Monday, January 31, 2005

So what's for lunch?

So I'm sitting here in the middle of the afternoon, and - stupidly - instead of going out and grabbing something to eat, I've already ordered a sandwich, so now I have to wait for food. I hate waiting for food (the Army will do that to you.)

I was thinking this morning about the few things I miss about Afghanistan (besides the being shot at part - boy howdy!) One of them, believe it or not, is the food. This morning, I had a sane, responsible bowl of Cheerios w/ lowfat milk, fruit and OJ. The typical Afghan breakfast out where we were was a piece of unleavened flat bread, sort of like pita - we called it Haji bread, for obvious reasons, or "foot bread," for reasons you don't want to know. We'd get a small sterile box - like the hermetically sealed little milk or juice boxes that you poke a straw into - with whipped heavy cream, mix in some sugar, and spread it on the freshly baked flatbread. I usually had sher chai - black tea - with milk and sugar to go with it There was usually some fruit with breakfast, too. It was also a pretty safe meal to eat out of an Afghan "hotel", their equivalent of a roadside diner. (Not, mind you, that I was very worried about the food, actually. By the end of my tour, when we were out of the camp a good bit, I was pretty much eating three meals a day with the Afghan soldiers who were with us. The only time I got sick over there was when I ate at the chow hall in Bagram, which just goes to show you something.)

We had Afghan soldiers at our A-camp, and we had a messhall for them run by Afghan civilians. Since lunch was often a hit or miss affair at the firebase, I'd usually step over to the Afghan chow hall instead of breaking open an MRE or throwing a frozen pizza in the oven. Most of the time, lunch was "chicken surprise" - a mound of saffron rice with some raisins and spices with a piece of chicken buried underneath. There was typically a small bowl of spicy stew on the side, and, of course, some of the ubiquitous flatbread. The really cool thing was that the drink they served was like one of those Capri Sun juice bags - again, that you poke with a straw, but the bag, not the box - except it had sweetened sour cherry juice - kind of like cherry lemonade, but more sour than bitter.

The chicken dish was the source of one of those jokes that never got old - from time to time, we'd have visitors from Bagram or Kandahar, or a new group of Afghan soldiers would rotate in with American trainers (we "advised" the Afghan Army at our firebase - each group of Afghan soldiers would rotate out to us for a month or six weeks, then return to Kabul for leave, refit and more training. In addition to the SF guys out in the field with them, they had American combat arms officer and senior NCO advisors who stayed with the unit, rotated out of Kabul to the field and then back with the Afghan forces. This "embedded tactical trainer" (ETT) mission was by all accounts a good one - you got to spend about a third of your time actually out fighting the war, and the other two-thirds training the nucleus of the Afghan army, right outside of Kabul, with much less chickenshit than the conventional army usually brings to bear.)

Enough digression - whenever somebody showed up, we'd invite them for the chicken surprise at the Afghan messhall - Inevitably, somebody would ask "Why do you call it chicken surprise?" The answer or course, usually timed for when somebody was taking a sip of coffee" was always (wait for it. . .) "Well, the chicken was astonished." Ahh, I kill me.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Back to the war stories. . .

I started this blog as a place to tell war stories (and we all know the difference between a war story and a fairy tale, right?) but I noticed that my posts have been almost exclusively commentary on politics and current events.

I was thinking about that this past weekend - after a four month hiatus, we're back into our regular routine of one drill a month, plus a three week or so Annual Training exercise, plus whatever else we volunteer for (there are a lot of opportunities for NG SF to train with other cool-guy units now that half the active duty SF is overseas at any given time.) Or,as one of my more cynical NG aquaintance's puts it: "Yeah, the National Guard. All these benefits for only two days a month, plus two weeks a year, plus two years out of every five." Don't tell the recruiters - it might depress them.

We were sitting around drinking a few beers Saturday night, re-hashing things, telling stories, and generally re-forging bonds of friendship that had been strained by the deployment (if there's a downside to SF, its that every man there is an alpha wolf: opinionated, confident to the point of cockiness, and convinced that his ideas are the best - live in close quarters with someone like that for the better part of a year and you'll find your nerves fraying just a bit. I'm so glad that I'm not like that, too.)

