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.

THE CASE FOR AFGHANISTAN |

November 30, 2009

THE CASE FOR AFGHANISTAN
Name: Anthony McCloskey (Tadpole)
Posting date: 11/30/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Army Sailor: War in the Sandbox 

I am an active duty sailor who served for nearly 13 months on the ground in Afghanistan. I worked as a member of a Civil Affairs Battalion embedded in the country with 10th Mountain Division, and U.S. Army Special Forces. My role as a Civil Affairs Operator afforded me a unique perspective not only on the war, but also on the Afghan people with whom I so closely worked. Before going to Afghanistan I was given a lot of cultural training, and training in Humanitarian Assistance, in addition to the combat training you'd expect. While I was in Afghanistan I became a real believer in the cause, I saw the genuine possibility not only for our success, but also for us to be able to positively influence that entire region and greatly improve the quality of life for all Afghans.

Most anyone who knows me knows that I have not been the biggest fan of the war in Iraq. However, I am a big supporter of the war in Afghanistan. I firmly believe that if the war there is conducted properly, and given the logistical support required, that the efforts there can result in a very positive outcome not only for the United States, but for Afghanistan and the world as a whole.

The October 17th-23rd issue of The Economist refers to the war in Afghanistan as "Obama's War." I find this to be a rather interesting misnomer. Afghanistan is not Obama's war, it is America's war, and we have done a disservice by not providing it the full attention and support required to conduct it properly. I understand that the President's handling of the war in Afghanistan will likely play a major role in the success of his presidency, but to call it "Obama's War" seems to belittle the whole thing in my opinion. This war is more than just a talking point, it is an international effort that is of vital importance to the whole of southwest Asia, and indeed, the world.


General Stanley McChrystal, a long time Special Forces veteran and current Commanding General in Afghanistan, has submitted a request to the President for an increase in troop levels in Afghanistan. Reports indicate that he has submitted multiple plans, with his least favorable option requiring only 10,000 more troops, and his most favorable option requiring between 40,000 and 60,000 more troops to serve on the ground in Afghanistan.

The case for supporting the General's request is strong. The West has a very real security interest in preventing the region from slipping into further conflict and utter chaos. Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor to the east, is particularly vulnerable to the Taliban's potent mixture of ethnic-Pashtun nationalism and radical Islam. Anarchy in Afghanistan, or a restoration of power to the Taliban, would leave Pakistan woefully vulnerable to cross-border instability. Let us not forget that Pakistan has nuclear weapons, which we certainly want to keep out of the wrong hands.

Just as importantly, defeat in Afghanistan (or the perception thereof) would only serve to embolden the West's opponents in Pakistan and around the world. It would be a major IO (Information Operations) win for our enemies, thus leaving us open to more attacks and garnering further support for Terrorist organizations globally. In short, it would only serve to show the tactic of Terrorism works.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to leave Afghanistan or to falter there, would be a terrible betrayal of the Afghan people. Many of these people have risked their lives to help us, many more are suffering troubles that are a direct result of our intervention in the country, and many of Afghanistan's best and brightest are Afghans who repatriated to their homeland to help rebuild, trusting in American success and the promise of long-term stability and security.

The U.S. currently only has about 62,000 troops in Afghanistan out of a total of about 100,000 foreign troops serving there. That may sound like a lot, but it really is not when you consider the reality of the logistics imposed by the harsh Afghan terrain.

One must also consider the types of troops that are deployed. A war requires many types of service men and women to ensure success. You need infantry and Special Forces to ensure security and conduct kinetic operations on the ground, but just as important are the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations troops who conduct Civil Assistance missions and ensure stability. The continuing effort in Afghanistan is not a simple one by anyone's standards. General McChrystal himself was quoted as saying "Every day I realize how little about Afghanistan I actually understand." The country has a bewildering tribal make-up that is alien to most westerners, and its communities are broken at best due to tribalism and 30-some-odd years of war. And the country is physically comprised of forbidding deserts and mountains. This is not an easy problem to solve, but it must be addressed and any signs of uncertainty on the part of the United States will dishearten our allies, while serving to embolden our foes.

