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For those who have been following, you’ll know who Sgt. Stacey is (left, above). He was killed this morning by an IED. He was one of the most humane and wise human beings I have ever met, and a hell of a Marine. I wrote the following on my typewriter while getting personal with a bottle of scotch this evening.

There aren’t too many Marines that I wanted to get a beer with once we were back home. I made good friends with many of them, but there weren’t more than a dozen who I really thought I’d spend time with once we’d returned to the civilized world of women and booze and concerns about what type of blinds to put on the windows. A lot of the real world doesn’t make sense out there. A lot of the things people here worry about. Try watchingReal Housewives and imagine what it looks like to a Marine just returned from their deployment. Beer makes sense though. Everyone makes plans to get a beer together once they’re back. I drank a lot of non-alcoholic Becks over there but needless to say it just ain’t the same.

Sergeant Stacey—Will, as he became once I’d returned to the States and exchanged a few emails with his mother—was one of the few I made plans with. He commanded the squad I was embedded with when I ended up in my first firefight, and it was plainer than anything that he kept the men under his command alive. I’ve already written about him, his confidence and charisma and strangely rugged wisdom for a young man of twenty-three, his ridiculous mustache, but now there is more to say because Will is dead.

Full article is here.

I will never forget him. He, and his family, deserved better than this. But with the life he had, he did something incredible, something very few people achieve with a full ninety years. So here’s to you, Will. You’re a great fucking guy.

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Picked up a copy of the IHT’s Magazine while I was passing through Germany on the way back stateside. Had a fascinating set of essays from some very interesting people about power, politics, and passion–basically, what the hell is going on with these kids these days, tearing down governments, I don’t know, in my day we just had a barn dance and called it a night.

Felt some of the more thought-provoking pieces, on Burma’s continuing decades-long struggle and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, raised a very important question about modern revolutions–and, by implication, most modern wars.

For The Faster Times:

The International Herald Tribune Magazine chose to mark the world’s passage into yet another lap around the sun this month with a collection of meditations, from brief to ponderous, on the intersection of politics, passion, and power. Many took the chance to comment on the revolutions that seem to have swept the planet while it was staggering out the current circuit. Many rehashed the same question that’s been asked since the old Tunisian regime first began to look wobbly: what the hell made this time different?

Popular unrest is hardly a new thing. Only two and a half years ago Iran came closer to a complete regime change than it has since 1979, when it actually didgo through one. Two years before that the people of Burma/Myanmar launched a non-violent resistance movement remarkable for its breadth, its resilience in the face of brutal crackdown, and its ultimate failure. The Tamil Tigers waged an insurrection against the Sri Lankan government for decades, veering wildly between guerilla warfare, democratic participation, and outright terrorism, until they were literally pummeled into a bloody smear across the earth by an artillery siege in 2009.

Yet after years of failed revolutions, and with some early speculation that the era of catastrophic regime change might be done and gone, a bloody wash of them suddenly spilled across the Middle East like so much Red Dye No. 5. The Arab Spring seems to have changed not only the playbook (replacing Molotovs, secret codes, and sharp rocks with Twitter, Facebook, and cell phone cameras as the weapons of the proletariat) but the fundamental rules of the regime-change game (which were starting to look something like “Don’t Bother,”). It’s happening again, as though regimes—like ducks, sperm whales, and other natural prey to our species—occasionally become ‘in season’ and must be slaughtered en masse, at maximum velocity, before we allow them another period of respite.

Full article can be found here.

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Ended up in a firefight the other day, with sixteen Marines and an onion on my side. Thought I might write something on it.

For The Faster Times:

Kurghay, Afghanistan—We were rambling down the pass from the Bedouin’s tents when the first bullets winged by overhead. Long, drawn-out whistling sounds, almost musical, nothing like the zipI’d heard in flicks. The Sergeant thought it might be overshot fire from a couple klicks away,  aimed at a vehicle unit—Cat One—halfway between us and an insurgent position on the far side of the valley. Then Lance-Corporal Stephen Johnson, a combat cameraman a few meters behind me, piped up.

“Hey Sarge,” he said calmly, “that one landed right by my foot.”

Full article can be found here.

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For The Faster Times:

Now Zad, Afghanistan—This morning I woke up, fumbled on flip flops, rolled out of our hutch, and couldn’t see anything. I glanced at my watch. Happy Thanksgiving, Afghanistan.

A dust storm had descended on the Marines of Weapons Company, stationed in the district center of Now Zad, Helmand province. Huge pillars the color of leather rolled through the camp, one after another, cutting visibility to thirty or forty feet in the middle of them. Then the rain started, tamping the dust down and clearing the air. Our Pakistani-American translator, Yousef, raised an eyebrow at my mild delight with this change of events.

Full article can be found here.

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For The Faster Times:

Now Zad, Afghanistan—Three years ago, Now Zad district center had become such a hellish warzone, so riddled with airstrikes and insurgent ambushes, that the soldiers stationed there dubbed it “Apocalypse Now Zad.” No civilians remained; coalition forces and insurgents dug into the ruins of the city and tore it to pieces in a struggle closer to trench warfare than anything seen since World War I. The damage of that battle is still visible in the shattered remains of houses that litter the city, and still seem to outnumber those that have been rebuilt.

