Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's time

There's no way to explain it beyond simply stating that it's time to go. There are things which push me away from here, but they are nothing compared to the things which pull me back home. It's been nine long months since I've seen the slopes of the Colorado Front Range, and as much as I look forward to that sight, I look forward to being home with family the most.

It will take time. It will take adjustment. It will take a conscious effort on my part and understanding and support on my family's to help me transition. It's not PTSD, but it is a complete change of surroundings and society - a culture shock if ever there was one.

I will have to get used to:

- Seeing colors, as everything out here is a consistent dull green or tan
- Seeing children, as nobody on base - even the locals - are under 18
- Having change in my pocket - out here they use pogs instead of coins
- Not seeing a thousand soldiers and a thousand M4's, M16's, and M9's every day
- Sleeping in a bed that isn't twin-sized
- Indoor plumbing
- Weekends
- Holidays
- 40-hour work weeks
- Good food
- Hearing English and Spanish instead of English, Pashto, Dari, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Polish, German, French, Kyrgyz, Korean, Italian, and Hindi (and that's just on the way to work)
- Carpet
- Not walking on gravel everywhere I go (unless I'm mountain hiking)
- Alcohol
- Driving
- Unblocked, unrestricted internet access
- For that matter, *broadband*
- 3G+ cell phone connections
- Laundry gets done as fast as you can do it instead of four days (if you're lucky)
- Retrieving mail from a mailbox at home instead of someone bringing it to me at work
- Hot showers in a bathroom instead of luke-warm, questionably disinfected non-potable water in a shower trailer shared with at least six other men
- Double-ply and/or quilted toilet paper
- Washing my hands with water and soap instead of Purell
- Not having to track the lunar cycles so I'm aware of the likelihood of a rocket attack in the evening
- Not having to concern myself with the possibility of something nearby blowing up on any given night
- Going to a gym that's in a brick and mortar building instead of a clamshell tent or metal hangar
- Paying for bottled water
- Nutrition labels with calories on it instead of kilojoules (for future reference - 4kJ is roughly 1kCal, so take the kJ info, divide by 4, and that's about the calorie content)
- Not having to scan a bar code whenever I go out to eat
- Silverware. Actual silverware. Made of metal - not plastic
- For that matter, flatware. Actual plates instead of paper Chinet segmented trays
- A more level male-to-female ratio than the 1,000:1 ratio we have out here
- An absence of Chinooks and Blackhawks in the sky
- Not feeling a building shake because a pair of F-15's are going up
- Seeing fences that aren't lined with razor-wire
- Experiencing breezes that don't carry fifty pounds of sand and dust
- Batteries can go in the trash - not red "Battery Recycling" boxes at the PX
- Burning or shredding anything with my name and address on it is NOT necessary
- The post office is not within walking distance and it is not open on Sunday
- Best Buy sells legitimate DVDs, and they will not barter over the price
- "Motel 6" is not a finance office
- Eagle Cash isn't accepted anywhere
- Vendors can be trusted with credit cards
- Finding out what time it is at home won't involve math
- Not having to take Doxycycline every day
- Sales tax
- Not having to ask "DSN or commercial?" if someone gives me a phone number
- Not having to look-up a nearby base's DSN switchboard number on the DISA website to make a call from the office to a state-side commercial number
- Giving people a phone number to reach me that doesn't begin with "011"
- Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available all over the place, and at any damn time I want it - not four locations within a mile and a half and only during specific hours
- Boxes are not a commodity and therefore not useful bartering leverage
- Placing an order online, clicking submit, and not being told that they don't ship to APO addresses

As you can see, that's quite a list - and that's only the things I can think of right now.

But it's worth it.

My job out here is done. I have finished what I came to do, and I am proud of what has been achieved. This place will change you, if you'll let it - and I did. There are certain things that are going to be different now - some because of changes that have happened, others because of changes I want to make. Regardless of how it's described, this was another chapter in my life, and with it's ending, a new one can begin.

As a culture, maybe even as a species, we find music that every now and then defines who we are, what we're doing, what we're about to do, or what we've done. When I came out here - and I can't recall if I posted this at some point or not - the song that I thought shaped the start of this new chapter was Bob Seger's "Turn the Page". I still think it was appropriate, but after everything I've been through out here, after everything I've done, and everything I've endured, everything that has happened to me and not happened to me, I can't think of anything more poignant to close this experience with than this:

Take it away, Mick.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Embraced

On the one hand it should be accurately stated that it's nobody's fault but my own that I haven't posted in a while - almost a month to be exact. On the other, though, it may be more accurate to say that I haven't posted because there hasn't been much to write about. From your perspective - those of you who go home every night to family, or even to a building you own a lease or mortgage on - everything out here might be of interest to you. What my morning routine is, what happens during the day, what happens on that one single precious day off per week, what the food tastes like, what the air smells like, what a rocket blast sounds like, what the night sky looks like, and over all what the experience feels like. I suppose from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in, every moment is a spectacle for the senses and a unique experience unto itself.

