Saturday, June 25, 2011

But It is a Dry Heat said the Turkey

Hi! It has been a tad longer than normal since my last post if you keep track of such things.(I try to keep them spaced somewhat evenly, one a week.)  Not that it matters but a week generally gives me plenty to talk about and isn’t so often that it is a time burden or so rare that I don’t have a good journal of my time here.  So what have I been up to and why the delay one might ask?  Well I got to go on a little trip down to Kandahar.  Other than that mostly office work and getting ready to go on the trip has been keeping me occupied.  I did want to make not of something before I get to talking about the trip.  Today I looked at my watch and realized it was Saturday, this was a little after lunch, then I realized that somehow being at work on a Saturday seemed normal.  I wonder how I’ll adjust to not working everyday when I get back home.  However I think I’ll be able to find plenty of thing to occupy my time. 

Also a shout out to all my MWCI buddies especially those of the AXIS persuasion on their victory at NATS 2011, sorry I missed it.  From the reports it sounds like a great battle was waged on the high seas of MN.  BANZI!! BANZI!! BANZI!!  Hopefully I wont have to miss to many more.

On another note I actually figured out what I want to dress up as for Halloween, if all goes well I should be home for it so now someone has to have a costume party that I can attend. 

Alright onto the trip… We got a ride to the airport which is better than walking! (ok so they don’t let you walk it, details details) We had to go drop people off somewhere else first so we got to see a little more of downtown Kabul which is always an interesting experience.  Saw a lot of small shops and motorcycle repair places.  Everything is pretty run down and dusty but at the same time everyone seems to be going about the normal business of day to day life.  We got to go through one of the “famous” traffic circles here which I’m not even going to try and spell, if I remember I’ll look it up and post it later.

We got to the airport rather early so we had tons of time to sit around and wait which turned out ok since we had left before lunch and our flight wasn’t till the late afternoon.  We ended up going to the Thai place which was rumored to be rather good.  It did not disappoint, then again standards here are a bit lower but still good food and would recommend it the next time you happen to find yourself at the military side of Kabul International Airport.  After that we went back to the terminal and waited around till it was time to check in.  The security scanning procedures here are significantly different than they are aback home, well actually the whole flying mil-air is significantly different than flying commercial.  Still lots of waiting.  They have a nice indoor waiting room once you check in, I ended up having a nice conversation with two gentlemen (one british and the other dutch I think) about guns and recoil and effects of getting hit with a bullet (would you fall down or not) things like that.  (I was able to lend my engineering/science knowledge and help answer some of their questions so that was fun)

We flew on a Canadian C-130(made in America), not a bad flight.  All the passenger seats are along the walls and face in or are down the center and face out.  I slept a little as I tend to do on planes. 

Once we deplaned we took a rather long (and hot) bus ride to the pax terminal and picked up our bags (we only had backpacks but they make us check everything). There we meet up with the guys were had gone down there to see.  They took us over to the boardwalk which is one of the defining features at Kandahar.  It is a quad surrounded by a boardwalk that looks like it is from an old western movie with shops and restraints ringing the outside.  Inside is a huge sand/dirt field with a volleyball net and a street hockey rink (apparently the Canadians tend to win a lot, go figure).  The place is really busy, almost like you’re on the boardwalk at VA Beach just pretty much everyone is carrying at least one firearm. (They even have the jets like VA beach does!)  The shops surrounding the outside have pretty much everything, Pizza, ice cream, smoothies, coffee, Nathan’s Hot Dogs, TGI Friday’s, and more.  Being there is a very strange feeling but at the same time it is a nice slice of homeish ness.  I imagine that half the people there on any given night are just people watching, I would be.  I ended up getting a Beef Gryo, which was actually pretty decent, for dinner along with an orange fanta. (which reminds me of the time I drank a two-liter of orange fanta for lunch on Switzerland since I couldn’t afford anything else and the train station was closed so I couldn’t cash a traveler’s check, but I digress.)  After we made plans for the morning we got to our respective temp billeting.  It was kind of funny as I ended up having a huge room all to myself while the COL was in VIP billeting and had to share the room with a bunch of other VIPs.  Didn’t really sleep well but that’s neither here nor there.

