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.

COIN: THE FLIPSIDE |

April 29, 2009

COIN: THE FLIPSIDE
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 4/29/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

Often what’s most neglected here in Afghanistan is the battle we fight within our own forces. Overcoming the fear and xenophobic tendencies that quite a few of the soldiers deploying here posses is a decisive point in the fight that not many discuss.

A new unit just arrived here in our battle space. I say “our” in that it’s the ANA’s country so it’s their battle space; I count the ETTs with the ANA.  Now, the commanders that arrive here continually refer to themselves as "battle space owners." I’d advocate for a rebranding as "battle space renters."  But, as in all good COIN fights, the battle isn’t at the Battalion level. It’s really with the individual soldier that interfaces and spends the most time with the Afghans.

Some of the soldiers that have arrived here have previous experience working with indigenous forces. That experience is with the Iraqi Security Forces, and I’ll borrow a line from my friend Troy  at Bouhammer.com: “Afghanistan isn’t Iraq." The Afghans are much different from the Iraqis. (Troy, I’ll give the royalty check to Kesterson.) 

These preconceived notions get in the way of them working, training and just generally interacting with the Afghans. They call them “Haji” and are afraid of them. Afraid may seem like a strong word to use here, but it accurately describes what I’ve seen. Here’s an example.

The ETTs and CF move onto the ANA side of the FOB to get ready for a dismounted patrol into the local area. As we walk onto the ANA side I hear the sound of 30 M4s being locked and loaded. Look, we haven’t even gotten near leaving the FOB and these guys are locking their weapons. What does that communicate to the ANA?  When I ask why, they reply with various answers that all revolve around, "What if the ANA attack us?"

So the second front in the fight has emerged. We as ETTs are in the middle, the ambassadors of goodwill, or as I like to say, COIN's Bob Hope Tour. We need to break down the walls and get these guys together. “Can’t we all just get along?"

Our Bob Hope Tour started at the basic level. MSG Famine began giving classes to the CF squads about COIN and what’s going on here. Each Private needs to understand that their actions are pivotal in the COIN fight. What we’ve seen is that the officers and senior NCOs get the classes but “Joe” gets ignored. One more way that the US conventional force is missing how COIN works: Joe is the key interface with the populace and the Afghan National Security Force.

Next, we started taking them over to the ANA for Chai and meals.Many of you have already read my posts about Chai and it’s importance within the Afghan culture. But the initial response to this was poor. Only one squad leader wanted to bring his guys over and they were met with ridicule and called “Haji Lovers." But eventually we started seeing more interest. I took some squad leaders over and got them some Nan -- Afghan bread -- to share with their squads. Eventually, more guys expressed an interest. I knew we were starting to win this phase of the fight when I overheard this exchange in the US chow hall:

“Dude, your squad is a bunch of Haji Lovers for going over there, “ one Joe said to another.

“You know what man, they’re not Haji, they’re Afghan, and these guys were beating up the Hajis centuries ago and then were kicking ass on the Russians. So yeah, they’re pretty cool to hang out with,” the other Joe replied with a sense of pride.

Finally we started joint training with the US and ANA. We started with the medics. What I’ve found is that generally the medics are a little more receptive and accepting. So, my medic SSG Doc planned a mass casualty exercise (MASCAL) in which the Afghan medics would receive and triage the casualties, move them to the US Aid Station for joint stabilization, and then the US and ANA would move them to the LZ for medevac. The genius in this plan is that MASCAL requires the whole FOB to mobilize, so the rest of the US Forces have no choice but to see all the medics working together.

Framed Vampire COIN

You know what? It’s worked. Since then we’ve had squads asking to go do PT with the ANA and do joint training with them. We’ve got our foot in the door and it’s working. We’re pushing back on the second front now too, and like any Bob Hope show you can’t help but walk away happy.

During my incredibly arduous ETT training (that’s a joke by the way) no one ever mentioned the idea that we’d have to battle our own forces to start winning the COIN fight. But it’s critical to start building that bond and breaking down those prejudices. These guy will have to fight alongside each other at some point, and you don’t want that being the first time they meet.

Nothing like a little Chai, Nan and a MASCAL to start the process.  

