A young man's strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk...and apparently, back again.

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Location: Denver, Colorado, United States

The details of my life are quite inconsequential, really. Summers in Rangoon...luge lessons...

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Cushy Forward Base

Welcome to my workplace! Just when you think cubicle life in an office in New York is no way to live, you land a desk in a cramped, hot little workspace in a building much like this. Trust me, "Office Space" has nothing on this place. Of course, there's no having a case of the Mondays when there isn't a weekend, is there? The day may say Saturday or Sunday, but it matters not in the land of the wandering nomad we call the Afghanidan.
Home, sweet home. This is my abode, at least for now. It took the Army a few days to confirm that I would, in fact, be staying where I dropped my stuff and grabbed a bed. It's not too bad--plywood dividers give you the feeling of a room, which beats tent living. Everything is constantly covered in a fine dirt layer, but that's life in the dust bowl that is this fashionista sense tells me that works fine with the uniforms we wear, however.
A view of radar hill overlooking the base, with Aziz's bakery in the foreground. It's a bitch to run up this thing for workouts, but it affords a great view of the base and nearby local compounds. I haven't gotten his full story yet, but Aziz is apparently a local baker/cook who opened up shop here when U.S. Marines first rolled in. Word is he had a kitchen too, which was authorized for use by our boys until a couple caught some "Osama's revenge" after eating there. Not good times.
Here is the loneliest palm tree in the land. I'll eventually send more photos of base, once I send them through the release official...wait, that's me! It's very maze-like, with snaking concrete and sandbag barriers of all shapes and sizes keeping us safe. Of course those same barriers make walking around at night tricky, since we operate under light discipline as a forward base (which means darkness, people...and it gets DARK here). The stars are truly amazing on clear nights, though. Especially the bright ones close to the horizon that move around and shoot .50-cal machine guns, since they keep any angry militia from even thinking about rocketing us.
Here is the new mosque on base, for the many Afghan workers and soldiers who live and work here. There is a ridiculous amount of construction going on around this place, and if you catch a glimpse of the workers as I did yesterday, wearing their kameez partoog and with pickaxes flying, you can't help but think of Raiders of the Lost Ark. As for facilities, showers are hot though water pressure is a trickle. Laundry is quick, if you don't mind your clothes being washed with Afghan hospital bedsheets. And the chow isn't bad here, although they lack two essentials: milk and orange juice. Obviously I am pretending beer is not an essential. But if you feel like drinking 40 or so fantas each meal or eating french fries and grits any meal of the day, you will be hooked up, trust me!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Health Care

Today I made it off base on my first excursion, to cover a medical civilian assistance program. Check out the enthusiasm of these kids--they were amazing. I think some of my fellow servicemembers were ready to adopt.
This clinic was significant for being the first in this region primarily planned and coordinated by the Afghan National Army, who is learning that their military shouldn't simply aim to intimidate, but needs to play a role in getting the local population back on its feet.
I was amazed to see the women in burqas change their minds and see the doctor. At first they had huddled together in their burqa-bonding way, and almost left as a group because there was no Muslim female doctor, but they were talked into staying by the local doctor and our cultural liaisons.
Throughout the day the crowd would swell at the gate, dashing the training team's hopes for a more manageable number of visitors. Afghan guards use a switch from time to time, seriously--a switch, to back the crowd up when they would invariably push against the gate.
I couldn't turn down the repeated requests by Afghan National Army soldiers to pose with them for photos. They love the camera, and are giddy about seeing the digital picture after it is taken. But if they even thought of pulling that hand-holding crap, things would have gotten ugly in a hurry. Seriously, they are extra-affectionate toward one another on Thursdays!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Patyka Mountains from Above

It was hard to choose just a few photos from the dozens that I took from the helicopter on my flight to Khost. The mountains got more and more dramatic as we climbed through some passes, and seem to taunt those who would invade. It's easy to see how one force after another over the years has attempted to impose law and order on a region like this, and failed miserably. I'm glad we're here working with the Afghan people and goverment, rather than trying to rule them. And I've yet to find a helo crew who will accomodate some heli-skiing requests, but I'll keep trying.

