Saturday, August 31, 2013

Month 12 Day 31

The days are all starting to run together. It is getting all messed up
because I am sleeping during the days and working during the night.

At midnight.  I was awake and had midnight rations at the chow hall.
After I whad finished I came out and spoke to Brian, he was sitting
alone on a picnic table.  He reasoned that there was no point in being
in a country with good weather if one did not actually go out and
spend time in it.  I can see his point.

We had a good conversation for over an hour.  WE talked about a lot of
things Calvinism, determinism, the extent to which someone can really
be culpable for their actions if we live in a determinisc universe.
This came about because we were again talking about how Brawny
specifically but everyone else to a lesser degree is still offended at
me calling them a bunch of pussies.  We talked again about how guys
are just not willing to put the country or what is right ahead of
their careers.  We talked about how Brian could stay in for two more
years and bilk the system without fear of deploying, but he has chosen
not to.

Again we came back to the question that still plagues me.  It has
appeared in different forms, but it it always something like this.  Is
doing the ‘wrong’ thing in a system that is wrong really the wrong
thing (The specific instantiation was me calling the other guys out as
cowards for not putting what was right ahead of their careers when it
had no effect other than to piss them off, and diminished our cohesion
for the last couple of weeks).  As a matter of fact, I would say no,
there was nothing wrong with the Montgomery bus boycotts, nor the sit
ins in the 1960s, they were doing the right thing in a system that was
wrong.  Here is the problem.  If you always act like that, then you
will probably be screwed.  The saints among us don’t produce anything
that society thinks is worthwhile, they might live piously, always be
forgiving and always be generous, but they rarly make an impact.  If
you want to have an impact you need to be able to play the game long
enough to be in a position to make an impact.  For instance, when the
congressmen and sentors came and we did the dog and pony show, I could
have continued up the chain and talked to Col Schmitt, and then up
from there if they would allow it, bI could have written my
congressman, whatever.  I didn’t do that.   I brought it up with my
superior two levels up and that was as far as I went.  Was that right?
 How do you choose your ‘ditch to die in’ when should you stop
pushing a moral position.  If you don’t think that it will have any
effect should you just keep your mouth shut, and choose to fight a
battle you can win?  Does acquiescence prolong a system that is broken
and create a system in whith others need to bide their time as well
because ‘that is just the way things are done.’  If all men were
angels there would be no need for government but men are not angels
and often bad things like war need to be done for the sake of the
group or the sake of mankind.  I don’t know what the answer is.  Are
Kantians in the end just group utilitarians, if so, at what point does
the sacrifice of a few justify the death or removal of liberte of a
few for the sake of a group, my just tells me never, but it seems to
be internally consistent with a philosophy that allws you to make
morally correct decisions based on their effect.  I just don’t know.
When should doing what is right be calculated for effect?  What if you
risk the potential to do a lot of right in the long run by throwing
your hat in the ring on a morale issue in the short run?

I came back and worked on my book proposal for a while.

I wrote a bunch of lude messages to Suzan about my arrival home which
probably inhibited her workday, but they made me smile.

I took two Melatonin in the morning and crashed until 1600.

I got up, went to chow, spoke with Bobby Brumfield, he was bithching
about the ANP.  He said
“you know every one of those chiefs wwas just like  shrugging their
shoulders about what they will do if the Taliban come back.  One at
least said he would go to Pakistan, the others are like, I don’t know
who I’ll side with.”

I went to the gym and now I’m typing this, looking forward to a shower
and midnight rations again.

Oh I found out the English/Spanish name of the program they like
watching so much on Tolo TV.  Its simply called Daniela, staring

Friday, August 30, 2013

Month 12 Day 30

We touched down in Manas, and as I got off the plane I didn’t
instantly start to sweat.  As I inhaled I remembered the feeling I had
when I touched down in Parris Island in 2003.  It was like breathing
liquid.  The air didn’t smell like the dead air out of a hair-dryer,
you could smell life in it. This is a ‘Stan no doubt, but I felt like
I stepped into the apogee of civilization.

We were trundled into busses and then into a briefing tent where we
were repeatedly admonished by an obese Airman-First class not to take
our rifles of pistols anywhere we went, not to the linen facility, not
to the smoke pit, and not to the gym, just lock them up and put a
guard on them (though we were also advised that females could not
guard male’s weapons in their ‘dorms’ as the USAF calls them).  A few
of the Marines even tried to use the restroom down one of the halls
and were reprimanded by Air Force personnel.  What a different world.
We had a brief from a US Army sergeant in workout gear about customs
and were told “when in doubt throw it out” and that our bayonets would
be confiscated if we put them in our carry-ons, though our rifles and
pistols were somehow fine.  We were told that this was a salute-base,
but that transient personnel were not allowed off base because of the
threat from locals (though the permanent personnel go out in town in
civilian clothes routinely).  Incongruously, the US Air Force
considers this a combat zone and all the pay accrued while here is
non-taxable and they get all of the same benefits we did in
Afghanistan.  Most stupidly, we were briefed about the alcohol on
base, every other service branch gets to have a beer on the way home,
but not the USMC, the guys who really need a drink.  It’s a different

We took our gear out, put it in big boxes for customs, and went to
chow, it was now 0500.