I personally feel very strongly that we must send more troops to Afghanistan, and we must do so quickly. We cannot appear to be uncertain or undetermined, the costs of losing this war are too great, and too wasteful, and would be a slap in the face to those of us who have served and continue to serve there.


Editor's note: Tadpole made numerous contributions to The Sandbox during his 2006-2007 deployment, and four of his posts were included in the Sandbox book. Here are links to some of his earlier work:

The Dance

The Great Blog Scare

Odd Dreams

Coping With Homecoming

"WE DIDN'T DO IT" |

November 26, 2009

"WE DIDN'T DO IT"
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 11/26/09
Returned to: Afghanistan
Milblog url: Afghan Quest

We were cordially invited to stay at FOB Kutschbach for a few extra days by the rotary wing folks, who bumped our return flight to a day earlier than scheduled. So, as we had some extra time on the ground, we did a foot patrol with the French, the PMT and the ANP through the Tagab bazaar a couple of days after it was attacked. Thirteen people were killed and 42 wounded. Being that there were two of us, and we each had an interpreter, we were able to talk with the people we ran into at the bazaar. That is, when we weren’t being hurried along.

While asking people what village they were from, if their village and/or family had suffered any casualties, and how they felt about the attack, the story the Taliban was telling came out. First, they insisted that only one rocket was fired -- so the other round must have come from either the Americans or the French on the FOB. Right there they shucked off half of the responsibility. Secondly, they insisted that their rocket was not fired by a Talib. They had, they insisted, “arrested” the man who had fired the “single” rocket, and they were investigating to discover who had paid him to fire the rocket into the crowded bazaar.

“Really?” I asked the man who conveyed this. “They are really saying this?”

“Yes. This is what they say,” he asserted.

“They really think that you are so stupid that you would believe something so ridiculous?”

Blank stare. The man searched for something. Something that wasn’t coming.

“I’ve been talking with you for several minutes. You are going to go to college in Jalalabad to be a lawyer. I know that you are too smart to believe such a ridiculous lie.” Clearly, he wasn’t; but it was beginning to work on his brain.

He stammered a bit. The corners of his mouth began to curl upwards a little. He was stuck.

“If a man kills someone and you ask him if he’s done it, he comes up with a stupid story about how it wasn’t him, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, hesitantly.

“So that you won’t want to kill him,” I continued.

“Well…” he shifted uncomfortably.

“So then he thinks that if you believe him, then you are a fool. You would be foolish then, right?” I pressed.

“Yes, that would be foolish,” he agreed.

“But you are too smart to believe a foolish lie, aren’t you? You are smarter than that, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am smarter than that,” he agreed.

“The Taliban think you are very stupid people, but you are not so stupid, right?” I offered him a way out.

“Right. We are smarter than that.” The men gathered around began nodding their heads.

It’s not like I could undo the damage done after the Taliban IO (Information Operation) had time, unfettered, to respond to the catastrophe that they had caused among their neighbors. Their gaff was like a kid who throws rocks at a house and breaks a window and then runs away. If confronted by the homeowner later, he comes up with a creative story about someone else breaking the window. Except this rock-throwing nimrod was throwing rockets, and he had killed innocent people.

The French had found rocket fragments from two rockets. One was Chinese and the other of Russian manufacture. But they did not get the word out immediately. In fact, the reaction of the French leadership was to cancel a mission that they had planned and “wait it out.” They did not hit the streets immediately, telling the story and showing the rocket fragments to everyone they could find. This gave the Taliban time to concoct a ludicrous lie that, in the absence of any information to the contrary, some people were believing.

The fact is that on the morning of the attack, we had been informed that there was some intelligence to indicate that the Taliban were going to attack the District Center that day. The reason was that there was a French General who would be participating in a Shura with local elders and the Sub-governor of Tagab District. COL Z, the local ANP Chief who is much-hated by the Taliban, and the ANA commander would also be there. As with all intelligence, there are a lot of red herrings. The PMT joked about the odds of actually being attacked. But, at roughly 12:30, twin booms rang out from the nearby bazaar. The French quickly identified the site of the launch, a site that the Taliban frequently use to launch rockets at FOB Kutschbach -- often missing. This time they missed their mark by a scant 200 meters, just enough to land their rockets in the bazaar, crowded by shoppers stocking up for the Eid celebration on a market day.

