Friday, May 9, 2008

Readjustment And Trivia

The Army warns you about readjustment and "reintegration." Oddly enough, a lot of it is true. They warn about depression, or let-down. They warn about the family and things that happen normally as part of reintegration.

A lot of it is true.

I never felt overly "jacked-up" in Afghanistan. It all felt pretty normal to me, actually. There were a few times when I knew that I could easily be killed, and there were several times when I knew without a doubt that if the ACM had chosen to hit us at that moment that I was in a very very precarious position.

I did, however, feel alert. There have been times here in the States that I have been inattentive, even though I was going through the motions. For instance, driving around town running errands but thinking about something else, to the point that I would suddenly realize that I had lost track of where I was. I never lost track so much that I was endangering other people or vehicles around me, just the bigger picture.

I was on autopilot.

That never happened in Afghanistan. I always knew when I was outside the wire what was going on, at least what was going on in proximity to me, even if the rest of the situation was unclear.

At the time, I wouldn't have described it as hyper vigilance; it felt normal, and not uncomfortable. I liked being outside the wire. I pitied those poor fobbits who never left the wire... there are so many of them. I couldn't have felt good about myself had that been my existence in Afghanistan.

When you get so used to having to have your "hand on the stick," being where you can put it on autopilot and get away with it causes the spring to uncoil. When the spring uncoils, the lack of tension sends a ripple through the rest of the heart and mind.

It's disconcerting.


Being back in American culture takes on a whole new perspective after having been in Afghanistan. The apparent inattention of the American public to the war, the seeming lack of support for the task, even with the apparent support for the individual, is something that requires some getting used to. It was my life for nearly a year and a half, counting the spin-up time and the deployment itself. To find it so trivialized in the daily life here is, for some reason, mildly disturbing.

I'll get over it.

I try to keep in mind that my brother, upon his return from Viet Nam, was encouraged by many to engage in physically impossible acts of self-love and was showered with dog feces at the airport in San Diego. I actually had to avoid running over people who stepped in front of me not to shower me with feces but to say, "thank you."

Like I said, I'll get over it.

It is truly the electronic age. The mess halls on even some of the smaller FOB's had a big screen TV in it, with military satellite TV. We often watched AFN (Armed Forces Network) Europe while we ate. This was not the case at the firebase at the top of the Tagab Valley, but in many other places there was AFN.

The "commercials" on AFN consisted of such things as OPSEC* awareness commercials starring "Squeakers the Mouse," an evil, yet unnamed cat that was constantly spying on Squeakers with apparent ill will, and an occasional guest-starring hamster whom I'm not sure had a name. Other "commercials" were such things as military organizations advertising what they did for the overall war effort ("We are the Logistics Command, supplying everyone with everything everywhere") and so on.

Apple did have an iPod commercial; it warned that wearing earphones on a military base is generally against regulations and exhorted iPod users to avoid incurring the wrath of military justice by being smart about not using their products in violation of post policies. It was done in the typical iPod crazy-dancing silhouette with white iPod wires style; and the silhouette was obviously wearing bloused combat boots, and then he was busted by a silhouette wearing an MP armband.

I thought that was pretty cool; a civilian company who paid enough attention that they would actually spend money to cater to the military market.

I've always enjoyed imaginative, humorous commercials. I used to quote the "Beggin' Strips" commercials in Afghanistan ("What is it? I can't READ!")

The amateurish Squeakers commercials were a stark contrast to the stylish commercials that even the most ridiculous of products sport here in the States. Smilin' Bob looks like a pro compared to the AV Club reject products that adorn AFN Europe.

Right now, though, the seriousness with which advertisers present their pleas for Americans to spend their money on trivial... well, there's just no other word for it but crap... it's just so glaringly obvious to me.

After having spent a year in combat, the vigor and earnestness with which such minor luxuries are touted just seems more than comical; make that nonsensical. Americans actually have the time to think about "increasing the size of that certain part of the male body" (eyes batting in amateurish seductiveness.)


Now, like I said, I enjoy products being presented with humor, and production value is much appreciated after having been subjected to Squeakers scurrying past a mousetrap baited with obviously paper cheese; but commercials that pander to the obviously asinine just grate on the soul.

