Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Kuwait Sands

After traveling to the Kia airport, I handed off my Sappi hard plates for my body armor. I and my fellow travelers then waited for a few hours, until we suddenly were hustled out over the tarmac to the airplane.

Shuffling along in columns at almost a double time, in the dark and very thankful for my red LED-equipped mini Mag Lite, I thought to myself that this was just like the Army: after waiting for hours, we suddenly have to dash for half a mile! Then we were trampling up the ramp into the welcome light of the C-17 Globemaster's bay. Yay Air Force (incidental: most polite service encountered. Least polite: Marines)!

We were strapped in shortly afterward, happy to be in even cramped seating but outbound. As our wheels broke free at 2112 local, a spontaneous cheer broke from my and fifty other throats. At my front right, I could see Little Nicky's skinny arm raised high, giving Afghanistan the one-finger salute.

I'm in Kuwait now, and it's like living in a heater's blast. Fortunately, all the building have AC. And I'm almost home.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"Everywhere, around the world

they comin' to America!"

And by they, I mean me, of course. If you don't hear from me for several days, please don't worry.

Coming to America!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sands of Time

Wednesday night, I hung out with my friend John P, a contractor who works with the local prison guards. We relaxed in our chairs with the door open to the evening cool, listening to jazz and smoking cigars. I don't know if it's partially because I lost my own father a few years ago, but I sometimes really like spending time with good guys that are in a similar age bracket as my dad. I think American culture, with its focus on youth and the immediate, sometimes neglects the valuable lessons age and contemplated experience can give. Also, as a Latino and former Army officer, John has an interesting perspective on so-called "race relations" in the service. (We both agree that the important thing is not what sex, color, religion, or sexual preference you are, but if you'll get online with me and put fire on the enemy.)

After I left John, I spent some time with Peter, a German Lt, and Cynthia, an airman. (Would that be "airwoman"? "Airperson"?) I'd met them both the first night I came to Black Horse after leaving the SF camp, and wanted to say goodbye. Peter was pretty discouraged, and mentioned some things that had happened at an ANA parade that day, that just underscored the hopelessness of the task of making this a free and stable country. I gave them each a small gift, and showed them a picture of Jordy and I. I think they were both happy that I would be back with my loved ones soon.

I left Bl*ck Horse Thursday morning. I rolled out of Pol-E-Charky (the larger ANA base that Black H*rse sits in), cheerfully yelling national insults from the open back of the 5-ton.

I think perhaps combat troops are naturally pessimistic. (Hodges told me he was going to shoot anyone that even looked suspicious, and I agreed. Too late in the game to screw around.) It should have come as less dire than the many things I feared when our 5-ton, driven by its new-to-country guardsman, hit a berm en route to Phoenix, almost tossing me over the wooden rails lining the truck's bed. I think Hodges may have been even more alarmed than I!

After a bumpy and uncomfortable ride, we made it back to Phoenix. Fortunately, I haven't had to carry all three of my duffle bags plus job box and assault pack by myself yet. I've been mailing every thing I possibly can, trying to lighten the load I'll have to take back. I've also bought a smaller, lighter chest with wheels that are actually, you know, attached. We'll do our customs layout in about four hours, stuffing what we think will take us through the next few days in a solitary carry-on, and in a few days, we'll be on that big Freedom Bird, back to the land of All Good Things (former service types can substitute more specific Things).

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

CIB

We began prepping to move out of Bl@ck Horse today. I worked, but had an outbriefing at 1000. I was bemused to see all the awards I was getting.

The awards were presented tonight. I don't really want to look like a Mexican general: it's enough for me to know I did my duty. I knew when I arrived in @fghanistan that I was fine with never seeing action. Boring was okay, in fact, boring was great.

I did eventually get sent to where some action found me, and after all the salad was tossed onto my uniform, I was one of a few soldiers called back up to receive our combat infantryman's badge. Captain Roland pinned on the award, I saluted him, and then, he smacked the face of the badge with his fist. Not over-hard, but still. 1st Sergeant Williams was worse, as he loomed above me from his 6'5" bulk and his hand crashed down on me twice.

