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...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Bird-spotting: wondering which plane would take me home.

REDEPLOYMENT.  That's the odd name our military uses these days for returning from deployment.  So despite whatever logical tendency you may have to assume that it would mean "deploying again" or "returning to deployment", now you know it means coming back from one.  That's what I've now done, or am still doing: redeploying.

Hurry-up-and-wait in Kuwait.

Once again I am indebted to you, dear readers, for encouraging me to continue this blog.  I'll post in full some of those stories I missed, and will fill in more of the return experience, but as it's now 2 weeks exactly since I landed back in the U.S., I absolutely have to get something up.  Hence, this rambling piece.

Mural at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

It's an abrupt change, being stateside again after most of a year away.  Return from deployment tests us all in different ways...for those with their own families, there is the "reintegration" of that.  For us without, there are still numerous challenges...everyone you know is at a different point in their respective lives now.  You've changed and they've changed, and as much as you may strive to find an immediate "normal", there is none.

 Thrilled to see some immediate family at BWI!

It has rained in Jacksonville, NC, for 3 days straight, and at some point during most of the others as well.  It's a drastic change from experiencing rain maybe 3 days in all of 8 months, and only briefly at that.

The New River, North Carolina, in rain.

I check my hip constantly for my weapon.  We all do.  It's weird how many times you have to process the realization that it's not there -- you turned it in, dude.

Last twilight in Kuwait before the return trip.

I'm incredibly anxious, to what's probably an unhealthy extent, about what's next.  My pattern for a few years now has been one of chucking aside the uniform for awhile, only to grow restless and return to the one known commodity: that of going to fill an open job somewhere, one that ostensibly requires my skill sets and experience.  I've been offered a few already, and haven't even finished the mandatory outprocessing from this one.  Wish me luck as I seek to buck that trend for once.

Camp Swampy living up to its nickname this week...

Some seem to anchor themselves quite easily to what's consistent or stable in their lives.  Some might be free of past associations, but set about going after their goals in a straightforward manner.  And some return to their struggles.  I belong to that category...of those who turn inward and don't find clear goals, who overthink just about everything, who find themselves dwelling too often on things out of our control, and consequently, who wonder just where we are supposed to fit in.

Various members of family AfghaniDan rock their scarves.

I hope I can purely enjoy life for awhile, and shake off this philosopher's comes saddled with too much attachment, too much fantasy, and often, too much heartbreak.  Although I yearned every single day for all that I couldn't enjoy while deployed, there is a sudden unhappiness in being back and realizing that some things are not as you remembered, or would like them to be.  I think every day about the latest struggles my team is facing, and about those whose deployment is infinitely more dangerous than mine ever was.  And I have enough difficulty taking my mind off all the possible tasks to tackle without constantly being asked what I'm doing next...I know most people mean well, but please -- cut a recent veteran a break!

A little snapshot of my current neighborhood.
 My surroundings should soon be the Rocky Mountains again.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Just past sunrise, my last day at Camp Eggers.

My time at NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan, and specifically at the Government of Afghanistan's Ministry of Defense, came to an end this past week as I began my trip homeward.  The end of it all seemed abrupt -- although that's mainly due to my tendency to continue working until the very last minute, and thus refuse to pack or prepare for departure in a timely manner.  Still, I found it exceedingly difficult to wash my hands of something that became my full-time work, and life, for the better part of a year.  The nagging feeling (Irish guilt?) that I just could have done MORE, or better, matter how counterproductive it may be.

The flags of Eggers with snowy mountains beyond.

My roommate Ken came to see me off...of course it took a Canadian lawyer for the camp to pair me with someone who took issue with our stubborn ways of doing business as much as I did.

As I've noted already, it's a bittersweet feeling to leave...and it honestly got harder with each passing day.  I almost lunged for yet another extension when it appeared that it would be in the best interest of my ministerial development team's mission, before deciding to press on with the (oddly, more difficult) course of calling it a day.  I can't easily describe this to those who haven't deployed, or put in a similar stretch of time and effort in a challenging situation in a distant land.  My brother phrased it as a form of Stockholm Syndrome, and he may be on to something with that.  I'll go with an extreme case of attachment.

