Sunday, September 1, 2013

Month 13 Day 1

This morning was approximately as fun as a heart attack.  I took all
of my bags over to get scanned along with the rest of the guys from
the RCT.  When they put one of my big bags on the Robert Burns they said that
they saw a round under one of the armor plates that go in my vest.
The colonel had just promised to use non-judicial punishment to
restrict anyone’s leave and generally make anyone’s life harder if
they were found with a round.  I thought it was bullshit, and that
remains to be seen, but I was like, oh shit.

They tore apart my bag and couldn’t find this round.  Then they put my
stuff on the conveyer and came back.  When the guy came back I asked
“Where was it.”
“I’m not sure, I did not find it with the scanner, but it was rolling
around on the ground by the scanner.”

Awesome, so they tore apart my gear because there was a round on the
Robert Burns but not in my gear.  I put my shit back together and headed out.

I pounded four melatonin and slept through the day until 8PM.  I woke
up, had a shower, chow, I was feeling great, mostly because I was
going home.  Then we had to march out to the search facility again
with all of our carry-on luggage at 10:30.  We did the same stupid
procedure as this morning and were informed that we were going to have
even more stringent search criterion on us than in a regular airport.
I threw out my shave gel and squired a bunch into a plastic bag so I
could meet Suzan clean-shaven.  We’ll see if that works.  This is more
than a little bit stupid because I have my rifle and pistol on me.  We
all get through the search facility and then march all of the way back
across the base to another holding facility.  We are told if any of us
get out of line we will have broken quarantine and will al have to go
through the process again.  Then when we get to our destination or
guards all bug out and leave us standing in the middle of base.  What
the hell was the point?

So I’m sitting here waiting to board my flight that leaves at 04:20 in
the morning.  I have been prepping for the move since 08:30 this
morning.   The efficiency of this is just amazing.  The really stupid
part is that the whole point of this base is to do just what we are
doing, transit to and from America.  The way the USAF has set this
place up you’d think that is the secondary goal and that the real
point is to live in giant sheet-metal buildings with air conditioners,
drink beer at night, and stuff your face during the day.  They don’t
even maintain the base themselves. They’ve got contractors in the Chow
hall, picking up trash, and dummies in the guard posts.  We did see
USAF personnel working on trash pickup, one guy rode around with the
contractor and watched him work, they also supervised the chow hall
contractors.  The Army did all of the searching.  The USAF did weigh
us before we got on the plane.  They are really in-the-shit to be
getting their combat pay.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Month 12 Day 31

The days are all starting to run together. It is getting all messed up
because I am sleeping during the days and working during the night.

At midnight.  I was awake and had midnight rations at the chow hall.
After I whad finished I came out and spoke to Brian, he was sitting
alone on a picnic table.  He reasoned that there was no point in being
in a country with good weather if one did not actually go out and
spend time in it.  I can see his point.

We had a good conversation for over an hour.  WE talked about a lot of
things Calvinism, determinism, the extent to which someone can really
be culpable for their actions if we live in a determinisc universe.
This came about because we were again talking about how Brawny
specifically but everyone else to a lesser degree is still offended at
me calling them a bunch of pussies.  We talked again about how guys
are just not willing to put the country or what is right ahead of
their careers.  We talked about how Brian could stay in for two more
years and bilk the system without fear of deploying, but he has chosen
not to.

