Welcome to our unaccompanied tours (UT) blog, Foggy Bottom Rambles! We can share information, programs, and resources quickly with you and since blogs are a two way street, we (and the other readers) can hear from you. What's in a name you say? This blog reflects how we (back here in DC, Foggy Bottom area) provide information (rambles) to you. Find websites and information, upcoming webinars, programs and events. FLO does not endorse organizations or companies linked-to in this blog, the views they express, or the products/services they offer. Let us know what you think: contribute to the blog or email us at FLOAskUT@state.gov.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Don't leave home without......coverage!

It is always a good idea to review your insurance policies-car and health; to make sure everything is current and you have the appropriate coverage.  It is especially important to do so before you leave for an unaccompanied tour.  Have you signed all the papers needed?  Are the amounts correct?  Do you understand your deductible?  Does your spouse need a power of attorney?  If your spouse is in a foreign safe haven will your health insurance still be in effect? 

Know the amount that will be deducted from your paycheck -confirm that amount is being deducted and coverage is in effect.  Remember it is your responsibility to make sure everything is correct.  Ask questions!  Write down contact information!  Find out now everything is good order, don't wait until it too late! 


JUNE 24, 2010

AMBASSADOR EIKENBERRY: Friends, welcome to the United States Embassy. As always, it’s a pleasure to be with you this afternoon. I thought that given the news of the past several days that [it] would be very timely now to see you and answer any questions that you might have.

I know you’re aware that yesterday President Obama accepted General Stan McChrystal’s resignation as the Commander of the NATO-International Security Assistance Force here in your country. I think you’re aware also that President Obama called your President, President Karzai, last night before he addressed the American people to give him this news personally over the telephone.

This was a difficult decision that our President felt he had to make as our Commander-in-Chief, out of responsibility for the American troops, our American military, serving here and to ensure the effectiveness of this very critical mission. Now, he made his decision with considerable regret, but also with the certainty that it was the right thing to do for the mission and for America’s national security.

In his announcement that he made last night, President Obama expressed very great admiration for General McChrystal and his gratitude for General McChrystal’s extraordinary dedication and the role he’s played directly in helping lead our strategy inside of Afghanistan. I can only add my own admiration and gratitude to that of the President. Stan and I have known each other for a very long time, and worked shoulder-to-shoulder here together under very difficult circumstances over this past year. He was an excellent partner and we all owe him our deepest thanks.

But as our President said, the United States cannot allow diversions to prevent us from carrying out our mission with unity of purpose. Our President felt that a change was needed to maintain that unity of purpose and so he made that change. He told us, [his National Security Team], that it is time for us to come together and that’s what we are going to do.

The President has nominated General David Petraeus, who is currently the Commander of United States Central Command, to take command here in Afghanistan. He asked the Senate if it would be possible to act to confirm General Petraeus in this new job as rapidly as possible. This will allow the United States and Afghanistan to maintain the momentum and the leadership that we need.

Let me be very clear that this is a change in personnel but it is not a change in our policy. The United States will continue to carry out the strategy that President Obama outlined on December 1 of last year during his speech at our United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
We continue to have a very clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity, especially in the area of your Army and your police. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure against al Qaeda and its leadership, which is going to strengthen the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will push hard in both countries for those results.

I know there could be concern among Afghans about whether the policy, the strategy, continues. Well, let me remind you General Petraeus fully participated in the U.S. policy review last fall, and he both supported and he, in fact, helped design the strategy that we have in place today. In his current post at United States Central Command, General Petraeus has worked closely with our U.S. forces and our civilian team here in Afghanistan. He has worked closely with the Afghan government and military, and with all of our partners in the region. I think you’ve seen that President Karzai has already welcomed General Petraeus’ nomination.

General Petraeus has our President’s full confidence. We have worked together – General Petraeus and I have worked together for many years and I know that he is going to do a superb job if he is confirmed by the United States Senate. We at our United States Embassy, just down the street [from ISAF headquarters], look forward to working closely together with General Petraeus as one fully-integrated civilian-military team to implement the President’s strategy.

That was my opening statement. Can I answer…can I take a couple questions?

Please read the entire interview at http://kabul.usembassy.gov/official_transcripts.html

Friday, June 25, 2010

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !! GOAL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Big expectations as US meets Ghana in World Cup
By RONALD BLUM (AP) – 44 minutes ago
RUSTENBURG, South Africa — For other countries, a second-round World Cup match is a big step. For the United States, Saturday's game against Ghana is so much more.

The television audience back home could top the U.S. national team record of 13.7 million, set during the 1994 World Cup loss to Brazil.

With a victory, the Americans would advance to a quarterfinal matchup versus Uruguay or South Korea on July 2 and match the farthest the U.S. team has advanced since the first World Cup in 1930. Confidence is soaring.

"If we continue to build on the successes so far, we can go to the end," coach Bob Bradley said Friday.

The U.S. team made the 2-hour trip Friday northwest from Irene and checked into the Bakubung Bush Lodge, where the bus was blocked by an elephant ahead of the opener against England on June 12. Players have been stoked since Landon Donovan's injury-time goal beat Algeria on Wednesday and lifted them into the knockout phase.