"I've got a star," (two awards) he explained. This was painful, with the pins of my badge poking into my collarbone, but what was really bad was Staff Sergeant Galletly, who rubbed my badge. That hurt.

I'm sure this whole demobilization process is going to be a major pain in the arse, but at least I'll soon be back in the good ole' US of A.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Great Sense of Relief

Jordy now has the package I was fretting about, with its high-dollar bling-bling flashlights and irreplaceable Shane Justice knife. Insert big sigh of relief...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Flags of our Fathers

I was extremely sore yesterday from a workout the previous day, but still wanted to get some exercise in. I agreed to play volleyball with some of the guys from the squad after we finished our shift. I'm a reasonably agressive volleyball player, and not bad. Watching me play the net must be interesting, since I have no vertical jump capability, but will not hesitate to dive for a ball or charge the net.

We played five games in the sweltering afternoon sun before I called it a day, and went inside to get cool. I was drained from playing outside for hours (as everyone else was, though they didn't have the sense to pack it in after a reasonable time- most people felt weak today), and didn't feel motivated to so much as eat.

I eventually found myself in the movie shack with Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers, half an hour before the movie started. The petty officer showing the movies told me it would be Flags of our Fathers. Oh, great. An emotionally taxing movie when I was already low-energy, but I didn't feel like doing anything else, including the remaining packing I still need to do before I leave. So, I relaxed on a sofa with my book, and enjoyed some good jazz while I waited for the movie.

I lowered the book when John Legend's "Coming Home" played.

We fight to stay alive
But somebody's got to die
It's so strange to me
A new year, a new enemy
Another soldier gone to war
Another story told before
Now it's told again


Appropriate, I thought.

Flags of our Fathers is quite a story, beautifully shot, well written, perfectly acted, and accompanied with a score that couldn't be better. At first, I was disgusted at the shallowness of some people during the World War II era, who could think a single picture could tell the entire story of something as complicated as most conflicts-

(and, I don't understand how anyone who looks at the picture of the flag raising at Iwo Jima could think from the picture alone that the battle had been won. I've never thought that at any age- those boys look like they're still in a fight- and, after some time in uniform, I know at a glance either the picture's staged, or they're still in a dangerous area, because they still have their helmets on)

but after a while, I thought that perhaps the big message was the value of symbols. Symbols are important, though it's a tragedy when one mistakes the symbol of a thing for the reality, instead of viewing it correctly, as a kind of visual or mental shorthand for something much more complex.

Who is a hero? I suppose almost anyone could be a hero, if you catch them at the right time, but some folks are just more disposed towards it. (Fortunately, I haven't had to be one.) I will say that I've found few scenes more moving than Ryan Phillippe as Corpman "Doc" Bradley with shrapnel protruding from his useless leg, crawling to help a wounded Marine while waiting for his own stretchermen to arrive.

(This is not factually correct, but if you'll go to the link for Doc Bradley, you'll see this is entirely in keeping with his character. What he actually DID to earn the Navy Cross was more dangerous than the fictional scene from the movie.)

I don't enjoy being in this crappy country. I hate being long seperated from those I love- but compared to many soldiers in the World Wars, Korea and even Vietnam, we have it damn easy.

Pretties for My Precious



Jordy's birthday was a few days ago. Though I couldn't be there, I was delighted to be able to send her some jewelry from the extremely talented Rita at The Little Jewelry Farm. Besides being thrilled with the necklace and earrings, Jordy said even the wrapping was beautiful, "like a flower", and it arrived exactly on Jordy's birthday.

Thanks, Rita. I can't say how much I appreciate it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Moths, Rust, and Thieves

Chalk 3 left Bl@ck Horse today. While I know that means I only have another week or so before I leave for Phoenix, it also means I'm back to working a 12-hr shift. At least I read all of Airframe today.