In the future, when I look back on this, I may think and feel that same way. I may wonder why I didn't write more about it so I could come back and read this and relive those moments. Unfortunately, from the perspective of an insider, this monotony is something that is not worth writing about, nor worth reminiscing about in the future. It may sound apathetic - I can see why it would be perceived that way - but the truth is that, out here, this mindset is a necessity.

I remember a while back, but not exactly when, that I was given a little orange foam ball at work. I still don't know how it wound up on my desk or who put it there, but when I picked it up and looked it over there was something printed on a side of it in an almost cartoonish font. "Embrace The Suck". I gave it a chuckle and tossed it into my desk drawer, where it remains to this day.

Thinking back on it, I remember first arriving out here. I remember when I arrived at what I now call "home", I remember trying to figure out how I was going to get into and out of the top bunk - for which this blog is named - without a step-stool or ladder, I remember my first stroll down the main drag here to the DFAC (again, "Military" for "Cafeteria"), and I remember my first day at work. Actually, scratch that - I don't remember my first day at work at all. I just tried, but there was nothing eventful about it to separate it out from every single other day.

I remember times when I was so disgusted with the quality of the so-called "food" out here that I went hungry instead of bringing myself to force such slop into my mouth. I came out here a foodie who loved to cook his own meals, and having that taken away from me and being subjected to eating frozen food shipped in from half a world away was my biggest struggle out here. Everyone had or has one. Maybe it's going to the coffee shop. Maybe it's working on a car on the weekend. Maybe it's stress with the wife. Maybe it's not seeing skyscraper after skyscraper as you look outside. Maybe it's the absence of a beach. Maybe it's allergies to the dust in the air. Whatever it is, everyone has or had something when they first got out here that is or was their own personal mental and/or emotional obstacle to overcome. In a way, with such different backgrounds, experiences, and lifestyles, that was the one thing that made us all equal.

It was hell at first. Oh, I know - it really wasn't that bad. There's people out at forward-operating bases (FOBs) who get shot at every day and haven't had a meal that wasn't an MRE for months. But there was always a common enemy we shared - whether we were contractors, infantry, or the Commanding General himself - that enemy is time. Time moves at a constant, unshakable speed. It cannot be threatened, forced, coerced or bribed to move any faster or slower. It cannot be controlled, it cannot be stopped. Time marches on with absolute indifference to the plight or ecstasy of mankind, and whether we were in the middle of Afghanistan, the ocean, or New York City, this constant will always be with us.

But although time's speed of passage cannot be altered, there are ways to trick the perception into believing it is. It took me a while, but it seems I've embraced it by now. I hate saying it this way because it can come across as callous, but the truth is that as time marches on with indifference, the only way to make it seem to go faster is to pay it with the same indifference it pays you.

Days have lost their meaning out here outside of scheduling purposes. "Monday" isn't regarded as some awful day where you return to work from a long weekend of personal time. "Friday" isn't greeted with excitement and anticipation for the days off to come. "Wednesday" isn't "hump day", and all the others hold no special meaning either. "Saturday" used to be the big one because it's my day off, but between various scheduled meetings out here every now and then, even "Saturday" cannot be greeted as some kind of constant where you know what will happen that day. Again, time treats us with indifference and so we return the sentiment. There is no "Friday" or "Monday" out here - just today, tomorrow, and "some time a while back" which could mean yesterday, last week, or a month ago. When you pay time no attention, any reference or designation to the past becomes moot.

But it helps. Before you know it, it's your day off again - even if it had to be adjusted for a meeting or a project. Blink, and suddenly it's pay day again. Close your eyes and count to ten, and when you wake up you'll discover you suddenly don't need to wear jackets or sweatshirts anymore. Today is today, tomorrow is tomorrow, and yesterday may as well be any point in time between today and when you first got out here.

Suddenly, when you think about it, you realize that time just whizzes by. You realize that a big meeting you worked frantically to prepare for in March was almost two months ago. You realize that when a total stranger gave you a Sudoku book on a plane and told you they'd pray for you when you told them you were going to Afghanistan, it was November. You realize these things as you shovel another scoop of that so-called "food" which you refused to touch yesterday (whenever that was) into your mouth, chew it up and swallow it down to prevent the hunger that drags time's passage to a sedated crawl. How many reheated dry chicken breasts have you eaten here by now? Who knows, and who cares.

