Sunday, July 31, 2011
After breakfast yesterday morning, we headed on to Green Beans for my daily … what, the espresso machine is broken? No MOAC? I have to drink regular friggin’ coffee? What is this, a combat zone or … oh, right, it is. Silly me.
Oh, the privations we must endure in this hellish moonscape. Why, just two nights ago, at Surf & Turf night, I had a Sergeant Major insist – INSIST, I tell you – that a have an ear of corn. He was not to be denied, and so I dutifully said, “Yes, Sergeant Major,” and accept the offered corn.
There was a USO Tour on base yesterday, with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show among the celebrities. It was kind of confusing. The USO folks only advertised for a meet & greet, with nothing said about any kind of performance. But we went out there anyhow. Then turned around when we saw the line leading to the tent was probably at least a half mile long. So while I missed Jon Stewart, I at least got the consolation prize of the Saturday Night Herf. I polished off a delectable Illusione 4/2g, and treated Spence-oire to one as well. We did it despite the wind, which never relented.
So here it is Sunday night. I’m counting the days left (13 days until my flight to Qatar, by the way), and perusing the NY Times online. The end of a tour is when you look back and hope you accomplished something worthwhile. And while I think I had a positive effect on our efforts here, I also sometime get hit upside the head by something that makes me what Whiskey Tango Foxtrot we’re here for.
Case in point – a story from the Sunday Times about a pair of star-crossed Afghani lovers (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/world/asia/31herat.html?emc=eta1). They had the temerity to meet at work, fall in love and plan to marry … despite the fact that their respective parents had already arranged them both to marry someone else. The girl’s father wanted the teens killed … by the government!! Her uncle, according to the Times, “visited her in jail to say she had shamed the family, and promised that they would kill her once she was released.”
This medieval mentality, coupled with the pervasive patriarchal societal norms, is IMHO the biggest stumbling block to ever seeing Afghanistan become a real, functioning nation-state. That mindset pervades vast swaths of the population, sustains the warlords, plays to the Taliban’s extremism, and threatens the education and advancement of at least half of society. It's stories like that, stories which are not uncommon, that sometimes make me think the answer to this problem lies in thermonuclear weapons.
Can you tell I'm getting short?
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I wasn’t looking forward to breakfast this morning, what with broad-zilla threatening a formal hostile work environment complaint. But there was blissful silence on the ride over to the DFAC and then, by the time I got my food and found the table, I opted for the empty chair far away from the offensive one. I found myself sitting next to a charming young lady who was goading my guys into a game of Twenty Questions. The jackals had figured out she was from Africa. East Africa. And there they stalled.
“Uganda?” I asked?
“Yes!” she chirped, in a slightly British-sounding accent. Not surprising, given Uganda’s history of British rule during the colonial era.
The jackals sensed a new alpha male poaching on their turf. It only got worse when the subject of the capital of Uganda came up. They spluttered, I softly said, “Kampala, right?”
Her eyes brightened again. The jackals glowered. God, I was having fun. The young pups never miss a chance to dog me for my age – the youngest member of the team, Marcus, is younger than my daughter. In fact, they recently started a mustache-growing contest in an attempt to de-throne me as the “stache-master.” And the peach-fuzz-masters have a long way to go. So I was basking in the moment of age and experience trumping youth and vitality.
We went through the “where-do-you-work-what-do-
you-do” kabuki dance. She demurred, and we, of course, are reluctant to broadcast our association with Area 82. Maybe she’ll be more forthcoming next time we see her at breakfast. And maybe we’ll be ready with some convincing lies.
Then we got around to the introductions. Her name is Emma. Spencer reduced us to tears when he gave his name as “Spence-oire.”
Every now and then, I still find myself amazed at what we’ll do for amusement or entertainment here.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Yeah, I know it’s hot back home. I watch the weather in NYC, Annapolis, DC and Bushkill PA. And it’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity that makes life miserable.
It’s hot here too … we’ve probably had two solid months of days with high temps in the 90s. On the plus side, as they life to say in the American Southwest, it’s a dry heat. Example – yesterday I hit the gym, which consists of two tents strung together with free weights and some machines inside. It took nine minutes on the stationary bike before I even broke a sweat. I think the perspiration is evaporating upon exposure to the air. I sucked down my bottle of water faster than usual, but to no effect. A second bottle of water, then a GatorAde, and I was finally feeling less dehydrated.
Grill availability issues preempted pizza night, but cigar night kicked off at 8PM. The temp dropped enough, and the wind wasn’t howling, so “a good time was had by all.” The DISO Chief, an Army SF colonel, joined the party, along with some folks from other agencies located here on Area 82. I started the night with a Bahia red-label maduro and, as the night was still going strong, I followed up with a big-ass Cruzeros, which is a low-priced overrun from the Pleiades line. Pleiades is a fairly mild Dominican blend, so I was able to get through two sticks with no ill effects … first time I’ve done that out here.