I'm trying to mail everything I can out before I leave, since I'll be overloaded as things are. Over two weeks ago, I mailed a large package space available, and a smaller package priority mail. In the smaller package were:

Black Bear Borealis light
Surefire Aviator light
AA quickcharger
Large AA trickle charger
Spyderco Native
HI R7
Shane Justice knife

I insured the package, but cash is hard to come by here, with no ATM, and only infrequent visits to Phoenix, so the insured amount would really only be about enough to cover the two lights and chargers.

Jordy says the larger package has arrived, but the smaller package, sent priority, has not. I can't say how sick I feel about this. Shane Justice made that knife especially for me, and my friend Tom professionally engraved it. The balance was perfect, and I have never felt a better handle on any knife, from anyone at any price. Besides all that, Shane has had shoulder surgery.

He'll never make another knife.

I don't know if someone had sticky fingers, or if my package was x-rayed, and the chargers (clearly indicated on the customs form) thought to be suspicious, or what- but it's a damn shame that these knives survived a year in a combat zone, and rough work including use during firefights with just cosmetic blemishes, only to be swallowed by the United States Postal Service.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Schutzenschnur!

Yesterday, I participated in the schutzenschnur marksmanship training, along with about 20 other soldiers, sailors, and airmen. To be extremely frank, I have often chosen not to go shooting when I could have at the SF camp. I mostly went because I'm on really good terms with the Germans, and I wanted to participate.

We started by being given some basic range rules, and introduced to the range noncomissioned officer and officer in charge. Coming from US rules and ranges, we were greatly cheered to find that we were to ground our weapon and body armor. (We appreciated this increasingly, as the day grew hotter!)

The weapons we fired to qualify were the MG3 machine gun and the HK USP, which the Germans refer to as the P8.

The MG3 manual of arms was close to that of our American M240. Something a bit different, was the release on the barrel, which is so quick to unlatch, that it's done as part of the procedure to clear the weapon after firing! Since it's obviously impossible to fire a round accidentally when the barrel's not even connected to the receiver, it's very safe.

The MG3 is extremely accurate, but has a horrible trigger. Actually, most German weapons seem to have bad ergonomics, when compared to weapons from other Western countries. When I fired my five familiarization rounds (on a non-disintegrating belt with every other round removed, to force each shot to be fired singly), I noticed the extremely heavy trigger. When I received my first 15 rounds, I discovered how difficult firing short bursts is with a weapon with an extremely high cyclic rate, and heavy trigger pull! Firing the MG3 from the bipod is done by leaning all your body weight into the stock, which, marvelous German engineering that it is, conforms perfectly to your collarbone.

I shot in the highest category (gold) with my first, untimed string, but got a little nervous when we shot with time constraints. I was down to about two rounds, and Lieutenant Kopek told me I had 10 seconds (half my time) remaining. I realized then, I should just forget about the time and work on my trigger control. I had no problem shooting gold (4 rounds in the inner circles, and 12 rounds within the larger circles) on my second timed try.

The USP is blocky, but the only real obstacles to shooting well with it are the double/single action and the safety lever. The initial trigger pull is long and heavy, but the following trigger pull is short and light. I had no problems keeping all my shots inside the circle on the man silhouette, but was surprised to learn that shots anywhere "in the black" counted! Sergeant Liddy somehow managed to shoot the dirt for his first shot from the USP.

Safety levers should sweep down for off. The P8 moves the other direction, which is awkward, and weaker.

After all the qualifying was finished, some of us fired the HK 36. The rifle appears quite accurate, has a useful aiming module with simultaneous red dot and crosshair options, and has even less recoil and muzzle rise than the M16 family. Almost everyone who shot it either said, "I have to get one of these!" or "Why don't we use this instead of the M4?"

Our time at the range lasted longer than I'd expected- almost an entire day- but it was interesting and of course, I got to hang out with the Germans, and watch them do silly things like fire machine guns off the shoulders of teammates.