Most of my team, aka my Kabul family: Qais, Pam, Dave and John. Not pictured: Joe (back in the States after his year here) and Esmat, who just couldn't bear my departure ;)

My chariot awaits. It was the first time I'd taken ground transportation from Kabul to Bagram, and despite the appearance of the huge hulking obtrusive vehicle, it was a smooth ride.

How is one supposed to gauge an experience like this, anyhow?  I was asked a few times in the past couple of weeks about what positives and negatives, achievements and disappointments, I can name...and found that I couldn't answer very adequately, because it's all a blur.  Due to the nature of advising, and building relationships, I stopped trying to see things in black-and-white terms of success or failure, and viewed what we were doing in terms of continuity of effort.  That's not to say that goals and initiatives were forgotten; just that the big picture -- of trust, and independence rather than interdependence -- took priority over checks in the proverbial boxes.

Ordered chaos: Kabul street scenes on my way north.

Even Kabulis know how atrocious the air quality has become.

The fact is that I don't know if I made a difference at all.  I know that I gave it my all, and that I still have some regrets about how I could have handled one thing or another, or how I could have suffered less stress over developments that turned out to be inconsequential.  I've done everything I could to restore faith in some Afghan partners that we stand behind them, even though uncertainty is certainly warranted -- how much of a stomach for very long-term nation-building do we really have?  I am positive that my outlook on this entire conflict will never be the same after the view gained from "the inside" of Kabul's most powerful ministries, and I'm grateful to the colleagues who let me in on the real story so much of the time.  It was often frustrating, sometimes hopeful, and always fascinating.

A Kabul hill dotted with homes, whose kids play in the dry riverbed below. This drought is so severe, and has gone on so long: heartbreakingly cruel for a nation which has suffered this much.

A peace-themed billboard features the late Ahmad Shah Massoud outside of Kabul. His legacy is often regarded as the only bond between factions which threaten still to split Afghanistan apart.

I'm not done blogging about this deployment just because it's ending...not by a long shot.  And unlike the last time, I hope to stick to my word on that.  If you think there is little sense in doing so, just remember that most posts were long after the events they covered anyway, so it's just more of the same.  There is a great deal that I did not have time to recap, from unauthorized social events to the incredible trip to Mazar-e-Sharif.  On the other hand, if you've had enough and think it should end now that I'm on my way out, voice it!  This blog could always stand to be more interactive...

Beautiful snow-capped mountains emerge from obstructed view 
as one climbs in elevation, heading north from Kabul.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Sal-e Now Mubarek!

Departing Mongolians group photo, July 2010

Or...Happy New Year!  Even though every one of my Afghan friends has incessantly reminded me that it's not their new year, which if I didn't know already, would be painfully obvious to me by now.  Sprinkled throughout this late late rambling will be more leftover shots from the past Gregorian calendar year...which has only served to remind me that there are quite a few entire entries that still must go up, from wherever I am in coming months.

Busted-up Soviet tank, Kabul - July '10

I just tried for the past early-morning hour to boldly go where the AfghaniDan blog has never gone before, and add some music.  I crossed my fingers, and said a prayer for it to work properly and play something for you all.  I've taken video clips a number of times this deployment, some even with sound! (note to self: read camera manual next time), and tried to post two clips of live music.  Alas, the weak wireless I pick up will not comply.  Until post-deployment then, you'll just have to imagine the sounds of local music...

This would be way cooler with music...
Afghan wedding, October 2010

And now, a page from my final week.  Imagine that you're in the pressure-packed world of Kabul, with its constant intrigue, jockeying for influence among bitter rivals, and ethnic and religious hatreds still simmering never far below the surface.  In this environment, the slightest alteration of a word -- or more common still, the choice to translate into one word instead of another -- causes senior gov't officials, military commanders, even heads of state to lose...their heads.  Imagine you are in the position of advising one of the most highly-visible personalities in the land, in his capacity as voice of the powerful Ministry of Defense (or the equivalent to our Pentagon, only proportionally even more influential...if you can imagine that).  Now imagine that in that capacity, when your own command's leadership wants desperately and instantly to know what the ministry said in the press about something, you find you have to rely upon versions like this piece of work...

MOD officials: “2010 was the bloodiest year for Afghanistan”.