The 107mm (4.2 inch) rocket is not a precision weapon system. When tube launched, it is an area
weapon. You can get it into a general area, but you cannot ensure a precision hit. When launched
Afghan-style -- propped up on rocks -- it is an order of magnitude less certain. To launch these weapons from four kilometers away at a site which is so close to the bazaar on a bazaar day was criminally negligent at best.These weapons were fired with a total disregard for civilian lives. It was akin to firing high explosives into a mall during the Christmas shopping season.

The 107mm warhead packs a wallop, but it is notorious for its horrible fragmentation pattern. The warhead casing fragments unevenly, often throwing out very large fragments in a haphazard manner. This undoubtedly spared some while mutilating others. Civilians were torn asunder, some left in bloody heaps while others lost limbs instantly. Still others were injured by flying chunks of rock. One rocket impacted near the place where people shopped for livestock for their Eid feast, not unlike our Thanksgiving Dinner. Livestock and citizens alike were shredded by razor-sharp, white-hot fragments. The carnage was horrendous.

As the shocked survivors gathered themselves and the bazaar emptied in a frenzy, severely wounded shoppers dragged themselves away from the center of the disaster. Colonel Z sprinted out the gate of the District Center, four ANP running to keep pace as their Chief ran into the dust and smoke left on the wake of the high explosive warheads. The Colonel lifted injured people into vehicles and dispatched them to either the FOB or the District Center. Within minutes, casualties began to arrive for French and American medics to triage and treat. The Colonel helped retrieve six dead from the litter of blood and body parts. The families took their dead directly home. More would die later from their wounds. Few villages were left unscathed by the toll. Everyone I spoke with a couple of days later knew someone who had perished or been wounded.

“You notice,” Colonel Z mentioned later, “that no one took their casualties to the Taliban for medical treatment. They brought them to the FOB, or to the District Center. They depended on the government or its allies for help when they needed it.”

This is true. That’s what the people did.

There is a “Radio-in-a-box” setup at FOB Kutschbach, broadcasting to the people of the Tagab Valley. The local commander offered the elders an opportunity to come and denounce the attack on the radio. Only one man, Colonel Z, came and denounced the Taliban for their cowardly act. All the other elders declined. So, as they sat watching, the enemy began their damage-control campaign.

“We didn’t do it. We caught the man who did, but he only fired one rocket. The Americans or the French fired the other one. We didn’t do it…”

PROJECT VALOUR - IT |

November 23, 2009

PROJECT VALOUR - IT
Name: Tadpole
Posting date: 11/23/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Army Sailor: War in the Sandbox

The good people at SoldiersAngels.org are sponsoring a fund drive called “Valour – IT”. They are trying to raise $140,000 dollars to purchase voice activated laptops for wounded warriors.

Every cent raised for Project Valour-IT goes directly to the purchase and shipment of laptops and other technology for severely wounded service members. As of October, Valour-IT had distributed over 4100 laptops to severely wounded Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines across the country, and is now expanding its mission to include other technology that supports physical and psychological recovery.

Valour-IT accepts donations in any amount to support our mission, but also offers a sponsorship option for laptops. An individual or organization may sponsor a wounded soldier by completely funding the cost of a laptop and continuing to provide that soldier with personal support and encouragement throughout recovery. This has proved to be an excellent project for churches, groups of coworkers or friends, and members of community organizations such Boy Scouts.

Originally Valour-IT provided the voice-controlled software that accompanies the laptops, but now works closely with the Department of Defense Computer/electronic Accommodations Program (CAP): CAP supplies the adaptive software and Valour-IT provides the laptop. In addition, DoD caseworkers serve as Valour-IT’s “eyes and ears” at several medical centers, identifying patients in need of laptops and other technological support for their recovery. Wounded military personnel can also directly request a laptop through the sign-up form or through the Valour-IT/Soldiers’ Angels representatives at the following medical centers, and other veterans health care facilities across the country:

* Balboa Naval Hospital

* Brooke Army Medical Center

* Madigan Regional Medical Center

* National Naval Medical Center (Bethesda Naval Hospital)

* Naval Hospital, Camp Pendleton

* Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital (29 Palms)

* Walter Reed Army Medical Center

Project Valor - IT | Soldiers Angels (Navy Team)

Please CLICK HERE to support the cause!