("That's crazy!" I said.
"You're next!" said the master sergeant.
"$%&^ no, I'm not!")

All in all, a good day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Germans are Crazy



Yeah, I know, it's wrong to stereotype. In general, though, I like the Germans I meet. They're just a little- off. In a good way, though. I'll write about today later, but here are a couple of pics.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Shoot Me

I've been enjoying having a standard schedule, but I ended up going on various convoy missions today, instead of my planned quiet day. Se la vie.

I was bemused, but not terribly surprised to discover that the vehicle I was in had neither a headset nor a seat for the turrent gunner, forcing me to stand all day in the turrent. (Fortunately, it did have both tunes and AC.) I was forced to sacrifice one type of security for another today, since I was more at risk if hit by IED, but had more visibility to deal with other threats.

As we rolled out, The World I Know was playing from the MP3 player. The world I know is full of bitterness, hate, and strife. It is also filled with soft caresses, love, and beauty.

I hate to sound cold, but this country is full of people who are both ignorant AND stupid. People here will walk across, into, or even down the road, in traffic that would make a New York cabbie cry, often without even looking first. I yelled at a woman today who was about to walk in front of my HMMWV today without looking. Downtown. On what may be the busiest road in the country. Without looking. She probably would have lived, but the man who almost rode his bike in front of us a little later (my yell stopped him, as well) would not have. Amazing.

I saw my first accident in country today too, which is a miracle considering how these people drive. Wasn't even a serious accident. They say something like "God protects fools and drunks." Well, I don't believe in God, but I believe in fools.

In the United States, one common garment worn in warm weather to cover a concealed handgun is the "photographer's vest". Wearing these has become cliche' enough that some folks humorously refer to them as "shoot me" vests, since the observant among the criminal element have probably learned that the wearer is a potential threat, and should therefore be addressed first.

Afghans wear a lot of clothing, and I can't say I understand. It's very common, and even typical, to see these folks in HOT weather wearing their traditional baggy shirt and pants, a vest, and often a shemaugh scarf and sometimes even a "sleep shawl" (light blanket) wrapped around them! Well, the photographer's vest appears to be well liked here, to the extent that it has been accepted as an "Afghan" garment. There are almost as many photographer's vests are there are the older traditional style. It does make some sense, as the baggy pants the men wear aren't really equipped to carry much without falling off.

I saw a Hind attack helicopter today, falling slowly apart next to a disintegrating attack bomber and a rusting cargo plane, all sad remnants of a crumbling empire. I had always thought of the Hind as cumbersome and bulky, but at close range, I could see it is sleeker and smaller than I'd always thought. How have the mighty fallen...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Same Old Thing, but New!

Some of you know that I've been a moderator or admin on The High Road since it began. I've been on various online fora since 1998.

Lots of good information is available on these forums, and I've had the privilege of meeting some really great people, some of whom I've had the great pleasure to also meet in meat space (aka The Real World), such as Johnny and Matt G., Art Eatman, Tamara, and Oleg Volk. Unfortunately, there seems to be a tendency for a handful of subjects that will not die.

Some enterprising poster will, without fail, come along Every Damn Week and post a thread that is almost identical to one posted the previous week (or sometimes, the previous hour). One of these perpetually resurgent topics is what to do if Very Bad Things happen. We are usually left to imagine what this very bad thing is- an invasion from Canada? an explosion at the Hershey's Chocolate factory? a revolution in Atlantis?- but it is assumed that things will Never Be the Same, and we must all, immediately, Do Something. It becomes a trifle tiresome.

And then, some net commando will try to throw a twist into this tired subject, just to liven it up, thusly (in a thread entitled "How Much Ammo would Soldiers Carry", which is really about "How Much Ammo would YOU Carry"): "Just to make it fun, pretend it is the worst possible situation."

Great. Fine. I can do that, but you make not like it.

Okay. You have no firearms, and the zombies have eaten your legs.

