Monday, March 01, 2010

Yeoman in the 'Stan: Chapter II

Our Yeoman in the 'Stan returns with another report.
I want to write this about what the people, environs and just plain existence is like around Kandahar Airfield. But, as much as I may try to focus, my heart and mind are not set upon it. But the following has been my experience and my thoughts on it all:

The climates between nearly 6,000 feet and 3,500 feet, between the Hindu Kush and Gobi-like desert, are stark. Walking around I am sweating a little. It is warm in the tent that I work in. I am seeing mid 70 degree temperatures in February with nights in the 40s. Bagram, is still damn cold and damp. This difference a C-130 can cover in less than 3 hours. Afghanistan is not the Middle East. It is not like Kuwait, Saudi, Bahrain or Iraq. Neither are its people. Neither is this war.

KAF (Kandahar Airfield) is a NATO base, and our allies make their presence known. This is a good thing. I have my choice of international cuisine for my meals. As well as my choice of American, Canadian, or French coffee. So far, Canada is the best Coffee I've had on base. If you ever get the chance to get some coffee from Tim Horton's. Do it. Among the best coffee, and the single best inexpensive coffee I have ever had. 12oz coffee and two cream: $1.50. The French Café on base, I hate to say it and I doubt it is a sine qua non, but they make a pretty crappy latte.

The coup de grais to this place: TGI Friday's. And I don't mean a walk up window in a converted connex. I mean a whole building with all the crap on the wall, bar with near-beer, and waiters with stupid hats on: TGI Friday's. I got in touch with Michael Yon and got to sit down and talk with him. He's called the big FOBs like KAF and BAF "la la land". Yeah, he's right. There's scuttlebutt that GEN McChrystal doesn't like all this accoutrement, and there's plans to get rid of it all. To an extent I don't blame him. How many flights and Jingles are dedicated to keeping places like TGI Friday's stocked? But, my opinion of it doesn't matter. Ask the Marine who just spent 5 or more weeks sleeping in the dirt with IEDs all over the place, what he thinks about it when he gets some "R&R" at KAF. That's who's opinions on it all matter, not mine. If it is having such a detrimental effect on the performance of those in garrison, like myself (I've heard that is the point the GEN makes most often, of plush garrison folks walking around with their cups of coffee all the time). Give us passes or something that only allow us to use it sparingly. But, do not deprive that PFC/LCPL of what can take the edge off after going toe-to-toe outside the wire.

One overtly apparent thing regarding this base; it stinks. The sewage here is treated in cesspools and so, I always know when the wind has shifted to the East. Bagram never smelled. So, I have no idea what they did with their sewage, it really makes me wonder though.

Rocket attacks: They are much more common here.

The war itself is just outside the gate. To give perspective: I heard the 30mm cannon of a A-10 being fired in anger from inside my room. To me, it makes my task more evident and more real. But, at the same time it makes sitting at a desk seem more trivial. Every Tornado, A-10, F-16, F-15 or rotary wing I see go by, all I can think is that they are a better person than I. That we need to maybe not give them better tools to do their job. We need to learn how to rid ourselves of jobs like mine, so we can focus on winning. If what I am doing is so important as a Service member, then why do I sent my work to a GS-13 back in the rear?

Every base is different. It strikes me as a form of fingersplunkt (the German word -- if I spelled it correctly -- meaning independent effort towards a common goal, part of blitzkrieg) the way we operate our bases here. Everyone I've been to has different rules on everything. This is a good thing that I will not elaborate too much on.

But, to the points that weight heaviest in my mind: The utilization of Sailors by the Army.

All of us Augments: Air Force, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard. We all are trained as to what the Army is like and how the Army expects us to perform. I personally was trained by the best Soldiers I've worked with to date. The Army learns about what our capabilities are by us showing up. Just yesterday I had a couple of Command Sergeant Majors call me "Sir". So either they saw my crow and literally thought I was a Col. (Many junior Soldiers do) or they knew I wasn't a Col. but, they hadn't a clue as to what I was. This is a trivial example, I know. But, it points to something larger. The units we are reporting to are not trained on Navy culture or a Sailor's capabilities. How can I do the most I can to accomplish the ISAF mission when my leadership doesn't know how best to employ me? To put this another way: How good is a Soldier with their rifle before they are trained on how to use it?

We are only working one-half of the equation. Normally, I wouldn't care. I would just consider my feels as gripes. But, this is war, the whole ballgame out here. If the Army needs us so desperately, they need to be trained on how to use us as the force multipliers that we are so we can really do some good for them. When we sell weapon systems to other nations, do we not also sell them the training package as well? The Army needs something like that.

I've said it numerous times, I am not needed as much here in AFG than I am back on my Ship. I've even said it in emails back to my CMC and CO. I truly believe that. Even to the extent that I feel like I've abandoned my Shipmates back home. I wasn't completely altruistic in volunteering to go IA. I knew the benefits that would be bestowed to me; and even before I knew any details, I knew it would just get me off the Ship and so, that would be a plus. I kinda feel guilty in this respect.

This is why I know I am more needed aboard my Ship: My shipmates are working harder than I am. It is that simple. I talk to them on facebook and via email, I have a fairly good gouge on what all is going on. Hell, I worked harder at Earl Industries than I do out here, by an order of magnitude. The hardest thing I've ever done was my last deployment, nothing comes close. A distant second place? The yards period at Earl we had after my last deployment and I am an admin puke, imagine how the snipes were being worked.

