Glamour shot, Mazar-e Sharif, 11/7/10
Right from the start, I wonder if I should prattle on about
the myriad of reasons I don’t write anymore...about why such a significant period
of my life, spanning two Operation Enduring Freedom deployments and beyond, will
mostly remain boxed, gathering over time the type of dust and cobwebs that blur
and warp the memories that aren’t already erased.
I won’t prattle, not too much anyway.
But I’ll restate something I’ve said before,
at least once: It gives me no satisfaction to write about the experience of
being in Afghanistan when I’m not in
Many literary types manage to do that, but
I’m not James Joyce…hell, I’m not even a writer. I’m just someone who absorbed
what he could, and passed on as much as possible, while in the midst of some
When those experiences were
done, my urge to write about them was done too.
I write now, after a deliberate stop to the
post-post-deployment entries a couple of years ago, because the good people at
have given me the opportunity to add a new post from AfghaniDan as
they wind down that impressive collection of milblogs from the past two wars.
Not to sound like an acceptance speech, but I
give them enormous credit for ending their valuable web page in such a way.
ANA cadets await a concert, Kabul, 10/21/10
For the purpose of a standard timeline check, and just to make
this feel like even more as if I’m in a confessional, it’s been more than three
years since I returned from the last deployment and four exactly since I was
heading to Camp Lejeune for another inprocessing cluster---k.
It was eight (!) years ago this month that I
took part in Operation Mountain Lion in Kunar Province during my first
deployment to Afghanistan.
And just for
the heck of it, it’s been 14 years exactly since I was in Kosovo with the 24th
Marine Expeditionary Unit, reinforcing a thin NATO peacekeeping contingent
amidst a nervous population, thinking that
was the hairiest thing we would be doing for a while (in fairness, most of us
Afghanistan elects a new president in two days, and Taliban attacks intended to disrupt it have failed, though they’ve brutally slain innocents and beloved patriots. As our international coalition sharply draws down its numbers there, it is finally true that Afghan national security forces have the lead. March closed as the first month in over seven years with zero American fatalities, while still we have military personnel and civilians heading over (the media rarely bother to explain troop rotations). Welcome to 2014, the ‘year of transition.’
Afghanistan Electoral Alliance (source N/A)
I’d like to say the world has watched, or at least our
nation has, as this era of American/NATO intervention in Afghanistan has
flowed, ebbed, flowed, and ebbed again…but if you’ve paid attention, you’ve
been in the distinct minority.
one of the reasons it’s bracing to hear the chattering class bring up
“America’s longest war” when a milestone is passed, because only the very few
and far between have maintained any awareness of their nation being
Over there, of course, it’s a different
story, but in many settings, including the most populated ones, daily life generally
has a normalcy to it.
A normalcy that’s
often closely related to the presence of large numbers of international forces,
if not directly feeding off the odd system that seemed as if it would retain
semi-permanence for decades, but a normalcy nonetheless.
I tried to highlight that as my observations
shifted from those of a fairly clueless newcomer to those of a more attuned
participant, and one located mainly in Kabul in the advisory go-round.
Fruit vendors, Kabul, 10/31/10
Was it worth it?
Jim “Chaos” Mattis (ret.) – he who commanded the initial Marine Expeditionary
Brigade that swept into the south of Afghanistan in 2002, before achieving far greater
responsibility, fame and notoriety in Operation Iraqi Freedom and eventually at
US Central Command – opined recently on the question of whether it was “worth
it” for those who served in these conflicts (as my readers may recall, I’m not
a fan of lumping the two together, but that’s apparently how it was asked and
answered in this case).
Monk” went on to break down his answer in terms of national strategy and
personal considerations, and while it’s all worth a read, it’s the latter that
truly resonated with me.
summaries by the piece’s author, not direct quotes…
For veterans, "Was it worth it?" should be intensely
personal. The focus should be on experiences while deployed and since returning
home. What sorts of relationships were formed at war? How deep and rewarding
were they? How have you stayed in touch with your buddies since returning home?
Have you been able to integrate into civil society in a healthy and sustainable
You have some control over the answer to these questions, even
if doesn't feel like it a lot of the time. This is where the ultimate judgment
must reside for each of us. We claim - or lose - that mantle through our
Iraq and Afghanistan vets pull no punches with General Mattis
Without subjecting you poor readers to a point-by-point
breakdown, my reflections confirmed what I’ve long felt…that I’ve failed pretty
miserably at reintegration, i.e. becoming a civilian, and that I’ve led a
transient postwar existence.
I wasn’t exactly
sticking to one career like glue before a return to service and the subsequent
deployments, anyway, so if it wasn’t serving in Afghanistan twice (and in a few
other scattered commands) as a Marine, who knows what my job(s) might have
But that jolt, that incredible
jolt, of being on high alert and in incredibly heady situations for months on
end, only to return to some place you idealized but instead seems to be fraught
with uninteresting choices…that has played quite a role in my lack of a healthy
and sustainable reintegration.
