Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sitting here wondering

Hello again Dear Readers, I certainly hope life is treating you well. I myself have tried to get down range to Afghanistan for a couple days now to no avail. I still have a mission to accomplish and Im not in a huge rush to leave, but it would be nice to either go and get it over with or call it wash and do something else.

I read the latest blog from my buddy Buzz ( He was commenting on the fact that we have to both wear three hats, both literally and figuratively. I thought that was interesting not only because I agree with him, but how important are each of the hats to us. More and more, as my career has more time behind me and less ahead of me, I find my "Airman" hat to be less and less important. It may not be the right thing to say, but in the end it is. The longest time I could possibly spend in the military is 30 years. That's it. Since I came in at 20, I would have to retire when I was 50. Well sports fans, I intend to be "husband" and "Daddy" for much longer then that. So, why do a lot of people seem to put so much of themselves into that "Airman" hat that they forget about the others.

Im not talking about devotion to duty when it comes to combat or anything, Im just talking about losing one's identity to the machine. I see it all the time. The people who have drunk so much of the AF Kool-aid that they have become like the Borg, unable to think for themselves and only existing for the collective. Before you laugh, I am not a Trekkie, but the concept is still the same. And for those not in the know, "Drinking the Kool-Aid" in the AF is a reference to the Jonestown massacre where everyone simply stepped up and drank the drink without asking what is in it. (Cant figure that one since the guy who was last in line had to see something was amiss.) In the military, it simply means that you accept whatever is told to you, the AF message, without asking if it is right or proper or acceptable. Basically a company man.

I used to accept what was told to me untill I got into the job where I was the one stating the message. And it has been harder and harder for me to swallow. I consider myself a propagandist now, telling the the masses the approved message. Its almost like a fantasy. We tell everyone that all is well, we are happy, we are content...we are kidding ourselves.

It is so blantant that most people I talk to hardly read our work, because they see it for what it is. "Happy Happy Joy Joy" stories. Stories designed to make people feel good, except that it doesnt work. People know reality and the reality is that leadership has failed us countless times without recourse, the grind is chewing us up and spitting us out and that the AF would rather spend its money on fancy expensive fighters it cannot deploy rather than provide up to date gear for its troops. We would rather "save money" by issuing hand-me-down Vietnam era crap that the Army got rid of. Its sad.

So, I am looking to fully wear the Husband and Daddy hat, because in the end, those will be the most important. Months after I retire, I will be forgotten. Its just the way it is. If you die doing something heroic, you might be remembered longer, but no matter how hard you work, no matter how many clubs your joined, or how many meetings you attended, you will be forgotten soon after you leave. And all you will have left is hopefully your wife and children. I say hopefully, becuase I pray that in your vigor to be the "Super Airman" you didnt alienate your family. It is possible, I have seen it time and time again.

I dont want a ceremony when I retire. I wont stand for the hypocracy of it all. Simply give me my certificates, shake my hand and let me walk out the door to the people who have truly stood by me. The husband and daddy hats fit really well. I dont think the Airman hat works for me anymore. I will be glad the day I put that one away forever.

My two cents and worth even less.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The war in Afghanistan

Hello again Dear Readers,
My apologies for not posting sooner, but there was really nothing to write about prior to our first mission and I am now just recently over a cold from that mission. Nothing like breathing through wet cotton to bring your spirits down. Now try to follow my stream of consciousness here. Hopefully I wont lose you too much.

Well, our team completed its first mission to Afghanistan. The mission went well for us as a team, though there were a couple times things were more tense. Thankfully, we came back together as professionals and worked the differences out. We have a good dynamic going, something we want to keep alive. We have been described as a "fun" team, with the makings of a good buddy cop movie. I think thats good.

