Sunday, April 27, 2008

overnight at KIA

So, finally today we were bussed out to Kabul International Airport, after a few days of waiting, and more days spent at Camp Phoenix than we really wanted.

Lets see, what all sort of interesting things have happened.

I've beaten SSG Billingsley at Cribbage repeatedly over the past few days. He hasn't won a match since before we left KAF. Several nights here I completely blanked him, sometimes even coming back from a 20 point deficit late in the game to beat him by 2 or 3 points. Cribbage really is a lot of fun once you get to know what's going on.

Anderson sang at Karaoke night at Camp Phoenix and that was moderately fun, I guess. I'm not one for public embarrassment, so I didn't. I did, however, buy a couple of really bright yellow towels that have Operation Enduring Freedom embroidered on them, as well as some small helicopters. I also bought a Green Beans coffee mug that says Afghanistan on it. Oh, and a locally made bowie-style knife at the bazaar, which was neat, because it had a lot more variety than the one in Kandahar.

Right now I'm at Kabul International Airport, because I got bumped from the flight that left earlier today. Allegedly the flight didn't have enough seats for the 20 of us who were left behind. SSG Billingsley snuck onto the flight anyway, and I contemplated doing the same, but decided to stay with Anderson, and other guys from Bravo Company.

Lunch and dinner at the Supreme chow hall on KIA was pretty good, and the accommodations here are MUCH nicer than at Camp Phoenix, so overall it's a win. Plus I'm one step closer to going home!

Sunday, April 20, 2008


So, whiling away the hours on KAF, living in a big stupid tent with 300 other guys, the first priority gets to be killing time. Yesterday I played 3 games of cribbage with SSG Billingsley (I won all 3, which is very unusual), I played 3 games of Yahtzee with Anderson last night in the Green Beans coffee room in the MWR facility (I won 1 out of 3 games), I watched the second half of The Departed, having seen the 1st half at Camp Shelby (and I think the movie was much improved because I didn't have to tolerate the whole thing in one go), and I finished Monster, by Frank Peretti.

Plus I read some news articles in a Popular Science magazine (one in particular about a Plasma Gasification waste disposal unit was really impressive), used the internet for an hour (checking news stories mostly), and spent lots of time walking back and forth on the base.

Today, however, I'm scheduled to fly to Kabul. So here's hoping my flight isn't cancelled and by this time tomorrow I'm at Camp Phoenix, turning in sensitive items and sleeping through dull out-processing briefings. UGH. But at least I'm going home!

By the way, I don't recommend either the book Monster, or the movie The Departed. And I DEFINITELY don't recommend the movie that followed The Departed, which was called Ballistic, I believe. It was singularly stupid, pointless, poorly directed and in general abysmal.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thanks for coming to Afghanistan

I got my Thanks for Coming to Afghanistan awards the other day. Here's a photo of them:

In addition, I have been moved over to KAF to out-process from ARSIC-S, and will fly to Kabul sometime soon. At first we were told it would be the 18th, then the 20th or 21st. Now we just don't know. But, that's life in the military. You're at the mercy of a nameless faceless bureaucrat who has higher rank than you, so you might as well just wait and see what happens.

Here's a picture of the transient quarters we're staying in on KAF:

Other than that, not much news to report. I watched Aliens vs. Predator 2 (Requiem?) and was not terribly impressed with it. The directors did a good job of killing lots of people, which is essential to making a believable Aliens movie, but something about it just left me cold. I'd give it a 3 out of 10. Definitely not something I'm going to get my wife to watch.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Stuck at KAF waiting on a plane

So, we've outprocessed (which involved me getting yet a THIRD anthrax shot), and there are no flights out until the 20th and the 21st. So I'll be here for at least one more bazaar day.

And, of course, my time on the computer is just now up. hahahaha...

Perhaps I will post more later.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My last day at UTS

Today was my last day at Universal Telecom Service (also known as Hajji-net). I have a picture of myself with Hamid and Jamal, sitting in the office.

Tonight we are having an awards ceremony where Col. McGrath will give out the End of Tour awards to each soldier. I hope I'll get my picture with him presenting my awards. I'll let you know.

