Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dodged that Bullet!

There’s a good reason this has been a quiet week for Wirehead Jack. Last weekend, I started getting headaches across my temples, and intermittent pain around my left jaw. This went on, getting more and more frequent, until Thursday I finally went to sick call at the hospital. The doc, an Air Force captain, checked me out, gave me some big-ass Ibuprofens, and told me to come back on Saturday when the dentist would be back. In the meantime, my head continued to throb, despite the pills.

Saturday morning arrived, and I faced up to my greatest fear … dentists. Nothing wrong with my teeth, thank God. I was oh-so-relieved to hear the diagnosis of Temporo-Mandibular Joint Disorder, alternately referred to as TMJ or TMD. It’s largely caused by clenching or grinding one’s teeth, usually at night. I tried staying up once to see if I could catch myself grinding my teeth, but didn’t notice anything.

So anyhow, he gave me more pills … more big-ass Ibuprofens and some Tylenol, told me to manage my stress and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. So I find myself doing jaw stretches, trying to stretch the muscles in my jaw and face. Not quite as bad as before, but it’s still there. So at least I can return my thoughts to you, gentle readers of this blog.

It’s been pretty quiet here at IDC. Ken is firmly in the saddle here in the KM shop, and I’m kind of hanging out waiting to check in at the new job on Monday morning. I’m occupying my time prepping for the new job and doing some short-suspense stuff here. I don’t want to engage any long-term projects and then have to do a hand-off.

One bright spot this past week … I discover the NKAIA Herf on Thursday night. Seems that every Thursday at 1900 (that’s 7PM), a bunch of people, mostly centered on staff types from the Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division, gather at a cluster of benches outside the hospital and fired up. I brought along a Padilla 1932 toro, which had been gifted to me earlier in the week. A nice smoke, a little spicy, medium-bodied. Next week (or should I say “this coming week?”), I’ll bring the travel-dor with some smokes to share. I’m sure SOMEBODY wants that Acid I picked up at last year’s Little Puff … I’ll also be sure to get some photos on Thursday.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Daily Happenings, March 21st

It’s been an interesting day here at IJC. Early this morning, we went through a somber Monday morning ritual. The morning brief for Lieutenant General Rodriguez, Commander of IJC, includes a roll call of IJC Fallen Comrades every Monday. We all stand and observe several minutes of silence as the roll is called, with PowerPoint slides showing a photo of the soldier (or Marine), his name, rank, unit and date of death. This morning, seven slides portrayed six Americans (five Army, one Marine) and one Brit. We see this every Monday, and it reminds us that, however much we gripe about living conditions here, we don’t have it too bad. Six months in a smelly, dusty tent sure beats the hell out of coming home in a flag-draped casket.

On a lighter note … this afternoon, around 2PM local, we felt the floors shake. I thought a really, REALLY fat guy was walking on the particle-board floors behind me. I turned and saw nothing. But my co-workers also felt the shaking floor. And we speculated. And it wasn’t long before the local news reported that what we experienced was a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, with its epicenter in the Hindu Kush region, about 170 miles north-northeast of the Kabul area (

And finally, in my latest DFAC report, I can safely confirm that the executive chef is gone and South Asia’s answer to the Three Stooges are back in control of menu planning (although that statement may do a major disservice to the Stooges). Three meals, three helpings of crap-ola. Oh well, at least my belt keeps cinching up tighter and tighter.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

With Friends Like These …

It’s Sunday, March 20th, and we're dealing with a potential political crisis here. For some reason, Germany's Der Spiegel decided to refresh everyone's memory about an atrocity some US soldiers committed down in Kandahar in 2009-2010. Five soldiers run amok, killing three Afghan civilians for no reason other than they were hopped up on drugs and they thought it would be fun to kill unarmed, innocent civilians. The story made a big news splash when it first broke; the lesser offenders are already convicted and doing stockade time, and the ringleaders haven't been tried yet, but could face the death penalty. As we translate the article here locally (thanks to Google translate), it appears to be written from the viewpoint of one of the spineless lesser trolls, who allegedly went along with the crowd and stayed silent because he was afraid of the ringleaders’ retaliation.

Rumor has it that the Germans got new pictures from the event, purportedly showing the soldiers with heads of the victims; such photos were not evident in the advance copy we got here. But they decided to re-publicize the episode this weekend ... the day before Nowruz, the Afghan New Year, when there will be large assemblages of people in all the major cities, Kabul among them. Good timing, Fritz. Thanks, incite a riot for us right before the big holiday. Are you sure you're an ally? Or is this your way of swaying public opinion to induce your government to withdraw your troops early from the theater.

