Sunday, May 29, 2011

Buddy System

The buddy system is alive and well here.  While in Kabul, anytime we went outside the wire, we rode in convoys of at least two up-armored SUVs.

Aircraft fly in twos as well, as I’ve seen here many times a day.  From my quarters (a/k/a, my can), I listen to a seemingly-endless stream of jets taking off … pairs of F-15s, F-16s or F/A-18s.  They launch at 10-15 second intervals.  Last night, for example, I listened to pairs of jets taking off until about midnight, at which point I nodded off.  More may have flown during the night, but I wasn’t awake to hear.  The roar is deafening (ask anyone who’s ever tried to talk through the take-off), but it’s one of those “sounds of freedom.”

A couple days ago, while headed off to chow, we saw a pair of helos approaching … H-60 Blackhawks … one a MEDEVAC bird emblazoned with the distinctive red cross on a white background, his buddy in trail, a safe distance behind.  Almost simultaneously, a pair of F-16 Falcons took off, maybe 15 seconds apart.  One of our team noted, “This isn’t normal medical transfer time, they’re heading out to pick someone up.”  TIC – Troops in Contact.  The F-16s were likely scrambled to provide close air support to soldiers engaged with insurgents.  And a MEDEVAC bird hot on their heels to bring wounded soldiers back for care.

After spending the past seven weeks here in the relative safety of the cocoon on BAF, not having gone outside the wire since my arrival, I was once again reminded of the immediacy of the war.  Those of us “in the rear with the gear” don’t have a lot of up-close-and-personal contact with the war.  Even here, it seems remote at times.  We do our work thing, we hit the gym, we have three squares available and bitch about the food, we have e-mail and Internet access and can Skype with our loved ones … and we lose sight of the fight.  Even in-theater, we can lose sight of the grunts out on patrol, who are out there trying to win over the villages at the grassroots level by kinetically improving the security situation.

All this rambling reminds me of a quote often (erroneously) attributed to George Orwell, although in fact it was spoken by Winston Churchill :  "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."

Sleep soundly, my friends.  Those rough men mean business.  And please, this Monday, pause for a moment to remember those rough men (and women) who have fallen.  Memorial Day is about more than barbecues and sales.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It’s Okay To Lie

At least that’s what our courts are saying.  Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, those ├╝ber-liberal constitutional activists from San Francisco, ruled that the Stolen Valor Act is “too broad” and hence unconstitutional.  Now, a federal appeals court in Denver is heading down the same path.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2006 makes it a federal crime to lie about being a military hero.  The catalyst for the law was a sudden rash of liars hoping to cash in on the benefits of being a veteran and “war hero.”  Butt-monkeys are running around falsely claiming combat experience and awards they never had … many never even served in uniform.  So we’ve got young soldiers and Marines fighting and dying, earning Medals of Honor posthumously (with the sole exception of Army SSG Sal Giunta), and these humps think nothing of fabricating stories and awarding themselves medals for nothing more than self-gratification … and maybe to glom a few free meals from gullible people or groups who want to honor our warriors.

As the press tells it, defense lawyers for these slimeballs argue that “merely telling a lie” shouldn’t be a crime.  I guess this form of identity theft, involving the falsification of official government records, doesn’t count.  They and their lawyers claim the law violates their First Amendment rights.  And some pathetic excuse for a judge from the Ninth Circuit wrote in his opinion that if the court upheld the act, “then there would be no constitutional bar to criminalizing lying about one’s height, weight, age or financial status on or Facebook.”  Is he serious?  Equating trying to get laid online with serving one’s country?

Have I mentioned here that I think the First Amendment is over-rated?  Have I mentioned here how much I loathe and despise defense lawyers?

Moving on … I’m starting to feel a bit like Jon Stewart, highlighting the absurdity in the news.  Herewith another item … we’ve been pounding Libya for 60 days now, and the President is (in the opinion of some) required by the 1973 War Powers Resolution to get Congressional authorization to keep going beyond that timeframe.  Now an unlikely coalition of conservative Republican Congressmen and the ACLU are tag-teaming the President about his violation of the law.  Go figure.

New Word

I learned a new word last week.

“Narmy.”  A proper noun.  Def:  a U.S. sailor in a joint command, wearing Army camouflage.  As in a sailor, a petty officer first class, working a security gig at the Detention Facility.  After emptying my pockets and going through the metal detector, I spoke briefly with him, and asked him how he liked his tour.  All he said was, “I’m in the Narmy now.”

That’s right, I was in the prison last week.  Not as an inmate, or visiting an inmate, just getting a tour and an info briefing.  It was an eye-opening experience for me, as I realized the depth and sophistication of the all-source intelligence process that goes on there.  The interaction of tactical and strategic intelligence collection and analysis there is huge, and talking with some of the analysts at times really makes me regret moving from analysis into the IT world.  These analysts, working with information gleaned through prisoner interviews, are the ones on the cutting edge, providing current intelligence to put the bad guys away.