It's apathy and indifference that makes the days go by, and the whole reason why you change your mindset to disregard the meaning of time is so that the day when you will leave this all behind you comes ever quicker. A time when you can put all this behind you, a time when you can be with your family again, and a time when you can once again care about time.

Suddenly you'll realize you've wound up doing exactly what they told you to do. You've done precisely the little piece of invaluable advice that, as if dropped by some guardian angel, appeared on your desk one day in the form of a simple statement in a cartoonish font printed on an orange foam ball.

You've embraced the suck.

When every day is just like the last, when loud booms no longer scare you to death, when every meal is the same as the ones before, when everything has decayed into dull earth tones of tan, faded green, and dull gray, and when almost everything is greeted with a sense of apathetic indifference, you've embraced the suck.

It's not depression, it's coping. It's not concerning, it's normal. It's not shocking, it's expected.

But all this, as steeped in monotony as it sounds, and as mind-numbing as it can seem to an outsider, is only the normal demeanor and regard of someone on the inside - and it's all for a purpose:

So that time will seem to go by faster.

Happy half-year mark, Matt. Starting tomorrow at 1pm local time, you'll have more of whatever metric you wish to measure time by - be it seconds, days, or months - behind you than you do in front of you.

I'm going to go celebrate by doing nothing special :-)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Still here

Okay, it's been forever since I last updated. My apologies on that one.

So let's cut straight to the chase with some of the updates.

The days of cold weather are now officially gone. It's late April and we're already seeing temperatures in the upper 80's. God knows what it's going to reach out here in mid-summer... Along with these higher temperatures come another lovely problem - mosquitoes! Well, okay, the mosquitoes are obnoxious, but the malaria they're probably carrying is one big problem.

Actually, on that one. My mother, out of the infinite goodness of her heart, sent me a mosquito net for my bed. I connected the thing and set it up, but unfortunately there just didn't seem any way that I wouldn't wind up ripping the thing down in the middle of the night. However, waste-not want-not! I found good use for it by cutting a piece out of it and duct taping it over the room window. Now we can have that thing open without having to worry about any of these bugs flying in. I wish there was a way to put it over the door so we could keep that thing open and get a nice cross-breeze, but there just doesn't seem to be any way for that to work out.

Ah, speaking of which -- "Life in the top bunk" became "Life in the bottom bunk" (as was posted earlier), but that eventually once again became "Life in the top bunk" again as I moved into another room in the Conex. Why on Earth would someone volunteer for this treatment? Well, because my two new roommates left in about two weeks from then. Their contract was up, so they went home! I then had the room all to myself, and I promptly moved into the back portion of the room. Now, it's "Life in the single bunk" :-D

The trash I cleaned out of this room after they left was unbelievable. Seriously - I can't believe what all they left behind. A whole bunch of trash was tossed out, a ton of clothing they left behind was donated to "Operation Care" (think of it as the Salvation Army, only donations are given to local Afghans in need instead of going onto a showroom floor for sale), and the reason why all this left-over stuff didn't bother me was because all of it was now mine! A bunch of left-over tools were given to my office (they need it more than me, and they were actually the property of the military in the first place), I inherited a Keurig coffee maker (sweet!) and - if I didn't mention it already - I got the single bunk in the back part of the room!

So now this place is completely cleaned up. Swept, mopped, scrubbed, cleaned from top to bottom. My portion of the room has all kinds of decorative rugs and scarves on the floor and hanging on the walls to make it look nice. Frankly, I kind of feel like a Sultan going to sleep in this thing! It's really like a nice little apartment in Bagram -- just beware of the occasional rocket or three... But, on that, there's reason to not be concerned. I would go into details, but frankly, OPSEC rules all.

Oh right! The meeting! I guess I left this blog in kind of a cliff-hanger for a while. Bottom line is that the meeting went great. With all the questions and back-and-forth between the people in the room, a 20-minute presentation turned into almost two-hours. Also, I was anticipating a couple high-ranking people, but instead got pretty much all the decision makers for the signal community in this part of the world. Yipes! And to make matters more interesting, I had no idea until afterwards that this meeting actually saved my job. They were getting ready to cancel the project I'm working on out here, but my presentation, Q&A, and their discussions amongst themselves saved it. When my colleague came back from R&R, he was rather pleased to learn that I had saved his job, too.

Speaking of his R&R, the poor bastard was right in the middle of downtown Tokyo when that massive quake hit. He got out the next day - so before any of the radiation started spreading - but in his own words, "It was crazy to see the skyscrapers swaying back and forth".

