Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Red Light

Its midnight and I'm listening to sad music because I want to feel something. The best days out here have me buried in work that is the "cause" in the "cause and effect" that I wanted to experience again. The good days just have me buried in work. Anything less than that and its just anger, stress, frustration, and nothingness. The monotony can be crushing sometimes. Just the other day I spent about 20 minutes contemplating why I did a triple take on a guy I walked past coming back from the showers. This is what I decided: The first look was acknowledgement that there was someone there, the second was recognition that it was someone that I'd seen before, and the last was for refinement because I was pretty sure he was wearing orange shoes. That turned into a 20 minute thought process. I spared 20 minutes thinking about why I looked at someone, and that was 3 or 4 days ago yet I still can't get it out of my head. I can't help but describe my time in Afghanistan, this time, as sensory deprivation.

This past week has been hard on me. A lot of anger, stress, frustration, and nothingness. I'm struggling to accept the fact that the best days of this deployment are behind me. I'm not expecting many more ticks in the W column before I leave for home. I'm angry that decisions are being made that seem to ensure that this war will not end, but rather fizzle and just sort fade. I'm struggling to accept the fact that I am the last person remaining from my original team. My wife says it means that I'm stronger than the people that have gone home. I don't feel stronger. I feel disconnected and numb. "Why am I still here then?"

So this is a first...I don't want to finish writing. I am going to post this as is because I have no idea where I am/was going with it. I think I just miss my wife and I want to come home. I'm tired of putting myself through this. Maybe I'll feel different tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Extortion. Always.

I've found that in war, I turn the enemy into my own personal demon. Singular. It is not a collection of enemy fighters, but a single dynamic foe. It is the antithesis for what I hold dear. It is a demon that I can quantify and hold in front of my own face. It is evidenced by men I've never met, and a man I met few times, dying under fire while carrying the colors of freedom on their sleeves. I take that bloody nose and that black eye. I take the broken heart and I set it on fire. I enrage. Not an unfocused and distracting anger, but one that carries me through the sorrow. It steadies my head and leaves my hand shaking. Retribution.

It is my duty. It is my job. And it is my calling to drive the machine that was dropping off warriors hell bent on ensuring their brothers' safety that night. It is a machine that is as clear as day and as black as night. It is war. And it is heavy and dark. Yet it can be glorious. Nowhere in life have I experienced such an assured cause and effect. That is what brings us here. Again. It is what I have strived to achieve. The demon cannot win if I am the proper cause. Because there will always be an effect. Last night, there was an effect. There was a booming, frightening Armageddon. And their was retribution. The addicting "A", that we all love, coursing through my veins. As if I was there. I wasn't. Either night. I am the pillar on which heroes stand. Pride.

And yet shame. God, why shame? Those men were my demon. "Were." Why does shame accompany pride? Why can't I accept that I, and many, many others, are behind the curtain of the show that ends people with literal, explosive force? I am not ashamed of the end. I'm not ashamed of my role in ensuring it. I'm ashamed of being happy about it. I'm ashamed of replaying the concussiveness in my mind in an effort to replenish the fuel for my fire. It was the end of life afterall. And yet I want to tell people. These people. All people. I am telling people. I'll deal with the shame later. Retribution.

I offer no respite from the pain of loss. I expect there is none to be had. I offer only knowledge. Knowledge of retribution. Knowledge of a deserved end afforded to one... no, four. Four facets of my demon. 34 to go. 30, 7, and 1.

For those who know. Not knew. But know Extortion. And for Extortion herself. Always.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Head meet hand, hand meet paper. Step 1.

Or in this case, the keyboard. I don't know why, but I just haven't written anything in forever. There have been several times that I've thought to myself, "I should write about this or that" and not once did I actually sit here and force my thoughts out of my thick skull. I've told the wife several times since arriving back in the Stan' that I would write something soon. Yet nothing. So here I am people in a scheme to trick myself back into the mindset of laying my thoughts and emotions out on the table and trying to put them in order. Note that I chose, "put them in order" instead of "make them make sense."