A Brief Brilliance

I was delighted to find a short string of indoor Christmas lights in the MWR care package room last night. I thought the lights might make a useful lamp for times when the B-hut's lights are out, late or early.

I spent a few minutes mounting the lights by my bed, and was amazed at how bright they were. It occurred to me that they were probably designed for 120V, not 240V, and so were likely being overdriven. Sure enough, they don't work today.

They were beautiful while they lasted, though.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Miles Between

I'm going to miss Jordy's birthday, three days from now.

I hope to never miss another.

Clarification

If anyone is baffled by my recent post, I read an article yesterday that stated that everything said online by US troops must first be approved. This is a radical departure from past guidelines, which reacted to troops who released sensitive information.

This is exactly like being followed around by a "political officer", to whom you say EVERYTHING, and he decides what actually gets said. This policy is wrong, morally bankrupt, and an embarrassment to everything good about the United States and its military and to even elucidate such a policy is despicable. I also believe adhering to this policy violates the last three of the "Seven Army Values": Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

I believe this is one of the most decisive nails in freedom's coffin since the Alien and Sedition Acts made speech critical of the government a crime. This is an outrage, a scandal, a very deep shame and a violation of the worst sort. I am ashamed of every single person involved in this decision, that they can call themselves Americans, and further ashamed that the originators of this decision have not already been forced to answer for this conduct in front of Congress and resign in disgrace or leave for foreign states more tolerant of petty dictatorship.

Y'all let me know if I'm not expressing myself clearly, here.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Sleep, Blessed Sleep

I like being on first shift, but my sleep has been poor, to say the least. Part of the problem is that my only alarm is the feeble beeping of my wristwatch alarm. While this usually wakes me up, there's no guarantee. (I pulled an alarm clock out of my stored gear when I returned to Bl@ck Horse, but evidently, it's set up for US current, because it's dead as Jan-Michael Vincent's career now.) So, I typically wake up throughout my sleep period as other shifts wander in. I also wake up periodically to check my watch. Between the two, I probably wake up twenty times or more in a seven hour period.

Last night, I took two Tylenol PM and two melatonin tablets. I also asked a coworker to wake me up if I wasn't moving by 0500. I waited in the MWR computer/phone room for the phone booths to clear, waking up every two or three minutes to check. I couldn't reach Jordy, so I stumbled to bed, tucking in before 2100. I only woke perhaps four times last night, and Parnum knocked on my wall at 0505.

Ah. Sleep...Like air, one of those things you don't think about, until you're not getting nearly enough.

Freedom and Pravda

Information flow is vital to a free society. The first and second amendments to the Constitution are arguably the most important. With freedom to speak the truth comes the freedom to tell everyone country or worldwide what is happening. With the freedom to own protective devices, we can help ensure we retain our freedom to tell the truth near and far.

Militarily, the only information that should be restricted involves operational security: future operations, security, and capability, essentially. If there is a requirement for every statement- free speech- to be "rubber stamped", it means there is fear that an unpleasant truth will be known.

These are dark days.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Endings

"Endings are heartless." So says Steven King close to the very end of the last Dark Tower book. Far be it from me to correct or amend the words of so talented a wordsmith, but it may be truer to say that endings are inexorable. Heartless is only correct if we take it to mean "without emotion". Like it or not, things change. We can claim they change for better or worse, but these are our own value judgements. The change is, and we then apply a label to it.


Perceptions are interesting. I was looking at Sergeant Phillips last night, and I finally had to ask, as he was beginning to leave.
"Sergeant, are you evil?"

He looked at me, startled.
"I don't mean really evil. Do you like playing pranks? On Halloween, maybe?"

"Uh, I don't know." He left.

"Shirley!" He had stopped. I walked outside, and he stepped back towards me again.

"When I was in high school, there was this guy. He had a Cadillac, with a nice hood ornament. Well, he really pissed me off, so I pulled the head off a dead cat. I didn't kill the cat!
Anyway, I put the head on the hood ornament, looking at him, with one eye open, and the tongue hanging out."

