Friday, December 10, 2010

Heat Leech

It is not as if it was 100 degrees one day and 24 the next; as the months passed-by the days progressively grew shorter, the nights longer and both, colder.

The last week or two I have been unable to pretend the cold didn’t bother me and have added ‘Fleece, Jacket – Cold Weather’ to my daily wear. I probably could/should have been wearing it sooner, but there is something about the weird light green color and the slightly velour texture which makes it look to me like it is made from skinned Muppet monsters.

It used to be my morning breakfast routine was a Met-RX power bar (the apple one is like eating a slice of pie) and a couple of waters. Now, to help keep warm, I have two packets of the very yummy organic instant oatmeal my sister-in-law sent me and some nice herbal tea from Corbin-kin in Wisconsin – where they know cold.

Just before we moved from the last of the heat to the cool, a soldier from another unit transferred into our section to help address a personnel deficit due to soldiers’ term of service ending and their going back to the States.

Our resident harlequin jested how it was nice and warm until this new guy showed-up and brought all the chilly weather, “Wasn’t cold until you got here, it must be all your fault.”

For some reason, probably my age making me decrepit, it brought to my mind a memory of being a wee little guy laying flat-out on my belly reading a comic-book on our dark-green, up-raised paisley patterned, 1970’s couch.

Wearing just my tighty-whities and deeply into the world of the Fantastic Four when a weight landed on my butt and legs followed immediately by two zombie-hands latching onto my back – instantly forming ringed patches of eldritch frost.

“Ahhhhgh!”, I remember yelling.

“Oh, you are sooo warrrrrrmmmmmm,” my bloodless Mother crooned behind me.

“Heat leech! Heat leech! Da-a-a-ad, help, hellllp!”, I cried out.

“Ohh, no,” he yelled back from their bedroom, “you are on your own; she will be after me next.”

Moments later, with all my youthful warmth and vitality drained, Mom got up and begin searching for her next victim.

My younger brothers, warned from my original out-cry, turned off their bedroom light – making their defensive line of scattered caltrops of toys and such practically impenetrable.

I found enough energy to get to my bed and shiver myself back to somewhere around 98.6.

While it is pretty chilly here, and it takes a while for the combined efforts of the sun and our small heaters to warm up our work tent, I count my blessings when I think about my Dad living alone with, and completely at the glacial mercy of, the Heat Leech.


Thank you Donna Doll for the fantastic Hickory Farms package; summer sausage, cheese and spicy mustard made for some crumb-covered happy faces.

Eastside High School Interact Club in Covington, GA sent a nice and appreciated holiday card.

Carla M. (Wisconsin Corbin-kin) spearheaded a collective effort to send great Care packages with herbal tea, jerky, trail mix and very festive decorations. Thank you also to Larry & Debra B., Brooke S. and Rick for the very thoughtful greeting cards.

Angela G. from Corbin(!), KY, sent several cards and email notes; always a heart-warmer. Still nothing from Logan (dog gone mail!) but I promise to let him know when it arrives.

Mary R. from Saugus, CA, generously included a calling card within her thoughtful holiday card.

Thank you Hillary S. in PA for the colorful holiday card and the fantastic Care package; it was devoured by the troops (the care package, not the card.)

My sister-in-law, Beth, rescued me by sending a can-opener and nail clippers so no cans of tuna are safe and my toe nails no longer quite look like they belong to a cadaver.

Barb, from Warmth for Warriors, sent a very nice hand-knitted beanie-cap I wear at night in my room as we are not allowed civie clothes out and about; I will definitely be taking it back to the States for wear the years to come.

Friday, November 26, 2010

3-Minute Fiction

National Public Radio (NPR), my mainstay for news and information, recently held their fifth annual "Three-Minute Fiction" contest where they ask for original works of fiction that began with the line, "Some people swore that the house was haunted," and ended with the line, "Nothing was ever the same again after that."

Another rule was the submission had to be around 600-words; or be able to be read on the air in about three-minutes - hence the name.

The other main rule was the submission could not have been previously published (including blogs). However, since I did not win the contest (boo-hoo), I am now able to share with you my submission. It is a bit silly, the tenses are bit off, and it is probably more appropriate for Halloween than Thanksgiving, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

“Night Light”

Some people swore that the house was haunted. But most people figured the late-night lights and occasional sounds from the abandoned corner building on top of the knoll were kids messing around and no one really gave it much thought.