HOW THE SPARTANS WERE CONQUERED |

April 27, 2009

HOW THE SPARTANS WERE CONQUERED
Name: America's 1st Sgt.
Posting date: 4/27/09
Stationed in: Iraq  
Milblog: Castra Praetoria
Email: castrapraetoria1@gmail.com

Been on deck nearly 10 days and this deployment may prove to be darkest night as compared to last year’s glorious days of ruggedness.

Framed AmFirst Spartans 1

Last deployment I had a rifle company that lived in an OP that looked like something out of the Road Warrior. Watchtowers festooned with machine guns and grenade launchers overlooked the maze of obstacles littering Entry Control Points.

Framed AmFirst Spartans 2

The Marines lived in conex boxes which were converted shipping crates covered in sandbags and Hesco barriers. The Company Commander, myself, the XO and our air officer all lived in one room together that used to be some kind of meat locker.

Framed AmFirst Spartans 3

Indirect fire from insurgent mortar teams was pretty regular until we killed them all.

The chow sucked. It was something known as UGRs or some such acronym. I suspect the name has something to do with the sound troops make while trying to choke down a mouthful of it. “UhhGGhRR!!”

Framed AmFirst Spartans 4

Physical violence nearly erupted the week we ate the same dish seven out of ten days. America’s 1stSgt was leading the way. The box was labeled chicken fajitas but I suspect it was composed of chicken colons. Marines were only able to pry my hands from the cook’s necks with a case of Dr. Pepper.

Mail from home was a most coveted item. We received mail twice a week and sometimes took as long as two weeks to reach us. Knife fights were known to break out over a package of homemade baked goods. Premium cigars were treated with nearly as much reverence as one’s personal weapons.

Air conditioners were appropriated and installed with sledge hammers. Marines also constructed their own phone center and computer stations. This was considered pretty high speed for us jarheads. Spaware was set up and the boys were able to call home and e-mail regularly. There was even a large screen TV and DVD player. We couldn’t get Armed Forces Network television, but as grunts we thought we lived in the lap of luxury.

Lean, hardened Marines exited friendly lines multiple times a day looking to take the fight to the forces of jihad. It was hot, miserable, sucky work and I remember it fondly.

We were totally ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

This year I am completely disgusted with myself.

I have Headquarters and Service Company and we live on an air base that looks more like a small town (cue Mr. Rogers theme music).

The Marines live in air-conditioned trailers we call "cans" and fit two to a room. They have electricity, mattresses, cable for AFN television, and even wireless connections are available for internet use!

My can has a TV that is rarely watched. My laptop is KIA so that is not an option; no big deal there. I even have a small leather couch that does quite well as reading area.

It’s sick!

Mail is picked up daily and takes five to seven days to get here. I haven’t seen a knife fight in over a year. On base, there is Subway, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC and a stinkin’ Cinnabon! There is a Green Bean Coffee Shop, though I see no reason to bad mouth that fine company.

Framed AmFirst Spartans 5


Then there are the dinning facilities. The food is pretty good eatin’ if you ask me. There is the main line for meals, a short-order line for burgers and such, a sandwich line, a salad bar, and the dessert bar. Yes, dessert has its own bar replete with various types of cookies, cake, pie, ice cream, and other fat pills.

Framed AmFirst Spartans 6

The movie theater shows two movies a day, there are USO comedy nights, and Charlie Daniels is doing a show this week. The PX sells, music, DVDs, potato chips, candy, and everything America’s 1stSgt doesn’t stand for.

The forecast for me leaving friendly lines in an effort to confront the forces of evil is not looking so good.

The base is totally inundated with Army, Air Force, Navy, KBR workers, and third country nationals.

It is the Zombie Apocalypse.

TO GO OR NOT |

April 23, 2009

TO GO OR NOT
Name: Army Girl
Posting date: 4/24/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Army Girl

I've been letting people know that I plan on deploying. I notified my unit that I am giving up my WOC slot in order to do so. 

My sister probably expected it.  She just asked, "What about WOC?" and I told her I didn't join the Army to be a Warrant Officer. That's about as simple as I can get with the answer. 

Then I let my buddy know... and he didn't take it so well. The conversation ended with him telling me he wasn't going to my funeral and my telling him he wasn't invited.

He's been going through a lot lately and everything seems to be coming back up. It was at this time three years ago that we were down in Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province -- our Alive Day. The anxiety, the stress, the invasive thoughts; I've learned to live with it. I know what to expect now around about this time of year and I am okay with it. It's just the way it is.

