Sunday, March 21, 2010

El Fin

This will be my last entry. Both Scott and I are home, safe and sound and I no longer have a reason to continue with this blog.

There were several purposes for this blog. The first and foremost was to share my experiences with family and friends. I also wanted to let people know about the military and what we experience in a combat zone. As an Air Force Officer who is not a pilot, it is very unlikely that I will again be in a situation where I am the war fighter. I am usually in a support role; my job ensures that planes get off the ground so they can fight the enemy. But this time, I was the one directly fighting the enemy. To the pleasure of my parents, that probably won't happen again.

At times I have felt selfish. I did not hold back my feelings and I know that many of my entries have upset the people I love. If it is any consolation, I have used the blog as an outlet for my stress, frustration and insomnia.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The deployment is not over until you are home and once again "normal," if this nebulous "normal" state can ever be achieved. Because the fact is, you've been in a war zone and you have changed.

I'll speak in generalities. Most suicides in a deployed environment occur in the last month. Many service members, both male and female, are not ready to resume their responsibilities at home. You see, during a deployment every thing is taken care of for you so you can focus 100% on your job. There's no laundry, no cooking, no cleaning, no crying children and no nagging spouse. Of course there are different stressors in a war zone, but I've heard many people say that is what they prefer.

There's also the fact that once you are home, you can feel very detached from what's really important. There's two wars going on, but here I am in Indiana, totally useless. There are other soldiers out there fighting and I need to be with them doing my part. I have already started to feel this way. As I am leaving the area, I see a lot of Marines and Soldiers coming in. They all look so young and I only know 20% of what they are about to experience. I think this upcoming summer will be the most violent in the war thus far and they are going to be there in the thick of it. My heart breaks for them and the heavy burden they carry on their shoulders. Every time I hear of a US service member dying, I become sick.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Goodbye FOB Finley Shields

Leg one of five complete!

Risk Adverse Part II

If you were to look at a picture of a soldier during WWII and a soldier in either Iraq or Afghanistan today, you would notice many differences. Probably the most noticeable different is the amount of gear that today's soldier carries. We are always trying to improve the way we fight and our body armor has saved many lives.

With that said, we shouldn't be wearing body armor in Afghanistan. We shouldn't be driving around in MRAPs either. These are conventional solutions to an unconventional war. We are treating the symptoms rather than the cause.

Let's start with the decision to upgrade from Hummves to MRAPs. The enemy was building bigger and bigger bombs that were capable of catastrophically destroying a Hummve. So now it is mandatory that we use MRAPs. And guess what? Now the enemy can build bigger bombs that will destroy an MRAP. What's after the MRAP? How big are the next generation of vehicles? MRAPs are big enough--they get stuck on unpaved roads, can't fit through the narrow roads, they are high and bulky and are extremely noisy. Whatever adaptions we make to our vehicles, body armor, etc the enemy will still find a way to kill us. Instead of focusing our efforts on protecting ourselves and adapting to the enemy's operations, maybe we should focus more on rooting out the enemy.

In COIN 101, you are taught that the population is the center of gravity. It's no longer a factory or military base. We are trying to win over the population and make them believe in our cause instead of the insurgent's. All of this is being done, of course, in concert with the local government. The local government and its ideals is what the people are fighting for. So we are trying to connect with the population, person to person. You can almost think about it like a politician trying to win an election. He needs to be a gregarious, sympathetic and passionate leader. Now tell me how this politician would do if he is from a different country than the one he is campaigning in. He wears different clothes. He speaks a different language. He has a different culture and a different religion. He can't campaign forever, he has to go home and visit his family. He would have to work ten times as hard as his opponent in order to be successful.

So when we drive around in our big, out of place vehicles, wear our bulky body armor that makes us look like monsters and spend most of our time on eye sore military installations, I think we are helping the insurgents by isolating ourselves from the population. This is our conventional mindset. This is why industrialized nations lose COIN wars. This is why Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Risk Adverse Part I

It's the post you've all been waiting for! Probably not, but it's the post I've been waiting to get off my chest.