We worked alot with the mentors for the Afghan Air Corps. I have to tell you, these people are saints, doing thankless work tirelessly. First off, they are at the worst major base in the the theater. Imagine a small city. It has the resources and infrastructure to handle, let's say, 10,000 people. Now imagine that same city with 18,000 people and you have Kandahar Air Field. Oh and by the way, they are looking to increase that number by 20 percent. But without much increase to the base. Its like an anthill with no more room for ants. Couple that with choking dust that looks like talcum powder, threats from rocket attacks, about 10 different cultures and you have the makings of a completely miserable experience for these people.

They also have to work with the Afghan pilots and crews, who do things their own way, not by the book, literally. This was the first time I ever saw maintainers working on an aircraft and there wasnt a regulation or reference book to be found, just the people working on it. They do it by memory, as they have been trained by the Soviets. And they wont pass on the info, because if a younger guy can do it, they might lose their job. Plus, these "Greybeards" have been doing it that way for twenty plus years, so why learn how to do it better? These are the guys who make the cliche about tricks and old dogs true.

But it was cool to go flying with them in those helicopters. It was exciting to be in Russian helos flying across Afghanistan. We always had an American pilot, so we felt safe that way. I just tried not to think about the helos themselves, instead relying on my knowledge of how the Soviets built their equipment, simple and reliable, but not pretty.

It was spending my time with these professional Airmen, working with unprofessionals, that I came to realize the war here is unwinnable. There I said it. And with as much time as I have spent here, I feel I can say it. Public Affairs be damned.

I spent most of my time post-911 flying in and out of Afghanistan. I was there at the beginning and seem to always find my way back there. Didnt really go much to Iraq, which is probably a good thing. But I laugh now at how "my war" in Afghanistan was pretty much forgotten, ignored. Well, we are paying the price now.

You can argue all day about how we lost the war there trying to win one in Iraq. Well, we pretty much lost both. No, thats not true. You can sorta say we tied in Iraq, despite the fact we shouldnt have been there in the first place. Thats my opinion at least. Back to Afghanistan. The difference between the two is that Iraq is pretty well established. It has cities like most places in the middle east. It is fairly urban in a lot of places and has pretty decent infrastructure.

Afghanistan is still living in the dark ages. Literally.

They still plow with stone plows. They live in dirt/mud huts, or caves, or out in the middle of the damn desert. Im serious, you will see nothing for miles except sand and rocks and there will be some cloth tents with some camels and sheep around it with a handful of people. I dont even know where they get their water. Its as if time just slowed down for them. Also, if you ranked all of the countries from top to bottom, the top being highly developed countries like the UK or the US, the Afghanistan is ranked second to last. The last is Somalia, which I have also spent a good amount of time in and is a place even the devil refueses to go to. So that might tell you how bad the Stan is.

Well, talking with the pilots, you get to understand how things work here. It all revolves around money. Afghans are very pragmatic. They know what works and what doesnt. Money works, and therefore, they will work for whomever supplies the money. So why do I think its unwinnable? The answer is simple. The Afghans will never take over their country. Why should they? If they do, then we will leave. If we leave we take away our money and 80 percent of the national income comes from foreign aid. Essentially, its like paying for everything for your son or daughter and wondering why they dont try to go out and find a job. You can try to reason with them to go out, have some pride and do it on their own, but why should they? You are paying for everything now. Thats much easier.

Also, most of these guys play for both sides. A general who pretty much runs Kandahar, who could also be called a warlord because that is what he is, has shown that many times. He has his hands in just about everything. He is a general in the Army, but also does construction and contracting on the base. Explain that one to me. We have to use him because there is no one else. They call him the Al Capone of southern Afghanistan. Im sure you can figure out why there are no competitors. Anyway, one day the Taliban were shooting some of their rockets and they impacted close to a town market this general was interested in taking over. He made a phone call and the shooting stopped. Thats right, a phone call. Not to call in a strike, to send over soldiers. He simply asked, or warned them to stop. Unbelievable.

So we work with people who are loyal as long as we pay them. Talk to Afghan National Policemen day, who become Taliban by night and try not make any mistakes and get the wrong people killed. It is Vietnam all over. We even try the same BS with the winning of hearts and minds. That worked really well for us then too.

