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, January 29, 2012

Been here, done this...

On deck at Manas. We landed at dawn, local, almost exactly 24 hours after we left Miramar. It was reportedly 10 below (Fahrenheit, but does it really matter once you get into negatives?) as we deplaned but it seems to have warmed up from arctic to merely frigid.

Best I could do from a moving bus.
Does not do this morning's sunrise justice.

Though it's not Afg yet, walking around this place again is like revisiting a familiar dream. Leatherneck should be downright surreal.

 Manas, just now.

Looks like we may get out of  here earlier than anticipated.  Can't post specific dates/times, theoretically for opsec but in reality because no one knows anything.  More to follow...

ps EM/RM, nice place.  love the video.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Getting the Hell Into Dodge

Someone on the bus on the way to Miramar said something about getting the hell out of Dodge.  A buddy pointed out that we’re actually getting the hell into Dodge.  It seemed both funny and profound...n'est-ce pas?

That was this morning.  Now we're in the air just a few minutes outside San Diego.  Next stop Bangor, ME in about five hours, where I’ll post this.  In all we’ll apparently be flying and stopping and flying and rinsing and repeating for about 24 hours.  Fun.

First let’s get one thing out of the way.  I’ve been remiss about sending out my address even though I’ve promised it to many of you.  It is:

UNIT 42041
FPO, AP 96427-2041

As far as what you can send, I posted on this last time here (hard to believe that was nearly two years ago now) and more recently here.  Just think about what you’d want if you were away from family and friends and your stuff and Five Guys for a while, and you’ll be on the right track (hint: brownies in wax paper do not spoil as fast as you might think).  The best part, as I’ve said before, is just getting something from home that says, out of sight but not out of mind.

Next question I get a lot is how I feel about going back.  Answer: good.  Really good.  Yes, by the time July/August rolls around I’ll be more than ready to come back.  But everything that’s bad about deployment is what makes it so good.  Ok good is the wrong word.  Makes it so meaningful, so different.  First there’s the chance to do a job that unambiguously matters.  One of my favorite quotes about the Marines is from Reagan; I’m Google-less so I’ll paraphrase: A lot of people wonder if they ever made a difference.  Marines don’t have that problem. 

Second, from personal security to personal cleanliness, all the things that I take for granted day in and day out get this richer, more fulfilling tinge to them when I get to re-experience them on returning.  The most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten, as you may recall from last time, was the first bite of a Subway sandwich at Ali al Salem in Kuwait.  I still drool at the memory.  Yes, right now.  Drooling.

Also, the things that make deployment so miserable make it so comfortable because we really are deprived of so very, very little compared to our brethren on the ground side who live in tiny FOBs, trek through the mud and dust for twelve hours every day in full battle rattle, eat MREs, shower never and consider themselves blessed just to come back there each night (or each morning) with all ten fingers and toes.  I may complain (and I will) but I try to remember how good we have it compared to them, and how good we all have it compared to Marines of previous wars.

Somehow I managed to get my soapbox into my carry-on. 

As I mentioned previously, I’ll be in Lashkar Gah this go-around.  I don’t think I shared in much detail what I’ll be doing, so I’ll continue not to here.  Here’s what I can say: the Brits and the Marines work closely together.  The Brits have a piece of the battlefield that they own, and the Marines more or less own the rest of Helmand province and some environs.  Lashkar Gah is actually inside the British area of operation (AO), and is their headquarters. 

My job will be to help anticipate, coordinate and deconflict British and Marine needs in terms of air support, fire support, etc. wherever they may impact/assist one another, and get each unit what they need when they need it.  It’ll be a fun job and I hope to make plenty of British friends, but it will probably not be terribly challenging and will leave me lots of free time to enjoy the innumerable diversions of the roughly 3-square-foot (about 1 centimeter, metric) base that will be home for the next half year.

In addition to this blog, I’ll also be writing a column every other week for the Conway Daily Sun in Conway, NH.  I believe they have a web site and I’ll post links here when they’re published.  Beyond the first one or two articles, I have no idea what I’m going to say to fill them all, so please send me ideas of things you’d want to hear about.  Or better yet, just write them for me yourself and I’ll be sure to give you credit someday.

