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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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…

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Hi America,

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.

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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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(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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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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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