So, I've been in Afghanistan for something like 112 days now. I've had my up days and I've had my down days. The down days get no lower than when word spreads that you've lost a soldier in the fight. We lost one on my first day behind the desk. I carved the score into my desk. 1 to 0, them. The up days vary greatly, though. Having walls put up in your room is an up day, a good workout can mean an up day, receiving mail is definitely an up day, and doing your job well an up day.
Given that I've actually only been over here for about 2 weeks, I'm surprised that I've come to a determination as to why the up days can feel so good without a glaring catalyst to speak of. It's because we're men. It's more than that, it's because we're men doing manly things. We're men doing manly things across the entire spectrum of manly things. We are forced to talk about war constantly, we are forced to survive the harsh elements in a country like this, we are forced to be physically and mentally strong in order to thrive in our environment. It gets even better.
As we were deciding how we wanted to set up our rooms, where the desk would go, what kind of shelves would be built and where, how the layout would support our day to day, I couldn't help but think that I was 9 years old again, designing a fort that would stand up to the imagined enemy. I recall being in the woods near my house in Kings Bay, Georgia. My friends and I had found what appeared to us as foxholes. These divots provided us with concealment, and were located tactically in front of the main entrance to our Area of Operations, now called an AO in Afghanistan. We pointed out which trees would provide cover from which direction, we decided which paths were our ingress and egress routes. And we simply ignored any path through the woods that didn't support our grand scheme of wilderness domination. We scavenged for downed logs to help fortify our fallback positions and we set up gnarly booby traps along routes we were certain Charlie would take.
This was what played in my head as we snuck around FOB Sharana after dark, "acquiring" 2x4's and plywood from outside of, surely heavily guarded, tents. We had to stand guard over our acquisitions to ensure others were not counter-attacking and stealing wood from our pile. We had a nasty run in one day when we stepped from our tent and saw a woman standing suspiciously over our pile of plywood. We engaged her, in conversation, and decided she was a minimal threat. She didn't speak English. Just then, two of her companions came around the back corner of our tent towards our pile. Typical flanking maneuver. Amateurs. We stood our ground and they simply walked past the pile and retreated with their tales between their legs. Never before has a military stand been so effective. How is it that 2 defenders were able to stave off the onslaught of 3 "attackers"? This example may be silly, it's is still very true to life. You feel like a kid designing your own worlds.
The feeling of being a man is compounded at every turn out here. You walk up and down hills, across ground that at one time was littered with Unexploded Ordinance (UXO) and land mines left by the Russians. That's a manly feeling. You cross motor pools lined with HMMWV's, up-armored MRAP's, Bradley fighting vehicles, Buffalo IED clearing vehicles, and many other machines of war on your way to chow everyday. That's manly. In my line of work, I talk about killing or capturing the enemy a lot. I strive for that end state with every fiver of my being while I'm working. That. Is. Manly.
Two of our bases were attacked with rockets the last two days. I talked with men that were in bunkers, wearing full body armor, carrying high powered rifles, doing their job via laptops that would be covered in dust settling to the ground after being blown skyward by explosions nearby. I let them know that we were trying to help find the guys shooting at them. I let them know that they were doing an amazing @#$%ing job of getting the work done regardless of the circumstances surrounding them. That is a manly task.
The up days feel so good because you've never felt more alive, more productive. You've never felt a sense of contribution like it. You've never felt more like a man.