OPERATION ENDURING BOREDOM - EPISODE X
American Citizen Soldier *Extra*
This is the continuation of a series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal hand-recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. All OEB entries are previously unpublished.
Sunday 11January2004 -- Saturday 17January2004
Once again the exhausting nature of our Groundhog Day-like work schedule has thwarted my regular journal attempts and forced me into yet another week-long retrospectus. Here goes:
--I finally recovered from several days of a flu-like illness that’s been making its rounds throughout our sleep-deprived rank & file. If there is anything worse for morale than sitting in an OP tower all night while sick as a dog and all the while cursing humanity, I don’t know what is. For those few miserable days I was not a happy camper. I hurled invective at the Army, at my platoon mates, at God, at White Trash the dog, Hajji, Osama bin Laden, the French... No one was spared my wrath.
And the sicker I became, the stupider things got. Our already sacrosanct “sleep” shifts quickly vanished in a puff of white smoke, as our admittedly bored senior leadership (bored, that is, from snoozing all night and lounging all day) decided to reintroduce “mandatory fun,” Afghaniland style. We now spend the majority of our “off time” traveling out to the various firing ranges set up on the outskirts of Kabul in order to attempt to shoot or at least operate every off the wall foreign weapons system that our platoon sergeant can get his hands on. AK-47s, RPGs, RPK and PKM machines guns, T-72 tanks... Tanks, for cyin’ out loud. Basically, if it’s an old, crappy, outdated Soviet era weapon that is of absolutely no training value to us whatsoever and that we’ll likely never use again in our lifetimes -- well then, by God, we’re going to master it!
--The platoon sergeant, aka the “platoon daddy,” is not the only one suffering from terminal boredom at our expense. The PL gets restless playing solitaire on his laptop all day long, so of course the minute we actually find ourselves with a rare moment of down time he decides a little up-armored humvee patrol is in order. Off to explore the outer limits of Kabul we go, dead on our feet and dying for just a little taste of well-deserved rack time. Alas, it is not to be. We get lost. We have maps and handheld GPS, yet still we backtrack aimlessly for nearly four and a half hours in a comically futile attempt to find a road that will take us in the right direction. To be fair, the “roads” outside the city aren’t exactly of the navigable variety. Think less a metropolitan expressway, and more a Dukes of Hazzard dirt trail to nowhere. Sitting in the back of a cramped humvee for hours on end is no fun at all. We may not have gotten any sleep that day, but our asses got plenty.
--Ironically, guard duty is now the only reprieve one gets from the clownish stupidity of the daily antics around camp. The only reading I get done, the writing of this journal, and sadly, the majority of my sleep now takes place within the confines of OP 5. All of these activities are of course officially prohibited within the towers, but unofficially you do what you have to do to keep from slowly descending into madness. If they're not going to provide us with any down time, then we’ll make our own down time, roger?
According to The Book of Useless Knowledge (a fabulously entertaining Christmas gift from my sister), the men who served as guards along the Great Wall of China during the Middle Ages often were “born on the Wall, grew up there, married there, died there, and were buried within it. Many of these guards never left the Wall in their entire lives.”
I feel your pain, fellas. I feel your pain.
Sunday 18January2004 -- Saturday 24January2004
--Boredom is not our friend. It brings out the worst in every soldier. PFC Christy is coping by mischievously sabotaging every other ICOM radio transmission made by our nemesis SGT Manning as he attempts to call in convoy arrivals and departures from the front gate. The naked frustration in Manning’s voice as he continually has to re-transmit the garbled info is classic OP entertainment at its finest. And Christy is right -- it never gets old.
--I’ve arrived at the conclusion that what Afghanistan needs above all else right now is a national sports team. What better way to channel thirty years worth of latent war and aggression than with professional roller derby! Actually, soccer would probably be a wiser choice in terms of available funds and equipment; all you really need is an inflated ball and an open stretch of flat, otherwise useless ground (no shortage of that here) and you’ve got yourself a game. They could even leave the ubiquitous landmines that dot the terrain in place to make it a little more interesting to watch for any Americans in the crowd (we hate soccer). Hell, it wouldn’t be any less dangerous than attending a World Cup futbol match at Wembley Stadium. Those chaps are bloody out of control!
