the trip from Alaska. I managed to load 36 ears of corn into my baggage for the return trip, and my friends here are still thanking me.

Miss you all,

08/22/08 09:15 PM #3    

Dwayne Simnacher

2500 miles and my A** was tired hope you all had a good time

Take care


03/31/09 05:44 PM #4    

Mike Kaufman

Rick Flickinger has been in a car accident down in Missouri and has been injured. I have heard from Duane Simnacher, who by the way got a pacemaker installed a month or so ago, that Flick has a broken leg, a broken pelvis (not that he uses that right now) cracked ribs, 1 broken rib, a punctured lung and what else I don't know.So anyone reading this needs to give a shout out to Flick. Hope he's alright.

08/03/10 08:15 AM #5    

Randy Scheel

Hey Everyone!  I thought I would post a note from Mark Dieter to keep everyone informed of his whereabouts.  He is back overseas helping out our troops.  This was sent to me July 22 ...


Hi Everyone,
Just a short note to say that we've arrived in lovely Kandahar... (not so lovely, actually!).  I thought the desert of Iraq was an inhospitable place.  Oh well, it's nice to now think of Al Asad, Iraq as a four star hotel compared to Kandahar :0)
They say temps in August might reach into the 130's or 140's?  Guess we'll see!
Appreciate your ongoing prayers as we are at a large, very dusty NATO base, but it takes incoming mortars/rockets on a regular basis... we ask for prayers of protection for everyone here :0)
Seems the Taliban like to work at night!
One mountain range within sight, but the dust usually makes it difficult to see.
Wanted to let you know that my hotmail account is rather difficult to access now, so my email now will be:
This will be a good address until we leave.
Will send photos as available. 
Blessings and hi to all!

Chaplain Mark Dieter                                  
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 18                                           
Battalion Chaplain                                                          

08/05/10 10:54 AM #6    

Randy Scheel

Here is Mark Dieter's most recent e-mail (sent early this morning):


HI Everyone,
It’s been a full week here!  Had a chance to travel over to Kandahar City for the day as our base is located a few miles away.  Kandahar City is the second largest in Afghanistan, but I don’t think you’d want to move there anytime soon.  Had my first cup of tea with a local from Kandahar, which was memorable.  His brother looked at me and said, “Imam?”.  I didn’t quite get his thought at first until he pointed at the cross on my collar and then said again, “Imam?”  Ahhh…. Got it.  “Yes, I smiled. Imam.”  He broke out with a large grin as well.  Another great sight was a single, red kite flying high in the sky over the city.  Kite flying was a favorite pastime until the Taliban outlawed it.  Nice to see someone flying a kite over Kandahar City.. a sign of hope.  We had an eventful day following my return to Kandahar Air Field.  A couple of rockets landed and unfortunately, wounded one of our Seabees.  He is on the mend and should be back to work in a couple weeks.  We are very thankful for your ongoing prayers for our Seabees as we do need them each day.  The rocket attacks were then followed by a Taliban attack at one of our gates.  If you care to read about it, here is a link:
My bags are packed for a trip near the border of Iran.  Will be gone for a few days, so won’t be close to email .  Doing fine here and our Seabees are working hard as always.  They are making life safer and better for a lot of Marines and Army soldiers. 

Some have asked what can be sent here to help our Bees.  If you would like to help out, feel free to send items that you might typically take on a camping trip.  Some of our Bees are living in austere conditions.  Suggestions include: beef jerky, flavored drink packets like Gatorade or Propel (not cans but small personal packets), baby wipes, AA batteries, small personal care items (toothpaste, razors, soap, toothbrushes, hair care products for ladies, shampoo, deodorant, etc.) any sealed/dried food item that can be carried in a pocket, sunflower seeds, energy bars, bug repellant cream or spray, hand sanitizer, girl scout cookies, any DVD movies, and the ladies said with an exclamation point…. CHOCOLATE!!!!
Please send boxes US Postal service only.  My address is:
FPO AA 34099-1701.
I hope to send some pictures out soon.  Thanks again for all your care and support.  It means the world to our Bees!