The military minimizes risk in every aspect of life. Now, this may sound like a good thing. But not when the restriction is illogical or the wrong way to fight a war.

I don't know how it happened, but the military is obsessed with safety. We are required to wear reflective belts in daylight. We are prohibited from using headphones on a running track. I could go on and on. In the military, there are no accidents. Only Commanders who have failed at leadership. Commanders are so afraid that an accident will occur under their watch which will lead to their termination, that they create absurd "safety" rules. What they really are doing is treating us like children. This home station attitude clearly carries over into the deployed environment. And in Risk Adverse Part II, I will explain why being "safe" in a COIN environment is actually more dangerous.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Engineer Arif

I'm still in Afghanistan. I'll be here for the next several days and since I have no official work, I'm taking this time to reflect on my tour. I've promised an entry on Engineer Arif, so here goes...

Engineer Arif is the Nangarhar Province Director of Public Works. He is one of the few, if not the only, Line Directors who is not former mujaheddin. I like to think that most of his contemporaries have fled the country. But Engineer Arif remains. He is a well educated, smart man and could most definitely teach me a thing or two about engineering. He knows this province like the back of his hand and the PRT has been implementing his strategic road plan for the past three years. He is the only Line Director who visits his project sites and he does it on a frequent basis. He is a capable man who has relocated mosques, graveyards and hundreds of houses for road construction. He is able to connect to the populace and explain the importance of roads. He understands that roads are not only important for the economy and governance, but that they are also political. I think Engineer Arif understands the COIN fight better than most US military officers. Road projects are multi-million dollar projects and it seems like every Afghan Government Official tries to get their hands in that cookie jar. But not Engineer Arif. He is honest, talented, hard working and intelligent. He is the kind of person who shows me there is hope for Afghanistan. Hopefully there are hundreds and thousands more just like him. It has been an honor to work closely with him for the past nine months and I wish I had spent more time with him. Engineer Arif for President!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Last Mission!

I just came back from my last mission! What a great feeling!! I know I'm not done yet, but I keep on checking items off my list. I'm one step closer to going home. Only three percent left!

Scott has already left and will probably be home before I leave Afghanistan. I wish I could be with him, but at least we will be able to take our two weeks off together when I get back.

I might as well take this opportunity to list all the things I will NOT miss:
- Not being able to walk around barefoot. Ever.
- Low flying helicopters circling at 2am.
- Lobster on Friday. Every Friday! I know I may sound crazy, but too much of a good
thing can be a bad thing.
- The feeling that after I've taken a shower, I'm filthier than when I started.
- Incessant Afghans. They are very persistent, even on Fridays.
- Stone Age internet connection.
- When it rains, it smells like shit.
- All the stares I receive because I'm an American and a woman.
- My lumpy mattress.
- The Army. I want to go back to Air Force land where things make sense.
- All the BS!!

And the things I will miss:
- I never have to spend money.
- The food is half decent and I never have to cook.
- I've never had my underwear stolen and I never have to do my laundry.
- $1 DVDs.
- Afghan food. It's pretty tasty, especially goat and sugar coated almonds (aka crack).
- The beautiful weather in the fall, spring and winter (when it doesn't rain, see above).
- The Army. I think I'm more green than blue right now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Operation Notebook Part II

Just recently we did another mission to a school and I got to hand out more school supplies. I think every school in Afghanistan is in need. It was a really nice mission and after the engineering portion, I was able to sit in on a female engagement team to interact with women and children. It was a beautiful community. I instantly received good vibes from the village. I could tell there was a lot of love and respect. One women was very pregnant with her seventh child. Even though she had the wrinkles of a 60 year old, she had this amazing pregnancy glow about her.

When we arrived at the school, there were children every where!

The school had several buildings and more under construction. There was just not enough room for all the children.

