15 Aug 2009 @ 6:23 PM 

The Pirates of Pogadishu


Due to the recent trip to the provinces, we had to pass through the space/time portal known as Bagram, which has been dubbed by some of those who operate outside the wire but have frequent brushes with it, “Pogadishu.” As many others have noted, it is a world separated from the war by a million miles of cultural and tactical vacuum. A rocket attack on the base in the recent past brought home to the denizens of this burgeoning city of tens of thousands that there is a war on… but on a daily basis you couldn’t tell it from Disney Drive.

You can’t tell from the actions of those running the place, either.

Whether in business or in warfare, processes are developed. Processes are what are performed by bureaucracies. Bureaucracies are created to serve people, but they exist to serve processes. Once a process is developed, it becomes the goal, the purpose. The people and their needs, which the processes were developed to service most efficiently, become the pain in the system. The very need that spawned the beast becomes the fleas infesting its fur, driving the beast mad. Add some paranoia to it, and you have a beast that is not only ungainly and unproductive, but actually counterproductive and dangerous.

Pogadishu is the petri dish of fobbitry. At all times of the day you can find its denizens unconcernedly strolling the main road, Disney Drive, often in PT gear of whatever service sentenced them to their tour there. There are two PX’s, movie theaters, the famous clamshell where they have Karaoke Night and Country and Western Night, two Green Beans Coffee establishments, Burger King, Dairy Queen, shops, an expensive and inefficient private internet service with charges scaling from less than $50 to over $100 depending on the bandwidth purchased, and 24-hour shuttle buses. That’s just for starters. Sergeants Major and bored officers lurk like trap door spiders to pounce on the unwary who sport any semblance of field wear or who do not wear their reflective belt. For most, the workday is similar to that performed back home, if under more crude circumstances. Only 7% of them will ever leave the wire. Many arrive at Bagram, leave only to go on leave, and finish their tours without ever having left the wire save by air. There is no end to the fobbitry inherent to the streets of Pogadishu.

On a recent trip, one of our junior NCO’s was confronted by a Lieutenant Colonel who stopped in mid-jog to assail him for having turned the cuffs of his ACU jacket inward, a common alteration that allows more air to circulate around the arms, increasing the ability of the body to cool itself. However, this alteration, while I don’t believe it is specifically forbidden by the AR’s, is sometimes expressly forbidden by certain units, due to the fact that some Sergeant Major doesn’t feel that it’s a “good look” to be sporting. Also, should the street suddenly burst into flames, the Soldier so attired could suffer burns to parts of the arms that may have been retrieved less well-done than other parts of his corpse had the cuffs been tightly sealed against his wrists.

In any case, the LTC stopped in mid-stride to assail the young NCO, berating him for his wear of the uniform as well as his mustache. This young soldier, who leaves the wire every day, may wear his mustache slightly outside the bounds of AR’s, but it is tolerated operationally based on the commander’s evaluation of the cost/benefit analysis. The LTC demanded that the NCO remove his mustache, apparently on the spot. The Soldier was unable to comply and so the LTC demanded that the NCO present himself to some Sergeant Major at 1400. Having been sent on a mission by a full Colonel that included drawing certain equipment and returning forthwith on a convoy that left Pogadishu at 1300, the NCO regretfully left the wire without sating the bloodlust of the LTC.

The NCO duly informed the Colonel, upon his return, of the confrontation.

“Screw him,” the Colonel replied, “If he wants to call me, I’ll tell him the same thing to his face.”

Our Colonel is not a Pirate of Pogadishu. What matters to him is getting the job done, not looking like some hackneyed recruiting poster while you do it. That’s not to say that there is no discipline, but it’s not about sweating the small stuff that has no bearing on the mission. It’s about sweating everything that does.

Instead of stopping to chew out junior NCO’s over field modifications to uniforms and moustaches that are not in direct contravention of mission accomplishment, it might be a better idea to identify when four or five teams of people are trying to accomplish a similar goal within a single organization inside his battlespace and putting one person in charge of them all so that they actually work together to get it done. Then, after that’s accomplished, if the LTC still has time on his hands, perhaps chewing out random NCO’s over what is NCO business might be more productive behavior.

