Afghan starbaby

27 September

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
Afghan starbaby

Outward Bound -- dystentery and sheep brains

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
Blessing.
Starbaby
Afghan starbaby

15 September 2008

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
Afghan starbaby

Jingle all the way this is not.

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
Afghan starbaby

Wait, is this Tattooine?

"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. 

Afghan starbaby

The Saga Begins

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. 
Afghan starbaby

Quick update 26 August


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. 
Afghan starbaby

Update 21 August

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. 
starbaby

off again!

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)
language.

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
though.

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.

Starbaby
Afghan starbaby

The Arrogant Bastard is home -- and so is the beer.


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.