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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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.

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Managed to catch up with 2nd Lt. Mallory Dietrich in Camp Bastion en route to Marjeh (Marja/Marjah, even the marines don’t seem to have settled on one spelling for this place). Something of a bizarre and incredible experience to meet up with a friend from Annapolis on the other side of the world, surrounded by desert and explosive ordinance.

Actually I’ve got a pretty good record going on these–unexpectedly encountered Kim Fechner in a library in Beijing, met renowned botanist Jason Patinkin in the middle of the Amazon jungle, now this…

 

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Staff Sergeant Miller drops me off at the terminal at four forty-five. I’ve just woken up from a jetlag-induced afternoon sleep and still feel groggy, my eyeballs par-boiled. The tent is large and cylindrical and the dozen people there seem half-comatose themselves. I collapse onto a seat and try to read some of the great gonzoist but can’t keep my eyes open. I don’t know enough about the 1972 election cycle to follow what he’s saying anyways.

An hour and a half later they call us up and we slug into our flak jackets and helmets and stumble in a line through the door. There are no other civilians on this flight, a first for me. Usually at least a contractor or two, which pretty much everyone takes me for most of the time. It is already full dark.

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Passport found.

Camera and all camera equipment stolen while retrieving passport.

Sigh.

To the camera thief: F*ck you, guy. Seriously, f*ck you.

Dinky yet expensive replacement camera acquired. Onwards and upwards!

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Arrived in Kabul. Immediately set off in the wrong direction, on foot, and found myself accompanied by seemingly friendly young policeman intent on leading me to a car. Got increasingly far from signs of military or police presence. Asked, “Do you know where the main military gate is?” Response, “Haha! Yes, yes.” Considered this. Asked, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” Small frown, “Aha, yes, friend. Car.” Recalled scene from Nicole Kidman flick about mail order bride. Asked, “Are you a giraffe?” Response, “Oh, yes, yes.” Frowned. Policeman sped up, carrying my duffel with body armor. At least too heavy to steal on foot.

Didn’t trust him so asked a white guy driving a truck in parking lot where I ought to be headed & whether I should trust this cop and car he is leading me to. White guy and comrades definitely military contractors, tough British types with aggressive tattoos and scarves for concealing non-Afghan-ness. Eyeballed cop and gave me a once-0ver. Took pity on obvious cluelessness and moderately stranded situation and agreed to give me a lift to the military gate, a good mile and a half away (not in the airport, as I had been led to believe).

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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.

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There are plenty of reasons to decide that you want to spend your life making no money, risking death & dismemberment, and being universally mistrusted by everyone you meet. Certainly it seems like a career that would appeal to those with a masochistic streak. Likewise anyone with overtly antisocial tendencies, like a deep seated need to take pictures of corpses and fireballs, preferably both at the same time.

I couldn’t articulate exactly why I felt the need to join the strange legions of war correspondents when this opportunity came up, nor when I first began to think about it over a decade ago. I still can’t, though I’m much better at articulating what doesn’t motivate me. I’m not into corpses. I’m not out to expose the government for the manipulative lying shysters they are (they can do that well enough on their own). While there is a vague thrum of adrenaline at the thought of being in a firefight, if all I wanted to do was risk being killed by other people I could spend my time road-tripping across deep teabag country with a bunch of Obama ‘12/Gay Pride stickers plastered across the bumper of an electric pink Prius.

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