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.

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