After chow I stayed awake for a while.  I wanted to get back onto
California time.  I didn’t got to  sleep until 0700, I took a bunch of
Melatonin.  Woke around midday, took some more and slept until 1500.

I went to the gym.  On the way I slipped out a side gate onto a
running path that had a view of the mountains which was constantly
patrolled by USAF personnel.  The gym was packed and circadian rhythm
was all screwed up, so my workout sucked.

I came back and had some chow in the chow hall with the veritable
mountain of chocolate (I took a picture), and now I’m back catching up
on E-mails and writing this.

I am going to try to pull an all-nighter and keep trying to get back
on CA time.

We’ll see.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Month 12 Day 29

Our last day on Dwyer.  I woke up really early because all I had with
me was my poncho liner and I froze just laying on my bed.  I had a
0300 wakeup vs my 0400, but that was after about an hour of shivering.
 Some of the other guys had the same problem.  They said that they
roused themselves and went to the restroom merely because they were

I used the gym and the MWR before anyone else woke up.  While in
between sets I worked on my admissions essays for Yale and Columbia.

When I came back the tent was alive.  Everyone had to get up to be
ready to pack their bags into an ISO container.

I went to breakfast and had a conversation with Josh and Maj Davidson
about Brawny.  Josh said “he has a list of preferences because of
what he has been exposed to. He doesn’t really know why he likes any
of those things, he merely does.”
I said “He’s like a ribosome, he just faithfully replicates the DNA
that he is supposed to, he doesn’t have to know why, he just acts.
Society needs lots of guys like that, not everyone can question the
paradigm, the bulk of people need to replicate similar DNA patterns
and will be ideally suited to the world as it is, not the world as it
might be.”
“Right, not everyone can think about the reason for everything that
they do in life.  I agree with GK Chesterton, Dogma has a purpose.
What is frustrating about Brawny is that he tries to replicate his
preferences in everyone else and doesn’t realize that all he has are
preferences, not real thought, and that when you try to engage with
him about why he believes what he believes, he gets angry.  There may
be hope though, he did say once that ‘maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on
the Muslims, they believe just as much as I do.’”
Maj Davidson came in with a few comments and Josh then piped up again.
“It has been interesting to live in a tent with Chris and Doug all
year, you can’t get more polar opposites.  It’s an interesting social
“The only interesting social experiment in my sent is trying to figure
out which of the Bash Brothers stink today.” Maj Davidson groaned.

We ambled back to our tent and drug out expeditionary wheely bags to
the ISO.  Not even half of the company took up a full semi’s worth of
space.  In all it totaled 5 10x10 aluminum pallets stacked 10 feet

I came back and set to work on my essays and watched a TED.   That
worked for a while, then I passed out for about two hours at midday.

I went to lunch and met up with the CISE Marines in the chow hall,
they asked me some questions about the ANA.  I gave them the answer
that I knew, but it seemed odd that they were asking me.  Somehow it
felt like they should have been asking someone else.  My instant
mental response was ‘this is no longer my job.’  Steve did something
similar. I gave one of the CISE linguists a Dari greeting, and he said
“leave it here.”  It’s odd, something we worked so hard on for a year
everyone is eager to forget and leave behind.  I wonder if this is
because we all saw the whole experience so negatively.  So maybe this
is how the brand new war starts.  The guys who fail and come back
don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to think about it, they just
want to move on and do something else.  Maybe this is why no one knows
anything when they get here.  Not just because guys like me are denied
the opportunity to train the incoming teams, but also because those
who have the corporate knowledge just don’t want to talk about it.  I
think I have proof of this.  I know damn near everyone who
participated in the “march up”—invasion of Iraq, but even if I know
that others were once on an embedded training team, I have no idea
what they actually did.

I worked out a second time in the afternoon, ripped the nametapes off
of my worn-through cammies and put them in the uniform disposal bin.
I put on the cardboard camouflage that I will wear when I march back
to see my wife.

In true Marine Corps fashion we showed up at the AADCG (Aircraft,
arrival, departure, control group) or as everyone else in the world
calls it, an airport.  We were lucky, this wasn’t like Qandahar where
we showed up half-a-day prior to the flight, we only came six hours

I quickly hogged one of the few power outlets in the building and
again shaped my grad school essays.

