Well, I almost made it out on time. A 24-hour delay, which was just enough to make me miss a wedding that I’d hoped to make it back for. Still, I’m out of Afghanistan. In Kyrgystan. Which has a Pizza Hut. So I’ve filled that square. Unless I’ve miscounted, I’ve hit the Pizza Hut in about thirteen or fourteen countries. Italy excepted, obviously. Getting out of Bagram was a treat. The Army is in charge of customs. Which means that they have a unique process for making sure that nothing unacceptable leaves theater. Now, the obvious things – ammunition, drugs, AK-47s, are pretty obvious. However, the promethrin bug lotion that they issue whenever you come into CENTCOM? Contraband. I threw out three tubes, that were unused. Why is this contraband? Who knows – but it reinforces my commitment to never use anything the military issues me in a green plastic tube. Also, HemCon bleeding control dressings. Also, anything white and powdery, including protein supplements and laundry detergent. Now, the method for ensuring this is very Army. They line you up, and have you dump out your carefully packaged luggage into shallow plywood bins. All sub-bags must be unpacked. Then they sniff them. (Actually, they are sniffed by a drug dog and a bomb dog, but if you didn’t have a mental picture of Army customs agents leaning over bins full of personal belongings and inhaling deeply, you do now). Then there is a mad flurry of repacking, and you carry your bags to the loading yard. And how do they sort bags? By type. First, gun cases, then civilian luggage, then duffelbags, then A3 bags, then everything else. Damn if it doesn’t actually work. But still, the dumping out the luggage thing was new. And this is my 7th or 8th deployment to CENTCOM. The remainder of the outprocessing is exactly as much of a pain in the neck as you’d expect. My favorite was the ammo turn-in, which occurs no earlier than three days before departure, leaving you with weapons but no ammunition for up to 72 hours. This is an Air Force process, and there was some consternation when I turned in my ammo. Not only was it more than I’d signed out, but it wasn’t the same ammo I was issued. They could tell, because I had tracers (I reloaded in the field, and got tracers. Imagine what might have happened if I’d accepted the offer for armor-piercing ammo). This delayed the process, of course. Apparently, Air Force guys don’t expend their ammo, they just carry it. But I did have an excellent departure lunch. Cheese sticks. Starbaby
It’s the 21st, and I’ve outprocessed. I have about seven hours left on my internet account and I’m out of here in a few days. Needless to say, I will miss this place about as much as a good case of dysentery or a plate of deep fried sheep brains (but that’s another story). So, I’ve done most of my predeployment prep; stripped down the body armor to “Fobbit” status (I actually will consider patrolling in the light variant next time I’m here.), done the last of the shopping, turned in the laser (man, I hated to do that) hit the “rib place” on base (marginal), written the final report and packed most of my stuff. Thanks to Col Cooper for another shipment of Mile High Hot sauce. Ironically, the field elevation here is about a mile high. Within the last week I headed out to an obscure firebase in Konar province. It seemed like a set from a Vietnam movie, except that the soldiery is addicted to videogames and internet access rather than hashish. Which is amazing, considering the largest cash crop here. So, they (and therefore me) spent a lot of time in the bottom of a river valley (Dien Bien Phu, anyone?) firing 120mm mortars and 155mm artillery. What fun. Lots of learning, but not what I wanted to do. And 155s are loud. Devin’s second black sock still unaccounted for. May be in an MRAP with my second hat. Linda borrowed my flight jacket, which I had previously lent to Tristan. After all, what’s cooler than your Dad’s flight jacket? (Girls and piles of cash, apparently). Anyway, Linda reached into the pocket and found – you guessed it – a pair of Tristan’s socks. Also popped down to Kandahar for a few hours. The food is European, and the Americans complained about it. A lot. Gen Holmes and I liked it. I guess it’s all what you’re used to. And they have soft ice cream in the chow hall three times a week – we were there on the wrong day, naturally. The wind picked up yesterday, which cleared up the dust. I saw mountains I didn’t even know were there. Not much else for this set of notes. Three photos. One showing the view down the
valley from FOB Blessing (to the southeast), one Jingle Truck, and sunset at
