Saturday, July 21, 2012

Little things that count

It's the little things that paint the big picture. I recently returned back from R&R, and the enormous difference of lifestyle between Europe (or any well-developed country for that matter) and slowly developing majority of the Middle East really opens your eyes. I went from a COP the size of 2 football fields where my guys are washing their uniforms in a plastic tank and drying out on a wire outside to waking up in a hotel on a comfortable bed, walking outside and taking a dip in the Mediterranean Sea with absolutely nothing to worry about except stepping on a sea urchin.
We take so much for granted back home. And for some it's still not enough. You want more of this, faster service, a bigger variety, speedier delivery, less of that... In the meantime some people ride their bicycles to get drinking water from a well a few miles away.
You know what I enjoy? Eating food with real utensils. When I landed, and went to grab some breakfast, I genuinely was happy to eat with real silverware from a real plate. It reminded me that I'm not in the hot sun, waiting for resupply or waiting 2 weeks to get mail. "-Nothing for you this time, LT..."- womp womp womp. Takes forever to get some parts out here, and slightly less faster if you just go online and buy it yourself.
Comcast Deluxe with some fries on the side TV package? I stayed up the whole time on the plane, and watched 3 random movies back to back. Best entertainment I've had in 8 months. I can easily get through the next 4. On the positive side, lack of TV makes you read books if you have free time. USO and all the organizations that ship books out here are doing an awesome job. There is always a variety, and I'm catching up on all the timeless classics.
I was lucky enough to watch Euro2012 while on R&R, I love soccer, and it was a major bonus for having already a good enough time. Do I miss certain things? Of course, I can't wait to get back and hit the slopes, and start skydiving again. A big break like that only makes it more exciting when I start again. It's a treat, like a kid who knows that X-Mas is coming up and he'll get presents. You don't need crazy resolutions, and absurd goals. Just have something to look forward to - plain and simple for starters. I like rock climbing, and attempting to climb Everest is something that's in my future plans, but for now, I just want to get back home, drink some eggnog, and ski my butt off for the rest of the day.
Amenities, or lack of amenities to be precise, aside, this place is very different. I've never seen stars so bright at home. There is no electricity in many areas, and we practice blackouts at night on the COPs and FOBs, so the sky is as clear as you can only imagine. It makes for a great navigational tool if you are familiar with constellations, and local kids love the stories and myths about them.
Probably the biggest thing I miss is good food. Food is not bad here, local cuisine is actually pretty good, but I like variety. Coming from New York, you are accustomed to pretty much every cuisine in the world, and you have an infinite numbers of places to eat. And you just can't find a slice of real New York pizza elsewhere. When I go back to Brooklyn this winter, Totonno's is my first stop. I haven't had pizza in a year, and "real new york peeeezza!" that some guy was selling in Prague is not real. If you think otherwise, you are probably the guy or gal who believes that Subway has "real" Philly cheese steak too. Maybe I'm picky, or maybe it's because we've had hash browns for every single meal in the last 18 days (yes, at this point we are keeping the count).
I'm not telling you to dump your cell, cut off your internet, eat TV dinners for a month straight and throw out your 55" plasma. I'm just telling you that lack of your favorite Venti Skinny Latte with soy milk and a shot of hazelnut syrup at Starbucks that day is not the end of the world, and there is no need to call the manager, and threaten to take your business to Seattle's Best. If you don't understand the real reason, I'll give you a secondary - Starbucks owns Seattle's Best and they will still get your Benjamins.
Back in January and February when I was stuck on of the little COPs due to ridiculous amount of snow and no-fly weather, I made the best dessert you could ask for.
1 big empty Maxwell Coffee jar or equivalent
1 can of sweetened condensed milk (I found mine in one of the damaged vehicles, you can get yours in the grocery story)
Fill up the jar with snow, add condensed milk, mix it all well. And you got yourself one big jar of ice cream. It's delicious when you normally can't have any.

                                                                        Mail is here!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 is here

And we've got 11 months left according to some sketchy thought-out-loud from somebody who was hanging out in Central America thousands of years ago... No way Jose, no way I'm gonna spend my last 11 months next to the Poo Pond (that one deserves it's own post, it will come later).
Hopefully everyone got to watch the ball drop, got their New Year's kiss,  and it will not come back as a restraining order. It was nothing big here, I hung out with a fellow LT, and a couple of Brits from Royal Marines. All my guys are spread out in Kandahar and Zabul provinces, and I check up on them via phone/email to see how they are doing. It's a different fight out here, than it was in Iraq. We are fighting a unique enemy, one with a whole another mentality level. It's not better or worse, it's just a different mind set.
I was stuck on a small FOB couple of weeks ago due to almost zero visibility and my bird could not fly out. Read a whole bunch of literature on the flight line while waiting for weather to get better. There was an interview with one of the Taliban fighters. And one thing that he said really stood out. "You have the watches, we have the time". He couldn't have said it better. It is true that pretty much every servicemember that arrives in theater starts his or her deployment countdown. 365, 364, 363.... For these guys who grew up on this land, time is measured by how quick their hair grows. They are not going anywhere, all these fighters, young and old, are content with where they are, and what they are doing.
New Years are always about resolutions. I, personally, have not really thought about one, I mean I do have goals and expectations. They are very specific for me this year, and there are only a handful of them. As time goes by, I will talk about them in detail. It's a different year/role for me this year. Technically I'm still a platoon leader, but my whole platoon is broken into small teams and is spread out far apart. At the same time, I'm working in a staff position, which is a natural progression (or a halfway point) for an Officer. What do I think about it? Mixed feelings... Kinda like a kid who went from crawl to walk...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I am 0.45%

