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.

MISSIONS |

July 31, 2009

MISSIONS
Name: John
Posting date: 7/31/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Afghani Kush


Well, as per the norm we had another mission today. Went out and went looking for the 'bad guys' out in a valley that's actually pretty near the base. But with the river being as high as it as and the terrain being as difficult as it is, it took us a couple of hours to get out there.

Framed John Missions 2

.50 prepped and ready.

The Taliban like to use motorcycles to get around, and we saw a couple of those out there today. They're fast and they can get through the terrain that our trucks can't. So usually when we roll up on a village and you see a whole bunch of guys in bikes squirt out of it, they're bad guys.
Needless to say we did some shooting today. I don't think we did much damage, but every day that all of our guys come home safe is a good day in my book. Plus I think we got who we were looking for in the area, so not a bad mission all in all.


Framed John Missions 3


Brass and links after a fight.

Of course my truck did break down, which is starting to happen more and more often. I think it's a bent frame but we'll see. The trucks out here just don't last. The terrain and the abuse we put them through loading them down with all the ammo, food and water just isn't kind to them. I believe that I've been through three trucks since I got here in January. But of course none of those were new trucks, or even completely refurbished trucks. Sometimes it seems like a guessing game to see what combination of parts will keep the truck, the gun, the comms and the crew working together like we're supposed too.

For example, my first truck had a decent engine, great comms and a terrible suspension. The next truck had a weak engine, but an awesome suspension and decent comms. The one I just finished driving (and working on) right now has the best engine that I've had, the worst suspension, and getting comms up and running is like chasing a ghost.

It really does feel like the truck is haunted -- comms work sometimes, don't work other times for no apparent reason. I'm thinking it's sunspots, or solar wind, or magnets, or... whatever. I just make stuff up and go with it. We end up trouble-shooting for a day or two until we get whatever minor kink it is worked out.

Take care, folks.

Framed John Missions 4

DONKEYS |

July 29, 2009

DONKEYS
Name: K
Posting date: 7/29/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Embedded in Afghanistan

To lengthen our stay in the mountains we decided to incorporate donkeys into a recent mission. We figured donkeys are a reasonable way for the ANA to sustain themselves. They can't exactly call on helicopter resupply the way we can. Donkeys come at a pretty reasonable rate around here -- $5 a day for a donkey, with a bit extra tacked on for fodder. Afghan donkeys are small, maybe three feet at the shoulder, totally unlike the large mules we worked with briefly during training. They can supposedly carry a third of their body weight for long distances.

Framed K donkey2

With donkeys you obviously can't pack them too heavy and you can't pack them unevenly -- easier said than done on the packing part. Not having a lot of experience with donkeys, we let the local handlers we rented them from pack the donkeys with our supplies: mostly water and ammunition. You'd think letting the professionals pack the donkeys would be the way to go, but it wasn't long into the walk that we noticed the packs slipping to one side or the other. 

A donkey will most certainly walk crooked if he's not packed evenly. So there we were pulling the packs back and forth, trying to keep them balanced on the donkey as we stepped off into the night. For the most part, the donkeys would at least follow along with the program, and they were in no hurry, which wasn't really a bad thing since we were all carrying pretty heavy loads. 

Framed K donkeyload2

Despite the slow pace, 30 minutes into the show the unfortunate happened; a donkey keeled over and would not get up. I actually felt sorry for the little guy, as he did seem to be one of the smaller donkeys and he was carrying what seemed to be a heavy load. Later on I learned just how much abuse it sometimes takes to get a donkey going when I saw two donkey handlers grab the halter and tail of a donkey, yank him to his feet, and kick him in the balls to get him going. At the time, not being willing to mete out quite that much abuse, and not having a lot of time to deal with the fallen donkey, we just unloaded him and left him there. So basically, the donkey had his way with us -- fall over a couple of times and they'll leave you be and you can skip the trip up the mountain. Let the humans carry their own stuff.

After spread-loading 80 pounds worth of supplies amongst four of us we were falling pretty far behind everyone else, and not looking too good for catching up, given the extra weight. But we eventually caught up after a few tense moments looking around for everyone else in the dark. The rest of the trip involved one more donkey falling out (this one could still walk, just not with any weight) and a long and difficult trip of the mountainside that ended with me nearly becoming a heat casualty. All that dragging of the donkey, running around, and extra weight didn't sit too well with me given that I was already less than 100% physically to begin with. In the end, we didn't make it as far as we would have liked with the donkeys, as the weather and mountains have a way of just crushing your best efforts this time of year. But we managed to spend enough time out there to learn a few things.