I don't think he's gotten through to that point yet. I think he had much worse TBI than I did. Neither of us was ever diagnosed or screened, but I know, like I know what it is to have strep throat, that he's got a form of TBI as well as PTSD. I didn't come through that blast unscathed, but I know that I'm good to go for at least one more deployment.

I didn't think about how my decision to deploy would affect him. That's kind of something that you try not to think about -- how it affects those around you. But how long do you put it off for?  How long do you make everyone else's demands, wishes, pleas, your own?  At some point you have to do what you want to do. And I want to deploy. This is what is right for me in my mind and in my heart and it has nothing to do with what anyone wants for me anymore.

In this particular case, it is a one for one switch. My unit needs E6's to go. Our soldiers need someone with experience. I've not only been to the theater, but I understand so much more now and can offer a great deal to the cause, the fight and to the mission. I have a unique skill set and experience -- and understanding of the conflict. We are sending guys who will not have been home for 12 months before being activated again. Guys that have families, newborns...

And you know what?

It doesn't matter. I'm trying to justify why I decided to go back, but I don't need to. I know that right now, it's just time.  I've never been one to wait or put things off till I get told or called up.  I volunteered for my last deployment because it was right. I just knew.  And I feel that way now.  I'll go on my terms when I can make arrangements. If I wait, I'll get yanked out of my comfort zone and it'll come at an untimely moment when I won't be expecting it or prepared for it. This is a much better deal.

And this time, I'll know some of the people I'm going with. I'll know the General I'm going to be working under. He'll be at the flagpole and I'll be out and about somewhere, but at least I'll know that the man I'm serving under has a vested interest in the fight. He's got kids that are fighting age. And I've looked him in the eyes and know that he sincerely wants to ask the right questions and find potential solutions to establish systems that work so that we can stop the killing and the dying and bring our troops home. 

Afghanistan will be a country at peace someday and if I can't help that happen, I can at least strive to understand more why it can't. 


Editor's note: Army Girl was one of the first contributor's to the Sandbox, in the fall of 2006, and it's good to have her back. Here are several of her earlier posts:

WHY I'M IN , 12-20-06

COMBAT , 11-13-06


A MAN AT SUNSET |

April 22, 2009

A MAN AT SUNSET
Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 4/23/09
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
Milblog url: Army of Dude 
Email: hortonhearsit@hotmail.com


As the days turn into months that become years, it becomes difficult to imagine that the collective experiences of second platoon Bravo company grow more distant from the present, drifting in a sea of time away from the shores of what was known, and loved. One fights to recall the names and faces of certain characters that were surely there, but not so easily remembered. Firefights and shootouts, dismembered bodies covering the earth (and below it), and uproarious fits of laughter grow fuzzy, their events occasionally muddied in skepticism -- did they happen quite the way I remember, or did I simply fill in the gaps with piecemeal memories?

Some events transcend space and time, full of vivid color and smells and gut-feeling that will never go away, no matter what the calendar seems to read. Now it has been two years since March 14, 2007 -- a day that has been on the minds and hearts of everyone that knew and cared for Brian Chevalier.

He was a man that did his job without reservation and without complaint, far outshining and outclassing those of us that bitched at the slightest notion of additional work. His job in combat was a vital one: to navigate the treacherous roads, fields and alleys of Iraq and drop off his squad safely and quickly so they may carry out their mission. He was rarely seen by others not in his squad; the position of driver carries with it extra maintenance and care for the vehicle. While others in the platoon played videogames, smoked cigarettes and sat at the poker table, Chevy was in the thick mud of the motorpool making sure his vehicle was in peak condition. And he did it for his squad.

Perhaps it was best that Chevy never saw it coming. The only indication that something was about to go terribly, horribly wrong was the children on the outside of the school. They seemed to be the only living creatures along the far-reaching road our column of Strykers and Bradleys were on. The children watched each vehicle pass with dark, detached eyes. Baqubah was a city where insurgents operated with impunity, a place where a few men could cut into the street with a concrete saw and bury a massive bomb -- and nothing would seem out of the ordinary. The children had a front row street to the mayhem, and almost in unison, they all plugged their ears with their fingers in anticipation for what they knew what was coming: an explosion from deep underground.

