Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 9: Giving Thanks

Nate's blog: Nov 24

Since 1621, Thanksgiving has been celebrated in what is now the United States. For the last 236 years, American men and women have been sacrificing their freedom, blood, and even their lives for the peace and freedom of their family, friends, loved ones, their nation. I am writing this while deployed in Afghanistan, along with thousands of other American troops, fighting not only for our country’s peace and freedom, but for that of a struggling nation that doesn’t always appreciate us. In fact some of them want nothing more than to see us dead. But rather than dwell on those that want to see us fail, we give thanks for those that support us. I am a representative for the AnyMarine program, an organization that people can join to send care packages and letters to troops deployed in harms way. Yesterday I received 20 care packages to distribute among our Marines. 20 Care packages from strangers, who have never met us and probably never will, but support us, love us, and give thanks for what we do.

We are out here in the cold, the heat, the rain and the sandstorms, fighting every day. Fighting for the people here, for our country, and for our lives. Every Marine here has a picture of their loved ones in their wallet, their pocket. When a Marine is finished with a mission, he drops his body armor, covered in dirt and sweat and blood, slumped up against a wall unwashed and unshaven, one of the first things he does is pull that picture out, see’s his or her loved one, and wishes he was there. Wishes he was there, and hopes he will make it home to see those he loves. And he gives thanks that they are there waiting for him, wishing for his return just as badly as he does. I look at the picture in my wallet that Saija gave me every day.

Last year almost everyone in my unit was back in the States, celebrating Thanksgiving with their loved ones. Those who had deployed had just returned, thankful to be home and alive. I was in California with Saija’s family, eating turkey and drinking wine, thankful to be surrounded by loved ones, and especially thankful that Saija had just recently said “Yes”. This Thanksgiving we are here in Afghanistan, and though we will probably have some form of canned turkey, it’s not quite the same. But we are thankful that we have each other, these Marines from all over the US, even from all over the world, together in this shared experience, and in this shared hardship. We are hopeful that we will return home safely, to spend our next Thanksgiving with our loved ones, sharing pictures and jokes, toasting, drinking wine and cider, eating turkey and pie, and being surrounded again by those who love us.

My family has a tradition (like many) during Thanksgiving, where everyone stands up and says something that they are thankful for. I am thankful for my wife, the woman who has changed my life in a way I never thought possible. I am thankful for my family and friends who love me, think of me, and pray for me and my return every day, thankful that I am blessed with such support and love. And I am thankful for our supporters, those strangers all across the nation that we fight and die for, who supports us without knowing us, who believe in us and look forward to the day when we are all out of harms way, back with our loved ones where we belong. Tonight when you are celebrating, out loud or in your thoughts, give thanks for your blessings, for what you are thankful for. If you have the time, think of us out here, we who are thinking of you. And have a glass of wine or a slice of pie for us. We’ll be there next year.

Happy Thanksgiving all!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 8: The more things change...

Nate's blog: Nov 17

Well we’ve officially been here for over 2 months! I’m not looking forward to the rest right now; it’s the last couple weeks have gone by so slooooow. Maybe everyone else is feeling the same, or maybe it’s just the winter blues, but it seems like everyone is a little more stressed out lately. I've already been in one fight, and we aren't even halfway done yet! Being away from my family and loved ones has been really tough lately, it’s not been fun, so I can only imagine how it is for some of the other guys. The “Dear John letters” have started coming through, cheating wives, Marines getting divorces, and guys stressing out because their child was born right before they left and they are missing out on their life. It sounds bad, but this is the norm for deployments. This is my 5th deployment I think now; I would have thought I’d be used to this already! I guess not. 5 deployments in different places; the names and faces change, but the stories stay the same.

In lighter news, I got to hang out with some Afghani kids! Whenever we are around, they run to us hoping for candy or presents. One moment I’m walking along a dusty dirt road, and then all of a sudden I’m surrounded by children! I didn’t have any candy for them, but I had some chex mix my mother-in-law sent me, which they snatched up immediately (thanks Jennifer!). I got a couple pictures with them, I’ll see if I can attach them to this blog. By the way, for you parents out there, be glad your kids don’t say the things that come out of these kids mouths! Obviously they don’t know English, so their only source of learning it is from us Marines. Role models we obviously are not! One of them tried to buy my ballistic sunglasses off of me, and had some choice words for me when I refused haha.