09/07/10 07:45 AM #7    

Randy Scheel

Mark Dieter - September 7, 2010


Dear Everyone,
            Hope you enjoyed a wonderful Labor Day weekend!  Our Seabees used our Labor Day for what else.. labor!!  The hammers and saws were busy and missions moving.  September looks to be an extremely busy month for the military especially in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces.
            Last week was tough.  As you may have read in the news, we had a lot of casualties.  An Army chaplain and several others lost their lives in an IED blast that completely ripped their vehicle apart.  The Chaplain’s Assistant was riding in a different vehicle and was not injured.   Chaplain Goetz is the first Army chaplain killed in action since Vietnam and he leaves behind a wife and three young children.  Their youngest just turned two years old.
            The past week, sadly, was filled with many Ramp Ceremonies.  We had seven caskets in one service alone, one of which held Chaplain Goetz.  Over 1500 Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors gathered quietly on the flight line to say farewell.  Each of the seven caskets was slowly driven by an armored vehicle with the draped US flags standing out in the darkness.  There were tears and distant gazes, what we call in the military ‘the thousand yard stare’.  There was a lot of contemplation and sorrow.  Chaplain Goetz’s Assistant remained at the back door of the C-130 for the longest time with tears streaming down his face.  There is nothing worse for a Chaplain’s Assistant than to see his Chaps hurt.  His primary job in a combat zone is to bring his Chaps home safely.
            Two of the Soldiers lost last week were working with our Seabees at a forward operating base not far from Kandahar.  The small base was taking direct fire from the Taliban so an Army patrol was sent out on foot.  The first two Soldiers in the patrol rounded a clay wall.  The first stepped on a pressure-plate IED and was instantly killed.  The second was quickly brought back to the base with major injuries.  Our Seabee medic worked to save his life but the injuries were too severe .  The entire event, understandably, was a terrible trauma and loss.  Your prayers for September are deeply appreciated.  Operations will likely intensify as part of the surge.
I’ve enclosed a link to a story which ran in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend.  It gives a good snapshot of what a Religious Ministry Team made up of a chaplain and assistant does in our area.  The story mainly concerns the dichotomy of the chaplain and his atheist assistant.  There are some significant problems with this team which are quite evident.   I think you’ll quickly see the chaplain could get himself and others killed with his careless ways and the assistant should never be trying to ‘undo’ the work of ministry.  I suspect this team will be brought in for some training to correct their problems.  However, the story provides a nice glimpse of what chaplains do in a combat zone.   Of course, the Marines flavor the story with colorful language!
            Thanks for the boxes, cards, and emails from home!  We’ve been blessed to load a lot of your boxes onto choppers and convoys to our Seabees in southern Afghanistan.  It’s nice for our Seabees to have a few comfort items like soap, shampoo, baby-wipes, and toothpaste when they run out.  Thanks for sending them our way!  God bless!

10/25/10 09:12 AM #8    

Randy Scheel

From Mark Dieter - October 19, 2010


Hi Everyone!
Hope you don’t mind receiving each month’s note which goes into our church newsletter.  We’re excited to be close to the halfway point of our deployment.. or ‘over the hump’ as we call it!  We’ll be having an official party in early November.  It’s all downhill after that!  Once the holidays are here we know our time is really short.
Thanks for all the support and encouragement along the way.. it makes such a difference!
I expanded on the Navy’s birthday for this note.. so you may recognize some of it from last week.


Note from 112 W. Oak St.


