Monday, September 19, 2011

Graffiti Worth Reading

When I was passing through Bagram Airfield, and I mentioned something particularly witty I had read scrawled on the wall of the Porta-John near the Green Beans and PX, a Sergeant there told me that he can always get a sense of a unit's mood by reading the graffiti in the latrines.

It may be a slight bit counterintuitive, but a good healthy back and forth of vulgarity and profanity (where the scrawls are interactive)is the best thing to spot. Complaints are okay, and actually even good sometimes because they show that soldiers are engaged.

The Sergeant (who is now on his second full-year deployment to Afghanistan and who has already deployed to Iraq) said he only begins to worry when things get really quiet, which shows disengagement.

Since coming back to the unit just over a week ago, I've noticed a sharp uptick in things like intra-staff arguments, clipped phrases, and f-bombs dropped in anger. While in some ways that's a *good* thing (as I always like to say, show me someone who's upset and I'll show you someone who cares), I think it also speaks to us being in the *doldrums* of the seventh month of a deployment, where we've been scorpions in a bottle long enough to get on each other's nerves, but it's still too soon to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

The tension makes things a bit crazy at times, but I'm applying what the guy at Bagram said about graffiti to the overall staff climate here -- I won't worry about the guy ranting in the TOC who substitutes "f***ing" for the first names and/or ranks of his NCOs and Officers, but instead I'll look out for the soldier who seems like he's becoming disengaged and shutting off the world around him.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Dissenting View from Kabul

Earlier this week, a group of well-armed insurgents forced their way into a vacant building which was under construction, and used it as a platform to shoot rocket-propelled grenades towards the Embassy, the NATO headquarters, and other Afghan and international military and government targets.

The attack was quashed mostly by ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) with some help from US advisors, several of whom wear our unit's "Yankee Division" patch.

A lot of the initial reaction in the western and local media was that the attack raises doubts about ANSF's ability to establish order and protect its people.

Here's why I disagree: If you could put together ANY group of a dozen or so folks with AK-47s and RPG launchers, how hard do you think it would be to get them into a public place where they could cause mayhem and havoc? Pick any American city, and it doesn't matter -- there's no security net that's going to stop a small group of well-armed people intent on causing harm from achieving that goal.

Eventually, that small group will be overwhelmed by the superior firepower of the local response force (police, SWAT, gendarmerie, etc.) And that's exactly what happened here.

Yes, it took awhile to finish the *clearing* process, but again, think back to hostage standoff situations and other such incidents in the States. Even with some of the best-trained and best-equipped constabulary forces, that stuff is never easy.

I wasn't downtown on Tuesday and I didn't hear any of the small arms rounds or the RPG impacts. But I was close enough to the nerve center of what was going on to say that the entire episode said more to me about the capabilities of ANSF than it did those of the insurgents.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Route That I Took

So, I'm all the way back at the same little Internet terminal place in Kuwait where I last updated the blog. I'm getting ready to head back to the 'Stan tomorrow (neat way to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, eh?)

Everything went well on the 7th at MEEI, and the best part was that at the end, the doc said, "Everything looks great, and I don't need to see you again for 3-4 months." Well, if we're taking a sort of loose definition of that timeframe (like if we checked September off, and then skipped four months ahead) I would be back in the States. To stay.

Which is awesome. No more special anything, no more byzantine travel routes through airports, changes of clothes, and no more awkward explanations (both there or here) about why I'm *not really* home and dealing with people who don't know what they're saying spout off about they wish they had "whatever it is" that got me the extra trip back home.

Once again, I vow to try and write more, and photograph more. Buying a camera might be a wise next step, and I think I can knock that out here in Kuwait.

Although coming home for what wound up as nearly a week was phenomenal in many respects, the strongest feeling I had on the way back to Logan Friday morning was just eagerness to "get this show on the road." Just as it is now, my overriding feeling was wanting to get back to Camp Phoenix and back into the routine for the homestretch of the deployment.

What's VERY different this time, as opposed to OIF in 2006 and 2007, is the conflicting feelings about what's left behind. Besides the obvious and most important (wife and daughter) there's also the issue of having other professional ideas and opportunities on the plate...on active duty, of course, that was never an issue.

Regardless, it's all mind over matter for the next few months -- the conflicting feelings about being gone can get tucked away and stored in some corner of the brain where they won't be needed for a while. The trick is just immersing myself as completely as possible in the moment of whatever it is I'm doing, and then cheering a bit as the calendar gets flipped over every couple of weeks.