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A Cold And Dark New Year [Dec. 31st, 2013|03:17 pm]
[Current Location |Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan]
[mood |coldcold]
[music |Pacific Rim Main Theme]

It is currently 25F here in Lashkar Gah, and feels like 17F. Happy New Year, everyone.

I'm sorry for the delay in posting. I was all set to write a longer post a few days ago, but before I left the TOC for the night I read an email from Camp Leatherneck advising people who were going to show up for the Hero Flight on the airstrip that night to show up looking decent, not haphazardly decked out in cold-weather gear missmatches.

A Hero Flight. That's what they call it when we put a casket on the aircraft for going home.
We were sending another Marine home the hard way.
At that point, I no longer felt like posting for the night. And lacking any Irish Penicillin, I did the next best thing and simply talked to my other half, without mentioning the poor kid who was on his way back to his last post.

We had a successful mission last night, the Marines I'm with and their Afghan mentorees finding and destroying a cache of weapons intended for use on us or some other ISAF base. The Taliban are retreating into winter quarters for the most part, they're low on cash, ammunition, popular support, and morale. They're starting to experience troublesome internal tribal conflicts, and have no good plan for really changing their position besides waiting for us to leave and hoping they can take on the Afghan National Army and the various police forces alone. So all things told, we're really doing pretty well here. Far better than we ever were in Iraq.

Of course, right about then is usually when the wheels start coming off.

President Karzai, for reasons that are good to him, has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would provide legal framework and arrangements for US forces to stay beyond 31 December 2014 unless we make changes that are stupid and have no chance of happening. We have responded that if he does not sign it, we can and will take the 'Zero Option', ie zero US troops left. We will pull out entirely, just as we did in Iraq when Prime Minister Maliki did the same thing, refusing to sign the Status Of Forces Agreement in 2011. Iraq is rather regretting that now, to the point that their Foreign Minister actually said not to make the same mistake when he visited Afghanistan last week.

The locals, the provincial governments, the Loya Jirga, damn near everyone in Afghanistan who doesn't support the Taliban is firmly in favor of signing, as it guarantees the US and our money will stay around for years to come. Karzai is still digging in his heels, and the clock is counting down; if it isn't signed, we have to be 100% gone by 31DEC14, and that means packing up and leaving before that. If he doesn't sign, we basically start packing to go right now. So there's not a lot of time left for him to publicly reverse himself and do it. Should he refuse, this will definitely be a dark and cold new year looming for Afghanistan.

136 days to go. Panther 2G out.
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Football and Mail [Dec. 15th, 2013|04:22 pm]
[Current Location |MOB Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan]
[mood |annoyedannoyed]
[music |"Anchors Aweigh" -- US Naval Academy Chorus]

Yesterday, the Black Knights lost to the Midshipmen, 7-34. That makes 12 years in a row for the Navy. I repeat my complaint of last year; 'Can't anybody here play this game?'

Anyway, it is way too early in the morning for the longer post I had in mind, so here's a quick note to put out my address to all an sundry who would like to send me snacks and such.

B. G.
MSOT 8232A
MOB Lashkar Gah
FPO AE 09372

Food and drink always appreciated, or magazine, etc. Anything, really. Mail is good for morale no matter what.
More posting to follow, I promise.
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Move Out [Nov. 30th, 2013|02:22 pm]
[Current Location |Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan]
[mood |Waiting]
[music |"Razzle Dazzle 'Em" -- Chicago OST]

Finally a posting has been determined for me. After a week and a half of standby, I'm supposed to head to Lashkar Gah, the Helmand provincial capital, to support the unit there. Marines, but that's what SW Afghanistan is full of.

Soon I'll be where I going to be for the next five or six months, doing what I can to see that the world has fewer of the people in it who think blowing up Americans is a good idea. Sometimes my job has unique ways of providing satisfaction.

I've enjoyed my holding patter here on Camp Leatherneck, but I'm also looking forward to being able to do my job. I'm not being as useful as I could be, waiting here. And the sooner I am in the regular routine of things, the sooner I can just let the days start ticking by and let the end of my tour come. Homecoming can't come too soon.