In the morning we grabbed some breakfast. (they have I dunno 5-6 different DFACs you can eat at and they all have different national themes which slightly changes the food they serve.  It was pretty cool to eat at different places and have a tiny bit more control over the menu than we normally have here at C3. (Camp CupCake aka CCC aka C3, which I’m now calling where I’m at so I can avoid using it’s real name)  

The day went by pretty quick, meet a ton of people and went to meetings and talked work stuff. Nothing to exciting.

Oh it’s hot dusty and dry at Kandahar, it got up to 50C that afternoon which is about 122F.  True it is a dry heat which is better than 122F w 80% humidity but it’s still rather warm. And there are maybe 10 trees on base so not a ton of shade.  I was chugging bottles of water almost as fast as I could get my hands on one and I feel like I barely stayed hydrated.  But really the heat isn’t the bad part about Kandahar, sure it’s hot and sweaty and dirty and stuff but that’s really not THAT bad, you deal with it.  The bad part about Kandahar is the poo pond.  Yup they have an open cesspool right smack in the middle of the base(damn CivEs), complete with aerators and biohazard warning signs (I’ll try and upload a pic I took of it. Also if you’re into crappie fishing, it is a no limit pond…)  It smells pretty much exactly like you might imagine it smells, as the wind shifts the smell just wafts across base to different areas.  Try to avoid it directly after eating is my advice. It is an experience, builds character…..

Not much else really, we left the next morning and took an Italian C-130 back to Kabul International Airport and then I was able to get us a ride back to C3 a couple hours ahead of schedule so that was nice.  Back in plenty of time for steak night, gotta have priorities….

Also stuff seems to happen when I’m gone. Last time it was the suicide bomber at the local hospital. This time apparently there was a gun fight between two afghans over a a debt or money or something close by.  Neither really had much if anything to do with C3 but apparently stuff happens in Kabul when I’m not here.  (then again I’m sure plenty of stuff goes on when I am here, It’s a big city with the same types of problems that all big cities face and that is before you consider that they country has been at war more or less my entire life.)

That’s about all for now, Im going to try and post pictures from Kandahar.

Also it’s gotten really dusty here over the past 24 hours or so, not to windy but just dust like a very light fog. (you can smell it and taste it too)


And Last but not Least, The Poo Pond!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Camp Cupcake

This week was like no other so far.  Monday the new boss to over and the old boss left, also we found out that we had slides due that evening.  Unfortunatly we didn’t have a ton of guidance but we managed to pull together a somewhat reasonable set well after the deadline to get them in for the first pre brief passed.  Most of the rest of the week has been playing catch up with these slides and modifying them to better suit the presentation they were created for.  Overall the op tempo in the office has been pretty dang high, which im not complaining about, so the week just flew by.  It has been somewhat frustrating at times but overall it has gone rather well.  Also I’ve been able to be more vocal about things that are going on, mostly due to better understanding of the problems of the day.  So I felt like I’ve contributed a lot more which is a nice feeling, even if im still stuck doing powerpoints….  On Monday morning before the crazyness broke loose I had a really good discussion with my new boss about my role and the kind of things I wanted to get out of my time here, he was rather supportive so I think once things calm down a little I’ll be able to push that some more.  I have a few other ideas that I want to run by him too so I’m thinking if he gets on board with those the next few months will be very interesting and I’ll be able to get a lot of good stuff done.

It’s strange, I’ve only been here about 40 days and yet most of the people I’ve met have already left, not to say I don’t know any body as im still meeting new people all the time.  Just doing some simple math in my head I’d guess roughly 10% of the people here leave every month.  Which makes for a strange work dynamic, I’m sure the military folks are more used to it but for me it is pretty strange.  Still for the most part everyone is very welcoming to new people and you get drawn into activities fairly quickly.  Also it’s amazing how much the atmosphere of the office has changed since I got here, not bad just different.  We used to have a huge crew that all went to lunch/dinner together, it was a nice social activity that helped break up the day, now that is mostly gone since people have left. But such is the ebb and flow of life at Camp Cupcake.

The finished some of the construction they were working on here.  That project had been going on since I got here.  Well they took down the fence and it really opened up the place a lot, plus we got a ton of new picnic tables so the court yard area is much larger and more of an L shape now.  While I like the openness the fence had that green windbreaker on it that you see at tennis courts and with it down the amount of green one sees while walking across the courtyard is significantly reduced.  I kind of miss it.