At one point during the evening, Dan was reminiscing about the general perfidy of the Pashtuns - the firebase outside of Asadabad was getting rocketed, and a couple of CA (Civil Affairs) guys and their terp happened to be in a small village outside of A'bad and close to the firebase when the rockets started going off. They took some initiative and dropped by the village elder's compound to see if he could help them figure out who was shooting at us. They figured the guy might help them figure out if any strangers had passed through the village recently. This villager usually knew everything going on in his village and seemed to be on the American's side - genuinely friendly and helpful, and grateful for all the US aid flowing into his village - new wells, a clinic and a good bit of hard currency. Of course, he also benefited from the prestige of being the broker between his village and the Americans: for aid projects, for jobs, and for local purchases.

He wasn't home, but one of his younger son's told the CA team that he'd be right back, and invited them in to drink some chai (tea) and wait. They got put into the room where they usually met with the old guy - the room where he usually met with other village elders or whoever needed to see him. It was set up as a social room, with nice rugs on the floor, runners around the edges, and plenty of cushions to lean against - there was even a wood stove in the room to warm things up and keep the chai hot. The son left them alone there to go get a pot of chai and some candies.

Well, its not a particularly admirable trait, but the instinct to poke into other people's medicine cabinets seems to be universal to Americans. This particular team had been to this guy's house several times, and always met with him in this room. There was a door at the rear of the meeting room that the team had always been curious about, so, being left alone for a few minutes, they peeked in. Behind the door was a smaller room, also nicely appointed with rugs and whatnot - and there was also a very artistic terrain model of the firebase, with the surrounding hills convincingly built up, and the rocket launch sites and their approaches indicated with little bits of yarn. It was so well done that the considered opinion of the CA guys was that this terrain model would have gotten the builder a "GO" in the sand table test at the US Army Infantry School. (A "GO" is a passing grade - most hands on military skills are tested on a pass / fail basis, that is "GO/NO-GO." Building a "sand-table" - a terrain model of the area or site to be attacked for use in planning and briefing an operation - is considered a critical skill for military leaders.)

OK, let's be fair - its quite possible that the village elder had discovered the plot on his own, and had gone to the considerable trouble of building the sand table so he could explain it all the Americans, and besides, the CA team didn't have a search warrant, and, after all, we were the invaders . . . whoops, sorry, started channeling Barbara Boxer there for a sec. OK, Let's not be Democrat fair, let's be Republican realistic: this guy had let the operation be planned in his house, it turned out the ACM* who carried out the attack stayed in his compound, and he was out with them making sure they found their way into the right positions.

Dan's reminisce reminded me of where we were when the rocket attack happened - right down at the very front of the compound, at the fuel point filling up our GMV. We were getting ready to cross the Konar river at the bridge in Nowabad about 5 km south. The river ran directly in front of the firebase, and would have made a perfectly logical border with Pakistan - the local Afghans definitely suspected that the Pakistanis thought so, anyway. Because of the vagaries of the Durand line, though, there was a strip of land anywhere from 5 to 20 km wide between the river and the Paki border. The river only had a few bridges in the area, though, and most Afghans weren't natural swimmers, so bridges made a good natural chokepoints, and we tried to keep a pretty close eye on the traffic there. There we were, all gunned up and just a few gallons of diesel short of being ready to go when the rockets started coming in. Jack, our medic, was outside the vehicle fueling it up, Dan was in the turret on the .50 cal, and I was sitting in the front passenger seat.

The bad guys were shooting like Afghans, so the rockets were overshooting the main camp and landing - well, right outside the wire and pretty much right in front of us. The barrage started with 3 or 4 rockets whistling overhead (a rocket makes a distinct warbling whistle as it passes overhead - interesting example of the Doppler effect, if you're inclined to appreciate that kind of thing - and then a big ka-boom.) All the rocket attacks we had been in up to that point only consisted of 3-4 rockets, so we thought it was pretty much over. Then the second wave came whistling in, and seemed to be even closer. Dan squatted down out of the turret behind me - a fairly ineffective gesture, since a GMV is not armored. Jack, on the other hand, was outside, without even the comfort of 1/4" of sheet metal between him and the explosions.

