Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas In The Land Of Sandcastles

Christmas wasn't, and it was.

The past weeks have been all about a slow journey to a new assignment. I've run into a number of people who I've already met and gotten to know a few new people during the journey of less than two hundred miles. It has taken that long to go such a short distance.

On Christmas Day, the journey finally ended. CPT Mac and I arrived at our new duty station. We both came from other provinces to replace the provincial team here. The two of us will replace the three who are leaving in a couple of days.

Christmas morning hadn't dawned yet as I loaded all of my gear into a humvee trailer for the conop* to the new FOB. I scarfed down a quick breakfast and before gathering the very last of my gear, I called home.

As the Afghan dawn began to break over me, my family was having our traditional Christmas Eve gathering at my sister's house. All the siblings and our kids always get together at her house on Christmas Eve. Christmas morning we are occupied with our respective broods; but Christmas Eve is for the whole family.

I spoke for a few minutes with each of my siblings and all of my kids. For a few minutes, I was there with them, and I could feel the feeling of comfort and serenity that comes from being with my children on Christmas Eve enjoying the family. For those few minutes, it was Christmas.

Then I crammed my sleeping bag into its stuff sack and that in turn into my remaining duffel bag and schlepped it out to the waiting humvee. I dropped the mount into the pintle, the machine gun into the mount, and slipped the ammo can into the rack on the side of the mount.

We got radio checks with each other and lined up for our movement. The SECFOR were all set, and before the sun was fully up, four humvees left the ECP* and headed down the road.

Behind the gun, turret faced to the side as we were in the middle of the convoy, the morning wind was cold. People were already in the street, and I did as I always do, waving to show them that I was aware of them, show respect, and get a temperature check. Most were friendly. I continued this all the way to the new place. The further away from the main road up the long valley, the more less-than-friendly people we encountered.

Although most people would return a wave, some would ignore the wave and just stare with a curious look. A few would look unhappy. A very few would not be able to contain their negativity and would actually shake their heads no. One indicated his holiday greetings with a single finger.

That's unusual. "Merry Christmas, chucklehead," I thought towards him as I looked further up the road.

At least he wasn't armed. You can flip me off all day; just don't shoot at me. That's when I get irritable. Especially not on Christmas.

We had no such problems.

We arrived without incident at our new neighborhood, run by elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Seems like a nice enough place, surrounded by mountains; beautiful in that stark, Afghan way. Two mountains in the distance, about 25 kilometers away, bear snowy caps. The rest are the striated browns, tans, and granite grays of the Afghan mountain country.
It was still a workday, and we dropped our gear next to empty cots in a floored tent. This tent will be our shelter for a few days until the team that we are RIPing* leaves. It has a wooden floor and stalls for privacy, and it has heat.

It also has a cricket that thinks my Timex travel alarm is the sexiest thing it has ever heard.

The rest of the afternoon was spent learning a little bit about our new AO* and the general lay of the land within the FOB. We were briefed on the following day's mission, and I tried to make this post. The internet situation here is miserable; absolutely, completely, beyond believably miserable. The system here wouldn't even load Google's login page.

I had a picture to share of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree here on the FOB. It is hopeful in a pathetic sort of way. The system will not allow me to load it. The only reason I don't shoot this computer right this second is that I left my 9mm in the tent and the guy next to me won't let me borrow his weapon. I think he knows what I have in mind. It took me so long to get on to Blogger that I'm terrified to turn my head, much less go retrieve my pistol.

The computer lives another day.

Everywhere you go, there are things that work well and things that don't. I really have very few requirements to be truly content. I would like to have my own place to stay. Most people of my rank in this country have a room that they can call their own; usually plywood walled-off cubicles in a plywood shack called a B-hut. I would like the same thing.

I like to have decent sanitary facilities. Nasty showers that smell vaguely of cabbage boiled until slightly burnt are not a plus.

Internet that works. My primary means of communication is the net. I have not mailed a letter since I've been in this country, but I've written tons. Of course, there is the Adventure to keep up with as well.

There are a few other nice-to-haves, of course; good food is a plus, for instance. But the big three above are key to the misery scale; unless, of course, I'm doing something absolutely fascinating.

The month that I spent with my ANP in the valley, sleeping on cots next to my humvee and roaming the valley in search of trouble was the best single month of the entire deployment to this point. I loved what I was doing. I look back on it with nostalgia. It also had not a single one of my big three. Not one.

It did have a high fascination factor, though.

Everyone here loves the FOB. It is very nice. The sanitary facilities are acceptable. Most people place good food higher on the scale than internet access, though. The food here is good. "Christmas dinner" was very good.

To me, it wasn't Christmas dinner. I had Christmas dinner at the crack of dawn on a cell phone in Jalalabad. My butt was in Jalalabad, but my heart was having Christmas 7100 miles away.

conop = convoy operation
ECP = Entry Control Point (the heavily protected gate to the FOB)
RIP = Relief In Place
AO = Area of Operations


  1. Thank you so much for your insightful posts. I'm deploying to Afghanistan soon and I read your blog as part of my preparation. Being an MI guy, I'm taking notes on your thoughts for COIN. Keep up the good work, I check for updates here every day.

  2. no fighting? whats the point if not engaging?

    should have known.

  3. I thought about you guys on Christmas Day...and prayed while I was at it. God bless you for all you do.

    Hey, my friend, could your group use some stuffed critters to give away to Afghani kids? A friend and I just sent off over 600 furry cuddly things of all description to soldiers in Iraq. Wondered if y'all would like to have some on hand too? E-mail me, and I promise to be more faithful in checking my e-mail.

  4. I've been reading your blog for a while now - even went back to the beginning so as not to miss anything. I've been attempting to figure out just where you are. Hmmm. Well, now that you mention you are in the land of the 173rd I know where you are - now.

    I love the way you write and I appreciate you for sharing your experiences and thoughts as you have. I hope you will have the time and access to continue to do so. It's been difficult, at best, getting "news" out of that area.

    Stay safe and always know that we have NOT "forgotten" the war in Afghanistan and certainly have not forgotten our Warriors who are there doing such amazing work.

  5. Dear Sir,

    I'm so glad you were able to get through to your family. As usual, another great post. I pray your new year brings to you the best year(s) of your life, filled with blessings way beyond all of your expections. Merry Christmas, my friend. :)

  6. i spent christmas 2006 in jaf. i was member of a eng. team helping build up j.a.f. chatman and most of our teams were up north by you in the the kop blessing and north. should you know of anything you may need i left my email address. i'm working with some support groups in wi. to send things overseas. alot of people don't think about afg. too much. i'm going to change that. i could use a name to send packages toso you can disperse.


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