I like this blog for information on the World Cup. 


Watch out for the flying fish!


Jumping several feet into the air, a single silver carp can knock a boat driver unconscious before a passenger even has time to say “Duck!”

For that reason, the Illinois Natural History Survey station in Havana installed netting around the steering wheel and dashboard of its electro-fishing boats.

“It’s simply one of the most dangerous things that we’re doing, so we have to protect ourselves. We can’t have a fish jumping on the throttle [or] a fish knocking somebody out,” says Kevin Irons, INHS fisheries specialist.

The invasive species has become a common sight on the Illinois River and its tributaries, including parts of the Sangamon River, but leaping silver carp are only the most visible representation of a much deeper problem – one that scientists fear will soon spread to the Great Lakes, where Asian carp threaten a $7 billion fishing and tourism industry.

“Economic damage is the fish hitting people, people not wanting to spend time on the water,” says Irons. “But the ecological damage is much worse. … People can see this and say ‘Oh my gosh, this is horrible,’ but they don’t understand the effects of having them in the water year after year after year.”

While biologists and fishermen now see Asian carp as an environmental detriment, the fish were originally brought to the country as an environmentally safe alternative to chemical treatment, Irons says. In the 1960s and 1970s, southern fish farmers imported Asian carp to help keep catfish ponds clean.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Irons says. “We can use a biological control to control nutrients in our catfish ponds, our catfish is healthier, tastes better, and then you have a large fish that you can use for either cleaning up the next pond or you can use for animal feed or fertilizers.”

But once flooding washed Asian carp out of the controlled ponds and into the Mississippi River, the fish quickly became an environmental problem and have been threatening to change the ecology of major waterways ever since.

Don't miss the fun!

If you live in the area or are just visiting be sure and visit the Smithsonian Folk Life.  http://www.festival.si.edu/
This year features:
Asian Pacific Americans
Smithsonian Inside Out
The food is always great, the music is super, the stories are fun, the shopping is good--can you tell I like Folklife!  We go every year and have never been disappointed.  Do dress for hot, hot weather but you can find plenty of drinks and cool fruit.  When you get too hot just visit one of the museums for an one hour or so.  The festival dates are June 24-28, July 1-5 11 a.m. to 5:30 with special events in the evening. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hot off the press....

I just received an important new tip for those of you on the way to Afghanistan.

It is very important that you submit a clear copy of your passport to your packing company when they request it.  If they can't read everything on the copy you submit, your luggage or shipment could end up sitting in the sun at the airport while they request a second copy.  Maybe call after they pick everything up and confirm things are in good order. 

Oh, and remember  no  liquids or alcohol-that can hold up things too. 
Opium Season by Joel Hafvenstein

According to Hafvenstein there is an Afghan proverb that says, “Mountains can never reach each other despite their bigness, but humans can”. This book “Opium Season” will reach you. All 300 plus pages are well written and full of description and history of Afghanistan and its people.
The author, Joel Hafvenstein writes with honesty about his experiences as a contractor with U.S. AID in Helmand. He weaves in a history of the region while describing modern day culture. He covers a little bit of everything from romance to marriage to children to a sometimes painful description of his daily diet.
I think this book is a great way to learn something about the history and culture of Afghanistan.   If you are in Afghanistan, on the way or just like good books, this book is well worth reading.
Have you read it?   What did you think about this book? 

Important information

This is a great article explaining "skimmers".  Take a moment and check it out-this has happened in our area, so be careful when you use ATMs!

ATM Skimming Alert: Bank ATMs Converted to Steal IDs

Email example contributed by Iris M., June 7, 2005:

This is IMPORTANT to look out for!

Bank ATM's Converted to Steal IDs of Bank Customers

A team of organized criminals are installing equipment on legitimate bank ATM's in at least 2 regions to steal both the ATM card number and the PIN. The team sits nearby in a car receiving the information transmitted wirelessly over weekends and evenings from equipment they install on the front of the ATM (see photos). If you see an attachment like this, do not use the ATM and report it immediately to the bank using the 800 number or phone on the front of the ATM.

The equipment used to capture your ATM card number and PIN are cleverly disguised to look like normal ATM equipment. A "skimmer" is mounted to the front of the normal ATM card slot that reads the ATM card number and transmits it to the criminals sitting in a nearby car.

At the same time, a wireless camera is disguised to look like a leaflet holder and is mounted in a position to view ATM PIN entries.

The thieves copy the cards and use the PIN numbers to withdraw thousands from many accounts in a very short time directly from the bank ATM.

Friday, June 11, 2010

LIfe In a Box-Rambles from Afghanistan

I've put up a few photos of my hooch here in Kabul. Due to the security environment here (our security guys refer to Kabul as having a "non-permissive travel environment") I pretty much live my life out on the 7 acre embassy compound (the same is true for all Americans assigned to the embassy). I work here, I live here, I eat all my meals in the chow hall here on the compound, I do just about everything here on the embassy compound. the only time I leave the embassy compound is to conduct business and then I always travel in a fully armored vehicle and only travel straight to my destination and return directly to the embassy when finished.