Framed Tadpole Project Valour-IT

IN AFGHANISTAN |

November 17, 2009

IN AFGHANISTAN
Name: SANDBOX DUTY OFFICER David Stanford
Posting date: 11/17/09 

We haven't had any images on the site recently, so I thought I'd link to a remarkable collection of photographs by David Guttenfelder, chief Asia photographer for The Associateed Press, which is posted on the Denver Post's website.


Framed Sleeping Guttenfelder photo
 
U.S. Marines from the 2nd MEB, 1st Battalion 5th Marines sleep in their fighting holes inside a compound where they stayed for the night, in the Nawa district of Afghanistan's Helmand province, Wednesday July 8, 2009. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

ANOTHER WRETCHED TRIP |

November 13, 2009

ANOTHER WRETCHED TRIP
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 11/13/09
Returned to: Afghanistan
Milblog: Afghan Quest

Just returned from another wretched trip to Pogadishu, once again challenging my moral endurance. One of the more blatant signs of disconnection from reality; several Soldiers complaining vociferously about Pizza Hut running out of beef while nearby a Soldier who was passing through Bagram to go on leave had come from a FOB where running out of water for days at a time was relatively common, and where needed supplies were unable to be delivered due to a lack of airlift capacity. The ridiculousness of the concerns of the denizens of Pogadishu is highlighted in the presence of those who pass through their midst on the way to and from the real war.

The Soldiers who pass through are treated to visions of high-rise (three-story) conex condos while they themselves are subjected to the horrors of the “transient tents.” These hovels house nearly two hundred men who share four shower stalls, two urinals and three toilets. Overflow capacity is provided by several porta-johns nearby. I haven’t been to the east side of Bagram in two years, but I hear that conditions over there are even more horrific.How that can be escapes me, but there must be another level of depravity on that side of the runway.

In the north transient tents, one tent, which is not an Army tent but the type of enclosure that might hold diners at an outdoor wedding, holds double-deck bunk beds that house at least 175 men. It is nearly always filled to capacity, a scant foot or foot and a half between bunks. Dimly lit, it is like a holding pen for a level of Hell that is filled to capacity. Bare plywood floors are perpetually dusty, and there is an air of resignation.

The other tent, of the same construction, has standard Army cots separated by the same intervals. This tent easily houses a hundred men. It seems more pleasant because of the ability to see from one end to the other. Not all of the occupants are transients. Many Soldiers and contractors are “housed” there for weeks at a time before getting more “permanent” housing, likely in one of the many B-huts which have small living areas separated by cubicle-like “walls” with lockable “doors.” The “walls” cannot go all the way to the ceiling because there are only two Chigo (heating and air conditioning) units, one at each end of the hut. Often a dozen men will be housed in one B-hut. B-hut living is tolerable, but it is sheer luxury compared to the Spartan living in the transient tents.

In the transient tents, privacy is a matter of mind over matter. The iPod is a savior. If one puts in the iPod, one can almost forget the man snoring 18 inches from his left ear. As I lay there on my cot, the roar of two F-15’s taking off shattered the near-serenity of Pachelbel’s Canon. I restarted the tune, immersed in the quiet dignity of what is likely my favorite piece of classical music. A bit later, another pair of fighters took off, afterburners punctuating Steppenwolf’s invitation to a young woman to join them on a Magic Carpet Ride. Brilliant.

I think that the iPod saved my sanity.