Again we came back to the question that still plagues me.  It has
appeared in different forms, but it it always something like this.  Is
doing the ‘wrong’ thing in a system that is wrong really the wrong
thing (The specific instantiation was me calling the other guys out as
cowards for not putting what was right ahead of their careers when it
had no effect other than to piss them off, and diminished our cohesion
for the last couple of weeks).  As a matter of fact, I would say no,
there was nothing wrong with the Montgomery bus boycotts, nor the sit
ins in the 1960s, they were doing the right thing in a system that was
wrong.  Here is the problem.  If you always act like that, then you
will probably be screwed.  The saints among us don’t produce anything
that society thinks is worthwhile, they might live piously, always be
forgiving and always be generous, but they rarly make an impact.  If
you want to have an impact you need to be able to play the game long
enough to be in a position to make an impact.  For instance, when the
congressmen and sentors came and we did the dog and pony show, I could
have continued up the chain and talked to Col Schmitt, and then up
from there if they would allow it, bI could have written my
congressman, whatever.  I didn’t do that.   I brought it up with my
superior two levels up and that was as far as I went.  Was that right?
 How do you choose your ‘ditch to die in’ when should you stop
pushing a moral position.  If you don’t think that it will have any
effect should you just keep your mouth shut, and choose to fight a
battle you can win?  Does acquiescence prolong a system that is broken
and create a system in whith others need to bide their time as well
because ‘that is just the way things are done.’  If all men were
angels there would be no need for government but men are not angels
and often bad things like war need to be done for the sake of the
group or the sake of mankind.  I don’t know what the answer is.  Are
Kantians in the end just group utilitarians, if so, at what point does
the sacrifice of a few justify the death or removal of liberte of a
few for the sake of a group, my just tells me never, but it seems to
be internally consistent with a philosophy that allws you to make
morally correct decisions based on their effect.  I just don’t know.
When should doing what is right be calculated for effect?  What if you
risk the potential to do a lot of right in the long run by throwing
your hat in the ring on a morale issue in the short run?

I came back and worked on my book proposal for a while.

I wrote a bunch of lude messages to Suzan about my arrival home which
probably inhibited her workday, but they made me smile.

I took two Melatonin in the morning and crashed until 1600.

I got up, went to chow, spoke with Bobby Brumfield, he was bithching
about the ANP.  He said
“you know every one of those chiefs wwas just like  shrugging their
shoulders about what they will do if the Taliban come back.  One at
least said he would go to Pakistan, the others are like, I don’t know
who I’ll side with.”

I went to the gym and now I’m typing this, looking forward to a shower
and midnight rations again.

Oh I found out the English/Spanish name of the program they like
watching so much on Tolo TV.  Its simply called Daniela, staring

Friday, August 30, 2013

Month 12 Day 30

We touched down in Manas, and as I got off the plane I didn’t
instantly start to sweat.  As I inhaled I remembered the feeling I had
when I touched down in Parris Island in 2003.  It was like breathing
liquid.  The air didn’t smell like the dead air out of a hair-dryer,
you could smell life in it. This is a ‘Stan no doubt, but I felt like
I stepped into the apogee of civilization.

We were trundled into busses and then into a briefing tent where we
were repeatedly admonished by an obese Airman-First class not to take
our rifles of pistols anywhere we went, not to the linen facility, not
to the smoke pit, and not to the gym, just lock them up and put a
guard on them (though we were also advised that females could not
guard male’s weapons in their ‘dorms’ as the USAF calls them).  A few
of the Marines even tried to use the restroom down one of the halls
and were reprimanded by Air Force personnel.  What a different world.
We had a brief from a US Army sergeant in workout gear about customs
and were told “when in doubt throw it out” and that our bayonets would
be confiscated if we put them in our carry-ons, though our rifles and
pistols were somehow fine.  We were told that this was a salute-base,
but that transient personnel were not allowed off base because of the
threat from locals (though the permanent personnel go out in town in
civilian clothes routinely).  Incongruously, the US Air Force
considers this a combat zone and all the pay accrued while here is
non-taxable and they get all of the same benefits we did in
Afghanistan.  Most stupidly, we were briefed about the alcohol on
base, every other service branch gets to have a beer on the way home,
but not the USMC, the guys who really need a drink.  It’s a different

We took our gear out, put it in big boxes for customs, and went to
chow, it was now 0500.

After chow I stayed awake for a while.  I wanted to get back onto
California time.  I didn’t got to  sleep until 0700, I took a bunch of
Melatonin.  Woke around midday, took some more and slept until 1500.