Gunny has been more involved in the past few days.  He was actively
involved in passing word about when and where we needed to be, but it
started before that.  When the new guys showed up he was out there
with us on our walkabout, and he had a comment at every turn.  Capt
Nowak mocked him for this and Gunny replied that he got most of his
information about the camp from Facebook posts that he read.  None of
that was odd, the Gunny deflecting with humor and Capt Nowak taking
personal offense that his once-confidant didn’t do any work with the
Afghans during his year in Afghanistan.  What was striking was the
LtCol’s reaction.  He used to actively solicit the GySgt’s opinion on
all kinds of matters, treat him like commanders treat their senior
enlisted men.  These requests for comment tapered off after it became
clear that the Gunny was not doing anything to advance the cause, yet
as soon as the Gunny started getting actively involved again, speaking
up on our tour for instance, the LtCol went back to openly asking for
his comments in front of the new group of Marines.

Two things are striking about this.
First, why the Gunny gave a shit in the first place.   I think I see
why.  The Gunny is the master of the weak tie.  He makes great short
impressions on everyone, he comes across as effusive, engaging and
entertaining.  Most of the time this is over-the-top and it is easy to
see when he is putting it on, like he did when he spoke to some female
Army Psychological Operations Staff Sergeant in the AADCG.  After this
period his interaction falls off.  I don’t understand why that happens
except that maybe he is right, that he is a really shy guy who has
developed this ‘not me’ persona that helps him get by.

The Second odd thing is the LtCol’s response.   I am not sure why he
allows the gunny to step back into that role so quickly.  Neither of
these are mutually exclusive, but as I have said before.  Perhaps he
wants him to become that guy, so he treats him like that.
Alternatively, perhaps he has been so conditioned to the roles that we
all play (e.g. an Officer in Charge/Commanding Officer needs to treat
the senior enlisted man like this____) that he easily falls back into
it even when the senior enlisted is not doing his part.

We hopped on our C-17 and sat because the Manas Airport was not open
yet.  I was doubly fortunate.  I was able to sit next to Rob LaFranchi,
and I got one of the inward-facing bulkhead seats with legroom.  I
thought I would feel more as I left.  I thought I would feel elation
at leaving, or some type of angst that the next team was now bumbling
their way forward.  When the turbofans wound up and all of the gear
shifted a few inches to the rear of the plane and clunked as the locks
held it in place, I felt nothing.  Was I just tired, was I somewhat
loath to leave the place that I now thought of as ‘mine’, was I
mentally drained?  I don’t know

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Month 12 Day 28

In the morning I did the last of my morning routines at Camp Garmsir,
came back, packed up, and loaded up the truck.  I took a photo of it
before I left.  It is amazing we still call ourselves expeditionary.
The truck was visibly sagging under the weight of just three men’s

We left the gate at Garmsir for the last time and moved back to the
circus tents that we arrived in one year ago.

I spent a good part of the afternoon pecking away at my school
admissions essays.  I was tired of looking at them (I can only imagine
that they will be tired of reading them), so I did a second workout
for the day.  That was nice.

They did an inspection in the evening searching for rounds in Marine’s
gear.  Col Schmitt, in his typically blustery fashion has promised to
use Non-Judicial Punishment against anyone who is found with a round
the moment that we make it back to the grinder and in front of all of
our families.  A round has already been found in one of the advon
guy’s gear, so we’ll see if it’s an empty threat.  It just seems
stupid.  There are 500 guys here, somewhere someone is going to have a
round.  I used to do line-outs with my platoon and plant three rounds
on three people and have my platoon search until they found them.  It
took 30 minutes one time, and I ended up with 5 rounds instead of 3,
and we were only searching cammies and daypacks.  There is no way
these Marines are going to be able to comb through every little bit of
gear well enough to find a round.  We don’t have Xrays here, so the
test becomes the Xray machine in Manas, but you can’t adequately prep
for it.  Anyway, its just another instance of the ‘tough guy’ attitude
and it has got everybody all stirred up because they don’t want to be
embarrassed in front of their families, and they don’t want to lose
their leave. Brawny has been paranoid, he has packed and unpacked his
stuff about 3 times.  In the evening, he confessed again “I’m not a
Major yet.”  Maj Davidson replied “the only thing that could prevent you
from becoming a Major is if you put your dick in a Lance Corporal, and
since we don’t have any females around, I don’t think that’s going to
be a problem.”   Back to garrison bullshit.

View of Three Marines Gear in an Afghan National Army truck

View of the Marine's Camp on Camp Garmsir from the watchtower

View of the generators powering the Marine Camp (left foreground, a few borrowed trucks, and the ANA parts of Camp Garmsir)

View of the General's office and some of the office containers. 

Afghan Motor Pool

Panoramic view of the Afghan Motor Pool

Some of the remnants of torn apart or destroyed Afghan National Army Trucks in a dump ground

Some of the new buildings being built to replace the tent city

Fuel Containers on the Afghan base

One of the chow halls on the Marine Side of the base

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Month 12 Day 27

I forgot to mention on the battlefield circulation day that when we
were doing the BFC that we were being pelted with rocks from little
kids basically every time that we came in range.  They would first pat
their mouths to ask for food, and almost immediately thereafter they
would grab a rock and throw it at us.  This was not just in Marjeh,
but in Nawa and Garmsir as well.  These are the supposedly safe areas
where the people are turning towards GIRoA.