I will close on this note. We are training the Afghans to fly. A pilot remarked to us one day that we are just like the Soviets, who trained them as well. Only we are nicer.

Just like the Soviets huh? Thats good to know.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The eagle has landed

Well sportsfans, I have finally arrived at my deployment location, pretty much an "undisclosed Southwestern Asia location." It is undisclosed because we are not really here. But we are, but we are not. Makes little sense I know, but its political.

Anyway, to my faithful three followers and my myriad of FB readers, first let me apologize for not posting recently, but the last several weeks prior to now and since my last has been filled with training in Wyoming, which was awesome, out processing and traveling. Actually it was pretty boring and exasperating and therefore really not worth mentioning.

SO, now I am here. First let me paint a picture of what it is like here. Imagine the air temperature about 110 degrees. Now throw in a nice stiff wind, not a breeze, but wind blowing on you constantly, making it feel even hotter. Its like walking, standing in front of a hair dryer. Do that for a while and you will understand. Looking around, its very flat. There are no mountaings, no hills, not nothing. Flat. Everything is tan. From the earth to the color of the buildings, its tan. It is actually weird what that can do to your vision. It makes colors so much more vibrant. But that is it, tan buildings, tan sand, tan everything. And its dry and humid all at the same time. We actually have a lot of humidity, but with the hot dry wind, they work together to take all of the moisture out of your body. There is really nothing like walking the mile to work and dying for a bottle of water, despite the fact that you drank an entire one during the trip!

But, with that all being said, I really cannot complain about the facilities. I live in a dorm that is actually great, just a step or two below how I live in Turkey. The only bad part is how far I am from my office. There are lots of places to do things and there is always something for us to eat. I can get anything I want. That is actually the best part of deployment, well that and the people, but more on that later. We have access to great food all the time, along with sodas and water and snacks. Pretty much anything we want. Along with that there is a movie theater playing 24 hours a day, and we have BXs and shops and the like. All we need. They do do a good job of taking care of that here. I guess its to make up for taking pretty much everything else away from us, like families and children. But for the most part, there is a sense of everyone dealing with it. We are all in the same boat and each of us is here to do what we can and get back as soon as we can. Its not like this is the first time we have been here. Many of the people here have been here at this location multiple times.

Ultimately, its the people who make or break a deployment. While the majority of it falls on our own individual shoulders. Coming here with a decent attitude and a willingness to get along with others and build those relationships will help us in the long run. We all come from different places with different experiences, but we all find ourselves in the same boat so to speak and well, no one likes the guy who rocks the boat. You can actually have a decent time here if you make friends and try to get along and help everyone out. Be a thorn in peoples side and you can find yourself with a long row to hoe by yourself.

I personally have a great group of people that I am working with. I get to see my old buddy Buzz again. We met at Camp Shelby in Mississippi a few years ago and deployed to the same location in Afghanistan. He is pretty much the yin to my yang and we make a good team. He is on the team ahead of us and has been here for a couple months now. He has given me a great deal of insight to how things are and has been very very helpful. I also got to meet others in the Combat Camera squadron along with another fellow PA type, Stacia Zachary. She has helped me tremendously too, getting me situated, up to speed and outfitted with gear. Her husband is in the Special Operations side of the AF and therefore, I could speak the language. Thanks to her, I have some contacts in the "Black" world now.

Well dear Readers, I leave you now with the beginning of my journey. There will more to read in the future, I can assure you. Thanks for going with me, I promise you that you will no regret it!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Getting ready for training

I am in the final part of getting ready for my combat skills training in Wyoming. I have to attend a course prior to deploying and they are held all over the country. Most of them are done at Fort Dix in New Jersey, but the class there was during my leave and well, it was more important for me to go home and see the wife and kids then go play soldier. Luckily, my command was able to understand and get me a different class, therefore, I was able to see my family. Thanks to them!