You coming to watch me cut the cake today, Chaps?” asked one of my young Seabees. “Sure,” I replied, “planning to be there… just be careful with the sword!” Our youthful Builder was excited about the honor of being asked to help cut the cake for the 235th Navy birthday which was celebrated on October 13. As a Builder he does a lot of the construction work here on our compound. His days are long but he always seems to have a smile on his face when I bump into him. It’s not uncommon to find him covered in sawdust at the end of the work day. As one of my ‘Baby-Bees’ he is barely 20 years old and will be a veteran when our deployment is complete. He’s been working on growing a moustache over the past months and pretty proud of the progress that’s been made. It’s kind of thin but coming along! He was in good spirits even when he discovered that a fellow Seabee is six months younger so he wouldn’t get to cut the cake after all. Navy tradition looks for both the youngest and the oldest sailors on a ship, battalion, or base to cut the cake together. It is a symbol of the span of ages that the Navy encompasses. The oldest sailor in our battalion is 60 years old. If anyone in their mid to late 50’s would like to volunteer for the rigors of deployment, please let me know and I’ll try to find a uniform to fit!

Naval tradition is rich, indeed, going all the way back to the Continental Navy and heroics of men like John Paul Jones who is considered the “Father of the American Navy”.  His famous quote, “I have not yet begun to fight!” was expressed while locked in a 1779 battle with the British ship Serapis.  Jones’ ship, Bonhomme Richard eventually sunk but not before the Serapis had surrendered and his men transferred to the safety of other vessels.  I am familiar with the story of how Jones’ body found its way back to America some two hundred years following his death with my work at the US Naval Academy.  Jones died in obscurity in France in 1792 at 45 years of age.  At the turn of the century there was interest in bringing his body back to America, so the search began.  Investigators knew from records at the time of his death that he was buried in a lead coffin that had been donated by an admirer.  It took some six years to locate the burial area in Paris which held five lead coffins.  The third coffin to be exhumed was, indeed, John Paul Jones.  His body was brought with great naval ceremony to the US Naval Academy in 1905 where President Theodore Roosevelt gave a lengthy speech in honor of this naval hero.  Jones’ final resting place is below the Naval Academy Chapel rotunda in a beautiful bronze sarcophagus.  You can visit his sarcophagus as part of the Academy tour. 

Our ‘Skipper’ also announced a ‘ropeyarn’ Wednesday in honor of our 235th birthday!  What is that?  It is a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of the fleet.  The captain of the ship would give the crew a ‘ropeyarn’ afternoon, usually Wednesdays, to mend clothes and hammocks.  That was an unscheduled afternoon to darn socks, mend uniforms, and perhaps have a few games at sea!   I’m not sure too many of our Seabees darned their socks that afternoon, but we were sure glad to get some time off in Afghanistan!

Another of my Baby Bees stopped me the other day to chat. He is 21 years old and has grown so much over the past months. This young Seabee was came to me in tears during our Field Exercise back in June. If you recall, our FEX was a brutally hot and humid few weeks in Mississippi. “I can’t do this anymore Chaps. I wanna go home, I can’t take it.” he tearfully told me at FEX. He was homesick, exhausted, dirty, and ready to quit the Navy. The young man who stood before me the other day is a now a different person. We were talking about some girlfriend issues he was having back home when the subject changed. He paused and with a big smile said, “I can’t believe I’m doing this Chaps. Things are going really well for me. I never thought I could do this.” Along with a pat on the back I told him how very proud I was of his attitude and work here in Afghanistan. “You’ve come a long, long way, haven’t you?” I said. “And you’ll be a veteran soon. Not bad for 21 years old.”

My young Bees have changed. It’s easy to see in their attitudes and maturity. They work long days out here and are exposed to all the Taliban want to throw their way. They’ve learned to make important decisions, handle an M16 rifle, live on their own, pay their own way, and have pride in their work. They don’t need the Chaps in the same way anymore, which is a good thing. Some of them have gone from being adolescents to adults and have accepted every challenge in stride. Not to say there haven’t been tears, butterflies in the tummy, sleepless nights, prayers, and complaints along the way. But I can see that my Baby Bees are getting their ‘sea legs’ which is so rewarding. They have learned how to lean on each other when the Chief yells at them or the day isn’t going well. If they can handle deployment in a combat environment, I tell them, the rest of life looks easy!

Yes, my Baby Bees are growing up.


