Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yoeman in the 'Stan: SITREP 001

As most of you know - long time member of the front porch, YNSN (YN2 now, natch) is making proper use of your tax dollars by being forward deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan.

I asked him to share now and then what is going on from his perspective, and here is the first report.
I suppose I need to dedicate the time to tell everyone how I am doing and how things are out here in Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The short answer is, everything is alright. No worries. The long answer is as follows:

What was once simple and basic things is now a longer and more laborious process. To shower I must walk from my room, in what is called a "b-hut" to the conex boxes which they've converted over to house the head. The water used for bathing and brushing one's teeth is not fit to drink. The water is disinfected, but so heavily so that it can mess with your skin and make you sick. But, like I said you can brush your teeth with it. It dries out my skin a little, which has caused me to have to use lotion for the first time in my life.

To eat is not a simple matter either. I live probably half a mile to three-quarters of a mile from what the Army calls a DFAC. Which I believe stands for dining facility. I call it a galley, much to many Soldiers chagrin. The food is really good and plentiful here, however. The local nationals must look in utter amazement at the amount of food we have, I bet that many of our coalition partners as well are shocked, as if they walked into a supermarket back in the States.

The weather is, of course, cold. But, no unbearably so. It is just cold enough to de-motivate me to walk to eat a lot of times, and to PT in the mornings. I've attempted to shave and brush my teeth in my b-hut, but that does not work so well (the reason why I could use an electric shaver). The climate thus far, is very similar to that of the mountains of NC. Which, in a small sense, makes me feel at home. It also leads me to the impression that all mountains, and thus people from the mountains, share a common thread. The weather changes, in a manner that does not make sense to most. However, like I said it is not to different from what we have at home in the mountains. I've seen snow, but none of it stuck, and it was warm the next day, probably in the high 50s. The mountains here are majestic. I am at close to 4000 feet in Bagram. Not unlike Dad's home in Sherwood. The peaks that surround us here, literally surround us, must have their highest peaks over 10,000 feet. They are bare rock which, at this time, are covered in snow. Every time I happen to look up at them I cannot help but feel awe.

There are many, many mine fields on base. They are clearly marked and we're told if you're on the less traveled parts of the base do not walk off the pavement. I do not have any real need to go to those parts of the base and so am not really threatened by this fact. The Russians left close to three million mines in this country back in the early 80s.

The US as well once used cluster munitions that were bright colored--the same color as UN aid packages, of all things--so this is a nation littered with what the military calls UXO--UneXploded
Ordinance. I've been told that the Afghans say that their Nation, Afghanistan, is where the world comes to fight their wars. Many of the tribes, while as I understand it, are not a people who long for combat, but they have never really known peace. Even from the times of Alexander have they been at war.

There is a tribe called the Nuristani (if my memory serves correct) you can walk into their village and be face-to-face with someone who is blond hair with green eyes. They are decedents of the Macedonian Army of Alexander. Just the same you can walk into another village and talk with the decedents of Genghis Khan's Army. Both are very private people who just want to be left to their own affairs high in the mountains.

Bagram, just as anywhere you find Americans, is a polyglot of a place. We have Coalition Partners all over. Egyptians, Polish, French, Brits, Aussies, Chez, Jordanian and the list goes on. Those who are not direct members of our coalition have their citizens working here for KBR. Walking the streets of Bagram--more like street, Disney, named for a Soldier who died here, not for the theme park. You see just as many civilians--or, their more properly called non-combatants--as you do uniformed service members. This creates a surreal atmosphere. You will hear Korean, Ukrainian and most Russian analogs, Hindi, all the Afghan dialects (it is said that each valley has its own very specific vernacular, if not distinct language) Arabic and Farsi, even Spanish.

The expression "total war" used to mean to me a war in the kind of the World Wars, where every weapon available was being employed. However, it has now taken on a different meaning. In a war where Civilians contribute just as much as someone in the Service like myself (with the exception that they are not allowed to be armed and they can leave when they like), 'total war' means every avenue for victory is taken advantage of, if not every 'true' weapon in our arsenal is employed. There are even more civilian looking vehicles on the roads here than proper military vehicles. Same with the aircraft.

The building I work in looks, as most buildings here do, as a relic of the Soviet invasion. In this building, I crank out the plethora of awards that the Army sees fit to shower their people with. It seems that the Army has two different doctrines in awarding decorations. A peace time and war time standard. Obviously we are at war, and so when you see an Army Achievement award come across your desk it is for the most mundane and basic of affairs. Army Commendation medals are more plentiful than the potable water on base. In the week or so I've been here, I've processed well over 100 of them. Due to this standard an Army Commendation medal is comparable to a Navy Achievement medal. I do not mean to down play the importance of their awards, I get a NAM for doing what I was told to do, and doing it well. The same with the Army Commendation medal, however, I was never under the direct threat of mortars coming in on my position, or of IED littering the roads I must travel.

hate awards. I hate processing them. I hate sitting here thinking that this is my contribution to the War, when there are men just over these mountains working directly to make a difference. I hate Army awards even more so. Being on land you seem to have a lot more material available to you than at Sea. The amount of anything we had aboard ship doesn't even seem to be a tenth of what they have here. Because of this, the Army's culture seems to have much more fat to it than Navy. Orders must accompany all awards that are given. Thus the paperwork for it is two to three times that which I must process for the Navy.

Wearing my IBA and Kevlar helmet in training was something I loved doing. Marching through crap when it was cold as hell at Camp McCrady was fun to me. It psyched me up for really accomplishing a difficult but necessary task I thought was ahead of me. But, starting in Kuwait at NAVCENT-FWD KUWAIT, the Navy started to change their tune. You see the press releases put out by CHINFO state-side and you think that Sailors are transcending their expected roles and fighting alongside the best land warriors the world has ever known (do not get me wrong, there are many Sailors to include SEALS doing some of the hardest fighting in this country). But, As soon as you're BOG (boots on ground) the Navy takes the tone that you are not a Warrior and do not let the Army put you into the position of being a Warrior. Do your job and go home. I was not coming out here looking for a fight. But, I think it is impossible for any able bodied man to walk into a War Zone and not want to see how they fare in the greatest competition man has ever devised. This impulse is why we still have war, it is the same impulse that causes bar fights.

I am looking for whatever avenue I can to help contribute to this war effort with the various units on base that support the guys outside the wire. There is an asymmetric warfare study group that the Army has, I've emailed them and told them that I can offer copious amounts of free time to assist them in whatever capacity they'd need. Again, in Navy culture, if you are not going outside your designated rate aboard Ship, you are not doing enough. I've inquired to see if I could assist down in the J-3 (where-as I work in the J-1) and the first question I was asked, was if they were giving me enough work in J-1. Here I thought I was just doing as all Sailors do.

The War goes well however. A lot of the right things are being done and the right decisions are being made. Everyone from civilians to our Coalition partners and everything in between are doing everything we can to win the war. How do we win? Marginalize the Taliban and their analogs. Separate them from the local population. Support the Afghan Government and their military to be self sufficient. I don't like the time table Obama has put upon us here. His optimism for the time table is politics rather than an actual strategy. But, I digress.

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