In other news... nothing much has happened. I slept basically all day, and I think tomorrow we move over to KAF for outprocessing and flying out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Pope says abuse crisis handled badly

Yes. The Pope says that the Church did a bad job of handling the issue of Catholic priests abusing altar boys. I would agree with that statement. He seems to have said some fairly critical things and been pretty much spot on.

Also in the news, allegedly the airline that flies us home from Kuwait has gone bankrupt as of April 3rd (due to losing a military contract (?)), and we might be "delayed in leaving theater." Which means... I might not be leaving Afghanistan for an extra week-ish. But if ATA lost a military contract (on April 3rd!), and subsequently went bankrupt why are we only now being impacted? If the military gave the contract to another airline, why isn't that airline handling our flights? Were our flights scheduled in advance and not subject to the contract with ATA?

Anyway, here's a picture of me with Captain Sevilla. She was one of the medics assigned to FOB Lindsey.

End of tour photos.

We took several end-of-tour photos today, with the full mortar section. We took one with most of us on top of the Gazebee, and another with everyone in the Soviet Graveyard in front, and on top of, a BMP-1. We also took a picture on a T-72.

Here also is a picture of my last wood-carving effort, a sort of scimitar.

That's enough for right now. There will be more photos coming later.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I'm a veteran now...

I've realized I'm now a Veteran. Qualified to join the VFW and the American Legion. How about that?

I also ran into this somewhere on Powerline Forums:
A Veteran - whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to The “United States of America”, for an amount of “up to and including my life.”

That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.

- Author Unknown

Heh, thought that was pretty good.

According to BlackFive, at least one Aussie has good things to say about us. Read that here. I don't know if that's a valid email or just something someone created. But I've got a lot of respect for the Australian troops I've run into here. I had dinner with some high ranking enlisted at Tarin Kowt one time, and we talked about how they do things, and why they do things differently. The Aussies committed several thousand troops to Afghanistan, and I want to say the Sgt Major said their entire army was 30,000? Let me look it up on Google real quick though...

I had the same discussion with a Canadian Major one time. According to him, they only have about 60,000 (I think?) troops under arms in their entire military. So when they commit thousands of troops, and lots of equipment to Afghanistan, they are making quite a serious commitment. And when John Kerry mocks the Australians for what they've sent and suggests they send 30,000 troops... well, he's really showing his own ignorance more than their lack of seriousness.

Aha, according to what I can find on the Internet, Australian total troop strength in 2002 was just under 51,000 including all branches (Army, Navy, Air Force). Canadian troop strength levels are allegedly about 62,000 active troops, total.

So, either country sending more than 3,000 troops, is really doing quite a LOT. Kudos to our Canuck and Aussie pals for pitching in with so much of what little they have!

Monday, April 14, 2008

No more guard duty!

Well, Sunday was my last day of guard duty. Now I'm cleaning out my area, throwing stuff away, and packing things up in order to get ready for my flight to Phoenix. It's weird, but I'm even MORE bored now that I don't have to do guard duty.

I should be at my home in less than 3 weeks, God willing. We're all really happy that it's finally over. The New York national guard unit replacing us, they're only doing 9 month tours in country, so they will be leaving here right around Christmas of this year.

Webb has come back to stay with us, from his having been sent down to Spin Boldak. As usual, he has lots of interesting stories to share. White was so bored yesterday that he cleaned his M4 and his M9 really thoroughly (which is a waste because they will just get dirty again in the 2 weeks we have left in country). SSG Knight has relaxed considerably since the end of combat operations, and Anderson has been taking sleeping medication that makes him behave really oddly (in a very amusing way).

I've also watched "30 Days of Night," which was terrible. Not as bad as The Mist, but really weak, all the same. Josh Hartnett reminds me of a young Tommy Lee Jones, so I enjoy watching him in movies, but this one was just too full of logical problems to really be enjoyable. I've been in the high latitudes (once) and I know that when the sun sets for 30 days it doesn't get pitch black dark. I also know that if you have a light on in a darkened room on a dark night, and open a small crack in the window, the light is visible literally for MILES. And 2x4 planks with corrugated tin roofing material provides essentially NO insulation whatever, and you'll freeze to death if that's all that's between you and the Alaskan winter.

Finally, I've finished another book by the guys who wrote "The Relic" and have decided that The Relic was about their best book. The rest are just odd in different ways.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stephen King's "The Mist"

I just got done watching this movie, and felt like I had to comment.