Well, I did it. I hit the Pizza Hut. I had been warned, that it was probably going to suck. I was prepared for suckage. And so, when the time came… …it was fine. It tasted just like a mushroom Pan Pizza from home. Which is to say, it contained enough fat, salt and cholesterol to incapacitate a water buffalo. But it tasted fine. So, I thought I’d try my hand at a restaurant review. Bagram Times, Food Section, 15 September 2008. Just Like Home. By our roving correspondent, Starbaby Nestled in a corner of the AAFES compound is a small, unpretentious version of an American Mega-Chain which has, for all intents and purposes, spread across the globe like a cheese-covered strain of Bubonic Plague. Laden with the atmosphere that only the US Army can provide, the restaurant provides the basics that we have been indoctrinated to expect - a menu of nitrate-laden pizza toppings, typically assembled from bits of animals that you don’t want to hear about outside biology class, canned soft drinks with the slight overtone of dust flavoring, and a room temperature ten degrees above ambient. Apparently vermin-free, and open 25 hours a day, the restaurant delivers a highly desirable item on the FOB – hot food that you actually have to pay for, in a place where hot food can be had in large quantities, for free, several times per day. In return for your heard-earned cash (no credit cards, please), the harried staff will deliver, right to their own counter, a meal which has all of the nutritional value of the box that it comes in, only with more sodium. OK. Maybe the food section isn’t for me. But it was a fine pizza. Or maybe my standards are slipping. This isn’t really serial four, but I did leave one cliffhanger behind – the saga of Devin’s socks. Which may need to be retitled, since I can only account for one sock after I used the other one, repeatedly, to clean dust off the inside of the MRAP windows. So, obviously, the sleeping bags don’t come out only for trips to the Mideast. This was a brand new bag, and Devin actually got to break it in first. Now, keeping track of Devin’s clothing is a lost cause, since he apparently finds it easier to stuff small clothing items (underwear and socks, especially) into the most obscure nook or cranny that he can find, or in a pinch, anyplace concealed from immediate observation. So, in subsequent nights of crawling into a sleeping bag, I was left with little, previously undetected, laundry gifts. I think the underwear was first, followed by one sock at a time. These items were dutifully washed and placed somewhere in my rucksack. They also traveled over 300 km along Afghan covered-wagon trails and were in close proximity to several loud noises. One sock and the underwear are now winging their way back to the US via priority mail. Along with the results of my first trip to an Afghan bazaar (a US-sponsored one is held every Friday at the edge of the base). A bit of advice to those who haven’t been to an Afghan bazaar – wait until it is crowded. You DO NOT want to be the first guy in, surrounded by avaricious, persistent, and potentially persuasive Afghan merchants with a more-than-adequate command of English. Bad call on my part. I made a quick survey of the wares, and I figured out that on average it cost me between three and four dollars a minute. Which cleaned me out of the available cash and sent me to the finance office. And I went in there with a good idea of what I wanted to buy, too. I’m sure I paid too much for the first items, but they were cheap, and it got me into the swing of things again. I didn’t walk away with anything outrageous or unlikely to be displayed outside of the utility room. Finally, a few comments on life on a former Soviet base. The most obvious manifestation of this is that we have moved into former Soviet construction – the old control tower, some of the hangars, etc. Let’s say that their quality control is exactly what you’d expect. There are some really annoying features, like the too-low, cranium-scraping overheads, or the stairs, all of subtly different height and width. That staircase is probably the closest I’ve come to serous injury, mortar fire notwithstanding. There is also another legacy of Soviet occupation. Like diamonds, landmines are forever. Landmine signs are pretty much the official flower of Bagram. Also, there is a lot of rusted, derelict equipment around, conveniently dumped in the low places so as to be closer to the water table. One does not stray off the roads here. Three photos. One of the castle at sunrise. One Baghram official flower photo. And one of my favorites – the Icon of the Soviet-Afghan War, now an icon of Enduring Freedom, courtesy of the Polish Battle Group. I hate irony. Starbaby
I must be off my feed. There is a second Dairy Queen on this base and I only noticed yesterday. News Flash: Sasquatch exists. Speaking of “off my feed,” I had a discussion on silly uniform stuff with the Wing Commander, shortly after I got here. Naturally, I wanted to know why we had to be in an approved USAF uniform to walk down the hall to the bathroom. To my great annoyance, I got an entirely practical answer, which effectively undercut my ability to be naturally contrary. I hate when that happens. The reason is that there are plenty of people in and out of the dorms, and that there is no reason they should have to see overweight, hairy, unshaven Neanderthals wandering around in shorts and flip-flops in all hours of the day. I have to admit, that’s rational. Dammit. The practicality of this policy has been brought home to me twice in the past two days. Both mornings, I have walked into the bathroom to find a shirtless, shaggy Sasquatch brushing his teeth. Now, as unattractive as this prospect is, realize that it is all the more traumatic because I generally wake up fully alert. Not for me is the slow transition to full, caffeine-assisted cognitive capability. I wake up more-or-less fully functional. Linda, who is herself a morning person, is nevertheless annoyed by my instant perkiness (I actually have a song, stolen from West Side Story, that I call the “Perky Song.” She’s