Which is probably why Jack's text says to meet him there at midnight if I ever want to see my i-Pod again.

The jerk. The football Neanderthal.

I can see a glow from the second floor so I slip through the front door and move to the stairs.

I begin stepping lightly and closely to the wall as I can so the prickly wooden steps do not squeak.

The flickering light is coming from down the hallway; it looks like candlelight.

He knows I am coming so I run down the hall yelling “Jaaaaaaaaaack, you jerrrrk! Give meee myyy i-Pooood!”

Bursting into the room I run right into him and we both go down in a surprised tumble; me on top of Jack so I see his face as we fall and when the back of his head hits the fireplace stone.

I jump up and Jack stays down. He is groaning and rolling his head. I think I see a dark spot that could be blood but it quickly disappears into the rough grey stone and I am not sure because now the dusty old clock on the mantel is bonging and distracting me.

Jack is sitting-up and I grab him by the arm to pull him to his feet.

Then I punch him in the shoulder as he is saying, “Kate, it was supposed to be a surprise.”

Looking where he points I see the table, the chairs, the candles, the dinner, the care.

I am smiling, thinking, “Oh, Jack, you big jerk.”

And the clock is getting louder. It seems the glass face is bulging out on each stroke and I am feeling a pressure to my ears like I am on the bottom of a pool.

It is midnight.

A silent explosion of oily negative night is shooting up behind Jack. It is nasty and shimmery like gasoline on tar.

My eyes go round and Jack turns to see what and a finger-spear silently shoots from the bubbling black mass through Jack’s shoulder and he is yelling in pain when he shoves me away and falls to his knees.

My face is burning and I can no longer hear anything except for a roaring in my ears as I watch the darkness pierce Jack through the wrist, his waist, and arm. It is pulling him closer.

I am screaming, I am raising my arms, and I am burning.

I am incandescence against the roiling blackness that is shrinking away from Jack. Back to the fireplace. Back to where it came. Until it is gone.

And I am falling to the floor. Spent and empty.

Jack’s arms are sliding under me. We are floating down the hall, the stairs, and out the door.

He is whispering in my ear how much he loves me and will never leave me.

Nothing was ever the same again after that.


Thank you to Angela G. of Corbin(!), Kentucky for many emails of encouragement, a great Care Package, and letters from fifth graders; each of whom I have written back and include:

Erik W.
Trevor W.
Crystal B.
Brian D.
Mary H.
Jathan C., and
Shawn D.

Much appreciation to Treats for Troops for a HUGE box of Halloween candy that was much appreciated by many soldiers.

The rock-star of Care Packages, Donna D., sent a couple of boxes that I was barely able to get open before the locusts descended once they saw her name on the return address.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Half-way Home

When I went to Basic Training in 1983, during the summer vacation between my junior and senior year of high school, running for exercise was not nearly as common as today and if you did run, you were not a runner, you were a jogger – or a health nut.

Turns out I was a nut. Over the miles we covered each morning for physical training, I discovered a natural affinity for running. I enjoyed the muscle burn, the feeling of fitness, and the sense of accomplishment after completing a run.

We typically ran every day with a long run (six to eight miles) once or twice a week. We quickly learned the designated run routes and knew by certain land marks how far we had come and how far we had to go. If we took a left at a certain intersection instead of a right, we knew if it was going to be a short run or a long run.

Whether it was a short run or a long run, for me, the magical point was when we got half-way. As long as I could make it half-way, I knew I could finish the run.

Since then, in various aspects of my life, the half-way point of an endeavor has been the goal at the beginning and once reached, a motivating accomplishment to carry me through to the finish.

We have now passed the half-way point of our one-year deployment and this accomplishment – having fewer days left than the number of days we have been here with the end in sight – is very motivating.

When I ran the Marine Corp Marathon in 1992, one of the motivating factors was the people all along the race course who, as I ran by, cheered and waved signs or offered water. I did not know a single one of those people nor did any of them know me, but there were times during the run when their support made all the difference in my completing the race.

Just as the support of the emails, letters and care packages I have received from the many people who I do not know personally has made and makes all the difference in my completing this deployment. (People I do know, such as my family, have also been very supportive.)