Between the units I have now served with, one constant has remained. Sailors are better informed aboard ships than they are with Army units. Again, this may be a cultural--Navy thing. But, it's hard for me to deal with. I almost got more involved in this war, I almost was given the opportunity to really contribute, here is the story:

I flew into KAF from BAF (Bagram Airfield) and the next morning the Master Sergeant that picked me up, brought me to the unit's compound. First place you go to when checking into an Army unit is the orderly room, where types like myself check you in. It's like a personnel office aboard a ship where the PS's work, except there is more bureaucracy. The Company's First Sergeant has his office in there. When I met the First Sergeant he looked at me and said, "You're our new Security Manager. Great to have you here!". I thanked him, and felt a little surprised. But, as you know CTAs and YNs merged a year or so back, so this still kinda made sense to me. So, I didn't say anything to the contrary to him. I went with it.

So, I was taken up to the J2 shop and introduced. They looked at me and said 'good, our new Analyst is here!'. Now is when I started to get a little worried. I know I could do it, I talk up spooks all the time, I know I am just as good of an analyst as most of them. But, I knew they had me confused with someone else. I informed them that 1st SGT said I was to be a security manager, they said that was fine I could do that, and they'd teach me intel on the side.

I now thought I had my dream job. But, it came to the point where I would have to lie to be able to keep working there, and that wasn't an option. J1 was looking for me, though they didn't expect me to till next month. When I was asked pointblank what my Navy experience had been, I told the truth and now I sit in J1 doing awards and having to learn about what is happening in this war from Mr. Yon and others. I did tell the J2 that I would work 16 hour days for him. But, that's the kind of place where if you don't work there, you don't go in there. But, man... I would have had my dream job for this war. I know I would have been able to perform on the level they'd expect of me. All I needed to know was formatting expected of my work.

All this happened over the course of two days. For the evening between them, I thought I really would be able to make a difference in this war, in a manner I think I am best suited. It felt good.

I keep being told that we learn new things that will benefit the Fleet. Well, everything I have learned is good. But, they're personal--even introspective. I am learning how to operate within a system without fear of failure. All of my learning has been on my own. Which in thinking abstractly before actually having experienced it, I thought to have been of the contrary. I more or less always thought that there would be some wise, sage like leader who's feet I could sit at and learn from. But, to date, I've never had a mentor, basically at all, at any command I've been to. It has always been where I have to look at the decisions made by my leaders and critique them to myself.

This deployment is my sabbatical, my sojourn through Central Asia. I have as much time to read as I could want. I have enough time to engage online with like minded individuals as I'd like. I am able to view our Allies up close and see how they carry themselves. My natural curiosity is not stifled as it was aboard a Ship by my duties and responsibilities. I am learning a lot. Just not in the way I would think the Navy would want nor expect. But, despite all I have mentioned in this post, I am satisfied with this tour.


Desert Sailor said...

Hang tough YN2!! You're doin' great.  We know your pain, this is your "Navy Appreciation Tour".  You'll even laugh at water hours later! Keep your head down.

MR T's Haircut said...

You are living history.  Revel in it.  All things pass.  In 40 years, you may look back on these times through the prism of wisdom and smile, because you were there and you have learned as you wrote, what the real deal is, the people, the allies, the madness, the Army etc... it is good material for writing!  Hemmingway would not be known if he didnt try new things.. if he stopped in Spain, well you get the idea...

Your CO and CMC will and can do nothing now.  I recommend you just except that and move on.  Your time to DEROS will be here before you know it.

ewok40k said...

you are making the difference, believe me... even with those letters to remind us back home of what is going on

Byron said...

Make sure while you're there to read your Kipling. He understood warfare and warriors better than anybody. When you do, you'll be able to Kiple ;)

Hang tough. It's a shitty job. We all know it. But if you weren't doing it, some no qual hack would be there really screwing things up.

Bill said...

The reason the place stinks is the Poo Pond at the western end of the runway (easily seen on google maps).  When I was in Kandahar during the summer, the dust and that stink penetrated everything.  It gets less noticeable with time, but never goes away completely.  They were selling T-shirts commemorating the Stinky Pond Cafe in AAFES at Kandahar.  Timmy's coffee was okay but mine is better.  And a Green Beans fruit smoothie (something I never do at home) was a real treat in June-July.  Be confident.  You're doing good things, young sailor (Narmy uniform and all).

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Be careful out there in Indian Country, we want to hear from you again on MidRats

prschoef said...

You say, "All of my learning has been on my own. Which in thinking abstractly before actually having experienced it, I thought to have been of the contrary. I more or less always thought that there would be some wise, sage like leader who's feet I could sit at and learn from. But, to date, I've never had a mentor, basically at all, at any command I've been to. It has always been where I have to look at the decisions made by my leaders and critique them to myself. "
Funny--I retired as a Captain after 29 years, and I say the same thing.

AW1 Tim said...

Hey YN,

  If you ever head down to FOB Shank, try and let me know. You can say hi to my son for me. You can contact me through my blog and I'd be happy to give you the details.

   Seriously, though, you are getting a very good course on leadership. You are seeing first hand how things work, and are able to analyze it and maybe come up with solutions. ERverything you are experiencing will be a benefit tio you later when you make LPO and then Chief, or go for a commission. You may not have a physical mentor, but experience is a very good teacher to those who listen.


DM05 said...

YN2, thanks for the deckplate/sand box update. If I was young & in your shoes, I'd do the same, although I believe the Navy leadership sold out on IA's. And I'd prolly feel the same way about the army. There's some brilliant folks there, but the basics haven't changed since the romans. Hang in there, your value is being there - embracing the suck - and sharing with us. Greatly appreciated.