This reflection business is harder than I even thought it would be. I won’t say every day is a struggle, the way it is for so many brothers- and sisters-in-arms, because for me that’s not always the case…I get to escape the doldrums, sometimes through my ongoing positions through the Reserve, sometimes outside of it completely, and not everyone is so lucky. We’re all dealing with different shit, and as I was recently reminded, just about every single veteran refers to some who had it worse. Still, it is never far from my mind how easy I have it, compared to the challenges in adjusting to postwar life that must be faced by the war's casualties: the multiple amputees, the traumatic brain injuries, the PTSD sufferers who struck an IED one day, or more than once…
Daybreak at Camp Mike Spann, 11/8/10
It was a welcome break from my issues, and a distinct honor,
to spend two weeks recently augmenting the staff of the USMC Wounded Warrior
Regiment as they staged the Marine Corps Trials in Camp Pendleton, CA.
The event is an extraordinary international
competition among teams from the regiment’s east and west battalions, nine
allies ranging from Colombia to the Republic of Georgia, as well as Marine
Corps veterans who’ve been discharged but still qualify to compete.
I can’t imagine another experience that could
be so simultaneously humbling and inspiring as this one was.
If you’re looking for the true warrior
spirit, you need look no farther than the wounded, ill and injured service
members and veterans of these games, or of the more widely known Wounded
“I thought, ‘I need to get out of this funk. The world’s not going to stop moving, I need to get out and do something with my life,’” Sears said.
Battling it out at the Marine Corps Trials, 3/11/14
Marine overcomes obstacles, becomes mentor to peers
“Try and make it far enough…to the next time zone”
- Son Volt
- One of those lyrics that just stays in my head, after many
long drives across and around the country over the past few years
Life isn’t bad in Colorado, despite constant indecision that
has me stuck spinning my wheels.
was a video post, I’d probably do a voiceover with scenes of my energetic jackal-dog Daly
playing, with the Rocky Mountains beyond.
It wasn’t bad on balance in the self-imposed exile to Miami either, or
back in New York City before the western spirit ever succeeded in calling me
But when it’s too much to
unpack your boxes, filled as they are with smaller, more compact collections of
notes, contacts, receipts, gifts sent to you overseas or ones you bought for
others but never sent, REMINDERS
left to wonder if normalcy will ever arrive.
Was it worth it?
guess “Mad Dog” Mattis is right (gotta get every major nickname of his in
there)…it’s intensely personal.
Afghanistan does in the next few years will certainly factor into my answer, as
mission success has been defined for a good while now as a stable and secure
But even if it’s deemed a
‘failed state’ once again, that would be due to so many more factors than how
ably U.S. and allied troops performed their given missions.
For me it was worthwhile.
Cramped ride, Herat City, 11/4/10
If you’re enough the empathetic type, or just ever the
overthinker, or especially both, you understand more and more why some
adrenaline junkies (be they security pros, aid workers, journalists, many
others) never stop traveling to the latest conflicts.
You also understand how the least fortunate
lose hope entirely, how all the goddam flailing just gives way to morose
resignation that some get left behind.
matter how empathetic or not you may be, you don’t want to see another one go
down that awful road.
And you definitely
understand the pull of returning to a place where you fought for something,
worked your tail off for something, sacrificed for something, and bonded with
those who’d give their last breath for their country – or a stranger’s country
– to make it.
Tonight I attended an event called “Failure to Communicate:
Homefront Myths of Veterans and Civilians”, put on by Veterans Helping Veterans Now
(VHVN), a group with which I was unfamiliar.
I usually avoid veterans’ organizations
entirely, likely to my detriment, but I was compelled to check out this
With a new approach, its
stated goal was for community members and veterans to come together and break
down reintegration stereotypes.
Interesting concept, I thought, all the more so because of my
difficulties in moving beyond Marine duty orders and becoming a part of the
fabric of a community, whatever that means.
Krak and me, 8 years later… Boulder CO, 4/2/14
A bonus feature was that the guest speaker would be Jon
Krakauer, the bestselling author I’d met in Afghanistan as he began the embed
for what would become “Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman”.
Reconnecting with him was great, but what
really stuck with me is what he pointed out in his humble remarks: that after
volunteering for years now with VHVN, he couldn’t believe how many veterans
described coming home and adjusting to ‘normal’ life as much harder than
anything they experienced over there.
the group chats that followed, I expressed a similar sentiment and seemingly
for the first time, saw that fellow veterans – of a few different eras – fully
understood and could relate.
Up until that moment, I was still gripped with
fear of telling a few strangers that I’m still figuring out what to do with
myself after Afghanistan…but once I did, and found no judgment there, the
relief was extraordinary. It was a
fitting ending to the days I’d spent contemplating what I’d write in this space
in order to sign off as AfghaniDan.