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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

All quiet on the southern front

This is gonna be a quick one cause I only have a minute. 
  1. I am ok.  I know you've heard about the demonstrations and the violence in its various forms over the last week or so, and a few of you have contacted me to make sure I'm OK.  Fortunately, all protests in Helmand province have remained peaceful (at least to the best of my knowledge), a frankly astonishing sign of the success the Marines and Brits have had here in the former heartland of the Taliban.  To say that all is quiet in Helmand is of course a bald-face lie, but at least on this issue things have remained remarkably non-violent.
  2. There's been a slight modification to my mailing address that may expedite the mail-delivery process by a few days.  Use this instead:

    1STLT Me
    UNIT 42041
    FPO, AP 96427-2041

    Stand by for possibly another update that will hopefully speed things up even more.
  3. Speaking of mail, I've already gotten a few packages so thank you to my dad and AH and also to HHM - you're the best and I want you to know how much I appreciate our friendship.
  4. EM/RM - your video had me dying laughing in my cot, trying not to wake the neighbors.  WHAT is on your head.  Looking forward to the next one.  AM/CM - I LOVED the video of ALM smiling and I want you to send me a framed pic of him, ok?
  5. One month down, five to go!
Gotta run, a decent post to follow soon I promise.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A day in the Lash...

Somehow, it’s the middle of February and already 1/12th of this deployment is over. Put that way, 6 months doesn’t seem that long, does it?

I’ve more or less settled into a routine here so I guess I’ll start there. I wake up around 7:30 each morning and don’t get up right away. When I do I hit the gym – currently I’m alternating one day resistance, one day cardio but as I get my strength and endurance back up (I hardly worked out at all for probably six weeks before deploying) I’ll start to work myself harder. I read a study somewhere that workouts before breakfast were found to be more effective than after, at least for fat-burning which is one of my goals. I avoid the subject all together by skipping breakfast. I know that’s supposed to be a big no-no but I find I feel great on two meals a day plus snacks.

After working out I take a shower. The British showers are one of the things I love about this place. They are hot – really hot – and actually have adequate water pressure. There’s a knob you push and you get about 15-20 seconds of water, then you have to push it again. The idea I assume is to conserve water. It works, but not because you have to push the knob. It’s because, unlike at US bases, the actual bathroom is properly heated. On Leatherneck the bathrooms are ice-boxes in the winter, so the incentive is to keep the water – even the lukewarm-at-best water – running rather than suds yourself up in the freezing cold air. Probably no one who hasn’t dealt with this directly gives a crap about it but I just had to share my philosophy on bathroom heating and associated phenomena. Moving on.

Back at my tent I go through my post-shower ritual – dry feet (shower shoes are a must), apply moisturizer to shins (they itch something unbearable from wearing boot socks all day every day, to the point that I’ve started wearing ankle socks in my boots some days to give my shins a break), don uniform, strap pistol, climb into body armor. In full flak and sapi plates I then mosey over to work, where I promptly remove said body armor and forget all about it (it’s there for emergencies).

I work in the JOC – Joint Operations Center. It’s the “nerve center” of the real-time war, at least that part being fought by the British in their AO (Area of Operations). Imagine a small room with lots of flat screen TVs and laptops showing UAV feeds, maps and Cricket games, and that’s my office. Everything being classified and such (including, apparently, the rules of Cricket) I unfortunately can’t take a picture to show you.

My piece of the puzzle is simply monitoring a series of chat windows and phones through which various requests for close air support come in from British units. Working with my British counterpart, I help manage the air over those ground units, getting them the air assets they need and integrating them with other forms of fire support such as artillery, mortars and grandiloquent British put-downs.

The British AO, known as Task Force Helmand, is a very kinetic area, so things can get fairly busy in the JOC though once the weather warms the current pace of operations will seem like a vacation by comparison. Fortunately, most of the recent ops seem to have been offensive in nature, with remarkably few medevacs in TFH in recent days (I hope I’m not jinxing it). We did have one Op Minimize a few days ago, the UK version of River City, so unfortunately we haven’t been entirely casualty free.

I leave work for a quick lunch at the chow hall, and ditto for dinner. The chow hall is for the most part tasty but not healthy. An overwhelming amount of the food is fried, and lots of it, maybe a third or more, also contains pork. Still, I have managed to find something good to eat almost every day while still limiting my fried foods. The actual French fries they serve here (with every meal!) remind me of my mother’s so that can be difficult to resist. Also dessert.

