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.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Afghanistan in your kitchen

If you want to know what it's like in Afghanistan right now, just follow this simple recipe.  Preheat your oven to, oh, 350 degrees. Open the oven door. Place a fan in front of the oven and turn the fan on high. Pour a mixture of one part sand, two parts talcum powder into the fan. Place your face 3 inches from the fan.  Welcome to summer in Helmand. 

But the strange thing is, I'm not complaining.  Most of my friends are out here for a six-month deployment (or so), which means yesterday was about their half-way point.  They're counting down the days while I'm still counting up (I'm here for the year).  Meanwhile, in these last three months I haven't worn civilian clothes, had a drop of alcohol, seen a single TV show, had a day off, eaten (real) Chinese food, had a leisurely shower, played the piano, been on a date, or spent a single day unarmed. 

But none of that stuff bothers me.  Oh, there are plenty of things that do - I'll get to those at some point here.  But somehow all the things that I thought I couldn't live without in the states, that I strove to maximize - I just don't think about them or miss them much.  Maybe that's because I know I'm only temporarily deprived of them (and after all, I'm still living comfortably compared to many out here), or maybe it's because between 14 hours of work and 8 hours of sleep there's not much time left to fantasize about such luxuries as asphalt roads.

Actually, to continue my random stream of consciousness, I try to work less than 14 hours a day when I can.  About two weeks ago I started feeling burnout after going non-stop for about 10 weeks or so, so now I'm trying to pace myself.  Of course, at just that time the restrictions on Internet access from work computers got even tighter, so now about the only diversion from work is the news - which is a piss-poor diversion these days, not to put too fine a point on it.  However, it has made me better informed than I've been in a long time. 

Which brings me neatly to my next subject.  I've gotten a lot of questions, via email and such, about how the whole McChrystal thing is affecting us out here.  To be honest, it's not.  Operationally, things continue day-in and day-out, and while I know there's speculation over whether Gen Petreaus will make any changes to the ROE (rules of engagement) I think the tone of the war, of which ROE is a reflection, is set at the very top.  This is Obama's war now - his to win or lose.  Now if you know me you know I've got one or two more things to say on the subject, but I won't say them here.  I will, however, share one opinion upon which I am firmly resolved: this military can win this war.  If anyone tells you otherwise, send them to me.

Ok, let me try to switch gears to something lighter once again.  I know it's been a long time since I last posted, and to be honest I'm not sure what I've told you about and what I haven't, so apologies if I repeat myself. 

Major highlights of about the last month or so:
  • This was cool: we went and watched the U.S.-U.K. soccer match down at the British coffee shop.  There were actually more Americans than Brits there.  Incidentally, they apparently take offense if you call them "Brits" - the only ones allowed to do it, we're told, are the USMC.  Anyway, we're down there watching the pregame, some British international broadcast, and all of a sudden, we're on it.  They had a camera set up on the other side of the coffee shop and for about a minute or two they interviewed random blokes about who-knows-what and "football" and such.  I studiously avoided the camera as is my wont.
  • Next (in no apparent order): a few days ago I finally went outside the wire.  I've flown to other bases but this time I got to go out on the ground, on a patrol of some nearby areas.  We made nice with the locals, had some fresh-baked bread (it's like Indian naan) and chai and some kind of disgusting candy made of goat's milk.  We smiled through it all - nothing like 1000 degree tea when it's 115 degrees out and you're wearing 40 lbs of body armor - and surely won over hearts and minds, and also some fleas and ticks and lice.  Perhaps because I was the new guy, I was like a celebrity - everybody wanted a picture with me.  In geopoliticoeconostrategic terms this was good because when the locals don't feel safe, they don't want any pictures with Marines lest they fall into the hands of the Taliban who will hunt them down and issue strong verbal condemnations. 
  • For all the Los Diablos fans out there (my softball team) - we are, alas, no longer undefeated.  Last week we got schwacked 20-4 by the only remaining undefeated team, just one day after we'd beaten the other (formerly) undefeated team.  But we're still in the running, in part thanks to two victories-by-forfeit on the season (one yesterday), and we've got another game later this evening so stop by and cheer - it's bobblehead night.  We had some internal strife that resulted in some mid-season coaching adjustments and readjustments, but when you're talking about this kind of talent and these sums of money, it's almost inevitable.  Personally, I just focus on the game between the lines and go out there every day (or at least twice a week) and give it no less than 110%. 
  • Ah yes!  I almost forgot.  You people are aMAzing.  I've gotten several packages from unexpected sources lately (HM, JL - thank you!) and one (EJB) that was as always totally overdone and had to be brought in with a forklift.  As you probably already know, it's not the junk food or magazines or nerf slingshots (brilliantly diabolical though) that ultimately raise our morale out here but just getting the package, before it's even opened, and seeing that someone back home was thinking of you long enough to put it together. 
OK well I'm sure there were more highlights and I'll write about them as I think of them, as well as post some pictures...but for now I have to head back to work. 

Another day closer...