The LTC at one point screamed at the NCO that other Soldiers were going to die because they would burn up, howling in pain because they had seen this NCO and would emulate his jacket cuff style. This, ladies and gentlemen is a Pirate of Pogadishu.

Our trip would be a dozen times more challenging because of the Pirates of Pogadishu. Like many teams in this country, we are dependent upon our interpreters to accomplish our mission. They are members of our team. We travelled with two terps, both combat veterans with more than three years of service, to Pogadishu. Upon arrival we were greeted with, “Oh… them. You shouldn’t have brought them.”

“No?” we queried.

“Oh, no. No, no, no. You can’t bring terps in here like that.” Three heads shook in unison.

“But we need them to do our job,” we pled. A quick conference followed. Eye patches were donned. The Underpirates talked quickly amongst themselves, the uncovered eyes darting to and fro nervously.

“You must go and see the wizard,” came the decision from what appeared to be the Chief Underpirate for Domestic Placement.

“The Wizard?” we asked. “Who and where is this wizard?”

“The Wizard is the Chief Overpirate of Fobbit Tranquility, and may be found in the Directorate of Overpiracy, just down the way.”

“Uh……huh. Okay. And if they do not heed our cries?” we explored.

“Then your local nationals shall be banished to the vagaries of the outside world, that which is forbidden to be seen, from which you quite obviously plucked them at random just prior to your entry to Pogadishu.”

“And if the great Wizardly Overpirate deems them to be less than fatally harmful to our alien life processes?”

“Oh, well in that case, they can stay with you. But they cannot eat,” they stated in unison, which had a creepy echo effect.

“They can’t eat.” More a statement than a question at this point, all disbelief having been suspended over the course of the prior several minutes.

“No. They cannot eat. See their ID cards? They have no priveledges. They cannot eat. Not in Pogadishu, anyway.” Again with the stereo effect.

Well, we were off to see the wizard. After a brief ceremoney involving a hair from each of their heads, two ID cards, chicken bones, two separate drums and another set that were joined together, and a strange but very sweet-smelling metallic powder that burst into flame delightfully when the wizard cast it into a small fire, it was determined that if the Captain ever has children they will belong to the wizard and our terps could stay. Everyone was happpy save for our deeply insulted interpreters.

“It is like being in a prison, Sir,” they told me.

“I know.”

That’s not the best part.

The best part is that after having risked their lives, finding an IED, driving through an reported ambush which did not materialize and doing a fabulous job of interpreting, our two interpreters were removed from the manifest for the return flight (which turned out to be on the exact same Canadian C-130 we had flown up on,) escorted to the gates of Pogadishu and forced to ride back to Kabul in a taxi while still wearing American uniforms, thereby endangering their lives.

Without their luggage, which had already been palletized.

Our two team members were humiliated; which is one of the worst emotions in the world for an Afghan. “It is not your fault, Sir,” one of our terps told us. “It is our fault for working with you and putting ourselves in the position where someone can do this to us.”

The Pirates of Pogadishu had had their revenge.

Tags Tags: ,
Categories: Afghanistan, COINiots
Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 15 Aug 2009 @ 06 42 AM


Responses to this post » (27 Total)

  1. Ky Woman says:

    Oh holy crap!! I wish you could tell me that this was just a joke, but I know that you speak the truth. Just unfrickinbelievable and the worst part, it’s so not necessary.

    What happened to winning the “hearts and minds”? Or is that only for those brave enough to venture out into the wilds beyond the wire?

    We’ll be here keeping our fingers crossed that you don’t have to return to the land of fobbitery at Pogadishu.

    Just stay safe no matter where you be…


  2. Jean says:

    Let’s hear it for Upper Management. Pompous a**holes.
    No idea how much harm they cause and don’t care. Grrrrrrrrrrr!

    Take care, Blue.