I try to send thank-you letters and, when I know they do not mind, recognize them in the “Shout Out” of this blog, but with 12-hour duty shifts and other responsibilities it can sometimes be very challenging to do anything other than shower, eat and sleep.

During the second-half of this deployment, I will strive to ensure my appreciation, and that of my fellow soldiers with whom I share the care packages, is more strongly and individually expressed.

In the interim, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all those who have helped me make it half-way home.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Barber Pole

One of the oldest medical practices, used since the time of the Mesopotamians up to the late 19th century, was bloodletting. It was thought many diseases were caused by an overabundance of bad humors in the blood and letting the blood out would bring cure if not relief.

In medieval, and other times when the vast majority of people were illiterate, signs used to advertise services had to be self-evident and typically entailed objectification of the tools of the respective trade. A wooden shoe announced a cobbler while an iron one a black smith.

For the person who would perform surgeries and bleed you, one would see a stout stick (tightly grasped by the patient to cause the veins to bulge) wrapped loosely with bloodied white(ish) bandages. On top of the stick, one would also often see a round ball representing the basin in which leeches were kept.

Services also offered by these surgeons included pulling teeth and cutting hair. Today, only hair, not veins, are cut by the professionals advertising with a red and white pole (it is thought by many the addition of the blue stripes in American versions of the standard is a tribute to our flag, as well as the color of arterial blood).

When we first arrived at TK, there was only one barber located on the Dutch Kamp Holland and through his monopoly of service, had strange hours of business where at only certain times of certain days would he even cut the hair of American Soldiers.

One of the Soldiers in my platoon made the trip and came back unshorn as he was upset at the perceived lack of hygiene ("He didn't even wash the clippers between cuts!")

So for the first few months we made do with amateur efforts of the one or two Soldiers who brought clippers. A trim to military standards really is not all that difficult if you trim everything to the skin with the top a slightly more coarse stubble.

My stubble was getting longer as I decided to let the Kojak-look go in deference to the sun - even the 45-odd minutes a day I was getting during PT was crisping my shiny skull. The hair down my neck was getting a bit long and generally Neanderthalish in appearance.

When, thank goodness, Ms. Alia Borombaeva, pictured above, along with one or two of her colleagues, made an appearance and set-up shop in our Camp. Now, like CPT Gregory Hayes (seen above), Soldiers in our camp can get our haircut by someone who makes up for the lack of a firm grasp of spoken English, with a keen grasp of scissors and clippers.

Ms. Borombaeva and her co-workers are available from 0700 to 1900 every day and almost always have at least one happy customer getting their hair cut under the barber pole.


Thank you Kandice Eason of Newman, GA for the letters and great Care Packages; the whole platoon enjoys the items you send and appreciate your warm letters.

Oregon Coast Avid Stampers has provided some awesome home made greeting cards Soldiers can send to loved ones - we do not have access to any cards or stationary, so ORCAS gifts are going straight to use.

Thanks to the organizers and volunteers at Operation Care Package for the mail with Swedish Fish (yum!) and other goodies.

The Shannon Family of Saratoga Springs, NY sent one of the best Care Packages ever! Jerky, biscuits, dried fruits and other healthy snacks - thank you!

Si Tenenberg is a former Marine and a current supporter of troops; Si knows what will bring smiles to those far from home and he along with volunteers from First Baptist Church of San Luis Obispo brought cheer to my platoon with a package of jerky, trail mix and other nice snacks.

Lucile is a 74 year-old Korean War veteran from Haure de Grace, MD who sent me a box full of Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" novels I am greatly enjoying and passing on, one by one, to other Soldiers.

Georgette Johnson has been supporting Corbinistan for some time and her cards, letters and packages are very much appreciated by many Soldiers.

Lastly, to my family, particularly my Mom and sister-in-law Beth, who both send packages on a regular basis - thank you.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Time to make the doughnuts...

It was just before 0100 and we were changing shifts at the Supply Support Activity; me, Specialist Andropopulus, Sergeant Domino and Sergeant Ack were relieving the other team and beginning our 12-hour shift.

We had just settled-in and begun the computer back-up process when we heard a loud, deep and resounding “BOOM”.