threatened to kill me every time I sing the opening line...). So, to get back to the story line, morning Sasquatch sightings are particularly painful. Which leads me back to the inherent wisdom of the “wear PT uniform in the building” policy. Which further pisses me off to be on the wrong side of the issue. Of course, the policy obviously isn’t working. I recommend floggings. And I’m still annoyed that we salute in PT uniforms. So I haven’t rolled over entirely. Don’t even get me started on reflective belts. But I digress. I think we left off with a CONEX fire. Eager to depart on our return trip after a three day delay, we pushed out early at the morning. Before traveling 1000 meters from the gate, a vehicle broke down when a steering pin sheared; leading to an unsuccessful field repair and an upload on a flatbed. Two IEDs were discovered, one of them by our vehicle; both were successfully destroyed. Alas, we ended the day after 16 hours on the road (loosely speaking), after dark, in the same dusty shantytown that we’d left four or five days before. And the food sucked, too. We were forced to spend two days breathing moon dust because of maintenance issues, then we were planning on setting off again in the morning. 0600. No, we mean it. Wrong. Radio problems forced a delay, and we left late. We had planned to go all of the way back to base, with a planned stopover at the castle. That plan went to hell when we found another IED the hard way. Disabled the vehicle, no casualties. While we were dismounted, one of the vehicles setting up the cordon hit a mine. I heard the noise, looked up, and saw a large cloud of dust with an entire wheel assembly airborne and flying in another direction. Again, the vehicle disabled and no casualties. We uploaded one vehicle, set up to tow another, and then... ... jingle truck races. You see, we decided to avoid roads (rutted wagon trails, really) for a while. Seemed sensible. However, given a little flat space and room to maneuver, that leads immediately to the Paktika 500 – jingle trucks, two, three, four trucks abreast, sometimes more, racing to go nowhere, because we’re not speeding up. Attached is a picture of the late stages of the races, where my new favorite Afghan police officer starts shepherding guys back into single file by the simple expedient of standing in front of trucks and yelling at them. And it’s Ramadan, so everybody is a little hungry, thirsty, nicotine-deprived and generally irritable. Second photo is a jingle truck that lost the races. We had to transload the cargo container while all of the other drivers in sight raided his truck for spare parts (I saw a guy walk off with the left wing mirror), supplies, and whatever. The cargo was poorly packed diesel generators, which started to leak diesel fuel when the container was pulled over to get it off the truck. A nice job, probably by the same guys that brought you “Welding for Morons” in the previous installment. This, of course, takes enough time so that our friend and yours, the Taliban mortar crew, could get their tube into action. We left in a hurry, without the truck (which was destroyed in place) but with the cargo and the driver. Then we had to go pull another cluster of would-be NASCAR pros out of the sand. At that, we only made it to the castle, you guessed it, after dark. Stars still nice, air getting colder, trip uneventful. It was Friday, so we saw a lot of kids. I then got back to base, found out that I’d missed my helicopter, and spent the entire rest of the night getting home in a minor dust storm. Oh yeah. Got a haircut. Failed to cross the language barrier again. The longest hair on my cranium is probably 4mm long, but at least the eyebrows survived intact. Next Up: The saga of Devin’s Socks and Underwear, or, “How my children can always find where they’ve been by following the clothing trail” I Hate Dust Jingle Racing Jingle Wreck
"So, sir. How are you doing?" "Well, actually, I'm a little bored." Stupid, stupid, stupid. The preceding conversation occurred mid-patrol, in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) at a FOB in Eastern Afghanistan. I should know not to tempt fate like that. The last time I challenged the forces of fate that way was in the mission briefing for a Provide Comfort flight, where I famously said "You know, I've never had a utility hydraulic failure." No kidding, before we were 50 miles from the base... Anyway, I was killing time looking for an unattended computer so that I could check e-mail when I heard somebody say "yeah, the thing's on fire." I look at the security video, and there is something burning on one of the screens. "So, where is it?" "Motorpool." "Really, what's in it?" "POL." That's DoD for "petroleum, oil & lubricants." Also shorthand for "stuff that burns nicely, with the occasional explosive property." Naturally, this was the day I picked not to wear nomex, instead wearing my flammable(but oh, so wrinkle-free), tiger-striped, high-fashion Airman Battle Uniform (Why is it called a "battle uniform" when it was selected for office wear?). Captain John Barger, who is the Engineer Company commander I was riding with is also in the TOC. We look at each other, and at the crowd of losers standing around the video, taking no action whatsoever, and we dash out the door to the (almost deserted) motorpool. Yep, that's a burning conex (container) on the back of a local flatbed (a "Jingle Truck"). Doesn't look too bad. I grab the biggest, heaviest fire extinguisher and head for the back. The thing is dead. Full, but no pressure. So is the second one I try. A soldier brings two smaller ones while John goes to look for more, and the private and I try to tackle the blaze. We simultaneously discharge the extinguishers into the back, which knocks back the flames from the big 55-gallon drums in back (fortunately full of antifreeze, apparently). The tractor with the foam tank arrives, but even that is only sufficient to knock back some of the flames, and it is apparent that the container is fully involved, front to back. One foam tank and five more extinguishers later, the fire is still burning, we've got nothing left but a garden hose with enough water pressure to wet down a garden gnome twice a day. We had quite a crowd of spectators by now - maybe if they'd all been better hydrated we'd have had another option. Instead, the truck driver hops in, we clear a path, and the guy drives this burning truck outside the wire. We're not sure what happens next, but it looks to us like he speeds up around the base to try and blow the fire out. That works exactly like you'd expect, right up to the point where the dude flips the truck and it burns to the frame. He walked away. Cause of fire? Smoking? Battle Damage? Nope. Welding. Welding on a container loaded with flammable stuff. Later I noticed that the two shower buildings have large fire extinguishers, in a red wood frame, just outside the doors. And yes, I checked. Fully charged. But I digress. As previously reported, our heroes from the Kentucky Guard were conducting what turned out to be a 10-day route clearance patrol. I think I left off after day one. Day two found us moving out from the castle where we stopped. We had slept in the motorpool, under the stars. You can see the Milky Way stretching across the sky at night in Afghanistan - there is no light pollution to speak of. The castle is a British construction from the 1870s, called Kayer Khot, although the spelling varies. It has the unusual distinction of having been a prison camp for both the Soviets and the Taliban - it is now an Afghan Army post. One website claims that it's haunted. Day two was more eventful. There are no roads worth the name in this section of Afghanistan. There are permanent wheel ruts and random desert tracks. "Road" is too ambitious a word. Kind of like calling a Yugo a "car." Technically, yes... Along the route we found two IEDs. One was visually picked up by our vehicle crew, while other elements of the patrol were checking out another one they had detected. I'm pretty proud of that one. Both were extracted and destroyed. The real threat on this leg was really the bad road - the jingle trucks were stuck crossing a wadi that took us more than an hour to clear of the man-made obstacle that had been emplaced. Consequently, the heavy vehicles were winching out civilian trucks until after dark, when the front and back ends of the convoy were attacked with small arms. Nothing serious - I think that a couple of guys fired off a magazine or two and ran like hell. The gunners suppressed the hostile fire and we shot off a whole lot of flares. Close air support was provided by the 494th EFS F-15Es (my squadron when I was at Lakenheath). A low pass by high-speed aircraft is a big morale booster for us - less so for the opposition. We stopped at the ugliest, dustiest FOB I've ever seen. It was operated by a horizontal construction company and was in horrible shape. They'd even put the tents up inside out. The motorpool looked like the Ozark mountains, there was dust deep enough to lose small children and pets, and there was no lodging for transients, except for the chapel. We took over an unoccupied B-hut. What is especially embarrassing is that the Engineer Company had enough construction equipment to build an interstate - they were just too lazy to use it. Two nights of "I wish we could stop breathing moon dust." No Marriot Rewards points for this one. The next leg went a little differently. One IED, which damaged the lead vehicle but not the driver. We'd seen the guys who likely emplaced it but had no reason to stop them - it was probably a bandit gang looking to strip a jingle truck of its cargo. We were a nasty surprise. They fired a few shots (and rockets) at the trail element and ran. They were gone by the time the fighters arrived. More road delays - pulled into the FOB after dark. We delayed for three days in the old Polish barracks, which had nice comfy mattresses and custom-built plywood furniture. The Polish were moving out and guys from the Guam National Guard were moving in. The other tenants were happy to see the US Army take over food service - apparently, it is possible to get tired of Polish Sausage, pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut. I can't imagine why (I thought the pickled cucumbers rocked). Excellent cheeseburgers, too. The fish sucked. Which brings us to the fire and the end of serial three. Two photos - one of me (obviously) on a hilltop as we check out a village, and another one that will be picked more or less at random after I finish writing this. ( Collapse ) Next up - Why even if your vehicle can jump small ditches, it's bad to have one of your wheels 50 feet in the air.