Now Jack had as much courage as any man I've ever met, but he was not prone to the bravado about things that go boom that many of affected. While many of us had a "big sky, little me" attitude about rockets (which are, in reality, terribly inaccurate weapons) he had no problem looking for cover when things were blowing up. Right then, he took off at a dead run for a bunker about 50 meters away from us - he got to the bunker, and hooked a left to head in. At that point, he looked pretty much like Wiley Coyote about to go over the cliff and doing everything he can to stop himself. He backscrabbled a few feet, turned around and came running back to us away from the bunker at the same dead sprint he used a few seconds earlier to run towards it. It turned out that the bunker was there, not to protect personnel that might be at the fuel point, but to protect a 1000 gallon fuel blivet. Jack turned the corner, saw that he was in close proximity to 1000 gallons of diesel and things blowing up, and was simply not happy with life.

All this time, a wave of rockets was coming in every 30 seconds or so. Jack ran up and asked me how much fuel we had in the vehicle - Dan read the gauge and said it was about 7/8ths full. Jack looked at us and said "And we have another thirty gallons on back - and we're only going about 20 kilometers. Why the hell are we still here?" So Jack jumped in the driver's seat and I got on the radio to let them know we were leaving and we got out of the fuel point at a fairly rapid clip. Later, they figured there had been more than thirty or so rockets in the barrage.

And what about our brave CA team who suddenly realized that they were in the enemy commander's stronghold drinking his tea? They made their apologies, said they would come back later, slipped out and immediately got on the radio and reported what they had learned. The senior leadership at Asadabad acted with their usual decisiveness, and swiftly and surely hit the compound only 48 hours after the CA team called the situation in. By that time, of course, the sandtable was gone, and so was the village elder. We later heard that he had gone to Pakistan, which, after all, was only a few kilometers away.

There was something of a happy ending to the story, though. Usually the ACM launched a rocket attack by slipping up to the firing positions, laying the rockets on an improvised launcher (usually a stack of rocks), setting a Soviet era time pencil to trigger the rocket, and slipping away before the rocket went off. The time pencils were theoretically settable for between about a half hour and 8 hours - in reality, they went off randomly between 15 minutes and 24 hours later. The bad guys were usually home by the time the rockets fired, but these guys decided to launch their rockets in real time - because of the size of the barrage, we suspect they were correcting the aim of the later rockets based on the impact of the earlier ones. By a happy coincidence, the launch site turned out to be within machine gun range of a US OP (observation point) overlooking the firebase. The OP was manned by a squad led by a sergeant, and the OPs were in turn being commanded (via radio)by a junior officer. So, unaware of the complexities of war that our more senior commanders wrestled with, our men lit the bad guys up pretty good.

*ACM = anti-coalition milita - the generic term for whatever TB, AQ, general criminal shithead, or HiG we happened to be stomping on at that particular time.

But wait - I thought it was illegal to carry a gun in NYC . . .

Aspiring Actress Shot Dead in New York

I thought this was interesting, and not just because its the classic "I told you so" about gun control and where the real responsibility for safeguarding your life is - and it ain't counting on the cops to be there when you need them.

Reading this story, I've come to the conclusion that this woman was killed by her worldview. I don't want to sound cruel, but the same impulse that leads someone "to reflect on the current socio-political landscape by developing new and relevant works of theatre" (that is, to be fuzzy headed) leads them to respond inappropriately (that is, in a fuzzy headed way) in a life or death situation. If there's a moral here, its that a mugging is like a cross-examination - don't ask a question if you don't already know the answer. Or, like they say where I come from "Don't let your mouth write a check your ass can't cash."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

So its a cheap shot . . .

Even the champions of civilized discourse on the conservative side seem to be getting a little fed up with Boxer, Kennedy and their ilk. From yesterday's online OpinionJournal of the WSJ:

Not the First Time He's Tried to Sink a Woman
"Kennedy Vows to Oppose Rice Nomination"--headline, Associated Press, Jan. 25

Friday, January 21, 2005

Well, all this depresses me . . .

Its bad when even FoxNews is depressing. Most of us in the vast right wing conspiracy have been chortling over that rich and fat defender of the poor and hungry, Michael Moore, and the news that his bodyguard got busted for carrying a handgun. Yeah, the irony is rich, but neither the left or their shills at the NYTimes will get it. It depresses me because the cognitive dissonance all the pro-gun people expect this to spark in the leftistas just won't happen - Moore really believes he's entitled to special treatment because he's such a big guy (read that how you like.) He's not going to reconsider his anti-gun stance, and neither is anyone around him - it's us poor red-state yokels who can't be trusted with handguns, not the sensitive and caring intelligentsia who have more of a right to self-defense than the rest of us because they're so sensitive and caring.