Read this post recently, and decided to repost it. It's written by a fellow servicemember, so I'd say it's a bit biased, for instance this is an all volunteer Army now compared to WW2 and Vietnam, but still an interesting read, that briefly touches certain aspects of our lifestyle, which we VOLUNTEERED for. So yeah, it blows big time sometimes, but hey that's the choice, and we shouldn't be complaining openly much at least not to the civilians, let's stay professional and drive on. Nonetheless, pretty cool stuff below.

"I remember the day I found out I got into West Point.

My mom actually showed up in the hallway of my high school and waited for me to get out of class. She was bawling her eyes out and apologizing that she had opened up my admission letter. She wasn’t crying because it had been her dream for me to go there. She was crying because she knew how hard I’d worked to get in, how much I wanted to attend, and how much I wanted to be an infantry officer. I was going to get that opportunity.

That same day two of my teachers took me aside and essentially told me the following: “Nick, you’re a smart guy. You don’t have to join the military. You should go to college, instead.”

I could easily write a tome defending West Pont and the military as I did that day, explaining that USMA is an elite institution, that separate from that it is actually statistically much harder to enlist in the military than it is to get admitted to college, that serving the nation is a challenge that all able-bodied men should at least consider for a host of reasons, but I won’t.

What I will say is that when a 16 year-old kid is being told that attending West Point is going to be bad for his future then there is a dangerous disconnect in America, and entirely too many Americans have no idea what kind of burdens our military is bearing.

In World War II, 11.2% of the nation served in four years. In Vietnam, 4.3% served in 12 years. Since 2001, only 0.45% of our population has served in the Global War on Terror. These are unbelievable statistics.

Over time, fewer and fewer people have shouldered more and more of the burden and it is only getting worse. Our troops were sent to war in Iraq by a Congress consisting of 10% veterans with only one person having a child in the military. Taxes did not increase to pay for the war. War bonds were not sold. Gas was not regulated. In fact, the average citizen was asked to sacrifice nothing, and has sacrificed nothing unless they have chosen to out of the goodness of their hearts.

The only people who have sacrificed are the veterans and their families. The volunteers. The people who swore an oath to defend this nation. You.

You stand there, deployment after deployment and fight on. You’ve lost relationships, spent years of your lives in extreme conditions, years apart from kids you’ll never get back, and beaten your body in a way that even professional athletes don’t understand. And you come home to a nation that doesn’t understand. They don’t understand suffering. They don’t understand sacrifice. They don’t understand that bad people exist. They look at you like you’re a machine – like something is wrong with you. You are the misguided one – not them. When you get out, you sit in the college classrooms with political science teachers that discount your opinions on Iraq and Afghanistan because YOU WERE THERE and can’t understand the “macro” issues they gathered from books with your bias. You watch TV shows where every vet has PTSD and the violent strain at that. Your Congress is debating your benefits, your retirement, and your pay, while they ask you to do more.

But the amazing thing about you is that you all know this. You know your country will never pay back what you’ve given up. You know that the populace at large will never truly understand or appreciate what you have done for them. Hell, you know that in some circles, you will be thought as less than normal for having worn the uniform. But you do it anyway. You do what the greatest men and women of this country have done since 1775 – YOU SERVED. Just that decision alone makes you part of an elite group.

Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.

You are the 0.45%."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Upcoming road trip

It's that time of the year again. The leaves are falling, pumpkins getting sacrificed, NY Giants hopefully winning, and it's our unit's turn to deploy again. Soon I'll be on the 15 hour plane ride again, and not in the middle seat like last time... But not before I eat my Thanksgiving turkey, and get some serious slope time (let's just have faith in the La Nina again), matter of fact, I think I'll skip the turkey, and enjoy an extra day of skiing. They got turkey in Afghanistan. If not, there is always SPAM and hot sauce. Hot sauce makes everything better.
SRP is over, month long NTC vacation in the Mojave is a distant memory now, just getting through paperwork, and other joys of prepping for a deployment with information coming in last second. If this whole Army gig doesn't work out, I can probably work as a circus gymnast from all this "Be flexible" military readiness...Should be able to bend backwards now....