July 30, 2008
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 8/1/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure
The Army warns you about readjustment and "reintegration." They warn about depression, or let-down. They warn about the family, and things that happen normally as part of reintegration.
Oddly enough, a lot of it is true.
I never felt overly "jacked-up" in Afghanistan. It all felt pretty normal to me, actually. There were a few times when I knew that I could easily be killed, and there were several times when I knew without a doubt that if the ACM* had chosen to hit us at that moment that I was in a very, very precarious position.
I did, however, feel alert. There have been times here in the States that I have been inattentive, even though I was going through the motions. For instance, driving around town running errands but thinking about something else, to the point that I would suddenly realize that I had lost track of where I was. I never lost track so much that I was endangering other people or vehicles around me, just the bigger picture.
I was on autopilot.
That never happened in Afghanistan. When I was outside the wire I always knew what was going on -- at least what was going on in proximity to me, even if the rest of the situation was unclear.
At the time, I wouldn't have described it as hyper vigilance; it felt normal, and not uncomfortable. I liked being outside the wire. I pitied those poor fobbits who never left the wire. There are so many of them. I couldn't have felt good about myself had that been my existence in Afghanistan.
When you get so used to having to have your "hand on the stick," being where you can put it on autopilot and get away with it causes the spring to uncoil. When the spring uncoils, the lack of tension sends a ripple through the rest of the heart and mind.
Being back in American culture you have a whole new perspective after having been in Afghanistan. The apparent inattention of the American public to the war, the seeming lack of support for the task, even with the apparent support for the individual, is something that requires some getting used to. It was my life for nearly a year and a half, counting the spin-up time and the deployment itself. To find it so trivialized in the daily life here is, for some reason, mildly disturbing.
I'll get over it.
I try to keep in mind that my brother, upon his return from Viet Nam, was encouraged by many to engage in physically impossible acts of self-love and was showered with dog feces at the airport in San Diego. I actually had to avoid running over people who stepped in front of me not to shower me with feces but to say, "Thank you."
Like I said, I'll get over it.
It is truly the electronic age. The mess halls on even some of the smaller FOBs had a big screen TV, with military satellite TV programming. We often watched AFN (Armed Forces Network) Europe while we ate. This was not the case at the firebase at the top of the Tagab Valley, but in many other places there was AFN.
The "commercials" on AFN consisted of such things as OPSEC* awareness commercials starring "Squeakers the Mouse," an evil, yet unnamed cat that was constantly spying on Squeakers with apparent ill will, and an occasional guest-starring hamster whom I'm not sure had a name. Other "commercials" were such things as military organizations advertising what they did for the overall war effort ("We are the Logistics Command, supplying everyone with everything everywhere") and so on.
Apple did have an iPod commercial; it warned that wearing earphones on a military base is generally against regulations, and exhorted iPod users to avoid incurring the wrath of military justice by being smart about not using their products in violation of post policies. It was done in the typical iPod crazy-dancing silhouette with white iPod wires style; and the silhouette was obviously wearing bloused combat boots, and then he was busted by a silhouette wearing an MP armband.
I thought that was pretty cool; a civilian company who paid enough attention that they would actually spend money to cater to the military market.
I've always enjoyed imaginative, humorous commercials. I used to quote the "Beggin' Strips" commercials in Afghanistan ("What is it? I can't READ!"). The amateurish Squeakers commercials were a stark contrast to the stylish commercials that even the most ridiculous of products sport here in the States. Smilin' Bob looks like a pro compared to the AV Club reject products that adorn AFN Europe.
Right now, though, the seriousness with which advertisers present their pleas for Americans to spend their money on trivial... well, there's just no other word for it but crap... it's just so glaringly obvious to me.
After having spent a year in combat, the vigor and earnestness with which such minor luxuries are touted just seems more than comical; make that nonsensical. Americans actually have the time to think about "increasing the size of that certain part of the male body" (eyes batting in amateurish seductiveness.)
Now, like I said, I enjoy products being presented with humor, and production value is much appreciated after having been subjected to Squeakers scurrying past a mousetrap baited with obviously paper cheese; but commercials that pander to the obviously asinine just grate on the soul.
My sense of being a "fly on the wall" in my own culture will probably decrease with time, but right now I am a witness to the slack-jawed amazement with which others can view our trivial thrashing about.
The network news is a whole 'nother issue. The American public has never been shown the truth about what is going on in the theaters of combat. They don't even pretend to try to present a snapshot of what is really going on; yet they will, with all seriousness (bordering on somberness) present a fingernail-clipping-sized snippet of deeply disconcerting "news" about something without ever really showing the value of what is being attempted, even accomplished, by a very tiny portion of our population.
No wonder sizable chunks of the American public appear to be more than willing to vote for somebody, anybody, who promises to "bring the troops home." I can tell you one thing; if we "bring the troops home" before we can leave the two governments capable of governing their countries, then all those lives will be wasted, and we will find ourselves less secure than we have been in a very long time.
I didn't go to Afghanistan to win the war. I am not that powerful. It takes the efforts of many like me for a long period of time to do that. I saw a lot of actions/inactions that were completely counterproductive towards that end; but I also saw a lot of people performing small acts of greatness.
Keep this in mind; we are fighting a counterinsurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In history, there has never been a successful counterinsurgency that has been won in less than ten years. What we are doing requires consistent effort over a period of time. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. We are a nation of 50 meter sprinters. We need to be a nation of marathoners, a nation of patience, and a nation that views itself as a citizen of the world. That doesn't mean that the world should dictate our actions, nor does it mean that we need to seek the approval of the world.
The past year and a half have changed my viewpoint in a number of ways. None of the above means that I am anti-American. I love this country. While I am concerned about our country failing to follow through on this endeavor, thereby wasting my efforts and the lives of those who lost their lives in putting forth their efforts, I still have tremendous faith in both this country and the amazing Constitution that established our great nation. I tear up when the National Anthem is played, and I am stirred by the sight of the flag.
While I was overseas, America was the ideal. It was the paradise willingly left behind to dwell amid the hostility and mud huts and poverty and strange languages. America is an ideal that our terps aspire to. Even a lot of the Afghans that we advised dreamed of how to get here, to be allowed at this huge table of peace and plenty. To be American.
It means so much more than I can convey with words. Many have tried to express it; I don't think that anyone ever will... just little bits of it at a time.
I'm not saying that America is bad, or trivial; but we do some absolutely inane things.
The biggest fear of most of the "good" Afghans that I dealt with is this; that we will leave. What they fear is real, and it is our pattern as a nation. We get halfway through and we get bored or tired and we leave.
And then the bad guys win.
Speaking of reintegration shock, what did everyone do while I was gone that pissed off the oil companies so badly?...
ACM: anti-coalition militias
OPSEC: operations security