Pictures of Afghanistan

Hey everyone,I wanted to share some pictures of Afghanistan from my field trips there. As a DoD contractor I proudly served and make sure lots of my fellow citizens and military members stayed safe. I took these pictures in the southern part of Afghanistan near Spin Boldak. You can read more about the province here. The last picture is the famous Hindu Kush Mountain Range near Bagram. Enjoy!Copyright 2017 Richard Leon. All rights reserved for these pictures. You must obtain permission to use them.

Source: Pictures of Afghanistan

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Easy Meditation

Our fast paced society leaves little time for introspection. Or a deep pause. Often we feel mentally fatigued and have no idea why. If you feel like your brain is in a fog, you forget things easily, or constantly fighting depression then you might have brain fatigue*. Other symptoms include lack of motivation, difficulty learning or poor focus.Meditation can help. It will increase your health and immune system.It will reduce pain.It decreases stress.It improves focus.It improves memory.Here is an article with a whole slew of linked studies here. The point being meditation helps. It helps cope with stress of dealing with loss and being alone. If you want to get your groove back, meditate.Here is a very simple 3 minute meditation you can do right now at work.• Sit your back straight. If you have to, use a wall.• Close your eyes• Imagine a blue sparkler, much like the one from childhood you waved around. Imagine this blue sparker and imagine it right over your head.• Breathe 2 slow, deep breaths.• Let the sparkler come right down on your head. It should be in your head.• Take 4 more deep breaths.• Let the sparkler keep working. Focus on it while breathing.• On the 7th breath let it travel down to your heart.• Take 6 breaths• On the 13th breath, let the sparkler travel into your pelvic region. • Breathe 6 more times.• If you still have any negative thoughts, put them into the blue sparkler.• On the 18th breath, flush it out of you. Your exhale should be a powerful exhale, like blowing out candles. Breathe a normal breath afterwards.Do this at work or anytime during the day. It works best right before bed laying down.*(Only a doctor can truly diagnose you. This article is not a supplement for true medical diagnosis.)

Source: Easy Meditation

Why You Should Read Science Fiction and Fantasy

Artwork by Joe Slucher. You can find his artwork here. “Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function,… realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery….The second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned – showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through…. The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order…. It is the sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world – and it is out of date…. But there is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to – and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.” ― Joseph Campbell, The Power of MythJust substitute the word myth with science fiction and fantasy and you will see four powerful reasons why you should be reading this genre.Modern myths consist of tales from the minds of Fantasy and Science Fiction authors. Storytellers like Ursula K. Leguin, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Steven King, Issac Asimov, Larry Niven, Orson Wells and many more write in the realm of fantasy and science fiction. Yes they get labeled into other categories such as Horror or Speculative Fiction, but these are nasty marketing labels which do a disservice to readers and writers. It only helps big publishers and their marketing as stated in this great article here. Why should you delve into the wonders of Science Fiction and Fantasy? I will give you several answers but first and foremost my answers will come from several sources. I believe my work and many others authors of this genre get unfairly stigmatized and downgraded into subcategories. It’s almost as if people want to stop dreaming and exploring. What happened to the wanderlust of youth? Where is your need to escape it all? Ask yourself that and see why you truly want to hide in the mundane world we all come to know and distrust. We need myths to give color to our lives. Here are several reasons why you should be reading Science Fiction and Fantasy.1. They truly are a way to escape the ordinary. Escapism is often an overstated coping mechanism we use to get through daily life. We all experience situations out of our control. Forced to do things we hate. Bogged down with constant demands and we slowly feel a part of ourselves slowly being cramped in. Stuck in our situation it does help our minds to escape where we are. Humans are curious creatures and we have a need to see over the mountain. With science fiction and fantasy we can reach the cold planet of Pluto in no time. Yes we still have our responsibilities. But for a short time we can move to another realm within our mind. No need to be reminded of the drudgery of everyday life. This article has some more reasons here.2. To gain a new perspective on life. Ideas and technology rapidly changes before our eyes. Sometimes it does feel so overwhelming we want to throw our hands up and dig into the sand. I say, seek out a new vision of what can be. Many science fiction authors have seen what our new world can be. Automated cars are here and now. Elevators to our earth orbit will be a reality soon. We will be on the moon again in full force. Colonization of Mars will happen in our lifetime. New types of social contracts with our fellow man are coming into play right now. Science Fiction and Fantasy both help us see new ideas concerning society. You can learn a new way to view social interaction from a fantasy novel about alien races. This increases empathy as well. Non-Fiction iterates what we already know exists. We need new myths so we can adapt as a species.3. To understand truths metaphorically. Myths and Fantasy are great lies that tell truth. If you have time today read this introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Leguin. Quote “In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find – if it’s a good novel – that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it’s very hard to say just what we learned, how we wer

