Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas leave

Here is some speculation on what Al Qaeda is up to. It looks pretty solid.

I like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Zarathosht Diso, Eid-ul-Fitr and for atheists, have some fun and be safe. I will be traveling tomorrow back to America to spend the holiday with my family. It will be great to see them, but will suck leaving them in a few days. I will make the most of the time being with them, so posting will be light between Christmas and New Years, so get away from the computer, go out side and play in the snow, sand or what ever. Go live life and kiss the ones that you love…..that is the spirit of the season.

This is from Jason at Just Another Soldier. I posted this my old blog, but I think everybody should see life from an infantryman’s view. It is hard to explain to civilians what is like to be an infantryman. Some people in the past thought I was crazy when I was in the infantry. So before I start rambling, here is Jason’s monograph on the infantry.

The Tao of Soldiering

I.
Learn to Suffer

II.
You are not Special

Know your Place

III.
Release your Attachments

Today is the birthday of The Monastic Order of Infantrymen. For those unfamiliar with MOI, let me explain.

Soldiering is difficult. But for soldiers with the proper attitude, there can be great fulfillment from this work. To find peace and contentedness from a job that may seem intuitively chaotic, you simply have to find the tao of soldiering and embrace it.

For soldiers who are nauseated by terms like 'embrace', 'peace', and 'contentedness', and don't know how to pronounce 'tao' (it's like 'dow', as in Dow Jones, and can be translated loosely to mean 'the way') let me put this in terms a grunt can understand. Being a soldier is to live in a world of shit. You're constantly surrounded by assholes, you have to endure an unending amount of bullshit from your leadership, military regulations and paperwork, stupid training missions, and in the end of it all you'll most likely get shit on by your own government sooner or later when they fuck up your pay and benefits. And to top it all off, you might actually have to go into combat at some point which also means you'll spend a lot of time in another world of shit (i.e. Iraq) and possibly get your balls blown off by some insurgent asshole who is too afraid to fight you face to face so he explodes jury-rigged artillery rounds next to your Humvee while he's outside the maximum effective range of most your weapons systems. Soldiering just plain sucks. From the pogues who cook my food and do my laundry to the Apache pilots and the Green Berets who do all the Hollywood stuff, our lives are in a constant state of suck. But there are soldiers who have found a way to not only endure it all, but to enjoy it. Contentment, happiness, fulfillment, rewardingness, peace, meaning, purpose, zen, the way, the middle path, nirvana, the big nothing, whatever you want to call it, it's there if you are unafraid to see it.

Learn to Suffer

Most everything a soldier does entails discomfort. As a soldier, you will discovery an encyclopedic number of ways to suffer. The suffering is physical, psychological, and emotional. It can also be financial, legal, marital, and any other word you can give the '-al' suffix to. There is nowhere you can go to avoid suffering. There is no reprieve, no solace. It is unavoidable and inevitable. You can either cry about it, or you can just learn how to suck it up.

One of the first things an effective soldier learns during Basic Training is that physical endurance has nothing to do with physical ability. Your body gives you the illusion that you are only able to do what is within your physical limitations. Say for example your muscles are only strong enough to do fifty pushups. This limitation is very convincing. You believe that you can't do more than what your muscles and bones are physically capable of doing. In reality the only limitation is the will of the soldier. You probably think that if you lift weights and get stronger muscles, you will be able to do seventy pushups. This is true, but you aren't able to do more pushups because your muscles are stronger, you are able to do more pushups because your stronger muscles are a convincing illusion to allow yourself the will to do more. The truth is, with will alone you can do seventy pushups, or ten thousand for that matter. Accomplishing more than you physically should be able to is referred to as "using the force." If the Jedi metaphor for describing "will" doesn't work for you, then use the Christian one. In the New Testament (Matthew 17:20), Jesus said that with the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains. So whether you're raising an X-Wing fighter out of a swamp or parting the Red Sea, the concept is the same: you simply need the will.

