Monday, December 19, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 11: Everything here is broken

Nate's blog: Dec 19
The last week or two has been so busy, and now here Xmas is right around the corner! Our unit has been flooded with care packages, so much so that I’ve had to expand my “morale” area with new shelves. I also received a Christmas tree, which is decorated with lights and ornaments supporters have sent. Speaking of Christmas, we FINALLY got all of the presents ordered for our family. FYI family, you might not get everything by the 25th. It’s sooo hard to order stuff out here. Also I want to thank Margaret from St James School for all the letters her students sent! The Marines here love them, and we have some of them up on the walls (pictures coming soon). Thank you!

Apparently half of the supplements we use are deadly. Nice to know. Some military study just came out, with a loooong list of supplements that cause heart attacks and all kinds of other unpleasantness. If you are taking anything with “DMAA” FYI, you are apparently living on borrowed time. And here I was excited about all the gains I’ve been making at the gym! As I’ve increased my workouts, I’ve found it’s harder and harder to keep up the running. So far I’ve been able to keep a balance with 4-6 mile runs, but I’d like to go back to long-distance runs once I get back home. Why can’t I be big AND fast???

The adventures had been going so smoothly up until a few days ago. Our first River City in like 3 weeks! So much for going a whole month without someone dying or losing limbs. You know, a lot of Marines get all gung-ho and hard core about killing terrorists, but honestly after multiple trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, most of these guys can’t wait for 2014 to come and go so they won’t have to worry about Afghanistan anymore. Australia is going to host Marine training now, and our guys can’t wait for that! Australian women like Marines haha. I’m looking forward to submitting my Embassy Guard package soon and getting out of the desert all together!

So I was on a 2-day adventure over the weekend, expecting the same boringness that December had shown so far. It started smoothly enough. I met a Marine from New York whose job involved driving trucks. No one in his family had served in the military, but he knew since high school that he had to serve. When I asked why the Marines, he replied, “If you are going to go for something, you may as well go for the best”. Good answer. This was his first deployment, but due to his job had already seen more of the country than most people on their 2nd or 3rd. We struck up a conversation about how when the Afghan soldiers wear boots, they have them loose and untied. It was weird and seemed almost like a fashion statement. And all of the civilians wear sandals everywhere they go. He said he had never seen any of them with socks either. That must be why the boots are so loose, you kind of have to wear socks with them or you tear your feet up! The culture here is very strange. In some ways they are almost modern, but in most, it’s like going back in time a thousand years. He felt the same, and said that everything here is broken. It’s hard to argue, this whole area is kind of crappy. Crumbling walls, broken down vehicles on the side of the road, ancient mud walls and structures that look like the ruins of some ancient civilization, it looks like they just don’t care about their country, about themselves. I’m sure in some parts of the country it is different, in some parts there are lights and TV and people wear socks and go to school and talk on cell phones, but in this part of the country, they seem to be content to live in the dirt and mud. It’s too bad for them, that the bad guys want to force their beliefs on them, because none of us would have any problem leaving them to their lives.

The truck driver and I parted ways, and I continued on my adventure. I stayed in a tent with a contractor, a civilian electrician who had been hired by the US for a gazillion dollars to work here and improve the bases. He had a satellite phone, internet, and nice warm clothes. Ahh to be a civilian again… His wife had just had a baby, so they were Skyping and talking every day. He was on a one year contract, his son would probably be walking before he saw him in person again. He was pretty sad about it, but looking forward to the money the job would provide for his family. Plus, he got to miss out on those crazy sleepless nights from living with a newborn child, the worst part he says. So I learned a couple things. I learned that if Saija and I were to ever decide to have a baby, I should volunteer for a deployment right away. Unrelated, but I also learned it’s very hard to pee in combat gear. Also, I learned that it’s not a good idea to stand too close to Afghani coffee makers. One of the chaplains got soaked with hot coffee while he stood next to the machine and it exploded! I don’t think he was sleepy anymore haha.

That wasn’t the end of my lessons on my 2 day journey though! While I was out with one of the platoons, returning to my FOB, we had to pass through the local bazaar. Normally this isn’t a big deal, we do it all the time, and it’s a festive, fun place. Not today. Right before we enter it we hear on the radio that there is a suicide bomber in the area, and to be on the lookout for anyone “suspicious”. Oh, you mean like someone all wrapped up in robes that look nervous around a bunch of Marines with itchy trigger fingers? Yeah, thanks for the warning. Well Marines don’t let anything silly like a suicide bomber stand in our way, so we keep going. The bazaar was nothing like it normally is. Everyone is quiet, pensive, and won’t look at us. All of a sudden we start getting the “thumbs down” sign from people, which is NOT normal. Our hands grip our rifles a little bit tighter, the muzzles rise a little bit higher, and we move a little bit faster, on the alert for anyone “suspicious”. We made it through the bazaar unscathed, maybe we weren’t a good enough target for the bomber, or maybe he had to stop to re-tie his boots. Whatever the reason, I was happy to be back behind the walls of the FOB!