Source: Why You Should Read Science Fiction and Fantasy

Flight of Sickness

Nine years and hundreds of flights.The idea of suiting up in flak vest and helmet for another mission sounds like a daily chore.Like brushing teeth. Like putting your shoes on.G-Forces play with your body once you get into an aircraft. Even helicopters can slosh your organs around inside. One aviation flight I will never forget happened onboard a C 23 Sherpa. This little 2 propeller plane made in 1976 has incredible maneuverability easily creating G-Force with a quick move. Let me tell you about the time during the summer of 2006 every passenger except myself lost it on a plane ride. The C 23 Sherpa (Retired from service by the Army National Guard in 2014) is a little, military transport vehicle made by the Short Brothers in Ireland. It can transport 3 pallets worth of goods or 20 people in red webbed seats. Speed tops out at 281 MPH at 12,000 feet. It has a length of 58 ft with a wingspan of 74 ft. On the ground it only stood 16 ft. But this plane got the job done during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many older Army National Guardsmen flew this plane. Seasoned vets with many, many flight hours. So my mission as a Department of Defense Contractor entailed a flight from Camp Al-Tadamum to Camp Al Asad. I just finished servicing equipment for my mission and I needed to head over to Al Asad and seek out more equipment.I got my bullet proof vest on and helmet along with 200lbs of tools in a huge container on large wheels I pulled around. I carried my whole existence around with a sleeping bag and 9 days’ worth of clothes on top in a green duffel bag. I slept in many passenger terminals and tents. So I knew how to make myself comfortable, even on rocks. This air field at least had a paved strip so I rolled in style all of my tools towards the plane.Several older, gray haired, well-groomed men, who’ve seen many combat missions greeted me with a smile. You could tell they got a kick out of their job. Suited up in green, one piece uniforms with ranks of Captain, Lieutenant and NCO ranks they helped everyone load up their bags. I had to get some help with my huge cargo. Usually I get help with my cargo load. We act a bit like family out here. So with their mischievous grins, the elderly pilots and crew helped us. Many of us were middle aged or younger. A couple of Iraqi translators made their way onto the flight as well.Finally the aircraft prepared to leave the runway. Everyone strapped in. Simple lap harnesses kept us in our seats. We all faced each other on the craft, ten on each side with the cargo in the middle. All of the cargo, our bags sat strapped in with large cargo belts and webbing. We all tried to get comfortable but there is only so much room. Elbow to elbow we sat next to each other. I got lucky sitting near the cockpit and only had one person next to me with the other side free. Take-off was easy and gentle. We rose up, but only so high. The idea is to keep low and fast, so the aircraft presented less of a target up in the sky to the enemy. Several times I sat in a plane or helicopter while bullets whizzed into the body of the aircraft. It’s like a crappy lottery you don’t want to win. I am lucky enough this particular trip no one shot at us. But something else, more physically wrenching happened.As the aircraft approached maximum flight speed and height, temperature climbed up inside. Within 15 minutes everyone started to sweat. No air moved. You would think during summertime at least a small fan would be turned on. Nope. Everyone looked around with misery filled eyes.Then the maneuvers started.With gleeful grins the pilots did a nap of the earth maneuver over mountains and trees. What is this?Some call it ground hugging. Others call it terrain masking or flying under the radar. In World War 2 it was called Hedgehopping. The plane stayed as close as possible to the terrain without hitting the trees or mountains. So with temperature climbing we kept moving through enemy territory, hugging the earth. A small turn took place, we felt it. A sharp dive here. Then we pulled up and flew to the side. Now it felt like a rollercoaster. Inside a sweat box.Everyone sweated profusely then. Tension built up.I learned a small trick from a friend. Tighten up your core muscles in your stomach. Breathe shallow and just flex your stomach, like a perpetual crunch.Boy did that trick help.The first person grabbed a sick bag. Right across from me on the other wall of ten seats he threw up. I smelled the stomach acids and what he ate. Just like that it infected everyone else like dominoes falling down. Every passenger threw up except for myself and a Master Sergeant two seats down from me. The s