It was engaging, but not because it was well done. The insane preacher-lady wasn't even remotely convincing. The ending was hideously obvious to anyone who understands movies. What director, writer, or producer could possibly resist the opportunity to make a movie that ends that way? It's so daring, it's so bold, it's so... new and different!

Except that really, it's not. It left me completely cold. It wasn't an ending designed to create empathy or sympathy, it was an ending simply designed to manipulate your emotions. And you can tell.

Maybe it's that I'm a man of faith, and found the Mrs Carmody (or whatever her name was) to be patently ridiculous, a caricature of what folks think of when they imagine people of faith. Maybe it's because I'm a father of five kids and found myself thinking "my kids wouldn't react like that. They're tougher than that." Maybe it's because there's so many moments when you find yourself thinking "why isn't anyone doing the smart thing at this particular moment? Why are they all posing for the camera and spouting dialogue?"

Whatever the reason or reasons, it was a big letdown. For some foolish reason, I expected more. I should know better by now, with regard to Stephen Kings work.

We've got HOW MANY days left...?

Heh, the funny thing is, we don't really know.

Maybe we'll move out of our barracks and into transient quarters on KAF on the 16th. Or maybe on the 18th. And maybe we'll start flying to Kabul on the 18th. Or maybe not until the 20th. And maybe we leave Kuwait on the 27th. But maybe it's the 29th.

But one thing is FOR SURE.

We're almost done here. We've turned our vehicle over to the New York unit. We don't do missions anymore. We've only got a few more days of guard duty. Pretty soon, we'll be headed home to de-mobilize and get sent home to our families!

For some people, this is a hugely good thing. For others, it's a mixed bag. I still don't have a civilian job lined up, although I had a phone interview the other day that went fairly well. I'm also still pursuing a commission, but who knows how that will pan out. Going home will be wonderful, yes, but there's going to be a whole different kind of stress involved in being home and not having a steady paycheck coming in.

On another subject, we were talking on Monday about how dangerous it is over here. None of us has ever really felt that we were in much danger. The most tense I've ever been was when we were in downtown Kandahar and an Afghan National Police officer came running out into the road carrying an AK-47 and wearing a bandolier of magazines. At a glance, it looked like a suicide vest. While my mouth was shouting "look out!" my mind was thinking "all that vest will do is create a big bloody smear on the side of the vehicle..."

So, no war stories from me. I'm just not creative enough, or good enough at lying, to be able to tell lies about all the really dangerous stuff that happened over here. Sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping for really exciting stories about how dangerous and deadly it is, I didn't see any of that. And not for lack of trying either!

Monday, April 7, 2008

A brilliant opportunity!

I realized today what a fantastic opportunity Afghanistan is for eco-warriors and people who hate authoritarianism!

I've talked about what Afghanistan needs before. In order to have any real options, the people of Afghanistan need reliable access to electrical power. Without that, they can't really develop any industry (whether they want to or not; meaning, without electrical power, even if they WANT industry, they can't develop it). Without industry, they cannot increase their per capita annual income, and without increased income, the country won't have an increased tax base from which to draw for public works. It all kind of grows together.

But! if you're interested, the system could be jump-started, so to speak. Granted the Coalition forces are still working hard to provide physical security, which is pretty important for developing the nation any further, but after all, the Coalition forces are still here, so there's that.

Jump start Afghanistan by spending lots of money (and here I'm speaking to eco-warriors and clean-energy advocates) putting wind-power-farms and solar power facilities into place! Ask the US to pony up the money to put the power transmission capability into place concurrently with the development of the wind & Solar facilities, and suddenly (assuming that the Taliban can be successfully dealt with, which is a reasonable assumption if we continue our current troop levels) Afghanistan could have moderately inexpensive electrical power!

All it would take (heh) is for some clean-energy company to front the equipment and installation, and the US to front the installation of power transmission infrastructure. Oh, and of course, some of the clean-energy engineers would probably need to commit to spending several years living in Afghanistan, training locals and managing the maintenance and development of this new infrastructure. But at the end of five or ten years, you could have a country with the OPTION of entering the 20th century, if they so chose.

