October 15, 2012

Name: Sideways
Deployed to: Afghanistan

Framed Ty FIVEI hit the ground here in Afghanistan this week and I am still taking it all in. I’m getting oriented and moving around a lot, but I wanted to get a blog post up. So, with a tip of the hat to El Snarkistani, I am going to share with you “Five Observations From Bagram.”

1.  Bagram* is unrecognizable to me. I should probably note that the last time I was here was in the summer of 2002, but I am still astonished at the transformation. When I passed though Bagram in ’02 we did laundry in steel bins with washboards. There was not a hardened facility to be found; everyone and everything lived in tents. The mine flailer ran 24 hours a day and the sound of it clearing UXOs* was a part of life that it felt a little weird getting used to. There were virtually no paved roads, the entire installation (such as it was) remained blacked out at night. I clearly recall the stars at night being breathtaking, yet last night it was all I could do to make out the moon from the glut of environmental lighting and the predominant feature in the night sky was an awkward aerostat that swam silently like some tethered white Koi fish in a dark blue-black pool.

2.  A quick glance across the chow hall this morning gave me pause. I couldn’t help but notice the sea of contractors who — by a quick and unscientific count — outnumbered uniformed personnel by 2:1. I have no fundamental objection to civilians working in a combat zone — zero. But I’ve got to wonder if in the end all of these contractors are really a good idea. It has been my experience that nobody takes care of people in uniform like people in uniform do. Furthermore, in a service-based system it’s often very difficult for service members to get satisfaction out of intractable civilians who are unwilling or simply cognitively unable to step outside of their lane to solve problems. Bagram is swarming with contractors, and while the DoD* is certainly not a model organization for efficiency, I’ve got to wonder if contracting, subcontracting and then subcontracting again is really in our best interest. If reducing the military footprint is quietly done by contracting all the support functions I am not certain it’s cost effective.

3. This place is wired. From my tent in the Warrior Compound of Bagram I have exactly 54 WiFi Signals to choose from. There is a WiFi booth where you can sign up and basically log on from anywhere. The USO facility at the Warrior Camp is an impressive space, full of video games, phones, computers, two book rooms, a popcorn machine and lots of common areas. Free WiFi is a big draw and it’s good to see servicemen being taken care of in a deployed environment. All of the amenities of home seem to have normalized deployed life for so many of the younger troopers. If you’ve joined the service since 2003 or so, deployments have been drastically different (for the vast majority of troops) than they were in the early days of OEF/OIF. I wonder what the long-term effects of that will be on the expectations of younger troops next time we go to war.

4.  The Chow is actually pretty good. There are a number of DFACs across BAF and I was impressed by the selection. My last deployment was to Haiti following the earthquake (it doesn’t get much more expeditionary than that) and we ate MREs for over 40 days. I wasn’t expecting the variety and quality of food available. It’s chow hall food and will certainly get monotonous after a while, but overall it exceeds my expectations. Caveat: I am well aware that there are lots of troopers living under much more austere conditions with few if any amenities, but if you run the numbers of troops in country and troops at main bases, the quality of life for the vast majority is fairly good.

5.  I found the AAFES* presence is not in line with what I had anticipated after seeing all the other vendors and services available. All things considered, the AAFES presence here is the least developed. The Warrior camp has a trailer just like we had within a month or so of arriving in Haiti. The main base AAFES is decent and has a fair selection of goodies and a decent Military Clothing and Sales section, but I was honestly expecting the presence to be a bit more robust. This is not a complaint, just an observation. Perhaps the AAFES presence is not as high a priority because of the access troops have to all sorts of other services and if that is the logic behind it then I am okay with that.

That wraps up my first post from Bagram which will hopefully be my last. While life here is fairly comfortable it does not feel like Afghanistan. The main road on base is closed every morning for PT, there is a lot of saluting going on and there are tons of people milling about. It feels more like I am on Ft. Stewart or Ft. Bragg with the exception of the occasional IDF event. I’ll be hopping forward to another site in the coming days and hope to get another post up soon.

BAF : Bagram Airfield
UXO : Unexploded Ordnance

DOD : Department of Defense
AAFES : Army and Air Force Exchange Service


Call me cynical, but there is a lot of money to be made from these endless wars on the civilian side. Like Eisenhower said, 'beware of the military industrial complex'. Now in addition to hardware, there is a huge service profit center.

I agree with point two - my WWII quartermaster grandfather would be aghast at the contractors. If we were fighting a more 'traditional' war I doubt they would be able to cope with the situation.

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