My sense of being a "fly on the wall" in my own culture will probably decrease with time, but right now I am a witness to the slack-jawed amazement with which others can view our trivial thrashing about.

The network news is a whole 'nother issue. The American public has never been shown the truth about what is going on in the theaters of combat. They don't even pretend to try to present a snapshot of what is really going on; yet they will, with all seriousness (bordering on somberness,) present a fingernail clipping-sized snippet of deeply disconcerting "news" about something without ever really showing the value of what is being attempted, even accomplished, by a very tiny portion of our population.

No wonder that sizable chunks of the American public appear to be more than willing to vote for somebody, anybody, who promises to "bring the troops home." I can tell you one thing; if we "bring the troops home" before we can leave the two governments capable of governing their countries, then all those lives will be wasted, and we will find ourselves less secure than we have been in a very long time.

I didn't go to Afghanistan to win the war. I am not that powerful. It takes the efforts of many like me for a long period of time to do that. I saw a lot of actions/inactions that were completely counterproductive that end; but I also saw a lot of people performing small acts of greatness.

Keep this in mind; we are fighting a counterinsurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In history, there has never been a successful counterinsurgency that has been won in less than ten years. What we are doing requires consistent effort over a period of time. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. We are a nation of 50 meter sprinters. We need to be a nation of marathoners, a nation of patience, and a nation that views itself as a citizen of the world. That doesn't mean that the world should dictate our actions, nor does it mean that we need to seek the approval of the world.

The past year and a half have changed my viewpoint in a number of ways. None of the above means that I am anti-American. I love this country. While I am concerned about our country failing to follow through on this endeavor, thereby wasting my efforts and the lives of those who lost their lives in putting forth their efforts, I still have tremendous faith in both this country and the amazing Constitution that established our great nation. I tear up when the National Anthem is played, and I am stirred by the sight of the flag.

While I was overseas, America was the ideal... it was the paradise willingly left behind to dwell amid the hostility and mud huts and poverty and strange languages. America is an ideal that our terps aspire to, even a lot of the Afghans that we advised dreamed of how to get here, to be allowed at this huge table of peace and plenty. To be American.

It means so much more than I can convey with words. Many have tried to express it; I don't think that anyone ever will... just little bits of it at a time.

I'm not saying that America is bad, or trivial; but we do some absolutely inane things.

The biggest fear of most of the "good" Afghans that I dealt with is this; that we will leave. What they fear is real, and it is our pattern as a nation. We get halfway through and we get bored or tired and we leave.

And then the bad guys win.

Hey, I'm just wondering... what did everyone do that pissed off the oil companies so badly while I was gone? I cannot believe what is going on with the price of gasoline. How does a refinery strike in Scotland drive prices at the pump up ten cents a gallon overnight? Did the price of the fuel delivered to the zippy marts change overnight? Does anyone else see anything wrong with the "binocular price fixing" going on?

That's how the gas station managers I've talked with justified raising their prices.
"The guys up the street bumped theirs up to $3.79... so we went $3.78. Pretty smart, huh?"

Uh... yeah. Especially when you were charging $3.56 this morning. Did you get a new delivery that was more expensive this afternoon?

When I left the country, gas was $2.80-something a gallon. What in the hell have you guys been doing while I was gone?

Now, I don't think that there is some big cabal fixing prices on a national scale... maybe there is, but it's happening at the neighborhood level, too. One guy raises his $.15 a gallon, so everyone else goes $.13 to $.15 a gallon, too. Don't want to be left out of making an additional profit now, do we?

What would happen if one guy raised his prices $.15 a gallon and nobody else did? But that's not what we're seeing now, are we?

Tell me how that's not price fixing. It's not a conspiracy, but it works just fine all the same. We are even having our expectations managed. We are all set for $4-plus a gallon gas prices. We have been primed.

A lot of investors are taking advantage of this situation by speculating on oil prices. Even in Afghanistan we got the news that major oil companies had never made so much money in their entire existence as they did last year. With our economy already strained by a war that I view as necessary enough to jump through hoops to participate in, what kind of patriotism is that, to individually seek to profit so much by driving up the cost of what has become a necessity to the average American?

Okay... so there's a chunk of my reintegration shock.