I worked on a bit of turnover stuff with Siegel in the morning.  He
really is pretty quick to speak and slow to listen.  He came in and
spoke to me about the GSU S1 sergeant who had his hand broken by one
of the GSU officers when he told him that he was not allowed to go on
leave.  I had already told him about the incedent, but I guess he was
thinking that I was just jaded and angry because I had been here for a
year.  While that may be true.  It is also true that I know what I am
talking about.

Lekic taught them the BATS system and the database while I fielded
questions.  The new SSgt is pretty sharp and he picked it all up fast.
 It was nice to see that they were trying to learn.  While I was
supervising that I was striking up conversations with all of the guys
in the COC.  We were having a grand old time.  Munir came in and said
that he wanted to talk to me in his office.  Siegel went first in case
it was anything work-related.  I went in after he got back.  Munir had
kindly bought me a scarf and a jersey.  The jersey happened to be
skin-tight see-through nylon mesh, so I don’t know if I’m supposed to
read anything into that, but it was very kind of them.  They all had a
few words to say.  They all said something like “thank you for all of
the lessons that you taught, I know that a lot of the time we were not
very good students, but thank you for being patient with us.”  I
didn’t make the pictures that Qais asked for, but we snapped a dozen
photos with their cellphones.  I went back to my hooch and I picked up
the AK-47 sight adjusters that I brought from America a year ago and
gave one to Salim, one to Amir Dad, one to Qais, and one to Munir.
Qais wanted to know if he could bring it back on the leave flight with
him, and Munir was excited because he had an AK-47 at home.  I think
that after we go, they are going to us AKs not M16s, they already do a
lot of the time even though the weapons aren’t issued, they’ll just
capture them from the TB, or buy them.  In one last little way, I am
trying to make them better soldiers. I must admit, that I don’t think
it will work, but I tried.

In the early afternoon the soldiers decided to leave on the taps in
the ablution buildings.  They were continually instructed not to do
this if the water tank was not full.   Because this ran all of the
pumps dry every one of the several-thousand dollar pumps burned up.
The GSU’s response was what it always was “we can’t keep the soldiers
from using the buildings—really—how about take your bodyguard and have
him watch the buildings rather than your stupid ass. Anyway, it might
turn out ok in the end, they might just move the water tank above the
level of the highest faucet, this would allow gravity to feed the
system like every other place in the world.  Maybe then they can add a
newfangled ‘windmill’ and this ‘windmill could operate a pump without

While we were waiting to have dinner Capt Nowak was sitting in the
door of his truck and said to me.  “the whole point of this thing is
to make the ANA independent, but they don’t want to be independent.
I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. With the Iraqis
at least you could see improvement.  You knew that they wanted you out
of their country.  They were happy to put up with you in the short
term, but in the long run they wanted to have their country back, and
get you out.  These guys, they are perfectly happy to have us here,
just keep the stuff flowing in.”  I said,  “Steve, as you’ve said you
can’t teach will and want, and these guys don’t want to be
independent.”  He nodded.

In the evening we had our dinner with the terps, or to be exact we had
two dinners.  I was hungry and didn’t want to wait until later to get
food, so I ate at 1730.  That was a mistake.   They had the delicious
burritos that I like so much and I had two giant ones.   By the time I
was done eating the next meal I thought my stomach was going to
explode.   I was really obliged to eat a second time because Steve had
gotten a bunch of special-order food for the occasion.

The presentation to the linguists went well.  They were all very
jovial.  I made sure to tank each one of them, Tony, Naikpai, Dinar,
Sammy, Bashir, Fareed, and the new guy, Jon, who just showed up.  I
got up and gave a short speech about Bashir, how patient he was and
how humble.   I did not mention his religious intolerance.

I also went around and thanked all of the chow hall workers
individually.  A lot of them don’t speak any English and they are from
the Philippines, Nepal, etc, so I don’t think they really understood.

Special Goodbye dinner

Monday, August 26, 2013

Month 12 Day 26

I worked out this morning.  The gym is still up, fortunately.  I cut my hair.  It was a little more awkward this time because there are so many more Marines over there because MWSS is moving.

The workout was good.

We went to the RCT and turned in our ammo.  I had to borrow some more from the next team so that we can protect ourselves while we are on camp.

I sat down with Siegel and gave him my list of tasks that remain unfinished. A lot of them he didn’t really understand.   He has a tendency to speak before he listens.  Ah well, at least he is eager.

I found out that his brother was a guy who I went to the Citadel with, he was in my company while I was a knob, we were on the same scholarship, both in the honor’s program.  Small world.