I guess that qualifies as a wee bit evil.


The meds I got yesterday definitely helped during my shift today. I felt a little guilty about not spending any gym time yet, but I figure rest is important, too. Hopefully, I'll hit the gym again tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

On and On

We went back to T*gab today, to pick up the last three of my mortar squad.

The children...I'm not saying that I hate the children here, but I definitely hate the way they act. They stand there, with their thumbs up, expectant as a boob-showing reveler at Mardis Gras. Or, make other gestures. Throw me something. Give me some water.

"Have you seen any well-behaved children here?" I asked Sergeant Boy yesterday. He hadn't seen any, either.

I was in the turrent, and couldn't help vocalizing "Don't do it!" as a child appeared to be attempting to sprint in front of our speeding HMMWV. Fortunately, he lost his mad race towards annihilation.

"'His name was Azid. He was six years old'," I quoted an ISAF safety poster hanging in the chow hall, "and he should have stayed out of the @#$%^&*!ing road!" After laughing, one of my passengers went on to tell Azid's story. He apparently ran into the road to grab a water bottle, and was hit by another convoy. Besides the fact that we have other things to do, and can't carry enough to throw stuff to every Afghan child we see, safety really is one of the biggest reasons we should not throw things to the locals.

On the way back, one of the vehicles began leaking radiator fluid, and so, had to be towed. This added another hour or so to our time. I was pretty miserable, and went to see the medics when I got back.

I explained to the nice captain that saw me that my back had been bothering me, and that I was taking about four Naproxen a day. After describing my situation, I left with some meds that seem to be helping quite a bit. There's still some pain, but it's "background", now, not front stage. I'm still really hoping it goes away entirely once I no longer have to wear body armor. I'd settle for no impairment unless I'm trying to shift a cannon, though.

I got about a two hour break after returning from the convoy, and then worked until 2130. I had some good coversation with Reeves and then Sergeant Phillips- about knives, martial arts, and spirituality, in both cases! It was interesting that both times, they initiated the conversation. I barely regretted spending another three hours on duty after a full day of convoying.

After the shift, I was told that I'm being moved to first shift. Down side is being on duty at 0515; I'm hoping the up side is more ability to fit workouts into my schedule, since I haven't spent any gym time in the last two days.

Mary Brigid was kind enough to award me the "Thinking Blogger" award. Unfortunately, this seems to involve some work, so I will settle for a "Will Eventually be Thinking after Much Resting" award, for now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Time Goes On

Last night, Sergeant Boy and I were talking as we sat in tower three.

"You know," he said, "I leave in two weeks. I've been here a year."
He turned to look at me, his eyes sad in the early evening dim.

"In that year, nothing seems to have changed. If we kill a bad guy, two replace him. I thought we could make a difference, maybe, but the only difference I've seen this year, is our FOBs have improved a little." He shrugged.

"I mean, I guess that's good, but the country doesn't seem to have changed any."



I've been unusually tired lately. Sergeant Boy mentioned he was very tired, too, so I don't know if it's the season changing, or burnout, or what.


Today, I walked around for an hour watching at the bazaar outside our gate. These people could almost sell ice to Innuit. I meant to buy one rug for Kim Breed, since I still owe him one, and a sleep shawl for Holly B., as the sleep shawl I was going to send her when I left country (I used it to cover my doorway) is the only thing I've been able to determine for sure is missing from my things. Instead of these two items, I seem to have left with...um...more. It started with the little Afghan boy selling bracelets. I didn't especially want one, but I bought one. I think I spent almost a week's pay today, which is over double what I'd planned.

For this enormous sum, I have a rug for Kim, a rug for myself, some more shemaughs to take back to the States with me, a tailored suit, male Afghan dress for myself, a gift for a friend's birthday, and maybe even something for the wonderful Miz Holly.

HallowE09