Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Whatever you do, do it with style

Like most people, I admire exceptional achievement - the Olympic athlete, the world-renowned composer, the prize-winning novelist. Only a few people manage the to combine dedication and drive with the gift of innate talent to produce truly spectacular results, and I respect that. I even respect it when the achievement isn't one that might meet universal social approval.

A little background might be in order here. The main base and headquarters for US and coalition forces is Bagram Airfield,a bit less than an hour to the north of Kabul. When I was there, Bagram consisted of the airfield proper, with supporting hangers, buildings, fuel tanks and whatnot, and a cantonment area where most of the troops lived and worked. The cantonment area was a long narrow area laid out to the rear of the airfield, paralleling the airstrip. There were a few permananent buildings built of cheap concrete that were left over from the days when it was a Soviet airbase, and a few more permanent buildings that the US had constructed (the Bagram PX, for instance, seemed to be fairly well built), but most of the buildings there were either temporary construction - plywood and 2x4 shacks - or tents.

The main road through the cantonment portion of Bagram ran parallel to the airstrip as well, and the cantonment buildings (and tents) were off to either side of it. This road was Disney Drive, named after one of our fallen heroes, Jason Disney (and not, as I thought the first time I heard it, a reference to the Mickey Mouse nature of Bagram.) It ran several miles down the length of Bagram and was paved. Portions of it even had a sidewalk.

Being in a war zone didn't (and shouldn't) excuse the units stationed on Bagram from staying in shape, and most units assigned there ran organized PT (physical training) in the mornings. In the Army, unit PT usually consists of stretches and calesthenics followed by a run. Since Disney Drive was the only long straight paved surface except the airfield, that was the normal "running track." In the morning, hundreds to thousands of soldiers took to Disney Drive in formation for their daily jog.

Disney was a well traveled road and for safety reasons, it was closed to vehicular traffic for an hour in the mornings to keep the running formations from having to dodge the assortment of cargo trucks, military vehicles and Land Rovers that normally traversed it. MPs were stationed at the major crossroads coming off the airfield to enforce the ban. There were always a few vehicles on Disney during the restricted hour, either because they had special permission to violate the ban (missions, for example, took priority - if you had to move to the airfield during that period, you could get a special pass), or because they were driven by people who had just gotten to Bagram and didn't know about the ban: it was possible to pull out of a parking lot or small road without an MP barrier, but the MPs pretty quickly flagged these vehicles down and directed them off of the road.

No military unit operates completely independently. All units require support from other units for food or fuel or transportation or other assistance. That was true of us in Afghanistan, and we had people supporting us who's job it was to coordinate with other units or functions to get things done for us. That job is known as LNO (it stands for liasion officer, I think.) Early in the rotation, soldiers out of support company either got LNO as an additional duty, or in some cases, if the coordination workload was high enough, got assigned as a full-time LNO. At Bagram, that wasn't a good or a bad thing - you were still on Bagram - but some people really got over by drawing LNO duty. We had a steady stream of soldiers and equipment going to and from the States to Bagram all the way through the deployment. Some soldiers were in military schools or otherwise undeployable at the beginning of the rotation, so they joined us later. Some soldiers got hurt, went to Germany or the US for treatment, and were able to return to duty. Some soldiers got the dreaded red cross message, and had to return home, either on leave or permanently. Equipment broke and had to be returned to the States for repair. Repaired or backordered equipment had to be shipped to us via Bagram.

So, like every other major unit in theater, the CJSOTF had rear echelon LNOs. SF guys didn't draw LNO duty - they were earmarked for fighting the war - but there were a number of support personnel assigned to the CJSOTF (cooks, clerks, truckdrivers, repair people, and the like) to choose from for the job. One of the LNOs was located at Fort Bragg, and there were two at Rhein-Main Air Force Base just outside of Frankfurt. The Frankfurt LNO position was particularly nice - the work wasn't terribly onerous (it mostly consisted of figuring out Air Force flight schedules - not particularly easy to do - and meeting people and equipment to make sure they got off and on the right airplanes. Frankfurt was almost always the midway stop for people and equipment, and scheduling could be tricky, since onward travel to Bagram could be direct, or through one or more airbases in central asia or the middle east. Figuring out that the best way to get a person or a box to Bagram was through Kuwait /Qatar/Manas required some knowledge of the arcana of the Air Mobility Command's scheduling system.) The job required some expertise and knowledge, but long hours weren't part of the deal.

Also, Rhein-Main was the hub for everything moving to Afghanistan and Iraq, and it was full-up. No room at all for transient LNOs, so they were living on the economy, drawing full per diem - which, in Frankfurt, was substantial.

And the job was substantially unsupervised - the senior LNO was a Staff Sergeant, and his boss was in Baghram. No formations, no oversight, no scheduled hours - just keep the supply line moving and be available by cell phone. And, unlike Afghanistan, there was no regulation against consumption of alcoholic beverages.

So, the Frankfurt LNOs had it made compared to living in Baghram - and, better still, they all found an excuse to accompany a shipment to Baghram every so often, so they drew combat pay and the tax exemption for the month - and they got their combat patch out of the deal.