The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds but when it has grown it is the greatest of all shrubs and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

11/16/10 02:10 PM #9    

Randy Scheel

From Mark Dieter ... November 12, 2010


 Hi Everyone!
I’m happy to note that NMCB18 is now  ‘over-the-hump’ as we say on deployment!  That means we are on the last half of our journey in Afghanistan.  The desert air is chilly in the mornings and just right in the afternoons.  We’re all pretty happy to leave the hot weather behind!  Our Bees continue to play a critical role in the surge.  One of our bulldozer operators just stopped in to chat with me.  He was sharing some stories from the past month out in the heart of Taliban country.  Thankfully our heavy equipment is armored with bullet proof glass.  At one project, he had Taliban fighters shooting the heck out of his bulldozer which held its own.  Can you imagine being in the cab of a bulldozer while enemy fire is pinging off your equipment?  He was very thankful to leave the project safely, after pulling another Seabee into his armored cab to protect him.  Seems like the Taliban are also now working to confuse our bomb dogs by coating IED’s with oils and perfumes to throw off the scent.  Two bomb dogs have recently been killed because they didn’t pick up the smell of explosives.  Sadly, whenever a dog makes a mistake, it usually takes the life of the handler which happened in both cases.
We continue to appreciate the ongoing prayers and concern for all US forces and our Bees.  We’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving soon and then on to Christmas.  Your care packages have been such an encouragement to not only our sailors, but to soldiers as well.  We’ve been sharing boxes with the Wounded Warriors who are here at Kandahar Air Field recovering from injuries.  They are often flown here quickly via chopper so don’t have many personal belongings during their recuperation.  Your gifts have been providing much needed personal care items, snacks, and magazines to our troops on the mend.  Members return back to their unit after injuries have healed.
 We are now starting our retrograde planning which is exciting!  I want to let you know that the last day for mailing care packages will be November 30.  This will allow time for us to receive your packages and get them to our forward bases.  The last date for any personal mail you might like to send to me will be December 15.
I’m pasting in a story that was recently written about our ‘SheBees’ or female Seabees.  I’ve been so impressed with our SheBees as they swing hammers, operate equipment, manage personnel, and fix broken equipment.  Females make up about 15% of our battalion and they deserve great credit for their positive attitudes and willingness to serve our country in a dominantly male military culture.  The story is about our SheBees working to help the female wounded warriors.  Hope you enjoy it!
Thanks again for all the support and please keep the deadlines in mind if you plan to send any care packages or mail our way.  I send my prayers that you will have a most blessed Thanksgiving!  I certainly give thanks for the bounty and blessing of the United States of America.  If you ever find yourself complaining about the quality of life available in the US I would highly recommend six months in Afghanistan or Iraq!  It definitely provides a fresh perspective at the amazing opportunities offered to all Americans.  The gift of life in America is a priceless treasure which we should never take for granted.  The rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the freedom of worship, and access to education are foreign concepts in many parts of the world.  We are indeed a blessed nation.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  May God bless you and your families!
Chaplain/Pastor Mark
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (NNS) -- The "Shebees", a women's mentoring group established by personnel from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 18, built bathroom stall partitions and donated female items Oct. 24 for female wounded warriors aboard Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan.

The restroom, which was originally for males, was converted to a female restroom and was in desperate need of privacy stalls.

"The lock wouldn't always work and sometimes the females would get walked in on," said Chief Information Systems Technician Teresa Alvarez, Third Naval Construction Regiment (3NCR) data processing chief, and a member of the Shebees. "There were already two toilets in the area; we just needed to put up walls and doors."

The partitions were pre-fabricated by NMCB 18 personnel and were taken to the site the morning of the project. Since only a few of the women had actually used power tools before, NMCB 18 assigned a project manager to walk the Shebees through the steps of putting up the partitions.

"Many of us belong to fleet ratings, so this was our first time building," said Chief Intelligence Specialist Gaby Buitron, NMCB 18 member and Shebees president. "It was an empowering learning experience. The project went great, and we all agreed it was the most fun we have had since we have been here."

The fact that the project specifically helped out the female wounded warriors was a major source of motivation for the girls to don the hard hat.