It had been some time since there had been any kind of attack, and never this close to our area of operations, so we all looked at each other with wide-eyes for just a moment before reacting.

“That was fricking close!” Andropopulus cried out.

“Shut up and get your gear on,” SGT Ack yelled back as he joined me and SGT Domino at the rifle rack where we were already locking and loading.

The thudding booms were getting closer and we could feel the earth trembling from each impact – dust was drifting down from the creases of the tent’s ceiling and the lights began to flicker.

As SGT Domino was strapping on his helmet, he looked at me and said, “Man, I am too close to getting out for this, yo?”

I just shook my head and finished gearing-up; he might talk junk, but I knew we could count on SGT Domino when it mattered.


“Oh man, it is right out there,” Andro moaned, white knuckles gripped around his M4.

SGT Ack flicked his fire selector to “Semi” as he calmly said, “Andro, you and SGT Domino head to the left, me and SGT Corbin will take right. We will keep it pinned down with suppressive fire until we get air support – they should be here any minute. Everybody got it?”

Andro gave an audible gulp, but nodded his head. SGT Domino quickly crossed himself and replied, “Hooah.” I looked at SGT Ack with a resigned grin and said, “Guess it’s time to earn our combat pay.”

We burst out of the tent with Andro and SGT Domino cutting left and me leading SGT Ack to the right. I almost stumbled when I saw it – the biggest tyrannosaurus rex ever. It had to be at least 20 feet tall, its teeth were as long as broom handles, and it was heading straight toward Andro and SGT Domino with its stubby arms thrust out, its long tail swinging countermeasure to its thundering footsteps with its head cocked like a giant robin about to peck at a worm.

Geeze, I thought, it is going to get them. I began firing at the dino’s head, trying to hit the eyes – the one weak spot not covered in thick, Kevlar-like scaly hide.

SGT Domino was focused on getting to a shipping container for cover and didn’t even see it coming; the t-rex bent down and snatched him up between his jaws and with a bite and two gulps, SGT Domino was gone.

Part of me recognized the sound of the Apache helicopter coming in, but I knew it was still too far to do anything and I looked for SGT Ack who had some how disappeared. I didn’t have time to wonder where he was since the t-rex was now stomping towards Andro, bellowing in rage and hunger.

“Run Andro, run!”, I yelled as I went full auto, trying to get the t-rex to turn away.

“I can’t,” he wailed, “it’s against my profile!”

The t-rex got to him in three steps and bit Andro in half – his legs fell to the ground twitching.

The whump-whump-whump of the Apache was getting real loud and just as I turned around to look for it, the pilot launched a Hellfire missile, but it missed and only blew a HUMV-sized hole in the ground next to the t-rex, which only seemed to make it madder.

I was out of ammo and was grabbing in my cargo pocket for my extra clip when SGT Ack came blasting out of the storage yard on the 10-ton forklift.

“YEAHHHH! Take that, take that!”, SGT Ack screamed as he rammed the forks under the t-rex and began lifting.

The dino was roaring loudly in frustration as it’s back legs were quickly lifted off the ground and only its thick tail was keeping it from falling over when the Apache fired another Hellfire that, this time, was right on target.

The t-rex’s head evaporated in a mist of red and green gibbets. Its tail went into death-mode spasms and knocked the 10K, with SGT Ack, over like a Tonka truck, but it was not a hard hit and I was pretty sure SGT Ack was okay; not like poor SGT Domino and Andro.

The Apache was hovering directly overhead like it was going to land on top of me and all I could hear was it getting louder and louder: WHUMP-WHUMP-WHUMP!!!

I jerked awake and sat-up in my sleeping bag. I stumbled out of my bed and went to answer my door.

Staff Sergeant Hatch was standing there, “Hey, Corbin, bout time you got up. Are you going to work or did you decide you were going to take the day off?”

“My bad,” I answered, “my alarm must not have gone off.”

Time to make the doughnuts...


The above was just a dream of mine and fiction. Names, character, places and incidents either are products of my imagination or a used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental; although still pretty funny, to me.

We have not received mail for several weeks now, but a big shipment came in today so tomorrow when I go on shift I should receive anything sent from the beginning of the month - I will shout out thanks next post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Laundry Day

The day after the Berlin Wall came down in mid-November of 1989, I was on a plane traveling from San Francisco to Korea for a one-year tour. I ended up stationed in Seoul and got the opportunity to explore that city as well as major cities like Osan and Pusan, and a few smaller villages when traveling.