So I had this idea for a blog post a few days ago. Since returning to the war, I feel that I've experienced a lot of time to reflect on my life, to let my feelings soak in, and to just think. So, what I want to do is just ramble, really. I want to talk some (or as much as I can) about the things rattling in this head of mine. This will take up at least the next 3 or so blogs. See, I'm an expert at tricking myself into writing. So...

I was laying in bed about a week ago in that stage where you're almost dreaming but you're still in control of your thoughts. I was thinking about anything and nothing. Most of the thoughts revolved around my vacation and the time I spent with my wife. All very happy thoughts. Then, almost to my surprise, a memory popped into my head from many years ago of when my uncle Eddie took my brothers William and Zach and myself to a little traveling carnival in the parking lot of some chain store in Jacksonville. I'm not sure how old I was but I feel like I was in junior-high.

The three of us decided to ride one of the rides together. It was the one that has little 3-seat booths suspended under arms that stretched out from the center. The ride would lift you up off the ground and then begin spinning like a carousel and as it spun the seats would swing out to the sides and it just spun you around for a minute or two. Then it would slow and eventually you would touch back down. The seat had a simple lap bar that held the occupants in. Usually.

With William and I on either side of Zachary, we began to spin. Zach started laughing and enjoying himself almost immediately. These rides typically aren't scary and they don't make you dizzy or anything like that. Perfect for the 3 of us. Not long after we started spinning, Zachary starts yelling that he's slipping. Not a yell like that of a kid who is just scared and not wanting to participate anymore. He is screaming like his life depends on it. Sure enough, Will and I look down and Zach has started to slide out from underneath the lap bar. The thing is up around his chest already. Will and I both grab an arm and are literally trying to save our brother's life.

We're yelling for what feels like 30 minutes to get the stupid carney (I'm getting worked up typing this.) to stop the ride. Zach is bawling his eyes out and all I can think of is the image of the events that would transpire if Will or I couldn't hold on. Needless to say, the ride eventually stopped and all 3 of us made it out without a scratch. But the reason I'm writing about this, is why did I think of it? This must have been 13 years ago. There is nothing that would have reminded me of that event. (Surprise, no travelling carnivals out here.) Its not exactly a pleasant memory of mine, so why did I think of it while thinking of my AMAZING vacation?

Anyways, I guess all I have left to say is that I love my brothers very much. I'm proud that William and I were strong enough to hold Zachary in the ride. I remember being proud of him as soon as we got off of the ride. Not sure if I ever told him, though. Will, if you read this, know that I really was proud of you that day for what you did. You were young and yet I feel like you handled it like any adult would have. As for Zachary, I'm incredibly happy that you didn't fall. You're an awesome brother. I was thinking just today about how I've called you "booger" since you were just a baby. I imagine that, at some point, I'll have to stop calling you that. I can't picture you as a 20-something answering to "booger". Anyways, I love you guys very much.

PS. I would love it if any of you reading this would give me your opinion on the questions I posed or tell me about a time when a memory (good or bad) from way back caught you by surprise one day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The reaction in Afghanistan

After the news last night of the death of Osama bin Laden, I received this picture from Mike which I think epitomizes the feelings of our warfighters still in-country.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pictures from FOB Sharana

Mike shared some photos with me today that I wanted to post for people back home who are interested in what he's up to.

Sadly, this is the last picture of the crazy beard, may it rest in peace.

Mike and a couple guys from his team. They all work on the same project.
Clean-shaven Mike!
Task Force Currahee is the team Mike work with.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The country lost a soldier yesterday

At the end of the most violent week of fighting that I've seen since arriving here, we lost a friend. In a week that provided me my most fulfilling day, a week that quantified my reasoning for being over here, and a week that garnered praise for my coworkers and I, I've also experienced the worst feeling to be had out here. The loss of life that, unfortunately, is sometimes required to "win".

Earlier this week, the unit that we are attached to had their most successful day so far this deployment in capturing several high ranking insurgent commanders. The mission went out without a hitch. Not a single insurgent got away, a ton of weapons were confiscated and/or destroyed, and not a single shot was fired. After all was said and done, my coworkers and I were praised and lauded. We tried our best to be selfless and to ensure that the soldiers were the ones getting 100% of the attention, but it still felt good to be recognized for our part in helping the soldiers accomlish their duties.