In other news, it looks like the UN has decided that the US, in addition to being responsible for all of the man-made evil in the world, is also responsible for most of the natural disasters (I guess we really are the Great Satan.) All of this is based on that most psuedo of psuedo sciences: global warming. (For a rational take on the subject, see Micheal Crichton's speech here. ) And Jan Engeland, the same wack-job who complained that the US was stingy because we preferred to give money to the victims of the tsunami instead of to the UN, is prominently featured poormouthing here again. Can somebody explain to me how we became such masochists in the last fifty years? It's bad enough that the only thing the organization is at all effective at doing is providing forum for every crackpot member of the perpetually indignant, but we're paying the light bills in that godawful place. "Thank you, Mr Annan, sir, may I have another." Good Grief.

On the other hand, I read this piece about all the Kerry supporters seeking psychological support in their hour of distress, and I feel much, much better . . .

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Lord of the Rings deconstructed

Brilliant, scary satire - because the reason it works is that some people really think like this.

(Fortunately for the rest of us, those people are usually detected and institutionalized before they can do much harm. Those institutions collectively are referred to as academia and, while their existence is often criticized as a useless burden on society, really offer a humane alternative to manual labor for those intellectuals unable to function in the real world.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I am so pissed off . . .

Pretty much every time I see a movie that features an "ex-green beret", I'm amazed at the breadth of skills and capabilities they have - ex-green berets know how to fly helicopters and jet aircraft, fire LAW rockets in an enclosed space with no effects from the backblast (I think there must be a backblast suppressor switch they haven't told the rest of us about), they have martial arts skills to rival Bruce Lee's or Buffy Summers' and they're frankly much better shots than I am (especially with machine guns fired from the hip - these guys routinely make kills that would make a sniper envious, whereas I can't hit a wall from inside a building shooting like that.) I can tell you from personal experience that they're not teaching that stuff to us in the Q course.

I've always suspected that there's a super-secret ex-green beret school run by the government that does teach those skills. It's always been my greatest hope that when I finally quit running around and playing army, a mysterious stranger in a grey suit is going to arrange for me to attend this course (probably held at Area 51) so that I, too, can officially be an ex-green beret.

Now I find out here in the Guardian (a British newsrag so left wing that it pisses the Trotskyite wing of the Communist Party off) that the Army has been holding out on the training again. And this time, it isn't ex-green berets at all - I'm apparently the only SF soldier out there who doesn't know how to walk through walls and how to stop a goat's heart from beating by staring at it. The article notes that:

I tracked down a former Special Forces psychic spy to Hawaii. Glenn Wheaton, retired sergeant first class, was a big man with a tight crop of red hair and a Vietnam-vet-style handlebar moustache. He told me how in the mid-1980s Special Forces undertook a secret initiative, codenamed Project Jedi, to create super soldiers - soldiers with super powers. One such power was the ability to walk into a room and instantly be aware of every detail; that was level one.
Level two, he said, was intuition - making correct decisions. "Somebody runs up to you and says, 'There's a fork in the road. Do we turn left or do we turn right?' And you go" - Glenn snapped his fingers - "We go right!"
"What was the level above that?" I asked.
"Invisibility," said Glenn. "After a while we adapted it to just finding a way of not being seen."
"What was the level above invisibility?" I asked.
"Uh," said Glenn. He paused for a moment. "We had a master sergeant who could stop the heart of a goat ... just by wanting the goat's heart to stop. He did it at least once."

This pisses me off - if anyone needs to know how to deal with hostile goats, it's the guys serving in Afghanistan.

Not only is psychic goat-killing a practical skill, it's now going to be absolutely necessary to the self esteem of any SF soldier. Personally, I just know that I'm going to get busted out as a phony the next time the subject comes up: "So, you were a green beret?" my new aquaintance will ask. "Well, we prefer to be called special forces," I'll reply modestly, glancing down at the floor and blushing slightly. "Yeah, well, let's just see you kill that goat over there."