Monday, March 19, 2012

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 17: Last Call

Nate's blog: Mar 19

It’s finally happened, my deployment is almost over! This week, is my last week here (Due to security reasons I can’t say when I am actually leaving, this is close enough!). It’s been a week full of “lasts” for me. I’ve already gone on my last “adventure”, and I’ve come back with all my bits and pieces relatively where they should be! I am very thankful for that, there have been a lot of us who did not come back with everything, and some who are not coming back at all. I’ve (hopefully) had my last MRE out here, my stock of granola bars should last me through these final days. I’ve put on my FROG suit for the last time (no, not like in the Mario Bros game), and I’ve been in an armored vehicle for the last time! I’ve mailed a bunch of stuff home already, and some of our replacements have already arrived and started taking over.

I saw my friend AZ a few days ago. He is doing well, and has decided to stay out here for another 7 months. He says the money is very good and he has a family to raise. I respect him for it, but I know I could never do that! This is my 5th deployment, and when you’ve spent so much of your life in a combat zone, it kind of loses its appeal. And my departure can’t come soon enough! While my unit has done amazing things in our small part of the country, it seems like as a whole, everything is falling apart around us. The US and Afghan government can’t agree on anything, the Taliban are backing out of talks, and it seems like people from both sides are going crazy! Recently a soldier, rank Staff Sergeant, was taken back to the States, most likely to be tried for murder of Afghani civilians. This is a guy on his 4th deployment, with a wife and kids, a senior soldier that no one would have expected to go crazy! And it seems to really be dividing people. Some people think he’s nothing more than a murderer, while others feel that the multiple deployments were just too much, and he snapped. I’ve read one report that said people in the military are afraid to admit he snapped, because it leaves open the possibility that it could happen to anyone with multiple deployments. FYI, I’m not going to turn all crazy. But I am bothered by all the comparisons I am hearing between Afghanistan and Vietnam.

I’m looking forward to really saying goodbye to this place. Goodbye to the people shooting at me, goodbye to the sandstorms (I’m in one right now) and crazy weather, and goodbye to this horrible food! Goodbye to Afghanistan, and hullo to my beautiful wife, demon cat, to crazy drivers and delicious Panda Express, and apparently high gas prices haha. I think I can manage that.

Oh, and there is one more “last”. This is my last update from Afghanistan! The trip back is long, so I will still have an update or two left as I make my final journey home. Wish me luck, I will see you all soon!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tales from Afghanistan, Chapter 16: Dropping the pack

 Nate's blog: Mar 2

There comes a time for every Marine and soldier, where it becomes really tough to do your job. Your attention wanders, your motivation drops, it’s harder to get things done (like update your blog), and you focus on things in your life that you probably shouldn’t be. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Office Space”, you understand. In Marine language, it’s called “dropping your pack”.

Well I think I can officially say that’s how I’m feeling right now! In one small way I suppose it’s good, because it means I am SOOO close to coming home. But in Afghanistan, maybe it’s not the best point of view to have haha. But it’s so hard to concentrate now! My bags are packed and loaded, I’m basically living out of a backpack and I can say to within a week of when I will be home. In Marine language, I have 3 haircuts left.

Those who keep up with the news (and I try my best to be one of them), might say that this is not the best time for that attitude. They would be right. At a time where an Army base screwed up some of the Afghanistan soldiers have just plain lost their minds. There are now multiple accounts of Afghani soldiers killing US servicemembers on our own bases and FOBs, and without giving away classified information, I can tell you it’s been pretty crazy over here! At a time when the deployment should be winding down, and things should be quieting down, it has just become the most intense part of our time here.

The culture of Afghanistan is very strange, and recent events have only made it more apparent. Soldiers that have ostensibly been our allies fighting for the security of their own country turn their guns on us. Policemen spit on the ground when we pass by. How can they switch from being allies to enemies, even enemies of their own national self-interest, so quickly? It’s something that I think no American understands. And I think it’s something we can’t understand. The culture here is so different than what we know; it may as well be alien. It’s been said that Afghanistan isn’t ready for Democracy, or any real government. It’s been said that they are not mature enough, and won’t be until through their own hardships, demand a fair elected government, much like what has happened to the countries transformed by the Arab Spring. Maybe those people are right.

Whatever the motivations are for these strange people in this strange land, to be honest no longer matter to me. I wish this country all the best, but I think it’s going to be a long journey for them, and I think they want to make it alone. I don’t mind. I find my thoughts and eyes more and more drift to the West, to sunny California my home, and the series of adventures and challenges that await me there. At least at home I am familiar with them all and for better or for worse I know I will make it. I’ll have my demon cat, my charity races, my trips to San Diego and family in northern California, and of course a new tattoo, waiting for me. And hopefully orders to Embassy Duty. So much to look forward to, how can I not drop my pack?!

I’m doing my best to balance work and play. I’ve signed up for 2 charity races already, with my eyes on a few more. I’m planning on a new set of running shoes, running watch, and some sexy shades. One of my friends has told me to expect a bottle of tequila when I get home (Thank you DD, haha you know me well!). But I’m also going on at least 3 more “adventures” over the next week, and I know that the last part of the deployment is the busiest. And the most dangerous. So I’ve got to keep my eyes on the prize! I’m trying to keep my head up, stay alert. I’m working out and keeping up steady 4-6 mile runs (to my friends, I know those are “short” runs for me but it’s so boring to run on a treadmill!). And I’m packing up my stuff and throwing away the junk that I thought would be SO useful but has done nothing but gather dust! Next week I send a big locker of stuff home, and that’s when my figurative pack will be REALLY heavy. 3 more haircuts Nate, you’re almost home…