Then there were the lawyers.  Yep, we provide IT support to the legal beagles too.  As I toured the legal office, my skin started crawling.  It was a big room, maybe 40 by 40 feet, desks butting up against each other, filled with military lawyers and enlisted legal support staff.  Defense lawyers too.  I hate defense lawyers.  Whether they’re defending violent miscreants or sex offenders or crooked hedge fund managers or Taliban fighters, they’re all scum and vermin.  Boy was I glad when that part of the visit was done.  Hope I didn’t beat too much of a hasty retreat.

But my discomfort was counter-balanced by a great meal.  The detention facility has two DFACs, one a conventional food line operation and the other is a barbecue tent.  I had my choice of ribs, brisket, chicken, sausage, all the traditional sides … the only down side was not being able to wash it all down with a cold beer.  Oh well, soon enough.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pullin' Down

Those of you who know me know that "svelte" was never a good word to describe me.  But that's changing.

Last week, some of us decided to do our own "biggest loser" competition, each of us ponying up $50 to see who can shed the most poundage in 30 days.  Today was the starting weigh-in.

I was most pleasantly surprised to see that I've lost a total of 30 pounds in my 14 weeks here (yes, today I begin week 15).  I lost about half of it in Kabul, accomplished without any effort, just by not eating crappy food.   I wasn't looking forward to this weigh-in, as I wondered how much damage I'd done by partaking of the Baskin-Robbins a couple times a week.  No damage, it seems, as I've shed another 15 pounds since arriving at BAF.

I fear I'm going to be handing over the money in 30 days;  if the past is any judge, I've lost the easy weight, and hitting the gym will, while helping me get back in shape and toning up, basically convert fat weight to muscle weight and not result in a lot of weight loss.

Oh well, gotta give it a shot, and give the other fat boys a run for the money.

If I win, gentle readers, you can all claim a drink on me at EYC.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Interesting News

Saw a couple interesting items in the press reporting I receive from an open-source analyst.

The first, from AFP, noted the arrest in Karachi of Abu Sohaib Al Makki, a senior al-Qaeda operative.  The Pakistani Army PAO talked this up to the press, crowing about how they’d bagged a major player and how “the arrest of Al Makki is a major development in unraveling the al-Qaeda network operating in the region.”  So, was al-Makki a one-off sacrificial lamb, a lame effort by Pakistan to say, “Look, America, we’re rolling up al-Qaeda, see?  Please keep sending us those billions of dollars every year.”  Or have they really gotten on the bandwagon after the early May wake-up call in Heeeeeey Abbott-abad?  I’m not holding my breath.

Then there was this piece, which arrived in my mailbox Thursday morning.  Reuters tells us that, “Mainly Muslim Kazakhstan will become the first nation of ex-Soviet Central Asia to send a military contingent to join NATO-led ISAF troops fighting in Afghanistan, Kazakh parliamentarians decided on Wednesday.”  No details on when they’ll arrive, how many troops, or what missions they’ll be doing.  They could be sending an infantry battalion to go out and hunt bad guys, or they could be sending a medical platoon so they can sit on the FOB and shop at the American PX.  It’s a good thing to get another Muslim country in the fight here, as long as they actually get into the fight.  It would also be of benefit to the cause, as Kazakhstan doesn’t have a major stake in Afghanistan, the way the other ‘Stans (Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Dirkadirkastan) do.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

They Did It Again

Another IDF (rocket) attack last night.  At least two rockets impacted Bagram, a good bit south of us, around 8PM last night.  The usual alarms, sirens, and shelter-in-place announcements.  By my count, that’s three attacks this week.

But everything needs to be kept in perspective.  I got word from a friend in Birmingham, Alabama yesterday.  He wrote about the mile-wide (or so it seemed to him) funnel cloud cutting a swath through his town.  Homes destroyed and lives and families shattered, and hundreds dead throughout the region, including a couple dozen in the county where Birmingham sits.  By contrast, we had a couple troops sustain minor injuries and a few aircraft took shrapnel damage.  Nothing like the devastation back home.

 Who was crazy enough to get close enough for this photo?

And meanwhile, there seems to be nothing on the news except stories related to the SEALs taking out OBL.  Isn’t there anything else happening in the world?  Didn’t the southern states get massively whacked by a string of tornadoes?  But the big three networks, Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN can’t talk about anything but the raid on Heeeeeyyyyy Abbott-abad.

Obama is on the tube now (guess we’re getting replays on Friday night’s evening newscast), down at Fort Campbell, welcoming the 101st Airborne as they come home … from BAF, by the way.  They just finished a RIP/ToA (Relief in Place/Transfer of Authority) with the 1st Cavalry Division here.

Tonight is the third incarnation of the Area 82 Herf.  Hope those insurgent humps lay off the rockets tonight.