Chinook ride to Khost

The flight line at Bagram is a hub of activity--there was a number of helicopters doing flight prep when we found one heading where I needed to go. It was classic, since it's such a pain in the rear to get on a fixed-wing flight, yet just find a laid-back helo crew with some space and you're on your way.
Oh yeah, the weather up there. It was freaking COLD on that flight! Damn, that is one bad-ass wait, never mind. It's just me with some trick photography. The CH-47 Chinook is a very loud bird, so it was hard to hear, but two of my fellow passengers were homeboys: one was a cop from West Orange, NJ, and another was a retired NYPD guy from Queens. Great guys, they are busy training the new Afghan police force to learn some basics of policing, like not shooting themselves (which they do often).

Bagram Air Field

This is a shot of where I stayed for just one night, at the big base Bagram. Check out the mountains that ring it. The base is like Disney's Epcot Center, only enclosed in barbed wire and jersey barriers in a war zone. There are many countries with token forces helping out, and most are huddled inside this place like the multitudes of Air Force and civilians there. They have most of the amenities that a regular base would have (it IS the chair force, after all), like a couple fast food outlets, gym classes, a coffee shop, things like that. But I would absolutely hate to sit around there when there is so much more interesting activity going on around the rest of the country.

Monday, January 23, 2006


I made it! Finally got to my base (at least for the next month) in a border province of Afghanistan called Khost. The base is a FOB (Forward Operating Base), and I couldn't be happier to have stayed in Bagram for only one day. Pictured here is the amount of crap I've been lugging around, which is actually much less than most other individual augmentees. Still, it's a workout.
I arrived in country Sunday morning around 2:30 am local time after another sleepless night, and one more day of transient travel awaited me. This morning we pulled every stop to get me on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter to Khost, and it worked out well for scenic purposes...I've got to say it's been too long since I took a hop in a whirlibird. Photos will be posted shortly. So today has been spent getting to know everyone at Task Force Devil (appropriate place for a Devil Dog who's a huge NJ Devils fan), where I'll be Afghanistan's Regional Command East Public Affairs Officer. Oooh raaah!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Transiting through Kyrgysztan

"The temperature outside has climbed to 5 degrees fahrenheit, with a wind chill of minus 4. Welcome to Kyrgysztan!" And thus, I was welcomed by the pilot to Manas Air Base, at 7:30 Friday morning. I've been here just over a day now, and probably won't be flying out to the Afghan until tomorrow at the earliest.
The 36 hours of constant travel getting here have been long, with off-the-plane stops in Baltimore-Washington, then Ramstein, Germany, and Adana, Turkey. Unfortunately the travel process grinds to a crawl at this point, since it's now a rat race to get a seat on a military transport for all of the hundreds of servicemembers I arrived with, and some who were already waiting here. There's a mysterious prioritizing system, that no one knows much about, which relies on Air Force codes that some units have in their orders, but the rest of us lack. So we wind up on the "backlog", meaning we wait, and check the updated, constantly changing flight schedules. Hey, it's something to do.
The ice and packed snow everywhere definitely remind you that this is if not within the region known as Siberia, damn close to it. But despite the close quarters in cramped tents, and the frigid weather, this place isn't so bad. The locals seem nice, and confirmed that my joking pronunciation of the place is actually close to how they say it...something like "Kir-gi-gi-stun" with hard g's. Somehow the English translation dropped a letter. As everyone's favorite Khazak correspondant Borat says, great...success!
Before I move on to the current journey, I must include one more observation that will be in my upcoming guide to Tampa for travelers. Here's a preview...The Top 5 songs played/requested on Tampa Bay radio stations, regardless of format:
1. "Round and Round" by Ratt. This mall rock classic hasn't skipped a beat in the past 20 years in this area, apparently. I heard it 4 times in a week. Really.
2. "What I Am" by Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians. I probably hadn't heard it in 10 years, but caught it here also 4 times. Again, I'm not making this up.
3. "Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring. Or, as I called it, the when-the-bullet-hits-the-bone song. I had to look up the band, since it was in my head for 3 days after I left the area, thanks to the constant rotation of it.
4. Anything by Journey. They love some Steve Perry down there.
5. Anything by AC/DC. The cheesier the song, the more they dig it in Tampa.
So in closing, a word of advice to 80's rock bands...start your next tour with a ton of shows in Tampa. You'd be crazy (or senile) not to!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Adios, paid vacation!

Greetings all, especially to the newcomers who I finally told about this work-in-progress. I am scheduled to fly out tomorrow from the Bay area, where Marine Corps Forces Central Command has kindly kept me for a week. Since I've taken about 5000 photos of palm trees, I may as well include a couple farewell shots from the past couple of days.
The palm tree buffeted by a 60 mph wind is from a weekend excursion to the Gulf Coast beaches (note to FL vacationers: wind-whipped sand may be detrimental to your beach experience). The other two photos are from Tarpon Springs, an historic sponge-harvesting and fishing village north of St. Pete. The place is a little piece of Greece in Florida tourist's surreal, and a great place to grab a heaping gyro platter that will feed you for 5 days.