  3. maxx says:

    At least you don’t have to live in the middle of that madness.
    Take care

  4. Elf channels Max Payne says:

    Dude, you are bad for my blood pressure. You do know that the phrase “NCO business” dates you as an old fart? One old fart to another, with the greatest respect. 7% ??? You are kidding, right?


    While we’re in the mood to rage about injustices done our terps, let me share something with ya’all (sorry Sir about the plug on yer page).

    Terps Out. And now there’s an org behind it..

    One of the LTC Fobbits at Balad wouldn’t let our terps in the mess hall with their
    escort one day. The young PVT (from Camden) got right in his shit. When they’d pull that shit we’d all walk away and then bring them a to-go plate.

    And so far – 3/12 are here. Working now on #4. This is not a bad average BTW.

  5. coffeypot says:

    REMF’s have been a problem in every war ever fought. They loose site of what’s important and try to enforce rules and regs simply because the REMF’s are so unimportant. Take care of those that take care of you and you will always be right. But we are talking ARMY here, not right.

  6. Coffeypot,

    Dude, I have been watching the Fobbitry grow exponentially (or virally) like wildfire since the mid 90’s – when KBR first got our field quality of life contracts.

    If it weren’t for 03 push, I would question our ability anymore to go “Spartan”.

    It’s gotten out of hand, and some major ass kicking needs to happen. We don’t have to have Haggen Daas and all the rest of CONUS comforts trucked in while people are dying to guard the POG’s creature comforts.

    And our Generals bitch we don’t have enough troops. Bullshit we are not fighting the damn Wehrmacht. There were at least two BDE’s worth of troops at Balad, Iraq fit for constubalary duty sitting on their fobbit asses. Let them guard a village. F*ck em if they can’t take a joke.

    “Pogadishu is the petri dish of fobbitry.” LOL. Of course I got a whole blog out of the fobbits. I should have f*cking monetized it. KBR did.

  7. fnord says:

    Hey, you cant let a war interfer with regulations, that would mean anarchy. Sigh. After 8 fkin years we are still there? WTF?

  8. @Fnord,

    8 years still there: Fnord the last guy in favor of in/out war was….

    But as you yourself have pointed out, tides turning against the Talib. Part luck, part finally focus on it. Good roundtable this weekend by FP team on AFPAK, Richard Holbrooke team seems to be taking disciplined, focused approach at their level. They stuck to 2 min summaries/intros before questions. Holbrooke says Hilary was behind it 100%. I believe him. Blue you might want to check out this link to it, it may actually cheer you up.

    Conference AFPAK First Team.

    It’s actually nice to have Mommytrix in charge.

    [It must be close to the Rapture for me to say that, start praying]

    Now about the Fobbits…

    Admittedly my feelings about this are complicated, rather like Norman Bates relationships with women. But in all seriousness…the Fobbits are a serious impediment to mission accomplishment, and they can either go home or get their asses outside the wire and start guarding something . I don’t care if it’s Gaula’s goat well. Or trees in the Korengal Valley.

    (if the last sounds harsh to you, I am a social Darwinist Humanist).

    7% leave the wire. Subtract medical personnel and depot level maintenance staff. That means whatever remains (90%?) are strap hangers.

    If I were the Pope we’d be doing some remodeling of the perimeter..with ACE’s, CEV’s and D7 Bulldozers. Then again if I were Pope, it would be the Rapture.

  9. Gary says:

    I am a liberal and opposed the Iraq war and have grave doubts about the war in Afghanistan. I have nothing but the greatest respect for our military men and women. I was one for 12 years. Opposing the wars is not the same as loving and glorifying the enemy in the conflicts. I cared for and respected the Vietnamese I worked with in Vietnam, and was appalled at the actions of the Jane Fonda types. But the protesters were right. Vietnam was a huge mistake for our country. I can not see our national interest in Afghanistan. I read a number of blogs daily and enjoy hearing the mechanics of fighting the war. I respect and admire Secretary Gates and the command responsible for the war, but really why is it important for us to be there? In 5 years Iraq will be in at least 2 and probably 3 pieces, with at least one looking a whole lot like Iran. Is that in our national interest? Are either or these armpits of the world worth our guys dying for? My conservative friends say the all volunteer for is different. Not like the Vietnam draftees. Hey I don’t care if you signed on voluntarily, dying for a crappy cause, is still dead. I believe we are headed down the road to another Vietnam and we have other more pressing issues at home. We can not afford the money for these hell holes, even if no one had to die.

