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.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The best holiday

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday.  I'm not really sure why.  The food's great, but my mom's Passover meals are better (and without even the benefit of bread!).  And it's patriotic, being an American holiday, but the 4th of July is more so.  It's got a good ideal behind it, but so do most holidays.  And growing up it was not one of the holidays that brought the family together, any more than any other.  Again, that would probably be Passover.  I guess it just combines all my favorite things about holidays into one...though without gifts.  

So it's Thanksgiving.  It hasn't felt like it today - just another work day.  It's also two weeks since my last post, but that's ok - I have a doctor's note.

First to get you caught up on the last two weeks.  The Kandahar visit was moderately productive, I guess.  A few days after we got back came Operation Feeding Freedom, known informally as Operation Outback.  It was a great treat, complete with 12 oz steaks, Bloomin Onions, incredible rolls, some kind of vegetable ravioli thing and cheesecake.  Alas, no Foster's.  As promised, they didn't run out of anything.  I've never had any special feelings toward Outback one way or the other but after this I'll definitely be eating there more once I get back to the states.  That night there was also some country singer who performed on base, I forget her name, an American Idol runner-up or some such.

After that things settled down to normal until Saturday when I started getting sick.  Spent Sunday and Monday and most of Tuesday in bed - just a cold, nothing serious, but enough to get me thinking about what it must have been like for the Marines on Iwo or Guadalcanal, coming down with Malaria and spending weeks or months in a crappy cot (if that), under a crappy tent (if that), with nothing to do, no laptop with DVDs to keep them occupied or take their mind off their misery.  In this war, if you come down with anything serious (including Malaria), you're just medevac'd out of theater and are probably home within a week.  Don't get me wrong, Marines (and other troops) still sacrifice plenty, even setting aside the unevolved bloodiness and loneliness of war, but we have it exponentially better than those before us ever did.

Amazing how a mild case of the sniffles is enough to get me on my soapbox.  Anyway, that's why I didn't post anything on Sunday, which is otherwise my goal.  I'm feeling better today and am going to try to PT later today for the first time in six days.  Ridiculous.

Today, the chow halls have Thanksgiving food for lunch and dinner, and it is good.  Pineapple ham (or whatever), turkey, beef, stuffing (dressin' for you southerners), sweet potato casserole, corn, gravy and pecan pie.  I had a light lunch of about 3000 calories and will go back later for a heavier dinner.  I don't think I've had a Thanksgiving lunch since I was in high school in Alabama.

And now for a Thanksgiving list: ten things I'm grateful for, in no particular order.
  • All the e-mails, FB messages, etc. that expressed some variant of "thanks for serving."  You're welcome.  My part is really pretty small and painless as you already know.  And in general I'm grateful for the support of all my friends and family these last 8 months, which has made all the difference.
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • EOD - explosive ordnance disposal, aka bomb squad.  You think you know what kind of risks these guys face by the very nature of the job, but you don't.  Trust me, you don't even know the half of it.
  • Cpl Yale and LCpl Haerter, and also LtGen Kelly (the speaker) and his son, 2ndLt Kelly, whom I graduated OCS with and who died earlier this month in Sangin.  This part could easily become its own list.
  • My brother's IDF service.  
  • An Israeli organization I knew a little about but have learned much more about lately called Save A Child's Heart, in which both my middle brother and his wife are involved.
  • Derek Jeter.  It's not entirely rational, it's not even a little homosexual, it just is what it is. Yanks need to stop screwing around and resign him already.
  • An organization called Project MOT, which sends care packages to Jewish service members.
  • Grass.  Not the kind you smoke.
  • HL
Well that's all I've got.  I better run if I'm going to work off today's lunch and dinner.  Enjoy the holiday and stay warm.

