Friday, February 22, 2008

Reunions And Getting Short

I'm at Bagram now, and there have been a number of remarkable reunions since I've gotten back from Qatar. Sam, the combat terp, he of The Valley Operation back in August, was the first.

When you get to know an Afghan, it all starts with a handshake. The single handed handshake of American business associates is the standard, although many Afghans don't have a lot of grip to it. However, to Afghans, handshakes are mandatory. To not offer a hand; or to not accept a proffered hand, is practically hostile.

Stage two of a developing friendship is signified by the two-handed handshake, or the handshake with the forearm clasp. Stage three is the handshake with chest bump type hug over the clasped hands. Stage four is the full hug... either a handshake going into a two-armed hug or just straight to the hug.

Stage five is the full hug with touching cheeks. Stage six is the full hug, touching cheeks, and a kissing noise. Stages five and six are very uncomfortable for Americans. It requires conscious acceptance.

Stage seven is holding hands.

An Afghan may skip stages and go straight to stage seven. Stage seven is the most challenging of all for an American. It is just plain uncomfortable to hold hands with another man; but it doesn't mean the same thing here as it does in the United States, obviously. It is the highest compliment that an Afghan can pay you. It is an act of friendship and trust that surpasses all others.

Then there is the full on bear hug. It is universal, transcending all languages. It says, like nothing else, "man, it's really good to see you!"

The terps know that Americans aren't really comfortable with some of the customs, and so most of them won't hold your hand. Some will. Right before I went on pass, I said my final goodbyes to another terp who had gotten a new job. He held my hand as I talked with him about his future and about some of our adventures together. He was with me in The Valley That Time Forgot. He is one of the hopes of Afghanistan.

Sam is one, too. The terps are some of the most amazing young men that you could ever meet. I will write more about them another time, but for now it will suffice to say that they are living symbols of hope for Afghanistan; patriots, heroes. Nearly every one I've talked to has a vision of what Afghanistan can be, what they are willing to put their lives on the line for it to be.

When I saw Sam the other morning as the sun rose, he gave me a full on back-cracking bear hug.

"I have missed you, sir."

"I've missed you too, Sam."

I've met some real characters in Afghanistan, and I've met some of the finest men I've ever met in my life. The bonds of shared dangers and privations are powerful. (Boy, doesn't that sound dramatic?) I really like these guys, anyway.

Later that morning, I was reunited with Rick Dyne, the DynCorp contractor who I worked with for months in the province. He's a great guy who is doing his part to win this war by making the ANP the best that they can be. His sense of humor is one of the things that made working with him a real pleasure.

Another bear hug. I hadn't expected him to come back because I thought that he was just plain sick and tired of The Game.

Here at Bagram, I've run into a number of people that I haven't seen in some time. Some for a couple of months, some for nearly a year. Many are simply acquaintances, but after a time in theater, seeing another person unharmed and nearing the end of their tour is a small joy.

As people near the end of their tours, they become "short" (short-timers.)

"How short are you?" It's a common question.

I'm so short I can't see over my shoe laces. I'm also ready to go home. I'm tired of The Game, too. It's not Afghanistan, it's not the Afghans. It's not the prospect of getting shot at or blown up; it's The Game.

But more than that, it's needing to see my kids. It's more than a want, it's a need. And they need me, too. They never asked to make this sacrifice, and the time of their giving up their dad for their country is nearly over. Sixteen months without their dad is long enough.

The light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter and brighter. The idea of holding my children again is becoming so real. It gets harder as it gets closer... the constant dull ache punctuated by sharp stabs of pain gets more intense.

I really miss my kids. I miss what I've missed with my kids. The missed birthdays, the events, the holidays, the moments of hilarity, the moments of wonder, the moments of growth.

They told us before we came here that it's a marathon and not a sprint. The hardest part of a long run is the end, when you can see the finish line. This has that same feeling, except it's not physical. It's mental and emotional.

Sometimes it's hard to believe that we are so close to be heading back to the States. I could not imagine the things that this whole experience would bring, and to look back and realize that I am almost there; almost done... it's actually startling.


  1. It is because of so many selfless men like you that our younger generations DO have the hope of not having to serve in times like these. It is impossible to find ways or words by which to thank each of you AND those you leave behind in order to serve our great nation.

    I am elated to read that you are a short timer but will certainly missed your excellent posts. I have no doubts that you have contributed in a great way through the work and mentoring you have done and continue to do in Afghanistan.

    Thank you!

  2. Super-long bear hugs... the first time you see your kids again. Just watching you and them would bring total strangers to tears. So much love you have.

  3. it's been more than 20 years since i was in the army and every day i find myself thankful for something i missed or needed while i was serving. so, try not to forget. i'm a better person for remembering.

    soon. hang in there!

  4. May time surprise you by flowing quickly, and may your reunion be as sweet as you imagine!

  5. Thank you not only for putting your life at risk for our protection, but also for sharing your perceptive observations of the Afghan culture.

    I hope you have been able to successfully transfer that knowledge and manner of interaction to those who will be taking your place in the field.

    Your family is fortunate to have a father/husband of your caliber.

    Safe return!

  6. When all is said and done, the bear hugs and hand holding will mean more to you than anything you might remember. I pray you are correct when you say there is hope for Afghanistan. For too many years these people have lived in the shadow of oppression, it is their way of life. Culture, religion, social standards are difficult to manipulate,bring to evolution, mold over time. Even when faced with an easier life, it is human nature to resist change. I am glad that a man with your understanding and sensitivity was able to be a part of the effort to change their world. God Bless and see you home safely to your family.

  7. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/25/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  8. "They never asked to make this sacrifice, and the time of their giving up their dad for their country is nearly over. Sixteen months without their dad is long enough."

    Wow. That really puts what you have done in perspective. Thank you so much. I hope the time goes as smoothly as possible until you are reunited with your kids.

  9. I hope the time passes quickly, but I am afraid it won't. Do not worry. When you get home, it will seem to have been not so long (hopefully).

    PS. I hope you can help that young lady reporter. That is a really sad state of affairs when these are the people I'm supposed to count on for news?! Oh my. Now what am I supposed to think? GET HIM. I don't even like him now, and I never even had the disfortune of meeting him!

    I just thank God for all your teammates and you. Thank you so much. Have a nice day.

  10. God bless you and thank you for your sacrifices. Tell your kids that their sacrifice is not forgotten. We appreciate them, too.


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