  10. Ben says:

    I spent a year in Afghanistan half in Bagram we were in charge of a 20k ring around the base. I can tell you how many time we got yelled at while at Bagram. During the end of our tour (this was back in 2005) they had SGM standing in all the chow halls and would make you return to your hut and change if you had a “dirty” uniform. Same s**t is happening in Iraq as well. I was told on more than one time by senior enlisted/officers that my uniform was not clean enough for the chow hall. After you have sweated your ass off for 12 plus hours outside the wire the last thing you are thinking about is showering before chow. Just got to suck it up and give them the respect they are looking for and charlie mike. Infantry Leads the Way

  11. Bluepitbull says:

    Sadly, this sort of thing has happened to me time and time again.

    First time in Desert Storm, next in Mogadishu, then in OIFII.

    Lovely when you have someone at relatively low risk criticizing your field craft and experience off-FOB.

    These people never seem to understand that they are there to be (most of the time) service and support for the trigger-pullers.

  12. SNLII says:

    Hilarious, Blue. I’ll be out to check on you in a couple of months, if you’re still there.

  13. malclave says:

    As a former REMF (medical laboratory specialist), I was prepared for some ribbing, and hoped for the opportunity to reply in turn. Instead, the last half of the story just pissed me off.

    Aren’t we all supposed to be on the same team?

  14. This blog has described every tour of duty I had. It’s always the same crap when you get to the main base. In Bosnia it was Tuzla Main (Eagle Base)with Salute Alley, At Bagram it was Disney Drive (named in honor of Jason Disney not Walt Disney) and the insanity that ensues when people get bored in a combat zone and decide to pull rank on people.

    And to Gary, our national interest in Afghanistan (and Iraq for that matter) is pure and simple; ridding the world of safe havens for terrorists (ie fighting the global war on terror). If they can’t regroup, plan, arm and train themselves they have a harder time attacking us here in the states as they did on 9/11. It’s called National Security and I took an oath to defend my country against all enemies!

  15. Doc says:

    Unfortunately its the same thing in Iraq. I wish all Fobbits were required to go on street patrols at least once so they could get an idea what the real world was like outside their protected little TOCs. Maybe then common sense would dictate some things. We were pulled over *on a patrol* while leaving the FOB by a CSM for the exact same cuffing thing one of the gunner’s did.

    I remember going through the same things with our terp in Iraq last time I was here. He was a LN hire, so we had all kinds of fits getting things done for him, although he was with us everyday and proved his worth more than once. Its insulting to have to be escorted to your own living space by soldiers because you are an Iraqi terp. I was surprised with what he put up with some times.

    Finally, there was being refused entry to the DFAC directly after rolling in the wire from patrol because we didn’t have our safety belts on. My team and I got food, but thats a different story.

  16. […] Take some time and read my buddy OldBlue’s recent post called The Pirates of Pogadishu. […]

  17. The reason I never joined the military was because of BS like this. I knew that even as an officer (at the time I was contemplating military college) I would probably end up fragging some idiot “superior” wanker.

    My Dad was in the RAF and got threatened with court martial twice so I come by this attitude naturally.

    So I thought hmmm better to remain a civilian and not wind up in military jail.

  18. Byrds says:

    Wow, it sounds like Bagram is taking a cue from Kafka’s “The Castle.” Bow down to the almighty process. Don’t let the bastards get you down, Blue.

