OPERATION ENDURING BOREDOM - EPISODE IX
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All OEB entries are previously unpublished.
The Afghan National Council is in the final stages of their Loya Jirga, the process by which delegates from across the country have met in Kabul to hammer out a new constitution. This is their historic equivalent of Philadelphia circa 1789. The role of women in Afghanistan’s future has been hotly debated throughout the process, and understandably so considering the country’s ancient Islamic culture and recent fundamentalist track record.
One particular female representative from an outlying province reportedly went out on a limb and publicly chastised the warlord elements of the delegation for “bringing ruin to their homeland” and calling for their ouster from the council. Suffice to say, she is now under 24 hour guard by coalition forces for her own protection. Feminism has not exactly taken root in this part of the world, and is actually rather bad for one’s health when actively pursued. You’ve got to give the woman credit, though. She certainly has guts. Maybe she and Salmon Rushdie should get together and go bowling.
The nature of our continuous six hour shifts make the days here seem to all run together, especially considering you’ll be pulling guard one day and sleeping through the night, and the very next be stuck on the graveyard shift and trying in vain to eat, work out, and catch a few remaining Z’s during the daylight hours. It’s disorienting, to say the least; a bit like operating under a permanent state of jet-lag.
The so-called “Z Monster” has hit some of us worse than others. My tower mate PFC Marrero -- well known for his uncanny ability to sleep anywhere under any conditions -- has been easy prey so far for the Z Monster. Just the other night in fact it claimed him from the sitting position and slammed him ignominiously to the floor, directly on his ass. Made for quality entertainment for me, if nothing else.
White Trash Molly the dog has found her way into our OP as of late. A puppy in your tower is cute for roughly 3.8 seconds, until she wakes up and begins her daily reign of terror. This mutt will eat/chew on virtually anything -- wood, soda cans, clear plastic bottles, boots, pant legs, sandbags, sleeves, 5.56mm rounds, Kevlar vests, ears… she has even chewed up her own little makeshift sleeping pad. Our only reprieve is when she’s racked out, so we try and feed her as much as possible throughout the day to keep her sluggish and tired. Cheese & crackers seem to be her current culinary favorite, Special K cereal coming in a close second. Although it appears she only eats the flakes to quickly move on to her favorite part -- the box.
Malaria Monday is here again! The Army has seen fit to provide us with anti-malaria medication for the duration of our deployment. Purpose: To not get malaria. Side effects: You feel like you’ve contracted malaria anew each and every week. For this reason I have opted not to take my pills anymore, “mandatory” or not.
A car bomb detonated in Kabul recently, ostensibly an attempt by ACM forces to disrupt the final days of the Loya Jirga. Funny thing is, I only know about it because I saw it on the Fox News Channel.
News from back at FOB Salerno: Our 3rd Platoon also apparently made contact with enemy forces while on a routine “presence patrol” near Khost. It seems they just happened to be at the right place at the right time, netting themselves four enemy kills with no friendly casualites. And meanwhile, here we are stuck in Kabul playing palace guard for Camp VIP. Yay, let the good times roll.
New Years Eve
New Year’s Eve for us this year will be fairly low-key. Guard duty in a sandbag-reinforced wooden OP tower. PFC Christy and I were reduced to celebrating our own little completely arbitrary countdown (Afghanistan utilizes a different calendar) over a couple cans of “0.00% alcohol” Bavaria beer.* If you’ve ever wondered what that half-empty can of room temperature beer left on your coffee table from the party the night before that you barely remember tastes like… Well, let’s just say that I don’t have to wonder anymore. Whatever shit-for-brains numbnuts officer that dreamed up General Order 1A -- the prohibition on the consumption of alcoholic beverages by deployed U.S. forces, an unfortunate tradition begun during the first Gulf War -- should be force-fed this Bavaria non-alcoholic barf until he dies of non-alcoholism.
*Bavaria Beer: “When good taste is not an option.”
Granted, I understand the military’s aversion to offending the teetotaling sensibilities of the Muslim populations whose countries we’ve routinely invaded with TANKS, TROOPS, AND TOMAHAWK MISSILES. Clearly, we wouldn’t want them to get the wrong impression. What I don’t understand is that this order applies to none of the other coalition forces in-country. The Italians, the Germans, the French -- basically the entire representative European continent -- all drink and party like it’s still 1999. The officers here at Camp VIP are even known to sneak off and join them from time to time. Tonight is undoubtedly one of those times. Good to know at least someone’s enjoying themselves as we ring in the New Year.
Our platoon medic, Doc Edmundson, delighted in parading around the biggest bottle of whiskey any of us had ever seen: 5 LITERS of German Grouse (empty, wouldn’t you know) that he stumbled upon in the trash. After we all took turns greedily inhaling it’s remnants, Doc posed for photos with it as if he’d just reeled in a twenty-pound bass, complete with shit-eating grin. Whoever drained that huge bottle is going to have one hell of a monster hangover come morning.
New Years Day
Another batch of officers and sergeant majors* graced us with their presence today in the guard shacks. OP 5 was the lucky beneficiary of a major who delighted in relaying all manner of unrelated information that I certainly could have lived without. One such anecdote involved the insanely high measured levels of fecal matter that are routinely detected in the air around Kabul. It would appear we’re all breathing in hajji poo on a fairly regular basis. You know a city’s dirty when you develop a nasty case of giardia simply from swallowing your own snot rockets.
*Yes, I am well aware that the correct terminology is “sergeants major,” but that sounds lame, so I’m not using it.
Another gem of a story attempted to confirm the existence of the apocryphal “Man-Love Thursdays” among the hajji ranks. We observed two ANA soldiers leaving their barracks hand-in-hand like lovers on a moonlit stroll, and though thoroughly creeped-out, I thought, well… hajjis do have some Euro-like customs. For instance, routinely greeting each other with a cheek kiss and embrace. Still, the soldierly hand-holding struck me as a bit too in touch with their feminine side, my suspicions of which the resident major was all too quick to confirm. “Allegedly,” the hajjis go all squirrelly on Thursdays, the day before their weekly Muslim Sabbath. I don’t know if this is intentional or not (perhaps they merely want for fresh confessional material every Friday), but if I am to understand correctly, Man-Love Thursday would be a very inopportune time to drop the soap in the ANA showers. (Unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing. See: United States Navy).
Like I said -- information I certainly could have lived without.
Who said procrastination doesn’t pay? My delay in turning in my dirty clothes to the on-site laundry service here was a stroke of luck. Several people have been getting their DCUs (Desert Combat Uniform) back with one minor problem: they’re now a Barney shade of purple! I’m figuring that the loads all get mixed in with the in-house gym towels which also happen to be -- you guessed it! -- purple. Look like I’ll be hand washing my DCUs and whites while we’re here.
They say the Army won’t make you rich, but subcontracting for it sure as hell might. These Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) employees are earning beaucoup cash over here; up to five times the amount we’re paid. And they don’t have to pull guard all night and fill sandbags all day wearing body armor and toting a thirty pound weapon everywhere they go. I’m definitely in the wrong line of work. Oh well, only 1,278 more days and a wakeup until I’m out of the Army for good. Time flies when you’re having this much fun. (Whoops, seems my anti-sarcasm medication is beginning to wear off. Time to refill that prescription).
Sunday 04January2004 -- Saturday 10January2004
The past week has been an incoherent blur of long hours, sporadic rest, and certainly little relaxation. The chronic sleep deprivation has weakened my body to the point of infirmity, which I’m still struggling to shake off. The resultant fatigue has made casualties of all my side interests, my daily journal being first among them. Alas, my fever has finally broken and with it my mechanical pencil has been brought back to life. [These entries were originally written freehand].
I have come to realize that my words as found within these pages are as real as I am, perhaps more so. They will likely outlive me, survive to meet great-grandchildren that I will not. These words could potentially travel the globe, one day comfortably resting in cities or locales that I know only from the map. Some of them may already have been immortalized in cyberspace, the newest entries in the virtual fossil record.
This journal is as real as I am. It lives and breathes and complains and aches and pines for home or action or sometimes both at once. I would risk my life to save this journal, to retrieve it under a withering hail of enemy fire if necessary. It is for this very reason, however absurd it may be, that I have taken pains to mail home its tattered and torn-out pages week by week: To protect and safeguard this very personal -- if not exactly historically important -- record of the thoughts and events of a typical American soldier at war in a foreign land. And also to prevent the likelihood of being awarded the CMH* for intentionally -- with total disregard for my own safety, as they say -- placing my body between an incoming RPG round and a f**king book. This is, after all, still technically a war. Stranger things have happened.
*Coffin with Metal Handles
To make up for the literary gap of the previous week, I present the following highlight (or lowlight) reel exhumed from random mental snapshots taken during the exhausting past seven days:
-- PFC Marrero happened upon SGT Boyle’s boonie cap in the hallway late one night, and gleefully incinerated it in the camp burn barrel in a typically Joe-like display of passive-aggressive retribution -- payback for all the previous months of insults endured and pushups ordered. If SGT Boyle ever ascertains the fate of his missing boonie there will be hell to pay, and Marrero knows this. But for now he is content to revel in his little act of rebellion, future consequences be damned. I have rarely seen him so proud of himself.
--1SG Guthrie flew in to Camp VIP from Salerno, officially to check up on us and brief us on the latest goings-on, though unofficially we know better. The NFL playoffs are in full swing here on our two big-screen televisions in the D-FAC (although, I don’t believe I’ll ever get used to catching a live football broadcast at three in the morning), and 1SG Guthrie is certainly one black man who loves his NFL.
He talked a little about 3rd Platoon’s Adventures in Hajjicide as well as let it be known that there was a total of fifty bags of mail for our platoon alone sitting in a tent in Salerno. He said he would make every effort to get it up here to us ASAP. I wanted to add, “Excuse me, First Sergeant, but wouldn’t it make more sense to interdict our mail before it left Bagram for Salerno so that it doesn’t have to be flown all the way back to Bagram in order for us to convoy up there and bring it back here to Kabul? Work smarter, not harder, hoo-ah?”
I didn’t say any of this of course, because one: you don’t tell a first sergeant how to do his job when you’re just a lowly specialist, and two: it would have fallen on deaf ears anyhow. The Army may preach “work smarter, not harder,” but they routinely practice it in reverse. The motto of the infantry is “Follow Me.” If they wanted to be honest they’d change it to “Do As I Say (Even if it’s Stupid, Pointless, and Utterly Counterproductive), Not As I Do (Usually Stupid, Pointless, and Utterly Counterproductive).” I’d like to see that GoArmy ad.
--White Trash the puppy has now fully morphed into Molly the Menace. It is no longer cute to find her waiting for you in your OP when you come on shift, especially at night, having been worked into a hyperactive frenzy by the day shifts. She has unilaterally decided that it is no longer taboo to shit and piss inside the OP tower even as we scream our disapproval, thus, from now on our typical first act upon arriving on shift and finding her there is to “accidentally” leave the guard shack door open in order for her to escape and terrorize the rest of the unsuspecting compound. Eventually, another OP will discover her loose and scoop her back up.
--The twice-daily guard routine is starting to wear thin on all of us, extreme boredom the main symptom. I came back to the OP from a coffee run the other night to find PFC Christy self-administering a series of IV drips to his left forearm, pilfered from the tower’s CLS (Combat Life Saver) medical aid bag. Whatever one’s feelings about needles, you have to admit that it takes some world class boredom to resort to “sticking” yourself for entertainment’s sake. He wanted to do me next, though after witnessing him leak blood all over the floor struggling with his newfound diversion, I politely declined. True, I was as bored as the next guy, but I don't think I've ever been that bored. I fear that if we don’t rotate back to Salerno soon, Christy will start performing open heart surgery on himself just to see what it feels like.
Operation Enduring Boredom marches on.
COPYRIGHT 2006 BUCK SARGENT