I told Margaret before coming out here that my number one reason for coming out here was because of the unrivaled job satisfaction. When I do my job right I see immediate, lasting, forceful results. Bad guys getting killed or captured. Having held jobs where doing my job right meant no changes would be made, no plans would be altered, no one would DO anything, I have grown addicted to the "cause, effect" that comes along with this type of work. I love being part of the "cause". But that is what makes losing soldiers tough on me. If we are praised and people try to give us (some) credit for when things go incredibily right, do I inherently claim some of the fault when things go so bad that a soldier loses his life?

After the first mission this week went so well, you could practically cut the self-esteem with a knife. Support personnel and the actioning arm alike puffed their chest out and smiled a hell of a lot more. Meetings that usually had 5 to 6 people sitting in a large conference room all of a sudden became standing room only. I personally whispered to a soldier next to me, "things go right, and they flock to it like flys on @#$%". That night, those same soldiers went out on the mission that claimed the life of one of their colleagues. What will the meetings look like now?

The soldiers were conducting an operation in Yahya Khel District or our province, Paktika. We've known that the district is a hotbed for the insurgency and the soldiers were expecting a fight. They got one. We were told that it started the moment they hit the ground. "We only had enough time to get down." The coalition forces were hit with AK-47 fire, RPG fire, grenades, heavy machine gun fire, and were being flanked by additional insurgents. They were taking fire from several buildings including a mosque. The air support overhead identified large groups of heavily armed men moving towards our forces. With the firefight on the ground lasting for two hours, the F-15 Falcons overhead deciding whether or not to drop bombs "danger close" to our forces in an attempt to protect them, and the Apache gunships doing run after run with their 30mm cannons, this was a fight made for the big screen. The soldier we lost was killed by small arms fire while clearing a building. Several of the soldiers accompanying him were severely injured as well.

All told, we killed 12 heavily armed insurgents yesterday. Among them was a high ranking leader that is part of the top 5 most wanted for this unit. Removing those men from the battlefield will make things quieter for the soldiers in and around Yahya Khel, potentially saving more lives. One of my coworkers asked me if the mission would be considered a success. I said yes, and have never felt worse about a thought like that. We lost a soldier, we had several wounded severely, and unforutunately, they were all from the same squad. The pschological effect of something like that will reverberate for years to come in the minds of their colleagues. Leave them in your prayers long after today. But we killed 12 of them and removed tools of war from their hands. Tools that would without a doubt be trained on our forces again in the future if left on the battlefield. So yes, it was a success.

During a speech to the soldiers from Task Force Currahee, an officer made a very good point. So often in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the soldiers find themselves fighting an invisible enemy. They are simply driving and an explosion happens and claims the lives of their friends and literally (and figuratively) scars the survivors for life. This was not that kind of instance. The soldiers knew exactly who they were fighting because they could see the whites of their eyes less than 20 meters away. That, that fact is something to be grateful for because their is a sense of closure when you see that man fall.

I'm doing fine everyone. I'm concentrating on the soldiers around me. As a contractor, I'm looked at as having "been there and done that." And in these cases, I have. I'm doing my best to ensure that I'm a role-model for the young soldiers around me. I let them know that it's ok to be down, but that in the end the best tactic is to swallow hard and work even harder. Please pray for the safety of the men whose job is to face the enemy down and to persevere.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Out here, I find myself operating like a single purpose machine. Like the machine that imprints "Louisville Slugger" on the side of baseball bats. I eat, sleep, and breath in order to do my job and to do it well. I find myself dreaming about work and it doesn't upset me. I am working 16-19 hour days and I get back to my tent feeling good about the day. A huge change when compared to the typical workday back home. The daily routine out here is unwavering. I typically wake up at the same time everyday, walk to the same shower tent, stand in the same spot when I brush my teeth. It goes on all day. I eat lunch and dinner with the same people at the same time at the same table while drinking the same drinks (Snapple Iced Tea and a water). This routine is a blessing and a curse. It's great because the days just blend together. Everyone I've met out here comments on how the days seem to crawl but the weeks fly by. The flip side, I find myself having tunnel vision.