It’s taking longer to get these updates out than I wanted, sorry! It seems like we are in “River City” just about every other day, so everything takes longer to do. At least the gym is always open. Aside from mail and phone time with loved ones, the gym is the next favorite thing for Marines here. Haha just like every deployment. I know I’ve gotten heavy into my deployment workout routine; with the pills and the powders and the protein. That’s been a positive change for me, because it doesn’t take long out here to see results! Pretty much 24-7 there are Marines in there pumping iron and getting big. Hmm maybe that’s part of why we are all stressed too.. Roid rage? No, no one takes steroids, but the warning labels on some of these testosterone boosters and creatine mixes are pretty crazy!
That’s all for now, I have to get out of here to do some laundry. The machines have been broken for the last week, and they are opening up soon. Some of you ladies might like the idea of a sweaty Marine smelling like dirt, steel and gunpowder, but we don’t want to smell that stuff on each other haha. Gotta get up there before the line starts!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 7: Blogging in the rain

Nate's blog: Nov 08
Hullo all! It’s been longer than I wanted since my last entry, but there has been so much going on, I haven’t been able to sit down long enough to update. As I write this, we are in “River City”, so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to upload this. I hope everyone back home had a great Halloween (or Samhain for those old-fashioned folks). We got a few Halloween items, and my mother-in-law sent me a box full of fun decorations and candy. No one dressed up, but there was plenty of candy corn to go around!

The weather here has been crazy lately. Winter is definitely coming. It’s gotten colder and colder, and the rain has been getting heavier and coming more frequently. A few days ago we had our first big sandstorm. Nothing like the biblical sandstorms we would get in Iraq (all you Iraq vets know EXACTLY what I’m talking about), but still pretty freaky. For anyone who hasn’t seen the big sandstorms, just go on YouTube and search for Iraq sandstorms. It will amaze you.

The weather’s not the only thing that has been crazy; the bad guys have been going wild too. Recently I was on a mission away from the FOB for a few days, and everything went nuts. IED strikes (a LOT of them), 2 hour firefights, ambushes, snipers, the bad guys were ready to party! We’ve been in River City for a while now, lots of “drama” still going on. The good news is Marines are a lot better at kicking ass than these terrorists are.

While I was out, I ran into my buddy AZ, the interpreter who inspired this whole thing. He has been busy helping out with the patrols, and translating for our guys in the city. He tells me that whenever he can, he goes to his FOB’s “morale” room and Skype’s with his family over the computer. Apparently his little boy doesn’t like to share, and will snatch up the family’s laptop, run off into another room, and talk to him about what cartoon he is watching. “Trying to talk to the rest of my family is tough”, he tells me as he laughs. He misses them, as we all miss our family. He was going to be staying past when we left, but has decided that he wants to stick with us, and will go home when we do. That will be nice to have him on that long flight home with us, to laugh and tell stories and get wasted in Ireland/Germany.

There will be at least one Marine who will be voluntarily staying here when we leave. As I was chatting with one of our guys, he told me how he was going to stay here when our replacements come, and work through their deployment. That’s a full 14+ months out here in Afghanistan! I told him that’s a lot of money he’ll be saving up, and it’s a good thing he is single (I assumed because he wasn’t wearing a ring, although most married Marines wear them on their dog tags out here), otherwise that might be rough. To which he told me he was married, but she knew it was important to him! Craziness, that’s what that is. There aren’t very many scenarios I could think of where (as a married Marine) I would volunteer to stay behind. Speaking of which, tonight I will be making some calls, it seems like a door that was shut may now be open: Embassy Guard Duty! My fingers are crossed that this may be an option for after our time in 29 Palms is up.

Well that’s all I have to add for now, its time for me to attempt to fix ANOTHER hole in my uniform. I hate our restrictions on what we can say, there is so much more I want to talk about, but that’s the way it goes. In a few days I will be going on another “adventure”, hopefully it will be much less exciting than this one. Oh and for all you Marines out there, happy birthday!