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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

All's well

But no time.  Sorry I haven't answered many e-mails this wk.  I have literally 1 minute before I have to be somewhere - just wanted to let everyone know I'm OK.  More to follow...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Busy week

As you've gathered if you read/watch the press, it's been a busy week in Afghanistan. 

On Sunday, 16 May, there was a really big fire on Camp Leatherneck.  I passed the site of the fire today and saw smoldering, a week later, if that gives you an idea of the size.  To complicate things, about 30 minutes after the fire started we were hit with a truly impressive sandstorm.  Here's a great pic that was posted on CNN that captures the convergence of the two events.

Fire on the left, incoming wrath of G-d on the right. 

Regardless of the cause of the fire (on which I wouldn't comment in a public forum like this even if I knew) there was, as you can imagine, a force protection role to play, and Gunny and I played it until the wee hours of the morning.

Then the real fun began. 

Wednesday the 19th, a suicide bomer attacked a convoy in Kabul and killed quite a few people.  On Thursday the 20th, the Taliban conducted a coordinated, combined-arms assault on Bagram Air Field.  A small attack force, more suicidal than strategic, but nonetheless brazen.  In fact, I shouldn't say the attack wasn't strategic, since strategic victory and tactical victory often seem unrelated in the Small Wars of today.  What I mean is they weren't going to overrun the base; it's huge.  They were there to kill and die, and they did both. 

On Saturday the 22nd (yesterday), they conducted another complex frontal assault on the also very large Kandahar Air Field.  By a fluke, I was not at KAF though I was supposed to be.  Gunny was there and saw some of the fireworks up close but he's fine.  Was I frustrated not to be there to do my job?  More than I'll ever be able to describe.

I'll leave it to your imagination how these events have affected our work; suffice it to say we're busy.  I still enjoy the challenge of the job and derive satisfaction from each additional measure put in place to protect the good guys.  But like any large organization, there is inertia to be overcome, complacency to be combatted.  I think that despite the events of the last week, the last decade, there are still those who have not learned to use their imaginations.  For my part, there is no "I told you so" in this game; there is only, "damn." 

And for that reason, I felt for the first time today a premonition of what it will be like when this deployment is over.  I like, I even love, deployment (at least so far).  I could care less about the sand, the heat, the long hours and all the other crap.  Out here, I'm doing a real job with urgent and tangible consequences.  It puts in even starker contrast than before the horse crap (I'm trying to watch my language) that is garrison life back in the states.  And yet...for the first time today I felt that I'm looking forward to the end of this long deployment - because eventually I'll need someone else to take over the worrying. That is the only unsustainable part.

That said, I can't imagine things being exactly the same as they were when I get back.  I don't imagine I'll stop worrying. Eventually I suppose it will fade - without renewed stimulus (in this case, real-time knowledge) all things do with time. But right now it's hard to imagine.

Anyway all that is in the relatively distant future.  For now, I'm going to share the lighter side of the past week.

Earlier this week, I forget which day, we went to the range to battle-zero our rifles and get some refresher training.  There isn't a Marine in the Marine Corps who doesn't enjoy the range, even with body armor on in the 108 degree heat.  Here are some pics:


Pivot drills

Yes.  This target.  Three rounds.  I don't know. 

180 drills (I'm 3d from left)

Well that process (uploading pics) always takes half the night. It's now after midnight and I have to be up first thing for MCMAP. So I'll have to leave you for now...hope things are quiet where you are. 


Friday, May 14, 2010

A Place Called River City

 "River City" is the brevity code for a communications blackout (it may be code but it's not much of a secret), and it's where we've been for most of the last week.  Obviously, it’s not fun being cut off from the world.  However, River City usually happens when a Marine is killed, to ensure the family finds out the right way rather than through the grapevine.  As such, it certainly puts things into perspective.  It also makes reconnecting with the world that much more gratifying.

This week we lost a number of Marines, which is why the blackout has been virtually uninterrupted for so long.  In part due to reports I see and briefs I attend, I have some thoughts on the deaths of these Marines – the number and the manner – but after several tries I can’t find an Internet-appropriate way to express them.  All I'll say is that if I meet the enemy, I will not hesitate.

Enough about that.  I owe you an update on the last week or so.

Last Friday night, or possibly Saturday night, Gunny and I went down to the Danish compound to relax.  It was great – we smoked Cubans (Montecristo), drank cold Dr. Peppers (I get paid for all this product placement, you know), at cake (I don't know what kind, I don't understand food things...it was green) and just shot the breeze for several hours.

The cigar that's just a cigar.

At one point the Danish civilians from the YMCA who run the coffee shop handed out hymnals and everyone sang a few hymns in Danish.  It was slightly surreal.  They provided us the translation to one prayer.  I saved it.  It goes like this:

Good G-d!