I went to the gym.  On the way I slipped out a side gate onto a
running path that had a view of the mountains which was constantly
patrolled by USAF personnel.  The gym was packed and circadian rhythm
was all screwed up, so my workout sucked.

I came back and had some chow in the chow hall with the veritable
mountain of chocolate (I took a picture), and now I’m back catching up
on E-mails and writing this.

I am going to try to pull an all-nighter and keep trying to get back
on CA time.

We’ll see.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Month 12 Day 29

Our last day on Dwyer.  I woke up really early because all I had with
me was my poncho liner and I froze just laying on my bed.  I had a
0300 wakeup vs my 0400, but that was after about an hour of shivering.
 Some of the other guys had the same problem.  They said that they
roused themselves and went to the restroom merely because they were

I used the gym and the MWR before anyone else woke up.  While in
between sets I worked on my admissions essays for Yale and Columbia.

When I came back the tent was alive.  Everyone had to get up to be
ready to pack their bags into an ISO container.

I went to breakfast and had a conversation with Josh and Maj Davidson
about Brawny.  Josh said “he has a list of preferences because of
what he has been exposed to. He doesn’t really know why he likes any
of those things, he merely does.”
I said “He’s like a ribosome, he just faithfully replicates the DNA
that he is supposed to, he doesn’t have to know why, he just acts.
Society needs lots of guys like that, not everyone can question the
paradigm, the bulk of people need to replicate similar DNA patterns
and will be ideally suited to the world as it is, not the world as it
might be.”
“Right, not everyone can think about the reason for everything that
they do in life.  I agree with GK Chesterton, Dogma has a purpose.
What is frustrating about Brawny is that he tries to replicate his
preferences in everyone else and doesn’t realize that all he has are
preferences, not real thought, and that when you try to engage with
him about why he believes what he believes, he gets angry.  There may
be hope though, he did say once that ‘maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on
the Muslims, they believe just as much as I do.’”
Maj Davidson came in with a few comments and Josh then piped up again.
“It has been interesting to live in a tent with Chris and Doug all
year, you can’t get more polar opposites.  It’s an interesting social
“The only interesting social experiment in my sent is trying to figure
out which of the Bash Brothers stink today.” Maj Davidson groaned.

We ambled back to our tent and drug out expeditionary wheely bags to
the ISO.  Not even half of the company took up a full semi’s worth of
space.  In all it totaled 5 10x10 aluminum pallets stacked 10 feet

I came back and set to work on my essays and watched a TED.   That
worked for a while, then I passed out for about two hours at midday.

I went to lunch and met up with the CISE Marines in the chow hall,
they asked me some questions about the ANA.  I gave them the answer
that I knew, but it seemed odd that they were asking me.  Somehow it
felt like they should have been asking someone else.  My instant
mental response was ‘this is no longer my job.’  Steve did something
similar. I gave one of the CISE linguists a Dari greeting, and he said
“leave it here.”  It’s odd, something we worked so hard on for a year
everyone is eager to forget and leave behind.  I wonder if this is
because we all saw the whole experience so negatively.  So maybe this
is how the brand new war starts.  The guys who fail and come back
don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to think about it, they just
want to move on and do something else.  Maybe this is why no one knows
anything when they get here.  Not just because guys like me are denied
the opportunity to train the incoming teams, but also because those
who have the corporate knowledge just don’t want to talk about it.  I
think I have proof of this.  I know damn near everyone who
participated in the “march up”—invasion of Iraq, but even if I know
that others were once on an embedded training team, I have no idea
what they actually did.

I worked out a second time in the afternoon, ripped the nametapes off
of my worn-through cammies and put them in the uniform disposal bin.
I put on the cardboard camouflage that I will wear when I march back
to see my wife.

In true Marine Corps fashion we showed up at the AADCG (Aircraft,
arrival, departure, control group) or as everyone else in the world
calls it, an airport.  We were lucky, this wasn’t like Qandahar where
we showed up half-a-day prior to the flight, we only came six hours

I quickly hogged one of the few power outlets in the building and
again shaped my grad school essays.