It is not necessary for the novitiate to buy into any of this. But when he's into the twelfth mile of a forced road march carrying nearly his own body weight in gear, he learns that there is a landscape of pain he never knew existed. Once you've learned that there is no real limit to what you can endure, you're on your way to understanding that you can do just about anything so long as you allow yourself to have the will to do it. And the easiest way to learn this concept is to suffer and realize you can endure it, then as you reach a new level of painful experiences, you are able to begin working on the next level. Eventually you learn that there is virtually no end to the kinds of pain mortality can make available to you, and you continue to learn that there is no discomfort you can not overcome. The process of learning to suffer is always ongoing. No matter how much you've suffered, there is always more to suffer.

You are not Special

As Americans and westerners, we value individuality more than just about anything. Individuality is at the core of our concepts about freedom. The protection of the individual is vital to a free society. But while the civilian is the "individual", the soldier is the "protection".

As a society, we've gotten really good at fostering individual development. As a soldier, trying to incorporate the idea that individuality must be discarded is usually a very hard thing to accept at first. Because of basic psychological self-preservation instincts and a million beliefs that have been socialized into us from the moment of our birth, we protect our "ego" more than anything. You are who you think you are. You spend your life developing an image in your head of who you are. You have a name, you live in a certain place, you have a certain profession, you have tastes, opinions, preferences, druthers. In terms of a capitalistic society, we are nothing more than consumers. So we define our individuality by what we consume. (Sometimes the consumer becomes disillusioned by this, so he simply adjusts his tastes to something that more easily will identify him as an individual. "I'm not into Metallica anymore, they're too mainstream. I'm into The Mars Volta now.") There are eight million individuals in New York City. I was one of them. Like in college where the second question asked after "what's your name" is "so what's your major", in New York City the only two things anyone wants to know when they first meet you are "so what do you do" and "where do you live". I was a paratrooper and a programmer who lived in Nolita. I doubt there has ever been anyone who could say that. So I'm an individual, right?

In ten thousand years, no one is going to know who you were. Right now, while you are living, you don't even really matter. You live in Ohio, you work at a hardware store, you drive a Saturn, you have two kids, you send your mom a Mother's Day card every year, you have a beautiful lawn. You're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you have a loft in Chelsea and a summer home on Fire Island, you come from old money, you visit your mom every Christmas who lives in the home where you grew up an only child in New England, you were on the cover of Forbes and Out in the same month. Does any of this really matter? Someday you're going to die and they'll throw dirt on your grave just like everyone else's. Someday the sun will expand and consume every living thing on earth. Someday the universe will collapse in on itself then explode into a brand new universe. Even these events don't really matter, they're just things that happen. So whether you prefer creamy or chunky is of such absurdly little consequence, the near meaninglessness of it is mind-boggling. Accept that you are of no consequence, that you are essentially nothing. In a universe of infinite universes that will ultimately return to the singularity from whence they all came, you are as inconsequential as my peanut butter preference.

Know your Place

As a corollary to knowing that you are not special, you must also know your place. Unlike the private kindergarten you attended in Woodstock where everyone was special and an equal, even Timmy in his wheelchair and Tyrone the black kid, in the military there is a hierarchy because it is the easiest way to get things done. I spent an enormous amount of my military career as a private. I took out the trash and mopped the floor. Now that I'm a sergeant, I want you to shut the fuck up and continue sweeping, is that clear? Everyone has a job and a role, and by staying in your lane, work can be accomplished more efficiently. Imagine if your car's fuel injection system decided it wanted to start managing the anti-lock braking functions? The compartmentalization of tasks exists so you can be free to concentrate on your own set of tasks. When I raid a building, I know how I'm going to breech the door, I know how to clear the rooms, I know how to handle detainees. While I'm doing this there are Apaches circling overhead. I don't know how to do their job, and that's okay. I need air support and they provide it. The intelligence guys interrogate the detainees and come up with more targets for my platoon to raid. Remember, you are Soldier Nobody, not General Patton. Concentrate on your job and you will be able to perform it well. As an Infantryman, your job is to shoot people. Don't worry about Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, or Michael Moore. If your target is moving, remember to lead your point of aim a bit.