Lessons learned:

Pack the donkeys better and lighter.
Bring extra donkeys with no weight as spares.
Let the ANA handle the donkeys -- they are more accustomed to them.

We even came up with an excel spreadsheet on how to load them, though I haven't figured out how to attach it in its original form to this blog.

THE HUMAN TERRAIN OF AFGHANISTAN |

July 27, 2009

THE HUMAN TERRAIN OF AFGHANISTAN
Name: Bouhammer, Old Blue, WOTN, Vampire 06
Posting date: 7/27/09
Milblog: Afghan Lessons Learned For Soldiers

Afghans are different, just like your weird Uncle Joe, except on a national level. They are stubborn and feel little compulsion to tell the truth, even if the truth is readily evident and better for the story.

They can be infuriating or they can be entertaining. It is your choice. If you decide it is your role in life to change them, you will be constantly frustrated. If you decide it is their role in life to provide you quirky entertainment, you'll find yourself constantly laughing.

Framed ALL Human Terrain 2 Don't ask them about their daughters, sisters, and wives. It's the equivalent of asking to see naked pictures of yours. Ask about their family. It shows that you care. Ask about their sons, brothers, and fathers.

They've been using mud bricks for millennia. Trying to get them to interlock the bricks can be an exercise in futility. But teach them to run electrical wire and they'll follow your explicit instructions.

They can find and chop wood on a mountain that seems to have not a blade of grass. They have fought the battle against nature and somehow survived. Their goats seem to live on rocks.

"Inshallah" is the ultimate cop-out but a phrase you'll hear often. It translates to "God willing," and is the answer you'll hear to questions ranging from whether the workers will be on time to why they won't aim their weapons. "Inshallah," they'll still be employed if they aren't on time.

Just like 90% of the world's population, including our own, 90% of Afghans are simply trying to survive and feed their family. Nothing more. Nothing less. The difference is that Americans are trying to survive two car payments and a mortgage. Afghans are trying to survive nature itself. They aren't trying to earn $40,000 a year. They're trying to grow enough food in the high desert to feed two wives and ten kids.

"You can rent an Afghan all day long, but you can never buy him."

They are fiercely loyal, but in a very specific manner. Their friendship is hard won, but once earned, it is enduring. Without that loyalty, they'll act in their own best interest, solely, and that includes providing the least amount of information for the greatest amount of money. And if that means giving information to both sides while getting money from both, they have loyalty to their family, not to either side.

Afghan loyalty is to the smallest family unit first. When two tribes fight, they're loyal to the tribe. If two sub-tribes fight, it is to their sub-tribe. If two villages fight, it is to their village. If two families fight, it is to their cousin. If a brother chances upon two cousins fighting, it is to their brother. But if that brother is taking from his woodpile, he'll shoot him in the gut.

I cannot tell you how to gain the loyal friendship of an Afghan and neither can they. I can tell you how to ensure you never gain that friendship and that is to attempt to change them. It is to demean them. It is to be rude to them. It is to try to game them.

They recognize insincerity like an animal recognizes fear.

Just because they're telling the entire White Mountain range that you just left the gates does not mean they're Taliban. They gossip like old women and herding goats all day can be boring. When you roll out of the gates, it's big news and every goatherder wants to be the first with the big news. It gives them something to talk about for hours, and the entire valley will know before you hit the first riverbed.

Drink some Chai and play some chess. If you were ever in doubt as to how smart they actually are, playing chess will remove it. An Afghan may not recognize his own name in print, but he will beat you in chess every day of the week. I only won once and that was because I distracted the mechanic with Jerry Springer. He was smart enough to concentrate on the board forever after.

Framed ALL Human Terrain 1 If you see a video camera capturing your movements, things are bad. It means you are about to get hit or they're figuring out the final details of how they will hit you. It's the final stages, at any rate.

It is always their enemy that is Taliban. They've learned this game.

At some point, you will end up at the bazaar, whether it comes to you or you go to it. They've learned that Americans will pay much more than what they consider fair value and they will charge as much as you are willing to pay. In fact, their initial asking price will be well above what they think you'll pay. They expect you to haggle them down, but if you don't, they'll gladly take your money. The rule of thumb is to start at about 60% of their asking price, but you can be successful starting lower.