I'm on a multi-day patrol with an engineer Unit from the Kentucky Guard. Day 1 was interesting, relatively short, and we got to stay in an old British Fort at the end of it. We slept inside the walls next to the vehicles. The Afghans seem to have a lot more stars than we do. The night sky here is unbelievable. The fort was excellent- they have only 10 Americans but some of the Afghan FBI (different name, but I don't remember it), and Afghan cooks. Excellent stuff, but you'd better like flatbread (I do). They also have an unbelievable amount of dust. Moon-dust, like Iraq, but deeper. It actually flows in front of the trucks, as the tires create a bow-wave similar to a slow-moving boat in a calm harbor. It's calf deep in some places on the FOB. I hate dust. The platoon leader, a first lieutenant, is aggressive, angry, and not at all the kind of guy you want doing counterinsurgency. Fortunately, both the company commander and I are in his vehicle. The engineers themselves are pretty good, and remind me why I like Guard units so much. This bunch is from Kentucky, and, as you would expect, a lot of conversations revolve around the standard subjects: who is dating whose sister, the newest events with your wife's step-brother's cousin, who is married to the platoon sergeant's half-brother, and whose girlfriend happens to be pregnant at the moment. The houses here are called Kolats. They are walled compounds with high walls, made out of straw-reinforced mud brick. There is a lot of harvesting of wild prickly-bush looking things around - this may actually be construction material. Or it may be animal feed, but you'd think that the animals could forage themselves. Some of the compounds are quite nice. Some compounds enclose fields - we've seen watermelons and grapes growing quite well inside the walls. Wells provide water, and there is an extensive underground water system. We were in the middle of nowhere and we dismounted to investigate what looked like a bunker with overhead cover. It was a well - and the water was only 20 feet down and moving noticeably. Day two will be serialized next.
Quick update for all. I'm in the middle of nowhere. I am going to head out tomorrow morning on a week-long patrol which will take me to the off-center of nowhere, the side of nowhere, and possibly both the bottom of nowhere and the far border of nowhere. Respectively. And back. Needless to say, I brought my sleeping bag. And also needless to say, I found a pair of Devin's size 10-12 underwear in it. I have got to get the kids their own sleeping bags. Have I mentioned previously that I dislike dust? Intensely. Went on patrol in the Kur-e-Sofe valley two days ago. Mostly mounted, partially dismounted. We hiked through and around a local village, visited a US-built school, and talked to the kids. Rough, rough country, but the school was full and the headmaster, who gets around on crutches, was happy to see us. No reports of bad guys. Very high altitude; the squad leader told me to just get used to panting like a freshman at his first wet T-shirt contest. My phrasing, not his. Back to the FOB on or about 3 September, air transport permitting. Rode in a Chinook again. CH-47s are much better in August in Afghanistan than they are in August in Iraq.
