The Sand Castle

A Lady Engineer in Afghanistan or Anywhere…

Reading Through Afghanistan

Everyone ever deployed has their own way of getting through deployment and the free time that goes along with it.  Even if most of your time is spent working, you’re not always working and there is very little to do when you’re not.  No popping over to Wal-Mart or to a great Mexican restaurant or the pool or the IMAX theater or the mall…

Some watch TV or hundreds of DVDs, some play video games, some work out, some just sleep.  What did I do mostly, even if partaking of the above occasionally?


A lot.  And I kept a list of the wildly varied books read while deployed.  Many I took with me or had shipped over.  Many I picked up around the FOB as there are shelves of books everywhere available for reading.  Many of the books I had read before but went back for a revisit, enjoying them all over again.  Many are not my usual genre but when you need something to read, just about anything will do.  Some were massive thousand-plus page tomes, some just short novels.

So how much reading did I do in my thirteen months of deployment?  Final count is one hundred and six books (106 – that averages out to over eight books per month), and I’ve listed them below:


My Antonia by Willa Cather

Wild Orchids by Jude Devereaux

The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Irish Tiger by Andrew Greeley

Night by Elie Wiesel  (Awesome if haunting first-hand account of the holocaust.)

The Tall Stranger by Louis L’Amour

Duma Key by Stephen King  (The first Stephen King I’ve ever read.  Need more.)

Changing Habits by Debbie Macomber

The Reason for Sports by Ted Kluck  (I usually like something about every book I’ve ever read, whether it be a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel or popcorn read.  This one?  Bleah.)

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

The Unforgiving Minute by Craig Mullaney  (A soldier’s story – great read.)

Saving Sailor by Renee Riva

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Lord of the Rings (Trilogy) by JRR Tolkien

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen  (For the hundredth time…)

Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toibin

Loon by Jack McLean

Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton

Dear John by Nicholas Sparks

Bleachers by John Grisham

Tipperary by Frank Delaney

Such A Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb

The Quilter’s Apprentice by Jennifer Chiaverini

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Leader Business by COL Tom Magness

A Gift to Last by Debbie Macomber

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (Good one and a Pulitzer winner.)

Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt

Mohawk by Richard Russo

Mr. Darcy’s Daughters by Elizabeth Aston

Caroline Isle by Jude Devereaux

Duty and Desire by Pamela Aiden

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom

The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger  (This is considered a classic?)

Belong to Me by Marisa de la Torme

Sammy’s Hill by Kristin Gore

A Christmas Visitor by David Saperstein and George Samerjan

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey  (Gotta love ZG!)


After the Bugles by Elmer Kelton

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson (I hear this will be a movie soon.)

An Angel for Emily by Jude Deveraux

Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman

The Rider of Lost Creek by Louis L’Amour

The Postcard by Beverly Lewis

The Guardian by Nicholas Sparks

Hannah’s Hope by Karen Kingsbury

Christmas Letters by Debbie Macomber

Susannah’s Garden by Debbie Macomber

Mrs. Miracle by Debbie Macomber

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Temptation by Jude Devereaux

Love, Charleston by Beth Webb Hart

The Associate by John Grisham

Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman

The Painted House by John Grisham

The King of Torts by John Grisham

Badger Boy by Elmer Kelton

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume II by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The City & The City by China Mieville (Bewilderingly bizarre parallel universe murder mystery…)

The Odd Women by George Gissing  (Victorian era novel about unmarried women – does not meet the standard set by Austen.)

Irish Mist by Andrew Greeley

Autobiography of a Wardrobe by Elizabeth Kendall

Grace at Low Tide by Beth Webb Hart

Adelaide Piper by Beth Webb Hart

Tuscan Light by Mark Gordon Smith (Random, rambling and dull.  Nevertheless, my resolve to explore Italy some day has been strengthened…)

Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts  (Better than the movie – surprising.)

Chateau of Echoes by Siri L. Mitchell  (Awesome first novel by a military wife.)

The Hammer of Eden by Ken Follett  (Good read, but still prefer Pillars of the Earth.)

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

The Appeal by John Grisham

Europe by Eurail by LaVerne Ferguson-Kosinski

Caribbean by James A. Michener

A Promise to Remember by Kathryn Cushman

Rooms by James L. Rubart

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Girl on the Beach: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd  (This was a wonderful discovery.)

The Daughter of the Commandant by Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin

The Cubicle Next Door by Siri L. Mitchell

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

World Without End by Ken Follett

Moon Over Tokyo by Siri L. Mitchell

Something Beyond the Sky by Siri L. Mitchell

Straight Man by Richard Russo

The Shack by Wm. Paul Young

Kissing Adrien by Siri L. Mitchell

Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

The Far Side of the World by Patrick O’Brian

The Sonora Noose by Jackson Lowry  (Awesome and gritty western by Bob Vardeman – Lowry is a new pseudonym.)