Release your Attachments

Suffering is caused by attachments. The sooner you accept this, the sooner you will learn how to overcome suffering. As Americans and westerners, we love our stuff. How much did you love Christmas as a kid? I remember thinking that the entire purpose of life was Christmas. That's when I got a whole new batch of toys, because as a kid, all the mattered to me was toys. To this day, I am still in awe at the fact that the feeling Christmas gave me is one without parallel. There have only been a handful of experiences in my life that are on par with how I felt about Christmas as a child. But toys break, they get lost, and eventually you lose interest in them. As an adult, what is more of a pain in the ass then your car? Or upkeep of your house? You can get a lot of satisfaction from stuff, I won't deny how much I love going to Barnes & Noble or to the music store. But you don't get real happiness from material possessions. And attachments go well beyond the things you can own. Relationships you have with people can be attachments. In fact, I dare say that there are more relationships in the world based on insecurity and attachment than love. And the ultimate attachment is your own ego. Your sense of 'self' is something you cling to, because as we already discussed, it's who you think you are. The linchpin to the the tao of soldiering is freeing yourself from your attachments. The less you own, the better. The more stuff you own is more stuff to worry about while you're deployed. The girl you were dating isn't going to wait for you for eighteen months, so just get over her and move on. Even if you are in a healthy and strong relationship with your wife, your marriage will not be the same when you get back. Like the relationship you have with any of your loved ones, it won't necessarily go bad, but it will certainly be different when you get back. There are several guys in my platoon who missed births of their children. This affects them and I'm sure it affects their wives. And in turn it will affect their marriage. Crappy marriages don't handle this sort of this well and they will end. Good marriages will weather it, but will evolve into something different. Either way, guys who are attached to the way things were, will be miserable. And whatever you thought about yourself, ideas you cling to that you consider part of your identity, may very well change after you've been around some good 'ole fashion death and destruction. Attachments are bad. The less you have the better. Real freedom is having no attachments. Only then are you able to have happiness. When you feel happiness for it's own sake, and not because of some external mechanism, you have found the tao.

The Monastic Order of Infantrymen

Infantrymen who have found the tao of soldiering sometimes find themselves living a near-monastic lifestyle because of it. If you have no major attachments, specifically no wife, no girlfriend, and no kids, and have an MOS that is 11-series, 18-series (Army), 03-series (Marines), or you are a Navy SEAL, you are able to join the Order. To join, a novitiate must perform an act of initiation involving humiliation, discomfort, and nudity as perscribed by a member of MOI. For example, making a snow angel in public while naked. Exceptional novitiates can be grandfathered in without initiation if three members of MOI approve. The proper greeting between members is a handshake with the right hand while grabbing ones own crotch with the left. Members will refer to each other as "brother", and the proper way to say good-bye is, "See you in Valhalla, brother." Should a member come to find he has a wife, girlfriend, or child, he is honorably released from the Order.


I like being a soldier and I love being an infantryman. There are a lot things that truly suck about being in Iraq, but none of it's really all that bad. This is the most interesting and exciting thing I've ever done. War is a horrible thing and I hope that as human culture we can find a way to completely put an end to it, but I have to admit I like combat. I'm not sure how this is possible, but it's how I feel. When guys discuss when we will be sent home, I get sorta depressed. I don't want it to end yet. How often do you get to shoot at terrorists? (Don't try to tell me they're not all terrorists. The guy who fills the water tanks for our showers had his head cut off last week and his entire family killed. That qualifies as terrorist in my book.) I love this job. Anyone who says you won't find happiness during combat, doesn't know how to find happiness. Combat has nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

More debates

The second debate was centered on what would be a better point defense system for our purposes in Afghanistan: M134 Minigun or the XM-214 . Everybody agreed that we should find the national stock number for both items and modify the Table of Equipment (MTOE) to justify the order for two of each of these systems.
Quentin Tarantino would have a hard time recreating the debate we had the other night. It was not politically correct by any measure. The subjects of the first debate was: Christina Aguilera vs. Britney Spears. It centered on the three arguments: One, who would bring home to meet the parents? Two, who would you, want to introduce to the guys? Three, well I can not publish any part of that debate. A suggestion was made to include other ladies in the future.