  1. Wow. Great writing. Very powerful. Glad you're back!

  2. Once again, I am impressed with your insight. My son will be returning from Afghanistan in the next month. I wonder what advice you have for "us homebodies" on making the readjustment easier, or at least not making it any more difficult. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Great writing indeed. And I have to say it deserves a wider audience.

    Have you considered cross posting at The Long War Journal? Bill Roggio has a large readership and he also sponsors embeds in either war.

    You have the expertise and the crucial experience required to get the word out about what is at stake here.

    My own thinking as a bystander here is that America won't survive this conflict with radical Islam if the word doesn't get out.

    I thank you so much for what you have sacrificed in Afghanistan. And I'm sure that the majority of Afghans you were in contact with do as well.

    Your knowledge and superior writing skills could well be one of the best tools in the war against the Taliban and like minded oppressors.

  4. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/12/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  5. Welcome home. It's amazing that this is the same country that fought the World War II. Today's society is all about convenience, and being at war is just not convenient. There is no sacrifice paid by the average American, unless they are in the armed forces or are the family. It never ceases to amaze me that celebutantes are more important then a nation at war. I don't understand this country anymore.

  6. Thank you !!!!! We need you to KEEP TALKING !!! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

  7. When I was in Iraq during the invasion I never felt so content and worry-free in my life. The first 3 weeks, or, during the fight to Baghdad, it was truly a beautiful time.

    The things I worried about back at home meant nothing and I never felt so "in the moment" as I did then. It was truly a relief not having to worry about stuff. All I cared about was the status of my men and accomplishing the mission.

    At night, I laid in my sleeping bag listening to artillery fire 15 clicks away and it was soothing like a mother singing a lullaby. I would fall asleep in minutes and never slept as well since.

    That 3 weeks was the clearest, most stress free, most "real" experience in my life. After we got to Baghdad and "major combat operations" had come to an end, this great time of clarity ended. After that, I started feeling the stresses of a deployment and started worrying again about life after the Army (i.e. how was my family, what would I do next) along with generally being annoyed with certain incompetent members of the chain of command.

    That 3 weeks I'll never forget. That was the only time in my life I really "lived." That was the most REAL time of my life. Better than any drug, sexual, or religious experience of my life.

    In fact, it was the only truly spiritual experience I ever had. The God of war literally spoke to my soul.

    Thank you again Odin for all you showed me. It was a privilege to meet you.

  8. Glad you're back, interesting take on reintergration. Now if you could just solve the gas price issue we'd be deeply grateful! Seriously, we really need some help!

  9. "When the spring uncoils, the lack of tension sends a ripple through the rest of the heart and mind. "

    I am a volunteer with Soldiers Angels at BAMC & Fisher House, and I can tell you about two returned heroes who "lost focus" while driving, were in crashes wherein they lost a limb. The saddest story was that they avoided the companionship of their fellow wounded veterans because they were at home when they were injured.

    It was very frustrating for me and my fellow volunteers because we had to tell them the source of their wound was the same, with a slight difference of their fellow heroes. Bottom line, they are still heroes to US!

    Be careful, my friend, and remain alert. What is going on in America is something we need to be aware of, on all levels.

  10. BTW, I want you to contact Michael Yon, and find out who his publisher is, so you can contact them. You really need to publish your stuff. I've never seen a more capable mil-blogger, Michael included. Your writing is riveting, witty, thought provoking, and educational.

    Your family will benefit from your ability. Unlike Marcus Luttrell, you won't need a co-author, which will escalate the financial benefit to your family. Marcus wrote for his fallen comrades. You need to write for your family...and you.

    God bless you my friend.

    btw, we're still sending the critters to your replacement. Try not to run over any well-wishers. ;-)

  11. Once again, we have had this conversation. But there is something about seeing it in print that really makes it hit home. I have always had a soft spot for those serving in our military. The past 6 or 7 summers I have had the pleasure of traveling with World War II aircraft to airshows and meeting the men that flew them. That experience gave me a greater respect for our military. But since meeting you and reading your blog I have an even greater respect and more importantly a better understanding of what our soldiers go through while they are actively serving and in their coming home. The things most of us take for granted, home, job, transportation and just plain everyday living is something that you have to work yourself back into. We civilians think they've only been gone a year it cant't be that difficult getting back into your normal daily routine. We don't realize all that happens to us in a years time. My heart goes out to you and those serving. Just keep writing so we can have a better understanding.