What happened next replays in my mind every single day. In an instant, a loving father and a good soldier lay dead on the ground, and the squad he so readily guided was a tangled mass of limbs in the back of the vehicle, turned sideways from the force of the blast. For just a brief moment, Chevy was airborne.

Framed Horton Chevy

Even in death he was elevated far above his contemporaries. Yet the blast didn't just end his life. For each of us that knew him, it was the defining moment of our lives when we became not only familiar with death, but intimate with it. We were a band of young soldiers, many in our early to late 20s. We were not accustomed to the idea of departed souls, and that explosion was the catalyst that set in motion a new reckoning of what it meant to truly love someone, only to see them go. From that day on, we fully understood the power of the bonds forged in the dusty plains of Yakima, in the sand-blasted tents of Kuwait, and on the muddied streets of Iraq. In a snapshot of time, we aged well beyond our years and gained a luminous insight into life and loss that we will forever carry with us in our hearts.

A friend from the platoon recently came to me, worried that he was thinking about Iraq, especially the time of year that Chevy passed.

"I don't know man, I've been thinking about him a lot lately," he said.

"Don't worry," I replied. I think about it every day. Almost anything reminds me of something."

"Yeah, me too."

I realized I wasn't the only one trying to sort out Chevy's death two years later, to search for the meaning behind it all. The explosion that shook our world to its core and ended the life of an honorable man changed something inside of us, a subtle transformation that we felt but continue to define as the years wear on. It took the loss of Chevy to make us whole, and for that, I cannot thank him enough for being a part of Second Platoon and the spirit for all of our successes and triumphs already accomplished and not yet realized. He brought us home, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude measured only in prosaic terms.

On March 14 and on every day, I think of him.


DOUBLE, DOUBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE |

April 19, 2009

DOUBLE, DOUBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 4/20/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

The white flash splits the Afghan night and I see the world in reverse color for several moments. Then the concussion hits me and I feel it through my chest and into my heart and lungs. KARUMPH!

Our little cabal is huddled in the lee of a high ridge, doing our best to avoid an enactment of Kipling on Afghanistan’s plains. An airstrike just crushed the ridgeline beyond the one that is currently giving us shelter. 

Our ridge rises above us and perched on top like Masada is a Combat Outpost (COP) occupied by US soldiers.

Three of us are kneeling around a map, our ACHs* touching; actually putting our heads together to stave off the enemy. Pools of red, green and blue light spill from our headlamps, lighting the map in a mosaic of color. Two armored vehicles are parked to our front, their doors standing open and red light oozing from them, the radios they contain barking and hissing information.

Double, double, toil and trouble. The three of us plot our next move, sorcerers of death's construction. A mist coats everything; hopefully something else is coating the ground to our east. Circling overhead, like sharks waiting for their next meal, are the aircraft.

The COP reports to us that they’re seeing movement farther along the ridge to the south. The next iteration begins. But much to our dismay the squad leader in the sky has intervened.

Now we’re forced to relay through several bases back to the aircraft circling over our heads, because of guidance from higher. Whoever decided this was a good idea can probably barely recognize their own name two out of three times. As the situation now stands we have enemy immediately to our east firing rockets at us, and the headquarters miles to our north has decided they can control the fight better than us. At this moment I’m unsure who is trying harder to kill me.This isn’t the first time it’s happened.

Suddenly another KARUMPH! The headquarters isn’t even bothering to notify us now when the aircraft release ordnance. This is F#$%ing unbelievable! To shed a little light on what’s occurring, imagine this scenario:

You’re trying to guide your buddy to park a car in a specific spot in a parking lot. You can see him and the lot, and he sees you and the lot. Now instead of you just telling him where to park, you have to get on the phone, call someone thirty miles away and tell them, who then relays to your buddy. By the way, the guy thirty miles away can only see through a camera phone mounted on the hood of the car. Hell, I can barely make sense of what I just wrote, much less guide 500 lbs bombs on target in this manner.

I can envision how it went down:

“Sir, what do you think of controlling the close air support for all troops in contact?" Major Crackdemon asks.

General Ego, a highly egotistical guy who always preaches about empowering his subordinates, says, “Um, I think that sounds fine, but why?"

“Well sir, if we don’t, what’re we going to write on our awards forms and OERs?*” MAJ Crackdemon replies.

“That’s a superb point MAJ Crackdemon, I hadn’t thought of that!” GEN Ego exclaims.