But there is no saving one’s sanity from the utter fobbitry. NFL on Fox made the trip to Afghanistan, only to root themselves in the land of those who serve, forward deployed, but not in any way, shape or form actual participants in the hostilities. As we were conducting training for several days with one of the headquarters elements, we moved through what is to us something out of Alice in Wonderland. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if I were approached at Bagram by a huge, time-management-challenged rabbit. So, eating in one of the dining facilities during lunchtime, we saw Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long as they exited. They had been seated in the large, cramped DFAC and had signed many autographs. Asked by a friend back home if I had said anything to them, I replied, “Nah, this place is full of fobbit jock-sniffers. I don’t want to be one of them.”

I was informed that coffee being shot through the nose is very uncomfortable and stains shirts.

I am reminded that Toby Keith heads out to FOBs and COPs where he has played for very small groups of Soldiers on an acoustic guitar. It was a nice gesture for NFL on Fox to head to Afghanistan, it really was. When I first came to Afghanistan, half of the people I knew weren’t even tracking on this country. It was the forgotten front of the War on Terror. Iraq was where all the money, troops and attention went. So for Fox to come to this land was a great gesture. But the kids at Bagram have everything.

Except beef on their pizza. At least for a few days.

There are Soldiers and Marines all over this country who get squat -- even water -- while Bagram has “Karaoke Nite” and “Salsa Nite.” Then the spoiled wonders there even have the temerity to rant out loud about not getting beef with their pepperoni for their Pizza Hut pizza (delivered, no less). Now, I can’t fault them for making their lives as comfortable as possible, but there is silly and then there is ridiculous. Salsa Nite is silly.

Housing the warriors who normally live in Spartan conditions that the fobbits at Bagram would riot over in those pathetic “transient tents” is ridiculous. You do not see field grade officers spending the night in those wretched holes. If a full Colonel ever got stuck in there for a night, lots would be made of the event shortly thereafter. But it is perfectly fine to “house” a young Sergeant with two Purple Hearts, who has lived for days without clean water and who has no electricity on a regular basis, in the slums of Bagram while the full-time denizens of that massive disconnect from reality are housed in apartment complexes formed of stacked shipping containers, with cable TV and internet service in their rooms.

The word is disparity.

“I can’t believe that they have the nerve to even open their mouths about not having beef on their
pepperoni pizza,” the young Sergeant stated, “but it just reminds me that they are nothing.” He continued, “They come here and then they go home and talk about how they went to Afghanistan, but they aren’t even in this war. This is like an American town in the middle of Afghanistan. This isn’t Afghanistan, and these people ain’t shit. Hearing stuff like that pisses me off, but it reminds me that I’m an Infantryman, and I’m in it for real.”

Bagram really needs to do something about the shameful disease vectors that it calls “transient housing.” There should not be a soul living in pampered condos while the warfighters themselves pass through the scummy misery of those fetid tents. Tons of money is being spent there on construction, and yet a man who lives in crap out on a FOB has to share four shower stalls with over two hundred other men? Bagram is a hub for all who pass in and out of Afghanistan. The notoriously snarled air traffic leaves people hanging for days at a time -- to suffer the indignity of an ill-run “transient housing” situation. It is unconscionable.

They didn’t show the celebrities the “transient tents.” Why? Why not show them where the real warriors get stuck when they pass through on leave, or when rushing home in family emergencies? Because they are not idiots. If you chain your child in a closet, you know better than to show anyone. Certainly not anyone with a camera. Not only is Bagram disconnected from the war, but they treat anyone who actually is connected to the war like some kind of animal. For anyone going on leave, Bagram is just part of the hellish journey that only gains some semblance of normal when you reach Atlanta.

It’s a shame.

I’ve caught yet another upper respiratory infection in the transient hell of Bagram. If you ever really just have a burning desire to get sick, go to the transient housing office at Bagram and tell them you need a place to stay.

11/11 |

November 11, 2009

11/11
Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 11/11/09
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
Milblog: Army of Dude
Email: hortonhearsit@hotmail.com

Today my literature class continues our unit discussion of poetry. The instructor asked us to bring in our favorite poems and read them aloud. I try to sequester the words 'vet,' 'Iraq,' and 'war' from my vocabulary when I'm rubbing elbows with teenagers and twentysomethings, but I might need to break the habit so they can understand my eyes misting up when reading this:

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

    In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.


