Monday, May 24, 2010

Through the Windshield

It's not the worst way to see a country - through a windshield - but it certainly isn't the best. Most of the countries I have visited were safe enough to get out and walk around in. I like visiting markets, eating out at restaurants, chatting with people.
I am lucky that my job requires me to travel. The law that provides our raison d'etre requires four trips a year. I have done eight in the last six months and hope to do at least eight more.

Most often, I am in the back seat when not in Kabul. I am the "guest" of the forces whose job it is to work daily with the Afghan forces or to conduct patrols or (re) construction projects.
I envy them the ability to get "out of the wire" daily and interact with the people. I know it is tremendously frustrating at times for a US Army captain to "train" an Afghan Colonel, but can it be anymore frustrating than another powerpoint presentation?

So while I would prefer to drive, any trip outside of Camp Eggers is by definition a good one.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dogs and Soldiers Keep Out

I apologize for this rant. I normally laugh these things off, but I am using the blog as a form of therapy tonight.

We got kicked out of the US Embassy for swimming yesterday. You'd think there’s a story there. You might think it involves alcohol, nudity, and raucous behavior. Nope. Just the fact that we are soldiers.

The State Department is very jealous of perogatives. We were told that they have very strict and limited funding and so using their washers and dryers, their pool, their volleyball court, would stress the budget to the breaking point.

This would be believable if: we were carting off buckets of water, wheelbarrows full of sand, or even knew where the laundry facilities were and didn't want to use the free laundry service at our camp.

Friday morning until lunch we have "off." This is the only time, perhaps four hours a week, that we could possibly use the pool. And if the State Department people stayed on the Embassy compound and didn't use anyone else's services, then I would find this to be fair.

Of course, this is not reality. They descend like locusts every Friday and Saturday (they get two days off a week, not four hours a week) to strip our camp store, or PX. The line for lunch and dinner swells to hour long waits because of the two hundred or so Staties who come for a change of scenery and barbecued burgers.

I once tried to eat dinner at the Embassy with some FBI types. I was unwelcome. The FBI guys had to pay my way in. Somehow the FBI doesn't consider the Army to be beneath them.

If the military must visit the Embassy for official duties, we are told our weapons must be concealed. Rifles of any sort are forbidden. They are too scary and give the wrong impression that there is a war in Afghanistan.

I guess it's like a country club: the elite Staties with noses in the air and teeth clenched want to keep their lawns green and pool clean while retaining the freedom to slum with the low-class soldiers.

Maybe someone could write a country song, or better, make a movie.

Oh wait, Caddyshack. I just don't want to be Danny.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Driving in Kabul

Writing the instructions for how to drive in Kabul for my office:

1. Don't be stupid.

2. You have the Right of Way when:
- your car is ahead of theirs;
- they hesitate;
- they are smaller than you (most of the time);
- they flinch first;
- you can convince them you are NOT stopping.

3. Stop at intersections - NEVER. Turn left, right or go straight through as if they have the red light every time.
4. Traffic circles in Kabul are not directional - just go where you want to.
5. Stop for National Directorate of Security checkpoints only when the RPG is pointed DIRECTLY at you.
6. If they point the RPG at you, close to within 20 feet as slyly as possible - it won't go off, honest.
7. They are ALL one-way streets - or rather, they are all TWO way streets no matter what the traffic or sign may say...

8. "Smile and wave" or "Cute and Cuddly" are great attitudes to have, but "I will bring all my people home no matter what." is better.

9. Convoy "Success" is measured by Everyone Home Safely. Everything else is negligible.