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Take some time to help.

This happened down the street from me. It is nice that somebody is thinking of the wounded and trying to help. I see many of the walking wounded at the DFAC in Kleber Kaserne . Maybe you can go to a VA or military hospital and help out. You might not agree with why the military is over there, but the troops deserve your support, not this or this.

Motivation

What motivates you to get up in the morning? Go chase a few dollars? The love of life? Here are a few reasons that motivate me to go down range:
He was a former co-worker.
He was a fraternity brother.
My wife’s former co-workers. Bios here and here.

The next time it could be you or somebody that is close to you.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Re-upping and Winter offensive

One of the sergeants extended his enlistment last week. When the unit was told about his action at final formation everybody applauded and gave him a big whooha. All he did was raise his hand, waived and then told us what we needed to do to get ready for the upcoming week. It was business as usual.

From Strategy Page: December 17, 2004: The week long American offensive has led to the arrest of about three dozen terrorist suspects, and the killing of at least ten who resisted. Weapons, documents and communications equipment has been seized as well. The offensive has gotten the attention of both the Taliban and al Qaeda networks in Afghanistan, sending many terrorists running for new hiding places. The offensive mainly consists of hundreds of raids against suspected terrorist hideouts. It's winter now, and men fleeing through mountain passes and valleys show up better to heat sensing vidcams. These devices are mounted on many UAVs that can constantly prowl the back country. Fugitives like to hide in the many caves found in Afghanistan's hills. But in the Winter, starting a fire in a cave just makes it easier for the heat sensors to spot you and bring a chopper full of American troops your way. The Taliban and al Qaeda know about the heat sensors, but they also know how to cope, to a point, with the Winter cold, out in the open and in caves. The Winter offensive is a bold move, and long planned. It will be several more weeks before it is known how successful it is. So far, the only friendly casualties have been four Afghan policemen killed by a roadside bomb.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Good news, opium and administrative notes

More good news from down range.

Bitch, bitch, bitch, moan, moan, and moan some more. Afghanistan was mired in a few wars, repression of every sort was rampant for decades, but now it is joining the 21st century with help. In order for farmers to grow alternate crops, the infrastructure to support alternate crops will have to be constructed and taught to farmers (low water consuming crops, since Afghanistan has been in a drought for years -you can blame the US for that too.), irrigation systems will have to be built, and transportation and distribution systems (road maintenance, truckers, government officials…) and the other parts of a successful agricultural system with a transparent financial procedures so farmers will be paid will have to be implemented. In a few years it will be on the way of becoming a “normal” country for the region.

Afghanistan might not become Florida or California, but the residents will say that it better today under the Taliban or Soviets. You can only do so much in so little amount of time. Opium has been grown in Afghanistan for years and past US administrations will have to shoulder the blame for a lack of progress against the growth of opium. That blame can be spread world wide also.

If America wants to beat the drug problem, it will have to build more rehab programs and keep putting the drug dealers in jail. It is simple economics. If America reduces the number of addicts, the producers of heroin will look more markets and customers globally. Since Afghanistan and other countries of the region are improving economically, you will see more drug users there, because of spare cash will be around and subsistence living will be part of the past. So the local nations will start battling the drug producers, because it will not be just an American problem, but a local one.

For all those who point to the Taliban as success story in curbing the grown of opium, do they want the US Army to use the Taliban methods?

The Taliban enforced the ban by threatening to arrest village elders and mullahs who allowed poppies to be grown. Taliban soldiers patrolled in trucks armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers. About 1,000 people in Nangarhar who tried to defy the ban were arrested and jailed until they agreed to destroy their crops.
I think that was the polite way stating their methods.

Here is their reason for the ban:

But it has become clear that the country accumulated vast stockpiles of opium even before the ban took effect, say drug officials. Rather than eliminate the drug from Afghanistan, the ban has only made it more profitable for those who are selling it by driving up its price, they say.

