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Wendy is back from Afghanistan!

Wendy Leland returned from Afghanistan Thursday, December 19, 2002. Wendy was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for her service in the War on Terror, Operation Enduring Freedom. After the holidays, she will be serving at the FORCECOM Headquarters in Atlanta through April, 2002. We can't thank Wendy, Doug and their children enough for the sacrifice they have made to help fight terrorism. Wendy's emails and photos she sent to us from Afghanistan are posted below.

News from Wendy Leland in Afghanistan
Summer-Fall 2002

Background - Charlestown Planning Commission member Wendy Leland, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army National Guard, was stationed in Afghanistan as part of a joint task force with the 18th Airborn Corps. Afghanistan is clearly not a safe place to be, and we appreciate Wendy's participation in her unit's mission and wish her a safe tour. Wendy kept us informed of her experiences and observations via email and we're delighted to pass them on to Charlestown residents. (After viewing a photo, use your browser's "Back" button to return to this page.)
Most recent emails are listed first.
Note: Bagram is about 35 miles north of Kabul.
November 27, 2002  (Thanksgiving Letter)
Today I received this wonderful Thanksgiving letter and photo from Wendy.
 
November 3, 2002  (I received this from Wendy Leland today.)
Greetings from the 'Gan! Life here trudges along, one day exactly like the one before. Very much like the movie, "Ground Hog Day." The differences lie mostly in what meetings we attend on which day. Mondays are crazy for me as I prepare for a meeting I chair for Tuesday mornings. As the Deputy Director of Information Warfare, we are responsible for Psychological Operations, winning the hearts and minds of the local population. We do this by creating posters, leaflets which can be dropped by leaflet bombs over target areas, radio broadcasts, loudspeaker messages and our latest endeavor, a PSYOP newspaper, entitled, "Peace."
As the Coalition settles in to assist Afghanistan build itself, our messages are predominantly along the lines of supporting the new central government and don't interfere with Coalition operations to keep our troops safe. There are a good many international organizations here digging wells, buiding schools, and providing shelter and medical care. The number of refugees coming back to Afghanistan has settled for the time being. Winter is coming.
But once in a while, I get a break from the monotony. Last week, I was honored to attend the opening of two schools near Bagram. As the only woman from the Coalition, I was given bunches of flowers from the girls, who were drawn to a female daring to show her face in a culture where this is still not the norm. We still see many burqas.
The local governor and warlord (I still can't get over the fact that there were soldiers - both Afghan and Coalition - armed with loaded weapons at the opening of a school for children) hosted quite an elaborate event, in Afghan standards. There were performances by the (male) teachers where they wore white pants and long shirts and danced around to the beat of a single flute/horn instrument and a goat drum. Many long-winded speeches were presented by the local pols (no difference there!). The community came together to celebrate this school. The children marched. The volley ball team marched. (I didn't know Afghanistan had any volleyballs!) The cricket team marched. The students and teachers marched. The soldiers carrying AK-47's marched, but you probably already assumed that. And the 3 other Coalition officers I was riding in our Toyota diesel landcruiser in drove through the town to the school with all these groups lining the road. They waved and marched and smiled and were such a picture of pride and accomplishment. This is the biggest event here - opening a school. Even more so than a medical clinic or well, I think. It's a community event.
Now on to the unfortunate part, I had an entire disk filled with images of these children and groups, presentations and speeches. But the disk bit the dust. Literally. That's a problem over here. There is so much dust, that oftentimes electronics just won't work. I've kept the nosegay I was presented from the day which will have to suffice as my momento.
Don't know if you here the reports of rocket attacks on bases or not, but this is still Indian Country. We have forward bases from Bagram spread throughout the country and they are fired upon, some with more frequency than others. The Special Forces have found many, many caches of weapons hidden in caves and other locations. The Afghan people themselves are tired of fighting and have turned in information on these caches as well. This is where Information Warfare (my section) comes in. Our products influence the population to hand over their arms, bringing a more stable and peaceful country. But this takes time. We are going to be in Afghanistan for many, many years.
But as for me and my National Guard unit, we hope to leave Bagram before Christmas. Since this is such a remote part of the world, it takes many days to get home. Perhaps over a week. We're completely at the mercy of the US Air Force and the weather, which is still in the low 60's during the day, but really COLD at night. Living in tents w/ no heat is not something I would recommend.
Uncle Sam may keep my unit on active duty for the entire year, according to the latest plan. But get me Stateside where I can take long weekends and be with Doug, Lexie, Tori, Christy and Chip, and I will be happy. Not too many rocket attacks or landmines on the east coast.
So, I'll end here. A relatively quiet Sunday afternoon quickly turning into another cold evening. I heard the weather back home turned cold quickly as well. I missed the fall season (here there are scattered trees, so no big autumnal celebration) back in SE PA, but I am truly looking forward to cozying up w/ my family and friends hopefully next month. Rotation of personnel is important for safety reasons and it's important to maintain our situational awareness and not let down our guard. This has been a long deployment and we are all getting tired.
All the best to all my friends.
Wendy
 