Bless our work
For Peace and Justice
Against division and injustice, cruelty and violence.
Strengthen our camaraderie and unity
And keep us from abandoning one another in distress and danger.
Be with those who are supposed to lead and command,
Give them vision and determination
And care for them, they have responsibility.
Thank you for my country,
For family and friends and everyone who loves me.
Dear G-d, I ask you:
Keep me and my nearest
From disease, accident and everything worse.
Be with me when I am threatened
And seized with fear for my life and health.
Let me be allowed to return
To my everyday in good condition,
When my service is over.

Let me be allowed to return to my everyday…that's nice.

Sports update: we remain undefeated.  We’re working on a league and as of right now I made our team’s starting lineup, playing center field.  Final cuts this Saturday (tomorrow) but it’s looking good.  Brian Cashman, take note.  (Curtis Granderson, watch your back.)

The newest Yankees farm team

Yes, we play on rocks.

Also doing MCMAP training again (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) - working toward my gray belt (tan-gray-green-brown-black).  I don't like MCMAP much as a martial art, but throwing people around is fun.

Weather update: we’re officially into the wind of 120 days.  It is not, as I naively assumed, four months of wind.  It’s a weather pattern that essentially spawns sandstorms most afternoons.  So that’s a relief.

Page 6: Nada.  Not much time to socialize.  Held a meeting yesterday down at the flight line.  Someone made a joke about hors d’oeuvres and I thought about how different my life is compared to just a few years ago.

In back-to-the-future news, the British are coming.  Some high-level Brits are moving into some offices nearby, and the gravity-assisted poop has come to rest at my (former) doorstep.  The Brits displaced the lawyer and the lawyer displaced the antiterrorism/force protection cell (us).  Obviously, this poop-roll instantiated the pecking order – Brit commander trumps lawyer trumps AT/FP.  That lawyers are more important in this war than AT/FP is as surprising as the rising sun.  But it’s also telling.  What exactly it tells history will decide.  I hope it's not what I think it is.  Anyway, it's left us in much cozier confines with about a dozen of our closest friends.  Temporary, I'm told.

For now, time to get back there and get something done.  More to follow...

Battlefield illumination, seen from the Danish compound.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Picture this...

More pics.  Got it.  A pic is worth a thousand words.  Roger.  When it's my words we're talking about, they're probably worth even more.  Check.

They're not exciting.  They're frankly boring.  But you asked for them.  Enjoy.

The prairie

The beast

I love left-handed shifting



Morale tent

Big truck

A mountain

The mountain above is usually almost completely obscured by the dust that hangs in the air like a haze.  This morning it was particularly clear so I took a picture.  Had to cut the bottom part of it for opsec so it's not nearly as impressive as in real life.

Sunset on the Riviera

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What to bring on a deployment to Afghanistan

 Note: I've posted another list here more recently, with some more suggestions of things to bring on deployment.

When I was getting ready for this, my first deployment, I looked for some good ideas on things to bring with me to Afghanistan, and I found a few good lists online.  Here's my take on things I'm glad I brought or that people have sent me that really make life better out here:

  • My Timex Ironman Triathlon watch.  Through all the abuse of training and deployment, this beast is unfazed.  It's versatile, well designed and its Indiglo feature is effective yet tactical.  Also, I've trained myself to snap out of bed, Pavlov style, when its unique alarm goes off.  No more 2 hour snooze-fests for me.
  • Extremely bright flashlight.  My Fenix P3D is awesome: 215 max lumins and multiple settings, all for only around $70.  Best nonlethal defense/deterrent to getting jacked on base.  As my CO likes to say: be the hard target.  Get a Picatinny rail adapter for it, too, and rechargeable batteries.
  • Pistol holster, if you're getting issued a pistol.  I'm not saying what kind to get - that's personal preference.  Just saying figure out your preference and invest accordingly before you get here.  Same for mag pouches.  And on a related note, lots of people invest in MagPul M16/M4 mags - I'd look into improved M9 mags too.  The followers on the 9 mil issued mags are equally crappy.
  • iPod Touch.  It's compact, holds tons of music, and works with Kindle books (free app).  I take it everywhere.  Preload a few good books.  Be sure to invest in a good case and the clear screen covers to protect it from moon dust and abuse.
  • Along with the iPod, buy a recharger.  My Tekkeon TekCharge MP1800 is great: highly durable, fast recharge of my gizmos and can recharge them multiple times on one charge (of its own).
  • Moisturizer.  I never use the stuff back home but out here, between the dry heat and the dust it's a must.  Trust.
  • Gillette Fusion Power.  I was a Mach 3 man for over 10 years.  One day at TBS I lost my Mach and my backup Mach.  I decided to try the power Gillette.  It was a religious experience.  If you have sensitive skin or hate shaving like I do, I think you'll find it's the most comfortable close shave there is.  Alas, the disposable blades are a metric fortune.  Damn you, capitalism.
  • Baby wipes.  Everyone knows this one.  Q-tips too - remember to bring enough of both for weapons cleaning.
  • Powdered drink packets.  All potable water here is bottled water (don't tell the environmentalists).  I drink probably 8-10 bottles a day.  Crystal Lite and Hawaiian Punch make several good sugar-free flavors.
  • Laptop: I recommend a Thinkpad.  They're the most durable laptops you can get without jumping into the toughbook category...and paying accordingly.
  • Socks: I'm a big fan of Thorlo Combat Boot Socks.  They also make Extreme Winter Hunter Socks or something like that (found them.  You can get them for less.  I paid about $11/pair at 29stumps).  Very warm and comfortable.
  • Skivvies and cammies: At least 10 sets of the former, four of the latter.  Spare cover.
  • Bedding: two sets.  Obviously this one is for fobbits.  Bring your own pillow.

