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, December 24, 2010


Yesterday, I sneezed. Well to be accurate it was early this morning. Also, it wasn’t really a sneeze, it was one of those almost-sneezes. A non-sneeze. A snooze. Still, it was the culmination of a monumentally joyous experience. Let me tell you all about it.

I’ve been generally aware of the eventual need to sneeze for most of my time out here. I first got that pre-sneeze tingle several months ago. I knew it was coming, and I knew it was going to be big - one of those truly messy, mucus-rich, high G-force, double-barrel sneezes.

This one was going to require a tissue.

However, getting a tissue in Afghanistan is not as easy as you might think. I talked to our SMEs (subject matter experts), got estimates on the amount of tissue I would need to mitigate the effects of my sneeze and when I could expect final tissue turnover given an X-man working party working Y-hours a day for Z-days (and z-nights), looked up the tissue man-hour engineering utilization ratio chart in Field Manual Lima, briefed representatives from each nose-hair on the requirement, intent and ultimate disposition of the tissue, made countless adjustments, filled out the requisition forms, crafted a persuasive letter of justification, outlined the statement of work, staffed it all (in my enthusiasm, I failed to cross all my i’s and dot my t’s and had to redo and resubmit the paperwork), made my case in front of the Bodily-fluid Acceleration Review Forum, received funding approval from the BARF, requested delivery of the tissue-building materials, found out the on-hand materials were…not, resubmitted the tissue request and supporting paperwork for contracting, awaited sourcing of the tissue contract, took a quick but relaxing (relatively) break to herd some cats, provided the tissue specifications, escorted the tissue delivery personnel to the work site (my upper lip), drafted a FRAG-O to man the tissue working party, negotiated with adjacent units on the sourcing of the tissue working party personnel, deconflicted the tissue working party with a simultaneous but unrelated toilet-paper planning group, coordinated transportation, food and heavy equipment (forklifts, trucks, pneumatic fluffer, etc.) for the off-loading and placement of the tissue materials, ensured all tissue working party safety requirements were met and equipment was provided (gloves, eye protection, ear protection, throat protection, groin protection, soul protection, flak, kevlar, water source, boots), provided the morning brief on safe tissue handling, filled out an operational risk management matrix for the tissue employment, managed the timing and placement of the tissue with all stake-holders (the nose being the ultimate arbiter), took another quick (relatively) break to carve a life-sized stone sculpture of Joseph Heller using nothing but a feather and a steely glare, maintained accountability of the tissue working party, checked daily on the status of the tissue working party, submitted a nightly situation report on the progress of the tissue working party, synchronized my right hand with my left (ambidextrously resolving any disputes between them), adroitly modified the tissue plans and diagrams to accommodate ever-changing tissue-utilization requirements, and when the tissue was finally in place…

…well, you know, sometimes you think you need to sneeze, but it passes.

Lucky for me. This morning I got an e-mail that key parts of the tissue were emplaced too far to the west, obstructing my left ear canal.

Ah well.  Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's cold in the desert

At dawn it’s now in the mid-20’s here in central Helmand, up to the 50’s during the day.  In the evening the sun sinks below the horizon as you watch, with the temperature falling just as rapidly and the intense reds and oranges reflecting off the low-hanging dusty haze. 

1000 splendid words

But despite the cold it doesn’t feel like winter – no frozen puddles (because no water lying around), no frost on the windows in the morning (well, no windows anywhere either except on vehicles), no clouds in the sky.  Some days if you just walk around with your head level, it feels as dingy and overcast (from the gray dust) as a cloudy winter day back home, but if you remember to look straight up, above the dust, you find the sky is still a brilliant blue.  It’s odd.

Right now it’s about an hour after sunset, with just a sliver of a moon that’s about to set – we’re just exiting the low-light period of the month.  One way I find myself marking the passage of time is the moon phases, not because I’m in the desert and reverting to some nomadic view of time, but because each morning I sit in on a long powerpoint brief where one of the slides deals with lunar data.  Every time we hit low light it means another half a month has gone by, and when we hit full high light again, same thing.

It’s been an interesting week or so. 

On Friday I took a day trip to a small FOB (forward operating base).  I was up around 0330 for a dawn flight.   

Waiting for our flight at dawn

Our ride out was on a CH-53D.  They say about this aging bird that if it’s not leaking, it’s empty.  Ours was not empty, as evidenced by large grease stains on my cammies.  


It was a quick flight.  We landed in a rather large LZ and I spent the morning checking out the FOB’s security.  Wish I should share more on that but obviously I can’t.  Met some interesting Afghans, saw some interesting sites, had lunch.  Spent the afternoon laying in the sunlight in a gravel clearing, reading a book on my iPod touch.  (Have I mentioned that was my best investment before coming out here?)    

Striking a pose

The flight back was around sunset on a CH-53E, obviously a newer version of the same aircraft.  Two easy ways to tell the D and the E apart from afar (because you know you want to) are that the E has a refueling boom and a canted tail rotor.  The most enjoyable difference is that the E has much more powerful engines.  My first helicopter ride, way back in OCS, was on a 53E and that pilot maneuvered in ways that you’d never expect from what is essentially a large flying bus.  It was exhilarating.   


 Heading "home"

The past eight days have, of course, also been Hanukkah.  I believe I managed to light the candles every night – except that Friday now that I think of it.  We had a handful of Jewish service members here and down at another base where I went from Sunday to Tuesday.  On that trip I was traveling with the head chaplain for all of 3d MAW (Third Marine Aircraft Wing), who is a Rabbi here visiting for the holiday.  It’s kind of amazing to have a Rabbi in that position – he’s a Navy Captain (one rank below an Admiral), and a MAW is a division-level unit.  Rabbi E is a very entertaining guy who had clearly done this once or twice before, and we got along well.  

Jewish mafia

Naturally, during the trip I double-dipped to get some AT/FP work done, but Gunny and I managed to mostly take it easy.  Since Tuesday things have been largely back to normal.  Tomorrow night we’ll have Shabbat services with the Rabbi, and he leaves shortly after that.  On Sunday it will be exactly two years since my commissioning, and I’ll pin on 1stLt.  I’ll be sure to post some pictures. 

In fact, I cannot believe it’s already December.  I’ve been out here since March, and I can tell you that in June or July, December seemed like an illusion – something that would never come to be.  Pretty soon it will be New Year’s, and I’m sure you know what the next milestone after that is…that’s right: pitchers and catchers report to spring training. 

Well that’s all I’ve got.  Some potentially exciting things on tap in the next few weeks, so wish me luck.

Another day at the office