Now, SFC Commonsense interjects, “But sir, does that make sense that we should control a fight miles away?"

“Hell yes it does," GEN Ego shouts, "The Army obviously wanted me to be the best Company Commander in Afghanistan, in fact with these new cameras I can probably even be a squad leader!”

SFC Commonsense doesn’t give up easily. “Sir , then what are all those officers and NCOs down there going to be doing?"

“Well, somebody has to go out there and get shot at so I can bring the aircraft in." GEN Ego wanders off to admire himself in the mirror and thank God that they gave him all this great technology. Hell, a year from now he might not even need soldiers.

I’m jerked from my reverie by the smash of artillery and more airstrikes, none of which has been coordinated through us on the ground. It’s on autopilot now. We’re bystanders gawking at the lightshow that was our previously-self-orchestrated defense. We’ll sit here the rest of night slowly getting wet in the mist, wondering if the enemy is coming and we don’t know.

Something is rotten in the State of Denmark!


*

ACH: Advanced Combat Helmet

OER: Officer Evalutation Report


THE GREAT AMERICAN INFLUENCE |

April 16, 2009

THE GREAT AMERICAN INFLUENCE
Name: Deployed Teacher
Posting date: 4/16/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Deployed Teacher   
Email: deployedteacher@gmail.com

Framed Teacher Influence My Polish friends (that's them on the right) are based here and maintain the Polish helicopters. Their soldiers are also based in Ghazni where they have a larger presence, along with greater military responsibility for that region. My friends Przemec and Tadek flew to Ghazni to do some work. It has turned out so far to be for 2-3 weeks, as expected. They should be returning soon.

Przemek's email from Ghazni reminded me of being back home at school, working with students who are learning English. It is displayed here without editing, except for location:

"cześć Mark, thank you for wrtting, Gazni is small place bat I thing so it is safety, I would like to come back to Base X how it is posible , bat My helicopters not flay now. Im going come back this week, TheWeather smotime is good bat not often, The acomodation is wore then ni Base X, is only small gym , bat my soliders are wery funy. I was too on Mass on Ash Wednesday, I dont have a lot of work because we heave problem with secial fiuel to helicopters. so we stay in erth. so sory my writing is not good I think co We will meet too, have you goot day Mark."

I am often humored by Przemek's attempts at spoken English. Here's an example. One evening we were at the AF rec area and I showed them how to play UNO, a card game I play at home with my son. I thought it would be a good game to teach them, because it involves colors, numbers, and words, in English. They enjoyed learning the game, and playing enabled them to practice speaking English.

It just so happened that, next to us, was a group of young Army and AF soldiers playing Texas Hold-Em; they were having their own unique experience. They were boisterous, enjoying themselves, and of course, using many colorful, descriptive English words to express their pleasure/displeasure with their poker hands.

So here I am, trying to help my friends learn English, and after a while, out of the blue as we were shuffling the UNO cards, ready to start another game, Przemec exclaims, "I like this fokking game, sheet, it is goot dam game"! The three of us busted up laughing and joined in, exchanging profanities of our own ("Shuffle the fokking deck!" "This is goot sheet game!") . A truly Joint Coalition experience.

I realized my Polish friends were keenly aware of the expletive phrases being thrown around by the young soldiers, and thought it would be fun to practice some of their own interpretations of colorful English phrasing. I'm sure they had heard these cuss words before, but in a learning mode, were intrigued by the descriptive vocabulary.They proudly wanted to emulate the usage of the newly acquired phrases, as if it were an honor to know these terms. I have to admit, they were quick f*#*n learners.

THE LONGEST DAY |

April 13, 2009

THE LONGEST DAY
Name: America's 1st Sgt.
Posting date: 4/13/09
Bound for: Iraq   
Milblog: Castra Praetoria
Email: castrapraetoria1@gmail.com

Everyone who has spent any time in the military is familiar with the concept known as "hurry up and wait." Waiting is fundamental to Marine Corps doctrine. Why, you may ask? Because if we eliminated waiting from our planning and operations we would be back from our deployment already, and that is just not acceptable.

Case in point, the longest day. This is the day you leave for your deployment. How is it the longest day? By all means read on.

Our longest day began with a chartered flight that was scheduled to take off at 08:30 in the morning. The abhorrent trolls that run operations at the air field (US Air Force) demand that we show up four hours prior to departure. So we had a show-up time of 04:30.