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell

A Heart Most Worthy by Siri Mitchell

Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson

Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

An Impartial Witness: A Bess Crawford Mystery by Charles Todd

A Matter of Justice: An Inspector Rutledge Mystery by Charles Todd

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith  (Not what I expected.)

Like the Flowing River by Paulo Coelho  (A collection of stories by an awesome author whom I can’t believe I’ve never read before.)

Home: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews  (I don’t usually read biographies or autobiographies, but I’ve always liked her and really enjoyed this.  Who can believe Julie Andrews is 76 years old?  She’s ageless.)

Sea Wolf by Jack London

I like to read… 🙂


19 July 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Bagram, Deployed @ Shindand, Returning Home | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

27.5 Acres of Concrete

At least, that’s what it’ll be when finished – at almost 28 acres of concrete, this expanse of apron is another project of mine at Shindand.  In the aerial photo above, it’s showing right about half-way to being completed although the contractor is “running and gunning” and nearer to 100% complete now.  What’ll this concrete expanse become in just another month or so?  Rotary Wing Apron.  GSAB Ramp.  In normal people terms, a place for the Army to park their helicopters like those in the previous post.

The paver used here is not new but the veteran of many untold placements, so no worries.  Most concrete is placed at night due to the high temperatures during the day…

This project is being constructed by one of the best contractors I’ve worked with in Afghanistan (TetraTech) and one of the best subcontractors as well (Yuksel), this combination of companies is managing to do something I’ve not ever seen in country (and rarely out of it) – they will not only finish a quality project before the contract required completion date, they will be finishing significantly earlier than required.  Wish I could be there for the ribbon-cutting!


By the time this posts I should finally be home

25 June 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

War Birds

More sights (wish I could share sounds) from Shindand…

War birds yet safely muzzled for the moment, and for the chinook below, a wee bit of maintenance (or a lot of TLC – hard to be sure which).


I’m in transit back home but my first stop in the States won’t be Kentucky, but back to the USACE Deployment Center in Winchester, Virginia.  The trip so far hasn’t been an easy one…

The flight from Shindand in our little fixed wing aircraft was incredibly rough and hot and took more than three hours as we also stopped at FOB Farah (remember – just a dirt and gravel landing strip) and Bastion in the Helmand Province before heading to Kandahar.  Probably was dehydrated even though I had water during and after.  Was that the cause of my continuing “intestinal difficulties” or bad food at the boardwalk?  Who knows, but it is still working itself out of my system.

Several people have asked about the future of the blog – no worries, it will continue on.  There are many observations on deployment and other posts still yet to come.  Thanks for following The Sand Castle!

21 June 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

#200 and Lasts…

Last Chapel Service, last staff meeting, last project progress meeting, last trip outside the wire to the perimeter fence project, last weekly AFCENT/AFCEE conference call, last barbeque with a contractor, last report sent, last email handled, last box mailed, last meal at the DFAC, last time to dodge a crazy ANA driver, last hearing of the Big Voice announcing a drill or “incoming”, last pizza from the Italian compound, one last going-away ceremony at the flagpole in Kandahar, last goodbyes with friends and co-workers here in Afghanistan, one last hug, one last good-bye.  I hate good-byes.

The bears above are a chronicle of my travels here in country – Bagram, Kandahar, Shindand – the picture taken just before I packed them up to ship home.  The only thing missing was a bear from Kabul but one of my friends somehow managed to obtain a bear from Camp Eggers, giving it to me as a parting gift.  How awesome is that?

And where does the #200 come in?  Amazing though it may be, this is actually the 200th blog post for The Sand Castle.  The first few posts ever in February of last year (Wolf Creek Dam), and the 100th post it seems was merely a few short months ago in Bagram but it was back last August (Post #100).  Have I been gone from my real world as long as it seems?


Since I’ve left Shindand and am currently at Kandahar (after an insanely hot and insanely rough flight via Farah and Bastion), thought I’d share some last few Shindand sights (as I suffer what I hope is one last bout of “intestinal difficulties”)…

I took the photo below while riding in the back seat of an up-armored SUV on one of our trips outside the wire.  The guys in the front seats are heavily armed and part of our security team, and I love the cap.  Glad they are on our side!

18 June 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concrete Aprons

White and crisp but not the aprons your mamma used to wear.

Aprons in the airfield construction sense are essentially massively large chunks of pavement on which to park planes and jets and helicopters.

Actually, the stretch of pavement shown above is for a taxiway and not an apron, but it will connect the runway to a couple of different aprons, also under construction here, as well as PAX (passenger) and cargo terminals.  The paver is new and pretty top of the line, belonging to the ECCI-Metag JV who are doing the work here.  I worked with ECCI and some of the same folks up at Bagram, so coming here was a sort of reunion.  The photo below is the area directly behind the paver, and you can get an idea of the massive amounts of concrete used to place this 22″ thick lane of taxiway.