The price per kilogram, which at the time of Mullah Omar's ban was around $30, reached $500 last month, before the recent sell-off, authorities said. ''As a result of the ban, whoever has these stocks benefited greatly from increasing prices,'' Amirkhizi said yesterday.

Some specialists have questioned whether the Taliban's edict against growing poppies was real or just a way to drive up prices. ''The opium going out of Afghanistan hasn't gone down at all,'' said a US official who follows the global drug trade, speaking on condition of anonymity. ''They have increased production dramatically over the last three years and found themselves swimming in opium, and they have been moving it out to reduce their stocks, as well as reap bigger profits.''

Farmers openly pay local Taliban officials a 10 percent tax per kilo on their opium production, and traders pay a 20 percent tax to other Taliban leaders, Amirkhizi said. ''After that, what they do and who gets what cut is uncertain.''

Opium has been a problem for past US administrations and to expect the US to solve it in three years is ludicrous. As long as there are customers or a market (addicts), producers will line up and satisfy that demand. Look in the mirror to see who can help solve this problem.
The history of opium and the UN drug report.

Just two administrive notes:
I will follow Robert over at Expat Yank of altering the links on the left side of this page. So expand your reading list!

I just joined the Milblogs by putting a banner also at the left hand side. The hard part of joining was trying to pick out a banner. Go check them out.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

I might be working with these guys in the future.

This might have some bearing on where I might be sleeping in a while. So the west might be on the horizon. It looks like the UN is trying to work some magic with the Iranians, but I hope this does not end up like other failed UN operations. The US forces are expanding its Area of Operation (AO). Here is a map of Afghanistan; the light part is where the EU Euro Corps or ISAF is operating. The lower dark section is the US AO. The Dutch are going to add more soldiers to their contingent, but the Germans may just stay in Kabul for constabulary duties? I hope they do more than train the Kabul Police Department. Unfortunately the Canadians will be reducing their numbers soon soon. I have served with them and they were professional. They are straight talking, courteous and great fighters, but they were kind of short changed in the equipment department. Their presence will be missed.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Morning time and cheat sheet

What did you do this morning? Skip breakfast? I got up at 4:30, ran five miles, knocked out a bunch of push ups and sit ups and had some SOS for breakfast at the Dinning Facility or more commonly known as DFAC. Then I went down to armsroom and drew my weapon to clean. While cleaning the weapon, an enterprising officer hooked up the video/computer projector his notebook PC/DVD player and we watched “The Patriot” while cleaning. A few of the troops of the combat arms or infantry and armor types cracked jokes about seeing somebody getting killed or commented on the tactics in a clinical fashion. Just a normal morning for us.

Here is a cheat sheet on how to speak Dari, one of the main languages of Afghanistan.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Hearing and fixing links

While on live fire training, trying to hear things can be confusing. Sit in a HMMWV with the heater blasting, with an M-16 or M-249 firing and try to listening to a SINGARS radio. You are suppose to wear hearing protection, but the little foam ear protection makes it hard to listen to the radio, so I went without hearing protection and my ears are still ringing. I might buy some hearing protection from one of these retail outlets. here and here.

I just fixed the list of links last night. My HTML coding skills are improving. I tried to put a links to different points of view, since I feel you should be aware of what others think and the only way to do so is to actually read about them yourself.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Neo and stars

We had a staff call the other night at a German pub and it was interesting that half the party goers were drinking coke and the beer drinkers only had one beer then switched to the lighter fare. This is the new army. Drunkenness now is frond upon. One person came in with a long, black leather jacket on and somebody sitting at the table held up their hand, motioned with their fingers to come here and said “Agent Smith, my name is Neo.” Everybody started to bust up laughing; it was a good ice breaker to meet the new members of the unit.