Gunny has been more involved in the past few days.  He was actively
involved in passing word about when and where we needed to be, but it
started before that.  When the new guys showed up he was out there
with us on our walkabout, and he had a comment at every turn.  Capt
Nowak mocked him for this and Gunny replied that he got most of his
information about the camp from Facebook posts that he read.  None of
that was odd, the Gunny deflecting with humor and Capt Nowak taking
personal offense that his once-confidant didn’t do any work with the
Afghans during his year in Afghanistan.  What was striking was the
LtCol’s reaction.  He used to actively solicit the GySgt’s opinion on
all kinds of matters, treat him like commanders treat their senior
enlisted men.  These requests for comment tapered off after it became
clear that the Gunny was not doing anything to advance the cause, yet
as soon as the Gunny started getting actively involved again, speaking
up on our tour for instance, the LtCol went back to openly asking for
his comments in front of the new group of Marines.

Two things are striking about this.
First, why the Gunny gave a shit in the first place.   I think I see
why.  The Gunny is the master of the weak tie.  He makes great short
impressions on everyone, he comes across as effusive, engaging and
entertaining.  Most of the time this is over-the-top and it is easy to
see when he is putting it on, like he did when he spoke to some female
Army Psychological Operations Staff Sergeant in the AADCG.  After this
period his interaction falls off.  I don’t understand why that happens
except that maybe he is right, that he is a really shy guy who has
developed this ‘not me’ persona that helps him get by.

The Second odd thing is the LtCol’s response.   I am not sure why he
allows the gunny to step back into that role so quickly.  Neither of
these are mutually exclusive, but as I have said before.  Perhaps he
wants him to become that guy, so he treats him like that.
Alternatively, perhaps he has been so conditioned to the roles that we
all play (e.g. an Officer in Charge/Commanding Officer needs to treat
the senior enlisted man like this____) that he easily falls back into
it even when the senior enlisted is not doing his part.

We hopped on our C-17 and sat because the Manas Airport was not open
yet.  I was doubly fortunate.  I was able to sit next to Rob LaFranchi,
and I got one of the inward-facing bulkhead seats with legroom.  I
thought I would feel more as I left.  I thought I would feel elation
at leaving, or some type of angst that the next team was now bumbling
their way forward.  When the turbofans wound up and all of the gear
shifted a few inches to the rear of the plane and clunked as the locks
held it in place, I felt nothing.  Was I just tired, was I somewhat
loath to leave the place that I now thought of as ‘mine’, was I
mentally drained?  I don’t know

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Month 12 Day 28

In the morning I did the last of my morning routines at Camp Garmsir,
came back, packed up, and loaded up the truck.  I took a photo of it
before I left.  It is amazing we still call ourselves expeditionary.
The truck was visibly sagging under the weight of just three men’s

We left the gate at Garmsir for the last time and moved back to the
circus tents that we arrived in one year ago.

I spent a good part of the afternoon pecking away at my school
admissions essays.  I was tired of looking at them (I can only imagine
that they will be tired of reading them), so I did a second workout
for the day.  That was nice.

They did an inspection in the evening searching for rounds in Marine’s
gear.  Col Schmitt, in his typically blustery fashion has promised to
use Non-Judicial Punishment against anyone who is found with a round
the moment that we make it back to the grinder and in front of all of
our families.  A round has already been found in one of the advon
guy’s gear, so we’ll see if it’s an empty threat.  It just seems
stupid.  There are 500 guys here, somewhere someone is going to have a
round.  I used to do line-outs with my platoon and plant three rounds
on three people and have my platoon search until they found them.  It
took 30 minutes one time, and I ended up with 5 rounds instead of 3,
and we were only searching cammies and daypacks.  There is no way
these Marines are going to be able to comb through every little bit of
gear well enough to find a round.  We don’t have Xrays here, so the
test becomes the Xray machine in Manas, but you can’t adequately prep
for it.  Anyway, its just another instance of the ‘tough guy’ attitude
and it has got everybody all stirred up because they don’t want to be
embarrassed in front of their families, and they don’t want to lose
their leave. Brawny has been paranoid, he has packed and unpacked his
stuff about 3 times.  In the evening, he confessed again “I’m not a
Major yet.”  Maj Davidson replied “the only thing that could prevent you
from becoming a Major is if you put your dick in a Lance Corporal, and
since we don’t have any females around, I don’t think that’s going to
be a problem.”   Back to garrison bullshit.