And a motley crew indeed standing in front of the paver in the picture below!  You may recognize the guy standing next to me – Eric worked with me at Bagram and shows up in the post Seven Thousand Words walking around in the bottom of a monster fuel tank under construction there.  The pile of concrete behind us is left there by dump trucks which back down the lane until positioned for plopping their load of concrete in the paver’s lap, so to speak.  The little green bars are actually 2′ long solid metal dowel rods.  They are nearly 2″ in diameter and weigh over 15 pounds apiece.  They are used to tie the paving lanes together to help transfer loads between the panels.

Construction is so cool…


Yes, still in Shindand for now frantically trying to tie up loose ends, pack, mail things home and generally bring my thirteen months in Afghanistan to a close.  Lots of mixed emotions here – excitement at going home, sadness to leave friends and projects nearing completion…  But the temperature today?  110 degrees F in the shade.  And it’s not even summer yet.

15 June 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

First One Ever

No, this isn’t the first cool C-17 shot you’ve seen in this blog (remember C-17 Coolness?), but it is the very first C-17 to touch down here at Shindand Airbase. 

Yup, last week saw this big mamma-jamma come barreling in, the first of its kind to land on the new and improved runway although others followed in the days after.  We’ve had plenty of C-130’s, lots of helos, small fixed wings, large cargo planes and even a few secret squirrel drones flying about.  But nothing larger as the runways weren’t wide enough, long enough or thick enough.  Even now the wingtips of the C-17 are hanging off past the edge of the shoulders.

We have been placing a lot of concrete here at Shindand, both Corps projects and other projects, on runways and other areas, and I hope to go into more detail on those in future posts.  No big 1,000,000 gallon fuel tanks like we were building at Bagram, but lots of concrete in many forms as well as other goodies.  I’m currently administering eleven awarded projects here, compared to the five or six when I arrived back in November.

And then just a few hours later as seen below, the C-17 hit the road (er, airways) once more.  It pretty much had to as we don’t have any taxiways which will hold the behemoths.  Yet.


Both photos are courtesy of Airfield Management here on the FOB – be sure to click on them for the larger version.  Sweet shots!

5 June 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Another New Temporary Office

Yes, another new temporary office for us as we continue to build up the Resident Office here at the FOB…

For those of you who are faithful readers, you’ll remember the previous posts about our office space and its evolution over time.  First there was the tiny little office which I set up upon arrival here way back in November.  Prior to my appearance no office existed at all – the couple of guys here at the time just worked out of their rooms (Old Temporary Office).  That wasn’t going to work for me – it’s difficult to come together as a team if you never see one another, much less share information and all.  Not to mention, I wasn’t going to have a bunch of coworkers and contractors trying to have meetings in my room – can you picture it?  Three or four or five men (or more) crammed into my tiny living area with only one chair and a bed?  No way, nada, ain’t happenin’…

That first office wasn’t large enough with only four desks in a very tight space so a bit of minor construction yielded Office 2.0 – a significant improvement although still not large enough for the growing Shindand Resident Office (New Temporary Office).  Office 2.0 gave us more room for files and supplies even if still just four desks, but more importantly, we gained a conference room and MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation area) with a small kitchenette (fridge, sink, microwave).  Prior to 2.0 all our meetings were held either standing crammed together in the old office (Office 1.0) or outside on a picnic table in the wind, dust, cold, etc.

Behold Office 3.0!  The photo below shows part of the new construction.  Well, a few of the nine shiny new metal conex boxes which are not just office space.  Two “cans” for the office, two for the combination bathrooms/laundry room and five for living quarters.  Much room to spread out now with desks for everyone, a private office for myself (a tiny windowless metal cube – see above), billeting for the new people coming in as the office continue to builds up.  We’ve come a long way, baby…

But this is still temporary as we’ll need to vacate our space here in this west side compound and move over to the east side once the new expanded perimeter is secure, so one more fairly large construction project for a two-acre self-sufficient compound just for USACE.  The nine new cans will be moved over as well.  Trouble is, it won’t be complete until sometime in September so I’ll never see it.  A legacy though for my replacement, all those who will still be here for a while, and those new folks rotating in.


The countdown begins…  Redeployment, here I come!

It’s the first of June.  The days are getting longer but my time here in Afghanistan is getting very much shorter.  By the first of July I will be home

1 June 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Spring Events

A photo from the home front (thanks Justin)…

My mom did quite well recently with celebrations and events which landed her with the cornucopia of color above.