This week officially marks our halfway point to heading home! I cannot wait, and I am so happy that we have made it this far. The first Vegas trip is already planned (our late Marine Corps Ball), and we will be staying at the Paris hotel! I’m going to drink a yard long margarita and probably die. But better that way with a pretty lady, than here in the dirt alone. I won’t have another update before Christmas as I will be on a longer adventure, so Merry Xmas and happy Yule to you all!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 10: Christmas, cars, and rumor mills

Nate's blog: Dec 4
As I write this, I am all decked out in my cold weather gear and body armor, looking like some apocalyptic war hero from the future. I don’t feel like a war hero though, but a tired Marine. Just a few minutes ago I crossed through the ECP onto my FOB, trudging my way back to this computer after a day of “adventuring”. It was a nice walk though, a clear night with a bright moon and countless stars shining above me (When you are away from the city and all that urban pollution, the night is SO much brighter). It gives the landscape such an eerie, otherworldly look. In a good way. So now I am back, ready to write another post, heat up some soup for a late-night dinner, email a pretty girl, and fall asleep, where for at least a few hours I will be away from Afghanistan.

Happy December! In just a couple short weeks, we will be at our halfway point in the deployment. We’ve also received a FLOOD of care packages lately, and it looks like this is our last trip to Afghanistan. So spirits are very high. Christmas is on everyone’s mind right now, the MWR tent has been crazy busy with Marines logging onto the computers and ordering presents for their loved ones. While we all wish we could be home enjoying the holidays, we have our own sort of holiday season here. Instead of fighting traffic jams and waiting to find a parking spot in the mall, we have long MWR lines. Instead of getting gifts in wrapping paper and bows, we have care packages in the oh so creative USPS boxes. Instead of those drives through the neighborhood to look at Xmas lights and decorations, we go on convoys and patrols to look for bad guys and IED’s. We are doing what we can to make xmas on our FOB too. In many of our care packages we have gotten decorations, lights, cards and candy canes. I even have a tree being sent to me! With every day it gets a little more “Christmassy” here.

Speaking of Christmas, some of my family still has to give me their list of what they want. You know who you are! You’re going to get a sack of Afghanistan rocks if I don’t here from you. Saija has gotten almost all of her presents. It was a lot of fun ordering her stuff, haha I have such a unique and creative wife! I also ordered a couple things for myself. One was a collage picture frame, to put in some of the pictures my wife and mother-in-law sent me. Also a movie making program for my computer. In high school I was really into Broadcast Journalism; video taping events, editing and creating movies. I’d like to play around with it a little bit more.

While we all are excited about the holidays, everyone here agrees that winter at least, should be over. It’s gone from cool to feeling like we are at the North Pole! All we need now is some snow. Mountain Warfare Training in Bridgeport was colder, but then again, that was only for a month or so. I had to break out my cold weather gear for the first time today. The good news with that is we should be getting attacked less now. It’s getting to be too cold for guys who fight in robes and sandals.

The rumors are all over the place about what is going on after this deployment. Some of them are good, some bad, others are just dumb. It’s amazing what some Marines will believe. Personally, I’m hoping that my unit isn’t going anywhere for a long time. That means Saija and I might be able to leave the desert early! Going on a MEU would be better than Afghanistan, but 7 months away from your family is still 7 months, no matter where you are (Saija don’t let me forget, I have an update to this that I need to tell you about!). Now that we are approaching the turnaround point, it’s going to be time for me to start planning for life after Afghanistan. The decision I’m dreading is shopping for a new car! I sold mine right before I left (it was a POS and kept breaking). The drunk driver who crashed into it the week before I left only helped encourage me to get rid of it. But now I have to get a new one. Unless Saija wants to drive me to work every morning. What do you think Saija? Haha there are soooo many choices out there. I’m thinking of sticking with a Mustang (but maybe not a convertible). I don’t want to spend tons of money though, especially if I’m not deploying again. Haha does anyone want to buy me a car?

Deployments are so good for saving money. While I don’t want to blow it all on a car, we’ve done pretty good at saving so far. In a month or so, we’ll have max’ed out the deployed military Savings Deposit Program (10% interest!), and I have money going from each paycheck into the TSP (think military 401k). Plus all the bills are getting paid off! Being in Afghanistan sure does suck, but we will be financially a lot better off soon.

Everything has been pretty quiet lately, at least on our end. Less firefights, but more IED’s. We are still in River City a lot, but things have been noticeably slower. Hopefully as it gets colder the IED attacks will slow down as well. We have just a few months left, and we all want to get home safely. Speaking of which, I just found out later this week I will be on an “adventure” for a few days. Fingers crossed that I will be back with new pictures and new stories, or that at least I will be back.