Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Few Sketches

Here are a few sketches from the past few days ...

Before the Patrol
Graphite on paper, 9"x12" 

Abdul M.
Graphite on paper, 7"x5" 

Graphite on paper, 7"x5"

Friday, August 24, 2012

Eid Makes for a Quiet Week

The Muslim world finished up Ramadan just as I returned from leave.  The Eid celebration that followed it was supposed to last three days.  Yeah.  Just like we would have in the US, Afghans managed to stretch it out over a whole week.  Over at the District Center, there were a couple of parties with bands and food and lots of chai and good times.  All offices were closed, meetings cancelled, and lots of people went to wherever "home" was.  As a result, I was able to play catchup without falling further behind.  A pretty quiet week.

I hit the gym the first morning back.  I weighed in, expecting to have gained a few pounds during R&R, but found I hadn't gained an ounce.  Cool!  But I've been exercising every day anyway, taking it easy at first and then upping the strain.  Part of the reason is to try to work off a few more pounds before this tour is over.  Another part is that I've still been waking up at ridiculous hours in the morning, so what else is there to do?  I was in the gym this morning and one soldier was putting all the rest of us to shame.  He was on the leg press and kept adding more and more weights until, finally, he was pushing 880 pounds.  I couldn't believe it.  There I was, sweating away with my measly squats (no extra weights), and he's pushing five of me around.

This week, I learned that there's a Canadian combat artist in southern Afghanistan.  Richard Johnson is on his fourth trip in-country.  His articles and drawings are being published in the National Post newspaper based in Ontario.  He was at KAF at the same time I was, although I didn't know it.  His drawings and writeup are really good and I highly recommend taking a look.

Two bits of news today really sucked.  One was that former Ambassador Ryan Crocker was arrested on a DUI hit-and-run last week.  Crocker has done an amazing job for the US as Ambassador to Pakistan, then Iraq, and then Afghanistan.  Any one of those would have required a superhuman effort from a normal guy, and the fact that he did all three of them, and so well, is unbelievably impressive.  He left Afghanistan early due to some unspecified, but serious, health issues.  This DUI is not excusable, but it pales in significance to what he has done for this country.

The other bit of bad news is the retired SEAL who's publishing a memoir of the Bin Laden raid.  That's just plain wrong.  All of us on government service sign an agreement that we will submit any manuscripts that might contain classified information for a security review.  That's a normal requirement that's been around for many decades.  I signed the agreement.  This guy, though, didn't live up to his obligation.  Especially for somebody involved in the actions of SEAL Team 6 in general and the Bin Laden raid in particular, there is a lot of highly classified information involved and, no matter how careful he is, he's probably going to spill some of it. If he does, I think he should be brought back on active duty and court-martialled.  My message to him and everybody else on active duty (military and civilian): follow your obligations and don't put your teammates and other soldiers in danger.

To cap it off, this morning Fox News, that bastion of right-wing military adventurism, outed the guy, publishing his name for all the world to know.  Now why in the hell did they do that?  They just endangered him, his family, his friends, and his teammates, all to sell newspapers or TV spots.  Now, granted, the ex-SEAL team guy endangered himself by writing the book in the first place, but he used a pseudonym for himself and his buddies.  Now his cover is blown and it won't take much investigative work to find the real identities of some of the rest.  Way to go, Fox News: where money comes before country.

Had the name been published by MSNBC or the New York Times, I bet there would have been a huge outcry from the right.  So far, I haven't heard anything.  I'm waiting.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Back In Maiwand Again

Hutal, Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan

I arrived back in Maiwand this morning.  It was a long trip.  I left Asheville on Monday evening.  The flight was delayed a bit by weather, but I still got to Atlanta in plenty of time to catch the flight to Dubai.  Some of my friends have recently had some bad experiences with United (lost bags, cancelled flights, and don't-give-a-hoot crews and representatives) but Delta has been pretty good for me.  Our flight was packed with lots of US civilians obviously heading to Afghanistan.  How did I know?  They had this certain look to them, of men who had done hard things in difficult situations for long periods of time; calm, competent, no-bullshit carriage.  That, and the military-issue backpacks.

The 14-hour flight was as long as it sounds, but surprisingly, I was able to get some sleep.  Waking up at the 6-hour mark and realizing that you still have 8 hours to go is not much fun.  Dubai passport control is efficient and I was soon at my hotel.  Had a long soak in the tub, followed by a great dinner on their terrace (burger and draft beer), and in the rack for the night.  My body clock was so confused.