"The early bird gets the worm." It's good luck to get the first sale of the day, for them. If you are the first customer, they're more motivated to get the sale. This gives you more leverage.

There are just a few rambling observations about our illiterate but highly intelligent, stubborn, and resilient friends. Ignorance is not stupidity.

THIS IS MY BRAIN |

July 22, 2009

THIS IS MY BRAIN
Name: Air Force Wife
Posting date: 7/22/09
Spouse: Preparing to deploy
Milblog: Spousebuzz
Email: airforcewife98@hotmail.com

With Air Force Guy coming and going on a very frequent basis, it has become accepted fact in our family that my brain is the repository for all things... well, all things. Need to know how old the roof is?  Two years. Family blood types?  Four B negatives and an O negative. Need a kennel?  A mechanic? (I found a great one, by the way, who doesn't overcharge or cheat us!)  Who is our doctor? Husband has a headache -- what could have triggered it? Oh, and by the way, the minivan is about ten miles overdue for an oil change. AND DON'T PUT THAT IN THE DRYER!

Unfortunately, keeping all this information on ready access alert in my head (I do write everything down as well) means that most days I engage in quite a lot of stream of consciousness thought.

For instance:

This morning I woke up and went in the bathroom to take a shower. When I was brushing my teeth, I noticed that the trash was overflowing and took that out right away after I had rinsed and spit. On my way downstairs, I realized that the dogs needed to go out and managed to combine a trash run with putting the dogs out. While the dogs were outside I noticed that several of my plants needed extra water. I went in the kitchen to get the watering container and noticed that no one had done the dishes. I started the dishesand the dogs started barking, so I went to let the dogs in. Oops, I forgot they were out there.

Where was I? Oh yes. The dishes. But wait! I still haven't taken a shower! Or watered my plants! And I've only been up for about 45 minutes. The rest of the day follows something along the same lines.

I also do this when I'm in conversation with people, and it's one of the reasons I feel most comfortable talking with other military spouses. It's nice to find people who can follow my absolutely insane twists of logic without looking utterly perplexed and needing to take notes.

Yesterday AFG and I took our kids to get root beer floats and then to a local farm where they could watch and pet the animals. AFG ended up having to place our order in Spanish, and when we were seated I told him, "If you need IR flags for this deployment, you better tell me now so I can order them without the extra overnight delivery charge!"

"Yes, I will need more IR flags," AFG informed me.  "But what on earth made you think of that right now?"

"Well, you had to order in Spanish, which reminded me how difficult it has been for your mother to pick up English after moving here from Russia. That reminded me that a lot of military spouses have the same language issues, which reminded me that my friend R. was married to a woman from Korea who had some trouble but picked up the language eventually.

Remember that R. had NCO mafia connections for everything (and they were much better than your scrounge club, which disbanded when you got home from deployment) and he was the one that found the IR flags you needed for your last deployment? Which reminded me, we're up on the deadline for getting those things mailed out in time this time, so I needed to ask you if you were issued enough this time around or if I needed to order more."

Honestly, it's like my life is If You Give a Moose a Muffin.

BACK IN THE STAN |

July 20, 2009

BACK IN THE STAN
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 7/20/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Afghan Quest

I arrived back in Afghanistan today after the most grueling trip I’ve ever had to get halfway around the world. Kuwait was hairdryer-hot, moving as an individual is murderous, and there are many moving parts. But after sitting in Kuwait for only about a day suddenly everything took off at a rapid pace. Kudos to CSTC-A for having a liaison at Bagram who received us and pushed us on to Kabul in just about twelve hours. Nice.

I tried to publish from Kuwait, but couldn’t get it done. The internet there just absolutely blows.

Bagram has changed a fair amount. One DFAC torn down to make room for tents, the dining facility moved across Disney. The stop signs at Four Corners are gone. Nice for traffic on Disney, not so nice for those on the cross street or pedestrians. It is still a world unto itself. Still a sniper check salute zone.

There will be more information on what I’m actually doing here and why in the near future. I am very very tired and just need to get some rest. It was a marathon getting here, and I’ve been fighting off a respiratory infection the whole way. Nothing like being in heat so hot that you feel like you need to move to get away from the heating element (but it’s all around you) and being sick at the same time.

