Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Afghanistan

Well, we had a Christmas party Monday night out at Sperwhen Gar with all of the misfits. Mahaney made an excellent (if profane) Santa Claus, and we all sang "Happy Birthday Baby Jesus." We decorated the Mess Tent with candy canes, miniature Christmas presents, and glitter-coated pine cones. There was Hickory Farms cheese and sausage, and hot chocolate and crackers and all kinds of good stuff. It was a lot of fun.

Tuesday we drove back in to KAF from Sperwhen Gar, without incident. Not that drives through downtown Kandahar are ever actually calm or peaceful, but it wasn't bad. Now is probably the best time to relate that on the drive OUT to Sperwhen Gar I almost ran over a bicycle that had a 3 year old, a 7 year old, and their dad on it. I had to really STOMP on the brakes to avoid plowing them under, which would NOT have been pleasant for any of us, I feel sure.

AVS DVD player is not working on the House disks any better than Windows Media Player did, so I suspect that my DVD drive is faulty or failing. Which isn't really a huge surprise, the conditions here are dusty and hot, practically the worst possible for maintaining electronics. I watched Batman Begins again and enjoyed that, but I haven't watched Airplane II yet.

Today, I got up relatively early (before 10am, which is early considering that several of the younger soldiers were out partying last night until 7am) and got on the computer at the MWR facility where I chatted with my wife and wished her a Merry Christmas. Eventually we decided to make our way over to FOB Lindsey and eat Christmas lunch here (I'm writing this from my old living quarters). Lunch was FANTASTIC. KBR has it ALL over Supreme in terms of mess hall food, decorations, and general festiveness.

For lunch I had glazed ham (yum!), Prime Rib (yum!), yams, greens, stuffing, and Sparkling Red Grape Juice! It was great. Then we went up on the Gazebee and used most of the golf balls I got in packages. Many thanks are due to Tom Winn, and Fred and Rosemarie Zediak, for their contributions to the cause.

Anyway, now I'm getting ready to go eat Christmas Dinner in the mess hall, and I expect it to be just as good. I hope I can figure out how to put up a picture of the Mess hall decorations, it is amazing.

Hope to update more soon. We should be in the area for a while.

Friday, December 21, 2007

USO show, meeting Adm. Mullens

Today, we were up at 0500, left KAF at 0700, and drove straight to Patrol Base Wilson (PBW), where we were supposed to meet and talk to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens.

My first impression of the morning was that the locals were suddenly obeying all of our gunners hand-and-arm signals and getting off the road 100 or even 200 meters ahead of our vehicles, which is a HUGE change from the normal. Frequently they won't even slow down until they are 50 meters or so in front of the lead vehicle, at which point they will try to pass the vehicle in front of them (between their vehicle and our lead vehicle) before pulling over on the side of the road.

Now, you may be thinking "I sure wouldn't appreciate it if people were driving around in my country waving guns at me and forcing me off the road." And you would be right. But then, in YOUR country people don't exhibit any known tendency to pack their cars full of high explosives and ram said vehicle into military vehicles and then detonate the explosives. So, we tend to try to get oncoming traffic to come to a complete stop before we reach them, so that they can't use their momentum to throw the vehicle into our formation, or across the road so that we hit their vehicle, and then blow up a truck bomb killing all the crew in that humvee. It's a self-defense thing, and we try not to be too obnoxious about it.

ANYway, the point is that the locals were suddenly doing exactly what we want them to, instead of pushing the envelope. Typically, anything out of the ordinary is a Bad Sign, so we were very very nervous driving through Kandahar City today. Nothing happened however, and we got to (and later back from) PBW without incident.

Meeting Adm Mullens was kind of anticlimactic, although we did have to do a stupid formation thing (in a combat zone! in our body armor and kit!) and stand around for him to take pictures with us. Well, okay, we were getting pictures taken with him. But still, it was a dog and pony show, and a stupid one at that. Not saying that the Admiral is stupid, just that what we did today was in no way an effective use of our military capability. But hey, that's what the military is like, so I'm not bitter (really).

However, the upshot of this whole misadventure (the admiral was 90 minutes late showing up at PBW) was that we were late for the USO show and missed all but the last 10 minutes, which were Kid Rock singing and somebody else. I, of course, have zero interest in Kid Rock, so no big loss for me. But Robin Williams was there, and I would just like to say that the man is a class act, even though his humor is filled with profanity and vulgar language. Here we have a stand-up comic and comedic actor who is liberal and very much against the war, but he loves to come to USO shows and act up for the soldiers. I literally saw him going all over the place to shake hands and have his picture taken with various soldiers and contractors. He really, really supports the troops, even if he doesn't support the war.

Lance Armstrong was also there, and he was similarly impressive, going up to soldiers and signing autographs even though his USO "handlers" were trying to get him to line up for a photo shoot and stuff. There was also Miss America (no idea what her name is), and another comedian, I want to say Louis Black. I took some pictures of a couple of the soldiers with Kid Rock and another soldier in a group photo with Robin Williams. In addition, the USO was giving away DVDs and stuff that Hollywood in general provided, so I nabbed a copy of Airplane II, and a copy of Batman Begins.

All in all, the USO still rocks, and does a great job, it's just Admirals that are pains in the butt. In fairness to Admiral Mullens, I imagine he got some useful information about Afghanistan from being here in person, and probably got some good intel from the local ARSIC commander. I'm sure he wasn't just here for the USO show... right?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Argh! layout issues

As you may have noticed, Blogspot has changed some of the code for the blog sites, so now things look a bit messed up. I'm still trying to get the text in the header back centered properly. It took quite a bit of experimentation to get the entire CIB badge to show again.

