Tuesday, March 15, 2005

All the troops are moved out of the tents now and into the new brick and mortar buildings, but Craig and I are going to move into the built up tents next to the headquarters. Unfortunately, we can't do that until the unit we are replacing actually leaves which will be bit by bit over the next week. So, the two of us are still sleeping in the big 12 man tents. We have beds with matresses, and the tents are heated but the heater usually waits until the temperature would make a penguin shiver before it kicks in then it heats the tent to a point that your sleeping bag turns into a convection oven before shutting off again. We set the alarm for 1 A.M. Dublin Pub time (5:30 A.M. local time, but we don't use that, it's too simple) but you're usually already awake because you had to get up at midnight DPT in order to take your flashlight (red lens) and loaded pistol 50 yards through the dark to go to the porta john. Of course, on the way back, you have to stop and stare at the stars. This is the darkest place I have ever been. The moon hasn't been coming up until just before we get up and recently it's only been a sliver. There are no white lights allowed outside. If the village of Khowst has electricity, it's not enough that you can see it from here. Consequestly, the stars are so brilliant that it almost takes your breath away. I have seen the Milky Way for the first time that I remember since I was a child.

After about 5 minutes in the pitch black, your eyes have almost adjusted enough that you probably could make your way back in the dark except that there is no pavement, everything is all gravel and dirt. The dirt obviously is mud when it rains, then vehicles drive through the mud making ruts, then the rain stops, the sun dries the mud and now you have dirt with ruts, so you still need the red lens flashlight to find your way through the dirt ruts back to your icebox inferno.

At 1:00, we turn on the lights, find our electric razors and shave before walking over to the headquarters building to turn in our weapons before PT. It's tough to run with a loaded pistol strapped to your side. After PT, you find your way back to the tent, pack up a dry PT shirt, because you don't want to pack up your whole uniform and you have to have something dry to change into after you shower, along with your shower shoes, shaving bag and towel. Now you have to find your way to the shower which is conveniently located a couple hundred yards away directly next to the Marine's living area. If you get there early enough, there is still hot water, and the water is filterd but not purified, so you have to make sure you have brought bottled water to brush your teeth with.

After you shower and shave (with a razor this time), you can go back to the tent, and put your uniform on. Then you go back to the headquarters building and collect up your weapon again and go to the dining facility. The dining facility is actually one of the hilights of the base. It's all contracted so it's civilians doing the cooking and stocking. They are fast, and courteus, there are always omelettes already made, and usually eggs made to order in various states. Always a choice of link sausage, patty sausage, and bacon, along with hashbrowns , gravy, etc, etc, etc, Of course you can bypass that altogether, and just get cereal, or fruit, or bagels and cream cheese. Coolers full of different juices, powerbars and gatorade everywhere. I've actually started eating cereal every other day because I'm just not used to eating that much.

After breakfast, you go to the headquarters area and we have a staff meeting every morning, which goes about an hour. That's followed by about another hour and a half of reading and responding to emails, which only gives you another hour or so to chase down any issues that have come up before lunch. I've started skipping the entree's at lunch and just making a cold cut sandwich or soup and salad.

Depending on which day of the week it is there are always more meetings to get to after lunch, more issues to chase down, more reports that have to be sent up and more reports that have to be collected from our units. Any number of issues come up during the day from needing another container at the Ammunition Supply Point for the Marine's ammunition, to how we get rid of captured enemy ammunition, to how we cover a shortfall of personnel at the medical treatment facility, to the artillery battery needing nitrogen for their howitzers to circut cards for the radar, fuel for the generators, tools for the mechanics trucks, people to search the jingle trucks, etc..etc..etc...

And suddenly it's dinner time. We walk down a road a couple hundred yards and make a right through the gap in the Hesco barriers. These are 5 foot by 5 foot by 7 foot wire containers lined with a heavy fabric and filled with dirt and rock. Two rows of these are then stacked two high and used to make walls surrounding different parts if the base. Anyway, if you were to make left instead of a right towards the dining facility you go into another compound where a group of people called "Other Coalition Forces" are housed. First of all, you don't walk into this compound, because you will immediately be escorted back out. There are quite a few military people here, but they are what we call unconventional soldiers, the special forces types. Along with them are people who wear some semblance of uniforms but their patches are usually attached with velcro, a lot of them have beards and they carry a vast array of different weapons. They don't say much, and we don't ask to many questions.

By the time you get out of dinner, you have about have an hour to clean things up before the 45 minute to hour commanders update that starts at 7:00 P.M. Local time and afterwards you can usually get out of the HQ by about 8:30 or 9:00 which by the time you find a flushing toilet, pick-up your laundry, or get anything you need from the PX gives you a an hour or so to yourself before you try to get comfortable in the icebox inferno for another night.

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