Game on.
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Standby [Nov. 23rd, 2013|02:17 pm]
[Current Location |Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan]
[mood |tiredtired]
[music |"Hey Alice" -- Rachel McWhirter]

After much trial and tribulation, made it to Camp Leatherneck, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Again.
I've got just a few days to do my handover with the guy I'm replacing, but even then it may be more than I can use. As soon as we're done, we're moving to another base entirely, with a different unit, and they may have an entire different idea of what they want me to do for them, and how to do it their way. So, fun training. Whee!

Raining today, a possible harbinger of a wet and nasty Afghan winter. Hopefully this will keep the Taliban down, and continue a bad year for them, punctuated by fizzled offensives, supply and personnel problems, and repeated US drone strikes on leaders. They've made a lot of noise about how they're going to continue the fighting season through winter to make up for the lackluster year, but given how poorly the rest of the year went for them, I'm not holding my breath. So I might have a quiet winter.

That's a happier thought than this: A foreign army with a decades-old standard weapon fighting Afghan guerrillas in the winter in the mountains of Afghanistan? What could go wrong? I do work next to quite a lot of Brits, come to think of it...

Anyhow, one week down, 25 to go. Later, folks.
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Bad Habits [Nov. 18th, 2013|11:59 am]
[Current Location |Ali Al Salem Airbase, Kuwait]
[mood |Ambivalent]
[music |Thanatos (If I Can't Be Yours) -- End Of Evangelion OST]

Some you just can't seem to break.

Yes, I'm doing it again. For those of you playing at home, this is trip number five following the colors, the second as a PFC. No, not the military rank.
Sitting in Ali Al Salem Airbase, waiting out 5 hours of pouring rain, hoping for a flight tomorrow. Not much going on, so I'll just relate a little bit of black humor from a week and a half ago, as I was packing my bags for this trip:

[Stumbling downstairs to dump an armload of gear onto the bed for sorting and stuffing into the bags.] Me: I HATE doing this sober...
[Slightly dumbstruck pause.] Me: I HATE that I have a basis for comparison!

(Yes, I packed for my third deployment with the aid of a bottle of bourbon. After 27 months of previous deployments, I felt it appropriate to deal with the irritation of doing it again.)

As always, stay tuned for further bulletins from the wilds of the Graveyard of Empires. See you around, folks.
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Retrograde [Apr. 12th, 2013|04:40 pm]
[Current Location |Camp Ali Al Salem, Kuwait]
[mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]
[music |"Thanatos - If I Can't Be Yours" -- End of Evangelion Soundtrack]

I've been remiss in my reporting. Gomen nasai.

Sitting in the MWR tent on Camp Ali Al Salem in Kuwait. Killing time until the flight tomorrow. 1300 lockdown, but the flight's not until 2300. They need 10 hours to hold us in the extremely-badly-named 'Freedom Area', which resembles a small part of the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Long flight running ahead of the sun, then we get stuck overnight at Camp Atterbury. The once-a-week flight lands on Sunday, but the gear-turn in people don't come to work until Monday. Why isn't the flight on Monday, then? I don't know, I don't run this crazy railroad.

All told, I should be home in bed by the end of Monday the 15th. And that will end my fourth overseas deployment.

I've seen the remains of a Babylonian ziggurat from the door of a Blackhawk helicopter. I've seen the Cradle of Civilization laid put before me like a blanket. I've seen the mountains of the Hindu Kush capped with snow. I've seen the most powerful tanks in the world blowing holes in a building in a city ten times older than my country. I've carried wounded men to the back of a HMMWV that will race them to the Battalion Aid Station. I've made it to the impact shelter half a second ahead of the rocket's explosion. I've seen helicopters take away men who've given the last full measure of devotion.

I've seen strong men weep, bad men profit, and the guilty escape all justice. I've seen heroes, valor, and humanity.

I've seen the world.

Join the Army. See it all. And then go home again.

Until next time. Panther2G, signing off.
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Ten Years Gone [Mar. 20th, 2013|07:47 pm]
[Current Location |FOB Hanson, Afghanistan]
[mood |cynicalcynical]
[music |Taps]

Today makes ten years from the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, a pointless, idiotic war organized by a cabal of pollyanna-sunshine optimists and warphiliac chickenhawks for the grand and glorious purpose of showing the world how incoherently angry we were at someone else entirely and providing said chickenhawks with the intellectual and emotional Viagra they so desperately needed to convince themselves they were right to dodge serving in Vietnam while they attacked people smarter than them for opposing it.

