Spring is upon us. Maybe the official date is still a couple of weeks away, but the blooming daffodils, flirtatious robins, and warm breeze in the air tell me that I’ve survived another long dark winter (not that this was one to complain about). Shedding the gloves and taking advantage of the increasing daylight hours, I find my thoughts drifting ahead to the upcoming race season. What will 2012 bring?Developing a race schedule can be a challenge. Flipping through the race calendars in magazines and online, I realize that the possibilities are endless. How will I ever choose where to focus my dreams and goals? I must find some way to narrow it down.There are many factors to consider – will there be one big goal race or lots of smaller challenges? Do I want to focus on pavement or dirt? Go for endurance or work on my speed? Fortunately, I’m not a multisport athlete like so many of my friends – I don’t have to choose between bi’s and tri’s – biking or running – not to mention kayaks and swimming.How about travel? Do I want to stick with local events or go big and mix it up with West Coast competition? Would it be fun to pick an event and train with a group of friends? Do I want to shoot for PRs at events I’ve already run, or expand my horizons with brand new adventures? And speaking of adventures, maybe an organized event isn’t in the cards this year. How about a solo run across the Smokies or returning to take care of unfinished business in Shenandoah National Park?Then there are the quirky goals: finally get up the courage to run a naked 5k, or maybe attempt another open-water swimming event, this time without experiencing a panic attack in the middle of the lake.Here in the Southeast, we’re blessed with more opportunities for outdoor challenges and adventures than one can squeeze into one season – or one lifetime. We’re only limited by our imagination. What does this spring season hold in store for you? Aim high and dream big!
Insurgents will face a more difficult spring than in previous years as Afghan and coalition forces consolidate and expand on last year’s gains. Much progress has been made by Afghan and coalition forces in securing Afghanistan over the last several months, including dramatic changes in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, said Rear Adm. Greg Smith, communications director for the International Security Assistance Force. “Sixty to 80 percent of the improvised explosive devices they place are found before they explode,” said Smith. “Between 100 to 130 weapons caches are found every week in southern Afghanistan.” Security gains in the south are leading Afghan civilians to return to areas once controlled by the Taliban, said Smith. On 23 January, residents of Arghandab district, Kandahar province, returned to their homes after Afghan and coalition forces cleared the Taliban out of the area. “Helping the residents back into the village is a huge victory,” Capt. Walter Tompkins, commander, Company B, 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, was quoted as saying in a 29 January news release from the ISAF Joint Command. Tompkins was among those assisting Afghans in their return to Arghandab. “Not only does it show huge gains in perception of security, but also presents a great opportunity to truly partner with the residents of the village,” Tompkins said. The partnership between ISAF and Afghan forces is one of many concerns the insurgents have as they continue to fight through the winter and into spring, according to Smith. Various intelligence sources and detained fighters indicate that the insurgency is feeling the pressure of the renewed southern offensive. Their finances are dwindling and munitions are becoming hard to acquire. Insurgent groups are also worried about the growth of Afghan forces and the development of Afghan local police. They have also lost access to areas they once occupied and are concerned they will not regain those areas in the spring, said Smith. “The fighting season in 2011 will not be like any previous fighting season for the insurgent group,” said Smith. “The insurgents will be facing 100,000 more Afghan and coalition security forces than they did the year before.” Afghan police will man more than 30 southern districts this spring, whereas there were no police in the same districts last spring. Some areas that were once insurgent strongholds are no longer welcoming the Taliban. These successes, while promising, do not suggest the war is won or victory is near, cautioned Smith. Afghan and coalition forces still need to secure some substantial parts of the country’s south. “Northern Helmand province continues to be the most dangerous area in Afghanistan,” said Smith. By Dialogo February 03, 2011