I am an active duty officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. All views expressed in this blog are my personal views as an individual and not those of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

Friday, April 30, 2010


Well tomorrow I have a long meeting, a ceremony (think security), a short meeting and...other meetings to prep for.  So TGIF not so much.  But later in the afternoon I do have a softball game, against medical and the safety guys.  They're going to get spanked.  Sunday we play the civilian contractors.  There's a rumor an MLB scout will be there.

Meanwhile, most of another week has gone by.  I think that's five.  One of tomorrow's meetings includes me briefing the CG - I've prepared some wicked cool powerpoints (hat tip: EJ.  The day after you shared this with me, it was circulated by our "lessons learned" guy.  Apparently...not.) 

What else happened this week?  Well, we had another comm blackout, which means another Marine is going home the wrong way.  Nothing makes that OK, but I will share with you that I see indicators almost every day that more and more Afghans are coming over to our side.  Those indicators manifest themselves in saved lives, and they result from operations like the one the LCpl was involved in when he was killed.  I can't be more specific than that but it gives me hope that our sacrifices - small in my case and large in his - aren't for nothing.

Wow, didn't mean to get so serious.  I've got some pics, hopefully that will brighten things up.  I try to capture the mundane, to keep giving a sense of what it's like here.  Alas, what seems to pop up is always the slightly absurd.  Enjoy.

Do what?

So we're at the British PX again, and Gunny is trying to find some laundry detergent.  Nothing is labeled - is it detergent?  Fabric softener?  Cake batter? Well finally someone familiar with the brands tells us it's fabric softener.  But take a close look at the instructions.  Apparently step one to use this stuff is "put a feather on some blankets."  Step two: add more feathers.   Step three: dip the whole thing in yeast.  Or maybe a bowl of glue.  We didn't buy the stuff.

Smoking bad.

This one is at the Danish PX. My favorite is the middle one on the left.

Only the best.

This one took me back.  One summer when I was home from college and desperate for money, I did some telemarketing for Buckmasters.  Then the other day I come across this gem in the port-a-john, where I just have to snap a pic.  My favorite part: it's from 2008!  Seriously, they need to clean those things out more often.

Pizza yes.  Hut, not really.

Ok back to the trip to the British side of the base.  Here's Gunny (on the right) with another Gunny (not on the right) and the backsides of two British soldiers.  And that, of course, is the Pizza Hut truck.  We picked up pizzas from there and then went to relax at the Danish compound where it tends to be quieter. 

And that's where I'll leave you, till next time.

 Relaxing with Danes

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pics as promised

I know...two posts in one day?  Is the war over?  Well, I finally made it to the wifi watering hole with my camera, so I wanted to upload some of those pics I mentioned in earlier posts.  First a brief update: Chair Force didn't show.  Scrimmaged instead, yours truly drove in the game-winner with a walk-off single.  Final score: 24-23.  Did I say single?  I meant touchdown. 

Now the pics...enjoy.

It's raining!

Antiterrorism/Force Protection


My messy desk

The cute British couple

Things I could have done in the time it took me to upload those few pics:
  • Read War and Peace
  • Write War and Peace
  • Eat War and Peace
  • Invent the perfect mousetrap
  • Take a nap
  • Walk to San Diego, reconnect my Cox Cable, check my e-mail, cancel my Cox Cable, walk back...and take a nap
More to follow...

Lazy Sunday

I got up at 0700 this morning, took my time getting ready and getting unpacked (been traveling the last few days, more on that in a bit), wandered in to work around 0830, cleaned my rifle, took my time at chow and meandered over to the wifi hotspot.  Half my unit is here.  At 1500 we're playing softball against the Chair Force.  It's hot but dry and breezy.  Like a summer Sunday back home. 

The past few days (Friday and Saturday, local), I was out and about in beautiful southern Afghanistan.  Actually all I did was jump on a bird, fly to another (smaller) base, spend two days getting the lay of the land from a security perspective, and fly back.  There was absolutely nothing out there, just flatness, dust and tents.  We trekked around some, at first with all our battle rattle and later, thankfully, without it, making contact with the various wing units and detachments and such.  Unfortunately, the only pictures I took were work-related and not appropriate for posting here.  I'll do better next time, I promise. 

