Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Stories I Didn't Tell

It has been suggested that this blog didn't fully tell the story of what it's like to be here in Kabul, that I perhaps left out certain stories which might make certain readers nervous (Hi Mom!) or that the content may have been slightly sanitized.

Um, maybe a little.

The truth is, my time in Kabul really was largely mellow, safe and uneventful, so I really don't have a lot of exciting danger-stories to share. Plus, I wrote this blog as a way to describe the daily experience of life in Kabul for my friends and family (and assorted internet strangers). I was aiming to provide a bit of psychological comfort, helping my dear readers envision daily life here at Camp Cupcake. Dwelling on the rare negatives wasn't consistent with my objectives. But now that I'm not in Kabul anymore, I guess I could share the following:

Yes, it was a sad and scary day when I heard about the two US officers - including a Lt Col - who were shot execution-style in an Afghan ministry building. I'd never met either of the guys, but you bet I identified with them both. Definitely shook me up.

Yes, there was a day when I spent 90 minutes outside the gate in my body armor, holding a checklist and walking up to a steady stream of vehicles carrying Afghan officials and their armed colleagues. "Are you on the list, sir? OK, go on over there." Not my favorite Afghan activity, I promise. Plus, it was raining. And cold. And I'm not sure how helpful my armor and helmet would have been if a car had gone boom or if a rogue security guy decided I was a convenient target. But again - I only had to do that once.

Yes, we heard some very large, very close booms on April 15th. And lots of gunfire. I jumped once or twice, said a bad word or two, and put on my body armor and helmet in record time. Not the most fun way to spend the afternoon, and not a story I was in a rush to tell.

But that's about it. Honest. Most of my time truly was pretty much as I described it here - sometimes funny, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes dull, sometimes lonely, sometimes frustrating and sometimes bad smelling. But if I focused mostly on the positives on this blog, well, that's because I focused mostly on the positives during the whole deployment. Also because there really weren't very many scary moments.

Friday, May 18, 2012

AfghanDanistan Has Left The Country

I'm home now. My Afghan adventure is over. I'm sure I'l have a few more posts, with more photos and observations in the relatively near future.

But not just yet. For now, I'm just focused on being home.

It's wonderful.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I (Didn't) Get Around

I didn't get to see much of Afghanistan while I was here, which is just fine with me. Mostly. Part of me does wish I'd been able to get out a bit more.

The decision to refrain from battlefield tourism was a deliberate one, motivated as much out of a desire to not expend resources unnecessarily and to not expose a drive team to danger as any sense of personal safety. But yes, part of the calculus here had to do with the risk of IED's versus the opportunity to take a few pictures.

The few times I was able to get out and see some of the city were definitely interesting. The place looks like nothing I've ever seen in the US. The word "crumbling" pretty much describes the predominant architectural style. The donkey carts, women in burkas and soldiers everywhere created an ambiance that wasn't quite appealing or welcoming, but at the same time held an undeniable fascination.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Will Work For Chicken

This is Marissa. She's five years old, and I met her on the road to Camp Eggers one day as I headed over there for lunch with some buddies.

There are lways kids on that road, carrying scarves and bracelets to sell. But Marissa didn't want to sell me anything. Instead, as we walked side-by-side and I asked her name, she offered to be my bodyguard. OK, I said. I could use a big bodyguard like you. That made her giggle.

She was quite good at her job. As the other kids approached with their scarves and bracelets, Marissa held out a hand and said "No touch!" The kids backed off. "You bring me chicken?" she asked as we prepared to part ways. "When you come back, you bring me chicken?"

"Uh, I'll see what I can find." I'm not sure what sort of chicken other people may have brought her. All I could find to bring her was a Clif Bar. She seemed pretty happy to get it when I met her on my way back, even though it wasn't chicken.

Marissa's English was excellent. She told me she learns English in school. I asked how old she was and when she told me she was 5, I said "Wow, that's so big!" That made her giggle too. She has a great giggle.