The teachers and students collect the boxes of school supplies...

And take them back to the school.

The cutest baby!

Talking with the women and children.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

And Then There Were Two

It's hard to believe I'm going home soon. At times it feels like a year and at other times it feels like I just arrived. The team is starting to filter out and we are down an engineer.

I wanted to share a couple of pictures from a recent awards ceremony where all three engineers on the team (including myself) earne
d an Army Combat Action Badge (CAB). Strangely enough, the criteria for Air Force equivalent is much more strict. I will definately not receive one but my guys have been submitted for the award. They should also receive Purple Hearts for the incident, but alas the Air Force is dragging its feet once again. It's shameful that the Army Purple Hearts for same incident have already been presented. I thought a Purple Heart was a Purple Heart, no matter what branch of the service.

The ceremony was strange in the fact that people were congratulating me for getting blown up. Who in their right mind wants to get blown up or shot at? I don't want a "congratulations," but at the same I don't want
sympathy. In the military we train and prepare ourselves for combat. So getting blown up or shot at is what we want to do, what we hope to do, what we should do. And of course fight back! It shows that we are mentally and physically tough to endure such an event and prevail. We are brave and courageous in perilous situations. And maybe that does warrant a congratulations. But sitting in an MRAP--attracting baby IEDs--totally helpless--is not very courageous.

Accepting the Army CAB from the Commander

Combat Engineers!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Operation Notebook Part I

Operation Notebook. Not the most creative name, but it will have to do. I've received several packages of school supplies in the mail over the past couple of weeks. This past weekend I was able to go through them and sort all the supplies and come up with a plan for delivery. A big thank you for every one who either chipped in some money or organized a school supplies drive at their school. I was able to divide the supplies evenly among five different schools throughout Nangarhar Province.

The first delivery was two days ago in one of my favorite villages in Dari Noor. The PRT has a very good relationship with the village and I always feel very safe whenever I go there. However, I was unable to be on the mission, so one of the other engineers delivered the supplies to the headmaster. I was told that when the boxes of school supplies were taken out of the MRAPs, a huge crowd gathered to see what was in the boxes. The headmaster was very grateful and I think you can see the huge smile on his face. His school had zero supplies and books, but now they at least have paper, pens, pencils, chalk, rulers and notebooks.

I hope to have all the school supplies delivered before I leave. And the good news is, I just received word that I have seven more boxes waiting for me at the post office!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The C Word

Convoy. Two years ago, it was my dirtiest of dirty words. I didn't like the sound of it. I didn't want to hear it. And I certainly didn't use it. Because whenever US troops were being killed, it was on a convoy. A convoy was just disaster in the making and I didn't want any part of it.

In lieu of tasking. A dirty phrase. I knew eventually I would deploy and I wanted to. I was an oddity in the military-in almost five years and never deployed. Hanging out in Korea doesn't count for shit. I was crossing my fingers for a cushy deployment-Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean or Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan where you can go on weekend hiking trips. The worst case scenario was an in lieu of tasking, now called a joint expeditionary tasking (JET) where I would take the place of an Army bubba because the Army is that strapped for people. Most of these JET positions involve that nasty C word and going "outside the wire," or outside the base.

So on 23 December 2008, my world turned upside down. My unit deployment manager (UDM) came into my office and said she had a deployment for me. I was both excited and nervous. Then she said it was a long one. What? Longer than six months? How is this possible? I just came off of a short tour (Korea) and should not be eligible for a 365-day deployment. Oh, it's just a 270-day deployment with three months of pre-deployment training that doesn't count towards the actual deployment time. That makes me feel better. Oh, and you say I'm with the Army on an Afghanistan PRT and I'll be going on that C word two to three times a week? Fantastic.

Adapt and overcome. I've been put outside my comfort zone so many times that now it's the only place I can exist.