  19. Chuck says:

    I think what you are seeing os the second order effect of HRC and senior leadership identifying the chickensh*ts who’ve E&E’d deploying for 6+ years, and is now sending them into theater. FWIW, the only thing I think you should’ve done with the terps was have EVERYONE in your team get off the plane, and make them un-pallet all your gear. If they have issues with that, attribute it to some creed or something that says you won’t leave a buddy behind.
    In the chow hall, simple answer is to make it an EO issue, (scream racism–they said “the sand niggers couldn’t eat here!”) The only career you’d ruin, or at least disturb, would be that of the fobbit.

    I think what really irks me about this is that the same issue went on in Iraq, but with Iraqi soldiers. “Our” mess hall. “Our” aid station. US soldier and Iraqi soldier injured in the same fight, and they want to make the Iraqi go to Baquba General instead of the best medical care in the world at Balad. My answer to that was to ask if that was where we should send Brits, Poles, Romanians, and the host of other allies we had with us, and if not, what differentiates one ally from another? Was it skin color, language, religion…?

    That actually got the policy changed.

    One other option–claim they are not terps, but ambassadors. Mayors, Governors, whatever. You are showing them the strength of America vs. what the Taliban has. Depending on how you sell it (and how thick you lay it on) they may host a dinner for them.

    As to the 670-1 crowd, blank stares are miracles. Especially when they ask if you understand, politely, tell them “No. Not really, and could they explain in more detail?” Lather, rinse, repeat. until their heads explode.

    Gary, nobody asked your opinion on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of this or any other war. Just because you can only think on a tactical (well, tactical as you watch tv shows about it) and are unable to understand operational or strategic thinking isn’t Blue’s fault, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t ask your opinion anyway. By the by, it’s called strategic thinking because it involves strategy. Making your strategy public knowledge kinda makes it easy for your enemies to defeat it.

    Do you have any idea how demoralizing it is for a deployed soldier to hear that someone at home thinks there is no real purpose for our being in Afghanistan? That you don’t think his sacrifice is worth anything to the country? Gary, you’re a fucktard. Get back under your rock. You seem to think there is a logical way to “support the troops, but not the mission.” Just because you can divorce yourself from logic and reason in your mind doesn’t mean you are right.

  20. Matt says:

    Absolutely hilarious. Thanks.

  21. Froggy says:

    First of all, Gary, suck a dick. Get the fuck out of here cut/paste your bullshit vietnam story back in the Democratic Underground where they can pat you on the head call you hero.

    Great story though. When I was in Ramadi I was sporting a beard so nobody really knew who I was and I didn’t get fucked with at all. Our Iraqi terps were our brothers and we took too good care of them and they often became primadonnas as a result. That said, good terps are national assets and should be treated as such. Your head shed is fucked up for not looking out for those guys.

    Pogadishu is gay.

  22. anand says:

    Do any ANA or ANAAC operate from Bagram? Adding a training range of the ANA and/or ANAAC at Bagram would by a nice way to outpirate the Wizardly Overpirates. Hell move the Afghan National Army Training Command there. :LOL:

  23. Ellie Mae says:

    Kinda like fussing over wearing white socks in the blazing heat. In a war who cares what color socks you wear if they keep the feet healthy? Stateside yes, war zones no.

  24. Chuck,

    I like it. Of course my feelings about fobbitry are complicated, like Norman Bates feelings about his mother.

    If anyone wants to help out the terps (I do mean “out”) …

    Terps out

  25. […] course I am being a little sarcastic because not all the support types are at Bagram (Pogadishu), but it by far as the largest concentration of them (as pointed out by my buddy Old Blue, […]

  26. Die Piraten von Pogadishu…

    Old Blue von Afghan Quest zeigt auf wie sehr Bagram/Pogadishu von den Realitäten im Land entrückt ist…….

  27. Milo Mindbender says:

    I found it hilarious that any lifeform over O-5 or E-7 felt compelled to create a new “Regulation” in order to justify their meaningless exsistence. Who cares how tall your PT socks are as long as you are perfoming PT, and who brings a barber kit on patrol, just incase we throw a snap inspection?.
    I alway found that it was best to evade the Poges, and keep to my own kind.

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