Only in the past two years have civilians started to return. The Now Zad Comprehensive Health Center, the only medical clinic for dozens of kilometers in any direction, came with them. Operated by the non-governmental organization BRAC, under a contract to the Afghan Ministry of Health, the clinic resides in two small buildings just outside the gates of the Marines’ district headquarters. They were originally housed in a larger compound next door; the district governor ousted them when security improved enough to allow him to move off the Marines’ base.

Full article is here.

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For The Faster Times:

It is still Veteran’s Day in parts of the United States as I write this. On the western coast, packs of roving Nam vets in black leather jackets who never quite figured out how to slip back into civilian life are straddling their motorcycles with their hips and a bottle of Jack with their mouths and thinking about the ones who didn’t make it here. On the eastern coast old men who still remember the delirious bloodthirsty madness of Normandy have long since gone to bed in their nursing homes that smell of rancid flowers and talcum powder. In the south, young buzzcut men back early from Iraq are being stood so many rounds at the bar they can barely stand and are trying to figure out if they are too drunk to get laid.

During the day there was remembrance, and in the evening we forget. Not a casual forgetting where we let it slip from our mind while we try to remember whether we need to pay the newspaper boy tomorrow. An intentional forgetting: alcohol, sleep, drugs, meditation, whatever it takes to grip our mind by the shirt collar and say: yes, it happened, move on.

Full article can be found here.

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For The Faster Times:

August 9th dawned scalding and dry across the Marjeh district of Helmand province, Afghanistan. In the blocks, a fertile swath of land watered by a canal network stretching dozens of square kilometers, farmers roused their mules early in order to complete ploughing before their relatives came visiting for Ramadan. A convoy of marines, accompanied by Afghan Local Police, rattled down a dusty strip between fields known as Panther road.

Corporal David Cluver and his black lab, Archie, sat in the back of one the humming tan personnel carriers that rumbled through the western blocks that morning. They were on their way to set up a vehicle checkpoint, to count cars and see how many travelers would be passing through the region during the Muslim holy month. Archie, three and a half years old, bore the uncomfortably nested acronym-title of IED (Improvised Explosive Device) Detection Dog, or IDD (often called “IDD dog”, a more comfortable redundancy).

Full article here: A Marine and His Dog

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Some lighthearted musings on the significance of NATO’s withdrawal schedule from Libya:

The UN Security Council voted unanimously today to end the authorization for humanitarian intervention in Libya at 11:59pm on October 31st. The UN did not comment on whether the ominous hour of NATO’s withdrawal—midnight on All Hallow’s Eve—is a sign of dire events to come. Let’s just all remember who was responsible when the Hellgate opens in Tripoli next weekend, and no-one has any air support to bomb the demon hordes that spew forth from its fiery maw.

This decision comes despite a request from Libya’s National Transitional Council to maintain military presence in the country until the new government can determine their security needs. The NTC, similarly, did not comment on whether those security needs included the possibility that Colonel Muammar Qaddafi might rise from his shallow grave as a Revenant Lich King, commanding an army of wights, ghouls, and inexpensive Sudanese mercenaries.

Full article can be found here.

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And not only because between the three of them they have six.

A good friend of mine, Andrew Jensen, is about to set out to trek across Antarctica to the South Pole. His team-members include Richard Smith, a genial Briton who just completed an Iron Man in Switzerland, and Alan Lock, who will shortly become the first visually impaired person to trek to the South Pole.

Their undertaking is incredible on its own merits. But not content with shaming our courage and physical prowess, they challenge our moral gumption by doing it to raise money for two incredible charities: Sightsavers International and Guide Dogs for the Blind. Their IndieGoGo fundraising page can be found here. Check it out; I hear it does wonders for moral gumption.

For The Faster Times:

On November 22nd, the three team members of Polar Vision—Alan Lock, Andrew Jensen, and Richard Smith—will set a new record for Antarctic exploration. Alan Lock will become the first blind person to trek to the south pole. Because, as Lock puts it, “I would have done this anyways.”

Lock, 32, suffered from early onset macular degeneration eight years ago. An active duty navigator in Her Majesty’s Navy, he was forced to abandon his career as all but his extreme peripheral vision was reduced to an impenetrable white haze. As despondently furious as any rational human being would be at his loss, Lock rallied in spectacular fashion. He has risen from the ashes and set about conquering the world, one geographical monstrosity at a time.

Full article here. A much more in depth magazine article should be forthcoming.

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(Photo credit: Flickr/isafmedia)

Luke Mogelson has produced an excellent investigative piece for NYT Magazine on the role that the new Afghan Local Police (or ALP, not to be confused with Afghan National Police, or ANP) are playing in provincial politics. The quick and dirty is that ethnic, tribal, and family affiliations are causing the ALP to serve as the proxy du jour for local militias—i.e. warlordism, i.e. the “bad old days” before the Taliban took over.

One thing many people fail to realize about the Taliban is that it actually was worse before they came to power. That was part of what enabled them to keep power, despite being morally equivalent to a homicidal pederast working for the Spanish Inquisition. Few Afghans appreciated the restrictions on their day-to-day lives that the Taliban imposed, but being forced to grow a beard was better than having Warlord A ride through and steal all your village’s food one week, then Warlord B ride through and slaughter all the village’s men for collaborating with Warlord A the next.

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