They also “fixed” the internet this week.  Not that it was broken, well it wasn’t before they fixed it anyway.  But it’s back now, I guess it was down for 4 or 5 days but I’ve been staying busy with work and going to the gym or reading at night so it was a minor inconvenience but nothing major.  Plus I’m in Kabul so you can only expect so much.  Going to the gym has other side benefits other than the obvious ones too.  It’s almost like a cult, if people see you in the gym you somehow gain creditability or cool points.  Silly yes but something interesting I noticed even just going there to ride the bike.

It’s really windy tonight but otherwise the weather here has been awesome summer weather.  Warm and dry with a breeze.  Rather nice climate.

Thursday night is salsa night in one of the tents on base, they do lessons before the actual start time, something to do. I haven’t been yet, but I can hear the music.
Not much else going on at the moment, but it’s the start of the “weekend” so that is nice.  I consider the weekend Thursday night through Sunday since I get to sleep in Friday and Sunday.  Also I’m looking forward to surf and turf night as I do every week, which is closely followed by ice cream night.  I had a scoop of cookies and cream and a scoop of mint chocolate chip last Sunday but really the mint chocolate chip isn’t on the same level as the cookies and cream. They just don’t go together well so I’ll probably double up on the cookies and cream this time around.  Yup in a war zone and I’m talking about ice cream flavors, it is called Camp Cupcake for a reason ladies and gentlemen.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Well this has been a rather eventful week, ok not really the whole week mostly the last few days.  I can honestly say that most of the days this week went by pretty quick and the week as a whole has really zipped by.  My new boss finally arrived so that has been the major cause of everything going on.  Lots of showing him around and in processing and other general administrative things needing to be done.  It will be a somewhat significant change in the office so we’ll see how that goes.  Overall I think it will be different maybe better maybe worse but different.  Also I think I’m going to get to do more of the engineering types of things that I wanted to come over here to do so that is pretty exciting for me, of course we’ll see if that actually pans out or not but for now I’m excited about it.

I finally got a real (permanent) room too this week.  Ok well truthfully apparently I had a real room oh 2-3 weeks ago and just neglected to go pick up the key so it was given away to someone else.  Anyway it resulted in having a real room in one of the hardstands instead of being located in one of the RLBs for the entire time I’m here so aside from the short scolding I took from the billeting NCO I figure I can out ahead in the deal.   Apparently the “building” that im in currently is going to be torn down soon so I’ll probably start the move out process this weekend. We’ll see I rather like my roommate. (the “building” im in now isn’t really any more than a organized stack of conex boxes with sequential door numbers.)  I  should go introduce myself to my new roommates later this evening, just thinking out loud. 

Right now Im actually in the DFAC (cafeteria) sitting typing, apparently the J6 is having a function thing here (they brought in pizza from somewhere, yeah to get pizza here requires suiting up in full battle rattle and going to get it, little different than NJ).  They were playing cool dashboard cam videos from what looked to be the drive team so I was watching that just because it was interesting.  Also there is a group of guys playing Catan, they had four already but it surprised me to see it, stood around and watched for a bit, hard not to comment to much.  Most nights there are people in here playing cards/poker too.

Just a testament to how busy I’ve been this week is I think this is the first time since last weekend that I’ve gotten on the computer after work, between going to the gym and having to stay late for random meetings or all sorts of other stuff by the time I get back to the room I generally just take a shower and read in bed for a hour or so.  The dry summer air here is great after a workout, get done riding the bike and by the time I get done walking a lap around the perimeter (about 1.1 km) I’ve stopped sweating and am mostly if not totally dried off.  The exercise bikes they have here are really swank too which is cool.(well two are and two are really old school but ehh they all work)  Some of the new guys have been talking about the difference in air here even when compared to bagram (we’re about 1000ft higher than bagram here) but apparently the 6 weeks I did back on the east coast wasn’t enough to reset my blood because I have noticed any trouble breathing since I got here. (Los Alamos is ~7300 ft which is about 1500ft higher than here.  Good planning on my part….)

Oh and apparently they just released a telework policy for Picatinny so for all my peeps back home please figure that out before I get back, sounds like something worthwhile.  I mean with my extra long commute and all.