Now I feel at home with the Army. Don't let that fool you into thinking that I actually like the Army. But, the Army is pretty simple. If you're not a Sergeant, you're pretty worthless and your opinion counts for a whole lot of nothing. Officers are God-like and placed on a pedestal (even the really dumb Lieutenants). If someone gets in trouble, you drop them for push-ups rather than dropping paperwork. But there are a lot of draw backs. The Air Force always talks about diversity and learning from other people. I've learned a lot in this joint deployment, just by asking questions of my Army brothers and sisters and listening to their answers. But they did not ask me one question about how the Air Force operates. The Army only operates one way-the right way, and their personnel cannot see it any different. Completely incapable of thinking outside the box. And that irks me. We are fighting a counter-insurgency (COIN) war and people throw around the COIN phrase more than Megan Fox around here. But when the Army bubbas have been told to operate a certain way and this is the only way they know, they cannot adapt and overcome the COIN environment. Because all their training is the exact opposite of what they should be doing in a COIN environment. You should live outside the wire, eat your meals with locals in their house and take off your ridiculous body armor that makes you look like a monster. Okay, I'm going off on a completely different tangent. I'll save that piece for another entry entitled "Risk Adverse."

What I'm trying to say is the Army is still pretty messed up, but I feel at home with them. Two years ago I was petrified of a JET tasking and now I don't want to reintegrate with the Air Force. But I don't want to be with the Army. A catch-22 in classic military fashion.

The Air Force thinks I'm extraordinary. Here I am, running missions outside the wire, living at a small forward operating base and directly contributing to the war effort. I'm a hero in Big Air Force eyes. But it's ridiculous!! The Army does this stuff all day, every day. I'll ensure you that there's nothing special about me, but whenever the Air Force big wigs come to visit, they like to stoke our egos and tell us how awesome we are. Yeah, I'm really brave for going outside the wire in a big vehicle that was specifically designed to be IED and small arms fire proof.

Two years after I thought convoy was a dirty word, I couldn't image myself at Diego Garcia or Manas. What would I write on my Officer Performance Report? That I supported the infrastructure so the real war fighters could make it to the fight? I'm one of those real war fighters now and I'm not looking back.

Over the past 11 months I've acquired an Army PT uniform. When I return to Mildenhall, I plan on wearing it to my first day of squadron PT. But I have a feeling that no one will get it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Four Hundred Pounds Lighter

It's the beginning of the end. My replacement is here and the rest of the new team will be here soon. I've mailed home 200 pounds of stuff and turned in 200 pounds of gear that I was issued almost a year ago. Even though most of that gear and stuff was hiding under my bed for the past several months, I can really feel the weight started to come off my shoulders. It feels really good.

It seems like this last month is the hardest. I wish I could say I came back off of R&R ready to finish out strong, but my rejuvenation lasted only 48 hours. This deployment has been very wearing and I feel a lot older (and have more gray hairs to prove it). I just have to stay focused until the very end, when I can kiss the UK soil and my sweet Scott.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Contractor Seminar

I'm still catching up on the blog and posting some events that happened before I went on R&R. Below are some pictures from a contractor seminar the PRT hosted a couple days before I left. We invited as many contractors as we could find and even received a lot of invitation requests from companies we didn't know. In the end, over 300 people showed up and travelers from all corners of Afghanistan showed up.

The PRT Afghan engineers instructed the con
tractors on basic construction techniques and materials, quality assurance programs and communication skills. It was a great event. Our Director of Public Works, Engineer Arif, gave a great motivational speech. I can't say enough about him, but I think I'll save it for another time.

After the seminar, we provided a lunch for all the attendees and I felt like a minor celebrity as many people wanted to take my picture. Hopefully it doesn't end up on some Taliban website.

Engineer Arif talks to the group.

Enjoying lunch

The only two female attendees. :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Congratulations Lt Col M. Joy Mann, PRT Nangarhar Commander, on your selection to Colonel.