But wait, there's more.

The casual observer will forget that we are moving approximately 300 Marines and Sailors with all their equipment. This requires loading and unloading all the gear into chartered trucks. So we must tack on an extra hour for this. Very well, 03:30.

Hold on...

Before we load gear the State of Hawaii demands an agriculture inspection. This is to prevent the spread of man-eating Venus Flytraps and the Mad Orchid Disease from becoming a pandemic. So a dog handling team has to go through our bags before we load them. 03:00. The dog will be late. 02:30.

We also have to issue weapons, optics and all high speed equipment to all ninjas deploying. This is an exercise specifically designed to give everyone involved rectal cancer. It will also take at least two hours. 00:30.

Marines being notorious for their meticulous attention to detail, it just wouldn't be right if we didn't inspect the barracks before we left it in the hands of others. So let's start that at say 23:30.

So for an 08:30 flight we will arrive to work nine hours before departure. And who are we kidding anyway? You know I didn't get any sleep that night, so here I am up all Friday going into Saturday's deployment ritual.

Then the dumb stuff started happening.

We got on the plane at 07:30 as planned, but then there was some kind of contract issue involving weight and crews and other details that escape most Marines who are simply trying to do as they'd been told.

08:30 moves into 09:30 and on into 10:00. It seems we are not at fault on our end, but safety is now a concern as well and the pilot refused to fly the mission with the plane we had. As a side note, I will never ever badmouth anyone on a safety call and in this case I believe our pilot was looking out for our best interests.

Finally it is resolved that we will be served breakfast on our current plane (it was by now 13:00) then get off the bird and get on a new plane with bigger engines. Then we would finally depart at 15:30. By the time our flight finally left we had been sitting on the tarmac for eight hours.

The eight-hour wait was followed immediately by an eight-hour flight to Detroit with a two-hour lay over. Then we blissfully continued our journey among the clouds to Amsterdam, where our Dutch friends refused to let us go anywhere in the airport and we hung out in a terminal area that was smaller than our plane was. I guess they didn't want us animals scaring the locals.

Finally we landed in joyous Kuwait, where generally the weather is not unlike that of your nearest oven set on high. This time of year it is thankfully more like low bake.

The flight in and of itself was twenty-six hours, not counting the eight hours on the flight line or the nine or more hours of cat herding and full-belly-roaring employed to remind Marines that it is healthier to move with a sense of urgency than not to.

So here I am in Kuwait. Waiting for another flight to Iraq. Today all I have to do is turn chow into crap. The waiting has all been factored in.

AN APRIL FOOL |

April 10, 2009

AN APRIL FOOL
Name: Deployed Teacher
Posting date: 4/10/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Deployed Teacher    
Email: deployedteacher@gmail.com

Who says the Afghans don't have a sense of humor? When I went for my tea fix one recent afternoon in the translators' office, I scanned their board for the latest news, interpreted from various Afghan Dari/Pashto websites. As I was reading, one of the translators motioned me over to look at his computer screen.

A Dari language news site was displayed and as usual, he started interpreting, in a serious, somber tone, what the website was reporting. He said the news had just come in that there was a coup in Pakistan, and that the Pakistani president was under house arrest! There were two pictures of sinister looking men, and I asked who they were. He stated that one of the men was the new president, the leader of the coup, and the other was a Talib supporter of the new president.

Wow. This was huge! He and the three other translators proceeded to tell me about what the ramifications would be to Afghanistan and the US. I felt unsettled because I know the situation in Pakistan is tenuous, and the Afghans and Pakistanis, I've come to find out, don't much care for each other. As this late-50-year-old translator continued to explain the news, I wondered whether I should go look for a TV, so I could catch the latest reporting on this incredible coup.

The speculative discussion went on for a few minutes until, with a serious voice, my friend scrolled down the screen, pointed and said, "See here -- in Dari it says, 'April Fool!'" I looked around the room puzzled, forgetting that it was April 1st, then realized I'd been had. What did we do? We laughed! Hard! It was funny. 

These old coot friends got the best of me. So we drank our tea, and I reminded them how they have been corrupted by America, resorting to playing out an April Fool's joke on an unsuspecting fool.