I wonder why no clean-energy or green-friendly companies or organizations are proposing this now?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Hey, did you double check that vehicle?


Our Humvee went on a mission to Panjwai district on Monday. I was driving. We went to PBW and Hazi-M'dad(sp?). At Hazi-M'dad we discovered that our vehicle had shed about 1/3rd of its "serpentine" belt. This, essentially, is a single belt that performs all the functions of multiple belts in a civilian vehicle. Drives the AC, the engine cooling fan, the compressor for the AC, the power steering, etc etc.

Well, this was not an IMMEDIATE emergency, but it did mean that the belt HAD to be replaced when we got back. Which resulted in a VERY long night for myself and Specialist White. Long, and tiresome.

Anyway, the vehicle ended up spending two days at the shop, and the belt tensioner, the fan clutch, and the AC compressor were all replaced. It was returned to us on Thursday, and Specialist Anderson and myself took it over to KAF today to go to the PX.

When we got there, I commented that it smelled like Antifreeze. Anderson replied that of course it did, the vehicle had just been reworked, and they'd probably put new antifreeze in it, so it would smell like that, wouldn't it? I figured this was probably true, since I almost invariably spill anti-freeze and oil on the engine of MY vehicle back home when I'm working on it. No reason to assume that's not also the case for the maintenance section.

Well, when we returned to Lindsey, I got out and noticed that it REALLY smelled like antifreeze. Oh, and the right front tire was wet. Which was odd. Despite it having rained the last few days, there is no standing water between here and KAF, so the tire shouldn't be wet...

We decided that we needed to look under the hood. The engine was covered in antifreeze, and we couldn't figure out why. We thought a pinhole leak at first, or a crack in the reservoir. Eventually, though, I realized that the hose that leads from the top of the radiator to the reservoir had not been reconnected. When the radiator heated up, it was venting hot antifreeze all over the engine compartment!

We fixed this in short order with our handy-dandy Government issue Gerber Multi-tools, and then we went to find the maintenance crew and rag them for missing such an obvious detail.

Lesson learned. Always double check behind the maintenance team. They forget things too. Even simple, obvious, easy things.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The long road home

Well. Today is 2 April, 2008. Probably within a week, we will be done with guard duty. Several NCO's from the New York National Guard unit that is replacing us have already arrived, and when their troops show up, they will take over guard duty from us.

We will, probably for another week or so, run missions with their troops, kind of left-seat/right-seat to give them the benefit of our experience. However, the New York guys have already spent a tour in Iraq, so it remains to be seen how adaptable they will be to learning from OUR experience.

I've carved another sword, this time a samurai sword out of a 2x4 for Sgt. Stafford. In exchange, she provided me with a woven bracelet for my wife. Heres a picture of my latest collection (two of which are missing now):

Jamal (whom I've added to my Yahoo Messenger) has me attempting to understand the ins and outs of a Cisco 2600 router. This is going swimmingly, since it's kind of cumbersome to work on, and not nearly as much fun as some of the other things I can do with my time.

I also have several resumes out there, looking for bites. I have a phone interview with one company next week, as soon as we can finalize a date. I'm also still proceeding apace on the Direct Commission process.

Finally, I've been reading the book of Romans again, and I'm starting to understand a side of Paul that I don't think anyone else talks about. It's quite fascinating to see how human he is, and to recognize why he's thinking the thoughts he is.

My wife is counting the days until my birthday, figuring I will be home by then. I think that's a safe bet. It's less than 880 hours now.

Oh, and finally, unless something happens in the next 7 days, there will probably be No CIB for me. :(

EDIT: wow, looking back over my last two posts I sound really ungrateful and snobbish about the books Aunt Diotima sent me. That's not at all the impression I was trying to convey. I guess I shouldn't blog when I'm tired.

In every (well almost every) one of the books Aunt Diotima sent me, there was some aspect of the book that I really enjoyed. And I read all of them, even the ones that annoyed me, and was grateful to have them for diversion. I tend to be very sarcastic in person, and also very picky (as my family can tell you) with regard to everything that I consume. Reading material is no different, and I complain vociferously about any aspect of what I read that I do not fully enjoy.

Anyway, I would just like to thank Aunt Diotima personally for the books she sent, and hope that she is not offended that I didn't praise them all uncritically.