It was my first time in Asia and I had the chance to see a completely different culture up front and personal. I think any Soldier who spends a tour in Korea leaves with some strong feelings and unforgettable experiences, both good and bad.

For me, one of the good ones was having “in-house” boot-polishing and laundry services in the barracks. Twenty-bucks got you a month’s worth of clothes/uniforms washed – with everything from BDUs to blue jeans to boxers being ironed – and your black leather boots being highly-shined – not quite a spit-shine, but a very nice high glow.

In the morning you left your laundry bag with your boots by your door and when you returned in the evening, the boots where shining and the clothes were hanging on the door knob – with socks, tshirts and the like, neatly folded and stacked on the squared laundry bag.

The services were provided by an older Korean couple (I almost said elderly, but they were not that much older than I am now – to a 23 year-old, they seemed elderly). Odeeshi (Uncle, but used as Mister) and Oshima (Mrs) arrived at the barracks around 0800 and spent the whole day in the 1st floor laundry room; Odeeshi polishing the boots and Oshima doing the laundry.

I despise doing laundry. I think it was a John Hughes film in the ‘80s where one of the angst-filled teenagers (one of the Brat pack, I am sure) leaves a classroom dragging her fingernails across the chalkboard in a dentist-drill, ear-piercing shriek. That sound is what I hear in my brain when I think about having to do laundry.

But here in TK, we do not have to do laundry - instead of Odeeshi and Oshima, we have Mr. Guntka (on the left), Mr. Hismani (on the right), and their co-workers who provide next-day washing services. Although you have to actually walk to their shop to drop-off and pick-up the laundry instead of door-side delivery, they fold the clothes nicely, put them in a plastic bag (that serves very nicely as a trash bag for your room) and then put it in your laundry bag for a very convenient package and great service.

It makes sound logistical sense to centralize the laundry services with all the machines and corresponding electrical/water/drainage located in one spot instead of having separate facilities in each block of the RLBs.

No need for Soldiers to stock laundry sundries such as soap, bleach, etc.

Soldiers are freed from spending precious personal time on doing laundry - which might otherwise get delayed until every sock and pair of boxers had been worn and there was only one t-shirt left.

I know for myself, as someone who is completely clothing-ablutophobic, I really appreciate how it is set-up so any day can easily be laundry day.


Thank you to SGT Mack for letting me (constantly) use his camera.

Adrie Kovic rocks for spreading the word about Corbinistan; she blogs as well and agrees we must be complete egomaniacs.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Built by RED HORSE

After about four months in TK, when I stand on the balcony/cat walk outside my second-level unit to watch the distant sun settle behind the western horizon's mountain fringe, in front of me the potpourri of wooden shacks, tents of various shapes and sizes, and concrete barriers fits easily in my mind's eye with each structure’s place and purpose now well known to me.

But in my first days and weeks here, the jumbled landscape of various buildings and tents took some time to get to know and assimilate into my consciousness as home and the neighborhood.

During the early evening of one our first weekends here, after the sun had set – which means a certain darkness had fallen as there are not many outdoor lights, I noticed an open area under some tent canopies where it seemed a group of guys were meeting for what looked suspiciously to me like a nice sized poker game.

I was instantly interested and thought about strolling over to see about getting into the game, but after a moment or two of observation and reflection – I thought it might be better to check it out later as it looked like they had too many people already and, it could have been just a one-time event as some kind of farewell party since, as we were arriving, those we were relieving were leaving.

The next day, my neighbor, who was leaving, told me that group was a bunch of Air Force guys who got together to play poker with the Australians from Kamp Holland.

I thought to myself, "Self, what the heck are Air Force guys doing here?"

After joining the Club for Propogation of International Cultural Exchange, I found out through conversations over Hold'm Poker the Air Force guys are doing quite a bit here; almost without exception, all the plywood constructed buildings have been built by them as well as a lot of work on roads and construction in general.

In specific, they are Rapid Engineering Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer (RED HORSE).

In general, basically a squadron of Bob the Builders.