It was time to leave, however, when the last few smokers realized they were all veterans of the 82nd Airborne Division. After 30-45 minutes of jump stories and war stories and the relative merits of different types of chutes and how young privates aren’t getting trained adequately … well, you get the picture. I'm just not a "Hooah" kind of guy.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Ord·mod (noun) \ȯrd-mäd\
Definition: Order modification. Modification or change to previously-issued orders.
My ordmod arrived this morning. My orders not only confirm my end of tour date, but now also include my post-deployment leave dates. This now clears the way for me to arrange my flight from here to Qatar, to schedule my out-processing appointments, and make my commercial flight to Frankfurt.
I have no sense of rhythm. I can’t dance to save my life. But you should have seen my pathetic white-boy-dancing this morning.
I also got my advance questionnaire for my post-deployment psychological evaluation. Lots of emphasis on panic and anxiety attacks. At one point or another, I’ve experienced all the symptoms, just not in association with an anxiety attack …
· “Did your heart race, pound or skip?” Yeah, when I read my ordmod.
· “Were you afraid you were dying?” Yeah, every time I approach the DFAC.
· “Increase in alcohol use.” After six months of total abstinence? DUH!
· “Little or no sexual desire or pleasure during sex.” Figure the odds of that one, Gomer.
But by and large, the questionnaire is pretty laughable. So many questions about alcohol use. As if I’m going on a bender every night here. And if I was drinking myself into a stupor, what are the odds that I’d ‘fess up to it? I don’t think the shrinks have a clue about being deployed. Hell, I’m doing my post-deployment evaluation via video teleconference!
So it looks like I’ll be turning in my two duffels of gear, then doing medical and psych appointments, all in one day. Despite the fact that Uncle Sam is forking over $12B per month to fight this war, DIA is trying to minimize my time on the ground in Qatar, where I’ll still be drawing pay. The phrase “penny-wise but pound-foolish” springs to mind.
No matter. The light at the end of the tunnel just got a little bit brighter.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Today was the day. GEN David Petraeus, USA, often referred to as “P4,” gave up the reins at ISAF. Marine General John Allen assumed the command of ISAF in a change of command ceremony in Kabul today: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-14181299
There’s a new ambassador, Ryan Crocker, inbound to replace the incumbent, retired general Karl Eikenberry. Meanwhile, LTG David Rodriguez (a/k/a R3) was relieved last week as Commander, ISAF Joint Command, by LTG Curtis Scaparrotti. This is a dicey time for the transition. We’re completely replacing the top tier of military and civilian leadership at the same time that we begin the security handoff to the Afghan security forces and draw down our troop levels.
It’ll be interesting to see how the security handoff goes. The Afghan army and police have been described as “not ready for prime time,” even as the Coalition starts the drawdown. Will they step up to the plate? Or will the whole thing come tumbling down like a poorly-built house of cards? Inquiring minds want to know.
And this is where leadership plays a key role. P4, the soldier-scholar who looks more like an academic than a warrior, mandated a “win the hearts and minds” campaign. General Allen, on the other hand, has been described as a crusty, ass-kicking warrior who still has the dust on his boots from his last patrol. Although Allen is a regional expert in his own right, he also epitomizes the USMC’s warrior ethos. Regardless of the Afghan National Army’s readiness, I suspect Allen will have the Coalition increasingly take the fight to the Taliban and help them all go meet Allah real soon.
And now for something completely different. The sky is filled with dark clouds, it looks like we might actually get a downpour here soon. God knows we need it, a healthy rainfall might get some of this dust out of the air. I had thought about going out by the data center yesterday and sunning myself … except that there was no sun. Not clouds, just dust. No sun, no shadows, no horizon. I’ll be glad to see this place in the rearview mirror.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Last night was pizza night. Mine was especially good, topped with sliced artichoke bottoms and anchovies, all sent in CARE packages from my beloved. Those anchovies were a fishy Nirvana … so full of flavor, flavor I haven’t enjoyed since I arrived in-theater. I may just sit and eat the second tin all by itself.
After pizza, a few of us gathered for a cigar. Not a huge crowd, but a tight one. My stick of choice was an Illusione 4/2g, a delightfully rich and full-bodied Nicaraguan puro. This box-pressed beauty lasted nearly two hours!
As we smoked away, one of our newer arrivals told me, “Sir, we’ve decided that you can’t be the only ‘Tom Selleck’ here anymore.” Then he rattled off the names of those men in my team who are challenging my mustache supremacy. I was quite flattered … nobody has ever compared me to Tom Selleck before.
This morning, after my Sunday morning Skype date with my beloved, I took my time getting into the office. I got in late enough to miss the team breakfast run, so I grabbed a vehicle and scooted over to Green Beans for my MOAC. As I approached the counter, I realized yet again that I’ve been here too long. One of the fellows who works in the back waved at me, I nodded, and he started fixing my MOAC. When I got to the counter, the young lady asked, “MOAC with cream?” When they recognize me and start fixing my drink before I’ve even ordered, it’s time to leave.
And, if my plan comes to fruition, I’ll be leaving on a jet plane in 26 days.
As the Army guys say a lot here … “Hooah!” Although I much prefer Al Pacino’s pronunciation in Scent of a Woman.