For now, let’s just say that I am trying to do what I can to make a difference in Afghanistan this year. It’s all that I can do to influence something that I believe in. It’s not enough to sit by and talk about it. I had to do something. Some things are worth fighting for; and when they are, it’s time to fight. If not me, who? If not now, when?

So I said, “Here I am, send me.”

And they did. So here I am.


Next day:

After I finally got to sleep last night I slept for a good ten hours in a temporary room. Whew.

The temporary room was comfortable, and it had furniture. No chair, but it had a desk, a bed, a very nice wall locker of local manufacture, and another piece of furniture of plywood construction which is more of a standard B-hut furnishing. Today I moved into another temporary room in another building which is more like a barracks with a hallway and private rooms off of it. It is linked to another similar building by the shower and latrine facility, which is very impressive for Afghanistan. Nicely tiled, clean and roomy.

The room I moved into is very clean. It is also nearly clean of furniture, the only furnishing being a bunk bed. My duffel bags and ruck sack are my furniture. That and a purloined body armor stand which now proudly holds my armor and helmet in the corner near the door. The whole room is about the size of a commercial broom closet. Again; it is clean, lockable and mine. For now. They tell me I will get a larger room soon when some people move out. I will look forward to that, but this is fine in the meantime. I’m grateful, in fact.

The camp here is extremely nice. Small, but very nice. It is calm and sensible, too. None of the usual “too close to the flagpole” shenanigans. Whew. More on that another time.

I got to meet many of the other people on the team today, and they all seemed happy that I am here (finally.) This process has literally taken months and months. I haven’t written about it because it could have come apart at the seams at any point along the way, and that would have been difficult to explain at best or could have appeared to be BS at worst. Not wanting that complication, I thought it best to keep it to myself. In any case, they have been expecting me here for a long time, and now I’m finally here.

It’s a great mission. Hopefully we can make a difference and hopefully I can be helpful with that. I can tell you that I am doing something that I deeply believe in. Again, more on that later. I promise this all makes sense.

I got to see my first camel spider of the second tour tonight. One of the young’uns down the hall started yelling, “Hey, come look at this! What is that thing? It’s huge!” I walked down the hall and there it sat, looking at me as if to say, “Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you!”

The young’un shoo’d it out the door without harming it.

Yep, I’m in Afghanistan again. It feels oddly normal. One difference that I’ve noticed is that there are more lights at night in Kabul. That’s a small sign, but the electricity that we Americans take for granted has been hit or miss here, even in the capitol. To see lights on in such a broad area of Kabul at night means something’s being done. There is obviously a lot that needs to be done, but it’s a good sign on the infrastructure side.

On a separate note, Vampire 6 left the country last night. We missed each other. He was probably at Bagram while I was waiting for my flight to Kabul. Godspeed for a safe trip home, Vampires. Job well done. Don’t ever think for a minute that it doesn’t matter. It does. Baton passed. I got it.

Old Blue has been a frequent contributor to The Sandbox, both during and after his previous deployment. Here are a few of his posts:

SEMPER GUMBY 

PICTURE TIME

CHAI

A BREATHER FROM THE VALLEY

ONE THIRD AND A WAKEUP

NIGHTTIME IN SHADES OF GREEN


THE CULLING OF THE CRAP |

July 17, 2009

THE CULLING OF THE CRAP
Name: SGT B.
Posting date: 7/17/09
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Rockford, WA
Milblog: The Gun Line
Email: hvygunner@gmail.com


At the tail end of every deployment, one of the rituals that the deployed soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine must perform is the “culling of the crap".

For some reason, we seem to amass a collection of assorted health and comfort items during our stay on foreign shores:  Posters that livened the otherwise naked walls of our CHUs, letters, knick knacks that were iconic of the support we received over the course of the mission, and the well-loved debris of a time spent far from hearth and home.

Most of it is theater specific, and is boxed up to be passed on to the folks who relieve us, or left out in a public area to be scavenged by our fellow inmates -- all done under the auspices of the original sender, who approved the idea of succoring the poor schmucks who have to stay in residence in this armpit after we have kicked the dust from our boots and departed this blighted land on silver (or grey, or green) wings.

But there are things with which we would not part, and these are packed up in various containers, and either stowed in the CONUS-bound CONEX boxes with the Company’s gear, or delivered into the hands of the United States Postal Service for transport back to the World.