And building is what they are good at. During my first few weeks here a brand new chapel was completed by RED HORSE so services could be held in air conditioned comfort versus a dark and hot tent.

At this moment, members of the RED HORSE team are putting the finishing touches on a new Medical Clinic building to replace another hot tent.

The picture above shows the current Medical tent on the left – the wooden door/frame is so the medical supplies may be secured – with the new building on the right – note the mounted A/C units for chilling medics and patients; a vast difference in comfort and utility.

The utilities, insulation and just about everything else relating to constructing the building was done almost completely by two of my poker buddies, Senior Airmen Brad Catron and Kenny Larson.

SRA Larson is on the left and SRA Catron is on the right with the RED HORSE logo between the two of them.

Larson is from my home State of Utah and his family lives just a few miles from my parents.

Catron has been here for nearly a year and will soon be returning home to Wyoming.

The two of them are Reservists/Air Guard and will go back to civilian life (they are both in college) once their respective deployment tour is completed.

One of the Task Force No Mercy Army Officers made a comment to me the other day about how whenever he sees members of the RED HORSE team working, how they seem to him to be so happy and satisfied in doing their jobs.

I never asked my buddies if they were happy, but I do think they should be proud of their accomplishments and hard efforts in supporting the mission and the people who work, worship and tend wounded in buildings built by RED HORSE.


Thank you to Donna D. from Milton for the wonderful Care Packages; they were of such a great variety of munchables, which were partially inhaled by the guys on my shift.

Thank you to the Red, White & Bike group at St. Agatha Academy in Winchester; please tell the kids I really liked their letters and may I please post the drawing of the “Smiling Soldier” Lauren sent?

And, thanks to my Mom for a nice Care Package of toiletries and hygenics; the best part was the MET-RX Colossal bars!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Thanksgiving - 3/4 July

Since, as far as I know, the only country that celebrates Thanksgiving is the United States, I have always considered it to be the truly unique American holiday. But, for sheer exuberance, I don’t think anyone will argue that the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, is the epitome of American celebration.

Here at TK, we had our 4OJ celebration this year on Saturday, the 3rd of July. I am not sure why it was a day early, but if I were to speculate, it could have been there might have been concerns about the bad guys doing something – since they seem to have calendars as well, or it might have been to avoid a conflict with Sunday worship and the 4OJ celebration activities.

In any case, the activities began at 0500 on Saturday with a 5K (about three miles) and 10K (about 6 miles) Fun Run/Walk. Since I usually run the 5K route a couple times a week for PT, I wanted a challenge and signed up for the 10K run.

For the first 160-odd people who signed up, or was a volunteer/”encourager”, there were free t-shirts commemorating the event. One of the reasons I signed up for the event, even though I had full 12-hour duty shift ahead of me after the run, was so I could get a t-shirt as a remembrance.

The shirts were handed out the morning of the run/walk during registration. After registration and a safety brief, it was ready-set-go at 0600.

I thought I would be the oldest guy running, but I found out there was one other person a year older than me so we ran together and kept a pretty steady pace of around 8-minute miles with a total time of just over 49 minutes – not too shabby for a couple of guys in their mid-forties at 4,300 feet altitude.

The longitude/end of the 10K route had us go past, by a couple of clicks (kilometers), the point where my (mostly) daily 5K run route ends, so my mind/body was ready to call it quits at its normal ending point; this made me grateful to have someone running with me to keep me honest and on pace to the end (thanks again, Sir.)

At the end, there were prizes for the female and male (not by age categories or I would have certainly have won a prize even if I probably would have had to “accidentally” trip my running partner) who came in first place for the run and walk in both distances.

One Soldier was so quick he got to the turn-around point before the race officials were there to show him the way. He got a special prize for going 5.5 clicks, and to the laughter of the crowd, was ordered by the Command Sergeant Major to report to him later for failure to follow directions.

After the race everyone went in different directions; some to breakfast and most to showers.

I cleaned-up and headed to work. Although I was able to leave shortly thereafter to participate in the next activity: volley ball competition.

The natural TK environment, where gravel/rocks have not been place, consists of “moon dust”, which is perfect for volleyball, although it is so fine (talcum powder consistency) it makes its way through almost any shoe fiber to turn socks and toes ochre brown.