HERDING CATS WITH BASEBALL BATS |

April 08, 2009

HERDING CATS WITH BASEBALL BATS
Name: America's 1st Sgt.
Posting date: 4/8/09
Bound for: Iraq  
Milblog: Castra Praetoria
Email: castrapraetoria1@gmail.com

This week is a painful endurance of pre-deployment madness. Not that the things that have to get done are nonsense. It just feels like nonsense.

For me this takes the form of cornering young Marines and explaining through clenched teeth the importance of getting their service record book audits completed before deployment, and why doesn't he have his family care plan turned in to the Family Readiness Officer?

Next, my fists begin to transform into jackhammers as I describe to the errant youngster my unfathomable satisfaction after ripping a person's arm off and beating them with the sticky end.

Not surprisingly enlisted men are not the major violators at this stage.

It's usually the odd Lieutenant that I have to hold down by his throat and groin while one of my Corpsmen administers a host of vaccinations that he had been brushing off.

In my battalion, missing a dental appointment is probably the number one reason why Marines end up needing dental work in the first place.

Then I have the awesome task of convincing my guys that all the liquor in the United States will still be here when we get back in seven months. Thus they really don't need to go out and try drinking it all this weekend.

Here's something that gives me cancer -- Marines who haven't let anyone in their family back home know they are deploying. Last year I had one of my platoon sergeants stand on a Marine's neck as he dialed his mother. "Hello, Mom? Yeah, um...just wanted to let you know I'm in Iraq." That went over greeeeeeeeeat.

Of course, two weeks before deployment everyone just has to get married. It's enough to make me want to hammer nails into my temples.

I just really need to deploy. Life is so much simpler. Sigh.

THANK YOU |

April 06, 2009

THANK YOU
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 4/6/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

In jujitsu there’s an action referred to as tapping out. It’s when your opponent has reached a position that is so advantageous that you must submit. You indicate this by tapping them or the mat three times. If the Taliban could see this they would simply tap out:

Framed Vampire JUJITSU 1

A while ago I complained that the food here at the FOB was almost non-existent and of extremely poor quality. "Crap" would be a generous term to describe its consistency, quality and desirability. My buddy Troy, from Bouhammer, put out the call for support. On top of that, Soldiers Angels, Web of Support and Operation Cookiejar picked up the gauntlet to support us. Let’s put it this way: Tons, and I mean tons, of people started sending us stuff.

Now, let me step back for a second and put this into perspective. I’m sure some of you by now are saying, "Vampire 06 has lost it and I have no idea where he’s going with this." Well, welcome to every day of my wife’s life with me. Most days she just watches me in pure wonder that I can function in the grown-up world without hurting myself.

Operation Enduring Freedom has been going on for about eight years, and the war in Iraq for six. So the American public has been supporting a huge number of troops for quite a while. Food, hygiene goods, movies, and books; lots of stuff has been sent to show deployed troops that the American public supports them.

Enter Team Vampire and our food dilemma.

It is absolutely amazing, the amount of stuff we’ve been sent. As you can see from the photos, we could open a 7-11 in our house. In fact we received so much stuff that we’ve been passing it on to the rifle company located with us here on the FOB.  And it just keeps coming!

I have two Romanian officers here with us and they’re shocked by all of this. They continually ask if we have to pay for any of this stuff. When we say no, they skeptically ask, “So Americans you don’t know just send all this stuff to you?"

Yeah, Americans we know and don’t know send this stuff!


Framed Vampire JUJITSU 2


You've sent us clothes, toys, books and a myriad of other items for the Afghan people and children we’re attempting to keep free. We’ve tried to explain to some of the population where all of this stuff comes from, but to them it’s totally beyond comprehension. On most days it’s beyond our comprehension.

More people than I ever expected in my life purchased Team Vampire shirts to help us give back to Soldiers Angels. I’m floored by the number of shirts we sold -- so many that they’re now on a several-week back order.  

We have another plan up our collective sleeve. It will be coming in the near future to benefit another great organization. It’s something near and dear to many of us and we hope to have a big impact. More to come...

So, where does the Taliban fit into this whole deal? Well, if they could see the support that people give us they would think twice about doubting our commitment to seeing this mission through here in Afghanistan. Little did they know when they attacked us on September 11th that they would not only be fighting highly skilled and determined US troops but the American public themselves.