Do you know what blue or gold stars symbolize? A blue star means somebody in the bearer of the blue star’s family is in uniform serving the republic. A gold star means a mother has lost a son or daughter in the Global War On Terror (GWOT or Gee WOT in military speak). So if you see a lady wearing a gold star in line at the supermarket, let her go ahead of you and offer to bag and carry groceries to her car. She has suffered enough and your little act of help will give some consideration for her sacrifice. Take a few minutes out of your busy life and show a little respect for those on the home front.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

GTA

I just returned from Convoy Live Fire qualification. This was vital milestone. All units pass; how many times the unit will go through this qualification is inverse to the amount of preparation spent for this big event.

We spent a week rehearsing at the local training area and after we went through live fire evaluation troops remarked how the training was harder that the actual event. One big reason training was harder was that we trained with blank rounds instead of live bullets. At GTA, with reason, puts heavy emphasis on SAFETY. The Officer In Charge (OIC) of the qualification range said there are two safety rules. Rule number one: don’t be a dumbass. Rule number two: don’t let your buddy be a dumbass. There were lots of “Grafisms” or safety rules that were imposed. One example was that drivers could not drive with their weapon next to them. The TC or Vehicle Commander had to hold the weapon of the driver and then hand their M-16 back before exiting the vehicle. Another was if anybody in the convoy did not have a set of night vision goggles, the convoy had to travel at night with head lights on. Nobody was supposed to fix bayonets and perform IMT on the targets. Last you were not to fire back in to the target area after an engagement to double tap targets or do quality assuarance checks, you might hit the range tower and that would piss off the Range OIC.

Other safety rules were common sense. You had to communicate with your whole section during an engagement. Yell while moving; tell you buddies that you are moving behind them. Have fifteen degrees of separation while firing or no firing over vehicles, you did not want to frag a fellow troop. While we stopped and engaged an ambush, a senior NCO told me to move back and after I stepped back a SAW gunner let it rip. If I did not move back I would have been pink mist.

The day of qualification we did dry runs during the day and night to see what the targets look like and give the leadership of the convoy practice time to figure out how they would react to different situations: who would take over if the convoy OIC was killed, perform first aid, call a nine line MEDEVAC request , tell higher HQ about a unexploded IED (UXO) unexploded or Situation Report (SITREP).

Like in the in the financial world, the smarter you invest, the greater the reward, and we invested lots of time in rehearsal. Horror stories were going around about units having unauthorized discharges of weapons in vehicles, not having muzzle discipline or swinging rifle barrels around or other unsafe acts. These are great ways to change the chain of command and get another week at warm and fun filled Graf. We lived by the adage of practice makes perfect.

So we drove around, engaged targets while conducting a maintenance halt, backing up from an UXO, reacted to a sniper, block ambush/IED and cutting those targets to ribbons. During the night convoy, it was a bit surrealistic. When it is dark everything is louder and when M-16s are rattling away, M-203 40mm grenade launchers are going pop and M-249 SAWs are spitting bullets, it was loud. It was like the Star Wars the movie when the rebels and storm troopers were firing, but sped up faster. The tracer rounds were glowing red and pounding the crap out of the targets. One time I stopped and just look around and I felt a small amount of pity for the stupid idiots who think they can pull a fast one in a direct engagement with the US Army or Marines. It is awe inspiring to see all the firepower go down range. Then I got back in a good groove and started to take well aim shots at targets.

One interesting part of the range was that not all of the “Plywoodians” or pop up targets were the bad guys. Some were painted white that were civilian males and the black ones were suppose to look like women in tradition Islamic clothing. You were supposed to only target the Plywoodians dressed in white with a diagonal black stripe representing a weapon and they were sometimes mixed with the civilians in mock villages. If you hit the civilians, the Observer/Controller would let you know that you are screwing up by the numbers and you might get another reservation at GTA to re-qualify. Mowing down civilians is not good-ask the French. (Video is here.)

After firing we had to go back out on the range and pick up spent shell casings. That was fun, since it felt like it was five to ten degrees above zero Fahrenheit at night.

One of the interesting things about this exercise is that we slept in barracks with open bays that held 40 soldiers. I found out that we had a quartet of lumberjacks or troops that snore. I had to sleep with my hearing protection that I would normally use on the rifle range. It sounded like a symphony of saws.

