Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Anniversary To Me!

When it comes to remembering anniversaries, everybody has their list special dates. Just about everybody can remember their birthday (4/25), the first date of a loved one (1/9), weddings (6/26), and their children's birthdays (12/18). We mark them on our calendars, scribble reminders in planners or input them into an electronic device that we carry on our persons.
One special date that I have always remembered is the day I joined the military. While I wouldn't consider it a "special" day, nonetheless it's a date that has marked much of my life since the day I "since signed my life away."
Today is my eight year anniversary and a very, very special one. Why? Because it means that I have successfully completed my military service obligation (MSO) and am no longer required to serve in the military. Now, I know what you're thinking. This doesn't mean I can jump on the first helicopter I see and get out of Afghanistan. Rather, it means that once I am done with my service here, I can resign my commission and hang up my combat boots.
It's been a bittersweet ride over these past eight years. I've had good days and definitely a few bad ones. While I might complain about this whole process, I do not regret the commitment I made all those years ago. I am proud to say that I have served my country (and will continue to do so for several more months); however, I believe the time has come for us to part ways. There are so many other things in life that I want to do and none of them are able to accommodate continued service in the Armed Forces.
I would like to thank my family, especially my wife who's been with me the whole way. Come to think of it, I've been married to the military longer than Leslie! I'd also like to thank my friends who have supported us throughout this journey. I've lived in four states and four countries in these eight years, and I wouldn't change any of the experiences. I've made several close friends and lost a few along the way. Although my time isn't completely over, I take comfort in knowing that it will be ending soon...and boy am I going to celebrate!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sobering Reminders

One terrible thing about being in a combat environment is that sometimes you forget you are at war. Things tend to work much like the movie Groundhog Day, where you get up everyday and do pretty much the same thing. However, sometimes there are events that bring you back to reality. Yesterday was one of those days.
I think I've mentioned them before, but the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Paktika has a team in the East and the West. I work closely with the guys in the East, as we share an office. Yesterday, on a typical road inspection patrol, two members of the team in the West were killed by an IED. Moreover, a young boy around the age of 12 was struck by a bullet that ricocheted off a berm at one of our ranges. The bullet entered one of his cheeks and got lodged at the base of his skull, breaking his neck. Luckily he still alive, but was evacuated to Bagram Air Field to receive treatment and has not seen any of his family since leaving OE. Today, I had to tell his older brother and cousin that he is in stable condition, but it will be a while before they can see him. In both cases, these people were going through their normal routines; yet they were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Complacency is a disease that can permeate every aspect of life in theater. When you first show up here, you are keenly aware of every loud noise, whether it's incoming or outgoing artillery, or merely a door that closes to hard and rattles the walls. However, you become so used to that kind of stuff that you forget the fact that death and destruction may be lurking over the shoulder. Thinking too much about that can drive you insane, yet forgetting it can be just as deadly.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

FOB Tillman

On Monday, I flew out to one of our unit's other operating bases, FOB Tillman. In case you're wondering, it was named after former NFL player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman. The FOB is situated in a valley between a couple of mountains and is a stone's throw (or rocket lob, as you'll find out) away from the Pakistani border.
The main purpose for coming out here was to help the Battle Space Owner (BSO) with figuring out how to engage a couple of smaller sub-tribes in the district who are seen as hostile.
At roughly 0300 yesterday morning, I set out with a platoon conducting a ground movement (that means we walked) to a nearby village to meet with some of the elders (called a Key Leader Engagement, or KLE). We left at night (because it's a little too dangerous to walk on the road during daylight) and arrived at our destination around 0500. However, it was still dark and nobody in the village was awake. So, we all just sat on the side of a big hill until the sun came up and people started moving about the village. Despite the cold chill running down my back, it was a beautiful sight to see the sun coming up over the ridge line. Absolutely breathtaking (or maybe that was from the walk).
After meeting with the village elders and learning about all the things they need (pretty much the only thing they talk to me about), we made our way back to base. However, since it was daylight we had to take another route, this one up and over a few ridge lines. Back in the states, I enjoy this kind of stuff. Give me some trekking poles, a little water and I'm good to go. Yet, with about 70 pounds of armor strapped to body and my M4, it was another matter. I got to stop and admire the views at the top, and nobody started shooting at us, so all in all it was a good trip (with the exception of the sprained ankle I got while stepping down into a dry riverbed).
Why am I still here, you might ask? Well, funny story. I was standing on the flight line this morning, waiting for our helicopter with about 8 other guys, when we started taking indirect fire (IDF). In other words, the enemy started shooting rockets at us. We had a couple land within about 200 meters of us, and the other 6 throughout the day haven't done any serious damage; however, because of the IDF, they cancelled all flights for 24. Hopefully we won't get shot at anymore so I can go back to OE!
One of the other guys waiting on the bird was an Army Chaplain. We were chatting up our favorite college football teams. While in the bunker, waiting for the "all clear", he looked at me and said, "You know, the shooting started happening when we were talking about UT Football." This is going to be a long season/deployment, I thought to myself.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mandatory Fun Movie Night