Unfortunately, the abundance of free time and the lack of supervision led one of the pair to screw up spectacularly. He got pulled over by Die Polizei, very late at night, for driving erratically - and of course the reason he was driving erratically was that he was drunk off his ass, on his way back from a club in Frankfurt. That was bad enough - both the Germans and the US Army are death on DUI - but the car he was driving was the BMW that the Army had rented for him to get around in. In the view of the Army's lawyers, this made it a military vehicle.

Of course, the CJSOTF reaction to this was immediate - get him out of Europe and back to Baghram. He would certainly face an Article 15 (a non-judicial punishment that can include fines, extra duty or detention), if not court martial, but the first step was to get him out of Frankfurt before he embarrassed the CJSOTF further. And that's where he passed from being a run-of-the-mill miscreant to being a legend. He got there in the afternoon and after the requisite chewing out, was assigned to a tent.

With punishment for the Germany incident still up in the air, most people would have tried to maintain a low profile and stay out of trouble. Not our hero, though. I happened to be on Baghram dealing with money the day after he arrived.

I went in to talk to the finance officer, and she filled me in on the latest gossip. "Did you hear about Sergeant ________?" I didn't even know who he was, so she told me about him arriving in Baghram the day before after getting yanked out of Germany in disgrace. "Yeah," I agreed, "He's screwed himself pretty bad right now." "No, that's not the big thing." she replied. "He got a DUI this morning on Disney Drive." I asked, "How do you get a DUI on Disney Drive?"

It turned out that, the day he arrived on Baghram, our hero conned somebody out of a vehicle, found a supply of booze, picked up a girl from another unit, and spent the night in a drunken dalliance with her. When they woke up the next morning, the girl was horrified - she was late for PT. "No problem," Sir Galahad told her, "I'll drive you over to the PT formation." It was, after all, the least he could do for her.

So, still a bit woozy from the night before, and both throwing on clothes as they went, the two of them set out for the PT formation. Unfortunately for our boy, the PT formation was on the other side of Disney Drive. It may have been the challenge of trying to dress and drive at the same time, or it may have been the effects of the alcohol lingering in his system, but he failed to notice the MP checkpoint closing Disney Drive to vehicular traffic. He came to a stop only after the MPs had dodged out of the way and he hit the traffic sawhorse. The female leapt out of the vehicle and made a run for it, still holding on to the rest of her PT uniform - the MP's, too stunned to intervene, let her go, but grabbed him. Even after some recovery time, he still had enough alcohol in his system to be DUI. Searching the vehicle, they found bottles, some empty and some still full, and some girlie magazines. The girl eventually got busted, too, of course: it was easy enough to find the only female soldier who had missed PT.

Now, our hero was really in trouble at this point - there's a regulation in Afghanistan, known as General Order Number One, that prescribes the conduct of deployed troops: No possession of alcohol, no drinking at all, no pornography, no extramarital sex. About the only part of General Order #1 he didn't touch on was the one that prohibited proselytizing the natives - although, I'm sure that, after everything else, given time, he would have found religion and hit this one too.

But I'll admit that I was seriously impressed by this guy's ability to get into trouble. I'd always suspected that it was possible to procure alcoholic beverages there, but I would have thought it would take a few weeks to figure out the supply line and would take the ability to drive to Kabul to actually buy them. (I'm just saying . . .) And, the ratio of men to women on Baghram was about 9 to 1. Being able to pick up a woman at all was an impressive feat, much less picking one up the first night there.

OK, yeah, no doubt that he screwed up - but you have to admire the man: when he did screw up, he screwed up big. Lots of people got into trouble over there in one way or another, but usually over small things. This guy, on the other hand, became a legend: "Well, at least I didn't get a DUI on Disney Drive" became the battle cry of anyone getting chewed out for anything. And, if he ever has children and they ask him the question "What did you do in the war on terror, daddy?" he can proudly reply: "Son, I was the only man in the war to ever get a DUI on Disney Drive -and I did it with my pants off."

7 Comments:

Blogger Barb said...

OMG that is amazing! Some people just screw up - he planned and perpetrated his own demolition !!

7:20 PM  
Blogger gonorr said...

outstanding.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Kristy said...

A real overachiever, no doubt about it. Sounds like someone should have concentrated on proselytizing him instead of the natives.

Kristy

12:26 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

I knew a guy like that... every unit has one. He was spectacular as well, but not quite up to that level of performance. Then again that was peacetime in West Germany... not the same chance for such a performance.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Watch 'n Wait said...

I'm laughing here. That guy is a glutton for punishment!

5:50 AM  
Blogger NOTR said...

You sure this guy is not a budding aviator? Send him to flight school fast.

Thanks for the grin bringing tale. I know for the chain of command it was not funny. But let's face it, some stories will just get better with age, and this is one of them.

7:48 AM  
Blogger Papa Ray said...

Hey,

Lets not forget he was a gentleman too, trying to get his "date" home.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

1:25 AM  

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