The consensus here in the office last week, even before this story broke, was that it would be a bad idea to move on roads between bases on Monday, just because of the potential for something bad to happen with all the crowds. Der Spiegel just complicated things.

There is one bright side to this. In looking over the article and helping the person assigned to translate it, I’m able to understand substantial chunks of text, so it appears my knowledge of German hasn’t totally withered away.

On another topic … world news or, as Nino Greasemanelli calls it, “Topicality.” I see we’ve started whacking Moammar’s boys … or at least his air defense grid. ‘Bout damn time, I’d say. I (gasp!!) agree with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe that we’re at least a week behind the power curve; the forces of the man St. Ronald described as the “Mad Dog of the Middle East” are going to wreak havoc among the rebels, and many thousands of lives will be needlessly lost because we dithered while pro-government forces coalesced and began pushing east toward Benghazi. I attribute a lot of the delays to the diplomatic process. The striped-pants-and-top-hat set had to wait HOW LONG before they got their plush meeting spaces in Paris? Don’t these people know about video tele-conferences? Hell, my wife and I can set up a Skype date in nothing flat, don’t the lives of innocents add any sense of urgency?

But (another gasp) I’m proud of the French. According to some reports I’ve read, they had their aircraft swooping in for an alpha strike before the diplomats even finished their first pre-conference cocktail party.

I also note with amusement the name of this operation. Must have been some PowerPoint Rangers in the Pentagon who came up with Operation Odyssey Dawn. My first thought was that it sounds like a name for a stripper. “And now, gentlemen, on center stage, the pole-dancing sensation of the city, Miss Odyssey Dawn!”

And on that note, my friends, I bid you adieu. Until next time!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Turning Japanese

It looks like KBR is thrashing around in a valiant but vain effort to end criticism of its food service operations here. We’ve seen what we think is an executive chef type here lately, a white guy, presumably European (in contrast to the food servers and cooks, who are said to be Sri Lankan). We’ve noted a few decent-tasting menu options, mostly a spin on curried noodle dishes (similar to the curried Singapore Noodles available at every Chinese take-out place back home). Then again, we had a big Commanders’ Conference here this past week, lots of VIPs on-base, and they had to eat at the DFAC, so that may have been a factor in the less-than-eminently-crappy food.

Tonight was Japanese-Themed Food Night. Hmmmm, an interesting concept, but can they pull it off? We’ve had several Mexican nights, and the offerings there alternately puzzled and repulsed me. I missed Sri Lankan night, went to the wrong DFAC, but in passing someone who had a take-out container, it looked and smelled very good. Sorry I missed out on that, as Sri Lankan food has a reputation for being very spicy.

Sooooo … it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t atrocious either. The offerings included fried rice, overcooked stir-fried noodles with chicken and vegetables, teriyaki chicken, some kind of beef in a brownish sauce with onions, and tempura vegetables. On the salad bar, they included kimchi and sunomono, a Japanese vinegared cucumber salad with baby shrimps. Not so sure that kimchi belongs on a Japanese menu, but the spicy cabbage, while not up to the standards of a DC-area Korean restaurant, at least had enough heat to keep it interesting. The beef dish was notable for not being tough as shoe leather … by KBR standards, it was downright tender!

I worry that my taste buds are adapting here, that crappy food doesn’t actually taste like crap after five weeks in-theater. Or maybe, on a subconscious level, I’m rationalizing that, since a body needs some level of sustenance, I must not be eating crap. Matt – was that Hegelian, or more from the Kierkegaard school?

After this tour wraps up, I’ll be dragging my bride on a food tour, savoring all the tasty delights I was denied for six months. REAL Japanese, REAL Chinese, REAL Thai, REAL steak ... oh, wait, we can do that on the grill at home.

So, turning back to the title of this post … remember the Vapors, the English one-hit wonder band that released that great song in 1980? Well, the lyrics apply quite well here in Afghanistan …

No sex no drugs no wine no women no sin no fun no you no wonder it’s dark

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Green

Another pic from today, featuring of my esteemed colleagues: Allison, Britt, Keon, and Dwayne.