Stop by the New York Times to read about the price of coming home a marked man. I find a bit of solace knowing that warriors have felt the same way going back a few thousand years.

I've been hosting an Army buddy of mine the past few days, and for the first time in a long time, I've been my true self, not the quiet student I've pretended to be. My true self only peeks out from behind the mask when another veteran is there to speak the language and listen to the stories with a knowing smile and a simple nod. They don't change the subject or shy away or languish under the pressure of uttering the I-word or the A-word. They don't secretly wonder when your next outburst or flashback is going to come out. They get it, but the problem is, there are too few around that get it. So each Veteran's Day, the mask stays on until I come across another wearing the same disguise.

In between tweets and twats, Facebook status updates and snores, I'm going to read "In Flanders Fields," not for me or the instructor or the other students, but for my father, grandfathers and uncle that served honorably so many years ago. I'll read it for my brothers still in the fight, and those who continue the battle long after the guns have fallen silent.

DEALING WITH THE ANA |

November 09, 2009

DEALING WITH THE ANA
Name: K
Posting date: 11/9/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Embedded in Afghanistan

Getting what you want out of the Afghan National Army (ANA) is a huge part of the job. If you can't get along with your ANA commander, and get him to do things your way, then you aren't going to get much done, because most ANA commanders can't be relied upon to show any initiative to improve and do their jobs well. We all certainly had our ups and downs in the relationships with the different ANA commanders we worked with. Sometimes some of us, myself included, didn't do things the best way. I definitely don't have any magic formulas for how to work with the ANA, but I did learn a few things.

During my last tour to Afghanistan as an embedded trainer, I conducted training sessions on the M-16 rifle as part of the ANA’s transition from the AK-47 to the M-16. The ANA soldiers had a habit of showing up late for my training sessions. I had tried encouragement, suggestion, and profuse compliments when they were on time as ways to try to get them to show up on time and be more professional, but I had not gotten the results I had hoped for.

Since my efforts to improve things by gently nudging them along were not working to my satisfaction, I decided to try a different approach -- to berate them for being lazy, discourteous, and unprofessional. An Afghan soldier is not unaccustomed to being treated in this manner by an ANA officer, and would expect such a reaction from an ANA officer in a similar situation.

However, the fact of the matter is, it was really not my place as an adviser to the ANA to handle my problems with the ANA soldiers in that manner. I should have known perfectly well that the appropriate and expedient thing to do was to talk to their officer about their behavior and let him deal with it. This approach would not only help develop leadership traits in the ANA officer involved, but would also likely engender much better results. However, on another day when the soldiers again were late for my training, I decided to direct my ire at their officer, Commander B, who happened to be standing right there. While the soldiers could not understand the things I was saying (no interpreter was necessary since Commander B speaks English well), they no doubt caught the gist -- that I was criticizing their commander.

After the training was completed that day, I thought about the incident. I knew I had overstepped and that my new “approach” to dealing with the ANA of being critical, negative, and worse, criticizing an officer in front of his own men, was counter-productive. Subsequent events proved this to be true, as the ANA became increasingly difficult to deal with, and I lost the trust and confidence of Commander B. I apologized to Commander B and made a special effort afterward to compliment him in front of his men, but I was not able to restore our previously amiable relationship in the limited time we had left together.

In retrospect, I should have remained consistent with the way I had been conducting things -- only with more patience and with my expectations in check. Our team had a lot of different personalities, and they all did things different ways; the guys (including myself) who were dictatorial toward their ANA commanders and lost patience with them eventually were unable to accomplish anything at all, to the point where they hardly even worked together. The ETTs who were patient and encouraging with their ANA were able to slowly but surely get more and more out of their ANA. We had one ETT in particular who was always very encouraging and positive with everyone, all the time. I've never heard him say a bad word about anyone, including the ANA. He, out of everyone I saw, was the best able to get the ANA to work more than they wanted to.