Or something like that.
It was a war I fought in, not believed in. I was in the protests before it began. I found no reason to think an Iraq already crippled by 10 years of sanctions was capable of threatening anyone, and trusted the crowd of grifters, snake-handlers, and draft-dodgers that made up the Bush White House about as far as I could throw the Washington Monument even before they started trying to convince the world that a tinpot dictator (who'd been the US's buddy when he was fighting the next-most-recent US friend in the area that had overthrown the US-friendly Shah) was the next Genghis Khan and coming to nuke Sheboygan. I signed up anyway, after the fighting had already begun, on April 23 2003. I joined for love of country and the desire to be a good citizen thereof. I fought for the guys beside me in the unit. Some of them were assholes, some of them were idiots, some of them were the best men I knew. I would have taken a bullet for any of them. I left some of them there.

Ten years on, Iraq is no more stable than it was in 2008, after the massive 'surge', which I also fought in, narrowly diverted all-out religious civil war into merely a constant, mostly-contained bloody bombing and sectarian-polarization campaign. Just today, the anniversary itself, there was another wave of VBIEDs, suicide attacks, and assassinations across Iraq. Good luck finding much about it in the US media. They have abandoned interest in the place long before today. Nothing has changed since I last left the place in 2010
The world's biggest US Embassy is in Baghdad. It is nearly a ghost town, and the US government is about as popular in Iraq as a fart in an elevator. The region is far more unstable and awash in jihadi idiots than it was in 2003. Iraq is a shattered country that still cannot generate as much electricity as it could on March 18th, 2003.

I know two things from all this: None of the people responsible for the thousands of US combat dead or hundreds of billions of dollars wasted will ever, ever apologize or admit they were wrong at all (just see what Dickhead Cheney has been saying lately), and absolutely none of them will ever be held accountable either.

How can I be sure of this? Because we never learn. Just recently, declassified materials confirm that Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and his campaign actively committed treason by deliberately sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam peace negotiations to deny LBJ a pre-election political win. The fact that 25,000 more Americans would die in the next 4 years of saving face in leaving Vietnam was apparently not as important as Nixon winning the White House. Nixon committed treason, got thousands of better men than him killed in the furtherance of his ambition, and disgraced the honor of the Presidency and the entire country. He died a wealthy, comfortable man of old age in his own bed. His eulogy was delivered by President Clinton.
It should have read like this. "Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon was an evil man -- evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency."

Many of the same crowd went on to get their same jobs back when a brief period of deceny waned, and Regan swept them back into the halls of power. We never learn.
It appears that absent Jesus himself descending from the sky and openly condemning Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, et al to the fiery abyss, none of these men will ever face any sort of difficulty in the rest of their long, well-paid lives. I long ago stopped worrying about what the Pope has to day, but I do still hope in some corner of my soul that Hell does exist, as it being the final destination for said irredeemables will be the only justice that the spirits of Jens Schelbert and too many other of my brothers will ever know.

Ten years gone, and I am sitting in yet another war zone, trying to push water up a rope, and paying for others' mistakes. We never learn. But somehow, I still have hope.
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Invisible Wounds [Feb. 22nd, 2013|07:04 pm]
[Current Location |FOB Hanson, Afghanistan]
[mood |anxiousanxious]
[music |Pink Floyd - "Brain Damage"]

On August 17, 2007, I narrowly evaded having a 107mm rocket land on my toes. A split-second decision to run left rather than right took me away rather than towards the point of impact. I almost made it to the shelter before the blast hit me and pelted my head and back with concrete chunks.

The resulting concussion and TBI gained me a Purple Heart. Even then I felt slightly odd about an award for injury that literally did not involve a drop of blood, when there were people in my battalion losing limbs to EFPs. I had a week-long hangover, they needed a prosthetic limb.
Now it doesn't feel so odd. Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. "Mild", doesn't sound so bad, eh? The chronic headaches, trouble getting to sleep, and hard time staying asleep don't sound that bad, right?

Now...I had a good friend in my time at Brigade S2. An imagery analyst, former Korean linguist, very nice guy. He was my best buddy in the office and my roommate for most of a year on my last deployment. We were pretty much in each other's pockets for nearly two years.

I can't remember his name.