Wearin' o' the Green

Judy here at IDC received a CARE package loaded with St. Patrick's Day stuff from the dollar store. As the self-appointed of the Irish, she went from desk to desk, goading us all into putting on some silly thing with green in it. In what I suspect was a flagrant violation of all our security regulations, digital cameras appeared and flashes popped like crazy.

The base here is hosting a commanders' conference, lots of VIPs running around, and the colonel is off attending to them. So it looks like a case of "when the cat's away ..." Silliness seems to have erupted, as you can see from the tie I'm wearing in the photo below. It's been a decade or more since I had the poor fashion sense to wear a tie with a button-down collared shirt ... the sacrifices we make for our country!

To my right is my boy Keon. Yeah, he's Black Irish. Allison, after taking the picture of us, said, "You look so gangster." But the way she stretched out the first syllable of 'gangster,' I thought she was calling us 'gay gangsters.'

Later on today, I'll break out the green Peeps.

Breaking news flash! According to the Afghan news agency Pajhwok, an aerostat (a nice name for a blimp) used for statis surveillance over our base broke free from its tether and drifted away.

"Strong winds in Kabul on Thursday cut loose an observation blimp belonging to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The blimp, with cameras used to monitor the city, was launched into the air about two years ago and tied to the ground with a cable. However, on Thursday at about 10am, it went missing due to the strong winds, a shopkeeper in the Jada-i-Maiwand area, Abdul Rauf, told Pajhwok Afghan News.

The strong wind also tore up new saplings planted along the road, another shopkeeper, Asal Shah said.

ISAF confirmed the blimp had gone missing, but said it had been found and was being returned to the skies."

Interestingly enough, another one of our aerostats broke free of its mooring cable and went rogue last month in Kandahar. When last seen, Afghan farmers had snared it and were hauling it away with a farm tractor.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again ... Gotta love this place!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life at KAF

If you've ever seen Apocalypse Now, you probably remember the USO scene, where they sell motorcycles in the PX, and then the Playboy Playmates come down in a Huey for a USO show. Well, we had a bit of that surrealism here on Wednesday. Before heading in to our first meeting, my traveling companions took me to the Boardwalk for coffee and a look-see. The Boardwalk is a square, about 400 feet on each side, lined with shop and eateries. It's actually a wooden walkway, with a wooden canopy overhead so you can walk in the shade. In the middle of the square, one things that caught my eye was a rectangular structure, concrete floor with walls about 3-4 feet high, with bleachers along the long sides. Obviously used for sporting events. On Wednesday, around mid-day, the Canadian Army hockey team took on a group of visiting NHL alumni for a street hockey match! They wore sneakers ... no ice here! ... and used a ball rather than a puck, but it was nonetheless fun to watch. I grabbed a gyro from one of the food vendors and watched the game, thrilled to the blast of the airhorn when one team scored, and chuckled as they played Gary Glitter's Rock and Roll Part 2 after the score. That's the song they no longer play at Capitals' games because Caps fans tended to yell "You suck!" at the opposing team during the chorus. What a day.

One thing I'm not proud of ... I allowed myself to be dragged into TGI Friday's for dinner. I flow to Afghanistan to I could eat in an American chain restaurant?!? Okay, I'll give them this much, the wings weren't too bad. But there's something strange about washing wings down with a Pepsi rather than a tall, cold beer. I've got to wait another 22 weeks or so before I can indulge in that luxury.

Oh, we also did work there. Bunches of meetings with Regional Command - South folks. In between the scheduled meetings and briefings, I spent a good bit of time with the Knowledge Manager at RC-S, and am trying to hook up with the resident DIA IT guy here.

So I'm back at Kabul now, back to living in a tent after the splendor that was Kandahar. New guy Ken is here, the guy who was originally supposed to relive Bill Eger and take the KMO job. So it looks like I'll be moving on. More as the situation develops.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flying the Friendly Skies of Air Canada

C-130 rolling down the strip...

Airborne Ranger gonna take a little trip.

Whu? Whhat?!?!? Where am I?

Stand up, buckle up, shuffle to the door ...

Jump right out and count to four.

Just wait a damn minute here, Ethel. I'm not here to jump out of a perfectly good airplane.