Most of the Marines out there love it - they're on their own and far away from the melodrama of higher HQ.  I see their point, though if I had to spend a deployment out there, a hundred miles and a thousand years from the world, I'd probably go nuts.  But it's quiet, except for the incessant humming of generators, and while they have very few hard structures (mostly tents), they do have A/C, a spotty wifi spot, and a really nice morale tent with a big screen TV, lots of seating and a bunch of movies.  They also have some amazing chow halls.  One had a main bar, a curry bar, an Italian bar, a sandwich bar, an impressive salad bar, a dessert bar, and probably some other bars I'm forgetting.  They had steak.  And G-d saw the steak, and He said, it is good.  Also tender.  Pass the A-1.  So Gunny and I fell on that food like we hadn't eaten in days.  Actually all we'd missed was breakfast.

That was Friday.  We got back last night and naturally headed straight for the pizza hut truck.  I polished off a "large" in under 5 minutes and chatted with some Brits.  Two were heading back home (one infantry and one armorer), while their friend, a female (I don't post names here just to be safe) still has 6 more months out here doing EOD (bomb squad).  Took a picture of a very cute British couple - he's headed home and she just got here - as they gazed at each other over milkshakes.   Was too stuffed by then to seek out the source of the milkshakes. 

That's all I've got, really.  The Yanks are 12-5, the Giants seem to have improved their defense in the draft, and I had an actual conversation with a female who is not a Marine (the EOD tech).  Life is good.  1 month down.

Maybe next year...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ask and ye shan't receive...

You know how I'm always telling people to leave comments on my blog?  Well turns out I had that feature disabled for anyone who wasn't a registered blogspot user.  My bad.  Thanks PT for pointing it out.  Now you are free to post all the Nigerian ponzi scheme spam you wish.

In other ask and ye shall receive news, I've thought of a few things people can send me since many of you are generously offering and I'm stubbornly stonewalling...until now.  (EJ, I didn't forget to e-mail you, just haven't had a minute to concentrate on it.  I will soon.)  Behold my Afghanistan wish list:

-  A decent shower.  Ok ok fine.
-  Office decorations.  My office is a small square wooden closet.  The most prominent feature is a door to another small square wooden closet.  Some ideas: posters, pictures (of yourselves, preferably), flip calendars of the Dilbert or other varieties, and other work-appropriate stuff.  Think original Picasso.  Less good ideas: office gnomes, "Inspiration" posters, or anything with real value.
-  Special K, Protein Plus.  Just send it and keep your comments to yourself.
-  Coffee maker.  This one is for Gunny, I don't drink coffee.  I also know nothing about coffee or its various makers.  I would guess that actual coffee and probably filters or something would go with it.  Cream and sugar.
-  Sugar-free candy.  This one is for the Chaplain.
-  Mustard.  Preferably in little packets.  This one is for the people of Afghanistan, who apparently have outlawed the stuff.  Sage advice for Afghans: more mustard seed, less poppy seed.
-  Home-made anything.
-  Magazines.  Those who know me know my interests are quite limited...to, say, aeronautics, astronomy, sociology, psychology, history, current events, foreign policy, technology, cars, sports, music, nature, wildlife...you get the idea.  Mags that don't interest me will surely interest those around me.  Mags with nudity will get me sent home, so thanks for the thought, but no thanks.
-  Books: not room to store too many so I'll probably send them back when I'm done.  But anything you enjoyed I'll hopefully enjoy.

Ok that should get people started.  Don't say I never did anything for you.

 Special Fidelis

Monday, April 19, 2010

When it rains, it muds

Right now, I'm sequestered in the "morale tent" because it is pouring outside. It started this afternoon while we were outside playing catch. From one second to the next I couldn't see the guy 50 feet away that I was throwing to. The wind kicked up, the dust was swirling and mixing with the rain, and suddenly it was mudding. Not muddin', which my southern compadres know involves an open field and a truck, but mudding.