I've been trying for two days. I remember his first name is Josh. I cannot for the life of me recall his last name, which I saw on his name tape for the entire two years.
He's not the only one. I can remember the faces and habits and incidents of all the guys in my squad room in Basic, in 2003. I can remember maybe two names of the lot.

Whatever part of my brain that got shaken to pieces in that blast is oddly specific. Its just names and the faces they link to. Smells, events, things I saw, all perfectly untouched. And believe me, there were things I saw that I'd positively love to forget that I'll likely carry to my grave. It's just names.
There's a peculiar terror to feeling bits of your mind unravel. And I have learned from some articles on the subject that mTBI basically doubles my chance of dementia in old age. I will likely live a long time. But now I get to spend the next 40, 50, 60 years living in quiet fear that one day I won't remember my wife's name or my daughter's.

I don't feel bad about having that Purple Heart now. But I wish to all the gods you can name that I didn't have it.
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Watch Out For That Last Step... [Feb. 7th, 2013|07:15 pm]
[Current Location |FOB Hanson, Afghanistan]
[mood |Pained]
[music |"Anchors Aweigh" -- Naval Academy Band]

I was going to Camp Leatherneck/FOB Bastion anyhow, so some of the guys in my office handed me a few packages that needed to be sent to various offices there so I could act as a courier. Getting off an Osprey Saturday, one of the crew tried to help me coming down the steps from the aircraft's side door by yanking the boxes out of my hands while my eyes were downward looking for the next step in the stairs. This did not go well.
I landed on my right foot only, off balance and twisting, and as I was also hauling along my assault pack and wearing the mandatory body armor, I had plenty of extra weight. Thus, a really nice grade 2 or 3 sprain, something definitely torn, and a lot of OW!
That the diagnosis I got from the Navy Corpsman here on Hanson. After a day of a lot of pain and swelling, and a day of my foot turning some interesting shades of purple, I hobbled about a mile to the British medical center, as that was the only one I knew where it was. Their diagnosis was that I was a non-emergency case, and an American, so I could piss off. Well, they were much more polite about it, but that was the end result.
The American clinics said I was a non-emergency non-active duty or reservist case, and I could also piss off. They didn't tell me this in person, it was posted on the fliers spelling out the location of medical facilities on the base. The pay clinic available to civilians wanted $350 for a first visit. As I knew I would be told I have a sprained ankle and given Motrin pills, I figured I could save myself the time and money, and just get an ACE bandage and some Tylenol from the PX. That I did, and put iced bottles of water on my ankle to keep the swelling down. As always RICE is hard to do out here.
Rolling it again, though not as badly, on the way back to Hanson likely didn't help. Ow.
Its feeling better, though that may be the naproxen talking. Thanks to the Navy Corpsman for actually looking at my injury, though.
One of these years, I'd like to have a deployment that doesn't involve something happening to my body that requires medical attention...Ow.
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In Sickness And In Health [Jan. 21st, 2013|06:26 pm]
[Current Location |FOB Hanson, Afghanistan]
[mood |calmcalm]
[music |"Mama, I'm Comin' Home" -- Ozzy Osbourne]

Being able to communicate with the World while Over Here is a great blessing, most of the time. I know that both my beloved Bad Influence and I both get anxious and twitchy if deprived of the ability to talk on a regular basis.
But sometimes that ease of communication only makes the separation worse. This week my daughter got the flu, right as mom was coming down from a nasty cold. No sooner had the little one recovered, then momma caught the flu from her. It's very hard to watch them be so ill and be unable to do anything but watch and offer mere words of support. Especially when the child is up and full of energy, and mom is still very much down for the count, and the little one wants to go romp in the first snowfall she's seen.
I'm very glad this is a much shorter tour than the Army kept offering me. But sometimes even six months can seem long.

As for Afghanistan, nothing much here is happening. Its the middle of winter, so things slow down quite a bit anyhow. This is a rather mild and dry winter, so the weather hasn't been bad, and the poppy crops are less than they ought to be with more rain, which is all to the good for us, as less poppy translates into less cash for operations by the Taliban later. No one's so much as shot as us in a month.
I don't have to get up early, I don't have to do any details, and most of all I am not responsible for a bundle of Joes with not enough brains between them to come in out of the rain. 6 month tour, better pay....this is a much nicer kind of war.
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