I'm thankful I don't have to do that anymore.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Three-thirty thoughts

So what am I thinking at oh-dark thirty in the morning, trying (and failing) to sleep in a large "transient" tent at Kandahar airfield?
  • I hate the guy who was crinkling his little potato chips package so loudly he woke me up an hour ago.  Don't worry, I told him.
  • Why on earth would anyone care what I’m thinking at 0330 anyway?  Don’t worry, I’m still going to tell you.
  • There are jets taking off every few minutes here, 24/7.  I first got hooked on the roar of jet engines going to air shows as a kid.  It is still one of my favorite sounds in the world.
  • I will never again take for granted high speed internet.
  • It was nice chatting with my friend PT today.
  • Speaking of PT, I had a great PT session earlier – 35 minute run in boots and utes, must have been about four miles.  I quit running in green on green around early August – didn’t seem to be a very realistic form of combat conditioning.  My joints are occasionally less than pleased, but my resting heart rate is currently…about 48 beats per minute. 
  • It’s Veteran’s day, or just was.  As I told PT earlier, it’s hard to think of myself as a future vet – I just don’t have the hat, vest and pin collection to pull it off (yet).  What else do I think about Veteran’s day?  Well as a Marine I’ve learned a lot about what other Marines went through, and out here where I have a bed, a good pair of boots and global connectivity, that’s pretty much always on my mind.  Also, I think we as Americans have moved significantly in the right direction in the way we think about “the troops” and “the vets” as compared to the dark days of Vietnam and “baby killers.”  That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it, at a time when so much seems to be moving in the wrong direction…
  • If you aren’t just swept away by Chopin, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  I miss my piano terribly.  I also play it terribly, and especially will after a year of not touching one, so that’s nice and symmetrical.
  • I learned today that when glass breaks, the cracks move at over 3000 mph.  Interesting.  But what gets me is that cracks aren’t things…they’re where things (e.g. glass) stop being.  So it’s nothingness expanding at 3000 mph.  Just let that one twist around in your brain for a bit.  Hurts, huh.

Well that’s about it really.  Looks like about 9 thoughts – a respectable number given the time of night.  10 would be presumptuous, perhaps even arrogant; 8 and I would have had to leave out the glass-cracking thing.  So 9 it is.

Good night.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Happy birthday

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m going to try to get back into posting something on here weekly, if only quickly to let you know that I’m still OK.  I’ll be doing a little traveling over the next month or so (nothing to worry about) but I should be able to post at least that often.

For now, it’s been a while since I described what things are like here, which I think is the one thing I can offer you, my fanatically loyal reader(s?), that you might not get somewhere else.

Some things never change of course – it’s always dusty.  But at least it’s not hot, in fact it’s getting to feel quite cool.  At dawn it’s in the low 50’s or high 40’s, and in the day it gets up to the 60’s or 70’s.  Yesterday was a gorgeous day, and even the sunset was amazing since we had some clouds.  In fact it actually rained here one night last week – first precipitation since April.  Winter in this part of the country is mostly a cold, rainy season, though it will drop below freezing at night here and there.  Further north even a little bit, where there’s some pretty fierce fighting going on, will be colder and more miserable, so keep those guys in your thoughts and treat them well when they get home. 

As I write this the sun (and the temperature) is going down.  Per usual, the ranges are providing an appropriately martial sound-track for my thoughts – impressive booms and crunches from artillery and mortars with shockwaves you can feel in your ribcage; the rattle of all caliber of machine guns, a sound unmatched in its ability to motivate; the muffled thump of grenades – probably the 40mm variety, not the more commonly known hand-grenades but who knows. 

At night it’s really an impressive show, between the tracers, the explosions and the battlefield illumination that reveals hidden clouds of smoke and dust.  And of course, at all times of the day or night, one of the world’s busiest airfields lies just a few clicks away on the British side of the base.  I don’t think anyone even notices anymore the almost constant, if usually distant, thumping of rotor blades and the occasional roar of some behemoth of a cargo plane landing.

Similarly, at work the constant flow of intel has resolved into a sort of background hum.  I’ve gotten good at picking out what’s relevant to my work, and I skim through the rest quickly, somehow avoiding thinking too much about what incredibly (potentially) dangerous information is contained when it doesn’t pertain to me.  (BOOM!)  I can only assume – and it’s a safe assumption I think – that the Marines to whom that info is relevant are doing the same thing.  

Well it’s getting late and I have to run.  Literally.

Wish me a happy birthday.

 November 10, 1775