Between her birthday on the 7th, Kentucky Derby Day on the same day, Mother’s Day the very next day on the 8th, family visiting from afar and a general celebration of spring – Mom’s table stayed bright and beautiful for quite some time. 🙂


At the end of one of the final posts of my wonderful R&R trip (Schloss Linderhof) I hinted about yet more travel looming just off the horizon.  Where am I going next in the not too distant future?  Home!

26 May 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Easter Sunrise

Yes, I know we are way past Easter at this point and even quickly bearing down on Memorial Day, but I really wanted to share our totally awesome (dude) Easter Sunrise Service here at Shindand Airforce Base.   My Facebook followers have seen these pictures already – just had to capture it on the blog.

It was a beautiful Easter Sunday morning, and cool enough for the wearing of jackets.  A larger crowd than expected gathered around the basketball court (next to the chapel) in the quiet pre-dawn darkness.  In the photo below we were treated to some pre-sunrise music, as well as scripture readings as the service got underway. 

I hadn’t attended a sunrise service in so long I don’t even remember, but this was certainly special.  Sitting in a cold metal folding chair on the interlocking matting for a basketball court on a tiny airbase in western Afghanistan – and so far from home.  Surreal even.  The beautifully colored and ever-changing sky as the sun rose over the distant mountains and the nearer hesko walls, sunlight glinting off the trumpet and the guitars and the M-4s… 

As the service ended and the sun was rising over the hesko barriers, the sun (and risen Son) was greeted by the clear sweet tones of the trumpet seen in the first photo above, the sound of which gave chills and goosebumps not caused by the temperature.


A special thanks to all the Chaplains, musicians and other participants who helped make this a memorable morning.  And yes, the lady Airman is very very tall!

23 May 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Real Snow, And Hail, And Dust

Spring on the FOB has sprung…  I love the shot above with the wee little wild weed bravely struggling up through the rocks.  Many patches of these are growing along the sunny but arid base of the many hesko walls in the area.  A lot of different types of weather, and mostly abrupt and unexpected changes (can’t watch the weather roll in on the radar like back home – I miss that).

The snow below came in late February or early March, shortly before heading out for R&R.  An actual snow that was pretty cool.  I say “real snow” because prior to this, all we had experienced were a couple of light flake events that you could barely call flurries.  Winter in the desert…  But this event had started out as rain and even though the temperature was dropping, no one expected anything to really “stick”.  Then the flakes started coming down pretty thick and heavy – huge flakes – huge clumps of flakes actually.  The photo below was taken just shortly after the rain had changed over to snow.

So the Hummer got a little snow-covered as well as the SUV, but as you can see in the photos below something is different between the two.  That something is the fact that I took the SUV out over to the other side of base and snowing or not, the prior rains had turned the moon dust to slop.  Big slippery slimy honkin’ big piles and puddles of slop.  So the SUV’s snow cover clashed directly with the mud splashing all over – which do you say won?  The snow survived without being completely “washed” off by the muddy muck, but the pristine snowy whiteness is history.


And then, hail back on the 9th of April.  We heard the thunder and knew it was trying to rain, but then the heavens opened up with a hail so heavy and thick, and so long a duration, I was seriously wondering if Afghanistan had tornadoes.  It wasn’t huge hail, but came down in sheets.  And, picture sitting in a thin-walled tin can in a massive hail storm with dime-sized hail.  Yeah, that was me in my conex.  Can you say D-E-A-F-E-N-I-N-G?  What?  Can’t hear you!

The photo above is courtesy of the Shindand USO folks and that’s all hail, not snow.  Just plain simple hail that quickly melted and then ran in under the tent walls onto the floors of the USO.

Is the next photo epic or what?  Hidalgo flashbacks. 

A beautiful pre-summer day in May (the 4th) until the late afternoon when we hear a warning come across the radio that a dust storm is approaching and we’d better tie everything down and take cover.  So of course we all immediately go outside and find a spot to watch it roll in.  One guy said, “Cool.  Let’s go to dinner.”  So we did.  With our neck gaiters and scarves and whatever to keep the grit out of our mouths and nostrils.

A dust storm is pretty much what it looks like – a hot, brown, swirling, choking fog which obscures the sun and nearly everything else.  Strange thing is, the wind (and all other sounds) seem muted even though it’s pretty much gale force.  As we drove over to the DFAC there were a couple of times we had to just stop as you literally couldn’t see past your own bumper.  When it finally settled down there came a terrific thunderstorm with torrential rains.  Weirdest thing?  Almost exactly the same scenario and intensity and timing the following afternoon as well.

Definitely Spring on the FOB.  And in the past few days I’ve seen bunches of one of my favorite flowers, hollyhocks, blooming alongside the roadways (saw many of them at Bagram last summer too). 

But the high temperature we hit last week already?  Over 100 degrees.  Hello summer…

19 May 2011 Posted by | Deployed @ Shindand | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment