warriorsavant: (Infantry haircut)
Not reading as much as I used to, so doubly appreciative when I find interesting ones that effect me. Trying to write my feelings about these books, I realize I'm not expressing them well, but not sure will be able to refine it any better.

GI Jews by Deborah Dash Moore. (WWC) gave it to me. Relates the stories of Jewish GI's in WWII, mostly through oral histories with a dozen or so from different areas. Prior to WWII, the concept of ecumenicalism barely existed in the US, and even the concept of the US having a "Judeo-Christian" basis didn't exist. The US was viewed as Protestant, even if those other "weird" people (Catholics and Jews) were around. The military deliberately set out to create a sense of "we're all in this together," "we're a Judeo-Christian nation." That didn't sit well with everyone, but too bad, we had a war to fight. (Side note, compare current concerns with Moslems in the US military.) Jews served in numbers proportional to their representation in the US population. The general view of Jewish men was that they would not be good Soldiers/fighters: cerebral instead of physical, scrawny, unaggressive, not manly in the cliched, robust American sense. Much to the surprise of the military and themselves, they proved to be neither more nor less good Soldiers than anyone else. By so serving, they forged a new identity for themselves as "Americans and also Jews" (as opposed to Jews who happened to live in America), and helped forge concept of the US as "Judeo-Christian" and what today we'd call "multi-cultural." (Sorry for all the quote marks, rather needed.) They still faced prejudice, sometimes enormous amounts of it. Sometimes they overcame it, sometimes they didn't. By the time I got to the military, most of this was already established, but could still feel echoes of it: the "am I (are Jews) manly" in that sense?; are we really all one big family?; of negative reactions to me, how much was anti-Semitism? I'm proud of where the Army is in modern life. When I Commanded a NYC-based unit, I could say we were one of the most multi-cultural units in the Army… possibly in all of history. On the other hand, we were all one culture: we were all US Soldiers. "We all wear green, we all bleed red."

Combat Doctor by Marc Dauphin. He was an ER doctor and Canadian Army Reservist who mobilized to the NATO Role 3 Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan (then under Canadian Command, but multi-national staffing). He was appointed as Officer Commanding (As opposed to the Commanding Officer, which meant that he was in charge of day-to-day operations, not… oh heck, too confusing to explain, he was in charge of lots of stuff as well as actually treating patients himself.) This one evoked a lot of feelings. Some thinking about my time deployed, bringing back memories of what I'd seen. Some of that is a sense of pride in my service and an abstract camaraderie with others who've served. Some a longing to go back (have zero thoughts of actually doing so and leaving my family!). Some giving me feelings of inadequacy, in that the Role 3 was a major trauma center (possibly the busiest and most successful in the world at the time), and what I did and saw was small potatoes in comparison.
warriorsavant: (Composite)
Medicare cut backs are getting bad here in Quebec. Instead of direct deposit in my bank account, I got paid in chickens. Well, potential chickens. Well, not from the government, directly from a patient in lieu of monetary reimbursement. Okay, what really happened was a couple who both came today as patients (paid by medicare) raise chickens and brought me some eggs. Still funny.

Years ago when I was doing refugee work, I think a patient did bring a chicken. Several brought corn - hey, they were refugees (who weren't charged anyhow), they probably couldn't afford chickens. Here in Quebec, eggs are good. Or corn. Or cannoli.
warriorsavant: (Time)
NB - most of this is supposed to be under cuts with clever intros, but LJ cut doesn't seem to be working today.

I am retired from the Reserves. I marched in the Veteran's Day parade and had a (mostly) formal military dinner. I also did "New York stuff" and saw many of the people I love best in the world. In all, an awesome week.
 
Hospital clinic on Tuesday morning - the first teaching clinic since I've been back. I told them to book me lightly, so I we almost had more Residents than patients. That did leave room for the inevitable add-ons and ER consults. I wasn't really in the rhythm of it, but have to start somewhere. Actually, my rhythm is always off at the hospital clinic. I’m used to my own office, where everything is laid out efficiently, but I enjoy being a teacher

The drive down was benign.  I listened to an Audiobook (ah, the joys of an iPad). I don't normally care for Audiobooks, but they make the time go by on the road. No travel kefuffles - I guess that future-tense flat tire the day before did indeed count as the problem for this trip.

Wednesday was a cultural day. First I had breakfast with Dad and WWC, then she and I met up with my favorite museum geek, [livejournal.com profile] oxymoron67, to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Discovery Center museum. I highly recommend this excellent exhibit; it's well-organized, well-balanced between historical explanations and artifacts, and just the right length. After that, WWC and I went to TKTS (half-priced same-day Broadway tickets), scored tickets, and saw Sister Act. Really good.
 
Welcomed the troops home on Thursday. My last official act in the Army was to welcome home one of my Forward Surgical Teams (FST). They spent 9 months in Afghanistan and were demobilizing at Ft. Dix (close to NYC). As their Brigade Commander, I went down to shake hands, eat lunch with them, and tell them I was proud of the job they had done. They really did do a great job; from the stats I got, I think they were the busiest FST in Afghanistan. I keep the speeches short, but I do want the troops to know that their work is appreciated by me, by the Army, by the country, and that I hoped they were proud of themselves, as they had a right to be.
 
In and around the whole week, I did the real work of an Army leader - I talked to people and signed lots of paperwork. (Napoleon got it wrong - an Army doesn't travel on its stomach, it travels on paperwork.) Later that day, I met up with Pipemajor (who, if you are keeping track, Gentle Reader, you will know was my Command Sergeant Major 2 commands ago). We had dinner at the local Italian restaurant we always used to go, then went over to Fraunces Tavern to scope it out and have a drink.
 
Saturday (yes, I'm skipping around), did more New York stuff. During the day, Pipemajor and I went sight-seeing. First we walked the High Line,* the second section of which is open. (Had done the first section with Davidthearchitect last year.) Then we headed over to MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). Neither of us are that big on modern art, but he'd never been to MOMA, and not entirely sure I had either, so we scoped out 2 floors-worth (2-3 hours - that's about all the museum-ing I can do in a day before sensory fatigue and cultural overload set in). There was a retrospective on de Koonig - definitely a screwed up individual, but interesting to see the development of his work. Also saw part of their standing exhibits, both such famous paintings as Van Gogh's Starry Night and some artists like Umberto Boccioni about whom I'd known nothing (but intend to read up on ). That night, we met up with a small party at the famous jazz club, the Blue Note. It was Chick Corea's 70th anniversary performance. He was playing with Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet. Never saw a string quartet doing jazz - probably never has been done before - but when you're Chick Corea, you can do anything you want, and it works.
 
Friday was the big day.
          During the day, I marched in the Veteran's Day Parade. I went in my Afghanistan uniform and marched with IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America). One bit of true Army (for old times sake) was "hurry up and wait." We spent about 2 hours in the area where we met up (signed in with IAVA, got our sweatshirts, schmoozed), then moved to the official marshalling area and waited for another 3 hours. All this for about 40 minutes of marching. But dang! that 40 minutes felt good. People lined 5th Avenue and cheered and waved, and we yelled and waved back. At one point along the route, IAVA had a table set up, and we stopped to pose for pictures and make noise. All well and good, but then we were 2 blocks behind where we should have been, and in true Army fashion, double-timed to catch up. I'm sure some of the on-lookers thought we were doing some sort of formation running or showing we were still hooah. No, just trying to get caught up. It was inspiration marching in the Veteran's Day Parade as an official veteran.
          That night was my retirement dinner at Fraunces Tavern. This is an historical building in New York, having been a tavern since 1762** The great military significance is that this is where George Washington said farewell to his troops. A little grandiose of me to hold my farewell there, but also I'm a sucker for the historical. (BTW, he only served a cold supper, I served a proper dinner. So there, George.) It was really a touching event for me. The only fly in the ointment was that [livejournal.com profile] ravensroncouldn't make it, but did have the rest of my (not very big) close family. Folks literally came from near and far - WWC lives only a few subways stops away; Pipemajor and DonandLinda came in from out-of-state, which I really appreciated. Heck, I appreciated everyone who showed up. Total of 40-50 people including my CG (Commanding General, a.k.a. "boss") and 2 other generals. The evening was as close to a proper, formal, military dining-out as the space would allow. Pipemajor played the bagpipes, Don (the male half of DonandLinda played the bugle). Cocktails before, receiving line, saluting the colors, toasts (especially including "absent comrades"***), dining, presentation of awards and gifts, and a few brief speeches. The gifts may technically qualify as tchokas, but they are meaningful to me and the people who presented them, and I was touched. They are gracing my mantelpiece as I write this. Several people spoke briefly, including the CG, and I gave my farewell remarks.****  Didn't entirely choke up - would have spoiled my macho image (such as it is), but close.
 
L'envoi. I'm still tired and a bit down, but that is a natural aftermath to deployment and retirement. All told, it was a splendid week, and a great finale to my career. I was pleased and touched more than my poor words here can express. May your retirement celebrations go as well, Gentle Reader, and may your lives be filled with joy and significance.
 
 
* An old elevated railway that is being turned into a linear park. Very tastefully done.
** The original building was built as a private house in 1719 by Stephan Delancy. Samuel Fraunces bought it in 1762 and turned it into a tavern. The building is owned by the Sons of the Revolution, who run the museum on the upper floors. The ground floor is a restaurant/tavern run by the Porterhouse, an Irish brewing company.
*** The first toast is always "to the United States of America." The last is always something like "Absent Comrades" (there are slight variations). A small, empty table is specially set. I arranged the explanatory reading with different people doing each line: "The small table is positioned a place of honor.  It is set for one.  This table is our way of symbolizing the fact that members of our profession of arms are missing from our midst.  They are commonly called POWs, they are called MIAs, they are called the fallen.  We call them "brothers and sisters.”  They are unable to be with us and so we remember them in their absence.  The table set for one is small - symbolizing the frailty of one prisoner alone against his oppressors.  Remember.  The tablecloth is white – symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call to arms.  Remember.  The single yellow rose - symbolizing remembrance - displayed in a vase, reminds us of the families and loved ones of our comrades-in-arms who keep faith awaiting his return, lest we forget.  Remember.  The red ribbon tied so prominently on the vase is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn upon the lapel and breasts of thousands who bear witness to their unyielding determination to demand proper accounting of our missing.  Remember.  A slice of lemon is on the bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate.  Remember.  There is salt upon the bread plate-symbolic of the families' tears as they wait.  Remember.  The glass is inverted, they cannot toast with us this night.  Remember. The chair - the chair is empty - they are not here.  Remember.  Remember, all of you who served with them and called them comrades, who depended upon their might and aid and relied upon them, for surely, they have not forsaken you.  Remember." The piper played Amazing Grace and the bugler played Taps.
**** Paraphrasing a bit, as best I remember:  "Thanks for coming, it really means a lot to me. I have some notes, but uncharacteristically, am not entirely sure what to say. I've never spoken at anything so personally intense before. I've welcomed new Soldiers into the Army and said farewell to retiring ones; I've seen units off to war and welcomed them home (mentioned the FST); but never my own retirement. Some of you know that our Piper was my CSM - he used to sit in the front row with his stopwatch and give me that 'Sergeant Major look' if I spoke to long - well tough, it's my retirement and I'll go long as I want. (Mentioned that I'd been in or with Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Army; Active, Guard, and Reserve.) It's truly been an honor and privilege to serve - and I admit, a lot of fun. Got to do things that most people only dream about. Movies seem more intense; they take the highlights of a year or a whole career and pack it into 90 minutes. They have to, it's entertainment. In the real world, it's spread out over 32 years, but when you add it all together, I got to be the star of my own movie - not many people can say that. I got to travel - good places and bad. The past year, I got to Japan and Italy - a working vacation, but Italy on a working vacation is better than just about any other vacation anywhere else. Other places not so nice; you take the good with the bad in the Army. I've walked the sad and dusty places of the world. Sometimes for humanitarian work (like Haiti), sometimes I did my small part in the ancient wars of the children of light and dark. I got to serve along side of people I love and respect. I read somewhere that life is like the blink of an eye. There is no significance in the blink of an eye, but there can be in the eye that blinks. It is up to us to create that significance. To have served in the Army is to have filled my life with significance. I don't say that is the only path - you all have to make your own paths - but it is a big part of mine. So now, It's adieu and farewell… or maybe just au revoir and see ya' round. Right now there's a 70-something dentist serving in Afghanistan on a retiree recall. The current wars are winding down, the Army is already shrinking and will shrink further. We grey-hairs are retired or soon will be. You young'uns will have to carry the torch. Likely in another 5 or 10 or 15 years there'll be another war and the country will suddenly find that the Army is too small. Then perhaps I'll be the one coming back on a retiree recall. If so, I will quote Thomas Mallory. He wrote La Morte D'Arthur which was the full, grown-up version of the Once and Future King. After describing the history of King Arthur, he speaks in his own voice for himself: 'now the world is again engaged in war, and I, and old man, must go to serve my country.' As to what will happen - only time will tell - it always does. But, at least for now, this old Soldier will fade away."
warriorsavant: (Default)
Background: War and Medicine is the title of the current exhibit at the new Canadian War Museum. Great exhibit, great museum (even if I did have to drive to Ottawa). Didn't really feel like getting on the road again this soon after I've gotten back, but the exhibit is closing soon. I'm a contributor to the museum, so I got free admission, VIP tour, and a behind the scenes tour, all of which was very cool. I don't get carried away with being a macher, but once in a while it's fun. The drive is usually rather boring, but there was good foliage, and drove out with DavidtheArchitect who is always good company (doubly so when appreciating the architecture of a new building). We got to go behind the scenes to the vaults with the uniforms and arms, and see where the did the cataloging and conservation work.
 
The Museum itself: Brilliant design (see http://www.warmuseum.ca/home/) No military equipment is displayed outside. They focused the design on the individual and the individual experience of war. The grounds are landscaped to look like a grown-over battlefield (eg undulating to represent lines of trenches, with depressions of old shell craters). The building has a fortress-like look, all angles and small windows, with a grass roof (both to be ecological and is if it were a camouflaged bunker). At night, one line of windows spell out the intials in Morse Code. The colors are subdued browns and greens and grays, like military gear. The floors and walls are not square - they are deliberately angled to give a feeling of being off-balance, since one is always off-balance in war. Some passages are narrowed, like passageways on a ship or a connecting passage in a bunker. One room, which has the headstone of the unknown Soldier (this was a Soldier from WWI, buried in France, and the headstone was moved from that cemetary) is very quite, with a reflecting pool, and 1 window. At 11:00 on November 11th, the sun through that window falls squarely on the headstone. (Canada, like most Commonwealth countries, holds great symbolism with the 11th hour motif of what they call Remembrance Day and America calls Veterans Day.)
 
War and Medicine exhibit: This too was brilliant, tracing military medical support from its earliest days to the modern era. Much of the factual part I already knew, but they presented it very well, very strikingly. I could identify with much of it - those are my boys and girls they're talking about, and my spiritual forebearers. Some of the modern equipment is the same as I'd carried one short month ago in Afghanistan.
warriorsavant: (Autumn-upstate NY)
The days feel abruptly shorter. They aren't, it is just the natural seasons changing and days shortening in the Autumn, but it feels like an abrupt change. Add to that that it seems to be monsoon season here. (I think it is actually as much rainy season as they get back in Afghanistan, but I never experienced more than 40 drops in any given day in either of my deployments there.) In general, it has a been a cold and rainy Autumn, with the rain knocking the bright colored leaves from the trees as fast as they form. Some prettiness, but not a truly vivid season.
 
Today was gray but not raining, so thought I'd go for a run on the Mountain. Got suited up, got in my car, and the rain came pounding down. I think there was even some hail mixed in with it. Ended up getting a DVD and watching it while on exercise bike. I don't think I will be ready for Winter when it comes. One is never completely ready, but this year promises to be a harder adjustment than most.
warriorsavant: (Infantry haircut)
   First, thanks to all the Gentle Readers and all others who welcomed me home (except the Montreal Green Onion who gave me that parking ticket).
   Disorientation is too strong a term for it, but I'm feeling a bit out of place and a bit lethargic by my standards. In reality, I am being a mix of very social and avoiding people, and a mix of lethargic and rushing around getting caught up on stuff. I guess this is normal for this point in redeployment/demobilization. Exchanged some emails with the folks in Afghanistan. They are doing well. A little busier than when I left (can't turn my back on a war for 2 minutes…) but the fighting season will slow down soon as the passes into Pakistan close. Have sorted out everything that needs doing, and even done some of it. Huge paperwork drill to get Dad's car registered here - went for an import inspection, but didn't have Form 1 or Form 2 - whatever was I thinking?
   The thing I'm pondering (Pinky, are pondering you what I am pondering?) is the length of my hair. It hasn't been much of an issue the past many years; it was Army-length. When I mobilized, I kept it seriously short (see userpic). Not shaved - I did that twice and scared/grossed out everyone for miles around each time. When not mobilized, but in usual drilling Reserve status, I would keep it reasonably short. That kept it regulation for when I was in uniform, but not shocking for civilian life. Now I have to decide on a length (and get haircuts with no outside prompting). In college, wore it over-the-ear, but that was mostly default and indifference rather than a positive decision. I don't like really long hair on men, unless one is actually a Native American Elder. If you are, honor your traditions and let it grow. I don't have the honor of being one. Perhaps I'm an Elder of the Army Tribe, but that comes with different traditions (and haircuts). Oh well, may this be the worst dilemma facing me for the rest of my life.
   Need to get some stuff done, but (a) I'm waiting for people to call me back, and (b) I'm writing this.
warriorsavant: (Signpost Ft. Benning)
Kuwait again. Sand and heat. Continuing my tour of transient billeting across the world. Each a bit worse. At Lagman, had my own CHU. At KAF, was in a fixed corregated metal structure; there were 4 bunk beds in the room, but actually had it to myself. At Bagram, was in a larger CHU partitioned into 3 rooms by partial-height plywood dividers, but again had it to myself. Here I'm in a tent with 8 single beds of which 4-8 are filled at any one time. By the time I reach CRC Ft Benning, I'll be sleeping on the ground. 'Sokay, will be almost home.
 
Stopped at Bagram for 3 reasons: (1) meet with Med Brigade there, (2) buy antique rifles, (3) prolong my departure.
            1. Meeting. See last post. It was productive.
            2. Antique rifles. Last deployment to Afghanistan, I got a really nice Snyder-Enfield. (No, not a Lee-Enfield, the Snyder-Enfield was much older). Wanted another antique weapon, plus had 2 friends asked if I could get one for them. Picked up 2 Enfields and a camel gun. (Pictures eventually to be posted). Yeah, I know, "boys and their toys."
            3. I hate long good-byes, but needed a little more time to mentally adjust to departing Afghanistan (and therefore the Army).
 
Medley:
            1. Got to ride in the cockpit of the cargo plane (C-17) that was taking us from Bagram to Kuwait. Very cool taking off and landing at night, runway lights and city lights in the desert. Started to nod off en route (they wouldn't let me actually pilot the thing *harrumph*) and the aircrew suggested I use the bunk in the back of the cockpit. It's narrow for a bed, but I managed a nap.
            2. Came back via Kuwait instead of my original plan to try to go thru Manas because everyone said connection back Stateside would be easier, but so far am in hold. Wasn't that one of the circles in Dante's Limbo – passing thru endless transient areas?
            3. The facility here is a giant tent city. Despite that we've had a presence here since the Gulf War – over 30 years – I think neither US nor Kuwait wants it to seem permanent, so few fixed buildings. They are frame tents, and they were replacing the fabric on one of them. Looked weird, the frame and the furniture (bunk beds and lockers) in perfect order with no "skin" on them.
            4. Repacked once already since here. When I flew out of Bagram, no longer needed to wear the body armor, so that, and all the "field" stuff went into one duffel bag, and clothing and personal items went into another. The former weighed at least twice the latter, so spent part of today trying to balance the load.
warriorsavant: (Signpost Ft. Benning)
   Got down to KAF, where I puttered about arranging my onward flight. There was one out the same day - or rather in the wee hours of the next morning, but didn't really want to arrive some place strange at 3 AM, schlepping my duffel bags. I did the usual stuff to fill in time: read, checked email, went to the gym, wandered the Boardwalk.
   There was a rocket attack or two to welcome me. For the first one, I ended up in the bunker with (a) the guy I needed to talk to about flights, and (b) another doctor I knew slightly. The doc asked me a Derm question. Every doctor gets "curbside consultations," I get "bunker side" ones. For the second attack, I was in a different bunker - I'm trying to try them all. There were chairs and benches in this one, someone brought his portable music player, and we all had a good chat. The Taliban think they are harassing us. In reality, it is closer to something to break up the work day. Most people gossip around the water cooler, we go to the bunker.
   Next day moved up to Bagram (BAF) which is the biggest base in country. "Hurry up and wait" is an old military adage, and I ended up waiting about 5 hours for the flight. If I wanted this kind of service, I could go on a commercial airline instead of Space A (Space Available = standby). Since this is official travel, I could have put in a movement request and been guarranteed a seat, but those have to go in a few days in advance (bureaucracy!). Space A is a crap-shoot, but got a flight the day I wanted to go.
   I came up here to meet with the medical headquarters (the highest level US military medical headquarters in Afghanistan). My parent Reserve unit might be taking this mission in a year or so, so I thought it would behoove me to get some ground truth about what we will need to do to prep for it. I'll be retired by then, but I still care about my unit. I've been with them for over 10 years; this is my military "family."
   Was going to try to work a slightly circuitous routing home. Instead of Kuwait (where I've been half-dozen times), route thru Manas (where I've never been), then on to Landstuhl (US Military hospital in Germany) where we have a patient. Problem is that it would all be very chancy to get flight - lots of Space A and waiting around and add probably another week to getting home. It might be fun, but I'm tired and now that I'm en route home, I just want to get there. I'll get a flight out tomorrow or the next day to Kuwait, and get to the demobilization site as soon as possible. It's been a great tour, but it's time to go home.
warriorsavant: (Infantry haircut)
Went over to another FOB to introduce my replacement. Probably my last trip off-FOB except for routing home.  We went up to Qalat Hospital to check it out. It's a somewhat rambling 1-story complex, with 100? 150? in-patient beds, a couple of ORs, a lab, and out-patient clinics.  Don't know how well equipped or supplied it is, but it isn't physically dilapidated, and there seems to be some sort of staff.
 
I've handed over my pager and gotten my last "high and tight" haircut (see userpic).  I've been checking off a series of "lasts" since my last Annual Training in May.  Mostly just a waiting game right now.
warriorsavant: (Default)
One of the things we (ISAF = International Security & Assistance Force) is trying to set up is the ROL (Rule of Law).  Evidence collection is part of ROL.  Looks easy on TV, but (a) that's a dramatization, and (b) no matter if fictional or real, it requires an existing infrastructure. I posted another time that part of the difficulty with Afghanistan is that they have neither physical nor societal nor governmental infrastructure that developed countries take for granted. We don't appreciate the complexity of it because it is so well run and automatic that we mostly don’t even see it.  A phsyical example might the power grid; except for the rare times it fails, we never consider the millions of generators (which require fuel and maintenance), transformers, routers, miles of wires, computers, etc,  all of which were built up over years and years of time. A governmental example is ROL. Unless we are victims of a crime, we rarely think about having police and detectives, who have to be trained and equiped; prosecutors, judges, and all the other actors who also have to be trained and equiped; crime labs and their staff, ditto.
 
Some other time I might post how counter-terrorism is really closer to law enforcement than military action (actually a blend of both), but for now suffice it to say we do have a few law enforcement professionals here. I'm not referring to Military Police who deal with our own people. I'm referring to DoD and contract civilians who, among other roles mentor their Afghan counterparts in how to do things like evidence collection.
 
I had them come and give a short talk on that to the medical people here. They stressed that patient care comes first – even with bad people – but there are things we can do to aid in evidence collection, whether the bad people come in living, dead, or in pieces. Evidence is evidence, and there are things that can be done to collect it without compromising patient care. Don't know how much immediate, practical use it will be, but certainly interesting to hear.
warriorsavant: (Me-composite)
It's official, got my retirement orders effective 11-11-11.  Not sure if it's the light at the end of the tunnel or the darkness at the end of a lit tunnel.  Either way, definitely puts the period at the end of that sentence (also paragraph, chapter, book, and series).  Even if I wanted to stay, definitely can't.  Actually, I suppose I could have the orders changed, but as I've said before (trying to convince whom?), it is time to move on.
 
WWC sent one last care package.  I had her mark it "Brigade Surgeon or replacement."  If I've already rotated out, it won't go to waste.
 
One thing I won't miss are the smells.  Between the dust, and the sewage, and the burning trash, and just the smell of too many people, I will be happy to get back to somewhere green with good sanitation.  The weather is starting to cool off – pleasant by day, and almost chilly at night.
 
Have been doing a brain dump with my replacement.  She's learning quickly, but there are a lot of little things, and she's asked me to stay another 2 days.  She'll take over, but I'll hang around as advisor/backstop/gray eminence.  She's smart, but has always been more on the clinical side of things, so the admin/staff work is new to her.  I don't mind staying the extra couple of days.  I said all along that I would stay until everyone felt comfortable, and besides, it plays into my ambivalence about leaving.
warriorsavant: (Signpost Ft. Benning)
Posted some to photo gallery. I think to access it, you have to go to my profile, then scrapebook. (If anyone knows a better way, please let me know.) Nothing classified or even remotely revealing about defenses, but some taste of here.

I think you can link in here: http://pics.livejournal.com/warriorsavant/
warriorsavant: (Infantry haircut)
Spent a few days at another remote FOB. Quite pleasant here. Amazing that the troops here prefer it, don't like FOB Lagman as being "the big city, nothin' I want there," just as the troops at Lagman view KAF (Kandahar). A few highlights:
* Went up to local village and met with the elders. Everything we do, we try to do partnered with ANA; in fact, try to let them take the lead. Sometimes they can pick up the load, sometimes can't. We have a culture that values enterprise and initiative, they don't. (Effects the general concept of COIN, but that is a subject for another post.) I don't mean every single person in either culture, but as a general trend. I'm at even more altitude here (7700 feet = 2350 meters), so walking to the village, especially with body armor, was my exercise for the day.
* Worked with the medics on the post here to do some medical training for the ANA (what we call Combat Lifesaver). One key note to our efforts was we kept telling them 'it's good that you are learning this, but you have to teach the others in your platoon. Once we can get that across, then it becomes self-sustaining without us.
* There is a small gym here on post - we seem to put them everywhere. Army guys like to exercise. Did work out at the gym a couple of the days. Partly motivating, partly demotivating, to be working out with a bunch of extremely fit folks (they're infantry, mostly half my age, very hoo-ah).
* Another thing we try to put everywhere is some sort of internet access for morale purposes. I use it to keep in touch, but also to keep up on my medical journals. Most of them have an on-line version. It's either that, or don't keep up at all, or come home to a huge stack of them that I'll barely get thru. Might some day convert to only reading them on-line, but in fact even with a laptop, they are not as convenient or portable to read on-line.
* Not having a good zoonotic week. First the cat bite, then got pooped on by a bird. Had my 2nd rabies shot and finishing a short course of antibiotics.  Besides question of whether I really need the antibiotics, I think is starting to give me the runs - although that could have been from Iftar* dinner last night with Afghan Army. Was careful about only eating cooked stuff or fruit with a rind, but you still never know. Oh well, a case of the runs for my country... may that be the worst thing that ever happens. Speaking of poop, instead of burn-out barrels, they have 'wag bags.' (a brand name?) Essentially a large, bio-degradeable, plastic bag, with some dessicant in the bottom. You line the 'toilet' with it, poop into it, then put it into what is basically another bio-degradeable zip-lock bag and dump it in landfill. (Well, we burn that out from time-to-time.) Good idea, but takes a little getting used to.**
* Dangled my feet in the "pool," relaxed, read a book. Only drawback is the lack of poolside service - no margharitas.
* The sky is very visible, especially at night. Even at FOB Lagman, there is enough light pollution (both from the FOB and the nearby small city of Qalat) to somewhat dim the view. Here, there's essentially no lights at night, and the sky is very full. For me, it's 'nature imitating art,' as my thought is 'this reminds me of the Hayden Planetarium.' Yeah, I know, it's the planetarium that imitates the night sky, but growing up in NYC, the Hayden is one of my fondest childhood memories. One night we had a supply drop. We are very remote, and most supplies come in by air. Sometimes they are landed by helicopter, but in this case, a cargo plane flew over and pallets of supplies were parachuted out. First we got radio contact that it was coming, then we could hear it, then turned the wing lights on (a couple of bright and colored stars appeared), then the parachutes opened, black against the dark but star-studded sky. It was a good drop (all the 'chutes opened, everything landed on the drop zone).


* The evening meal after a day of fasting during Ramadan.
** You know you're in a third world country when bowel movements are acceptible dinnertime conversation.


warriorsavant: (Meh)


So…. I think I mentioned the cats on that remote FOB. Not only is my sister WWC, but I do indeed like them myself, and they keep down the mice. I guess they'd been doing too good a job of that, mice were in short supply, and one of them nipped my finger. Just two tiny little puncture marks (like a baby vampire tried to nurse on my finger). I considered various diseases that cats can carry back home (eg: Tularemia or Pasturella), wondered about the best treatment for this area, and emailed the Preventive Medicine (PM) Officer. Back, by return email, comes the information sheet about Rabies Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP). Rabies??? Rabies!!! Seems there is a really high incidence of rabies in both cats and dogs out here. I get on the phone, trying to convince PM (and myself) that I don't need all that. PM points out they have a Soldier back home currently dying of rabies, likely picked up here. I shuffle off to the clinic to begin my PEP. It's not as bad as Ye Olde Days, only 4-5 shots over the month rather than 10-15, but I'm not a happy camper. To add insult to injury, the Admin people here refuse to believe that the cat was Taliban (he clearly was! I heard him meow "death to the great satan") and refused my request for a purple heart.

warriorsavant: (Signpost Ft. Benning)

Made a "house call." Well, FOB call. One of our guys was sick at a remote FOB that I've never been to, and we had a flight heading that way, so I hopped a ride to see him. Nothing major, he'll be okay.

Started out by getting armored up. (Imponderable: back in the medieval days, how did they ever get their armor on without Velcro? I guess that's what squires are for. Putting Velcro on the body armor is cheaper than hiring me a squire.) Got on the helicopter which was making a milk run to several outlying FOBs. Brigade staff needs to get around and check on things at the outlying FOBs, and that includes my checking on the medical in general. Going by helo has become almost banal – a flying bus.

Most of the coalition forces on that FOB are Romanian, and we had lunch with them. It's a small FOB, so there is no actual chow hall. They have real plates, with the crest of their Ministry of Defense. They made Romanian soup and Hungarian goulash, with local Afghan melons for desert. All really good. (The melons tasted like a cross between Honey Dew and Watermelon.)

The guys at the FOB have really positive attitudes, which is amazing considering they really are in the butt end of nowhere even by local standards. Flying out, it was interesting to see isolated farms. There are some villages, but there are also some farms just by themselves. Going FOB to FOB by helo is 15-minute jumps; by ground it would take hours by vehicle and days on foot. They do have a few cats around the FOB. The Preventive Medicine people discourage that, but cats keep down mice, and mice spread disease (and attract snakes).

warriorsavant: (Time)

Army chaplains need to hold an odd duality of mindset. They must be firm believers in their religion, but must also minister to, and support, the religions of all those in their "flock" (ie: Army unit). They don't provide services outside their own confession, but they have to arrange for them if possible. I recall speaking to one senior chaplain who was also taught in a seminary. He had many stalwart young'uns who were eager to serve God and country, who he had to discourage from doing so, as they weren't open-minded enough of other confessions to serve as Army chaplains. I think our current chaplain's flock back home is worried that he might get corrupted by serving with people of so many different faiths. In many militaries, they either don't have chaplains (ie: either officially atheistic or depend on local clergy), or the country only has one religion, or the chaplains only have a limited role. The Afghans have some sort of chaplains, but I don't have a clear picture of them. They are "mullahs," which is a title bestowed on a religious leader, not necessarily a formally-trained one. Anyone felt to be sufficient holy/religious can be considered a mullah. The ANA has one mullah for each kandak (battalion), plus a head mullah for the brigade, who has another 4-5 assistant mullahs. The are responsible for religious matters, but also seem to cover a lot of welfare, cultural, family support, and education issues (remember that most of the country, including many of the Soldiers, are illiterate). Being a mullah is their primary job while they are doing it, but they are officers first, and could be detailed to another task (eg administration or company command).


warriorsavant: (White Lion - Jabulani)

I've been here too long. I feel naked going outside without my side arm.


 

More babbling under the cut. )
warriorsavant: (Me-composite)

CHU – I mentioned that we live in rows of CHUs (Container Housing Units), two lines facing each other, with a roof over them. If you replaced the full doors on each unit with half-doors, it would look exactly like a horse barn. On the other hand, if you left the unit doors, and closed the barred gates at each end, it would look like a cell block. Hmmm, convict or horse, horse or convict?

Cleaning – Speaking of living quarters, I borrowed a mop and bucket and cleaned the floor in mine. Hey, that's what color the floor is! One thing this country does have is a large supply of dirt, and they're lucky to have that. I think a few generations ago, they were too poor to even have dirt. Progress is relative.

Afghan choice of weapons – The ANSF mostly use AK47s. The AK is the most popular weapon in the world, as it is cheap and rugged. Also, with wooden stock and handgrips, you can put bling on it: reflective stickers, fake jewels, and anything else you can glue on. The plastic composite grips on an M-16 just don't take bling as well. Doesn't matter how accurately you shoot, you want to look styling in battle.

Role of BDE and its Commander – In COIN (COunter INsurgency), a brigade as an entity, has more of a support and organizational role. We'd classically think of a brigade as a medium-large tactical formation that fights as an organic whole. In COIN, the fighting is mostly done by smaller elements. Even a company-sized fight is unusual; mostly iti s platoon and squad elements. The brigade Commander spends much of his time on what is essentially diplomacy: talking with local national leaders, military and civilian. Any senior officer has to be prepared to act as on some level as a diplomat or civic leader; in the COIN environment, that skill is more to the forefront.
 


warriorsavant: (Time)

Hinterlands:

            Got up to one of the remote FOBs.*  Very remote even by Afghan standards, but troops there in good spirits. No one shooting at us at the time.  This is especially good when you're in a helicopter as (a) a moving foxhole attracts the eye (Bill Mauldin), and (b) no place to duck.  Also, we were flying through the mountains, and Bernoulli's don't really like mountains.**

            The troops there had built a swimming pool. Well, a wading pool. Well, you could wet your feet, float a rubber ducky, and pretend. As I said before, a lot of how comfortable these remote sites are depends on the ingenuity of the troops.

            We're getting further into the growing season. There is more greenery, which is to say up to maybe 4% of the land is green instead of brown (as opposed to 1% most of the year).

 

Night shift:

            MIDRATS – contraction for MIDnight RATionS. Chow at midnight for those working overnight, which I did recently.

            My team is only 2 people, and they have to cover the MEDEVAC desk 24/7. Really, there isn't that much for them to do, so if I didn't cover for them once in a while, they would spend the entire deployment sitting at a desk 12 hrs/day, every day. Not really that hungry at midnight, but the warm food nourishes the spirit as much as the body, and it's an excuse to get up and walk around.

            Worst thing is that since shifts change is at 9 (AM or PM), at 3 AM you're only half-way done. Couldn't nap much during the day, so will end up having that intern on-call fatigued state, which I didn’t much enjoy when I was an intern.

            Did fall off the wagon and have a cup of coffee. Much needed.

 

Stark beauty:

            Helos landing at night, seen in dramatic silhouette. Didn't have camera, which is a shame. They run without lights here. Coming down on the dirt landing zone, they kick up clouds of dust, which are illuminated by the (limited) lights of the LZ, the choppers silhouetted black against the white clouds. One passing behind another, but with no depth perception, seemed to be passing through its brother.

 

 

* Technically, the smaller ones are COPs (Combat Out Posts) rather than FOBs (Forward Operating Bases), and some seem to be called other things, but even I can't keep track, so most of us call all of them FOBs.

** Bernoulli's are the invisible flying men who carry helicopters around through the air. You don't really believe that nonsense about rotating airfoils, do you? Bernoulli's are very useful and usually very helpful, but they are a little temperamental, and don't like heat, high altitudes, or bad weather.


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