Tuesday, July 15, 2008

O Weighs In On Chai

When I wrote the post on chai, I asked O if he would like to elaborate on the chai experience from his point of view. He responded days ago, but I had some pressing steam to vent about our journalistic brethren helping Taliban IO and the pathetification of veterans by the NYT.

Without further ado, here's what my bro O has to say about chai:

The experience of Chai; it’s an ice breaker and meeting tool, it’s a reflection time and it’s a coordination necessity. What does all this gibberish mean?

Let’s start with an ICE BREAKER. New fresh-faced Americans who are still adjusting to the smells and sights of the Afghan experience are invited to Chai. The experience is exciting and unnerving all at the same time. The relaxed Afghans are testing our resolve and understanding of the Afghan culture.

It’s not as scientific as one might think. The Afghans like to joke and be social during Chai breaks. Many evaluate you as you struggle with whether or not to remove your body armor. Indecision is weakness. By the end of the year your casually toss your stinky armor in the corner and in some cases are welcome enough to pour yourself refills if so desired. This is a huge acceptance in the community.

During Chai and all meals you are the guest of honor (more to follow on this one). You are expected to sit at the position next to the chief Afghan; whether it be Commanders, as was generally our case, or Mullahs, Government officials etc. You are expected to sit drink and be waited on. On many occasions I dismissed all but the key leaders and my “Terp” to discuss shop during Chai. It was on these occasions that I was accepted to pour my own refills.

MEETING TOOL. All things have a tactical purpose in Afghanistan. These purposes may not be military in a manner, but tactics play a definite role in the enjoyment of Chai. On many occasions, the mentors and ANA ETTs were invited to coordination meetings with our counterparts, the ANP and ANA.

As previously illustrated, the ANP and ANA have a deep hatred for each other. I would liken it to the healthy rivalry between the Army and Marines or the Police and Fire Departments stateside. Only in Afghanistan, it’s borderline homicidal hatred. The Army has had more time with one on one mentors than the Police and hence have a more stable leadership and structure necessary for success. The Police are coming along but still have some serious issues.

Many of these the ANA hold this against the ANP and chastise the ANP whenever possible. Needless to say, these coordination meetings can become very heated and hostile. Here comes the tool part of Chai; at the height of any argument, the ignorant American interrupts a pretty good argument and asks for Chai. Everything stops. Everything! Tactical change of subject stops the argument and the day goes forward. The problem resolved; at least for now.

REFLECTION TIME. On other occasions, I have sat with complete strangers and comrades alike all discussing the positive past experiences, through my terp, of course. Many of the Afghans truly feel honored to work with the Americans. Many of us did not realize this fact until later in the deployment.

They want to believe you, but will be untruthful as any 7 year old with cookie crumbs all over their shirt, swearing it was the little brother or sister who got into the cookie jar. A good firefight working together bonds people in ways that are nearly impossible to articulate. However, if you fight like a warrior in the face of the enemy you have earned your seat at any Afghan’s side.

As Americans, we fight with an audacity that is bred into our traditions and practices. Although the most frightening thing a human can experience, most firefights are physically and mentally easier than the training we conduct to prepare for them. These are the experiences many former Mujahadin reflect upon concerning driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

The Taliban or “Bad Guys” are disliked not as much for the purposes of their mission, but for the cowardly manner in which they go about them. Chai tends to bring out many differing philosophies on WAR and human kind. I have actually been in a very in depth conversation about the theological differences between Islam and Catholicism; all over Chai.

GUEST OF HONOR. Stone Cold and I had the rare opportunity to track down “Bad Guys” who decided they no longer wanted us alive. After a few exciting hours of rockets, machine guns, helicopters and the various tools of war, we decided to muster our Afghans and counterattack. A dismounted counterattack in the mountains of Afghanistan is more like a deliberate walk up the mountain hoping you catch the bad guys. Well, we had no such luck this day.

We walked and walked and walked. We surveyed positions that were being used as firing positions and later destroyed by Apache helicopters before our eyes. We followed all the signs and carnage of the flying arsenals. Well, the bad guys slipped through our net this day; no doubt a few less on the roster for the next inning. We searched khalats and villages with zeal.

At the very last village in this particular valley we encountered some Afghans who really thought we were Russian. Their misinformation led them to believe that we were here to eat their children and disgrace their women. When we did no such thing it was a unique reaction. After the last building was searched and all was cleared so to speak, the Afghans spread out a blanket and insisted we eat lunch. All the while a fierce firefight was occurring a few thousand meters below us.

Well, we were hungry and tired; and well, we took the opportunity to enjoy. A spread of bread, eggs, green and black chai was before us. We ate hastily actually joking amongst ourselves. One individual, an American among us, commented, “They won’t attack us if we are their guests.” Well, he was right.

We immediately embraced “Chai with a Bad Guy”, a term we repeated many times throughout our tour.

At one point during lunch, the Apache reported taking fire from a location between us and the forces below. The pilot requested we all “POP” smoke to identify our positions. I had purple smoke, correctly named “violet” but purple works just fine for me. I heard other units identify their color smoke to the waiting pilots.

Off to our southeast I saw a small plume of red smoke. The pilot addressed all ground units to confirm smoke color. Lo and behold; the bad guys observed all of us signaling the helicopter and decided to join the party in an effort to feint their location. After a tense few minutes the ground commander figured out the trick and cleared the Apache to engage the red smoke. A very smart and ingenious tactic on the bad guy’s behalf didn’t work out so well for them that day.

I feel confident those bad guys never made it off that mountain.

Well, it was a little more than just Chai, but it all blends into the experience.



  1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us.

    Take care.

  2. A different spin on "smoking them out"? Works for me!

  3. Oh my! I forgot to leave a comment. My computer had to be shut down, and I couldn't remember everything I was doing. Please forgive me, 'O'.

    This was a great post! Why don't write every so often? It would be great to know what you thought, what it was like, and I could direct people over to read it. Not because I do not like M's writings, I do! But because he's a little busy right now. lol. Please think about it. ;)


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