Yes, I'm back at KAF for the moment. Many things have transpired, and by getting closer to the action, I've learned even more about what our chances are for successfully engineering long-lasting changes in Afghanistan. I'll talk more about that later, probably.

Friday there's a USO show at KAF. Hopefully I'll be able to go to that. I have a new battery for my digital camera, so I can also take pictures. I'll be sure to take pictures of the mess hall here at Lindsey as well. Oh, and of the dog, Lindsey, too.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Back at Lindsey

I'm back at FOB Lindsey for a few days. We're hanging out here for a few days while the PMT team is on KAF. Things in the Panjawai district kinda went really bad, and we're not sure where we are going to end up. Maybe at Moshem Gar, maybe in downtown Kandahar City, maybe we'll be coming back to Lindsey (although at least 2 of the younger soldiers emphatically DO NOT want to be back at Lindsey, despite the lack of facilities at Sperwhen Gar).

Anyway, today is my first day with internet access since we left for Sperwhen Gar back whenever it was. Sperwhen Gar is a Canadian FOB, manned primarily by French-Canadians, so we don't understand them, and they don't understand us, basically. The TV in the mess hall is tuned to Quebec news television, and all I can ever understand is the Football scores (how about those Baltimore Ravens? They must feel pretty miserable).

Food over at Sperwhen Gar is not terrible, but one day a week hot meals are not served at all, and the rest of the time, you only get 2 hot meals a day. There are plenty of MRE's, both American and Canadian, and there's also usually bread and cold cuts for lunch, so it's not terrible. There's croissants for breakfast almost every day, and they have plenty of hot water so I can make hot tea, which is great.

I've been watching a lot of movies and TV-on-DVD, as well. White has bought 3 seasons of House, MD on DVD, and I've watched some of that, although I've had a lot of trouble the last few days with the images freezing or running in slow-motion. I've downloaded a new DVD player to see if that helps out/works better, but we'll see. I've also checked my email (over 70 emails, only about 5 were personal), and updated the OS on my laptop. Speaking of which, I think I'm going to email the company that made my laptop case and tell them they did a really good job, because my case has been all over the place in the back of my humvee and still is in really good shape.

Hopefully I'll be back around Lindsey for a day or two, so maybe you'll see another update tomorrow.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Sgt. Simpson came into the barracks hollering that Capt. Sevilla needed to see us (myself, and Sgt. Knight). Hoping that this was for something important, we hopped up and headed over to the TMC (Troop Medical Clinic).

Turns out, she just wanted to give us vaccinations. Oh, joy! I got FOUR. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Anthrax, and a flu vaccine. I am quite sure that I will be sick as a dog in the next few days. Just as well, under the circumstances, that we might not leave for Sperwhen Gar until the weekend, or even early next week.

At any rate, I plan on eating as much as I can over the next few days, and staying in bed, since I'm sure I'll feel lousy. I still have some packing up to do, and I finally got the wireless router working, but I'm basically ready to go.

The weather in Afghanistan

Here lately it has gotten cold. During the three weeks I was gone for leave, it cooled off considerably. Before, it would be chilly in the early mornings, right before and right after sunrise. Now it can be chilly all day long, and with the wind, it can even be cold. Nights are sometimes quite cold, below freezing even, I think.

We still have fairly clear skies, and on the warmer days, it's beautiful. Almost like a beautiful autumn day at home. It almost makes me look forward to being at Sperwhen Gar, where you're much closer to the "wilderness" of Afghanistan. As I said in my last post, I should have some really breathtaking pictures after this stage of the deployment.

On a subject closer to home, lots of pogues (People Other than Grunts) have taken over our mess hall. I don't know where the heck they come from, or why they all feel the need to be in OUR mess hall, but it's disgusting. I went in OUR mess hall today, and it was FULL. Every table was being used. There were probably 60 people in there. And out of all those people, I recognized TWO of them. I didn't even see any of the Pogues that had been here when we got here, everyone in there was a newbie from KAF.

The worst part about Pogues is that they act like they're better than infantry. They have all their uniforms all neat and pressed and spiffy-looking, and they look at you like you're scum because your uniform is a little dirty. They'll ask you "where is your soft cap?" or "where is your weapon?" or something dumb like that. Because it makes them feel like studs to be on a FOB that's out away from the main post, toting their weapons, and knowing that "outside the wire" is literally just 30 yards away. And most Pogues are E-7's or higher. There's so much brass in that mess tent now, that I expect it to get struck by lightning every time a storm comes up.

In conclusion, pogues make me sick. I wish they would all go back to KAF and stay there.

On the bright side, things are looking up for the internet and networking here on Lindsey. A new chief has shown up with the Navy, and is doing an excellent job of designing a new network for the B-huts. Too bad I won't be here to enjoy it...

Monday, December 3, 2007

Moving to Sperwhen Gar

The move to Sperwhen Gar is either tomorrow, or shortly thereafter. Allegedly I will be able to come back to Lindsey or at least to KAF every now and then and hopefully use the internet, so I should be able to post once in a while.

Meanwhile I've been playing EverQuest and browsing the internet. Oh, and eating ice cream. From what we understand, at Sperwhen Gar and Moshem Gar, breakfast and dinner are hot meals, and lunch is MRE's. I expect I'll lose a lot of weight, and hopefully get in good shape.

Moshem Gar is actually a really cool-looking place, being as it has two mountains inside the compound. So I should end up with some pretty spiffy pictures.