So now I will be attending Advanced Expeditionary Skills Training at Camp Guernsey. Its a ten day course and is supposed to be very fast paced. I assume it must be considering the last time I did this kind of training was at Camp Shelby in Mississippi and it was five weeks long. I tell you what, there is nothing worse than running around the woods in 95 plus temps wearing body armor. My uniforms seemed to be constantly soaked. Gotta love a cotton tee shirt!

My tickets are in hand and all I need to do is make sure I have all of my gear that is needed for the class. They gave me a big long checklist, so just like Santa I'm checking it twice. Thankfully, this time I am used to the heat from dealing with Turkey, so there I have a leg up, but that vest sure does get heavy, even heavier with water and a combat load.

After I get back from training, I do some last minute outprocessing, get some more gear and uniforms and then get on a plane to Germany to wait for my team and the plane that will take me down range. While not really looking forward to the deployment, I am looking forward to getting it started. The sooner I get started the sooner I will be done.

I leave Sunday morning. I will do my best to keep up with the blog while I am there, I am just not sure about how much internet will be available.

Stay tuned dear Readers!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

My first post

Welcome friends and family to my first posting in this new means of communication called "Blogging." I had heard a great deal about this, and now with the military pretty much advocating its use among the enlightened ones, I decided that it was time to do something. I actually wish they had this during my last deployment, as it would have been a great chance to talk about the things I had seen, done and experienced. Instead, I was forced to find other ways of dealing with my issues, some good and some bad.

So as the top of this blog states, I am using this new medium to for a number of reasons. First off, this gives me an opportunity to show people exactly what is taking place down range. It seems that these days, there are so many filters before information gets to the average person that what is actually truth and reality are never certain. An event, such as an attack takes place and when it finally makes it to the five o'clock news, many facts about what happened normally have changed or been skewed. Remember, there is an old credo in the media community, "If it bleeds, it leads." That means that death and destruction will always trump goodness, and perception is often too many times taken as truth. So this is my attempt to cut right to the chase and show you the truth straight from the front line. Yes, there will be my feelings and thoughts, but I will also be talking about what is actually taking place.

My second reason goes along with the first and that is to help show what the Air Force is doing downrange. Too often, it seems as if the AF is just known for the cool fighter pilots dropping bombs. That does take place and I know those professionals have saved many, many lives. But did you also know about the fact that the majority of people hauling supplies into Iraq down those treacherous roads are AF? What about the operators and security forces and EOD who are constantly patrolling outside the wire? We have people in the air and on the ground, taking the fight to the enemy. I even heard one time that insurgents don't like to engage Air Force convoys because too often the AF were spoiling for a fight and took on all comers! They soon learned to recognize who were in the turrets and who wasn't.

Lastly, I am doing this for my own reasons hoping that by talking about it, it will be better for me in the long run. Its hard to talk about these things with people who haven't been there and know what you are talking about and feeling. I have a good buddy, Ed Holzapfel, who I talk to often. He talks to me as well. We are both cut from the same cloth and have similiar experiences. We have found that talking about, enjoying a laugh at our "black humor" helps us. Its nice to have found a person who truly understands. Plus he comes from the Spec Ops world, like I did, so we have that in common too. He has been the one who had done a lot getting me the stuff I need for this deployment.

There will be many posts to follow this one. Some may be long and some may be short. There may be days where I don't post at all. This is not being lazy, I just may be somewhere where there isn't any internet. The mountains of Afghanistan are not known for their "hot spots."

I have started my serious training for this deployment. Workouts have increased in intensity and number. I have to be truly fit and ready to take on this challenge. Talking with the person I will be replacing, I know that I have to be at the top of my game if I want to survive this. Marching around with an eighty-pound ruck, sixty pounds of vest and combat load, and two weapons at eight thousand feet elevation is not for the faint of heart. Its not easy to do that normally, now throw in an ambush and you can see how you need to be as physically, mentally and emotionally fit as possible.

I have heard the sounding of the bugle once again and am getting ready to charge once more in to the fight. This ole sheepdog may be getting a bit long in the tooth, but there is still a good bit of fight left in him.

More to follow dear readers. Stay tuned!