I have received a BUNCH of care packages from a BUNCH of my incredible friends and family. Seeing your name on a box during mail-call is such a great feeling. It is a blessing on so many levels. You get the feeling like it's a christmas present that you (secretly) expected but were still unsure of it coming to fruition. I ask for breakfast snacks and I get Honey Buns. Are you kidding me?! I LOVE HONEY BUNS! I ask for microwavable food items and my mom sends me bowls of Chef Boyardee Spaghetti and Meatballs. I don't know if any of you know, but I grew up (and out) on those. My mom always said, "Mike, you're not fat. You're husky." Now THATS a good mom. By the way, thank you, Chef Boyardee, for the hundreds of pounds of Spaghetti and Meatballs that I've consumed in my life. I'm not even close to done.

My wonderful mother-in-law sent me a hand written card on an embossed personalized stationary. It was just a "I like to write instead of type sometimes...I love you and miss you." I don't know that I've ever missed my Mamma-Case so much. I know that the box she sent had awesome snacks and such, but that little letter is what I walked around and showed everybody. Just knowing that she sat down at the counter in the kitchen (taking author's liberties here) and wrote down some words because you missed me, that takes me away from this place.

Scott and Lisa. First and foremost, I tacked the pack of "Justin Bieber FAN-atic" trading cards up on the wall in our breakroom. Well played friends, well played. As for the immaculately packaged brownies, aligned 10 across and 10 down, each individually wrapped in cellophane then placed in a ziplok bag, and laid across the top of a box with care and precision, I had two major observations. The first, Lisa was responsible. I love you, Scott, but that was your wife's work. Second, I had the nagging thought that maybe I should test these before handing them out to everyone because it sure did look a lot like (what I imagine) "special brownies" are packaged like. I didn't test them and once I saw someone eating one while slouched in their chair with only their eyes above the desk, I immediately hid them. Don't worry though, we all sit like that. You know, like we all end up sitting at our work desk.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis. The nerf guns have gotten completely out of control. My in-laws sent me ones that shot 6 nerf-bullets. I was impressed. You somehow managed to find toys that shot something to the effect of 12 nerf-bullets. Then, you sent me two of each. Lets picture this. I, of course, am using the 2 new 12-shooters. David has the itsy-bitsy little pocket nerf gun you sent because he's a "itsy-bitsy pocket nerf gun kind of guy." (Kidding, David!) Jimmy has 2 of the 6 shooters, Kelly has the other 2. For those keeping track, thats 49 individual nerf-bullets in the air or impacting faces at any given time. Needless to say, nerf guns have now been banned in the office. Which presents me with a different problem, now I have 7 nerf guns just sitting in my room. "Willpower is the ability to resist temptation until you can be sure no-ones looking." That means I shoot myself often.

Leah and Clint, I just don't know what to say. I really don't. Cake-loaf? Brownie-Cake? All I know, is that the concrete block sized chocolate treat (there were 2) has been submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest "whatever it's called" in history. People in my office literally dropped to the floor in disbelief. Of course I don't mean literally, but yes, literally. I and everyone in my office are extremely greatful for you guys managing to create such a goliath treat.

I titled this blog "Priorities?" because, I appreciate all of you more than I can express. The packages you send take me home. I picture being at home stacking semi-illegal-looking brownies into the box. I picture myself in the toy section at the store finding the biggest, baddest nerf guns on the market. I picture standing with my wife in the kitchen while she bakes monster brownie/cake/loaf....things. Seriously, what is that thing called? I picture being with my mothers, both of whom I've never missed or loved more than I do right now. I'm sorry that I haven't thanked you all sooner, but work has to be high on my priority list too. I promise that I will do a better job of letting you all know how much I appreciate you.

PS. Chef Boyardee in a microwavable bowl and Honey Buns...This "husky" guy is having good dreams tonight!