Archive
Photography

(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.

Read More

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!)

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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

Read More

Had a chance to interview some of the dog handlers here on FOB Marjeh today, really great guys–but not nearly as great as their dogs. This is me with Jawdy, a three and a half year old black lab who is a glutton for attention when she’s not busy sniffing out bombs. Story on these amazing pups forthcoming.

Read More

Read More

Read More

The layover in Munich has been relatively painless, despite a jarring time difference and increasingly pressing need to shower. My first flight carried a healthy ladle of military contractors, identifiable a mile away by their buzzcuts, black knapsacks, and distaste for German beer (“They don’t have anything like a good Budweiser,”). The US government’s use of these gentlemen in lieu of regular troops (most, it should be noted, recently were regular troops) has been widely discussed and often criticized, but I’m going to refrain from weighing in on anything until I see some in action.

We landed in a fog so thick I thought we were still descending through the cloud later when we hit ground. Perhaps five feet visibility, about thirty to see the runway lights, a miraculous feat that the pilot landed us at all. Munich has been a blur of cobble stones, coffee shops ,and cold weather, a never-ending search for viable internet access  that eventually led me in desperation to McDonald’s, who have become renowned among backpackers as a world-wide source of free wifi. German McDonald’s, though, have pre-empted the influx of odorous dreadlocked Australians by requiring a German cell phone to use their internet (they text you a temporary password, cleverly disguising their xenophobia behind a façade of savvy marketing). In the end I remained unsuccessful, and had to upload this in Dubai.

Read More