So things may have looked quiet here over the past couple months. But fear not, I’ve been plenty busy.
Besides writing a regular column for East Africa Flyer/Aviation East Africa, taking up some other less-war-related writing gigs (to be revealed shortly), and working as an anti-human trafficking attorney here in DC, I’ve also been pounding away on several book projects. They’re coming along well, though these things never get done as quickly as you’d like them to. Last year would’ve been nice.
I’ve also been spending a good amount of time with my dog, Puck, who is pretty much my parents’ dog at this point but still obeys me better than anyone else (just stating the facts). Went for a solo camp with him out in Shenandoah Valley last weekend. Thought I might share the photographic gem above with the world, because you can always use more huge pink dog tongue in your life.
More updates & articles coming very soon.
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.
Returned to Washington, DC, yesterday.
It’s been an incredible month in Afghanistan. I’ve had the honor to meet, live, and work with some of the finest people in the world. Marines, Afghans, NATO soldiers and even the occasional UK government employee. These are people whose stories are riddled with courage, resilience, and faith, in the face of great danger and great privation. They make sacrifices on a daily basis that we in the ‘real’ world (as it is often called over there) never hear about, sometimes overwhelming ones, just to budge the tide of the war that little bit towards the better.
Important things I learned in Kurghay:
Marines are bad for my smoking habit.
Condensation will get your sleeping bag wetter than rain.
The mangina is also known as a ‘Reverse Fruit Basket’.
Being shot at is a rush.
Playing Risk with the Marines of 2/4′s civil affairs group, or CAG (yes, BSG fans, it’s pronounced ‘cag’ and that’s awesome), in Now Zad. Kind of like playing Monopoly with I-Bankers on Wall Street.
See how I fared after the jump…
Let me start this by saying thanks. You’re really being very nice about this whole off-at-war thing. We may have passed the era of knitting socks for our boys at the front but that doesn’t mean you’ve stopped giving. Just look at the DC Caribou Coffee’s Amy’s Blend/Support our Troops mashup! For the mere cost of a regular pound of coffee including 95% profit margin, Caribou will not give you your pound of coffee and send it to some guys you’ve never met in Afghanistan instead.
Deployed troops don’t drink coffee—they have a voracious thirst for suspect energy beverages you’ve never heard of—but it will sit there in the back of the mess hall, pretty and pink, until someone gets around to throwing it away. The troops will feel your love, and you’ll get to improve Caribou’s public image in the process! This also allows Caribou to dispose of their shittiest beans in an environmentally friendly manner, without anyone actually attempting to brew or drink them, by tossing them into the potentially-carcinogenic burn pit of a forward operating base in Lashkar-Gah.
(A totally different helicopter flight, where I was allowed to take pictures)
Having tried and failed twice to catch my scheduled flight from Marjeh to Leatherneck—once on account of the flight leaving an hour and half early, a sneaky kind of deception I have never before encountered in air travel, and the second time owing to the flight not existing, or rather existing but twenty-four hours further on in the time-space continuum—I found myself whittling away a couple hours yesterday beside the LZ, hoping that the third time would, for fuck’s sake, be the charm. It was hot and blaringly sunny which is less a description of the weather than the geography of Afghanistan, and I had with me two older gentlemen contractors for company and my two-pound slab of Hunter S. Thompson.
Stories in warzones have a way of dropping onto you out of nowhere. The sensation is a bit like going deer-hunting only to have an eight-point buck leap onto your back and start waving a ten-gallon round its antlers. So it was with a mixture of surprise and vindicated suspicions that I watched the detainees arrive with their escort and join our waiting party.
For The Faster Times:
Marjeh, Afghanistan—at the edge of the narrow dirt road dividing the farming regions of Karez-e-Saydi from Badula Gulp, a blue schoolhouse sits empty. Inside are six classrooms, with a weed-choked garden out back used to grow vegetables and sunflowers. The classrooms are fully stocked with lecture chairs and blackboards, and a storage room on the hall is piled with exercise books. When school is in session, two hundred boys and fifty girls from the surrounding area crowd into the hallways just after dawn, and study until late in the day.
The students haven’t been there in some time. The last teacher to come here left weeks ago, after trying and failing to teach all two hundred and fifty students, alone, for a month and a half. The district government was supposed to send four of them. He simply couldn’t do it, he said. He couldn’t meet their educational needs and was going mad trying to do so. So the classrooms are drifting with dust and the lessons on the chalkboards sit there, unfinished, waiting to be erased and started again.
Full article can be found here. (link fixed!)
Last week I had the chance to ride along on an op to a bazaar out in the Bari desert. Two days previously, surveillance had spotted three insurgents moving weapons between the bazaar, then filled with around two hundred people, and nearby compounds. A missile strike was eventually launched on the insurgents’ truck, after they had stopped in a location removed from civilians.
The objectives of the op were mainly to search the shops and area for weapons or explosives, and to enroll (a system of identity tracking, for a country without IDs or last names) all adult males present. Two squads established a vehicle perimeter while two others, one of whom I was with, inserted by helicopter at either end of the bazaar.
There was no-one there.
WARNING: Some of these are very ribald. They are also riddled with curse words, in an effort to accurately replicate the storytellers’ patterns of speech.
Do not read if you are under 18, pregnant, or an active member of PETA.
“This local national comes in to get medical treatment. We give out medical aid here on the base, they can come in with whatever and the doc’ll see them and say what’s up and maybe give some meds. It’s not a full-blown hospital or anything but it’s more than what they usually have.