old-timers might know this creature as the REMF
  • Good ear pro: I like the wax stuff best.  For eye pro issued gear is fine but you should know about USStandardIssue from Oakley if you don't already.
  • Camera.  A combat deployment is not an everyday thing.  Take pics.  Just keep OpSec in mind. 
Hope this list helps.  If you're about to deploy and can't seem to get a straight answer on what to bring and what you'll be able to get here, just leave a comment and I'll tell you what I know.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rock (in) my world

Do you remember the first time you used a walkman/iPod?  I do.  For whatever reason, I never had one growing up.  Never wanted one, I guess.  First time I used one was freshman year of college.  I got a new CD player and headphones, and busted them out on the subway in NYC.  It was amazing - I felt like I was walking around in a movie with my own soundtrack.  I remember the CD had Zeppelin, Matchbox 20 and some Eminem.  I was the real slim shady. 

I remembered that just now because I'm wearing headphones and listening to my usual eclectic mix of music (some Breaking Benjamin, some Benny Goodman...some borrowed, some blue).  It made me realize I've gone 5 or 6 weeks without hearing one note of music.  I guess music is one of those things that you don't realize is missing until the first time it re-enters your consciousness. 

I wonder what else is missing and I haven't noticed?
  • Birds.  Haven't seen one since we got here.
  • Kids.  Any non-adult human.
  • Any non-human mammal.  Well, except the military working dogs.  They're the best thing about this place.
  • The smell of gas at the pump (Jersey types have no idea what I'm talking about)
  • My car.  Can't wait to take the top down and go driving through the desert again.
  • Jeans.  Any civilian clothes. 
  • Flies.  Ha ha. 
In sports news, my softball team remains undefeated.  I...do not.  Saturday we played safety and medical, and they were shorthanded.  So I played on their team and we lost.  Sunday, back in pinstripes, we played a medical battalion from the flight line and came back to win a close one, 14-12.  One of the docs took some team pics so when she e-mails them to me I'll post them.

In religious news, on Friday night I "led" Jewish services, which I can do now that I have my official appointment letter as a Jewish lay leader.  There was one other attendee, a nice Mexican Catholic soldier who is studying Hebrew and planning to convert to Judaism.  We had a really nice hour together davening (praying).  When I remember, I'll post a pic of the chapel, just because I can. 

Before he left, the Rabbi got me a desert cammie kippah - how cool is that. 

In former-colonial-power news, I haven't been down to hang out with the Brits in a while.  I could, but I find the trips down there more enjoyable when I don't go every night.  I've never been much of a delayed-gratification kind of guy (microwave > oven), but here having something to look forward to seems at least as important as actually doing the something.  In a related story, I wonder how the Brits feel being here, since they've been fighting in this place since before gunpowder.

Work continues to be busy.  Hopefully when I get back I'll get to see many of you and tell you about some of the things that occupy me day-to-day but that, frustratingly, I can't share in this forum or at this time.  We had a new unit come in today to replace one that's leaving (called a RIP - Relief in Place).  Gunny and I did our AT/FP road show and it was well received. 

Oh, for those of you who know him, I spoke to my little brother two nights ago - the one in the Israeli army (remember, I don't do names here).  First time we've been able to talk since I got here.  He just came off two weeks of Gaza border duty and he's headed back, today I think, for two more.  He's doing well, very excited because he just got approval to go to squad leader's course - the next step toward his ultimate goal of becoming an officer.  Unfortunately, those slobs don't even salute their own officers, so odds of me getting a salute from him some day: not astronomical.  It's always interesting to compare notes with him on tactics, gear etc.  Lots of similarities as you might expect.  Less purple in the Marine Corps, though.

Well once again I've stayed up past my bed time.  More to follow...

Semper DropTop