WE'RE EVERYWHERE! |

November 06, 2009

WE'RE EVERYWHERE!
Name: Air Force Wife
Posting date: 11/6/09
Spouse: deployed
Milblog: SpouseBUZZ

For thirty years (since I was about 5 years old) I have wanted to go to Disney World. How much have I wanted to go to Disney World? I would pick Disney over a cruise to Hawaii. I would pick Disney over a world tour (at least the first time).  I would pick Disney World over dinner with Abraham Lincoln if a time machine existed and I were somehow able to secure a special invitation to the White House in 1864.

Disney World has been a really big deal on the airforcewife list of things to do.

After waiting and planning and saving, we decided this year was the year to go. Everything just fell into place, which is particularly helpful. We expected a big expense, and as we started pricing things out on the Disney website, our expectations proved to be right on target.

But then I had a chance encounter with another military spouse, and everything changed.

First off, I should emphasize that in many things I'm quite Type A. With the exception of the time I traveled to SpouseBUZZ Live in Utah with Sarah and Sarah took care of all the travel arrangements and timing (she was the perfect cruise director for my son and myself) I check every option and plan everything down to maps. I even make travel folders for each person on the trip.

But Disney World was proving to be my undoing. The options, the excitement, the hotels -- trying to figure out where to eat, whether I needed reservations, which characters would be where -- it all had me nearly in tears, even after I read The Unofficial Guide to Disney World twice.

So, on the advice of a website I found through the guidebook, I contacted Small World Travel. In the contact form I stated that we were a military family and we would be attending Disney while on an R & R.

I'm sure you can imagine the hyperventilating that went on when Caylie from Small World returned my email with a quote -- the hotel we wanted, the days we wanted, and a savings that had three zeroes at the end.

Incredible. Not only do I get my dream vacation, but I got it at half the price I was expecting.

It turns out that Caylie, our assigned travel agent, is also a military spouse! So when I mentioned the R & R she got right on it and booked us under a special promotion that Disney is offering for military families. She answered all my questions, spoke my language and understood why I was asking things that might sound weird to people in different situations (like: if my husband has some weird thing come up and doesn't get home when he's supposed to, can someone else use his ticket or can we reschedule?).

Military spouses -- we're everywhere, aren't we?


(In case anyone is interested: Caylie works for Small World Vacations, and the Disney special for the military can be found here. )

WELCOME TO THE REAL WILD WEST |

November 04, 2009

WELCOME TO THE REAL WILD WEST
Name: Mike T.
Posting date: 11/4/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: c/o Afghan Lessons Learned

For those of you who will be stationed out in Western Afghanistan for your tour, as I was, I have some advice:

1. Do not listen to the bullshit that people state about the West: It's dangerous like everywhere else.

2. The West is mainly desert near the Hari Rud to about Shindad, which starts to become mountainous. From there to the main city of Herat you will find various builds of infrastructure. Herat is the cultural center of Afghanistan. Read The Great Gamble. This is the only book that mentions so much about Western Afghanistan and how much it played a role in the Afghan-Russo War.

3. The war in the West is as isolated as anywhere else in-country, but we are mainly under ISAF ROE. There are many areas in the West that you can stumble into an ambush. We operated in higher terrain, but my Oakley boots did very well there. The West isn't as built up as back East so be very prepared to live on your own. ISAF dominates the West and they are a bit slow to help out. Marines are flooding the area but they have their own agenda (still good guys though).

4. Our friends to the West of us do not make our jobs easy in the ETT/PMT world, so be prepared for that as well. Bala Marghub to Golestan (Route 1) is a treacherous drive. It sometimes disappears on you out there, so make sure you have plenty of GPS batteries.

5. Back to your ISAF friends: The Spanish and Italians play by different rules so simply understand that they can't do much for you. There is a single main FOB out there and if you're ETT, get used to little support from our own as well. The logistics are strained. Understand CERP and "Afghan funding", which is actually the money you sign for, research about prices in the West compared to the rest of the country when negotiating contracts for work. Out West is less expensive, don't let them fool you.

6. There is a vendor on the main FOB who can get you anything. You will find out his name when you get there. Ten American bucks for 1000 Roshans (cell phone units). Don't let him tell you otherwise!

7. Back to the terrain: You will find it more interesting than most other Corp Areas. Shindad, Farah, and Herat have their own ethnic issues. If you're running into Tajiks out there -- be prepared to fight. They are not your friends. It is mainly Pashtu or Hazaras.