Last question I’ve heard frequently is if/how the drawdown is affecting us.  It has, it is and it will.  We’re taking fewer Marines than originally planned, which was a huge disappointment to those who thought they were going.  I’m glad I wasn’t one of the ones cut.  Once we’re there, the Marines will continue to draw down and this will impact what we do and, most likely, where we do it.  Beyond that I can’t say because I don’t know, but once I get there and see how things have changed (and are changing) I’ll let you know more.

Time to wrap up…with some deep thoughts of course.  Mine are less about going to Afghanistan – though I suppose it hasn’t really hit me that I’m going back yet – and more about closing another chapter.  Now if any of my SD area friends read this, I haven’t said goodbye because I’ll be back in the late summer.  But because I moved out of my apartment, closed the door on another place and locked my stuff up in storage again, it felt like goodbye.  It’s likely my time in CA after I get back from deployment will be limited.  So that bummed me out.

Some moving out pics...

All packed up

I should dust more often

Piano.  Movers love me.

All I really need.  Why did I have all that other crap?


Well normally these posts take me a few hours to put together, so naturally now that I have time to kill that took about 20 minutes.  I could keep going but there’s a movie on and even though I can’t hear it I’m far too easily distrac…oooh, shiny!


Saturday, January 7, 2012

That hit the spot, II

In a few weeks I head back to Afghanistan.  Now I'm not saying anyone stole the last nine months from me, I'm just saying a minute ago I had them and now they're gone.  I checked under the bed, between the couch cushions and in the fridge.  Nada.  So if you did take them, just leave them on my welcome mat and ring the doorbell.  No questions asked. 

If you don't, the man with the mustache will get you.

Ok I exaggerate.  I did have some fun, got to do some living, met some new people.  Most importantly, since my last post I've collected an additional sister and nephew.  I was actually shopping for a great-aunt but some lady pepper-sprayed me in line and took the last one.

Confession: it seems I'm a lot more of a family man than I realized, especially for a single guy.  Usually I'm rolling my eyes back to my brain stem as you (agonizingly slowly) flip through 2348923 pictures of your new baby niece.  Turns out, it's just your family that's boring.  Mine is adorable.  So yes, I showed a picture of the newest M to some friends.  A picture.  One.  That's how it's done folks: Isn't he cute?  Yes.  Thanks, go back to your crossword.

HOWEVER.  This blog is a voluntary undertaking.  If you're reading this you've chosen to set aside the sodoku/knitting/SVU marathon.  So here I'm going to post more than one pic.  A lot more than one.  You've been warned.

First came the baby.  His name is...redacted, like all names in my online paranoia.  But his initials are ALM.  The original LM was this baby's father's father's father's father, who died at Auschwitz.  ALM was born on 22 Dec 2011, 7lb 11 oz, of which 2lb 8oz was hair.  See for yourself:

Seriously.  Am I just biased or is he the cutest baby ever?

 Exhibit B

Uhh...now what.

They'll love him no matter what.  If he does drugs, steals purses, drinks expired milk.
  Just as long as he doesn't go to Auburn.
Family's first Hanukkah


Saba (Grandpa)


More family

Just three days after ALM was born, E and R got married in Israel.  I haven't seen all the professional pics yet but I do have some to show you (mostly stolen from NS' FB page - thanks!).  First though, a little story.

After the men finish signing/witnessing/haggling over the ketubah, we dance our way into the main hall.  E greets his bride and then they go to the chuppah.  There, in a last minute decision, R follows an ancient Jewish custom and circles E seven times.  I hope one of the photographers captured the moment.  E has his eyes closed, head down and looks like he's in the direct presence of G-d.  R is slowly walking around him with her head bowed.  A musician is playing a mournful Jewish tune on the oboe (even in joy Jews never forget our tragedies) and my mother is bawling.  It was the most beautiful moment I've ever witnessed.

Ok enough about that.  Here are the pics.  I told you my family is adorable.  Judge for yourself.

The groom

Anyone know a good chiropractor?