What else? Ah! Evidently our employer isn't "rolling out the red carpet" for new hires the way they did for me and the people who came before me. We're learning from the new hires that attend CRC (a training session required by the military prior to deployment) that instead of getting a hotel room in Columbus, GA, to include a rental car from Atlanta for transportation as well as commercial flights from Atlanta to Dubai to Bagram, they are now flying new hires into Columbus, GA, directly, boarding them on base at Ft. Benning on the CRC compound, then flying them via "Mil-Air" from Ft. Benning to a base in Kuwait, where they wait for about a week before getting a space on a flight from there to Bagram. We got the red-carpet-white-glove treatment compared to them. Lucky us...

Ah, the heck with it. I guess I'll let the cat out of the bag - it will still be a surprise to people when they see me in person again, so what's the harm? The (pseudo) military life has been good to me. As I said before, there's not much to do out here other than work, workout, and sleep. Keeping that in mind, as well as finding much of the food at the DFAC absolutely repugnant and borderline criminal, I've lost - over these last five months, mind you - about 40lbs and 9 inches off my midsection. Hey, what do you know? Turns out they were right -- it really is nothing more than proper diet and exercise!

Since my last post a new Army unit has come in and replaced the unit that was here when I arrived. The change is borderline "culture shock". We went from a small reserve unit with an O-6 (Colonel) Commander whose day-job is with a government IT agency back in the US, to a large National Guard unit with an O-7 (Brigadier General) Commander whose origins in the military are from the infantry. In other words, we kind of went from "I understand this, and let's do it!" to "I don't get it, or see why we should do it." Fortunately all our purchase orders were submitted and approved prior to their arrival, so there's really nothing they can do to stop this project now (although they were apparently ready to anyway!)

I can't think of much else to say... There has been a lot of changes here in the past however long it has been since I updated, but I think that really captured the highlights. I'll try to do a better job of updating in the future, but that's only if our crappy internet connection will allow it. Certain things will never actually change, it seems.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

It may all come down to this

The lyrics run through my head like wildfire through an ethanol-saturated forest -

If you had one shot
Or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
In one moment
Would you capture it?
Or just let it slip?


Just got the word today - I'm giving the briefing of my life tomorrow. Anything, EVERYTHING I have ever done or worked for out here is up for review, speculation, investigation, criticism, critique, and evaluation...

...by a large number of the commanding brass...

...from across Afghanistan...

...involving no lower than O-6.

Success is my only option,
Failure's not.
So here I go it's my shot,
Feet fail me not,
This may be the only opportunity that I got.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I have seen the writing on the wall...

I had, by and far, the most messed up dream of my life last night.

My daughter, dressed in one of her cute dresses, was outside on the sidewalk, playing with chalk.

The dream is basically that, from her starting to draw a hopscotch board on the sidewalk through her playing it over and over again, the whole time - in her adorable little three year old girl voice - she's singing Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall".

Daddy's flown across the ocean...
Leaving just a memory...
A snapshot in the family album...
Daddy what else did you leave for me?
Daddy what'd you leave behind for me?

All in all it was just a brick in the wall...
All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.


Talk about waking up screaming...
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Friday, March 18, 2011

Moving on up (Mooovin' on up)

I finally got a piece of the pie.

Kind of.

Think of it as getting a piece of the pie, but you have to eat the crust first.

I'm moving. Again.

Back to the top bunk.

Don't worry (why are you worrying about me?!) it's a good thing. Here's why...

This Saturday, on my day off, I'm moving down the hallway and into another room. Unfortunately, the only available bed there is the top bunk. So, ah ha, familiar territory.

But that won't be for long.

The two guys there right now are leaving in like five days or so -- their contract is up! Time to go home! Yay!

This leaves me with a room all to myself.

The bad news, is that this isn't going to last long. The second billeting finds out there's some guy with a two-person room (that they squeeze three into) all to himself, that's over almost ASAP.

The good news, is that when they move out, my stuff's relocating to the back part of the room! SINGLE BED!! LARGER SPACE!! A BIT MORE PRIVACY!! YAY!!

I just have to endure the top bunk again for about one more week. Given the last four months I spent in one...

...no problem :-D

Monday, March 14, 2011

FYI -- New Address

Heads up --

To everyone that I have provided my mailing address to:

EFFECTIVE MARCH 27TH

The address portion currently stated as:

JNCC-A / 359th TTSB

...this part, AND ONLY THIS PART, will be modified to...

JNCC-A / 228th TTSB

Packages take approximately one week to be delivered out here, so take that into consideration. If you send a package addressed to the first line, and it arrives here on, or after, March 27th, it is likely to be returned.

My office isn't moving. This address change is the result of the current Army unit - the 359th - transferring out and handing over control to the new incoming Army unit - the 228th.