Friday, October 08, 2010


After getting off a 2am flight, I was first reunited with the hot smell of Eastern Afghanistan. A ripe, gamey smell that had somehow left me. I doggedly dragged my feet across the runway, carrying my duffel bag, assault pack, armor and helmet to my little plywood room. I was back. I had to pay dearly for my small vacation, (reinforcing a bunker with two trailers full of sandbags, and now I could sense something coming down the pike.

Two days later, I was awakened by an angry pounding on my door. (No one raps on a door with a civilized knuckle; the entire fist must be vigorously employed.)

“Get up, you’re taking my guard shift!” a Staff Sergeant angrily informs me.

“All right, give me a minute. At our tower?”

“No, at the ECP. It’s a 12 hour shift. For 30 days.” He said.

“And you’re late.”

“Ffffuu OK, be ready in a minute.”

After walking a quarter of the way around the airfield, I met an unsmiling Staff Sergeant (pardon the redundancy) with a clipboard.

“You’re late”, he grumbled.

And thus began my payment for R&R. A 12 hour shift, with mandatory PT for 2 hours afterwards. Up at 3:30 am, and back around 7:30 pm.

The first day was awful. I had such high training, and was tasked for such a mean detail. My pride was hurt. I saw only the worst in this new situation. But slowly, it changed for me. I began to talk to the Afghans, the local workers and the Security Forces. They were warm and genuine, eager to make friends. If you gave a greeting and a handshake to any of them, the next day you were close friends. I scored some shampoo for one ASG (Security) that asked for some, and the next day he invited me to sit with him and his comrades at their table. Styrofoam cups were placed in front of the chairs and a giant metal teapot was produced and steaming hot green tea was poured. My comrade added some chow hall sugar into my cup and stirred it around with his pen. I looked down, unaccustomed to real tea, the leaves loose in my cup. It was delicious. Hot and properly steeped, and sweet. Now I understood the attraction to this drink.

A stack of still-warm flat bread was produced and broken. Clusters of tiny green grapes were set on newsprint, and we all pitched in. The bread was soft and fragrant, and I had never tasted grapes sweeter. They spoke a little English for my sake, and we got along tolerably well with hand signals and stolen words.

The actual work wasn’t awful. Sitting guard on the tower, or “wanding” incoming workers with a metal detector, checking “taskeras” (Identification papers). Though, inspecting the incoming sewage trucks was unpleasant. I only regret having one nose to give in the service of my country.

The taskera station was equipped with a full body scanning X-ray machine. My first week on duty, during a lull in traffic, I looked to my left and saw a full-bird Colonel staring at me. I flinched and bade him good morrow, and through squinted rough eyes, asked me what that big contraption over in the corner yonder was. I had no clue how to work it, but I wasn’t going to let a little detail like that stand in my way. I told him to stand in front of the large gray panel, and I took a seat at a computer monitor. I saw a list of tasks, and navigated the arrow buttons to highlight one that said “BEGIN SCAN”.

“Hold still, sir,” I said, as if I knew what I was doing.

After the machine stopped humming and thumping and smoking, I told him to look at the monitor.

And there he was.

Apparently the X-rays only probe down so far, oh for instance, just underneath the layer of clothes. So I stood there bullshitting my way through explaining the intricacies of this sophisticated piece of machinery…all the while a picture of a naked man with a pistol strapped to his hip was on the monitor. I tried not to look at the Colonel’s…bald headed eagle, but, well, let’s draw the curtain on this painful memory.

I found myself becoming fast friends with my comrades. The same happened in Basic and in my 2 weeks at the Replacement battalion when I first got to the Division. My fellow soldiers not in the Intelligence field are much easier to get along with. They’re rougher and cruder, but make fast friends. Long discussions were held while we sat at the vehicle inspection station. A line of trucks came in every half hour or so, and we’d have to get up and climb up in them and search for weapons or bombs. I prayed that if I were to buy it, I wouldn’t buy it from an excrement filled truck explosion.

Some of the mushbrains bragged about turning up the trucker’s radios all the way, or hiding things in the glove box, but I tried to be good to the drivers. We sat and chatted about the heat and Afghani food until they were cleared to proceed into the base. One time, a driver leaned out of his window and under-handed me a giant red ball. He “salaam”-ed me and I waved back. It was a giant pomegranate. I sliced it in half and handed one to my comrade H, and we sat in the cool shade, out of the hot sun and scooped fleshy red seeds out of the fruit and spit the spent grainy seeds into the dusty road. We felt almost like free men, away from the Sergeants, enjoying an unexpected treat not approved or sanctioned by the US Department of Defense. A small rebellion.

Anything pleasurable is a rebellion. Anything rebellious is pleasurable.

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