It's your support that humbles us so much; that eight years later so many people continue to give their time and resources to support us and the Afghans. We can’t think of enough ways to say thank you for what you’ve all done for us.

All that we can really say is that when we step off this FOB into battle we take each and every one of you with us, symbolized by the Stars and Stripes we wear on our right shoulder. You’re here with us showing the entire world that the United States of America is the greatest country this planet has ever seen.

Thank you from Team Vampire, and God Bless America!

(P.S.  Mr Taliban, that strangling sensation you have right now is the American public with a rear naked choke on you. Just tap now, before they really hurt you. Really, just tap!)

NOTHING TO REPORT |

April 03, 2009

NOTHING TO REPORT
Name: SGT B.
Posting date: 4/3/09
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Rockford, WA
Milblog: The Gun Line 
Email: hvygunner@gmail.com

Haven’t heard anything from the ol’ Gun Line? That’s because nothing has happened.

Think about it.

A war zone. And there’s nothing to report.

Yes, yes, I know --  I couldn’t report it even if there were anything to report. Well, that’s not the case. I could say, "Something happened --  I just can’t tell you what." But, no, nothing has happened that I can’t tell you about.

So, in light of the lack of anything exciting happening, let me tell you of the mundane.

Every day, a new flag is flown over the Bonecrusher CP, and it has been decided, from On High, that these flags will be distributed to our Soldiers when we get home, and to those who have contributed either to the Flag Project, or to the success of the Mission over all, and those who cannot be there in person to receive their flag will have their flag sent to them.

Lessee, what else…

Oh yes!  I got a final grade of “B” on my Microsoft “Implementation of Microsoft XP
Pro” course!  I’m also tackling “Network+."

Other than that, there’s not a damned thing going on.

And I am good with that.


FIRE IN THE NIGHT |

April 01, 2009

FIRE IN THE NIGHT
Name: J.P. Borda
Posting date: 4/1/09
Returned from: Kuwait/Iraq
Hometown: Burke, Virginia
Milblog: Milblogging.com
Email: milblogging@gmail.com


Framed Kelley cover Fellow military blogger, freelance writer, and friend, CPT Lee Kelley is now published.  His military blog Wordsmith at War has been featured everywhere since its beginnings in 2005, most notably in Time magazine. We spoke months ago about his upcoming book release, so I’ve been anticipating this for some time. And if Fire in the Night -- a collection of creative essays -- demonstrates the same exceptional storytelling abilities as his blog from Iraq, it’ll be well worth your time. I spoke with CPT Kelley a few months back, when I was working with Andi to have him speak at the upcoming Milblog Conference  on the “Beyond Milblogging” panel. Unfortunately he’s not able to attend in person, but word has it he’s got something planned for us at the Conference even in his absence.

Here’s more about the book:

“Already a freelance writer, Lee started a blog when he was sent to Iraq in 2005. His family and friends expected to read of his experiences, and a blog was the perfect medium. A hometown reporter visited his unit in Iraq, and Lee ended up on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune. That's how it all began.

Since then, he's been in the top 10 military blogs on milblogging.com for years, featured in Time magazine, read some of his essays on radio shows, and even been on the local news in Salt Lake City, Utah. Through it all, readers have been very supportive of Lee's writing and he has received thousands of queries about when he might publish a book.

Here are 53 of the most popular essays. They have been adapted from the blog, and writing that he's done in other forums, such as The New York Times and Doonesbury.com's The Sandbox. All of the work in this book was either written while he was still in Iraq or as a direct result of his experiences there.”

On his website Wordsmith at War, he writes:

“To all of you who have supported me in so many ways since I was deployed in Iraq, and to all of you loyal readers who continue to follow my adventures as a single Dad and freelance writer, THANK YOU.  Please stay tuned, because Wordsmith at War will have a new look and a totally re-energized approach soon ...”

It’s nice to see more military bloggers going beyond just military blogging. Considering the success of CPT Kelley’s blog, it’s no wonder he went down this path. I could’ve written a book about my deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as an Infantryman, but I’m pretty sure you could get a box of rabbits and some crayons, and the rabbits could write a better book than me. The rabbits wouldn’t even have to be real. They could just be stuffed animals. Just saying...

Note: Lee Kelley was one of the first contributors to this site, and we salute him on the occasion of his book publication. If you want to order Fire in the Night from amazon.com, here's a link.



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