It's hard to imagine letting a 5 year old wander around on a street like she did, interacting with foreign soldiers. Her older sister (and maybe some brothers) were nearby, but even still, it's a very different life than anything my daughters ever experienced. I wonder what her life will be like after the troops are gone. I wonder what her life - and her country - will be like in 10 years. I hope she gets lots of chicken.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Transient Quarters

Q - Why do Indian Fakirs sleep on a bed of nails
A - Because the springy mattresses in the KAIA transient tents are w-a-y too uncomfortable!

When I first arrived in Afghanistan, I spent a night in the transient quarters at KAIA. For those who aren't familiar, these quarters consist of rows and rows of dirty little tents, each with ten sets of bunk beds inside. In November I arrived late at night, so by the time I got to the tent it was dark and crowded. And cold. And disorienting. Yeah, not a great first impression.

On my way out, things were different. I was able to get to the tent by 4:00, I was well rested and I kinda knew my way around. The lights were on and the beds were empty - so that was an improvement. Plus the weather was warmer and there was no trash scattered around the tent this time. The fact that I was heading in an outward direction was also a big improvement, as you could imagine.

Each bed has a "mattress," although we'll use that word loosely. It's pretty much just a pile of springs that someone jammed into a thin fabric covering. No sheets - you've got to bring your own sleeping bag. No pillow either - I used my uniform shirt.

So my last night in Afghanistan wasn't exactly restful. I think I woke up around 3... and 4... and managed to stay there until around 7, when I got up and made it over to the shower can. As far as I can tell, the showers were last cleaned right around the time the brand-new mattresses were delivered. So it had been a while.

Improbable as it sounds, I managed to get clean. Then I headed out into the bright sunshine of my last day in Afghanistan. Ah, that sounds nice.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Homeward Bound

When I think about coming home from deployment, I mostly think about BWI airport and how great it'll be to see my family for the first time in 6 months. But the process of going home is actually a lot more involved than that.

The first step was to drive from HQ to Kabul International Airport (aka KAIA). But before that could happen,  I had to find out my flight information. Every leg of this journey gets scheduled at the last minute, which made it a bit difficult to plan ahead.

Two days in advance, I was told the date I'd fly out of KAIA. No time, just a date. On the day before my departure, I caught a ride up to KAIA - still not knowing what time my flight would actually take off. On the evening of the day before departure, I got the flight time for the following day... but they couldn't tell me when I'll land in Manas. And I still have no idea when I'll leave Manas... or when I'll be home.

Guess it's like they say - you only need to be able to see the next step, and you can make the whole journey that way. And I'm definitely heading in the right direction. Not long now!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Prep For Departure

When someone's deployment ends and they get to go home, we say they've "redeployed." It's a funny word, redeployed. Sounds like they're deploying again... and nobody wants that. I think going home should be referred to as getting "undeployed." That just sounds so much better. Or maybe de-deployed.

Whatever it's called, there's a lot of uncertainty about the redeployment process. Most of the arrangments (flights, etc) are made at the last minute. It's not like they didn't know 6 months ago that I'd be going home on the 12th, but they wait until the 7th to actually book anything.

And of course there are lots of pieces to the redeployment puzzle - a ground movement from HQ to the Kabul airport, compliments of the MOVECON office. Then a flight from there to Manas - maybe with a stop somewhere else inbetween, unless you luck out and get a direct flight. And once you hit Manas, it's time to hang around a while until a flight opens up to take you back to the states... with who knows how many stops in between.

As I understand it, flights out of Manas get announced at 10pm each night - be there to get the scoop, then either grab your bags and get ready to check in (for a departure at some ungodly hour), or go to bed and try again the next day.

I didn't bring a cellphone with me ('cause it wouldn't have worked over here), so coordinating details with the family while I'm enroute will be interesting. Thank goodness for the google voice option on gmail. I'll call from my laptop when I hit Turkey, Germany, Ireland or wherever else I have a stopover. But once I hit the States, I'll just walk through the gate and hope the arrival time was close to what was advertised. And then I'm pretty sure I'll cry like a baby to be back in the USA and hugging my wife and kids again.

After that, I think I want to go to Wendy's for a cheeseburger.