After a few minutes the rain had cleared the crud from the air and we went outside and took pictures of one another getting drenched (it felt great). A little while later it let up, leaving behind a not-so-fresh odor. That was maybe 7 hours ago. Then, just a few minutes ago, it came back again, out of nowhere, pouring like spring showers. I think "morale tent" is kind of a funny name - a morale McDonalds would probably be more effective - but being dry in here right now is certainly lifting my morale. Also I found free jolly ranchers.

I realize it must seem lame for me to be blogging about rain, but around here it's a big deal. When the first downpour hit this afternoon, Gunny mused out loud - wonder if we left the windows down in the truck. Who cares, we simultaneously realized: when the rain stops it'll dry out in an hour from the heat. Hope we were right. Leave it to us to get mold to grow in the desert.

Man, it is hurricaning outside.

In other news, I went down to the flight line today and met with some more Brits. They're really great - friendly, relaxed, and...British. I think you know what I mean. After that we had Indian food. On the American part of the base - nada. On the British part, an Indian place, a Pizza Hut (I know!) and some nice coffee shops. Granted, this is not Pizza Hut like back home - it's a guy hanging out the back of a semi-trailer serving personal pan pizzas and calling them larges. But still, it's nice to have. The Indian food, also out of a trailer, was good, and spicy. I quenched my thirst with Pepsi Light, which is like Diet Pepsi only...nope, that's pretty much it. Just diet Pepsi with a weird name.

Then I went next door to the British PX and bought office supplies. Why? I'll tell you an interesting story. We've got generally two types of cargo we bring over from the states - stuff we need soon and stuff we need eventually. Soon = by plane. Eventually = by boat. Well some Einstein at higher decided we'd messed up, because we put some "critical" gear, like extreme cold weather stuff, on the slow boat. So they swapped it. Now we've got all the cold-weather boots you could ask for, just in time for the thousand degree summer. We're trying to use the boots in place of computers and telephones but that doesn't work as well as you might think. And that's why I was buying rubber bands and post-it notes at the British PX.

Well the rain has stopped and I need to be getting to bed. Wish I could upload the pic of me in the rain (I've got a ****-eating grin on) but the camera is back at the office. I'll put it up next time. For now, adios.

Can you hear me now?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And you run and you run to catch up with the sun...

...but it's sinking.

Well for the moment it's rising, which means I've got a little of what Pink Floyd was singing about to spend giving you a proper update on my life the past few weeks.

As you know from earlier blather, we left Miramar on the evening of 22 March. We flew through Bangor, Maine and Shannon, Ireland. We then had a several day layover in a certain central Asian country that's been in the news lately. I took some pictures there but they're slow to upload so here's just one for now:

The Hindu Kush, from the north

Then we flew into Afghanistan in a USAF C-17.

On the C-17. Pax in front, cargo in the rear

I took some pictures out the tiny porthole as we began initial descent.

The Afghan mountains from above, initial descent

Then we landed. Here's a pic of me a few days after we got here:

Moi, dans "le merde"

Here are some plusses(sessesses?) and minusses to life in Afghanistan:

Plus: It's a dry heat.
Minus: It's a very dry heat.

Plus: Free food.
Minus: No beer.

Plus: See a new place.
Minus: It's the moon.

Some more serious collected thoughts from the past few weeks.

On the plane ride over: I've left home. If you know me you know I grew up all over, and there's no one place that is unambiguously my home town. Home, to me, is a place where the people you care about, and who care about you, are at most a plane ride away. You may not see them as often as you like, but the potential is there. It's like what my friends who are based in Hawaii say about living there: just knowing that you don't have the option to get in the car and drive somewhere else makes you a little nuts. No options for us out here for a while.

On leaving Maine: goodbye, America.

On leaving Ireland: goodbye, free world.