Yesterday, I delivered one such container to the Main Post Office here on JBB.

Entering the building, I first filled out the Customs Declaration Form, and then made my way to the sign that said:

WAIT HERE TO BE CALLED BY THE NEXT POSTAL INSPECTOR.

And then I heard a surly “Next!”

The woman who called was obviously having a bad day. Her face bore the expression of somebody who did not enjoy her job, was prepared to lambaste the miscreant who dared to flaunt the Rules and Regulations of the United States Postal Service, and had obviously been dealing with the worst that the United States Army had to offer.

“Put the box on the table,” she ordered.

“Good morning!” I exclaimed as I lifted the black footlocker onto the waiting tabletop. (Devious soul that I am, I learned that a person who is determined to have a bad day is absolutely infuriated when they are forced to deal with a perky and cheerful fellow like yours truly.  “Killing with kindness” – not just for breakfast anymore!)

She grunted, and then ordered me to turn the box around so that it might be emptied of all of its contents for inspection. (I pity the poor soul who tries to send his assortment of whips, leather tutus, and ball gags back home!!!)

She continued to be terse as we emptied the various items out of the box: CDs, little stuffed animals, extra uniforms, a few coffee cups, my GPS unit, until we reached the bottom of the box, and she saw a layer of red flannel, trimmed with white fur, with little golden bells, contained in a protective garment bag.

She lifted the garment out of the bottom of the box, and recognized it for what it was, and I saw the realization of both the garment, her own conduct, and the implications.

She was being a sourpuss to Santa Claus. Himself (incognito, of course!)

Framed SGT B Culling 1

Santa and two Bonecrushers: Christmas in Balad, 2008.

The flash of Yuletide Red caught the eye of one of her fellow inspectors, a younger man with a more amicable personality, who watched the proceeding with interest. He made eye contact with me, cocking an eyebrow to see what would happen next.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

My inspector had to make sure that I wasn’t trying to smuggle anything out of the country in my Santa Suit (like a T-72 tank or a .50 caliber machine gun), so she had to actually pat the suit down, and with each palpitation, the bells on the coat tinkled merrily. I thought I saw the beginnings of a carefully restrained smile, and I even think that she gave the coat an extra shake, just to hear the tinkle of Christmas again.

“Did you buy it?” she asked, her demeanor rising through 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and ascending. “How much did it cost?”

“No.” I said, lowering my voice just an eensy bit. “It was made specifically for me. The cost is paid when I put it on.”

She looked at me. “I have a certain reputation to uphold…” I explained.

The other Inspector sat back in his chair and began to grin.

My inspector looked me in the eyes, not sure to believe what she was hearing, but, boy, did she need something to brighten her day, even just a teeny bit. (My mother actually crafted the suit, as a functional garment, to last for years, and her workmanship is of the highest caliber. But I am sure that, knowing Mom, she was channeling the essence of Santa’s elven tailors when she put this rig together.)

“My tailors have been doing this for a very long time,” I said, allowing just the hint of the deep base tones I use when I portray the Jolly Old Elf, and holding my finger to the side of my nose, causing the other Inspector to almost roll out of his chair in silent laughter.

“Uh-huh,” she said, and continued to inspect the suit, (tinkling the golden bells a few more times than she really had to).

We loaded the box back up and she sealed it, affixed the required documentation and stickers to the outside, and then gestured, with a wave of the hand that was far less surly than her original demeanor, where I should take the box for payment and shipping. Her whole attitude was warmer.

I thanked her and moved off to the counter, where I handed the box, suit and all, to the clerk behind the counter and paid the postage.

On my way out, I veered past the woman who had inspected my box. “Merry Christmas,” I said, in a low voice, and I meant it. I didn’t think she heard me, and I kept walking.

But just before I got beyond earshot, almost at the exit, I heard a very quiet voice:

“Merry Christmas...Santa...”

You know, every time a bell rings, that’s the sound of an angel earning its wings, right?

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a Good Night…

Framed SGT B Culling 2

LOOT! |

July 15, 2009

LOOT!
Name: America's 1st Sgt.
Posting date: 7/15/09
Stationed in: Iraq  
Milblog: Castra Praetoria
Email: castrapraetoria1@gmail.com

Loot, loot, loot. We like getting stuff in the mail. No doubt about it. I know Marines that would rather take a kick to the junk than not get anything at mail call. Our poor mail clerk has been threatened with physical violence and accused of purposely hoarding mail by brownie starved by Marines and Sailors who haven’t even received so much as a card from home.

