There are really no pictures to show of the past week or so, because there is nothing all that interesting to take pictures of at this point. The situation is constantly changing for myself and a couple of other soldiers from my team. We found out a couple of weeks ago that there was a requirement from our higher headquarters to detach a number of people from each team for a different mission. I’m not going to go into the precise details about it at this time, but suffice it to say that it is hard to see my team go downrange with our ANA counterparts while we are cast into another role that is very hard to picture.
As human beings, we like routine. We like predictability. It’s more comfortable than the unknown. We like to be able to picture what our life is going to look like tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Part of this whole journey has always been the unknown, but it is as uncomfortable as you would imagine it being in your own life. Before our arrival in Afghanistan, we had all seen pictures and video of what it looks like, but nothing on a small screen can compare with the reality of being on the ground, seeing the enormity of it all. Nothing can prepare you completely for the spectacle of Kabul, the distant beauty of the snow-covered mountains looming in the background as the dust rises over Kabul like steam from a boiling pot. Nothing can prepare you for the chaos of driving in the bizarre traffic, for the ever-present poverty, for the heartbreak of seeing the children with such terrible conditions and such questionable futures.
As dramatic as the pictures may be, nothing is the same as driving through the chasms of the mountain passes down to Jalalabad with the Kabul River’s cataracts shouldering up next to the road as if competing for the space. None of this could be experienced as we sought information, trying to picture the life we were throwing ourselves into. We had a clue, and more importantly, we had a clear idea… as clear as we could, anyway… of what our mission was. We had an idea of how we would apply our previous experiences and existing knowledge to make an impact, to achieve a mission. We had a mission description that, while by no means complete, was enough for us to form a mental scheme for how to approach it.
The new mission is so much sketchier, so much more ephemeral. It is an unknown in so many ways. It is new ground, and the most we can gather about it is a very scant description of where to find it on the map. As for the people we will be working with on the Afghan side, we know nothing at all except what organization they belong to, and the particular division of even that organization was only made clearer yesterday. The mission is still being defined by those whose job it is to define such things, and so we wait for the thinkers and planners to allocate the resources that we are and define what they can.
There is no doctrine that covers this assignment. There is scant experiential knowledge of this type of mentoring. Some have been doing it for a few months, and I’ve had a chance to speak with them about it. They are winging it. There is no doubt that they are doing good things, but nothing they have ever done has been specifically targeted to this type of mission. Yet, everything they have ever done is being plumbed for the skills required to accomplish it.
So, I and my two fellow NCO’s who have been extricated from the team that we have trained with for months face the unknown together. We know that this mission will be one of two things; it will either be fraught with a total lack of excitement or an overabundance of it. We may do nothing more than assist with the administrative functions being performed in an attempt to increase efficiency and accountability. If we are attacked with any degree of ferocity, we may find ourselves beyond any Coalition help that could arrive in time to make a difference. We will be off by ourselves in a position of great vulnerability, yet we may be performing desk work and never be bothered by anything more consequential than Afghan insects and the corruption known to be systemic in the organization we are going to assist and mentor.
In the meantime, they had to find something for us to do. One of our number, The Green Mountain Maniac, has a mechanical bent. He is assisting in the motor pool with the maintenance and repair of the vehicles. The other has been detailed to assist the S-1, or Personnel Officer, with whatever it is that Personnel Officers do, and I have been relegated to the TOC, or Tactical Operations Center, on the night shift, monitoring radios and situations and being a “TOCroach.” I am on the “Reverse Cycle,” awake all night, unable to adequately sleep during the day, and being largely invisible.
Life on our FOB has thinned out considerably in the past few days as teams of mentors “RIP out” to the east with their ANA units. “RIP” is short for “Relief In Place.” It means that these ANA units, with their Army, Marine, or French mentors, will relieve the units currently operating within the Area of Operations (AO) and those units will head back into their respective garrisons for rest, training, and a break from life on the smaller FOB’s which are in some cases more like combat outposts and patrol bases.
With fewer people, the FOB is not quite a ghost town, but it is a lot less crowded. Still, the ubiquitous workers from KBR are still here, fixing things, fixing chow, bustling about at a steady pace. The KBR people are here on contracts; civilians who come for whatever reasons… usually money and the tax advantages… and they are responsible for keeping the facilities working and the chow flowing. They do a great job. Our chow is top notch, and the facilities are clean and functional. A lot of the KBR people are American, but some come from Russia, the Ukraine, and I talked to one yesterday from Kosovo. I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t see a lot of wasted contract money being spent right here.
For right now, I await a nebulous mission while I contribute in the TOC at night, dreading another change like the jet lag I experienced just about a month ago. I am a yawning denizen of the night, listening to the events that unfold in the dark all over our little portion of Afghanistan. The French are hard to understand on the radio, sounding like the transmissions between the divers and Calypso in the old Jacques Cousteau shows. There have been events, but usually they are short-lived harassment fires that carry the same earmarks as juvenile pranks, with the notable difference that if they do accidentally hit something, someone could die.
We are moving in less than a week. At this point, we are not sure which FOB we will move to. We have no idea if the internet will be accessible from there. I hope so. The internet helps me stay connected, helps me stay sane, in touch with my friends and children. One thing I never expected was to “meet” new people, Americans, while in Afghanistan, but that has happened, too. I’ve “met” people simply because they have commented on this blog! Never expected that. The support is wonderful. Will this new mission sever the “silver cord” that has kept me plugged into life in the States, too? I have no idea.