I packed my stuff.  It is almost all in one giant wheely bag now.  So much of it is stupid.  Did I really needed a second flak vest? 15 different types of warming layers.  This is just stupid.  They dance around giving units special gear when they are heading into combat, but if they just kept all of this shit here, issued it when you arrive and deissued it when you leave, then life would be simpler, transit costs would be lower (my bags weigh almost 200lbs).  I suppose they think that would make us less expeditionary, but really do they think that lugging around 200 lbs of individual gear is expeditionary?  It’s not like we don’t have the room to just store the shit here, and it’s not like we don’t have the time when we arrive and depart to get it if we need it.  Maybe we could start acting like an occupation force because we are one rather than pretending that we are expeditionary when we aren’t.  Really I lug around two wheeled bags that are basically giant brown suitcases, and I carry a pack that can’t contain all of this shit. 

Anyway.  After that fiasco was done I helped one of the power guys install a small transformer in our tent that will drop the voltage from 220 to 110.  That kind of stuff is interesting to me, it makes sense.

After lunch I came back and watched Patton.  That is a whole different type of war than we are fighting here.  It really is a war, not nation-building counter-insurgency.  That kind of war, the kind where the existence of your civilization is at risk if it is not fought, that kind is the kind we should entertain.  Wars of option, they are really costly with marginal benefit.  I want to be around for those ones where I am really needed.  I think a lot more folks will be getting out if they change the retirement system like they say they will.  No more 20 years and go.  You have to save into an IRA, you can’t start drawing until you are actually retirement age.   That should make trimming the force easier in the future.  It will make wars of option like this much less tenable.  There will not be a bunch of guys hanging out hoping to save their careers in the military.

In the evening the cries for the boss to get a new air conditioner became too loud to stand.  His died yesterday, and no one knows why.  They slept last night without one.  We offered for them to stay in our tent, but they preferred to send Casbarro around to try to take air conditioners from the ANA.  Exactly the type of shenanegans we tell the ANA not to do.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Month 12 Day 25

Today started out at FOB Geronimo
I was not happy when we started out.  I thought that our route was unnecessarily risky.  I told the LtCol as much over breakfast.
“Sir, I’ll be happy to see Nawa in my rear view mirror.”
It was a delicious breakfast, as it always is at Geronimo, egg white omelet, French toast, fresh fruit, biscuit, gravy, everything.

I got an intel update from the S2 shop, we were skirting Red-Air most of the day.  Meaning there would be very little ISR or air support for our trip.

We set off south and I decided to break a lot of desert to be well clear of the ‘graves’ two ‘women’ who did not have the typically hunched walk of women were screwing around with them and walking away just as we were driving up.  They also let they burqas flap too freely.  We steered clear and pressed on. 

We went through “Indian Country” as I call it, southern Nawa where the ANA have taken over security and we (Marines) have very little visibility on what is happening.  I was not thrilled about this part of the trip.  We made it through with no real incident.  Thank God and my heart felt pretty good.

We stopped at Geronimo.  I met up with the Legacy mentor there, Steve, and his linguist, Sherif.  We gave them some of the IR strobes that we had given out to everyone else.  He really believes in the mission, and is a team player.  He doesn’t give a shit who gets credit, he wants to put his guys to work and teach them how to kill Taliban.  It is amazing given that he’s been here a year and a half.  I met up with Strom there too.  He is doing well, but he is stuck at the HQ.  His Princton Physics degree was too much to waste at the companies.  By his own admission
“Once they figured out that I had reasonable written and verbal communications skills, they decided to never let me off of the FOB.”

We moved from Dehli to PB Shamshad.  This is now their training academy for the ANA in 2nd Kandak.  It has expanded a lot since we arrived.  When we got here a year ago they’ve pushed out the wire and added a lot of amenities, power, a big COC.  When we were there last it was four MATV’s and a hut, the SSgt there didn’t want any generators because he didn’t want to be tied down.

While at Shamshod the new team was busy questioning Petranzio, the team lead from their kandak.  LtCol Valquist sat down in the back.  I got a chair and sat next to him.
“Sir, it’s not our fight anymore.”
We overheard them talking busily with Petranzio about ATG, how the training package was still oriented toward the ETT alone and unafraid, how they didn’t learn any of the ANA policies or procedures, they still just did medevacs. I snapped a picture.
“Overwatch.” He said, not giving away too much
There was a pause.
“I was thinking about it the other day, no matter the hell I’ve been through with these guys, I can’t just not care.  Does it get easier when you have a bunch of deployments?”
“Most guys who are just ready to turn over and get out of here are those guys who have a desk to sit behind, who walk to chow, then to their computer, then to chow, then to their computer, then to the gym, then to sleep.  Look at Hesco, he’s turned into a basketcase since he took over the current Ops Job.”
Maybe, but it didn’t answer my question.

We loaded up and went to PB Barcha.  There was no real point, the LtCol just loves the damn place.  It is an old fort the Ghaznavids probably built that has been used intermittently since. Being the highest piece of ground around, the Marines naturally took it. 