My black PT shorts got a bit of a dusting when I dove for one ball (that made it over the net, but not in bounds – doggone it!) so the picture above is me just as the first game began. (I crop out other Soldiers as I do not think it appropriate to post their pics without specific approval).

My team won the first game, but lost the next match so we came in second to bring our Company 15-points to be tallied together with the points from the events of the day such as horseshoes, basketball, and the ever popular 4OJ activity, litter-carry – where a Soldier lays down on a canvas medical litter and is carried by four other soldiers over a set distance.

My Company went the whole distance and was announced as the overall winner during the outdoor dinner meal of grilled steak, hamburgers, mongo-hotdogs, and chicken served with potato salad and baked beans.

The ice cream and cake was served at the mess hall (pardon me, dining facility) so the only thing really missing was fireworks, but considering our location, that is something for which we probably all should be giving Thanks.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dutch Treat

As you may know, the US Army is not the only national force of NATO's International Security Force (ISAF) operating from Tarin Kowt.

There are also contingents of Afghanis, Australians, Dutch and others. Each living in their respective, somewhat adjoining, compounds; the ultimate in exclusive gated communities with the very best of armed response units.

The Dutch compound is appropriately called "Kamp Holland" although, in addition to the Dutch, also has Australians, Slovakians, etc.

Perhaps it was the speckled desert uniforms, or maybe the accents, or it could have been the numerous, dusty brown tents and the style of the semi-permanent buildings interlaced with hard-packed rocky dirt roads, but when I was visiting Kamp Holland the other day, I kept thinking of the movie "District 9".

Not that I was expecting to see aliens (extraterrestrial ones, I mean) hunched over cans (tins) of cat food, but the vibe I got was more of a town than a military installation.

The reason I was there was to enjoy a congratulatory meal at the Dutch "cafe'" - Echoes - bought for me by my section Warrant Officer for my above 270 score on the recent PT Test; he is real good about recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of his Soldiers - not something all leadership practices.

Echoes is a purposely dimly lit collection of wooden floor rooms inside a large tent where there are several benches, numerous 2/4-seater tables, a couch in front of a decent sized television (tuned to the World Cup), a couple of magazine racks, and bookcases with mostly Dutch paperbacks for trade/borrow.

There are various European/Australian wall hangings and no windows, so it is easy to imagine you are not in a combat zone. Well, except for the military uniforms and people carrying rifles, knives and other weapons. Okay, maybe not so easy, but it is certainly a much different atmosphere than the US Army mess hall (pardon me, "dining facility") and truly a treat to be able to order from a menu with meals singularly prepared versus mass-produced food served from large metal warming trays.

Chief and I placed our order at the counter; I got the chicken schnitzel with mushroom gravy, a side salad and french fries (chips), and he had something similar. Our number was called and we picked-up our actual ceramic plates, not a cardboard TV-dinner-like tray, and plastic flatware along with 20 or so ketchup packets. Chief mixed in mayo with his ketchup for his fries, but I wasn't sure if this was his usual habit or just staying with the quasi-European motif.

The food itself was not really a culinary spectacle, but the whole experience was a nice break from the norm and we had a nice chat for a while before Chief got a call on his mobile reminding him of an obligation he needed to attend so we mopped up the last of our ketchup (and mayo), bussed our dishes and headed "home".

All in all, it was a very nice break from the day-to-day-to-day-etc. routine and something I will try to do every couple of weeks. Of course, I will have to buy my own meal next time, so it will be in all ways a Dutch Treat.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

(Sand) Flea Market

If you Google the word origin of ‘bizarre’, you will find a general consensus of it deriving from the Italian ‘bizzarro’, which meant ‘angry’. Reportedly, it then migrated to Spanish as ‘bizarro’, meaning ‘brave’, and then found its way into French, where its meaning gradually mutated from ‘brave’ to ‘odd’ – and then, as with many other French words, was implemented into English.

I don’t know why, but I always thought the word ‘bizarre’ likely came from Crusaders being exposed to the wide variety of theretofore never seen animals, foods, and goods at Holy Land bazaars. It seems to me a knight converting the noun of 'bazaar' to the adjective 'bizarre' after witnessing such strange oddities would be a much more reasonable genesis than the angry-brave-odd path. But, I am sure there are etymological, historical, and cultural challenges to my hypothesis.