Well, here I am in sunny Afghanistan. Note that we have to take anti-malarial medicine here, which makes you more sensitive to sunlight. A medical Catch-22. This is the new, improved anti-malaria med – I asked. “Hey, is this the stuff that makes you go psychotic and kill people?” I was told that it was not, but I read the side effects pamphlet carefully anyway. This is some rugged country. No sooner had I landed when I accepted an offer to ride with the wing Commander to a distant FOB. (We went with the deputy medical Group commander, who is – no kidding – Colonel Potter, M.D). It got me a good look at some of the country. If Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes (who counted, anyway?) then Afghanistan is the land of 10,000 mountains. Most with some fairly amazing foot trails over them. The country is bigger than Iraq, and if you flattened it out, WAY bigger. Some timber (some low-tech logging), the occasional watercourse (which often serves as a road), and some patches that are pretty bare. Everything here seems to be made out of adobe brick. There are brick factories all over the place. Roofs are flat, and out in the hinterlands practically every fixed dwelling is a 4-cornered fort. Some even have towers in the corners. Very few modern-looking steel roofs. There is also Highway 1, which is paved. There is no two, three or four. So ends the primer on Afghan infrastructure. Quarters are pretty decent – steel prefab buildings, dorm-style. I started out in the quarters reserved for visiting generals. I was pretty excited about that – for about sixteen hours. Then I moved. I have a Chief Master Sergeant for a roommate, which is unconventional. He’s very cool, and helped me fix one of the inevitable uniform violations by getting me the proper hat, in the proper size. Now we still have sleeve issues (rolled down only), the pushing the sunglasses up on the head violation, and I’m sure my belt is the wrong color. In the total chickenshit category, we have to be in the proper uniform to go to the bathroom (PT uniform counts), even though we never leave the building. White socks only, please. The coolest office in the area belongs to Brig Gen Mike “Mobile” Holmes, who was my boss in the Skunks. (And no, he hasn’t forgotten the time when we both had to dress up in blues and go visit a 3-star). When the new control tower was built, he moved his office into the tower cab of the old, Russian-built control tower. It has a 360 degree view, a desk in the old supervisor station, and a table and overhead lighting built out of finished plywood by the engineers (rainy day project). No chairs, but plenty of windowsill to sit on. I want an office like that. (Yertle the Turtle, oh marvelous me, for I am the king of all that I see). Food is better than usual by USAF standards, not as good, with less variety than I had in Baghdad. For 30 days – not a problem. I, of course, have a bicycle. This one is much better than last time – aluminum frame, front suspension, you can actually adjust it with standard bike tools (no crescent wrench required). Swiss-designed, but doesn’t have the fold-out spoon or a toothpick. Nor does it appear to keep proper time. However, the lettering says “Swiss Explosive Design” which is not attractive in the least. The last bike got exploded and it was a pain in the neck to fix. Needless to say, the BX does not carry a bike lock, replacement tires, or replacement tubes. Thank God for Nashbar.com. A first today. I got pulled over on the bike. Siren, blue lights, the works. My offense? Not wearing a reflective belt on an open-air vehicle. We don’t have to wear reflective belts in our goofy PT uniform, because it is reflective. However, Army regulation whichever requires reflective belts, in broad daylight, on vehicles. Sigh. The USAF-Army relationship here is much better than last time. This one should be fun.
Greetings from Sunny Kyrgyzstan. Yes you read that correctly, a former Soviet SSR
north of Pakistan. Manas airbase, specifically, which is also Bishtek International
airport. it is sunny, not too hot, dry but with plenty of green, and it looks like
you would expect, except that the infrastructure is in good repair and all of the
Russian-built aircraft are either flyable or in some form of credible open storage.
The USAF side is typical - steel sided structures (no tents, really) with good A/C,
locking doors, indoor plumbing, and the whole place covered in gravel so there is no
mud when it rains. Also, of course, because this is a USAF facility, we also have a
picnic area, tennis court, soccer field, the obligatory concessionnaires, the BX,
Pizza Hut (haven't filled that square yet) and two, count 'em, two sources of
wireless internet, one of them free. Beer, of course, is available 18 hours a day,
not that I care. Chow hall is OK - salad dressing selection is limited.
Of note, most of the local workers are women, which is a pleasant change from the
Persian Gulf. I've never been on a base where Russian is the second (perhaps first)
I am currently awaiting airlift into Afghanistan, where I'll be doing another one
of my foreign adventures. This is a much shorter trip (expect to be back by
October 1), also involving myself with the Army, which should be fun. Manas is
much nicer than Al Udeid, which is probably about a zillion degrees and humid -
here it is comfortable and dry. With trees.
The flight out was long, not as painful as it could have been (DC-10), went through
Ramstein and Incirlik (Turkey) and took forever. Beats walking or riding on a camel
Not much else to say. Of course, I'm hiding the "Afghanistan" part of the visit
from the family. As fas as they are concerned, this is another airpower assessment.
Which is correct, as far as it goes. But naturally, it goes farther.