Framed AmFirst Loot 1 Of course, getting cool stuff like baked goodies is always in order and these are usually the most sought after and shared of items. There are legions of troops whose very diets revolve around chow sent from home. Feel free to read about UGRAs in one of my previous posts for a greater understanding of the foulness that is ingested by service members in more remote climes. In our case at Al Asad, mail is more of a morale issue than a gastrointestinal one. I know I get pouty when I don’t receive any.

Do you remember that feeling you had at Christmas when you were little? It’s the same feeling that comes over us at mail call. You might get a box of dirty underwear but it doesn’t matter as long as it has your name on it. The tough guys may shrug off not getting mail, but it is always a cool feeling to open your own package of loot.

Speaking of opening your own loot at Christmas, as a kid I recall being wide awake a 0500 in the morning and slinking down the hall to glimpse what was under the tree by whatever light was coming in through the window. Never once did I set foot in the living room before my parents were awake. My father had made it utterly clear that any gift un-wrapping without him being present was punishable by all manner of horrifying and grievous consequences. Yeah, so it’s just like that when the mail run goes.

No fondling mail that isn’t yours. Gunfights have started over less.

Framed AmFirst Loot 2
The parents of one of my Marines sent me a card last deployment. Here I am reading it to their son. Mail is fun, see?

Over Christmas of 2007 Hope was trying to send all of my warlords stockings and gifts in the mail. She was stressing out over the fact that none of it had arrived yet, and I probably didn’t help matters by being so blasé about it. Of course, I was dealing with my own issues including boneheads getting liquor in the mail, a carpet of mice trying to eat the FOB out from under me, and oh yeah, there was a war on.

Then on Christmas Eve Hope’s package arrived with decorated stockings for a number of specific individuals in the Company. Marines were nestled asleep in their beds while visions of manic Drill Instructors danced in their heads. I felt like Santa as I tip toed through the berthing hanging up stockings on Marine’s racks.

So if you ever wonder if you should send something to the boys out there the answer is yes you should.

Even if you don’t know them and even if they never write back. It may just be a card or a letter, but someone is going to read it.

Loot; it does a Jarhead good.

BREAKING IN IS HARD TO DO |

July 14, 2009

BREAKING IN IS HARD TO DO
Name: Chaplain CPT Dr. Father Tim 
Posting date: 7/14/09
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog: Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain
Email: cptdrfrtim-blog@yahoo.com


A young priest arrived in theater recently, and he's been spending about a week with SFC McG and myself, as we accompany him and his Chaplain Assistant around the battlespace. I suspect he's finding things a bit overwhelming over here.

It's his first deployment. (Mine too, but hey, I'm old enough to be his father.)

Framed Chaplain BREAKING IN MRAP So far, we've experienced a convoy -- he did not like being bumped around in the back of an MRAP* at all, and a couple of helicopter flights -- the first of which for him was a Hero Flight. What an introduction to life -- and death -- over here.

Most recently the four of us went to the flight line to await transportation to a post I've been trying to get to for a long, long time. It finally looked as though we'd get there. The weather during the day was great, if a bit chilly, and the birds were flying.

Until we got to the flight line.

There we discovered that the Air Mission Request folks had bollixed up the manifest, and had taken him and his Chaplain Assistant off the roster. After standing around for about an hour, they went back 'home'. The young priest was pretty annoyed at the confusion and hassle.

SFC McG and I stood around at the flight line for another two hours before it became clear there was no way for us to get where we needed to go, do Mass, and be ready for the return flight -- if it even would show up. So we scrubbed the mission.The young priest was aghast when I got back to the CHU* (now I'm sharing my living space with him, after the several weeks of sharing it with my former boss), and mentioned that we'd wound up waiting in the cold for a total of three hours before calling for a ride back to the office, and that it took about 40 minutes for our driver to get there to pick us up (one of the other Chaplains had the vehicle we normally use, and our driver had to find someone to lend him their vehicle in order to the LZ*).

When I mentioned to the young priest that SFC McG and I take a convoy that starts out at 4:30 in the afternoon and doesn't reach its destination until after midnight -- with us bouncing around on manifestly uncomfortable seats the whole time, and then two days later leave at 12:30 in the morning, only to arrive back in time to begin the day's work about 8:30 or 9:00 a.m., his eyes got really big, and he looked really uncomfortable.