Bazaars are very much a part of the Afghani culture and there is one held here at TK from around 10:00 in the morning until 2ish in the afternoon each Sunday.

Like its American cousin, the flea market, the bazaar has regular vendors who have the same type of goods each week with an established area where they set-up shop by laying out their items on a blanket or rug, and there are vendors who seem to show-up whenever they have acquired enough varied items to display in whatever free space is available.

As you will see from the picture, the available space is full of a variety of items ranging from hookahs, to bootleg DVDs and all sort of random electronics, to rugs (lauded as hand-made), to precious and semi-precious stones.

Lapis lazuli was just another word from my readings of Greek mythologies and the Bible, but here, the speckled semi-precious stone is abundant in both raw and shaped form although the dealers, unlike with other items, are only willing to negotiate to a certain degree.

Haggling seems to be acceptable and somewhat expected (although the dealers are quick to consummate a deal with those who agree to the first asking price) with all sales final and paid in cash – US Dollars being the currency used by all the America, Dutch, Australian, etc. shoppers.

While a very small number of the shoppers are female, all of the vendors are male. Mostly young men in their 20’s with a scattering of boys who look they are around 8 to 10ish and are not shy at all in hawking their goods in a bit of an aggressive manner, but with shining eyes and smiles so it is easy to forgive their forwardness.

No female vendors, nor any vendors at all of food. I have heard the bazaars at other bases have kebab stands, gyro booths, and other edibles, but, for some reason, absent from the TK market.

So, being the curious fellow I am, I began wondering about the market value of, say, a jar of peanut butter. Or, how about a bag of beef jerky? Perhaps a pack or two of Big Red.

Not that I would look to become a vendor or violate any contraband regulations, but I am curious; perhaps there is a bartering and cultural exchange opportunity at the sand flea market.

When I am Able

Thank you to all who read my posts and a double-helping to those who have followed the link and sent care packages; they are very much appreciated. If you do send a letter or package, please let me know if it is alright to thank you by name in this forum.

My goal is to post a note at least once a week, typically on Sunday, but due to sporadic internet connectivity and other issues which interrupt service, it may be more than a week between posts. Such as this past week.

If you are not a follower, please check back regularly and I promise I will post when I am able.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

PT - Good for you, good for me

All the US Armed Forces regularly asses the physical fitness of their members with a physical training (PT) test conducted on at least an annual, if not semi-annual, or quarterly, basis. Each of the services’ PT test is different from the others and reflects their respective traditions and standards.

For example, the Marines have three events consisting of pull-ups, abdominal crunches, and a three-mile timed run; the Army’s three events are push-ups, sit-ups, and a timed two-mile run; and the Air Force’s are TiVo programming, popcorn microwaving, and napping.*

In the Army, the passing score in each category for Soldiers is 60 points. As you will note by following the above links to the respective standards, the number of points earned in each event is based upon a sliding scale taking into account the Soldier’s respective sex and age – this recognizes the physiological differences between males and females as well as the impact of aging.

When I was a 19 or 20-something year old stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, I regularly maxed out on the two-mile run with times under 13-minutes, and on a few occasions, under 12-minutes. I distinctly remember teasing and taunting some of the older soldiers about how the sliding scale allowed them minutes more time to achieve a passing, let alone a maxing, score. The response was invariably something along the lines of, “Just you wait until reach my age – if you live that long.”

Well, the see-saw as tipped to the other side and find myself a wee bit grateful that being in the 42-46 year old category meant that when we took our record PT test this week, I only needed 30 push-ups to achieve the passing score of 60 points – although I still cranked out a count of 60-some repetitions (some were not counted when my form was less than perfect) for a near max score.

On the run, my age scored me almost 100 points, but I also smoked everyone in my section, except for one Soldier who is 17-years younger than me (my roommate!), with a time of 14:18.

Considering the physical condition I was in just a year ago, I was quite pleased to see these results of my PT efforts.

In any case, I could not help but laugh to myself at the poetic justice when some of those smoked disgruntled younger soldiers made comments that the only reason I got the second highest total PT score in our section was my age – it was like hearing myself echoing down through the years.

Now, at 44 years old, I am glad I came back into the Army to appreciate how my perspective has changed, but also to see how PT is still good for you, and good for me.

*Just teasing.