Saturday, December 18, 2010

the month of December thus far

The first few weeks of December for the most part, for lack of a better description, have been kind of boring. This had been one our teams longest stretches of being inside the wire and visiting our Kanadak every day. Usually, it seems, we would make some sort of trip at least once a week. Once every couple weeks it seems that we would be out in the field for at least a night or two. Stretching from Thanksgiving, we had one of our longest stretches in which we did not have a reason or need to leave the wire.

During the first few weeks of December in which we spent our time local, I spent a lot of time working on creating and sending my Christmas cards to my friends and family. I generally send out a lot of Christmas cards each year. However one of the nice additional benefits of being a soldier is that we are able to send out cards and letters for free, no postage require. So I made sure to take advantage of this benefit.

I surprisingly, as well as most of the other guys on the team, started to find myself going a bit stir crazy. At times going to the Kandak to visit our ANA soldiers can be a bit of a challenge to bring the same level of motivation compared to when first arrived. A lot of this is because we have been doing this for several months now, and we are just starting to look forward to heading home and seeing our families. Sometimes it is frustration at not seeing the giant leaps forward that we may have initially hoped for when we first arrived. Still though, every morning we head down to the Kandak to meet with our respective sections or companies and see what issues or problems we can find and ways to help them fix the issues.

This past week though many of our silent prayers were answered as we got a chance to head out to the field again. There is a big mission going on in the Chemtal & Chahar Bulak area, which is just a few short miles west of our base, to try and push out or capture the Taliban and Anti-Afghan Forces (AAF) operating in the area. Soldier from out Kandak were tasked to provide and man check points to assist the Afghan National Police, who would be the main focus of the mission.

Since it appeared that this would be a several day mission, we decided to split our team in half so that we could sustain ourselves over the duration. Our main focus was to visit on our soldiers at their check points and see if there were areas in which we could help them or encourage them. In a worst case scenario, to act as a quick reaction force should any of soldiers happen to get attacked. We set up our teams at a small ANA/ANP outpost in the area, which is often manned by Swedish soldier, to give ourselves more maneuverability and a better reaction time.

Our one of highlights, and lowlights of this small base was when we discovered that there are actual porta-john individual style latrines (bathrooms). Pooping in a wooded forest area, while not very exciting, is not that big of a deal. However having to defecate in the treeless flat, desert-like, terrain of our portion of Afghanistan is an adventure. Having to squat, keep your balance, be aware of where your pants are, all the while that someone is perhaps watching you does not make for a fun pooping experience. So when we discovered that we would not have to wonder out to field to do our business we were excited, however our excitement turned to utter disgust when we discovered the condition of the toilets we would be using.

Ever single toilet that we looked into had human excrement on the top of the toilet seat, and muddy footprints on each side. Unfortunately, squatting to your business is all most Afghans have ever known. Sitting down to use the toilet is as foreign to them as driving on the left side of the road is to people from the United States. I was willing to try and give them (Afghans who defiled the toilets) the benefit of the doubt, as I can imagine it might be tough to try and learn defecate in a completely new way. Cultural sensitivity needs to go both ways, if I am willing and make the extra effort to not purposefully look at your women or show you the bottom of the shoes for fear that it might offend; I think that the least you could do is lift the toilet seat and not leave human excrement all over the place.

After witnessing what was done to the latrines, all of us were more than happy to have to wonder out to a field to do our business.

Fortunately for us, for my team at least, the first day that we were there a pooper-picker-upper truck came to suck up the waste from the latrines. The biggest guy on our team went over to the cleanup crew and made them scrub one of the toilets, which we were going to claim for our team, and give it an extra scrubbing and cleaning. Upon the cleaning crew leaving we immediately put a lock on the latrine we claimed. However that only lasted a couple hours before someone took a hammer and broke open the lock. Fortunately the latrine wasn't completely defiled, so we found a bigger lock which could not be broken.

The rest of our time out in the field was spent trying to stay warm, at least while sleeping. Since my time in the Boy Scouts, and leaving Montana, I had forgotten how much of a pain in the butt it is to try and sleep in a tent during a wind storm. One of the nights we were in the field I was lucky to get but an hour of sleep, due to the sides of the tent slapping me on the side of my head.


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