Chaplain Kiel

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas In Mehtar Lam

Dear Ones,

I thought I would dash you all off a quick Christmas letter – Merry Christmas everyone!

This picture is of me and my newly assigned Chaplain Assistant, SGT Reyes. We should be a team, hopefully, the rest of my deployment here. I have been waiting a long time to get my own assistant, and I am really glad to finally have one!

SGT Reyes is a great guy, lots of fun, and very loyal to me. I would trust him with my life. The other night in Mehtar Lam, we came under rocket fire (four in all, all hit outside the perimeter). SGT Reyes was “Johnny on the spot,” standing at my tent door saying, “Ma’am, we got to go, we got to go now!” Tents don’t offer much protection, so we really do have to head to the bunkers quickly in such cases. Anyway, SGT Reyes never left my side through it all, he’s a good man.

While in Mehtar Lam, we held a “Christmas Eve” service. It wasn’t Christmas Eve yet, but it was when I could be there to offer the service, so we made it Christmas Eve.

Almost the entire FOB turned out for the service. It wasn’t home, but it was wonderful all the same. The best part, of course, was the singing. I love to hear male voices fill a room with song, there’s nothing like it.

That night as we sang Silent Night, they all took out their pen flash lights (which most all soldiers carry) and held them up as we sang. It was especially nice because, as you can’t use white lights out here (security risk), most of their lights gave off either a red or green glow – it was beautiful. The best moments in life are never planned. As long as I live, I will never forget my “Silent Night” in Mehtar Lam.

God’s peace be with you all.

Merry Christmas,

Renee

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mehter-Lam Christmas Visit

Dear All,

I hope you all are enjoying this wonderful Advent, and soon to be Christmas, season. This time of the year can be difficult for soldiers, and I would have to include myself in that group as well. It’s not being here that’s so bad – it’s just being away from our loved ones at home that is hard. However, we are all making the best of it here together.

I thought you all might like to see a couple of pictures of our Chinook (CH-47) rides. Usually, when I travel to a FOB (Forward Operating Base) I travel by Chinook, though I have also traveled by C-130, Blackhawk helicopter, and by contracted fixed winged prop planes.

I don’t really like Chinooks, to be honest. Actually, I have a love/hate relationship with them. There have been times when my heart thrilled to hear the “whop, whop” sound of their propellers – you can always hear them before you see them. But, they are very loud and windy, and in the winter, extremely cold as well. However, air travel is the way we mostly get around here in Afghanistan, primarily because there are so few roads.

If you are standing outside when one lands or takes off, it will nearly blow you over, and I’m not exaggerating. This morning, we had just gotten off the Chinook and I had my guitar sitting on the ground next to me. The Chinook took off abruptly (it’s not like they make an announcement or anything) and we all instinctively turned our backs to the wind. It was then that I saw, just for a few seconds, my guitar actually lift off the ground and “flew” about 10 feet – seriously. At the moment, there is nothing you can do. You just have to hunker down and let things blow as they will.


Of late, the Chinooks have been stacked to the ceiling with mail. I would imagine this has something to do with being the Christmas season :) It gets a little tight, as you can see in this picture. But I don’t mind scrunching for mail – the soldiers love it (the mail that is, not the scrunching :)

The picture at the top of my blog was taken of me this morning. I have learned to dress really warm for these early morning flights. We are usually out on the flight line by 5 AM. This morning we didn’t actually lift off the ground until about 9 AM. That’s just the Army, and that’s a long time to be standing out in the cold. The Army does outfit us well, however. In the picture above, I have on two of everything: two socks, long underwear under my pants, two long sleeve shirts, two jackets, two gloves, etc.

I am really looking forward to my leave home soon – in fact I can hardly wait! I look forward to seeing you all very soon :)

Advent Peace,

Renee
Mehter Lam, Afghanistan

Monday, December 05, 2005

Visit to Khowst

Dear All,

Greetings from Bagram, Afghanistan! Some of you have asked me if I will still travel now that I am assigned to a Civil Affairs unit here in Bagram. The answer is, “Yes!” Only 15 of our 200 personnel are here at our headquarters in Bagram. Being Civil Affairs people, the rest of our soldiers are assigned out at FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) all over the NE part of Afghanistan.

I just retuned from a four-day visit to one of our FOBs, named Khowst, which is near the Pakistan boarder. While we were there I was able to visit a Women’s Affairs Center. The government, which is newly established here in Afghanistan, is trying hard to get its infrastructure up and running. This Women’s Center is one such project of this new government.

As I have mentioned before, I rarely ever see adult women here in Afghanistan, and when I do, they are wearing berkas (sp?), the gown that covers them from head to toe. My visit to the Women’s Center was the first time that I actually saw and “talked” with women here in Afghanistan, via an interpreter. The woman on the far left in the above picture runs this Women’s Center.