Notes 11 January: The Final Chapter Well, I’m home. And so I missed the snow in Baghdad, which upsets me precisely not at all. The trip home wasn’t really all that it could have been. I asked for a flight out from Baghdad to Al Udeid on the 6th. , naturally, meant 6 January, local, rather than 6 January zulu. So, what I got was a 0130 departure on a C-130 on the 7th, which went through Balad and Talil before sauntering on to Al Udeid seven or so hours later. For those of you without a map handy, that is the rough equivalent of flying from DC to Boston via Nashville and Cleveland. Fortunately, I knew which aircraft type it was so I brought my all-important CH-47 pillow to sit on. So, as I enjoy my return to a place with Trader Joe’s (Imagine –- food not from KBR), cars that have not been uparmored, and entire cities devoid of indirect fire, I consider a few wrap-up items from past notes. In no particular order… The obscure Iraqi torture method that involves removing every little hair from your face is called “Hifafa”, which translates as “Painful procedure we all went through regularly to have contrast with a big bushy mustache like Saddam.” Army General Officers are too good to eat with the troops in Baghdad. Just to make this clear, in five months, I NEVER saw an Army GO in the chow hall, while I regularly saw USAF generals. Apparently, Army Generals have their own cooks, kitchens and dining rooms. Air Force Generals, whatever their other faults, eat in the chow hall with the rest of the great unwashed. Which leads me to the subject of the US Army. I was impressed enormously with the intelligence and skill of the officers and troops that I encountered –- right up to the O-5 level. Unfortunately, they are largely led by morons. Imperious morons. I don’t know what happens in the Army promotion process that they end up promoting the people that they do, but it is a good thing that they don’t have to show a profit. III Corps has a reputation for being dysfunctional, and I’m told V Corps is worse, which strains credulity. If you could create an organization with attributes of others, III Corps might have the tolerance of the Spanish Inquisition, the interpersonal skills of Ghengis Khan’s Horde and the flexibility of those silly French people who run L'Académie française (look it up –- the spelling is accurate). What is amazing is that our guys have had good effect at all, but I rather think this is in spite of their leadership, rather than because of it. So, let me just say that this tour made me appreciate my service choice. Note to the personnel guys–- if the Army wants to retain its young captains, they need to purge their old Colonels. I suggest the leadership pamphlet “Stalinist Personnel Management Techniques,” by Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria. I particularly recommend Chapter Two “Selecting the Proper Caliber.” Also, a new slogan for Blackwater USA: “Losing the War One Unnecessary Civilian Casualty at a Time.” Speaking of morons, I commend to you the USAF Uniform Control Board, who have long since decided that not only can they design a new tiger stripe uniform that makes the wearer look like a refugee from a bad Asian Safari outing, but they can come up with rules that guarantee that you can freeze to death in the process. All the services issue a nice black fleece jacket for when it gets cold. Note that I do not say “for wearing when it gets cold,” because the Air Force does not actually allow you to wear it. So, while Soldiers and Marines run around toasty and warm, using an intelligent and long-established process for managing body temperature known as “layering,” USAF personnel can only wear the fleece if they cover it with the parka, allowing a choice of two lesser cold weather techniques, alternately (a) “freezing your ass off” or (b)“roasting like a rotisserie chicken.” These are the same idiots who also forbade the wearing of any non-tiger stripe parka with the tiger stripe uniform, which cuts you down to technique (a). Naturally, the manufacture of the parka, which first came out in June, has lagged the manufacture of the uniforms. Oh yes, and I won’t even address the USAF PT uniform and its “MC Hammer” pantaloons, which have enough room on the inside for two more legs, which is great if you’re a draft animal. I saw guys having their PT uniforms tailored so that they didn’t look like harem guards in front of the other services. Harem guards with reflective trim. Of course, I had long since adopted a “screw it, I’m comfortable” attitude about the black fleece, which miraculously, didn’t concern Army Sergeants Major, because they see guys in black fleece all the time. New slogan for the Uniform Control Board: “Sure, we’re stupid, but at least we’re poorly dressed.” So, anyway, I learned a lot, had a great time, and I wish to thank everybody who supported me and everybody I could hand stuff off to. Packages from CONUS are always appreciated. I will concede that there is something wrong with me in that I actually enjoyed packing around a rifle, ammo and armor and learning what happens at the tactical level. I do admit that I was disappointed when the MP company I was with in Tikrit didn’t get to go make a compensation payment to a wedding party which somebody had annoyed by crashing the wedding. And “crashing” is an accurate descriptive term. Starbaby ( Collapse )Photo: Me with a bottle of "Arrogant Bastard" in front of the Al Faw Palace -- III Corps HQ. Feel free to draw your own conclusions. Note spiffy non-matching hat.