"We were so excited about this project and helping other women that we are researching a fundraising event," said Buitron. "One idea the Shebees have come up with is to hold a 5K run to spread the word about ovarian cancer."

"I'm excited about the opportunities the Shebees are providing," said Information Systems Technician 1st Class Sandra Uptagrafft, 3NCR. "I've always liked teaching and helping others better themselves, so when I heard about this organization, I wanted to be a part of it."

The Shebees started off as a mentorship program, and has grown into something much greater.

"I believe this organization will help women create a bond, help their self esteem, motivate them and help them build a delightful relationship even through trying times in Afghanistan," said Yeoman 2nd Class Michelle Trinidad, NMCB 18.

11/18/10 08:11 AM #10    

Randy Scheel

How Pigs Fly ... from Mark Deiter ... November 18, 2010



Hi Everyone!
Thought I’d send along the story of how a pig arrived in Afghanistan as a note on giving thanks!  Our ‘Over-the-Hump’ celebration was wonderful with a half-day off from work to enjoy games and a barbequed pig.  The Seabees love to grill, so all the creative juices began to flow to figure out how to get a pig to Afghanistan in time to hold a good, old-fashioned pig roast.  Our Guam guys especially love to do this kind of thing, so they were willing to build a make-shift fire pit.  All we needed was one willing pig.  The problem, of course, is that pigs don’t fly!
Actually the bigger problem is that pigs are illegal here in Afghanistan!!
What to do?  Here’s how our flying pig arrived just in time for the party.  A willing pig was located in the great state of Iowa where it had its last squeal and was driven north to Minnesota.  A company that specializes in dry-ice shipping was more than willing to pack the pig in dry ice and send it on the way to lovely Afghanistan.
Problem is… when the shipper DHL came to pick up the pig, they refused to take it since they knew pigs are illegal to even ship to Afghanistan.  What to do now?  The pig’s adventure looked like it was going to end in Viking country (along with the lousy Vikes season this year!).
And.. with a stroke of genius, the dry-ice company printed off a new label and remarked the pig as a cow!  Voila!  We now have a cow-pig!
DHL was more than happy to load up the ‘cow’ and send it off to the faraway land of Afghanistan!
Our ‘cow-pig’ happily arrived somewhere in the Middle East for a short rest and then finished its flight by arriving at Kandahar Air Field the night before the big celebration!  It was one frozen pig, even after such a long journey!  So… the next time someone asks you if pigs fly?  Now you know the answer!
Our Guam guys had the fire going all night and the ‘cow-pig’ was ready and willing to join in the fun.  With a couple hundred hungry Seabees here it didn’t last long!  We were even more blessed by the fact that everyone involved in the ‘cow-pig’ arriving donated their time, pig, and shipping costs.  What a generous act by all!
Hope everyone enjoys their Thanksgiving!  And if, by chance, you have a ham on the bountifully arranged table for Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps you might want to give thanks that it didn’t have to fly!
Our temperatures are cool enough in the mornings that we see our breath.  Our Guam guys are dressed like we’re having a sub-zero blizzard arriving any moment!
Am enclosing a story about our battalion doctor, CAPT Bittner, which will be featured in the upcoming Navy Reservist magazine.  Doc Bittner is an orthopedic surgeon from California who is a dear friend.  It’s not unusual for the Chaplain and Doctor to become battle buddies since we work closely together on many battalion issues.  The story is an inspiring account of how Doc Bittner helped save the arms of a young Afghan boy who was injured in a farming accident.  Afghans have a tough life with injury and death touching their families far too often.  In a country ravaged by war for the past several decades hope can be hard to find.  This young boy has a chance of a much better life due to CAPT Bittner’s talents.  Here is the link to the story.
Blessings and peace for your Thanksgiving in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Chaplain/Pastor Mark