While I was there, we had a sort of “town hall meeting” with only women in attendance. At this meeting, they aired their concerns and needs. Mostly they just want the basics: clean water, jobs, generators, etc. One woman, who is a principal of a nearby girls’ school, wanted a bus so she could get her students to and from school safely. The woman who runs the Women’s Center needs fuel so she can drive her vehicle to visit women in the province who need assistance. They also asked for blankets and warm clothes, etc.

There is no postal system in Afghanistan. The only humanitarian aid they receive, as far as I can tell, is from the local FOB which is run by us. When I fly out to a FOB, I usually carry a couple of boxes with me, filled with care items sent by the likes of you :) Then, we ground convoy, in heavily armored vehicles, out to places such as this Women’s Center. We also visit schools, orphanages, hospitals, police stations, etc. We bring them humanitarian aid via our convoys. That is why they are always really happy to see us, and why they tell us all their needs.

We report back to FOB commanders, and they in turn talk with and work with the newly elected government officials. There are some success stories, but there is also much corruption. There are also the Taliban forces. They have been known to severely punish some villagers for working with, and receiving aid from us. It seems to me that it will be quite some time before things are operating smoothly here.

All this has really made me appreciate and wonder at how it all works so well in the United States. For example, just having a postal system that works and is not corrupt is something to really be thankful for.

Afghanistan is a very poor county; they don’t have oil like other Middle Eastern countries. In fact, one of their largest products here is their opium-poppy crop, which is everywhere, but, of course, which we are tying to eradicate.

This is a picture of a woman at the “town meeting.” She had such interesting features, I just had to take her picture. She was quite vocal, and quite a character. Judging by the way the other women deferred to her, I gather she is a pretty revered woman in this community. Elders are a VERY big deal in this country. It’s quite different than in the U.S., where older people are often marginalized. Here, when they speak, everyone listens :) As soldiers, we’ve learned that if you want to make progress with a local village, you must work with and through the elders to get anywhere.

This picture was taken at a girls’ school. I would guess there were about 30 girls there, all sitting outside on these plastic chairs, doing some sort of writing assignment. Most of the girls did not want me to take their picture, but this young woman looked right at me, and almost smiled.

At Khowst I ran each morning along the air field, which is a secured area. I’m always happy when I can run outside the FOB walls. Anyway, you never know what you are going to happen upon here in Afghanistan. About a half mile up the road, I came upon this old “airplane graveyard.” These are old Russian planes left over from the war back in the 1980s. You see remnants of the war with Russia all over this country. Unfortunately, most of the land mines are still here as well.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m leaving again soon for another FOB called Ghazni. I think by the time I’m done with my tour, I will be one of the few people who has visited most every FOB in the country! :)



May your Advent be filled with peace and hope.

Love, Renee

ps – I have just been informed that I have given out the wrong mailing address. The address I gave is working, I am receiving care packages, and hopefully they are ALL arriving OK. However, please use this address in the future when mailing me items. I’m sorry for the confusion, I even doubled checked the old address to make sure that it was correct before I gave it out, but I was just told now that it is wrong. Here’s my new, and hopefully last address:

Renee Kiel
321 CA BDE
APO AE 09354

renee.kiel@us.army.mil

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bringing Christmas to the FOBs!

Season's Greetings everyone! Here I am in front of my new office in Bagram. I have recently received so many care packages from so many of you, as you can see I packed up several boxes to distribute out to the FOBs. You can see little Xmas trees and decorations in most of them, so they can enjoy some of the Christmas spirit.

Most of these FOBs are pretty isolated, to say the least. It means a great deal to the soldiers and marines to receive care packages.

Thank you all for your continued support of our troops. I have given out well over 300 service members’ names for “Operation Christmas Package.” Thank you all for making that ministry such a blessing to so many.

Advent peace,
Renee

Chaplain (1LT) Renee Kiel
U. S. Army
Bagram, Afghanistan

renee.kiel@us.army.mil


“Chaplains nurture the living, comfort the wounded, and honor the dead.”

Saturday, November 26, 2005

An Afghan Thanksgiving

Hello Friends and Family,

Well, here I am enjoying my Thanksgiving dinner, Afghan style. I am eating with three of the gereral's aides, as we traveled with him that day to a FOB. They ran out of tables, so we are making the best of it :)

We actually attended two dinners, this one with Afghan soldiers and the next with U.S. soldiers and marines. I have to say I preferred the latter, which was more traditional American fare.

I took this picture the same day while riding in a Chinook on our way out to the FOB (Forward Operating Base). The tail gunner is strapped in with a safety harness, but otherwise, he just hangs out the back door. In the background you can see the beautiful Afghan mountains, which are everywhere. At times they remind me of my home sweet home :)







Notice the Blackhawk helicopter tailing us. They always accompany Chinooks to provide added security.


This is my new "hooch" in Bagram. I live in this B-hut with five other women. It's a cozy little place. In Kandahar our bathrooms were in our modular building, so that was really nice. You have to walk to the bathrooms here, about a 100 yards away. Living here is kind of like camping, only it lasts a lot longer :)

The view from my B-hut on a crisp morning in Bagram. No snow yet, at least none that has "stuck."

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Being here has really made me appreciate the marvelous gift of family and friends.

Thank you for keeping in touch and for your prayers and support.

God's grace and peace,

Renee

Chaplain (1LT) Renee Kiel
Bagram, Afghanistan

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Hello Everyone,

I guess the big news of the week is that in a few days, I am moving up to Bagram to serve as Chaplain for a Civil Affairs unit. I am really excited about this move, as I think it will be a good assignment in many ways. Civil Affairs units usually have quite a bit of interaction with the local population, of which I am looking forward to being a part. I do have a new address effective immediately:

Renee Kiel
CJCMOTF-B
APO AE 09354

A huge “thank you” to all of you who participated in “Operation Christmas Package”! I have given out over 280 names to date, which means that 280 lower enlisted soldiers are going to get a nice care package, packed with TLC by people from all over the U.S. I have to tell you a little of my experience with this, as it has been a blessing to me.

Each day I would open my inbox to find emails from people all over the U.S. – asking me for the name and address of a soldier to whom they could send a Christmas care package. It was such a blessing to me, I never thought when Jan Beauchamp first asked me for a dozen names that it would turn into such a wonderful experience. Thanks for the inspiration, Jan, and thanks to all of you who participated.

I’m told by the people at the post office that the real deadline for mailing packages from the U.S. is around December 1st. So, if you’d like to send a Christmas package to a soldier, there is still time, and I still have lots more names! :) Email me at renee.kiel@us.army.mil

I have included in this blog a few of my favorite pictures of late. I believe you can click on the picture itself to enlarge it.

Regarding the above picture, note what is written on the back of the soldier's helmet. You may have to enlarge the picture to see it (just click on it). Soldiers are the most patriotic people you’ll ever meet. Like most soldiers, this young man has no question as to why we are serving here in Afghanistan.


It is not uncommon to see children riding small donkeys here. Like most children, this little guy waives as we drive by.









The sunsets and sunrises can be spectacular here. I’ve never seen the moon as big or as many stars in my life as I have here in southern Afghanistan.

That's all for now. Thanks for your continued prayers, emails and support.

Peace, Renee

Chaplain (1LT) Renee Kiel
U.S. Army Reserves
Bagram, Afghanistan

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Operation Christmas Package!

OK, the camel spider doesn't have anything to do with Christmas, it is brought back to you purely by popular demand!

Some of you have expressed interest in sending Christmas care packages to individual soldiers. I think this is a great idea, so I have procured a list of names and address.

If you would like to send a Christmas care package to an individual soldier, I have will be happy to email you a name and address. A few things you might like to know:

All of the soldiers are lower enlisted soldiers (E1 - E4), which means they are on the low end of the pay scale. They also tend to be young, most in their twenties, some even younger. Most are also single, though I can't guarantee this.

They are all stationed in Afghanistan at various FOBs. Most are male, but I do have some female soldiers as well. If you have a preference, let me know. They are not expecting anything, so whatever you may send would be a pleasant surprise.

You can email me at renee.kiel@us.army.mil and I will email you back with a soldier's name and address. That's all there is to it.

I have one more request. I have run out of phone cards. They are very popular with the troops, as you might imagine. In fact, I now only give them out to lower enlisted soldiers because, as mentioned above, I figure they are ones who need them most. If you would like to send me something, but don't know what, I'd be happy to receive some more phone cards.

As for me personally, I like ruby red grape friut juice, fat-free chocolate pudding, and pretzels (especially the thick kind). I can't seem to get too much of any of these items :)


This picture was taken of me before running my morning PT (physical training). We are still in shorts and T-shirts here. I understand it’s gotten a bit cooler in your neck of the woods :)

Anyway, I like to run at this particular FOB because it is the only one I have been to so far that you can run "outside the wire." The road, seen in the background, is secure. Usually I have to run around the perimeter on the inside of the FOB (note the wall on the left). It's nice to be able to get out enjoy the scenery.


I feel a need to say just a word about the event surrounding the burning of the two Taliban soldiers’ bodies. It was, of course, wrong and very unfortunate. I personally can attest that the vast majority of U.S. soldiers over here are “salt of the earth” people. They are good, honest and hard working. I have personally seen them building roads, bridges, schools and hospitals for the Afghani people. I’ve seen them set up and administer medical clinics. I’ve seen them offer humanitarian assistance and supplies at refugee camps. Most of this work is done in harm’s way, because you are never completely safe “outside the wire.”

I could go on with water and electricity projects, and more, but I guess what I am saying is that I hope that this isolated event does not overshadow all the good and hard work that the coalition soldiers have done and continue to do here in Afghanistan. Frankly, I wish the media would give these stories a little more attention.

Well, that's all for now. Keep safe.

God's Peace,

Chaplain Renee Kiel
Kandahar, Afghanistan