Friday, October 28, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 6: Bunker Games

Nate's blog: Oct 26
This past week has gone by so quickly. Really the whole deployment has been going by fast, it’s really excited me. We have one of those deployment trackers (for anyone who’s deployed, you know what I’m talking about), and according to it, we are 20% done with the deployment! People are already talking about dates for coming home, and events after. It looks like a few weeks after we get back, we will all be going to Vegas! Of course the dates are going to change 1000 times before it happens, but nothing raises morale like talking about coming home.

Making new friends is one of the things I’ve always liked about deployments. Marines come from all walks of life, and the group of Marines you see hanging out will be more varied than any civilian group you will see. Its always fun hearing everybody’s stories about where they are from and what they did before they joined the Marines. One thing all Marines like, regardless of their background, is card games! The other night I was playing poker with a group of them in this underground bunker. It was one of the coolest things I had ever seen! This random door in the middle of the desert, with these steps that twist around deeper and deeper into the earth, till you finally get to this crazy room with cracked cement walls and a boombox. If I ever win the lottery, or when Saija becomes my sugarmomma, we are building an underground bunker in our back yard! So here I am in this bunker with a sniper, 2 truck drivers, an Afghani interpreter, a female Marine mechanic, and one of our guards, playing poker under a string of lights hanging by zip ties from the ceiling. A pretty cool experience. And I won $5! Sure that’s not a lot, but it’s better than the guy who lost $60.

I’ve had a couple more trips “outside the wire”. Most of them have been pretty smooth, although you really never know what’s going to happen. On my last one I got to experience something from home; a traffic jam! All along this street full of stores was this disjointed, disorganized collection of trucks, old cars, carts, and even tractors all honking and yelling, trying to get to their destinations. The situation was made even worse when 2 of our convoys came through. These 2 convoys full of armored vehicles and Marines with heavy machine guns and automatic grenade launchers added a lot of chaos to an already chaotic event. I felt bad for the civilians, because they obviously did not want to be in the path of these Marines and their huge armored vehicles, nor their weapons. But I also felt bad for the Marines, having to pay attention to all these people and vehicles, trying to identify threats. It turns out traffic jams are nightmares for everyone, no matter where you live.

Winter is definitely coming now. The nights have been colder and colder, and I wouldn’t even call it hot in the daytime anymore. Supposedly it rains a LOT in the winter, so we’ve been trying to lay out gravel as much as we can on our FOB, so it doesn’t turn into a giant mudhole when it rains. We’ve had a couple light sandstorms but still nothing like Iraq. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, just go on YouTube and search for Iraq sandstorms. It’s pretty crazy.

I found a camel spider! A small (so half the size of your hand) white one. I thought those were only in Iraq? It brought back a lot of fun memories from that place. Where's Sean Dustman when I need him to video tape all this?!
And that’s All I have to report for this week! We’ve gotten a lot of care packages in lately, so thank you to all the supporters who have sent us stuff to help us out. And a big thank you to my family as well. Lots of fun books from my mother-in-law, pillows, candy, supplies from my Aunt Connie and cousin Christina. And of course, the many many amazing and creative care packages from my wife. I will never go low on poptarts again, thank you soulmate. I have a few more trips to make before my next update. Hopefully they will be boring and uneventful.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 5: Happy Anniversary?

Nate's blog: Oct 19

It’s officially been over a month since I left! The time has really flown by here. Its hot and dusty and crappy here, and getting shot at is no fun (and you thought YOUR neighbors were rude), but it’s been so busy the time has just flown by. I hope the next 6 go by just as fast! Everyone is already planning for things they want to do when they get back; partying, seeing their family, vacations. Even though it’s only been a month, I’ve found I’ve been doing the same thing too. Vegas, San Diego (taking Saija to my other home, the Blarney Stone), Europe, wine tasting in Santa Barbara, and adventures in the family cabin up in NorCal. If you are in Vegas anytime next spring/summer and you see a drunk Marine walking around, it’s probably one of our guys. Pretty much everyone has decided to go there after the deployment, and 7 months sober makes anyone a lightweight!