Alright I guess that’s all for now, not sure how I’ll spend the rest of the evening.  Hope everyone is doing well!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Memorial Day, Work, and Bagram

Well this week work really started to pickup, hopefully the trend continues as it really makes a huge difference in both the appearance of the passage of time and general morale.  It had been surprisingly slow for a while which was really starting to grind on me but now it has picked up and I’m able to get involved in more things that are going on so that feels good.  The new Major(replaced the LTC who left) in the office is really friendly and helpful, we’ve been talking a lot and I’m learning all sorts of good info on how the army works.  I think he is going to be able to help me out a whole lot in making the most of my time here so I’m rather excited about that. 

  Memorial Day was Monday, not that we got the day off or anything but they did have a ceremony out by the flag poles in the courtyard which was pretty nice.  I found it funny that it took longer to get everyone out there and in formation (~15 min) than the actual ceremony took (~10 min) but it was still rather nice.  For Memorial Day the DFAC cooked up steamship round for dinner.  If you’ve never had steamship round it’s basically the entire rear leg of a cow, well at least from the knee up.  They had it cooking out on the grills all day and the whole place smelled good for a change.  It was rather tasty but really meat over an open fire, it’s pretty hard to go wrong.  (I hear the boys back home smoked up some killer meat on the smoker too.)  And tomorrow is steak and shrimp night so something to look forward to there.(maybe a scoop of cookies and cream too, we’ll see.)

I went to the gym this week, it’s a really nice facility tons of free weights, machines, cardio stuff etc.  Really fancy stuff to, just need to remember to take headphones next time so I can listen to tv instead of just watch it.  I had to get the correct ID holder to be able to go to the gym since going in uniform isn’t really an option, they’ve been out of them at the store here for a while but I was able to get one from a friend that had a spare so I’ll probably start doing that with some regularity.  I imagine it will cut down on my emails and such simply because I only have so much free time in the evening.  But I don’t see it messing with this blog as doing this is something I rather enjoy oddly enough.

I wanted to write some about my semi recent trip to Bagram too.  Basically it was about a 48 hour trip to check out the progress on a project that I’m working on as well as doing a meet and greet with some of the players down there that I’m working with.  The flight down was at night which was neat to see Kabul lit up, with the occasional neon sign or lit up hotel/building that looked straight out of the 70’s (which a lot of them probably are since they have more or less been at was ever since then)  BAF is crowded, dirty, dusty, and loud just like the last time I was there.  The guys we were visiting were able to put us up in what are called wet chu’s. Very nice compared to here. Basically it’s a container with two single beds and it has it’s own toilet, shower, and sink which makes it pretty swank atleast for my current standards.  We ended up driving pretty much all over the base there, it is a huge base, so I got to see a lot of neat stuff.  If it wasn’t so dusty/hazy all the time you would have some great views of the mountains since Bagram is in a bowl surrounded on three sides by mountains.  And they have uncleared minefields on base, there are signs and warnings and they are fenced off so you don’t go wandering through them.  Still not something I expected to see inside a base.  But I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised this country has been at war so long that mine fields (marked and unmarked) are a major problem.  Another thing that surprised me about Bagram is the sheer number of people there (~30,000) and it seems like the majority of them aren’t even soldiers.  There are tons of contractors there.  Lots of non-US foreigners too (military and civilian), basically a giant melting pot  for contractors from all over the world.  This leads to some interesting things, for instance the stores there (which are US govt owned and operated) sell things (booze) that Americans aren’t allowed to buy. (well contractors might be able to I don’t know how general order #1 applies to them if at all)  It was explained to me as if they don’t sell it someone else will so might as well make some money off it, who said the gov’t wasn’t capitalist… The way back was interesting, we ended up at the Kabul Airport and had to get ride back to the compound but instead of going the most direct route we had to take an alternate route which ended up being a tour of downtown Kabul.  It was a very interesting experience and while I wasn’t able to get any pictures it was neat to get to see what the city outside the walls of the compound looks like.  They have some massive potholes here!  But overall it looks like a rather poor urban area.  The lack of women is noticeable which makes it kind of strange too.  The traffic rules on the other hand are more or less non-existent other than driving on the “normal” side of the road and stuff.  Also they love traffic circles which is actually pretty nice since it feels better to be moving than just sitting in traffic.  The guys that work the drive team were pretty cool to and they do a darn good job at it.

Ok bedtime, but at least I get to sleep in some tomorrow!