The next day, it was on to Kabul.  The seats on this plane were even smaller than Delta's and every single one was taken.  In other words, sardine city.  After Dubai's modern airport, Kabul's was really ramshackle.  But the passport control was quick and efficient, and I didn't have any checked bags, so I was through in no time.  After getting to the Embassy, I got settled in my room and started taking care of business.  Good thing I did, too, since they'd lost my flight request for the next day to Kandahar.  I ran into several old friends while wandering around the compounds, which was cool.  The Embassy is a massive construction project right now.  Eight hundred million of your tax dollars are building a huge new compound, and as a result, getting from one office to another is a challenge.  Hell, even finding the office is a challenge.  Is all this necessary?  A lot of us think not.  It is too much like the monstrous embassy in Baghdad that is now way under-utilized.

The next day, I flew down to Kandahar and checked in with the offices that we work with on a daily basis.  I got caught up on news and gossip and checked my three email accounts.  When you have 1400 emails in the queue, the "delete" button is your friend!  Sleeping at night was still difficult: I'd hit the rack around 9:30, wake up later feeling like I'd been down forever, look at the clock, and it would be 12:45 in the morning.  Ugh!  I had some over-the-counter sleep aids that really helped although they left me a bit groggy first thing in the morning.

Today was the last leg.  I was the sole passenger in an ancient Huey helicopter heading from KAF to Maiwand.  I rode sitting sideways, looking out the great gaping hole where a door would be if a door had been installed.  It was better than any amusement park ride.  We thup-thup-thupped our way across the desert and swooped down on Hutal (top picture).  A cloud of dust, a final bump, and I was back at my little base.  It's so small that I was almost back to my hooch before the bird lifted off.

I've spent the rest of today getting caught up on the happenings here.  There have been some personnel changes, some politicking over at the District Center, and other things that I needed to know about.  Things haven't really changed, just more of the same.  It's back to the grind.

Oh, and lunch today?  MRE's.  Yes!  Looks like I'm going to be losing all those pounds that I gained while on leave!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Some Assembly Required

That could be the tag line for much of this R&R at home.  A variety of small-bore projects that always seemed to require a bit more work than they initially appeared.  There was some catch-up paperwork that took a week to get done.  The bank of juniper plants behind the house had about a gazillion weeds in it, most of which didn't show up until I was face-down in the bank.  Mowing the lawn led to pulling more weeds and trimming some trees.

Here's an example.  Before I came home, I ordered a new stereo unit for the truck that added the capability to play my iPod, as well as bluetooth for a hands-free capability with the phone.  Putting the new unit in wasn't actually that hard - it took me about twice as long as the directions estimated just because I double-checked everything, but it went right in.  Cool.  But then I realized that my speakers had all the frequency response of a mailbox.  Another order to Crutchfield and a few days later a new set of speakers showed up.  It had two to replace the ones in the front doors and two to replace the ones in the dash.  Should be an easy plug-in, right?  No.  The door speakers weren't a straight replacement.  The wires had one color-code coming off the stereo unit and a completely different one at the speakers. There were two additional pieces of electronics that needed locations where they were accessible for adjustments but wouldn't get kicked or mashed or whatever.  When I went to drill the holes for the screws, the battery for the drill was dead.  When I recharged the battery, I found out it was really dead. The wires included to hook up the door speakers were about 12" too short, requiring a trip to Radio Shack for a new roll.  When I got home, I found I'd bought a size way too small, so it was back to Radio Shack again.  The new speakers for the dash were completely different from the existing ones, so I had to figure out a way to install them without doing permanent damage to the truck.  But eventually, after many hours of work and cussing, it all came together.  The new speakers sound great, the new unit will play my iPod, and the bluetooth works well.

Not everything about this trip was work.  We went to an Asheville Tourists minor-league baseball game with our neighbors, then out to dinner at a great Mexican restaurant.  Friday night, we went downtown to check out a new restaurant and ran into some friends of ours who were also going to the restaurant.  That's one of the things I love about a small city like Asheville: you tend to run into friends everywhere you go.  We watched a lot of the Olympics, which was cool, especially since I hadn't been able to watch any TV for the past three months in Maiwand.  One thing I did not miss: political ads.  I kept the remote handy and immediately changed channels every time a political ad came on.

I also started talking with people about employment and related opportunities after Afghanistan.  There are a few interesting possibilities out there that would make use of my background and skills.  In a perfect world, I'd be able to use those skills while working (or at least being based) here at home, where I could set up an art studio again and resume making artworks that mean something to me.  I'm available after early October - anybody got any ideas?

But vacation is now over.  I'm sitting in the Asheville airport, waiting on the flight to take me to Atlanta and then to Dubai.  This will be my final stint in Afghanistan.  I'll get back to Maiwand, see what's happened while I was home drinking beer, pick up where I left off on my projects, and very soon start wrapping them up.  I'll out-process from the State Department and come home in early October.  No more deployments for this boy.  Trips, yes; deployments, no.  Time for me to spend time with my wife, my dogs, and my friends.