It’s strange to me, writing about our experiences, and knowing other people are reading it. People I’ve never even met are following along, commenting, and some even email or write to me on Facebook. I originally was planning on just doing a journal, but thought this would be a fun way to do it. I’ve realized the big downside to doing a blog is watching what I say. We get briefings all the time on “OPSEC”, on not giving away any secrets/tactics/schedules that the enemy could use against us. The censorship is necessary, but it can be frustrating when you are trying to write about your experiences. For anyone who’s ever wondered why some of the things I write are vague, that’s the reason why. There’s a lot of stuff going on, things that I would like to write about, things that I’d just like to tell my wife about, but I can’t. For those of you that know me, you know that I’m a chatterbox and keeping secrets isn’t in my nature (except for Saija’s surprises), so it’s tough keeping it all in! I am excited about some of the upcoming changes that I can’t talk about, but pretty much guarantee I won’t be coming back here. I’m not coming home early, but this should be my last trip to Afghanistan. If we fight another war soon, I hope it’s somewhere nice. Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, I’m sick of fighting in all these crappy places! I enjoyed the Cayman Islands, can we fight there next?

Yesterday I went on a trip with our Sergeant Major, around all of the FOB’s and Patrol Bases (PB’s). We also checked out one of our Observation Posts (OP’s), and man, they have it ROUGH. I can’t get into details, but basically a FOB is smaller than a base, a PB is smaller than a FOB, and an OP is smaller than a PB. While traveling I got a LOT of pictures, and I was pretty amazed by the way they lived. We went away from the towns, into some of the countryside where the roads were all dirt and electricity was pretty much nonexistent. The people out there don’t live in houses. They live in huts and poor imitations of houses made completely out of mud and clay. Some of them have thatch roofs, but for most it is just all dirt. So many of them are cracked or crumbling, and there are abandoned homes everywhere. It looks like something from the past, from thousands of yeas ago. If it weren’t from the people walking around, you would think you are looking at the ruins of some long lost civilization. There are random remnants of walls in the middle of nowhere, and caves and tunnels scattered around the hills (we did not go into those!). It made me really appreciate my life back in the states.

Well that’s all for now, should have another one in a week or so!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 4: Nate tries to sew

Nate's blog: Oct 11

For those of you who don’t know, Marines are taught to sew in boot camp. It’s nothing to brag about and its not sexy AT ALL, but if we have a rip or tear and no place to go, we can do a quick fix. Well with all the wear and tear my uniform has gone through, I developed a hole where one of the buckles from my rifle strap kept rubbing. And I haven’t messed with anything related to sewing in years. Crap. Well a sewing kit is required deployment gear, and lucky for me, that wasn’t one of the things on the list that I ignored. So here I am an hour later, with bleeding fingers and a few choice words about the needle’s parents, done with my repair job. Not. Sexy. My repair job is a nice ugly ragged patch that I then sealed up with fabric glue. Fortunately I didn’t join the Marines to be a seamstress, and I hope to not deal with that again for a long time!

In other news, I went “outside the wire”, for the first time a few days ago. It was really interesting seeing the countryside around us. I’ve gone to Iraq many times, but this is the first Afghanistan vacation I’ve taken. While going through one of their towns, I noticed how different it was from the US, and even the towns in Iraq I had been to. During the Iraq invasion, as we were pushing up from Kuwait, I noticed a lot of the desert “towns” were buildings that looked like they were made of mud, but as we got towards Baghdad, the city; it was a lot more modern. I think I compared Baghdad to a crappy downtown Sacramento. Well here it is a weird mix of old and new. Cement structures mixed in with clay and mud, carts and vehicles sharing the road. If Baghdad is like Sacramento, this area would be a cross between Tijuana and Quincy. My cousin Adam will tell you that Quincy is a nice place. My cousin Adam is a liar. One thing that hasn’t changed is the kids. Just like in Iraq, kids on the street come out when we go through the area, hoping for candy or just looking at our weapons and gear.

