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.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Incident at Lash

You may have seen reports of an incident here at MOB Lashkar Gah today.  Just wanted to let you know that I'm OK. 

Hard to express my feelings in a blog-appropriate way.  Maybe a little later.

Last week: standing a few feet from the main gate.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What (else) to bring on a deployment to Afghanistan

How do you pack for a year?

Standing in the middle of my apartment with crap strewn on every surface of three rooms, this is the question I found myself asking before my last deployment.  Now that I was really thinking about it, it seemed I knew a lot less about my own daily life than I realized.  How long does a stick of deodorant actually last?  How long before boot socks wear out?  And would someone please just give me a straight answer on what I'll be able to buy in country?

This time around there were still some question marks since I knew I'd be on a non-US base and one with far fewer amenities than Camp Cupcake, but overall packing was much easier.  I did however answer a crudzillion questions from other Marines who had never been, and my list from last time is still the most visited page on my blog according to Google.

So since today is a PT rest day and I've got some time to kill, I thought I'd add some more items to that list, with the benefit of a little more experience and "field testing" of some of this gear.
  • Drop holster.  I know what I said last time about finding a holster you're comfortable with.  But I am so happy with mine that I have to plug it: the Blackhawk Serpa.  Get the combo kit.  I've heard some grumblings about this holster, and I realize I'm not a grunt or MP or what-have-you, but at LNK I drew and holstered the thing a million times a day at the clearing barrel and it worked smoothly, safely and quickly every time.  Isn't that the purpose of a holster?
  • External hard drive.  After several crashes, there is only one brand I will ever trust: Transcend's rugged Storejet M series (you can find them cheaper than that link though).  I own two with a third on order and they have withstood some 14 months of deployment now with no problems.  Accessories: extra USB cable (they seem to go bad all the time) and lots of movies, TV shows and music.
  • Digital camera.  Mentioned this one last time but I had to break two - one in Afg and one in Yuma, AZ, to realize an investment in a rugged camera was worth it.  Got the Panasonic Lumix DMC TS3 - waterproof, dust proof, drop proof, freeze proof, insult proof.  Best specs for the money in the rugged category, at least when I bought it in I think Jan of 2012 or so.  Accessories: large capacity SD card, protective case, extra battery if you can afford one.  Always practice good OpSec.
  • Multi-tool: I like the one we were issued, the Leatherman Wave, because it's versatile, strong and relatively light.
  • Belkin laptop fan - keeps my laptop and my cojones cool and operating at maximum efficiency.
  • Mio water flavor.  This stuff is the best - easy to carry around and sugar free. 
  • Good headphones.  Mine are Klipsch S4i, and while the control buttons quickly stopped working and the ear buds have recently started zapping me with static electricity just a bit too often, the sound quality is excellent and that's all I really care about.  The built in mic is nice for Skyping too.  Pricey at around $100 though, and admittedly I've never tried Bose headphones.  Accessories: this thing.
  • Also good ear pro - I think the wax stuff is by far the most effective.
  • A word about issued gear: don't bring it just because it's on the "required gear" list.  If you brought your e-tool, stop reading right now and go haze yourself for at least 10 minutes.  Use the e-tool.  Some of the more useful gear for POGs like us: the sleeping bag, the drop pouch, the camelbak, the fleece (tan not digi), the poncho and poncho liner.  Some of the less useful gear: the gortex bottoms, the boonie cover, the bivy sack, the goggles, the balaclava (just put on a beanie and stop whining).
  • Other stuff you may not have thought to bring but will make you money out here: extra rank insignia, bungee cords, surge strip, fly strips/fly swatter, pillow (and blanket if you have room), carabiners, cash. 
  • Things from my previous list that are so good I want to plug them again: Timex Ironman Triathlon, USStandardIssue Oakleys, MagPul mags, and yes my favorite toy, the Fenix P3D Flashlight.  For those who have been to Yuma: I lit the desert floor with this thing from the top of OP Feets.  It's awesome. 
Well anywho there are a few more things you might want to bring on deployment or for that matter on any extended trip away from civilization.  Hope it helps and let me know if you have any questions!


Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Bit About the Brits

If memory serves, it was a year ago today – March 7 as I write this – that I left Afghanistan last time around. Now don’t get me wrong, I wanted this current deployment and I’m glad to be here. But if I try to imagine what it would have felt like to know on that day that I’d be back here on this one, my mind sputters and steams a little, then just gives me the finger and shuts down.

Or maybe it’s two fingers. One of the many things I’ve learned about the British is that our peace sign is their bird. This is a revelation, and one I plan to put to good use when I get back to the states.

Other things I’ve learned about/from the Brits:
  • They butcher the English language as badly as we do
  • They invented the Internet (but honestly, who didn’t invent the Internet these days) and the Queen sent the first e-mail
  • “Cheers” is an appropriate response in absolutely any context, e.g. “Your hair is on fire.” “Cheers!” or “Who invented the Internet?” “Cheers!”
  • Mate basically means dude. Bloke means guy.
  • Brits, of course, drive on the left. Turns out they walk there, too. I’ve gotten stuck doing the mirror dance with a bloke on basically an eight-lane highway.
  • Google-challenge results are inherently suspect: Google is an American stooge
  • Calling a bowler a pitcher is sort of like calling a pitcher a thrower
  • America is either omnipotent or inept, depending on which is more convenient at the moment
  • And of course, we only won the Revolutionary War because the French helped us out, which frankly doesn’t say much for the Brits anyway.
Of course, I’ve also learned a little about how the Brits do airspace and COIN and war in general, and I think they’ve learned from us and our predecessors as well. I mention that because their senior guy in the JOC just stopped me as I was coming out of the chow hall to say that he was grateful for our close cooperation over the last 24 hours. Here’s what he was referring to:

Late yesterday evening, a British Warrior – a heavily armored APC – was blown up. Five members of the 3rd Yorkshire Batallion and one from the 1st Lancaster Batallion were killed, according to news reports. It was one of the most serious incidents in the history of the British participation in Operation Enduring Freedom, with even Members of Parliament speaking out about it today.

A Warrior 

The Marine-led Regional Command Southwest, under which the British Task Force Helmand falls, has been providing continual armed aerial over watch of the incident as the remains and the vehicle are recovered. This process is still ongoing as I write, nearly 24 hours later.

That kind of air support takes a tremendous amount of coordination – even more so given the location of the incident, which I won’t go into in detail. British and American pilots have flown more sorties in support of a single mission than I have ever seen before, by far. Aircraft maintainers, refuelers and others have been working overtime to keep the air frames flying – don’t forget that the rest of the war goes on.

And our little part of it was simply to coordinate who was flying where, and when, to make sure that not for one second were the ground forces providing site security left without a strike-capable platform (or platforms) overhead. As of now there has been no follow-on attack, and I believe this is due in part to the intentionally visible (and audible) presence of those air assets. By the time you read this the mission should be complete, hopefully without further incident.

In more ways than one I never would have imagined a day like today, either a year ago or a week ago. One thing I’ll take away from it is another layer of appreciation for the special U.S.-U.K. relationship. Many Americans tend to think that we beat the Brits in the Revolutionary War and bailed them out in WWII and that’s about the extent of it. We forget that in WWII there would have been nothing left to bail out – British or otherwise – had they not held on for so long first. We definitely forget that the Brits were with us in Korea, in Kosovo, in the Persian Gulf War, and I think we sometimes forget that they have bled alongside us throughout OEF and OIF. The Brits who gave their lives last night deserve to be remembered not only by their countrymen but by ours.