The bride and the moms

No escape for the groom

Under the Chuppah

Unisex dancing.  Not as bad as I expected.

Notwithstanding all the celebrations (and preparatory house work) I did also get to do some traveling.  I had three main goals: spend more time in Jerusalem, visit Masada (finally), and do some hiking in the north.  Went three-for-three.

We started with a trip to the City of David - original, pre-Temple Jerusalem.  They are excavating sites there that are nearly 4,000 years old, some of which we got to walk through.

City of David, as it looked a year ago during my R&R

Excavating ancient ruins

 Click on the pic and read the inscription.  Fascinating.

 The view on exiting the ancient aqueduct.  What you see here is the Arab neighborhood, an avalanche of litter, and in the top left the 3000 year old Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.  Draw your own conclusions. 

 Outside the Zion Gate.

Then we tooled around Jerusalem for a bit and ran some pre-wedding errands for the groom.

I never did understand fashion...
No really.  No left turn.

No really.  We're a café.

And people seriously wonder why I was always getting lost in Jerusalem.

 The ugly (imho) new bridge in central J'lem

Making it look good.

Converting Shekels/Liter to $/Gallon, I think this comes to just under a grand.

A few days after Jerusalem I finally got to Masada, upon which stands an ancient fortress built by King Herod (who also expanded the Second Temple and built many of the ruins visible at Caesarea as you might remember from my last visit).  About a century after King Herod, Jews fleeing the Romans following the sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple made their final stand at Masada and famously committed mass suicide rather than surrender and become slaves.

Aside: I'm currently reading a novel, The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, that is set in this period.  I give it 3.5 stars so far, but it's fascinating to follow the main character as she describes passageways and storerooms that I stood in a only few weeks ago, 2,000 years after she would have lived. 

Anyway, Masada continues to play an important role in the modern Jewish concept of self-defense.  Here's a good article if you want to read more. 

The night before Masada, we camped out at a nearby campground whose name I've forgotten.

Lighting the second candle

 My cousin's Judeo-modern art

 My cousin

Our camp site

Sunrise over the Dead Sea, from our camp site

The Negev desert.  Greenhouses on both sides of the road.

We hiked up the Snake Trail, which is moderately strenuous though Israelis tend to make a much bigger deal out of it than it is.

The Snake Trail

Part-way up.  Dead Sea in the distance.

The view from the top.  The square near the bottom is the ruins of one of several Roman base camps, from which they laid siege to Masada in 72 CE.


The raised floor used to heat the bath house

Herod's Palace

Ramp used by the Romans to take Masada

Ruins of the main Roman garrison

One of the Roman walls up close

In the distance, IDF CH-53Es conducting exercises.  Better them than me.

I believe we did that trip on a Thursday.  Sunday was my brother's wedding.   On Tuesday morning we returned to Jerusalem with the newlyweds for a truly remarkable tour of the excavated tunnels at the Western Wall.  Big thanks to E's father-in-law for making that happen on short notice.

Entering the tunnels

Looking straight down at some deeper excavation

Model of the Second Temple.  Only about the nearest third of the Western (left-most) wall is visible (outdoors) today, but the rest still exists...

A new family in an old place

Original Kotel stones on the right.  Original dad on the left.

Ancient stone quarrying

These ancient cisterns still trap water that drips from the limestone. 
Here's an unexpectedly interesting article I found on this history of Jerusalem plumbing.

Back in daylight in the Old City

Dad at the southwest corner of the Kotel

Man on a mission
Finally, the day before I left we got in a quick hike up north, at a place called...

 Prehistoric caves

The new bride has a new pet

Bride and groom praying at sunset

Snow-capped Mt. Hermon
Well that pretty much wraps up the last month or so.  In the next few weeks I've got to finish (also start) packing up my whole apartment, which by the way looks like this, for those of you who have never gotten to visit:

Living room

Study / guest room

Not pictured: Thermonuclear test facility Perfectly Clean and Organized Bed Room

Then at the end of the month I'm off, expected return around July/August.

I know you just loved scrolling through a million pics of my family.  But as my brother and his wife said:

"Thanks for celebrating with us!"