Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan chapter 1: Nate's attempt at a blog

Nate's blog: September 19

Hello all. As I am typing this, I am laying in a tent in some country I can't spell. It doesn't matter, because I'm pretty sure I'm not allowed to name it anyways. Here in a bit I will hop onto a plane to Afghanistan, where my 7 month combat deployment will begin.

I was inspired to start this by a conversation I had with a translator imbedded with our unit, which I will get into later. For now though, I want to catch you up to speed on what has transpired so far.

For the last 8 months or so, I have been part of an infantry battalion in 29 Palms, preparing for a combat deployment to Afghanistan. For those who haven't been to 29 Palms, it's an absolutely amazing place, full of lush trees and the base even has a beautiful lake. On September 16 (about 3 days earlier than expected), I departed 29 Palms and by bus, plane, and helicopter, slowly made my way towards Afghanistan.

For my last week before leaving, I did my best to live life to the fullest. My wife Saija and I had just returned from part 2 of 3 of our honeymoon, a cruise through Key West, Cayman Islands, and the horrible island of Jamaica, which should be wiped clear by a hurricane. We went out, we partied, we harassed our cat Hiisi, had a great week!

But eventually our last night together passed, and my alarm went off for the last time this year. At 3am we got up, and started getting dressed and ready to head to Base. I knew it was coming but now that the day had arrived, it was so much harder on me than I thought it would be. This will be my 5th deployment, but my first with Saija. I'm man enough to admit that I broke down that morning in the bathroom while shaving, at the thought of being without her for 7 months. It was like I got hit in the chest by a sledgehammer. 4 deployments and I had never felt anything like this. But I had to go. Finally everything was packed and ready, I looked around our home for the last time, said goodbye to our cat, and headed out the door.

Once we arrived on base, I got my weapons, gear, and we joined the other Marines and their families at a field. Hundreds of Marines, wives, kids, friends and relatives filled the field, along with trucks selling food, and a bouncy castle. It looked like the saddest county fair ever. We spent our last few hours together on that field, sad but looking forward to our future reunion. As the buses arrived, so did the tears. Wives, kids, and even Marines. There's a reason why a lot of us wear sunglasses when we leave.

From there it was uneventful and boring, and time was hard to keep track of. Long bus rides, waiting at an airbase for hours, and a 30+ hour flight really messes with your sense of time. Eventually we arrived at this country, that I could never have pointed out with a map. The next 2 days were spent taking anti-malaria pills, adjusting to the time zone, and attempting to "FaceTime" with Saija on the crappy wifi connection. Boring and sad in general, although I had a very interesting conversation with one of our interpreters, "AZ", which inspired this whole project.

While eating lunch, I struck up a conversation with AZ. We had a number of interpreters with us, and I was curious about them. As it turns out, they were just as varied a group as us Marines, coming from all walks of life. This man, AZ, had a wife and 2 children, and had never deployed before. We spoke about family and deployments, and how hard it was on each of our families. His 4 year old son, according to his wife, had woken up in the middle of each night since we left, walking throughout the house looking for him. His wife was heartbroken, having never experienced this before and fearing for his safety.

Being an interpreter for US troops carries an additional danger, as he explained to me. If they are captured by the Taliban or Al Qaida, they are treated as traitors, tortured much more than one of us would be before finally being killed. I won't go into the details, but apparently it has happened before. And if they have family in the area, and they are found, the family is tortured and sometimes killed as well. It doesn't help that they are contracted there for a year; a full 5 months longer than us Marines.

He is worried, but proud of what he is doing. He believes in our cause, and is glad that he can share in our experience, for better or for worse. Like all of us, he wants to complete the mission, and get home safely to his family. He tells me that as this is his first deployment, he wants to keep a journal, and turn it into a book when he returns, detailing his experiences in Afghanistan. It reminded me of something I did during the Iraq invasion, and while I don't have such lofty goals as a book, I was inspired to start a blog as well.

I'm planning on updating this about once a week or so, depending on connectivity and how much I have to write. Hopefully I'll be able to upload some pictures, although most of them will have to wait until I return, due to security reasons. Please tell me what you think! My next post will come from Afghanistan, in a week or so. Goodbye for now!


  1. Best Wishes, Nate.
    Found this through Sean Dustman's Facebook page. I'm a Marine's wife, though he's out of the Corps now. We're 100% Civilian.
    I appreciate what you are doing, the sacrifice your wife is making. I wish you a safe mission, a speedy return home.
    I'll be reading...

  2. Keeping good thoughts for you, those you serve with, and all who love you. Of course, you know now that you have this up if you don't post you're going to scare the hell out of people.

  3. First off, thank you for serving our country.

    Sean (Dustman) passed along your blog, looking forward to your posts :)