Well, incase anyone was wondering, I finally made it into Afghanistan although I am pretty far from being settled into my final location or my job at the moment. I’m just chilling at Sharana, the Provincial Capitol of Paktika Province. Should be here for anywhere from 24-72 more hours depending on a number of things but mostly how long it takes to catch a flight to Orgun District and the place I will call home. En route here I spent a few days in FOB Shank, which is basically a middle of nowhere airbase they are building somewhere west of Paktika in order to relieve pressure and traffic on Bagram. Why the US needs to build another huge airbase in the middle of nowhere on the eve of a pullout is a little bit beyond me, but I was able to develop a few ideas around here. Anyway, Shank basically had nothing other than a bed, decently running water sometimes, and air conditioned tents to hold 20 people. It did have decent cell phone service for about 10 hours a day which I took advantage of to use my Afghan SIM card and make a quick call to my friend in Tajikistan (I kinda hope the somebody monitored that call and wondered who the hell I would be calling in Tajikistan, but whatever). Besides that though, nothing really happened except I had a lot of time to think, read, and make a sharp dent in my cot making up for the sleep deprivation associated with an Army travel schedule.
Whatever though, here are a few first impressions on the country:
- No matter what anyone says, the landscape is beautiful. Even though most of the area is total desert, the mountains around us are some of the coolest I’ve seen. It even reminds me weirdly of Moab without the tall cliffs to jump off of the and all the sandstone.
- Sunsets and Stars at night are pretty cool. I saw the Milky Way the other night for the first time since I spent a night in the bush of South Africa. It is definitely a plus to being in the absolute middle of nowhere.
- For some reason, they use a lot of Nepalese contractors on the bases…I haven’t figured this one out but I will try to talk to a few more of them and get their stories.
- Boredom is one of the most amazing parts about being a soldier. I have already learned to cherish the bullshit sessions as awesome opportunities to blow off steam and see what people are thinking. While I feel the Army system has a lot of work to do, there are still plenty of awesome individuals out here who are actually worth a damn.
Now, my first day in Sharana was quite interesting and deserves its own story. It all started getting in at 0dark30 this morning and finally passing out in my tent around 0500 until roughly 1030ish. I needed the sleep and we had nothing planned anyway so it was all good. After that, immediately tried to figure out how to actually get around this huge, probably Manhattan Island sized base and ended up hitching a few rides to the main area. Once there, I picked up a few things from a the shop before running into a random West Point instructor touring the country to interview platoon leaders…I gave him my email address but I don’t know if anything will come of it…even in bumfuck Afghanistan I still can’t escape that place…
After that I was able to locate the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and linked up with an old skydiving buddy, Jimmy, who was working as the platoon sergeant for their security element. PRTs are essentially the people doing the real work in making Afghanistan actually function again as a country someday so after linking up with him he introduced me to the rest of the Civil Affairs guys working with the team. Let’s just say it is completely awesome to have a widespread network of friends all over the world and I definitely see some good things coming from working with Jimmy and his guys during this deployment. I have already put in my packet for Civil Affairs and these guys answered a bunch of my questioned and even invited me on a mission (although my real unit probably wouldn’t like that). Regardless though it is an awesome sanity check to talk to those guys and I will definitely use them to keep my head on straight when I start to get buried alive in bullshit. As a side benefit, they gave me a magazine full of pistol rounds and since nobody has bothered to give me ammo since I got to this country I can now at least defend myself for a small amount of time if the whole world decides to implode on itself and all the Taliban mass on Sharana.
After the reunion adventure, I ended up heading to a local shop near our tent area to buy a hookah and some other things. I hope to run a hookah bar and library in Orgun so this seemed like a nice investment. Taking an afternoon break to chill out and smoke a quick bowl of awesome flavored tobacco while doing my homework I was able to run into and talk to a bunch of the guys from the unit we are replacing who are on their way home. Despite all the dumbasses in the Army, there are definitely a few awesome people and the guys I met seemed to have their heads on straight, focusing on working with the Afghans, learning their language and culture, and essentially treating their deployment as an opportunity to help out and gain valuable life experiences. I also got some good advice like buy a talisman from a local shop as soon as possible and when all else fails, just recite a quick prayer and people will respect you. Also, they like trading their stuff so don’t feel bad about parting with anything. Also, especially for someone who doesn’t dip tobacco ever, the local green tobacco the Afghans will give you is extremely potent and will definitely make you trip out. While I never plan on making a habit of using smokeless tobacco here, a can in reserve will probably be a decent investment as a substitute for alcohol if I ever feel the need to completely fuck myself up and reset the headspace. They also told me that the ANA is generally very good over here but you really can’t expect them to act by any of our standards. Overall though it was another one of those awesome soldier bullshit sessions that occurs in some of the most random, ass end places of the world. It was also cool that since I wasn’t wearing rank, nobody knew that I was an officer until I told them at the end of the conversation. Out here, we are all just doing a job and I am very happy to get away from the garrison bullshit.
Overall though, I am treating this like a year-long paid vacation. I am single. I don’t have a family that I need to keep in super close contact with all the time. I have never really had a home since, well…ever as far as I know. And with the marvels of technology I can keep in just as much contact with the people I care about as I could in Germany. Only drawbacks are no drinking and no BASE jumping (but then I’m not entirely sure on the no BASE jumping). Seriously though, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens and what my pathetic, worthless mind can actually come up with…except a few smart, reflective posts to come. Gotta go grab a cigar with Jimmy and chill with a bunch of crazy Jersey shooters…leaving the military bearing at the door.
21 July 2011, 2115 Afghan Time, Sharana, Paktika, Afghanistan.