  12. fyi, it's not the guy who owns the corner gas station who is making the money. that's not who decides to raise the prices, either. i think of all the nations on this planet who need our help as much as the middle east, but look where we ended up. and you wonder what's up with the price of gas? and who's making the money? look to texas, my friend.

    welcome home. we need your help here, too.

  13. I gave up the news for blogs for info on the war long ago--I couldn't stand the bias. I gave up TV news too after CNN spent over twenty minutes discussing Mitt Romney's HAIR. Lord help us.

    My two returnees are having the same experiences reintegrating. One was in Iraq, one in Afghanistan.

    Glad you are home safe.

  14. 1. Great stuff.
    2. We are short sighted and obsessed
    with trivial matters.
    3. Watched my great endeavors circle in the bowl and be flushed away.
    4. Difference is: lacked your insight. Spent my times in VN and elsewhere obsessing over getting the short end of the stick and how screwed up the US military was.
    5. So: never felt I was part of anything much count.
    6. Envy you your outlook.
    7. Learned real HARD that as bad as we were, everyone else was much worse.
    8. Too late to feel much of anything except what a D_____T I was.
    9. In retrospect, we were pretty good and your generation is outstanding.

    10. Pray the boneheads in DC don't betray you, the Iraqis or the Afghans.
    11. Stay proud.
    V/R JW

  15. Almost two years now that I have been home from the Stan and I woke up last night with another dream of my being back in the desert training soldiers.

    Too bad my brother there is no "12 step programs" to alleviate our pain or assuage our feelings. What we are is survivors and hence we must carry the burdens of those whos eyes have seen the truth.

    I wish there was more I could say to you but the truth is you pretty much have to make it on your own.

    My friends and family mostly said
    "Wow you looked so normal."
    When I would try and tell them how screwed up the first year back home was. Truth is most of that first year is just a blur and that is another pain too.

    I'm not really sure what I think about the wars anymore except to think of how many men like me there must be now. How has my life changed?

    Be well brother and if it means anything know you are not alone.

    SSG Paul "JEDI"

  16. Your writing is strong and eloquent, and although I haven't experienced what you have, I could relate to some of what you said. I've trekked in remote regions in the past, and it made me realise how little we actually need to be happy, and how much we've been persuaded we can't live without. And you've made some good points regarding the cost of petrol (which incidentally is even more scandalous here in the UK).

  17. Squeaker's nemesis is named Texas.

    The ads can be found on youtube if you search for squeakers and opsec.

  18. Hi there! I'm so happy you wrote another post (of any kind) again! I pray the time with your children is special and plenty.

    BTW, there are now places you can go to where others who have come home before you go. You may want to check out one of them. I do not know what they're called, but if you'd like I will find out.

    My only concern is you. You have done so much for all of us, I just want to whatever (no matter how little) I can for you. Godspeed.

  19. God bless you, son. I've been reading you for a little under a year. So when are you going to get some of your comrades in arms to run for congress? Next time Pelosi tries to yank funding for the troops I'd give a lot to see an Iraq War Vet rise to address the assembly. The democrats would have to flee the chamber out of sheer shame.

  20. God bless you, son. I read you for a year. When are you going to get some of your comrades in arms to run for congress? Next time Pelosi tries to yank funding I'd give a lot to see one of our young veterans rise to address the assembly. The democrats would have to flee the chamber out of sheer shame.

  21. it is what is is and "whatnot" ridiculous six "out"

    I feel you bro

    It's just not the same. Almost two months back and I feel like I am still a stranger. Being down south and talking with you and all the guys made it a bunch easier. We should make that an annual journey. Wife says switch it up for location but I think it's best we go there. They saved our collective butts and we need to show them the respect they deserved.

    I go back to work next week and I am having IBA withdrawal. Funny how the USA makes you feel uneasy. You are right on track in saying the USA is not at war the soldiers are. Ft. Bragg is in the future to see some of those guys.

    Take care and you can call anytime.

    Jacque and stone cold should be home soon. call me about the promotion party

    love ya bro

    Bmo O


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