One (of the many) annoying things about the Army is the notion that if people work together all day long, at the end of the day they should spend more time together socializing. Particularly in garrison, we are required to attend gatherings and "enjoy each other's company", as if we didn't just see each other the previous 12 hours of the day. On that note, the Battalion Executive Officer (XO) has made Friday evenings a mandatory movie night event for all the primary Staff Officers. Each week, one of us picks a movie for us all to watch, and this past Friday the XO chose our feature presentation: The Road.
First off, in probably any other setting I might have enjoyed this movie. I like Viggo Mortensen as an actor and thought there were a couple of good scenes; however, when forced to watch any movie, it's bound to slant your overall opinion. If you haven't seen it, the plot (or lack thereof) focuses on a father and son who try to survive the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. Throughout the movie, both main characters escape numerous brushes with death, including dual suicide. In one scene, Viggo's character and his son were hiding from potential killers in a bathroom. Rather than risk their fate with the cannibals, Viggo prepares to shoot his son in the head. Forgive me for thinking this way, but I wanted him to do it because I thought it would mean the end of the movie! What is more, you're showing this to a group of guys who each have a pistol attached to his hip, as if to provoke us to do the same in hopes of ending the misery that accompanied a mandatory movie as depressing as this one.
In sum, mandatory fun is an oxymoron. Forcing people to do something fun becomes the exact opposite, especially when you show a movie that is, at the very least, unfun. Thanks again big Army for making me do something I don't want to do and preventing me from skyping with my family back home...probably the only fun thing I could have done on a Friday night in Afghanistan!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


In an effort to combat victim initiated Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) against Coalition Forces, the military began using a method of detecting them before it was too late. The piece of equipment we use is called a mineroller. In short, it's a nifty contraption on the front of a vehicle that detonates the IED before the vehicle rolls over it, thus limiting the direct impact of the blast and the lives of countless personnel have been saved because of it. However, there are some downsides to this piece of equipment and I experienced one in particular today (don't worry, Leslie, nothing scary happened).
Because the roads in Afghanistan are terrible, and many of the vehicles we use aren't very condusive to this terrain, it's possible something on them to break every once a while. On the way back from a small village in the southern portion of our AO, our lead vehicle made a rough turn going up a hill and the mineroller broke. Luckily we were on our way back and had already swept the road for IEDs, so it did it's job! After assessing the damage, we realized that the only real solution was to just drive very slowly in hopes that it would not become worse. When fully mission capable (FMC), the mineroller will twist and turn in whatever direction the driver turns the steering wheel; but, now the assessment was that "it couldn't pass a sobriety test," according to one observer. It was twisting and turning in whatever direction it wanted.
In sum, for over 4 HOURS we drove 15 MPH and stopped periodically to fix it after going through another rough patch in the road (or lack thereof). While the layperson might consider this to be somewhat of a security concern, I can assure you that we were in no real or present danger (as evidenced by the 30 minute power nap I took in the back of the truck while we tied a towbar to the top of the mineroller in order to keep it straight). Thanks for the protection, big Army, but in doing so you took an extra 4 hours of my life that I'll never get back. Then again, I probably would've spent that time sitting in front of a computer making powerpoint slides. Nevermind!