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, March 13, 2011

Pinch me

Three days ago, I got home.  Even better, I'm pretty sure it's real this time, not like the dream I had maybe a month ago which seemed every bit as real as this until I woke up in Afghanistan with a month still to go.  That was...unpleasant.  Hope it doesn't happen again.

So I'm home, after 95 hours and 30 minutes of travel time, door to door.  After 8,551 hours (356 long days, and change) total time away.  After watching some 18 different wing units or rotations head to the passenger terminal and begin their journey home, it was finally my turn.  (Well actually, it turns out it was the SecDef's turn, so we deplaned after two hours of waiting, and waited another 10 or so before we flew out.)

Of course, everyone's asking "how's it feel to be back."  It feels...great.  I'm euphoric.  Ecstatic.  But not just.  I've had many moments where I had to stop what I was doing and try to convince myself that I'm really here now, and not there.  So disbelief has been one feeling, too.  Also, rediscovery.  I lived in my apartment for a total of about 6 or 7 weeks before deploying.  I finished unpacking the last box the day before I left for the 'stan.  I even had to look up my own address when I was mailing my stuff home from over there.  So I'm a bit of a stranger in my own home - I have to open all the cupboards, for example, to remember where I keep my plates and glasses and such.  The flip side of that is that it's Hanukkah again: everywhere I look there's another gift, something I forgot I owned.

A few first impressions from being back in civilization:
  • The roads are so smooth - like glass.  Can't get over that.  Between the roads and the suspension on my car (or any car that isn't a 1994 Toyota Hilux with 200,000 miles) it feels like I'm flying an inch above the road.
  • There is so much green.  The vista (any vista) seems so much more vibrant.  Did you know that the Afghans have 100 different words for "drab?" 
  • We are so rich.  I mean we all know this on some intellectual level.  But I feel like I'm just drenched in luxury and comfort.  Like I'm eating a 10 course meal prepared by the finest chef in the world and served in the most decadent dining room with chandeliers and crystal glasses and solid gold silverware (goldware?) with ivory handles and silk napkins.  
  • I seem to have only one criterion for finding a woman attractive: she's not wearing a uniform.
  • I hate jet lag.
For months now, I've had a list of a few things I wanted to do as soon as possible once I got back.  One was to get in my car, turn the volume all the way up and floor it down the highway.  Now as I've said before, I'm fortunate to have found a very good car, and my very good car has a very good stereo.  I wanted to make sure the first song I played would take advantage of that, but I hadn't figured out what it should be (so many great songs to choose from!) so I abdicated the responsibility of consciousness and let shuffle pick for me.  It did not disappoint, with Seether's "Walk Away from the Sun."  Perfect selection.  The double sub-woofers thumped, the mids churned, the highs pierced, my engine screamed, the whole damn thing just caught up to me at once and I let out this visceral roar at the top of my lungs.  I know it sounds stupid but it felt great - like I was alive and breathing fresh air for the first time in a year.

Then I hit 55 mph, which after a year of 15 mph speed limits on base felt suicidally fast, and I had to slow down.  Baby steps.

I'm hoping to put up a really long post here soon on some of my thoughts looking back on the last year...but right now it's time to take another hot shower.  So I'll leave you with some pics:



Are you sure you didn't forget something in Afghanistan? 
Maybe you should go back and check.


Thursday, March 10, 2011


Getting closer...now at Bangor, Maine.  America.  Just saying.

En route

Only have a minute, plus I really hate pecking on my iPod Touch. But I wanted to let my legions of fans (hi mom!) know that all's well and I am out of Afghanistan. After a delightful stay in Manas, Kyrgyzstan ("The New Jersey of the East"), we're currently on layover in Germany. ATTENTION local Islamist gunmen: come and get us, you shitbags.

Sorry, where was I?

Oh yeah, Germany. We're about 77 hours into our journey home, counting from when we said goodbye to our Afghani-cans and boarded the busses to the flight line. More on that will have to wait till I have more time, and more keyboard.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Wrapping up

Last Sunday, my replacement made it in after several agonizing (for me) delays, and on Monday we began doing turnover.  That was a day I've been looking forward to for a long time.

Doing turnover, I realized two things.  First, we actually got some good things done out here.  You can lose sight of it in the daily grind but turnover makes you look at where you started and where you are now, and we'll definitely leave the place better and more secure than we found it.  So that's something.

Second and related, I realized I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to build an AT/FP program from almost nothing.  It was definitely a beast, especially the first few months, but it gave us the chance to design things the way we thought they should be.  That was a good experience, and a rewarding one.

That said, I'm pretty stoked to be turning the whole damn thing over to my replacement.  The last few days I've been showing him around, answering a lot of questions, etc.  Then late last night after I'd wrapped up the last few things I had to do, I drove down to the flight line, parked the truck and smoked a cigar I'd bought for just this purpose when I first got on deck.  I'd been tempted to smoke that stogie many times - and eat the bar of white chocolate Toblerone I'd also bought the day Gunny D and I discovered the Shangri-La of the Danish PX - but I'd held off until I was truly done.  It was nice to relax and reflect a little with the outbound rotors and inbound heavies providing the background noise.

(I know what you're thinking - white chocolate with a cigar?  That's what I thought - they'd kind of ruin each other - but they actually went GREAT together.  Each one brought out the flavor of the other.  Try it some time if you don't believe me.)

Anyway, now we've just got one timeless Marine Corps tradition left - the Hurry Up and Wait.  Some time soon (a few hours? a few days?) we'll say goodbye to Afghanistan and before the week is out I should be back home.  In the timeless words of the Beastie Boys: it'sabouttimeit'sabouttimeit'sabouttimeit'saboutti-ime.

Best memories from deployment:
  • Working with the SRT – I’ve written about this previously.  Those Marines and our compound security Marines exceeded my expectations, and everyone who worked with them commented on their professionalism, their seeming inability to get complacent, and the high standard they set for the rest of the base.  BZ to them.
  • Going out on patrol.  Sure, it was just a few clicks outside the wire but it was great to meet some locals, have some tea, talk to them and see how they live.  These last two informed my opinion of the war, the country and the future more than all the reading and studying I ever did. 
  • Flying around the AO.  Flying anywhere on helos is fun.  Seeing the AO (area of operations) from the air was memorable, as was spending time on the deck at some of the smaller FOBs.  Wish I could have done more of this.
  • Spending time in the DASC.  It’s not the most glamorous MOS but you have a complete, real-time view of the war: every TIC (troops in contact), every casevac, every call for fire, every everything.  And of course you’re not just an observer; you’re the one getting the medevac bird to the patient or diverting aircraft to support an immediate air request.  Also, the nature of the job scratches a certain itch for me.  If you’re familiar with the traveling salesman problem, the DASC is kind of like that, only in 3D, at 300 knots and with real bombs and bullets.  There’s a certain pressure in there that focuses your mind, and I like that.
  • Softball on gravel. 
  • Vacations at KAF
  • Lighting Hanukkah candles with my fellow MOTs.  You may think the IDF is the spiritual descendant of the Macabees, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the Jewish warriors of the Marine Corps.
Things I’ll miss about Afghanistan:
Well I think that covers it.  Next post: Manas.  Yeah baby!

Making friends

Winning hearts and minds