I sat down with Dan Petranzio.   The poor bastard was really feeling bad.
“I feel like I’m about to pass out.”
“What’s up.”
“I’m fasting.”
“Yah, I just get useless in the afternoon.  At first it was seven then eight, days then I figured what the hell.”
“Brother, you are nuts, 50 years ago it wouldn’t have been so bad, Ramadan would have been in the winter, you poor bastard.”
I found out later that he was doing it so that he could have the credibility to say to his Afghans
“I’m fasting too, and I’m working, so figure it out.”
Maybe I should have done it.  The Afghans were asking me if I was at the beginning.

We rolled from there, dropped Dan off, he got out and shook my hand as he left.  Good dude.

We rolled across the long bridge for the last time, our minroller had the winch cable snap and it was slightly off to the right. The end of the bridge had collapsed because a jingle truck fell off a couple of months ago.  As we came off the mini bridge and down onto the real bridge with our mineroller the thing climbed the curb and started bending the right railing. 
The Gunny yelled
Mondt didn’t respond immediately.
By this time the cab settled down and I could see too.
I yelled, “JESUS, LEFT MONDT.” It was about 60 feet down to the Helmand river, the bridge is so narrow that pedestrians and motorcycles all need too clear out before we cross, and then we only do it one at a time. Our mineroller kept bending the guardrail like it was nothing.  I could barely feel it because my truck weighs 24,000 lbs.  Fuck.

Mondt pulled it out, but what was normally 6 inches of clearance became two inches.
Gunny made fun of him from the turret when we stopped. 
“Here lies GySgt Louis Casanova, savior of Afghanistan drowned in the Helmand river.”

We moved back to base, the dust was bad, I tried to mitigate the dust, but picking a cross track that would keep everyone out of it, but then when we got back everyone bitched about the bumps.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

The LtCol shook all our hands, gave us what he called a “man hug” and told us we were not having a meeting.  He basically told us we were done.  

Jokes for days...

'It's not our fight' the new mentors were on deck.

PB Barcha

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Month 12 Day 24

Left Dwyer this morning.

I could really feel the excitement from the new guys about going.
They were ready to get their first taste of combat, and Lt Love kept
talking about combat action ribbons.  I was not feeling the same.  I
just wasn't feeling right about going.  I was worried about a couple
of spots on our route that were pretty useless to go through, and were
dangerous, but the LtCol wanted to go through them anyway.

We went to Marjeh in the morning. It has really hollowed out since the
Marines have left.  They built a massive OCC-D for them, a center
where all of the different security entities can come together, but
there were only about 6 guys in there.  Similar to the CCOC. I dropped
off some IR strobes to the British Legacy guys and let Lt Siegel come
in on a white horse so to speak and deliver them.

We then moved to Fiddler's Green.  The Kandak mentor team had just
returned.  They were trying to move a few of their soldiers around the
battlespace from one position to another.  when the soldiers arrived
at the new postion and found out that there was no A/C, they decided
to just leave and come back to the headquarters and deal with their
upset commanders.

We moved on to Nawa. I saw a couple of fake 'graves' on the side of
the road as we were making our way to the fob, they were clearly
markers for IEDs. We walked through the new combined COC here as well.
 It is a huge artifice, but none of the Afghans are in the giant
offices that we built for them.  It looks great on a tour, but there
is minimal work actually being done here.  They did have one success a
few days ago, the Afghans from one of the PBs snatched up a few
Taliban driving by after they were told by the CF they were coming.
We talked to the kandak mentor team in Nawa.  They were having some
problems with the contracts to build the permanent facility here in
Nawa.  The bricks are low quality, the electrical is fucked, and the
mortar is wrong, but these buildings are far from sub-par by Afghan
standards. By that measure they are great, but some Navy Chief from
Leatherneck wants to pull them all down because they don't look like
American ones.  What do you want American buildings, or buildings
built by Afghans?  This is as good as it gets.  The other funny thing
that came up in conversation was that When the Kandak commander, Gul
Ahmad talked about building the new jail he said
"I only want two rooms one for detainees and one for my soldiers."
I guess this was immediately following an incident where two of his
soldiers dressed up as civilians, tried to shake someone down, but one
of the civilians said
"Hey, why do you have ANA boots on?"
The soldiers fled and the civilian told the battalion commander, to
his credit he locked them up for a couple of weeks.

Had milkshakes at dinner-yum.

The day ended with the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour” Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engval, Larry the Cable Guy and one other dude.  It was low brow humor most of the time, but really good natured even with the occasional bodily function joke.   By the end, my cheeks were hurting. 

When I stood up to return the DVD the Major, LtCol and Gunny were behind me and Josh.  Maj Davidson asked me.
“Isn’t it past your bedtime?”
“Yes, but I make exceptions”
“This is like vacation, eh?”

“Basically, the chow is better, there is no work to do, there is a huge TV, free stuff and a big gym.  That’s a vacation if I have ever had one.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

Month 12 Day 23

Notebook entry
24 reports given, us in the backseat, Petranzio’s advisor training group comments.

