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, July 31, 2012

A hundred pics (or less)

As we approached Manas Transit Center in Kyrgyzstan yesterday afternoon, our flight crew gave us the local time and told us it would be hot.  Well ok.  Everything's relative, I guess.  It's certainly warmer than last time we were through here:

Manas in January

Manas just now

On the other hand, humidity is just 23% according to weather.com but it feels like a rain forest to me.

Yesterday I was asked twice what it felt like to be out of Afghanistan.  The truth is I don't feel anything in particular.  If you've ever sat in the waiting room of your mechanic or car dealership, watching the second hand tick by in complete and utter boredom for hours on end in anticipation of the moment you can finally drive home, that's about all I'm feeling right now.

Last time, my mind was pretty much fried when I got back.  Fourteen hours a day (or more), seven days a week for twelve months (minus 15 days of R&R), the same powdered eggs for breakfast and low-grade beef for dinner, the same rote morning routine and night routine and broken sleep...well Sebastian Junger nailed it in his book War about the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan:
    "Forward Operating Bases are a special kind of hell, none of the excitement of real war but all the ugliness: rows of plywood bee huts and weapons everywhere and Apaches jolting you awake at all hours running the flight line ten feet off the ground."
This description is if anything even more accurate for Lashkar Gah, where helicopters literally thunder right over your head at 50 or 100 feet at all hours of the day and night.  And yet I feel none of the mental fatigue of last time (though ask me again when I've been home a week).  I may have had just one day off in six months but I worked only an eight-hour shift in a more relaxed (b/c British) environment and I had reliable hot showers and my own private cot space and most of all I knew it would be over in half the time of the last one.  Maintaining a positive attitude and low level of stress was easy.

Consequently, I'm eager but not desperate to get back.  I'm more excited about what's coming up: my road trip in September, the (partial) sequel in December and my move to Israel in January.  But that said, I do have to take a quick look back at the last half-year, because I finally have an Internet connection fast enough to upload some pics and I've been promising to do so for months.

So here it is - my deployment in 100 pics or less:

Weigh-in at Camp Pendleton.  Think I came in at around 380 lbs or so.  The max was 450. 

Marking my gear.  Orange tape to indicate unit and destination.

Loaded up and ready to go...in style.

 Arriving at Manas: it was fuh-reezing that morning.

Chow, USAF style

Inbound Afg

My first living space

 Shortly after arriving in Lash

Just inside the main gate

The famous garden at Lash

For the first two months or so we had no ability to call home and our mail was getting backed up for weeks on end.  When I saw this huge pile of British mail I might have gotten a bit carried away.

After some pretty angry complaining we got the mail sorted out, and we also got a sat phone.  Of course, by then it was so hot out that standing outside sweating on the phone wasn't the most appealing thing to do. 

Talking to my brother and snapping a self-portrait.

New digs

I'm not much into visual art but when I saw this stuff laid out on my cot (it was around Passover time and I was doing some spring cleaning) it seemed like a still life worth capturing:

Part of our job at Lash was standing Sangar Duty.  I wrote all about this for my latest CDS article, which doesn't seem to be online yet.

A Sangar guard tower
 Manning the 240


Another still life.  What can I say, I'm inspired.

Some kids trying to get my attention

As I've said before, Lash was pretty cush all in all.  The chow hall did get monotonous but there's no denying the food was great.  We had a...

 Sri Lanka night

and of course the 4th of July night I wrote about earlier.

 Note where it's made

I got to observe some indigenous wildlife...

Small lizard

Big bug

...and gain useful insights in the most unexpected places.

I especially like the wisdom in the top right corner.

Port-a-john graffiti literary reference (in Manas).  Wonders never cease.

And that's what I've got for you.  You may have noticed I whited-out some parts of some pics, and that there aren't a lot of wide shots either of inside or outside the base  I got some good ones - Afghan sunsets are great because of all the dust in the air - but you always need to be careful not to post something online that might help the enemy learn about the layout of the base, the fields of view (and possible blind spots) from the Sangar towers, etc.  So if you want to see those I'll have to show them to you in person.

At any rate, the six months flew by as I said, and before I knew it I was back at Leatherneck.  On my last night in Afghanistan, I was walking back from Bastion when these ANA guys pulled up and through their gestures indicated they wanted my permission to take some water from a nearby pallet.  I don't know what the rules are (though I have no doubt there are rules for this as for everything) but it seems to me when someone in the desert asks for water, you give it to him.  So I helped them load up a bunch of cases in their truck and then we did a lot of laughing and smiling and hand-shaking since neither of us spoke a word of the others' language. 

I suppose I'll have some arrival pictures to add later, though we're expecting to get into CA in the middle of the night so that may not work out.  But for now, it's dinner time...and you know the Air Force has great chow!

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