Welcome to paradise, my young friend!

Breaking in is hard to do.

Blessings and peace to one and all.


*

MRAP: Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle

CHU: Combat Housing Unit

LZ: Landing Zone


MAPS |

July 10, 2009

MAPS
Name: Bouhammer, Old Blue, WOTN, Vampire 06
Posting date: 7/10/09
Milblog: Afghan Lessons Learned For Soldiers

With the renewed focus on the first battleground in the War On Terror, Afghanistan, we offer some maps for readers less familiar with some of the terrain and locations that often come up in discussions on our site. Other readers will be intimately aware of these areas in question and perhaps even recall the fine talcum dust so prevalent there.

In the fine tradition of military style traditions, I'll begin with the One Over the World. (Afghanistan is the green spot.)

Framed Lessons MAP 1

Clearly, it is on "the other side of the world," but as we look closer, we can see some of the challenges:

Framed Lessons MAP 2

One of the first things to notice is that it is landlocked. Another important point is the tumultuous neighbors: Iran, Pakistan, and China. Less obvious in this 2003 map is that the old neighbor -- the Soviet Union -- is now a number of neighbors, emerging young nations such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. These are plagued with active attempts by Iran to spread Islamism, as well as attempts by AQ surrogates to overthrow their young governments.

Looking a bit closer, we can see the that the terrain itself is difficult:

Framed Lessons MAP 3

That terrain is understated in the above map, and it is also not the only challenge. The ethnicities are as varied as the terrain:

Framed Lessons MAP 4 


Some of the areas that pop up the most are:

Framed Lessons MAP 5

Herat: a city and a province on the Iranian border (northwest).

Kandahar: a city and province on the Pakistani border (southeast), which was the Taliban capital.

Helmand: a city and province in the South and heavy in the poppy trade.

Paktia and Paktika Provinces: which border Pakistan and are deep in the Pashtun areas from which the Taliban find their base of support. The particularly rugged terrain in this area makes the border difficult to define and hard to defend. Taliban have a tendency to cross over easily.

The Northern Provinces: less volatile than the South and East (areas bordering Pakistan) and are less noted in our reports, partially because our NATO allies are responsible for these safer regions.


War on Terror News c 2009, ARM, all rights reserved.

FOURTH OF JULY |

July 06, 2009

FOURTH OF JULY
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 7/5/09
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog: From Our Perspective
Email: clarahart2@yahoo.com

For many, the 4th of July holiday is about barbecues, fireworks, friends and spending time enjoying the freedoms this country affords us. I wonder how many spent any time this past weekend thinking about the true significance of this Independence Day? From Paul Revere and George Washington all the way up to the present-day grunts and groundpounders of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and the Global War on Terror, our country’s veterans should have been honored with thoughts or simple prayers. Their services and their sacrifices are indelible, and have been essential to the preservation of our wonderful country.

Yesterday I enjoyed barbecues with friends and watched fireworks launched from the National Mall in the shadows of our greatest monuments. Today I find myself once again embalmed in sadness. My thoughts drift to good friends deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. My heart clings to one in particular whose mission is unknown to all but the most special of forces.

The media brings the news that thousands of troops are now battling in southern Afghanistan. The “Surge” has begun and we expect an increase in casualties. One WIA in particular has made this Independence Day holiday difficult for me. In receiving him from the crew who flew him in I was struck numb by the devastation of his injuries. Never in the four years taking care of the wounded, and never, ever in my entire career as a civilian trauma nurse and flight nurse, have I seen such complete decimation of the human body. For once in all my years in nursing I was stopped dead in my tracks and left speechless. Even worse was the complete and total irony that not one mark, scratch or shrapnel wound marred his handsome face.

Standing next to his bedside, I reached out to hold his hand. Cradling it in both of mine, I prayed for him. Since that day my nights have not been easy. Oftentimes his face haunts my dreams, making sleep elusive. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to church today. In keeping with the wonderful 4th of July tradition of recognizing and paying tribute to those in the military, my church honors those who sacrifice so very much. This church, often a place I find solace and peace, was one I avoided, afraid too many tears would fall in the presence of others. Others who could not possibly understand that in a nearby hospital lay a young man whose injuries were so horrific that I prayed he would die.


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