The following are undated comments from the notebook:
throwing rocks
They don't want independence, mesh shirt, Siegel and broken hand, pump burnout, gunnery sergeant and the new team Lt. Col.'s response

Journal Entry
Went on one of my last trips to the gym in the morning.   It was a good time.  I am tired.

I showed the new S1 SSgt how to use the insanely complicated excel that I came up with to track all of the personnel.

Siegel and I then went over to schedule a class with the Sgts and with Munir.  He did most of the talking.  I hinted at a few key things, like making sure he IDed a time and place for the classes. I told him that the Sgts were acting well to try to impress him. 
He said, sagely
“but as soon as you leave they are going to test me.  They are only acting well because you are still the hammer.”

When Siegel and I came back we got changed over and met with Sgt Drees and one of his LCpls.  Siegel gave them a brief on where the Sgts were up to, observed the class, and then he gave the Sgts some type of talk at the end.  I was only there for the beginning of it.  He wanted to step up and do it, he is a Marine Officer, he wanted the training wheels to come off, and wanted to make this his own.  I was done providing advice. 

On my way back one of the Tajik soldiers stopped me and asked me for a set of glasses.

At noon we did some more work. 

I did what will probably be my last sell ever to Munir.   He wanted to go out and talk to the guys outside of the wire.   I told him that was not his job and that he should come to class.  My broken Dari, and his desire for reports/weather won out.

I came back and gave an enemy threat brief for our operation tomorrow.

Siegel wanted to teach the class by himself in the afternoon, so he did. 

I taught Siegel how to give them the weather.

At the evening meeting LtCol Valquist ordered Capt Arthur to provide the keys to the well and build a Hesco barrier around tent city.  He said
“They’ve trained on it for several weeks now with our supervision.  They know what to do, if they screw it up, then it’s on them.”
Capt Arthur was resistant because the pump cost about $6000 and will not be replaced for months if it is broken. He is trying to play God, preventing them from using their free will to make choices that they are not good for them.
“It will set them back 6 months from independence if we give it to them now.”
I don’t know who is right.
The Hesco is a major fire hazard, the fire trucks will not be able to make it through to the fire.  They want the Hesco because they can’t stop their own soldiers from driving through the camp and smashing the electrical wires.  The original solution was to put sand bags on top of them.  We provided them sand bags, but they were too lazy to fill them up from their dirt pit. 

As I lay here on my cot I have mixed emotions about letting go.  I want to help Siegel.  I want to guide him and prevent him from falling into the same traps that I did. 

I feel something more odd than that.  It struck me this afternoon Salim was being his same grouchy self when I woke him up the afternoon to give him the weather.  Once I finished with him, I asked him why what he was circling was important. He played coy for a minute, then said what he was trained to say. 
“The high temperature is important because it makes long patrols and operations difficult, the high wind is important because it picks up dust and makes it hard for us and airplanes to see.”
I grabbed his oily head pulled him to me and kissed the top of his head. 
I made him this way.  I feel like I imagine a father must feel letting their kids go.  You invest so much time and energy into them, you can’t help but want them to succeed.  

Perhaps that’s why they were listening today, perhaps they look at me like a father, or a big brother who tries to look out for them.  I may be a mean bastard, and make them come to class even though none of the other sections do, but they know I care.  They know it is important to me, so they do me the honor of listening to Siegel when he tells them to show up. 

For as much as I want to go, I think I do love these little bastards.  They have accepted me as a half-breed.  When they hold my hand as we walk grasp my knee as we sit, or take offense when I don’t give them a fully verbose traditional Farsi greeting.  They yell at me with excitement in their Afghan pronunciation of my name:
“Abdul…chutor Hasty…Sengayee”

I don’t think this is going to work, but it is painful for me to say that.  I want to be wrong.  I don’t want Salim or Qais to learn to run the chain roads.  I don’t want munir to flee to Tajikistan and work in some restaurant there.  I want them to succeed, but I just don’t think they will, and I want to be wrong. 

It’s funny what a capacity to surprise myself I have.  I never thought I’d say that I love these little guys, that I want them to live good lives, and that I even feel pain at leaving.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Month 12 Day 22

Notebook entry
20 reports given, teleconference, class with sergeants, one last request.

Journal entry
In the morning I woke up and did my normal routine.  Siegel didn’t wake up at the same time.  He woke up at 0600 and decided to go running with me, and to the gym, etc.  I felt bad because I didn’t tell him not to bring his uniform with him, but it ended up working out in the end because he didn’t have any chow for the morning, and he would not have been able to go into the chow hall in just PT gear.

I turned over the classified Material Custodian job at 0730.  That’s one thing off of my plate.  We then rolled into getting him set up on his SIPR and NIPR workstations and me walking him through everything that he needed to know about how I organized my files.

The connection to the network was extraordinarily slow.  Come to find out, that was because the built a hangar in between the microwave shots.  Gunny called comm and their response was, uh, well we’ll get to it, but probably not today.  We are like really?  You didn’t forsee this problem. 