به گفته ي جنرال ظاهر عظیمی سخنگوی وزارت دفاع ملي در جریان سال 2010  علاوه بر  کشته شدن صد ها فرد ملکی، پوليس و نیروهای خارجی بیش از 800 تن از سربازان اردوی ملی نیز جان های خود را از دست داده اند.

“During 2010 year, in addition to killing hundreds of civilians, ANP and Coalition Forces, more than 800 ANA soldiers were killed” said MOD Spokesperson.

سخنگوی وزارت دفاع ملي افغانستان به راديو آزادي گفته است كه علت اساسی افزایش تلفات افراد ملکی و نیروهای اردوی ملی در این سال جاز سازی ماین های کنار سرک توسط مخالفان دولت بوده است.
The main reason of ANA casualties pertain to roadside bombs, which have been done through the Anti-Government militants” MOD Spokesperson told Radio Azadi.

در همين حال عظیمی تاكيد كرده است که در جریان این سال به مخالفان مسلح دولت هم تلفات سنگیني وارد شده و بیشترين ضربه را ديده اند.
Likewise, General Azimi added: “During the recent year, also insurgents have been suffered heavy and further casualties.

You know how it invariably turns out, once each controversy runs its course?  That my guy just repeated something that the Defense Minister said that morning.  But such is the way it goes, I suppose...

Kabul, Summer 2010: Election Season

Almost as inundated with campaign signs as Virginia...
Whoa, whoa! I only said "almost."

On a related note (yes, I'm posting regularly now a portion of the nerdy stuff I spend hours reading each night...maybe it's a farewell thing?), I'm grateful to Anna Mulrine -- who also authored the link I sent about Khost province in yesterday's post -- for this story.  I'm even more grateful to the anonymous senior US military official for making the point that many of us in the Public Affairs "trenches" have made for some time: highlighting civilian casualties, whether caused by ruthless insurgents or not, likely only furthers the feelings of insecurity among the population, lessening their inclination to support coalition objectives.  This is the sense I get from conversations with Afghans from different age groups and backgrounds, and it's the policy of some experienced official spokespersons of Afghanistan's institutions for a reason.  We like to dole out the advice: "Find the Afghan solution," but we don't like to listen to it and implement it ourselves.  It ends up looking arrogant and counterproductive, if you ask me.

CSM: How Petraeus has changed the Afghanistan war

Actual moment of Petraeus flying in to take command, 7/2/2010
(I just happened to be on a roof at the airport compound)
What a weird period of time that McChrystal episode was.

 Another favorite: Bala Hissar, July '10

Hashing out "Strategic Communication," Sept '10
(under the grapes = best conference room ever)

Mongolian feats of strength, July '10
I love that his cap is airborne from the gut punch.

One terrified young groom.
Wedding of a police general's son, July '10

And as I've said before and will surely say again, the daily pressure I faced is absolutely nothing compared to the pressure faced by those who must make life-or-death decisions for their troops every day.  They are the ones we must never forget to honor and remember.  Two "wartime" deployments almost under my belt, and I'm still in awe when I hear the stories of daily life from a Marine or soldier who actually engages in armed combat on a regular basis...there is not enough we can do for these incredibly selfless warriors.

NC Times: Bell tolls frequently for local Marines in Afghanistan

I know that I'm preaching to the choir, as the saying goes...that you readers of this blog are the kind of people that keep brave men and women in uniform in mind.  And I know further that the work here in Kabul and in other safer spots is incredibly important.  I say all that more to remind myself of the reality out there.

ANA recruits at a special concert, October '10

Before I learned to not smile in Afghan photos...
Fazel, owner/president of Shamshad TV; and Ching Eikenberry, 
wife of the US ambassador to Afghanistan, July '10

Esmat, Esmat and Joe at a wedding - Oct 2010

Shafiq Mureed and Seeta Qasimi perform for Afghan troops, Oct '10

Dutch soldiers cheer on their World Cup upset of Brazil.
Kabul Airport, July '10

"Someone want to tell me already that the new dame is whack?"
Bala Hissar, Kabul - July '10

There'll be more...some more postings hopefully from the 'stan (should dwindling time permit), and certainly more galleries from after I've left and can sort through some more of it.  But it's on now to see what 2011 delivers...even if in Afghanistan, it's still 1389 for another 3 months or so.  No wonder people seem to think that they are "stuck in time" here!

Casper comes running...a sight I'll dearly miss.
She just became a mom!