Never have I know a commander who understands better the quote, "Put the mission first and the people always." You comprehend how important our mission is to the people of Afghanistan and the American people. How important our job is in extinguishing the center of world terrorism and you motivate us everyday to go out and be the best Airmen and Soldiers we can be for this important cause. You also understand risk vs. reward; how we put our lives on the line every day but it's worth it because our job is so important.

You take care of your people and they take care of you.
You go above and beyond to see that your people have everything that they need personally and professionally. And that is precisely why I joined the military--a brotherhood/sisterhood in arms where the people care about each other and take care of each other just because they wear the same thing to work every day.

I have never been in a more cohesive unit with such high morale. And that is a tribute to your leadership. I am so proud to serve with an officer of your caliber and I know the Air Force has made the right decision by promoting you to a position where you can exert your positive influence.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Well, not really but it is the title of one of my favorite Beattles songs and I am back in Afghanistan, which is probably comparible to life in the U.S.S.R.

The trip back was brutal. Three red eye flights, three nights in a row. I didn't see a bed for three nights. I returned to the FOB and slept for
19 and a half hours straight! It was awesome! And now there are only seven weeks left until my projected departure date from Craplakistan.

Going back to R&R...Scott and I didn't take many pictures, which is a shame. But I am determined to share with you the pictures that we did take (all in airports, by the way).

This picture is from our trip to the UK. We stopped in Bahrain, which is one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East. And app
arently, they like Christmas commercialism just as much as we do.
These next set of pictures are in the Heathrow Airport as we are getting ready to return. Our last pint of English ale for the next two months!
Wait for it....!!!
And this picture was taken in Kuwait as we wait for our flight. That was an eventful leg of our journey...we flew in a C-17 that was full of 105mm rockets. If anything went wrong with the flight, at least it would have been a painless death.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Love in a War Zone

Love in a war zone unlike love anywhere else. It is simple. Unrefined.

There are no quarrels, because death is imminent. Do you really want your last conversation to be in anger?

If there is a disagreement, it is resolved at the fastest of pace because death is imminent.

Every conversation starts, ends and is heavily peppered with "I love you."

And that's all there is really, conversations.

You look forward to your next encounter and hold on tightly to your sweet memories.

And that's all they are really, memories.

I think we could learn a lot from love in a war zone. But at the same time, it is a false love. It is a simple love.

It requires no sacrifice, no patience. No solutions to your problems, only that they will be dealt with later.

No compromise.

No communication.

Your love is simply put on hold.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Scott and I only have a couple more days left for our R&R break. I'm just about ready to call the experience a success, as I do not have shrapnel or holes in my body like the other engineers on the team. Yes, the PRT was hit with a landmine of some sort about a week ago while on an engineering mission and some of the team members got roughed up a bit. But I'm told everyone is okay. They are lucky, because children and police were killed during the attack.

Since I'm admitting this, I might as go ahead and explain how I was on a convoy that was hit with an IED. It happened in early November and we were on the way back from the mission when one of our trucks took a baby IED. I wasn't in the truck...I was very far away but I heard the explosion and saw the cloud of smoke. I think my heart literally stopped and the next two minutes were the scariest of my life. I kept on waiting for the secondary attack, but thankfully it never came. Luckily, everyone was okay, no injuries, and we only had to replace the tire on the truck.

So now everyone will worry about me as I head back to Afghanistan for the final two months. But please don't! I know that Scott and I are being protected. Too many uncanny things have happened for me not to know that we will be okay.

Overall, R&R has been fun and relaxing. I would be lying if I said it was easy to come home. At times I wanted to go back to Afghanistan so I could resume a routine...something stabilizing. I think it will be easier when I'm home for good and have to go to work!

The weather is incredibility cold and snowy, especially since I'm used to 70 degree weather. But Scott and I managed to get out of the house to visit Norwich and Nottingham, both cities having 11th century castles. We also ate out a lot and I had forgotten what real food tastes like (and alcohol!).

So the next time I'll be back in Afghanistan, looking forward to receiving all those school supplies!