Source: Flight of Sickness

Dust Off That Old Tome

The Heavy Metal GM

Surely not an uncommon problem: I have a crap ton of books to read! The list just keeps growing, too. I get home from work, tell myself that I’m going to read but simply end up sitting on the couch doing nothing that truly engages my mind or creativity. It’s a tragedy, really. When I was younger, I didn’t really read much. I appreciated R.L. Stein’s work on the Goosebumps series but other than that, I only read what I was forced to in school. Here and there I got some titles I ended up enjoying, just like The Island of Doctor Moreau or Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut really did a fantastic job on that one). The first time I was really engaged intellectually was when I read The Stranger by Albert Camus.

If you read that book and take it for what it is, it’s really quite a bore…

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An Extraordinary Dinner in Kuwait

In 2005, I worked for the US. Govt as a DoD contractor. Stationed in Kuwait, my mission was to ensure the readiness of all generators in Iraq and Afghanistan for several telecommunications projects. I flew up to 5 missions a week. I would say if they had frequent flier miles, I would be a gold member. Kuwait Free Trade Zone became my home base for these operations. During my downtime I would work as a human resource assistant. I drove fellow members of my company to and from the airports, acquired visas and helped out with medical cards. I knew Kuwait like the back of my hand. From Camp Arifjan in the far west to Ali Asaleem Air Base. I knew the layout of all the ring roads. Designed by the British, it made navigation easy. I went to the Kuwait, Iraq border several times and knew my way around all the ring roads. Kuwait city and the surrounding districts I drove constantly, including the Free Trade Zone.  But I had no idea what to do when my car got a metal boot put on it. For illegal parking.In the Fahaheel district in the western part of Kuwait, several small outdoor malls existed. I took the chance of parking in a place, near the Al Kout mall, just to get a telephone card to recharge my minutes. I stopped, leaving my black Chevy Trailblazer outside. When I got back, a yellow, metal boot sat on my vehicle. It unnerved me a bit.I started making phone calls, to see what I could do. I called up our sponsor to see if they could help out. As soon as I started making the call a young Kuwaiti man came up. Dressed in a police uniform, he said “My name is Mohammed.” And that was all I could get out of him. He did show me his badge. A first lieutenant in the Kuwait Police. That bothered me more. Jail time?Instead, I slowly figured out he wanted to help me. His brother, Nasser came by, driving a Chevy Impala. Speaking fluent English he told me. “Just wait. We will help you out In Shalla.” He drove off and parked around the corner.Alright, I thought. So I waited outside near the company vehicle.Within 30 minutes a tow truck driver removed the boot. I sighed in relief.Nasser came over to me dressed in military clothes while the boot came off. From what I could tell he held some type of NCO rank. “We would love to have you over for dinner.”I debated this internally if I should or not. It took me a split second to make up my mind.“Sure, why not?” I said.“Come to Kuwait Magic Mall at 5pm. We will get some coffee and shisha first.” So I went back for the afternoon. Showered and put some good clothes on. Time fast forward and I met Nasser at the mall. He wore traditional robes this time.The back portion of the mall had several places where you could smoke shisha. I decided to get a coffee and smoke a bit with him. With pipe in hand we talked.“When you come over tonight for dinner, remember we have rules and customs. Just follow my lead and everything will be fine.”“Ok, no funny business right?”“No!” he laughed, hearty and happy. “We have many customs including the fact that men only eat with men. Ladies only eat in their company.”“Seriously?”“Yes, and expect the unexpected. We have a feast prepared for you. My wife cooked up something special. You will see.” Nasser pulled on his hose from the hooka and smiled.I rode with Nasser to his house. Situated in a small neighborhood, it had walls around it and a metal gate

Source: An Extraordinary Dinner in Kuwait