October 11, 2002  (I received this from Wendy Leland yesterday.)
Wendy sent me the photos linked below which include photos in which she visited two school openings. She said "Really wild that soldiers with weapons would be at school openings, but that's how Afghanistan lives." To see the photos, click here.
 
October 4, 2002  (I received this from Wendy Leland yesterday morning.)
Dear Jacob:
It's now my favorite month of the year back in beautiful SE Pennsylvania! I hope the drought has not rendered the fall foliage any less spectacular than my memories have colored them. My Anniversary is on the 7th, Christy's 5th birthday is on the 15, and my FAVORITE FUN holiday is at the end - Halloween!! As my neighbors can attest, I have a blast with decorations on our side porch and always enjoy sewing my children's costumes for trick or treat. Doug and I get into the spirit of the season with our own costumes as well. Last year, round about the beginning of September, I asked the kids what they wanted to be for trick or treat. With the girls, the answers were the usual princess or flower or fairy. But after September 11th, Lexie declared that she wanted to be a fireman in honor of the fallen fire fighters in NYC. When she said that and her sisters agreed, it donned on me that my children understood. They understood the ultimate sacrifice and this was their way to honor those who gave all.
This year is different 'cause Mom and Lexie aren't around, but also because our efforts and sacrifices have definitely changed the face of the world. I can see it here in Afghanistan. Many women in Kabul still wear the burqa, but they also wear high heels under them. This tells me that they now understand that they have a choice. (To be brutally honest, during the dust storms we have here, I wish I had a burqa! They make a lot of sense to wear at times!) But there are still many parts of the world where tyranny is still the strong hold. We are working everyday to make strides here in Afghanistan to build this nation into something it has never been, a cohesive body of different tribes, working for the betterment of all. But Iraq looms over our heads. We wonder if we will get stuck here longer than our current deployment states, if we will be troop shifted to the other sandbox, if we will go back to the States and support the void there as those active duty soldiers deploy to Iraq, or if we will come home with the knowledge that we served our country to the best of our ability and it is now another's turn.
Many questions for which we do not have answers right now. We hear the banter in DC and London, but as soldiers, we can only say "Yes, Sir." and go where our leadership points.
I have received quite a few packages from dear neighbors who are true friends, fellow members of my church, and family members. Please rest assured that we have so much food and goodies now! Everything gets shared amongst the people in my sleep tent and work tent as well as shared to the local community when possible. I thank everyone for their continued support of Doug and our children with meals, encouraging thoughts and prayers.
I am attaching some photos I took yesterday while in Kabul.
JM Note: If you click on the first thumbnail photo, you will see a larger image with a direct (arrow) link to the next large image, so you can "page" through the large images. Click here for the photos.
On Wednesdays, we drive an hour and half to the capitol and meet with various representatives who are stationed in the city. The ride is rough and sometimes dangerous. There are minefields along the road which an organization called Halo Trust is clearing, but that is a slow process. There are various Afghan Military Force (AMF) "soldiers" who guard "checkpoints" to allow for our safe passage. We have constant communication, are heavily armed and always travel in convoys of at least two vehicles. We see the children who herd camels and goats always giving us the thumbs up sign and it is NOT a sign of disrespect or rudeness. Contrary, it is a sign of thanks. Some press accounts are downright wrong about that issue.
I close with sending my friends back home my best thoughts for a beautiful autumn. Hope to see you soon. My count is 77 more days here in theater, and believe me, Doug and I ARE counting!!!
love,
Wendy
 
September 7, 2002  (I received this via Doug Leland this morning.)
Dear Jacob:
I realize I haven't written in quite a while, but I have been unable to do so for many reasons.
My Colonel's mother-in-law had a stroke in the beginning of August and unfortunately passed away last week. The communication back to the states has been established and he was able to talk to his wife shortly after the stroke, which prompted him to get on the first aircraft home to take care of his family. I mention this for several reasons. The first of which is the military's understanding of family. We have gotten much better at realizing that soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen need to take care of our families back home even though we are deployed on the other side of the world. My colonel was able to get on a rotator plane back to Germany then back to the states courtesy of the Red Cross within a few short days. He has been able to be with his wife during her time of loss and is now returning to the theater of operations after having been gone for a month. He is currently stationed in Carlisle Barracks at the Army War College. A fellow Pennsylvanian. In any event, I am his deputy and have had to function as the Director of Information Warfare in his stead.
Secondly, I'm sure you've heard of the tragedy in Deh Rawod, the investigation results of which have been released today. Many innocent civilians were killed due to the terrorists firing Anti Aircraft Artillery at planes and helicopters flying overhead. Four children were medevaced here to Bagram at the beginning of July. One little boy remains. His name is Nayamat and he is a delight! Unfortunately, his parents were killed, but he may be coming to America with the help of one of our interpreters who works in the "pediatric" ward of our Combat Support Hospital (C*S*H). However, 2 weeks ago, one of the little baby girls, we called her Lallie, passed away. We estimate she was 18 months old, but she was so malnourished, we will never know. She was doing well, but took a turn for the worse when her colostomy bag was reversed. She was absolutely beautiful, as all Afghan children are, and when she passed away, many of us who had come to know her were quite upset. But there are always new children coming into the hospital who have nothing but what they are wearing on their backs. Doug has sent me clothing as my own children are outgrowing them, and every little bit helps. It did my heart good to see the little boy, Nayamat, wearing Chip's socks last week! Nayamat is about 5 or 6 and Chip is only 2 1/2, but they are the same size.
And finally, I'm sure you've heard on CNN about the recent bombings and attempted assassinations. This is still a very dangerous country and we never forget that we are in a war zone. We have many troops stationed in Kabul, and the coalition and international organizations are spread throughout Afghanistan. Our guard is never down. Bagram Air Base has substantial force protection and we remain vigilant.
I visited a school in Kabul last Sunday which was run by a woman who was almost executed by the Taliban because she continued to teach girls through the regime years. She is a remarkable woman, striking in features, voice and how she carries herself. Her school runs from March until December because after that, the temperatures are too cold to continue. The 3 story bombed out building (courtesy of the Taliban) has no heat, no windows, no chairs, no blackboards, no electricity. Nothing. It would be a condemned building back in the States, however, here it is a school. The teachers (there are 85 of them to 4,500 students) have not received a salary in over 5 months, yet they continue. There were boys AND girls, and they all wanted to meet the woman soldier who brought bags of candy and boxes of pencils. (I will send a picture of some of the teachers and students when I get our unit digital camera back.)
As for the temperatures here in Afghanistan, the seasons are beginning to change. Temperatures at night are falling rapidly. Last night was down in the mid 40s. Getting cooler. Soon we will see snow on the peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains which surround us.
As for life back in the States, I know school has started again and I'm sure Doug is getting a little relief when Tori goes away all day (she started first grade this year.) Christy is in a preschool 3 mornings a week, so it's just Chip and Dad hanging out some mornings. I am ever so grateful to my neighbors who have continued dropping off food for dinners to Doug and the kids. As a mother, I want to do so much for my children, like get them ready for school or tuck them in at night or play in the yard with them. And being over here renders me helpless to do any of those things. It's a common feeling, one I think my male counterparts feel perhaps even stronger than I do. We talk about how their wives are getting along without them. And it's tough sometimes. But, being in the military means that the rest of the family makes sacrifices, too. And Doug sure is holding his own. If you get the chance, please stop by and have a beer or two with him and give him some adult conversation!
And now, I've got 113 more days in theater if our current redeployment stays on track. Hard to believe I've been here 66 days thus far. As we get closer to the anniversary of September 11, I hope you all remain safe and take a moment to remember the soldiers here in Afghanistan who continue to work to rid the world of terrorists, and help a nation rebuild itself.
Best regards.
LTC Wendy Leland
 
August 18, 2002
I received a photo of Wendy's birthday celebration which I have posted here.
 
July 28, 2002
Hi, Jacob. Trust everyone in that beautiful part of southeastern PA is doing well.
I've been quite busy here at Bagram Air Base. As you know, civilians were killed and injured in the airstrike at Deh Rawod at the beginning of the month. The injured children came here to the base and are currently at the US hospital down the "road" from where I work. I've started visiting them on a daily basis and during the past week they have really been making progress. There are two little baby girls and two little boys remaining. A few of the children have gone back to their village in the central part of Afghanistan.
The children are so small. Malnutrition had set in already and their prognosis was not good until they came to the hospital for injuries sustained in the air strike. But now they are thriving. The US hospital, with many of the soldiers from the other side of PA, was not set up for pediatrics. They have no clothes, no diapers, wipes, lotion, blankets, sippy cups/bottles. Nothing for children. Following the event in Deh Rawood, folks have sent toys from the states, but the general baby stuff is still lacking.
Part of the reason is, I'm sure, the fact that the resupply planes can't get in as frequently as they need to. The winds here gust up to 51 knots and as we are all working and living in tents, we wonder just how long before the tents get blown away. The windy season supposedly lasts anywhere from 90 to 120 days and I believe it started in late May. So, we're hanging on for a little while more! But the mail and fresh fruits and vegetables are stuck at our resupply base and back in Turkey quite frequently.
When the wind is not kicking up dust and the temperature is not as brutal as it is in the afternoon, Afghanistan can be quite striking. We are surrounded by mountains in the Hindu Kush and they still have snow on the peaks. As the fall approaches and the winds die down, the mountains will begin to get fresh snow. And we are expecting life to get plenty cold here for the winter months. The Army issued us a few sets of thermal underwear and winter weather boots, but I hope they get the power to our tents in soon. Right now, we are living off battery-powered everything in our "hooches." The majority of us work during the day shift in my hooch and we get home after the evening shift change briefing when it is approx 9:30 local time, so it is already dark. Some of us brought book lights and we all have flashlights, and we're so dog-tired anyway, that evening lights are not an issue right now. But HEAT will be an issue when the weather turns! Heat in our hooches! Until then, however, we melt in the hot sun, storing up the memories of the warmth for when we are definitely going to need them.
Please give everyone in Charlestown my best regards.
Wendy
 
July 16, 2002
Here are some pics from Bagram Air Base. Tomorrow I travel to Kabul and I will try to take some pics from there.
Regards.
Wendy
 
July 13,2002
My unit has settled into the hot, dusty environment and we have fit in to the big picture for our (US) involvement here in Afghanistan. We marked 10 days in country today.
The landscape is quite harsh here. Bagram Air Field is located north of Kabul (about 1 1/2 hours by road) and is surrounded by mountains. But we are on a high desert, which means although it is near 100 degrees now in July, the temperatures are expected to drop sharply in August, which is also when we can expect our first frost. At that time, the nomads which surround us will move to the south near Kandahar.
Some members of our unit have deployed out to surrounding orphanages and schools on humanitarian missions. The need here is great and the smallest token is appreciated. Various schools back in the states have sent over school supplies and the coalition forces are in the position to turn these items into gestures of good will toward the Afghanis. They are always well received.
Security and force protection remain the main focus here, especially after the unfortunate event on 1 July 02 when one of the Vice Presidents was killed in Kabul. We carry our weapons with us 24/7, and believe me, no one forgets where we are. There are a number of locals who work on the base and they are under constant guarded surveillance by a US soldier.
The most unexpected observation from my vantage has been the utter junk yard we are operating and living on. Bagram was a former Soviet Union air base and they certainly forward-staged quite a lot of equipment here. This was the front line of Taliban and Northern Alliance fighting and the shelling of all that was built here to support the Soviets has rendered Bagram a junk yard. Add to the mix the sheer volume of unexploded ordnance, mines and razor wire and it is very easy to stay on the beaten path.
The chow (OK, "food" in civilian-ese!) is actually quite good considering we're feeding a crew here. Steaks and lobster tails are flown in daily from the states. I thought I'd be loosing weight, but I better be careful! We get a "hot" meal at breakfast and dinner, then we eat an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) for lunch. The PX (our little base store) has long lines and not too much on the shelves. But we are waiting to receive care packages from home. According to our postal section, the turn around time is approx two weeks.
Hope all are surviving the heat/humidity back home. Doug is getting lots of support and occasional adult conversation from neighbors and for that I am grateful.
Until later, best regards.
Wendy
 
July 4, 2002
Howdy, folks!
.. Afghanistan stinks. We landed and got set up in our tents and shortly heard a loud explosion two hours being in country. Some 12 year old boy was running in the field behind our complex when he stepped on unexploded ordnance. Lost his left leg. Not sure what else.
We're still trying to figure out where we fit in best here as far a job is concerned. But Bagram as a whole is a disaster. Talk about your urban planning!
Wendy
 

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