View of Three Marines Gear in an Afghan National Army truck

View of the Marine's Camp on Camp Garmsir from the watchtower

View of the generators powering the Marine Camp (left foreground, a few borrowed trucks, and the ANA parts of Camp Garmsir)

View of the General's office and some of the office containers. 

Afghan Motor Pool

Panoramic view of the Afghan Motor Pool

Some of the remnants of torn apart or destroyed Afghan National Army Trucks in a dump ground

Some of the new buildings being built to replace the tent city

Fuel Containers on the Afghan base

One of the chow halls on the Marine Side of the base

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Month 12 Day 27

I forgot to mention on the battlefield circulation day that when we
were doing the BFC that we were being pelted with rocks from little
kids basically every time that we came in range.  They would first pat
their mouths to ask for food, and almost immediately thereafter they
would grab a rock and throw it at us.  This was not just in Marjeh,
but in Nawa and Garmsir as well.  These are the supposedly safe areas
where the people are turning towards GIRoA.

I worked on a bit of turnover stuff with Siegel in the morning.  He
really is pretty quick to speak and slow to listen.  He came in and
spoke to me about the GSU S1 sergeant who had his hand broken by one
of the GSU officers when he told him that he was not allowed to go on
leave.  I had already told him about the incedent, but I guess he was
thinking that I was just jaded and angry because I had been here for a
year.  While that may be true.  It is also true that I know what I am
talking about.

Lekic taught them the BATS system and the database while I fielded
questions.  The new SSgt is pretty sharp and he picked it all up fast.
 It was nice to see that they were trying to learn.  While I was
supervising that I was striking up conversations with all of the guys
in the COC.  We were having a grand old time.  Munir came in and said
that he wanted to talk to me in his office.  Siegel went first in case
it was anything work-related.  I went in after he got back.  Munir had
kindly bought me a scarf and a jersey.  The jersey happened to be
skin-tight see-through nylon mesh, so I don’t know if I’m supposed to
read anything into that, but it was very kind of them.  They all had a
few words to say.  They all said something like “thank you for all of
the lessons that you taught, I know that a lot of the time we were not
very good students, but thank you for being patient with us.”  I
didn’t make the pictures that Qais asked for, but we snapped a dozen
photos with their cellphones.  I went back to my hooch and I picked up
the AK-47 sight adjusters that I brought from America a year ago and
gave one to Salim, one to Amir Dad, one to Qais, and one to Munir.
Qais wanted to know if he could bring it back on the leave flight with
him, and Munir was excited because he had an AK-47 at home.  I think
that after we go, they are going to us AKs not M16s, they already do a
lot of the time even though the weapons aren’t issued, they’ll just
capture them from the TB, or buy them.  In one last little way, I am
trying to make them better soldiers. I must admit, that I don’t think
it will work, but I tried.

In the early afternoon the soldiers decided to leave on the taps in
the ablution buildings.  They were continually instructed not to do
this if the water tank was not full.   Because this ran all of the
pumps dry every one of the several-thousand dollar pumps burned up.
The GSU’s response was what it always was “we can’t keep the soldiers
from using the buildings—really—how about take your bodyguard and have
him watch the buildings rather than your stupid ass. Anyway, it might
turn out ok in the end, they might just move the water tank above the
level of the highest faucet, this would allow gravity to feed the
system like every other place in the world.  Maybe then they can add a
newfangled ‘windmill’ and this ‘windmill could operate a pump without

While we were waiting to have dinner Capt Nowak was sitting in the
door of his truck and said to me.  “the whole point of this thing is
to make the ANA independent, but they don’t want to be independent.
I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life. With the Iraqis
at least you could see improvement.  You knew that they wanted you out
of their country.  They were happy to put up with you in the short
term, but in the long run they wanted to have their country back, and
get you out.  These guys, they are perfectly happy to have us here,
just keep the stuff flowing in.”  I said,  “Steve, as you’ve said you
can’t teach will and want, and these guys don’t want to be
independent.”  He nodded.