8. Herat Airfield is run by NATO. Even as Americans you have to play by their bullshit rules to get on there. Do it. Great food if you can get in past all the god damn NATO/ISAF forces who lounge on that bad boy.

9. Teeth hurt? Go to the airfield, there's no dentist yet where you are going. The Spanish have hot nurses and will take care of you, but make sure you can bring someone who speaks Spanish!  I didn't, and boy it was a rough go at first.


*ISAF ROE: International Security Assistance Force Rules of Engagement

ETT/PMT: Embedded Training Team / Police Mentoring Team

CERP: Commander's Emergency Response Program

A FEW MEMORABLE WORDS |

November 01, 2009

A FEW MEMORABLE WORDS
Name: K
Posting date: 11/2/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Embedded in Afghanistan

BRIBERY

Marine: “Since we just had an IED blow up outside the base, just down there in the town, I think we should search the town down there.”

ANA commander: “No, not a good idea.”

“Yes, it is a good idea. We can’t let them get that close to us. The villagers at least need to know that if they aren’t our eyes and ears out there, then we’ll put them through some inconvenience by searching their homes.”

“I don’t want to do it.”

“I know you don’t but we have to.”

“Couldn’t do it even if I wanted to because we already made the schedule and a search of that town is not on the schedule for this week.”

“Right, but this little operation is based on new information. Remember what we talked about changing operations based on new information and intelligence?”

“Can’t do it and won’t do it.”

“Ok, I’ll give you one phone card to call your family with if you do the op.”

“No.”

“Two phone cards.”

“No.”

“Two phone cards and I’ll buy a cow for the soldiers.”

“Can’t do it.”

“Ok, two phone cards, a cow, and we’ll find you a new wife. Plus I’ll throw in a summer house in Nuristan.”

(laughing) “Seriously, we’re not doing that operation.”

“Roger.”


THERMALS FROM THE SKY

Apache Pilot: “I got a guy on my scope moving all nimbly-bimbly through the trees!”

Air controller on the ground: “Yeah, that’s probably a monkey.”


SOVIET WAR HEROES

Marine: “How come every officer I meet claims he was a commander during the war against the
Soviets?”

ANA mullah: “Because some of us were.”

Marine: “Maybe, but not Commander Hanif here. He looks way too young to have been commanding anything during those times. Maybe he was the chai boy.”

Commander Hanif: “You may be right.”

WE'RE READY

ANA officer: “We’ve got intel that the base is going to be attacked tonight.”

Marine: “Sounds like a great opportunity to kill some people -- but how are we going to prepare for this?”

“We are at stand-to.”

"What does that mean?”

“It means we are ready.”

“Are there more soldiers on duty? Are they sleeping in their gear?”

“No. None of that. But we are ready.”

“Yes, but are we doing anything differently than before?”

“Yes, we are ready now.”

“Well, alright then.”


PRELUDE TO A FIREFIGHT

Unknown insurgent on handheld radio: “I am going to do something.”

WE MEET AGAIN

Marine: “Hello there Haji Z. Been awhile.”

Haji Z: “Here you are. Where have you been? I didn’t give you permission to leave my valley.”

Marine: “Ah, yes, but I have to take orders from someone and can’t always be where I want to be.”

Haji Z: “Let me talk to this person!”


KORENGAL TANK

ANA officer: "You know what would help us? A tank! We need a tank out here."

Marine (egging him on): "Oh yeah? A tank? Great idea! How would we employ a tank here exactly?"

"Easy. We'll just drive it around and the Taliban will shoot at it. Then we'll shoot them with the big gun."

"Hmm. You sure we can drive a tank around this valley? It's kind of narrow and the roads might not hold a tank."

"Oh, we don't really need to drive it anywhere. We can just park it out there somewhere."

"Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of a tank?"

"No. No. It would work great."

(laughing) "You guys need tanks in the Korengal about as badly as you need a navy."

(petulant) "If you Americans cared about us you'd get us tanks out here."

(placating) "Okay, okay. We'll see what we can do."




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