Most of my time is spent at work. I work in the Political Section and it seems like we work all the time. Our regular work schedule is six days a week, with Friday (supposed to be) off, generally putting in 11-12 hour days. Actually getting a full day off generally doesn't seem to work out very often, most everyone is in the officeon Friday for part of the day. In the seven--plus months i've been here I accidently had two days in a row off when a holiday fell next to a Friday. I've also gone five weeks without having a single day off.

So what do I do for the two or three waking hours each day when I am not at work? Apart from going to the gym (I came here wearing a 35" waist pant, I'm now wearing 33" waist pants!), there really isn't anyplace on the compound to go for recreation, so I spend most of my off-duty time in my hooch, which takes me back to the subject of the email - Life in a Box.

Most of the housing here consists of hooches. Hooches are regular shipping containers converted into housing units. A shipping container is about 30 feet long and 8 feet wide. for our hooches, the shipping container is divided into two sections, creating two hooches per container, each 8 by 15 feet.

A special thanks to Randy for this post!  What's your life at post like? 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rainy days and Sundays

Looking for something to do with children of all ages.....

Filled with games, videos and lots of fun is SesameStreet.org  http://www.sesamestreet.org/games.    I know , I know it's been around forever but you have to admit it is well organized and has something for everyone-parents and children.  And don't think it's just games.   They are videos and educational content plus tips for parents that tie into the games for children. 

Another great site-I love this one for the games is  http://pbskids.org/  It has videos, games and other fun educational type activites.

This site  http://pbskids.org/sesame/  has a super program for sending e-mail cards I just created one for my buddy Kerri...
   because it's her birthday so let's all wish her

Of course it is a good idea for mom and dad to check out these sites before you show them to your children.  You might find some games that don't work right or that you just don't like.  And of course they aren't a replacement for storytime, drawing or other types of fun, however they can be a supplement to regular activities.  

Do you like these sites?  Do you have some you would like to share ?  Please let us know.

Monday, June 7, 2010

If only someone had told ME.........

Thanks to the Yahoo Afghanistan group we have some new Tips from the Field to share

Be sure to put your best foot forward

remember to bring both winter and summer foot gear.

Raindrops keep falling on my head...
An umbrella would have been very useful.

You're going poke your eye out...........
Goggles; I prefer to have a pair of goggles and a nice pair of polarized sunglasses.  You'll understand why goggles are nice the first time you are waiting to board a helo and a blast wave of dirt, rocks and dust pummels you while the helo is landing.  Also great for dust storms.    I've been happy with the ESS advancers.  They come with 3 different lenses so you can wear the clear ones at night, they have a nice speed bag, they fit over a helmet, they provide ballistic protection from shrapnel, and they pop open to de-fog. 

Stay tuned.....more tips tomorrow.

Did you find these helpful?  Do you have some tips you can share?
Write us at FLOaskUT@state.gov or post a comment. 

Good read 4 Afghanistan...

An Unexpected Light by Jason Elliot

Book review by Mikkela Thompson

Fresh out of school at the age of 19, Jason Elliot embarks on the adventure he dreamed of as a boy. An Unexpected Light is already considered a classic travelogue about Afghanistan. It covers a decade of Jason Elliots travels in Afghanistan starting with his first summer vacation adventure in the mid-1980s. As Jason says in his introduction, I had in mind a quietly epic sort of journey, the kind you no longer hear of much; no tailored expedition, but a route guided by events themselves. In An Unexpected Light, he takes us, as he discusses with the Ambassador of Afghanistan, to where “another red line wound westwards towards the megalithic Buddhas of Bamiyan, the turquoise lakes of Band-i Amir, the lonely minaret of Jam and the springs and shrines of Chest-i Sharif; a manageable route by jeep, if the roads were not blocked by snow.”

Certain places saturate the emotions. Afghanistan is just such a place. The omnipresence of the brackets of life survival and death, ignite the writers mind. Young Jason describes the land of Afghanistan with painterly dexterity. His writing diverts into the flowery at times but he intersperses the jacquard tapestry of his adjectives with verbatim conversations. He meets many Afghans but most of the telling conversations are with the journalists, diplomats, relief workers and other travelers he meets. One night, returning after curfew from an embassy party, he writes, “I skirted another checkpoint. What if some Taleb on a rooftop saw me skulking along the road and began to shoot?” Though the landscape and history of Afghanistan are intricately described, Jason Elliot hints only occasionally at his inner landscape. This detachment makes An Unexpected Light an insightful outsider’s view of Afghanistan.

A textbook purely of historical facts might bore some readers. Page after page of anecdotes about cockroaches might repel other readers. In An Unexpected Light, I found the harsh realities of Afghanistan easier to read about because of Mr. Elliots insulating literary flights of hyperbole: “We came down, as a ghost sinks through a wall, beneath a canopy of sculpted cloud, and circled the magnificent cradle of mountains surrounding the Shomali plain in the absinthine light of the setting sun.”

I thought it a worthwhile read, from the safety of my armchair.

***thanks to Mikkela for this excellent review!  If you would like to have your book review or comment appear on this blog please write us at floaskut@state.gov or just post it as a comment.....What do you think was this a good book?