12/26/10 07:57 PM #11    

Randy Scheel

From Mark Dieter ... December 22, 2010


Dear Everyone,
It’s beginning to look a little like Christmas in Afghanistan (not a lot, but just a little)!  There are a few decorations and every once in a while we see Santa and his elf running around.  Our Seabee parents are rather homesick this week, especially those with little children anxiously awaiting Christmas morning or newborn babies they haven’t met yet.  One of our Seabee moms was panicked the other day to see the Christmas presents she ordered online for her children mailed to Afghanistan by mistake!  She quickly addressed them for home and prays they will arrive in time.  Ah, the challenges of parenting 7000+ miles from home.
We’ve been singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” to remind us that we can travel home in our hearts to be with loved ones this Christmas even though we’re half a world away.  Afghanistan is so far behind the modern world that we’re living in a place that is also centuries removed from the life we know back home.  I’m still trying to figure out how to mail a real camel home for the Nativity scene!
Our Christmas gift, however, is the joy of knowing we’re in our last weeks in Afghanistan!  More importantly, we give thanks to God for the safety of all our Seabees in this deployment.  The greatest gift we can ask for is to step off the plane at homecoming with each and every Seabee who started this adventure.  We’ll definitely take prayers for our last few weeks.  This is such a dangerous environment that one bad decision or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be the difference between injury and health or life and death.
Another Christmas gift we just received was to be awarded the ‘Battle E’.  This means NMCB18 has been named the best Reserve Seabee battalion in the western half of the United States.  It is quite an honor for our Seabee and a tribute to all the hard work and complex missions we have taken on in Afghanistan.  Our Bees are really pleased with the award!
I do hope everyone has a most blessed and joyful Christmas celebrating the birth of our Savior Jesus!  You have shared so many blessings with our Seabees and Soldiers over the past months.  The care packages have really poured in and we will sending the final groups of boxes out to the small bases and outposts.  Your gifts have made Christmas brighter for us!  Our mail will stop in the first part of January which means it is also time to start packing.
 It sounds like the US troop withdrawal is planned to take place in the summer of 2011 as scheduled.  The operational surge, accordingly, will be winding down a few months after we leave.  It has been an historic time to be a part of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.  We hope that our Seabees’ efforts, in some small way, will give Afghanistan the opportunity to create a better future.  As we have all learned firsthand, however, it will ultimately be up to the Afghan people to create the kind of society they desire for future generations.  A society has to be shaped from within to create long-term, lasting freedoms and opportunities.
May the joy of Christ fill your hearts and lives this Christmas!
See you in 2011!  We are ready to go ‘wheel’s up’ in the new year!
Peace on earth (someday).
Merry Christmas!
Chaplain/Pastor Mark


Ps… the other person on Santa’s knee is RP1 Brian Jameson, my chaplain’s assistant.  Since I do not carry a weapon, he essentially is my bodyguard everywhere we go in Afghanistan.  He has been a great blessing and resource.  He’ll head back home to Ohio after deployment where he works as a State Farm insurance agent.  Both Santa and his elf are from our battalion… they have been a hit visiting our Seabees and handing out Christmas stockings!

01/24/11 09:59 AM #12    

Randy Scheel

From Mark Dieter - January 23, 2011


Hi Everyone!
Wow.. what a year for Wisconsin!  Badgers in the Rose Bowl and Packers in the Super Bowl!  Maybe I should deploy to Afghanistan more often? J
Am in my last few days here and definitely happy about packing my bags!
We had a Talban rocket hit close to our compound just a few days ago which killed a young soldier, badly injured one of our Seabees and injured many others.  Our warning system did not detect it, so when I felt my office shake from the blast, there was no question what had happened.  It was a direct hit on the chow hall during dinner.  Please keep everyone in your prayers especially the family of Spc. Joshua Lancaster and our Seabee who is now in Germany.
Have enclosed my final church letter from Afghanistan.
Thanks so much for your continued support for our Bees and this unique time to be in Afghanistan.  Your care packages, prayers, cards, and concern have given us encouragement during some challenging and dangerous missions in heart of Taliban country.
We’re all ready to bid farewell to this ancient, dusty, and mysterious land!
This email will no longer work as of the end of January.  If you’d like to stay in touch while I’m in Kuwait for most of February, you can use my civilian email at:
Signing off from the land of the Afghans!
Chaplain/Pastor Mark