After work – I work an 8-9 hour shift – I trundle home to deposit my flak, then turn around and head to the NAAFI – PX – to see if they have anything good. They never do. I mean there’s junk food, which is useless to me, and there’s a lamp with bulbs that don’t fit it so I still live in the dark in my ten, and there are boxers but being the expert planner that I am I already brought some with me, and there is fabric softener of the kind I once described here, but there is no do-it-yourself laundry so that one remains a mystery to me as well. A few things they don’t have that I think maybe they should consider just maybe:
  • Moisturizer, for Jesus Christ’s sake and mine. Are we living in the same Afghanistan?
  • Q-tips
  • Chapstick that doesn’t taste like sheep doodoo
  • UK-to-US power adapters
  • Hanging hooks of any kind (they do have hangars but who has a closet??)
  • Drink mix
  • Baby wipes
Here are a few more things they do carry, thankfully:

  • Connect Four
  • Large pillows
  • Small pillow-cases
  • Chocolate eggs
  • Chapstick that does taste like sheep doodoo
  • Car polish rags
  • Greeting cards – not a few, but a whole display of them
  • And of course: non-alcoholic beer. Not. Going. To Happen.
After a little NAAFI window shopping, I go across the dirt to the computer cans, where I check e-mail, respond to fan mail, and think up new things to ask my dad to send me.

Then it’s off to bed, or rather off to cot. I live in an eight-man tent that houses – you guessed it – six men, not that I’m complaining. I managed to snag one of the extra spots when we moved a few days ago, so now in addition to a bedroom I’ve got a living room, dining room and reflection pool.

…and, ironically, a sort of closet…

Once home I usually turn on a movie on my laptop, read a book, or as is the case tonight, do some writing. I’m tapping this out with a towel over my hands so I don’t annoy my neighbors with my typing, but I’ll (hopefully) post it tomorrow along with a few pictures. Till then…g’night!

The walls in this place are as thin as a sheet.

ps Next day: rainy, so I'll take more pictures on a nicer day.  Meantime, my first Conway Daily Sun column was published!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Only 30 minutes a day on line, so apologies for the series of brief posts (I've used up 25 already today on e-mail so this is going to be messy and disjointed). 

ANYway, just wanted to let you know a little about what's going on.  Been at Lash for a day or two now - I really have a hard time keeping track of the days on deployment for some reason.  It's a small base - helo landing zone, chow hall, living tents, a small NAAFI (PX), some computer and phone terminals, and of course a bunch of work spaces including mine.  The Brits are fun, relaxed, and very hard on Americans.  Now accepting witty comeback contributions.

I live in a tent with maybe a dozen other guys, each separated from each other by some hanging sheets.  I sleep on a cot, so far in my sleeping bag but I'll probably get some kind of bedding here soon.  Unfortunately, we're scheduled to move a few times as they upgrade some tents, so I'm trying not to get too settled in yet.

Well just like that my 30 minutes are up.  More on life in Lash, and hopefully some pics, soon!

Monday, February 6, 2012

In Lash

Made it to Lashkar Gah late last night.  Getting situated.  More to follow...
p.s. GIANTS!!!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Delay of game

I'd hoped to be writing you from Lash(kar Gah) by now but after six hours at the rotor wing terminal last night our flight was cancelled due to weather and we schlepped our schtuff back to the can for another night aboard Camp Cupcake.  No word on when we'll actually be pulling chocks.

Cupcakier than ever

Backtracking, we got here on Tuesday, after a few chilly days in Manas.

Aussie or Talib - who can say?

It's interesting how all of us seem to go through the same emotional stages. On arriving at Manas we were perfectly content to stay a week or two, doing nothing but eating, sleeping and Skyping. But within 24 hours we all started feeling cooped up and unproductive, and suddenly we were ready to get moving and get to work. I've learned that I'm the type to quickly get antsy and moody when I don't have something productive to do; turns out most Marines are the same way.

(Yes, now that I write it out it seems as profound an insight as the wetness of water, but it was interesting at the time. Also I should note that I still enjoy doing absolutely nothing, the Kelvin zero of anything, from time to time (to time to time)).

Anyway, the trend continues. Yesterday I was sitting in the USO tent with a friend who like me was returning to Camp Leatherneck after too brief an absence, and he started talking about how, though he hated the very idea of it, he felt almost comfortable here, almost at home, almost like he was back where he belonged. Following about 24 hours of sheer depression, despair even, at finding myself back here in this place I'd so fervently yearned to leave, I had also begun to feel like I was back in a place that somehow, regrettably, fit. We talked about how unacceptable a feeling this really was and how we refused to think of this place as even resembling or connected to the idea of home or belonging.  But...there it was, and is, at least for now.

As I write about it, I realize that in part this feeling can be explained by the circumstances of our return. With us were a number of Marines who were here for the first time. We (this other Marine and I) spent our first few days here not only wandering through familiar areas but basically giving those Marines a tour. It set us apart a little, I think, to be so familiar with what they were just discovering, and that probably emphasized the sense of meaning in our return.

I should be a shrink.

Anyway, to friends and family, rest assured that this is not home, that we (all of us, not just the returnees) have less than zero desire to be here or stay here, except to do our jobs, and that home for us is simply and completely: where you are.

Gotta run...but first,another thought-provoking thing: being an armed Jewish Marine sitting at a computer next to armed Jordanian soldiers (they're members of the coalition here).  Not going to try for a picture right now - maybe if I get to know one of them.  Makes me wonder how Jewish troops felt participating in the liberation of Iraq, a country that had up to that point attacked Israel directly four times.