While we’ve had some bad encounters, mine so far have been quiet. But you can see the tension on the Marines’ faces as we leave the safety of the FOB. Hands grip weapons tighter, eyes are darting around, alert and looking for any sign of danger. It reminded me of Iraq; of past battles, of how quickly things can change. In boot camp you are taught that in combat, you are in one of 2 conditions; extreme boredom or extreme chaos. And it’s true. In Iraq, everything would be quiet, even boring for such a long time, but then instantly the explosions shouts and gunshots shatter the silence, and in that fog of war there is only chaos. These things are on everyone’s mind as we move through the towns.

I found out one of my friends in the Navy is being transferred to Seattle today! For a Marine in Afghanistan, with his home station in 29 Palms, that sounds pretty appealing. But I’ve spent some time there in Seattle, and it’s not on my list of places to go anytime soon. Although I can’t wait for the chance to get out of the desert again! Travel is one of the things I love about the Marines. Every 2-4 years, moving somewhere new. Saija and I are really looking forward to our next move, and I’m curious about what will be available. Europe? Japan? Florida, New York, Colorado, New Orleans? Or maybe back to San Diego. Either way I can’t wait!

At least for the last couple of days, it hasn’t seemed THAT much like a desert. We’ve spent them enduring some thunderstorms and cold weather. Its no fun being wet, but the cool air is nice and the rain has kept this moon dust they call sand down. I love the rain. It takes me back to being a kid in Sacramento, where it rains a lot in the winter. Listening to the sound of the wind and rain, I forget for a while where I am, for those moments, the deployment is a little easier.

Lastly, the care packages have started coming through! I’ve been helping unload and sort the mail, and its CRAZY how much we’ve been getting. I set up a “morale” area, with space for books, food, and any essentials Marines might need, and it’s already looking good. I’m glad for the soap, shampoo, and baby wipes too, because some of our guys here stink!

Well that’s all for now, but I will update this in a week or so if I can!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 3: Callsign “Warden”.

Nate's blog: October 5

We haven’t been here at our FOB long, and it’s already been eventful. The sounds of gunfire, mortars and other bombs being dropped, explosions in the distance (and sometimes very NOT distant), helicopters buzzing around overhead; this isn’t a scene from your favorite war movie. This is what I wake up to every morning. At first it was unnerving to everyone, but as we have gotten used to the area we have learned that this is just business as usual in Afghanistan. The Marines here cover up their unease with jokes and teasing the junior Marines who jump at every sound, but the truth is everyone is nervous and some have already learned that “eventful” is not always a good thing.

Adapting to life in Afghanistan has been hard, but if there is one thing Marines are good at, its adapting. Every Marine here has a job to do, and some have many. In order to reduce giving away any sensitive information, we have been given “callsigns” to use over the radio. I have been giving the callsign “Warden”. It fits, and it’s pretty badass. Mail has slowly started to arrive here, giving Marines another opportunity to keep busy. For those of you that have a family or friend who is deployed, I highly encourage you to send them something! Whether it’s a care package or a simple letter, the effect mail has here is amazing. Just knowing that someone back home cares enough about them to write, well it makes this place a lot easier to deal with.

We aren’t the only ones living in this FOB though. While waiting in line at the “Chow Hall”, I discovered cats! A group of about 5 small kittens, running around and playing in the dirt. According to the Marines leaving here, there are TONS of them living here. We aren’t allowed to touch or play with them, because of fleas and disease, but they sure are cute. My wife agreed that a wild Afghanistan cat is just what our demon of a cat needs to keep him in check!

Not much else to report this week. The lines for phones are long all the time, and often are shut down, but I have been able to call my wife a couple times so far. It’s never enough, and I know everyone else feels the same way about their loved ones. I will be doing some travelling soon, so I’m not sure if I will be able to update this as frequently as I want. But I will do my best!

PS: For everyone who has left positive comments on here, thank you! For some reason it won’t let me add my own comment, but I do read them and appreciate them! Inessa, Saija and I are looking forward to hanging out with you guys again!