We had pretty good participation from the Brigade on the teleconference this morning.  They actually called and reminded the kandaks to show up because I told them to, so we had pretty good participation.  The problem is that they are still treating it like a radio.  Each kandak just gives their own report, and then they leave.  They feel like their job is done, and despite the fact that the kandak boundaries touch one another, they act as though it doesn’t matter what’s happening on the opposite side of the road because that isn’t their job.  I had Salim and Qais try to back-brief Siegel and the new S2A on what they know. We worked on the places in the area, the cardinal directions, and they provided them with an overview of the IPB as they know it. 

I spoke to the S2A and I was more than a little bit surprised at how little he knew.  He said
“That guy didn’t sleep at all last night” gesturing to Salim
“Are these guys on something?”
“Yah, they smoke weed.”
“I’m not worried about that, as long as it’s nothing that’s going to fuck them up.  That guy looks like him mom smoked crack while he was still brewing.” Motioning to Qais.
“You know it is still Ramadan, these guys are just starting to show some of the wear from that.”
“Oh, yah” 
“How are their tactics? What if the Taliban attacked us right now?”
“They probably wouldn’t do very well, but how many of the RCT sections could fight as a squad very well?”
“The intel shop could.”
Maybe he’s right, and if so, then good on him, he probably did all of the predeployment training to a T, but that’s not what they do here.  They are not Marines, not basic infantrymen, and basic infantry platoon commanders.  They are Afghan soldiers.  That’s a totally different thing.  A whole new war nothing learned.  It seems that the bid by the ETT to take over the PMT (their PMT made it all the way over here before they figured out that there were no Afghan police to train) has failed.
I talked to Siegel about what they needed to do, how they needed to interact with the Regiment, with the Afghans, etc.  He wanted to know when he should go sit and drink Chai with them and all that stuff he learned at the Advisor Training Group.  I told him to forget about all of that.  They don’t need to like you to learn from you.  They fundamentally don’t want to learn, so if they like you, then you are probably not doing your job.  It is all brand new to him. 

Siegel wanted to know if I had taught them threat weapons (soviet bloc weapons). 
“Why does that matter to a Sergeant at the Brigade level?”
“because that’s what the enemy is using.”
“OK, but you can’t teach them everything, what you are suggesting is teaching them something with a low marginal utility compared to their job, they need to figure out where their own units are, how to read a map, the cardinal directions, who to display enemy activity, a whole lot of things are more important than that.”
“I just think it will be easy and keep their attention.”
“OK, but I thought that four cardinal directions would be easy too.”
“that can be conceptually hard to grasp.”
“Brother, I’m just saying if I could press the ‘everything’ button and just have them know everything that they need to know, then I would press that button, but here we need to make choices.   I need them to know about their job before I need them to know about threat weapons.”
We bantered some more, and when we were done the Gunny called me back in and said
“you know sir, I had that blow-up the other day about the turnover”
I nodded.
“They’ve already got a campaign plan.  If they want to do something, just give them your recommendation, and leave it.  Don’t worry about it anymore.  I could see your heartbeat increase over there, and for what?  They are going to do it when you leave anyway.”
I just can’t not care.  A few minutes later we walked into my tent and Siegel asked Brian
“Sir, are you going to miss it.”
“Not at all.”
I spoke up, “I just don’t think that’s true for me.  I just can’t not care about it.   I want these guys to succeed; I want America to stop hemorrhaging money and blood.”
Brian nodded.  He said “the only thing I told them when I gave them a few gifts was that the only gift I needed in return was the promise that in a few years they would be doing this without America.  Then they said khuuuh, that would be too much work.”

I just can’t help but be a little passionate about this. That is a little surprising to me. 

In the afternoon, I was going to work on some more turnover stuff, but I was not able to.  Lt Siegel got pulled away to deal with the crisis du jour for the next team, they didn’t have enough weapons and ammo to draw for the convoy. 

I fought the battle of the inbox, signed Siegel up for a bunch of distros, worked on some GMAT prep stuff, and that is about it.
On the way to chow Steve said he was close to being touched today.  The Battle Captain called him into the conference room.  He started reaching behind the podium.  Steve thought “wow, maybe he’s going to give me a gift for all of my hard work.”
“Before you go…” He pulls out the body of a fan and some blades.
“Could you get this installed in the COC for me?”

In the evening meeting it came out that Col Mustafa wanted to take the trucks back.  Maj Trevino, now knowing the program after a month here said
“well, you can do that, but it is going to make fuel and water deliveries very difficult.”
Mustafa shut his mouth. 

One other seminal event occurred in my life today.  I used a cubit as a unit of measure.  I had to calculate the volume of a diesel fuel tank, and the  volume of the box that is designed to keep the fuel in if anything goes wrong.  It turns out that there was no issue.  The tank hold 36 cubits cubed and the box it sits in will hold 48 cubits cubed. 
Next the Ark…

People would think I was as odd as Noah building one here in Helmand.