On landing in Afghanistan: finally. It seems strange to admit it, but I feel like everything I've done with my life so far has been preparing me for this experience. True, I'm not a grunt, I'm a staff officer. I'll leave the wire a number of times but I probably won't go into "Indian country." But I'm in a war and I spend about 14 hours a day, 7 days a week stressing over ways to protect Marines from people just a few kilometers away who are trying to do them (and the locals) harm. This, finally, feels like real responsibility. Finally.

I'm also scared. As part of my job I have to know what the threats are. I get the reports. I get glimpses of what the enemy is planning. Anyone reading the paper knows what he's trying to do and how he's going to try it - I just get little additional fragments of evidence to confirm that yes, he's really trying to do it, to carry out an attack of some kind, somewhere. I know what is within my power to do to make an attack more difficult to carry out, less likely to succeed. But there's only so much you can do in a day, only so fast you can make a machine, even the Marine Corps, move, only so much money. So I'm racing to get as much done in as many places with as few assets as possible, before the enemy strikes somewhere in some way that I hadn't gotten around to mitigating yet. If he does, despite knowing that I did all I could, I'll have to live with that for the rest of my life. Since I'm here for a year, that eventuality seems likely. So that scares me.

I'm not working alone of course. I'm not the only one assigned this task, I don't want anyone to get that impression. But there aren't that many of us (how many I can't say of course). I spoke to another one today who was working on one particular issue having to do with TCNs - Third Country Nationals. I could hear in her voice how she was strenuously trying to accomplish her goal on that issue. You can only do so much and move so fast, but you find yourself staying just an hour later or getting to work just an hour earlier, grabbing a sandwich to go instead of sitting at the chow hall, etc. - not because you think an hour will make a difference, but just because you feel a twinge of guilt whenever you're not at your computer or walking the wire or brainstorming with a counterpart or in some other way working the problem.

Luckily, we can handle it. Personally, I'm blessed with an optimistic outlook - nothing gets me down for long - and of course we've all had some truly exceptional training and trainers. I just say that so that close friends and family reading this don't worry. I'm describing it in great detail for you but it's not all that bad - we work long days on stressful problems but other than that we lead fairly normal, if dust-covered, lives.

You may be wondering (or not) why I've rambled on so much on some fairly personal feelings. I think it must be because I'm sitting in a chapel after having attended Shabbat services, albeit just me and the Rabbi (I know I said at the top it was sunrise, I started this post earlier today). Despite the low turnout it was great to hear and sing those familiar manginot (melodies). Also I'm using my own computer, on which I finally got wifi today, and that in itself is a religious experience after a month of virtually no Internet.

Well I've run out of stuff to ramble about. My guess is that most people are more interested in what it's like here in this country, in this war, with these people, than in my whining about the stresses of my job. So I'll try to give some more concrete descriptions and, where possible, pictures, in future posts. For now, good night.

Me on the left, saluting the colors
during the MEF RIP/TOA ceremony

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Time starts flying...

Almost two weeks in Afghanistan, and things are going great. In the first ten days I've already briefed the chief of staff (full bird col) and the CG (one star general) and both thought I did well. The CG said "you're kinda smart for a lieutenant, huh." I did not reply with "you're kind smart for a general, huh sir." Shoulda.
Only have a second on the computer, so just wanted to let everyone know that despite a very fast pace of operations and some very long days, I'm doing well, in good spirits, and not counting down the days just yet. Each day is so busy and so long it seems like a week, yet looking back it seems like we landed just yesterday.
My job is satisfying despite the political challenges of being on the CG's staff. In just the few days since our unit took over for the last one (called a RIPTOA - relief in place/transition of authority), we've already made some changes in my area that the Marines around us can see, and which hopefully make them feel a little more secure. Lots more to come in that department.
I still don't have wifi, which means I still don't really use my own personal computer, which is why no pics yet. I promise they're coming.
For now, gotta run.
Go Yanks.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'm ok

It's been a few days since anyone heard from me, including replying to your e-mails. We've been under a comm blackout; more than that I can't say. But I'm OK, and I'll post my latest random thoughts and hopefully some pics soon.