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.