Mark's Word Document - Final Church Letter

Hi Everyone,

I’ll soon be seeing Afghanistan in the rear-view mirror. My time in this ancient and dusty place is drawing to a close. It won’t be difficult to say good-bye…. uhh, let’s see…good-bye!!!! Once I am able to clear all the dirt and camel hair out of my lungs all will be good. There are a number of Afghans that I will miss however. One, in particular, is an older Afghan who is at the bazaar here at our base each Saturday morning. His name is Afzal and his face could easily grace the cover of National Geographic. I have no idea how to estimate his age. In America, I’d say Afzal would be in his 70’s. Here in Afghanistan, however, he could easily be 50-something. The life-span for Afghans is far lower than back home due to the harsh conditions for living and lack of health care. It God turned the clock back a few hundred years life in Afghanistan really wouldn’t change much. Last I checked, a camel has the same owner’s manual as when the Wise Men journeyed from this part of the world to find the King of the Jews. Afzal could easily be imagined presenting gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus!

Captain Bittner, our Battalion physician, and I love to go see Afzal at the bazaar. We enjoy chatting with him and learning more about life in Afghanistan. His English is pretty good and his weathered face speaks of a life far different than ours. Afzal is the only antiquities dealer at the bazaar. On his simple table are wonderful treasures that date back well into the centuries before Christ as this land is filled with ancient artifacts still lying in the ground. Many empires have journeyed through Afghanistan including the Greeks under Alexander the Great, Persians, and Mongolians with Genghis Khan. Kandahar was actually established as a city called Alexandria in honor of Alexander the Great who conquered the area in 330 BC. The ethnic Hazaras in central Afghanistan, with their noticeable Asian features, are descendents of Genghis Khan’s Mongolian warriors who settled in the area in the early 13th century AD. Empire after empire has tried to tame the tribes in Afghanistan. It is interesting that all the empires are gone, but the Afghan people in their inhospitable, mountainous land are resilient as ever!

Because Afghanistan lies between the East and West, it has historically been at the crossroads for trade. It was a key point in the Silk Road, or trade routes, which allowed goods from China to reach the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Europe. That’s one of the reasons there are so many ancient artifacts surviving here. So far I’ve been blessed to purchase an ancient Persian spear tip, numerous coins, and examples of Afghan and Roman pottery. Afzahl is more than willing to describe where the artifact was found, its general date, and, of course, a starting point in dollars to begin the wonderful art of price haggling. CAPT Bittner knows how to drive a hard bargain with Afzal which is entertaining to watch. As for me, I wouldn’t make a very good Afghan trader!

My adventure in Afghanistan is soon to end. The courage and daily commitment of US troops is remarkable. While government leaders and political pundits debate timelines and funding from the safety and comfort of home, I see the grit and determination of US Seabees and troops whose goal is to simply do whatever is asked of them. Our flags frequently fly at half-mast due to the continued loss of US troops. With all of the publicity of the recent tragedy in Arizona, I hope America hasn’t forgotten the daily losses of her sons and daughters here in Afghanistan.

Even though we are within our last month here no day can be taken for granted. We learned that lesson again this week. A Taliban rocket made a direct hit near our compound resulting in the death of a young US soldier and injuries to others. Please pray for one of our Seabees who sustained significant injuries from shrapnel. We are thankful as the rocket attack could have hurt many more people than it did.

We are certainly concerned for those who will be serving in Afghanistan in the months ahead. The Taliban fighting season is about to start again as the weather warms. While my bags are being packed I’ll be thinking about this place. I’m wondering what Afghanistan will look like in 10 or 20 years. Though I have no idea what will become of the Taliban or the Afghan government, I do know that people like Afzal will simply be doing their best to carve out an existence in an ancient and mysterious land. And when next Christmas rolls around, I’ll likely remember Afzal’s face and imagine him with arms full of frankincense and myrrh.

Thanks so much for your prayers, support, and care packages over the past months. You have been a blessing from half a world away!

Signing off from Afghanistan,

Chaplain/Pastor Mark

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