And then I snapped out of my semi-comatose state. I was sitting in the back of a Canadian Air Force C-130 Tuesday night, winging my way from Kabul to Kandahar. I was armored up, with body armor, Kevlar helmet, and a Sig Sauer M-11 9 mm pistol strapped to my left thigh. Having flown C-130before, I knew the four turbo-prop engines would be loud. Some folks on the plane were stuffing earplugs in their ears. I opted for the high-tech solution, popped in some earbuds, and cranked King Crimson on my iPod. Twenty-first Century Schizoid Man never sounded better!

So it turns out we didn't rate a non-stop flight on Air Canada, we stopped first at Camp Bastion in Kandahar Province, and Kandahar Air Field (KAF) was about another 30 minute flight. As we descended into the "home of the Taliban," maybe it was just luck of the draw, but what should come up next on my playlist but a cut from a 1969 King Crimson live performance at Hyde Park ... their prog rock take on Mars, Bringer of War from Gustav Holst's The Planets.

Okay, enough heavy-handed symbolism. We finally hit KAF around 11PM and headed straight to our transient quarters. I was distressed ... two-man rooms, clean, with beds all made up and standing lockers where you can actually hang clothes up! And a nightstand next to the bed, with a lamp perfect for night-time reading. I live in a tent at Kabul, and have to come down to the heart of the war zone for a decent room. Go figure.

More on this adventure later.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What I Do Here

Okay, I’m done with my ranting. No more angry words, no more profanity, at least until the next stupid move that gets under my skin. I’ll play nice. I promise.

So it dawned on me that I’ve been in theater for three weeks now, and in the job for over two weeks. And I still haven’t really talked about what I do here for 12-14 hours each day. I am the chief of the Knowledge Management Cell, an element within the Information Dominance Center at ISAF Joint Command.

What is Knowledge Management, you ask? Time for Geek-Speak, a language I seldom if ever delve into. The evolving field of Knowledge Management aims at the proper alignment of people, processes and technologies to ensure that current and future IT systems allow information to be highly available and discoverable. What does that mean? It means that if the person who needs information can’t find it, it’s worthless, no matter how much time the collector or analyst put into preparing a report. When all necessary information can be understood and applied to decision making, it becomes knowledge. I came over here a neophyte in the field, and am working my way up a very steep learning curve, all the while trying to keep myself out of hot water with the bosses.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


WARNING: RANT FOLLOWS. Foul language contained below. I drop the f-bomb. Read at your own risk. You’ve been warned.

Well, well, well. Thank you, worthless U.S. supreme court. The bozos in black today decided to uphold a lower appeals court ruling that the westboro baptist church's picketing of military funerals is constitutionally protected speech.


Chief Justice Roberts, you suck. Tony S., you suck. You all suck, with the exception of Justice Sam Alito, the lone – LONE – dissenter who, according to the Washington Post, stated that, “the First Amendment does not convey the right to ‘brutalize’ private individuals.” You morons voted eight-to-one in favor of the blasphemies of that sorry excuse for a church?!?!?

Every night at 2000, the Information Dominance Center (in which I work) holds a turn-over briefing for transition between day and night shifts. Every night, the Regional Command desk officers brief activity in their regions. Last night, I listened to reports of three U.S. soldiers being killed in action. Three young lives snuffed out in a single day. And that was just the American losses. Our coalition allies suffer losses as well. Every such report eats away at my soul. And to think that our much-abused First Amendment allows these fuck-knuckles to violate the sanctity of these soldiers’ funerals with their homophobic psychotic bullshit sickens me.

I just don't get it. You can photograph a crucifix in a jar of urine and call it art and it's protected free speech. You can protest at the funeral of a U.S. soldier with signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and it's protected free speech. Something is wrong, seriously wrong with our system, our concept of free speech.

If I were home, my wife would remind me that, despite its flaws, the U.S. has the best legal system in the world. One might argue that the exceptions prove the rule. Regardless, the fact that these worthless turds can disrupt a soldier’s funeral leaves me speechless. They make a mockery of every service-man and –woman’s pledge to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

You gotta love this country!

This past weekend, the Afghan press reported on a suicide attack at a buzkashi ground in Faryab Province that killed three civilians and wounded 25 others. Faryab Province is in northern Afghanistan, and its population is majority Uzbek.

So what is buzkashi, you ask? I knew you’d ask. Buzkashi is a traditional Central Asian team sport played on horseback in the region. The goal of a player is to grab the carcass of a headless goat, then get it clear of the other players, and pitch it across a goal line or into a target circle. Polo for the warrior class.

Somehow I don’t think they wear Ralph Lauren shirts.