The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


December 10, 2008

Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 12/9/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I plagiarized that one from a great novel, but it's a superb opening to illustrate the difference between the war that we fight as ETTs* and the war the Combined Joint Task Force - Phoenix (CJTF-P) fights.  CJTF-P is the headquarters for the ETTs here in Afghanistan. I could understand a marked difference between conventional coalition forces and ETTs, but there's a huge dichotomy between us and our headquarters.

The difference came to light recently when we received some replacements through Camp Phoenix. We were briefing them on our day to day activities and they were telling us about what they were told at Phoenix. What they were told was shocking, and if you followed their guidance it would ensure that you were universally disliked by the ANA and would accomplish nothing here.

First, was Chai. They were told not to ever drink Chai with the ANA due to contaminated water and the possibility that you'd be poisoned. This is an idiotic statement. Chai is the social glue that holds things together here. When you meet someone you have Chai, if you disagree with someone you have Chai, you do anything here you have Chai.

A blogger once taught me a great technique that I use all of the time, if things get heated ask for Chai. Thanks, Old Blue! Let me tell you it works. The disagreement stops immediately and they start making Chai; you can then pick up the conversation once Chai is made and almost universally you can come to an agreement. 

I drink Chai at least once a day and many days, several times. I have not taken gravely ill or had my DNA mutated by Chai. I'm not concerned about getting sick as the tea is served so hot that I could sterilize surgical instruments in it. A good indication of how well you're doing with the ANA is if they remember how you like your Chai: I don't like sugar in it and they now know and make sure that's how they serve it. I bond with my guys over Chai. 

The next stellar briefing point from the brain trust in Kabul was "Don't eat with the Afghans."  Afghans are very hospitable people, they're always asking you over for lunch, dinner, whatever. We go over and eat with them all the time. I've never gotten sick or begun bleeding from my eyes after eating with them. Again, this is a bonding experience, and what does it say about you if you're scared to eat their food. Hey, I'll run into battle with you; but no way I'm eating your chow? Obviously, no one in Phoenix has ever been out and operated with the ANA. 

Terps are another area where we don't see eye to eye. Standard party line is "Terps are not armed." I won't say what we do here. But I trust my terps with my life.They're great Afghans and most of them are trying very hard to be great Americans. A good terp is better than all the fire support in the world. I can't say enough about how important your terps are. CJTF-P seems to want us to treat them as some type of lower caste than us and that just don't hunt here.

Terps aren't supposed to get US Army cold weather gear. I guess they think there must be some special
Afghan Terp force field that keeps them warm. These guys are my soldiers and I'm not letting them freeze because some guy who hasn't heard a round fired in anger doesn't think they deserve our gear. They can kiss my fourth point of contact. You paratroopers know what I'm saying.

I've posted before about the spas, coffee shops, PXes and plethora of other things that exist at Camp Phoenix, KIA and BAF. There is no war there and they seem to think it's the same down here. I want more ammo and they're worried about the seven different kinds of ice cream at lunch and dinner. The institutional attitude there is that Afghans are nasty people to be avoided at all cost unless they're cleaning up the Camp.

God forbid that the war interferes with Salsa Dancing Night, yes they have that at Bagram.  Salsa night here is when we get UGR-A mexican food rations. Let me tell you it's FUN!  We're easily amused here.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not belittling what others are doing, I'm just asking that they look at it from my perspective once and awhile. I know not everyone signed up to be a direct fight guy and that's OK. There used to be a saying here, "What have you done for your ETTs today"; it's now morphed into "What have you done to your ETTs today". I have the original statement on my emails as a joke now.

There are two wars here, make no mistake. Chai, eating and Terps are just points of illustration, and they're just the tip of the iceberg. What they think and how things actually get done are so far apart it borders on absurd. Actually, I take that back: It is absurd. As ETTs we have to build trust and have trust in our counterparts.They, Camp Phoenix, just doesn't understand this. 

I'll even goes as far as to issue an open invitation to anyone at Phoenix that wants to fly down here and live with us for just a week. They can come and we'll show them what it's like to really operate as an ETT, a trusted mentor to your ANA. I do think of them as my ANA, my soldiers, my brothers. 

Skip the ice cream and come visit. It ain't the Hilton but I'll assure you that you do and see things that will stay with you forever. You may even make some friends. I can tell you for sure that you'll drink some Chai and eat some pretty darn good food.

Come on down, we'll be waiting! 


ETTs: Embedded Training Teams


I have been checking, and it seems that there have always been two wars - and the ones that get in the History books never had Chai with the natives... the ones that did weren't written about except as 100 ETT's were essential for the _____ . See a name you know there? All The Whole Way!

Seems like what you're saying is common sense and courtesy. And a terp freezing his ass off can't work as well as a warm one.

glad to hear you talk the truth. if you want to win hearts and minds,you must be a person with the people you're nam,us grunts lived,slept,bled and learned to love the field.after 2 weeks,i respected the nva and vc more than any remf or sky 2 army navy kids loved their terps and want them stateside for safety.mike

Your post is so sad. 7 years into this, and it's as if the military has learned nothing.

Don't eat with them or drink Chai? That is nuts.

I guess this is the kind of thing that happens when we forget the military is best used a blunt instrument and not a surgical tool for building societies.

This was good to read. When you get back stateside, God willing, you will miss the cup of chai between former strangers. You will look hungrily for it and its substitutes. Not the drink; the circle of companions and the slow time to be alive together. Sometimes an old man in a diner will benefit from your hunger.

Great stuff, very good philosophy, even if launching the war itself was a colossal mistake. But that's another discussion.

Apologies, I'm not a service member!

Over and out.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A TALE OF TWO WARS:

« Previous Article | Main | Next Article »

Search Doonesbury Sandbox Blog



My Photo