Last the food was pretty good. It has improved over time since I was a Private. Breakfast was the good old standard of eggs, sausage, potatoes or SOS over biscuits. Once we had steak and shrimp for dinner and another time was pot roast, so nobody had a reason to complain.

The most memorable quote was: Nobody gets lost with graphics on their map.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Convoy training and Switzerland.

During the next week I will be training for live fire convoy training at Grafenwoehr. Here are some examples. It has been interesting seeing the unit come together for this big milestone. As the Executive Officer said this is the 10 meter target that we got to knock down. So I might be incommunicado for the next five days. More details and the history of Graf.

During the Thanksgiving break I went to Saas Fee, Switzerland. I drove six hours on the autobahn in a rental car, so I did not mind going 140kms to 220kms/hour. Then I drove the car on to a train that went under the Alps in a tunnel. I stayed at the Hotel Tenne for a nice price with a room that had a balcony. The view was spectacular! It looked like Gondor out of the Lord of the Ring movies. Also the food was good. Nothing beats veal bratwurst for Thanksgiving dinner. The snow conditions were great. It was carve city. Also you have to take a subway to get to the top of the mountain! It was cool to see the national teams do some early season training and watching the disabled Swiss ski team makes me wonder why some people whine. When a person with one leg or paraplegic strapped in to the chair go down the Super-G race course it is awe inspiring. If you are going to Switzerland bring lots of money, because it is expensive. It cost me five Swiss Francs for a small coke in a bar or Big Mac meal is 12.90 CHF Switzerland Francs or 11.45 USD United States Dollars in Egerkingen. I might do again on the way back from Afghanistan, since there is summer riding at Saas Fee. Last the Swiss are cool, no one bothered me for being an American or a soldier. I met some Italians and Slovakians and they loved America and GW Bush. I told them America is not how Hollywood makes it looks, but all they wanted to do was meet Pam Anderson.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Going out, shooting and eating

What did you do tonight? Did you go out and eat dinner? Watch the Simpsons on the TV?
I went out the 25 meter target range and qualified on the M-9 9mm pistol and had a Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE) for dinner. One of the advantages of being in an activated reserve unit is that, many of the members have a diverse background and a few are law enforcement officers. So one of them gave me tips on how to fire a pistol and pointers for tactical situations. Unique to the military is that I qualified in my Nuclear, Biological and Chemical mask and in low light conditions. I did pretty well, I earned the qualification of sharpshooter. So now I can hold my own against the Taliban or the Crips. It was a lot of fun to shoot, so much I might do this in the civilian world-target shooting. Also I drove to the range in a HMMWV on the autobahn. That was fun!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Winter action and calling home.

Strategy Page describes how and why the US Army is going starting using its tactical mobility and logistical advantages this winter in Afghanistan. More here.

I like to call home to hear my wife’s voice and to keep up to date with family and friends. She is telling me the business side of running the house. I give her advice and keep the tone up beat. It is heartening to hear about the friends who have offered to help her do things that I would have normally done if I was around the house. Since she is moving back into our house after living in England for the past 18 months, there will be lots of things to do such as hang photos and pictures, move furniture, do the heavy lifting and other stuff that I would do. I am proud of my wife that she is holding up pretty well and I tell her that I love her.

When I call my wife, she hands the phone to my three year old daughter and she starts chatting like a bird, “Daddy I did this or that.” It is great to hear her talk and sometimes I hear the English accent that she picked up, but it breaks my heart to hear her tell me that she wants to join the army to see me or tells me to come home now. I tell her that I love her and I will bring her a present when I go home on Christmas leave. Then she asks what it is, I tell her it is a surprise and she starts crying. This is one of the hardest parts of this deployment.

Before I talk to my nine month old daughter she is jabbering away saying “dada or mama” in the background, but when my wife puts up the phone to her ear and I start talking, she goes silent and smiles. Boy do I miss my girls and wife. This totally blows.