Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New Faces

We received our new SECFOR team a several weeks ago, and they have been accompanying us on our little trips down to the village. We never got to know the previous SECFOR team here very well... they left shortly after the previous team did. They were South Carolinians, and friends and acquaintances of my old SECFOR from The Valley.

I really miss those guys. I really hope that they're all doing well. They are great guys. I also realize how very blessed and lucky we were to have them.

Our new team is from New York. Upstate New York, to be precise. They are led by SSG Smokey Jackalacker and include CPL Skippy Mynah and SPC Aress. They are very different from our South Carolinians. Good kids, I'm sure, but different.

I'm trying to help them through that early phase of adjustment to Afghanistan. SSG Jackalacker in particular is having a rough time with the adjustment. He's one of those guys with a bizarre idealized image of some kind of GI Joe combat thing. That's just not what we're dealing with here.

The thing is that I remember what it felt like to arrive in Afghanistan and that wide-eyed feeling about everything. I'm trying to give them a sense of reality before I leave. I don't have to; they will find it on their own. I've also come to realize that sometimes you just can't teach them.

SSG Jackalacker hates the message so much and is so resistant that I've actually begun to worry about him. I am responsible for what happens, so I cannot have someone who doesn't "get it" running around. But, I should probably relax and just let him adjust. It's just that sometimes it seems like he is just not living in the real world.

The look of horror on his face when I explained counterinsurgency to him was amazing. He was truly mortified. And he is totally bored with that whole subject. He keeps talking about things like "crossing the objective."

I've never seen anyone here cross an objective.

Perhaps I'm just trying too hard to make it easier for them and one thing is for sure; he's not taking it well. He actually went into some kind of funk after learning that much of the time over here will be spent just watching people and places. I told him not to worry; he will get shot at.

Just not at a time and place of his choosing. It's his job to run around doing his job, and then someone will shoot at him when it seems really inconvenient. Then, after that, he won't have any special desire to be shot at again.

I think that he thought that he was going to be hunting Taliban every day. Snooping around the rocks, tossing grenades into every suspect cave opening and generally scaring the living hell out of everything; walking like some kind of KISS band member through quivering Afghan villages who will toss their Talibs out in the street just so that this otherworldly killing machine will be satisfied and leave them alone.

He even dresses like a cartoon character. Most of us wear our armor, but not the overly bulky DAPs (Deltoid armor that goes around your upper arms and will only stop a pistol round, but they are huge.) We all wear our DAPs in the turret if we have them, but he wears them all the time and so do the other two. He also seems to have attached everything he owns to his body armor, and the knee pads. Then he keeps wearing this neoprene face mask. He looks like some kind of fugitive from Dragonball Z or something.

I told him I don't like the face mask. It makes him look inhuman. We already look like space creatures to these people. Plus, when we dress up so wrapped in armor, we definitely look afraid to them.

That was explained to me by an Afghan once. He asked why a team of people who came into the area we were working in were all staying in all of their armor, hiding in their vehicles and turrets. I asked him what he thought.

"I think they don't like us. I think they are afraid of us. Afraid someone will hurt them."

He claims it keeps his face warm. Uh huh. It wasn't COLD today and he wore it. I think that he WANTS to look unreal. I think he thinks it's cool. I know that it's not. I know that the people need to see him as a human being.

I hope he catches on. I'm trying to keep in mind that it's still very early on for them. They are doing a lot of good things, but then there's the cartoonish thinking, and I just walk away shaking my head.

So I really miss my naturally outgoing South Carolinians with their common sense approach to uniform issues and no special love for Japanese cartoon characters. They just took care of business without giving so much thought to actually looking menacing. They knew that what kept them safe was that anyone who looked at them knew that they were paying attention.


  1. Are they behaving anything like you did when you first got there? I don't remember reading anything where someone tried to help you but you ignored them. Hmm. Then again, I guess that's just one of those things you really do have to grasp on your own. I'm so glad you'll be coming soon, God willing! My goodness, has it been this long already? (I know that is a stupid question from your perspective. ;) Take care, and God bless your family and you.

  2. Yet one more example of how "common sense" is in remarkably short supply. :-) The KISS analogy was hysterical. Thanks...for everything.

  3. As you commented once before "counterinsurgency is counter-intuitive"

  4. Interesting observation about your Yankee colleagues. Maybe their watch spring is just a bit too tightly wound because there's not so much armed comaraderie in urban New York, and maybe being a bit psycho works to ones advantage in the inner city. (Or maybe they're just damned fools.) Whatever the reason, pity the guys who replace them next year if they don't mellow between now and then.

  5. To my new Friend Bob!! Major McDavidson here..I too have got back to the Afghan experience but, I must say spending a few days with you and our new friends has touched my life. For those of you who that read this, and have never experienced military friendship it is life long, you would give them the shirt of your back, the food off your plate and carry them up the hill and through anything. Bob, you will always have a place to stay in California and a Harley to ride at my house. Our adventure made me remember what real life is like and what a pair of jeans feel like again. As we all shared stories and pictures of our adventures I am again impressed at the all volunteer force and what we can together. A parting note....If I ever see SPC Frank Burns again, I will take him fishing....On the front line....only one of us will come back...ME...God Bless You, and all of us, You are a true adventure with a ton of class, a huge heart and a person I proud to call my friend....Major McDavidson...


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