No doubt the Taliban sympathizers would have a field day doing their utmost to disrupt any such attempt on the part of their fellow countrymen of actually enjoying themselves for once in their lives, so a coalition security presence would surely be required at first. But for once, I wouldn’t mind doing such a thankless job one bit. The sooner Afghanistan establishes some semblance of civilized normalcy, the sooner we can get the hell out of Dodge for good. I’m not sorry I came, but I sure don’t want to ever have to come back.
--Another brilliant idea that’s crossed my mind while enduring the interminable stretches of OP guard brain rot concerns the manner in which the War on Terrorism is being financed. Instead of levying the monumental costs on the backs of American taxpayers, why not utilize the tried and true method of corporate product endorsement? If it’s good enough for the BCS College Bowl series and has helped finance new stadiums in city after American city, why not Afghanistan? Seriously, if the public can live with Minute Maid Park and the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, why not "Operation Enduring Freedom: Brought to you by Mountain Dew and your friends at Gatorade. Obey your thirst." Or, Microsoft and Starbucks present: "Operation Iraqi Freedom To Drink Overpriced Gourmet Coffee. Because there’s a billion Muslims out there still using Netscape, and by God, we just can’t have that."
The way I see it, if the U.S. is going to be routinely accused ad nauseum of commercializing the entire planet, then let’s just go ahead and do it for real. And if for no other reason than to piss off the French. That’s usually a perfectly good rationale for doing anything, really.
--Speaking of pissing off the French, I got the chance recently to do so up close and personal. Due to the fact that the mighty United States military cannot seem to provide us with any extra ammunition in which to train, we spend most of our days here driving out to the ranges looking for coalition forces to mooch off of (under the guise of “weapons cross-training”). In reality, we’re those party crashers that cruise around every Saturday night in search of free keg beer. Everybody hates those guys.
So we happen upon a small contingent of les soldat de français one cold and windy afternoon and convince them to let us fire their strange-looking rifles. They even had in their possession a .50 cal. sniper rifle, a military rarity most of us had never seen before in action. The Frenchies were friendly enough toward us, and I took the opportunity to test out mon français on them. I hadn’t studied it since the fifth grade, so granted, it was a bit rusty, but even I was surprised at how many words and phrases I actually did recall.
I even borrowed a page from Donald Rumsfeld’s Big Book of French Insults, although they were probably too busy being appalled at my mangling of their snooty, effete language to bother taking offense.
Me: Excusez-moi, monsieur. Parlez-vous allemand? (Pardon me, sir. Do you speak German?)
Frenchy: Non, monsieur. (No, sir)
Me: De rien. (You’re welcome)
Frenchy: (Puzzled look on face)
I shouldn’t be so hard on them, really. Their soldiers seemed like good guys, even if we did save their country’s ass twice from the Germans in the span of thirty years. Not to mention shielded them from Soviet domination for fifty more.
No, my real beef is with that incontinent continent of bedwetting Europeon chowder heads that consistently rank the U.S. third (trailing only Israel and Iran) in opinion polls asking who the greatest threat to peace in the world is. I suppose in the Euro-mind groupthink it is better to unilaterally surrender to one’s enemies and have “peace,” than to defiantly stand up to them alone and have war. Spineless cowards, the whole lot of ‘em. Is there anything they're willing to defend other than "free" (read: lousy) health care and the 35-hour workweek?
--President Bush gave his annual State of the Union Address last night (although it was actually broadcast here over breakfast). As expected, half his audience stood and raucously applauded after nearly every sentence, while the other half glumly sat on their hands or pretended to clap politely. Try and guess which half was which.
Every time the President broached the topic of Iraq, the television cameras would immediately cut away to Hillary Clinton’s sourpuss expression or Ted Kennedy spastically shaking his giant, bloated head back and forth like a Parkinson’s victim on Ephedra. Funny, I don’t seem to recall the Democrats in Congress reacting so negatively to President Clinton’s Bosnian and Kosovo military campaigns -- costly, unilateral actions involving precisely zero American national interest. The world according to the modern Democratic Party:
Cleaning up Europe’s messes for them = Good.
Fighting and defeating America’s enemies = Bad.
Once again they are on the wrong side of history, and regrettably so, because our nation is weaker for it. One-party systems are the hallmark of banana republics, not constitutional ones. But I just don’t see how a group of people so patently unserious in a post-9/11 world could possibly be entrusted with national security.
Where have you gone, Harry Truman?
COPYRIGHT 2006 BUCK SARGENT