Busch Gardens Tampa-style

Scenes from Thursday's fun at Busch Gardens. The new roller coaster they've debuted holds you on the precipice of a 90 degree drop before sending you plummeting, as seen here. The gorilla pictured here was absolutely thrilled to be gawked at by an endless line of Florida tourists during her post-partum phase.

Hockey in Tampa Bay

Amazingly, this is the home of the Stanley Cup champs. Well, the 2004 champs anyway, before the NHL became the first pro sports league dumb enough to cancel an entire season. But the fan enthusiasm seems to be strong here, dampened only by deafness caused by the 9.0-Richter-Scale sound system. And while beers may be about as expen$ive as up north, you get 24oz for your 8 or 9 bucks...not bad at all.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

R&R in St. Pete

Ahhh, Florida. Posing happily in front of some palms at a pond in St. Petersburg. Even though the temperature plummeted today to a high of only 59 (down about 30 degrees from Thursday), it's still damn nice to be in the sunshine in short sleeves. Took in a lot in the Bay area, including the Gulf beaches today, downtown St. Pete and the Dali museum yesterday, followed by a great hockey game in Tampa...the Lightning knocked off Columbus, 4-2, in their huge arena downtown. Good times. May as well enjoy Florida since it looks like I'm not flying out to Afghan until mid-week...

Cigar Capital of the World

Enjoying a cigar in downtown St. Petersburg, FL. I learned yesterday that Tampa was actually once known as the Cigar Capital of the World because of the massive production in their Ybor City district, back at the turn of the last century. I'm happy to report that they've revived that tradition well here...there are great handmade cigars all over the place! Yes, I'm a cheeseball, but I'm chilling on a warm day in Florida, so screw it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

MacDill AFB, Tampa

Sights of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where U.S. Central Command is located. I have to process through here, since it's a MARCENT (or Marine Central Cmd) position I'm filling in Afghanistan. Not a bad place to be stationed...the scenic running path is along the Bay and looks out on the downtown skyline. While talking to Marines and airmen here, it's clear that some have no idea how great they have it.
I arrived Mon night, and began checking in on Tues. More shots, vaccinations and paperwork, of course, and it looks like I could be stuck here for awhile. There's something called a rotator, which is how military personnel transit to Afghanistan. It usually departs once a week, but I happened to catch some odd gap.
It's great to be in sunny Florida rather than some backwater while waiting, but I'm anxious to get there. A little more efficiency in the process could be really helpful.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sunday on Topsail

Sunday afternoon: Grilling out on my buddy Marc's deck in Topsail Beach, NC. Even the Giants' putrid performance in the playoffs couldn't totally dampen my enthusiasm for grilling burgers in the sun, on the beach, in January. Not a bad way to relax on what's likely my last weekend in the USA for a while.

The hosts with the most

Kyle and Bridget Phillips, along with their two adorable daughters Page and Ellen, graciously hosted me Sat night in their Wilmington home. Kyle and Bridget are old friends from Villanova, and he spotted me last week while I wandered around the Camp Lejeune commissary. The best part about catching up with such great people is that it seemed like no time had elapsed, rather than the eight years or so since I'd last seen them. Except for the two hilarious rugrats, that is...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sunset on Topsail

Chilly wind blowing, but still a gorgeous walk along the water in North Topsail Beach, NC. Between the sandpipers scurrying along the water's edge and the school of dolphins surfacing seemingly two feet from the shore (very hard to capture on my camera, I discovered), it was a pretty amazing scene.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Camp Lejeune, NC

Sunset over New River, seen from the parking lot of my temp lodging in Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC. My mobilization to active duty began on Monday, Jan 2 here. I arrived by plane from New York that afternoon, to a base that was a virtual ghost town since they were all on the New Year's long weekend holiday. The hurry-up-and-wait begins already.
I conducted various check-in processing with the Mobilization Support Battalion all week, from getting issued my gear and weapon to receiving more vaccinations and bloodwork than I can remember. The Marines here are adaptable and mostly skilled at getting us through the process quickly, despite a ton of regulations. If all can go well Mon morning, I'll be heading to MacDill Air Force Base for the next round of check-in. They don't make it too easy to get to Afghanistan for vacation!