In the evening we had our dinner with the terps, or to be exact we had
two dinners.  I was hungry and didn’t want to wait until later to get
food, so I ate at 1730.  That was a mistake.   They had the delicious
burritos that I like so much and I had two giant ones.   By the time I
was done eating the next meal I thought my stomach was going to
explode.   I was really obliged to eat a second time because Steve had
gotten a bunch of special-order food for the occasion.

The presentation to the linguists went well.  They were all very
jovial.  I made sure to tank each one of them, Tony, Naikpai, Dinar,
Sammy, Bashir, Fareed, and the new guy, Jon, who just showed up.  I
got up and gave a short speech about Bashir, how patient he was and
how humble.   I did not mention his religious intolerance.

I also went around and thanked all of the chow hall workers
individually.  A lot of them don’t speak any English and they are from
the Philippines, Nepal, etc, so I don’t think they really understood.

Special Goodbye dinner

Monday, August 26, 2013

Month 12 Day 26

I worked out this morning.  The gym is still up, fortunately.  I cut my hair.  It was a little more awkward this time because there are so many more Marines over there because MWSS is moving.

The workout was good.

We went to the RCT and turned in our ammo.  I had to borrow some more from the next team so that we can protect ourselves while we are on camp.

I sat down with Siegel and gave him my list of tasks that remain unfinished. A lot of them he didn’t really understand.   He has a tendency to speak before he listens.  Ah well, at least he is eager.

I found out that his brother was a guy who I went to the Citadel with, he was in my company while I was a knob, we were on the same scholarship, both in the honor’s program.  Small world.

I packed my stuff.  It is almost all in one giant wheely bag now.  So much of it is stupid.  Did I really needed a second flak vest? 15 different types of warming layers.  This is just stupid.  They dance around giving units special gear when they are heading into combat, but if they just kept all of this shit here, issued it when you arrive and deissued it when you leave, then life would be simpler, transit costs would be lower (my bags weigh almost 200lbs).  I suppose they think that would make us less expeditionary, but really do they think that lugging around 200 lbs of individual gear is expeditionary?  It’s not like we don’t have the room to just store the shit here, and it’s not like we don’t have the time when we arrive and depart to get it if we need it.  Maybe we could start acting like an occupation force because we are one rather than pretending that we are expeditionary when we aren’t.  Really I lug around two wheeled bags that are basically giant brown suitcases, and I carry a pack that can’t contain all of this shit. 

Anyway.  After that fiasco was done I helped one of the power guys install a small transformer in our tent that will drop the voltage from 220 to 110.  That kind of stuff is interesting to me, it makes sense.

After lunch I came back and watched Patton.  That is a whole different type of war than we are fighting here.  It really is a war, not nation-building counter-insurgency.  That kind of war, the kind where the existence of your civilization is at risk if it is not fought, that kind is the kind we should entertain.  Wars of option, they are really costly with marginal benefit.  I want to be around for those ones where I am really needed.  I think a lot more folks will be getting out if they change the retirement system like they say they will.  No more 20 years and go.  You have to save into an IRA, you can’t start drawing until you are actually retirement age.   That should make trimming the force easier in the future.  It will make wars of option like this much less tenable.  There will not be a bunch of guys hanging out hoping to save their careers in the military.

In the evening the cries for the boss to get a new air conditioner became too loud to stand.  His died yesterday, and no one knows why.  They slept last night without one.  We offered for them to stay in our tent, but they preferred to send Casbarro around to try to take air conditioners from the ANA.  Exactly the type of shenanegans we tell the ANA not to do.