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, June 05, 2010

What it's like...

"God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes...
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues...
Then you really might know what it's like..."

Man, I loved that track back in the day.  What ever happened to Everlast?  I never expected to be leading off with a quote from the mick-hopper who brought us House of Pain, but the tune is stuck in my head.  So that's how you get your post titles from my head.  And Whitey Ford.

Below are samples from some of the rambles I've written to myself, or odd notes just jotted down in between meetings.  I realize I haven't much spoken of what life is like here, or what I'm doing, or what passes as an escape besides waiting late enough at night for the wireless to improve enough to post a photo or 12.

Kabul, from the rooftop of another government building...

Life is work here, and work is life.  It may get more interesting if I get out of Kabul to where things are more "kinetic", but even here there is no shortage of heavy lifting to be done.  It's busy, busy, busy...and answering to eight different bosses sometimes.  Cue up Office Space: "I'm sorry, did you say eight?"  "Eight, Bob.  EIGHT."

It's a kind of limbo, really.  We know we're living large compared to the poor bastards sleeping in the desert every night...we don't lack for cooked meals, or functioning toilets (usually)...and most importantly, we're not in constant danger of IEDs or ambush while out on daily patrols.  Most of us in Kabul aren't even on daily patrols.  But we don't have the luxuries often taken for granted at home either: You don't sleep in your bed, you don't cook something you crave, you don't have a life as we know it, and worst of all -- you don't see your family.  I know that's a ton harder on those with kids and a wife back on the homestead, but even for we roaming bachelors it's a loss.  My desk area is decked out with enlarged printed photos of beautiful nieces and mischievous nephews.

So we take what we can get, we put up with daily frustrations, we work some incredibly long days.  But on the nights when there's call for hope, we know that we're here to work hard for reasons that are compassionate, timely and meaningful.

Pam and Esmat pose on my request by the method our counterparts use to deliver their command newspaper from the Media Center: the trusty wheelbarrow.

The lush grounds of the Ministry of Defense.  Note the two puppies, who make my day each time I walk by on the way to the offices of my counterparts.  They seem like the happiest dogs in Afghanistan, where unusually cruel treatment of canines is the norm.  I'll try to take better pics sometime, but my camera isn't supposed to be out at all here.

Just a few of the thousands of rose bushes that line and fill the various gardens of the MoD.  One of the few institutions that has physically stayed put through waves of turbulence in Afghanistan's recent history, I can't help but imagine the same grounds being traversed by soldiers & generals of King Zahir Shah's government, or Daoud's republic after that, or the Soviets in the 80's, or the Mujahidin after that, or Najibullah's reign, or the Taliban after that...

I'm liking the work more than hating it [of course it was easier to say on the lightest day since I'd been here -- Afghans were all on declared holiday due to the 3-day Peace Jirga, so we had work but not the usual volume].  It's very frustrating much of the time, from both sides: Those working at the tactical or technical areas vent of often having to 'babysit' their Afghan counterparts and hold the hands (both figuratively and literally) of grown men through the simple process of talking to their own counterparts.  At the same time, we must comply with (and if you have the stones, sometimes rebel against) the droppings from the "good idea fairy" above...well-intentioned but misguided tasks that only get more cumbersome as they roll downhill.  But positive signs make our day every now and then, and the fact that we're involved in trying to build something good is still rewarding.

I'm not sure that I can sustain the pace in decent health, so somehow I'll have to seek more balance (like a good Libra, say my horoscope-following friends).  I find bikram yoga to be a perfectly strenuous-while-meditative escape.  Yes, there is yoga here [Go ahead, make your jokes about the hippie Marine] -- but trust me, it's a deployed version...for one thing, there's a 5-to-1 male-to-female ratio.  A cramped and sweaty space within the gym is the location, and guiding it is the very goofy-sounding yogi Bikram on tape for 90 minutes, with the assist of an on-site knowledgeable instructor.  But I'll tell you (what it's like...), it ends up being the most mentally and physically refreshing portion of my week.

Scenes from a production studio ribbon-cutting, on a rooftop above the city. Windblown dirt might dampen the day, but sweets make everything better.

Back to Office Space... "So what is it, you'd say, you do here?"  Allow me to paraphrase a note I sent back to my cousin yesterday for the answer:

Believe me, even most military folk don't know what the heck "NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan" is, unless they're here.  It's a command that only really formed six months ago, out of some structures that were here and others that newly arrived, in order to better train and mentor the Afghan army, police forces and other agencies.  It's not only multinational, but joint, so that means that each service has contributing members: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, even a Coast Guardsman is here.  And we mentor the Afghans, side by side, in pretty much anything you can imagine...from combat skills to logistics to finance to admin to...yes, public affairs.  My area of "expertise", if you will.  Does that help explain it?

Here is the command website, filled with engaging photos and compelling stories written by the talented people with whom I share office space.  I guarantee you've never seen an internal military news operation quite like it.  Go ahead and look at some of the headlines.  There is no "self-licking ice cream cone", to use the common colloquialism, here...only a critical view toward challenges will be tolerated, in order to enhance credibility.  They've impressed me, that's for sure.

NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan

I'll leave you with two photos of my brief chat with Lt.Gen. Joseph Dunford: Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command; and the Commanding General, I Marine Expeditionary Force.  Before I get to the funnies, I must say that was a privilege to meet him by chance during his visit to Kabul. 

"Honestly, Sir, I don't know either why I'm in a conversation with a 3-star general and a few colonels. Oh wait, because my alter ego is the AfghaniDan, that's why!"

"Yes Sir, I realize I am not half as funny as I think I am. I'll think long and hard about that tonight as I crack wise on my blog..."


Blogger John Cocktoasten said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

June 6, 2010 at 1:12 AM  
Blogger John Cocktoasten said...

Your 5-1 ratio issue leaves you wide open to satire, especially since Randy hasn't thrown anything out here (I'm sure if he types a response it'll be with one hand), but I'll let restraint hold me back (for now)...

Too bad Office Space hit its prime after your college time. My senior year in college--"Ha, ha--that's gonna be us in a year" Then it was, and it wasn't so funny...Gotta get back to my TPS reports!

June 6, 2010 at 1:18 AM  
Blogger yomistast said...

Yo Cuz-

I love the Everlast theme, office space quotes and the "keep crackin' wise" line. FYI- House of Pain played a bunch of small shows in NYC and AC right around St. Paddy's day. Office space never gets old.

We're sending pics of your mischievous nephew and subtle, yet sly god daughter....

big walk off by Ike last night. As my fb status says "Ike hasn't hit anything that hard since Tina!"


June 9, 2010 at 2:10 PM  
Anonymous LilSisArmyWife said...

Love that you're doing some yoga there, Paco! I actually dusted off the ol' yoga mat today and attempted a workout while one of your menacing nephews tried to wrestle. He certainly made it more physically challenging, not so much meditative.
"Is there any way you could make me wake up and think that I've been fishing all day?"

June 9, 2010 at 8:25 PM  

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