Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Departure from Kabul

I'm finally on my way and going places.

Okay, that's not true. I'm sitting in Bagram Air Force Base waiting on a flight and trying to kill some time. I only get 30 minutes at a stretch on the computer, but I'm convinced that if I type fast enough I'll be able to make an entertaining entry.

First off, my last night at HQ ISAF was a pretty good time. I met up with the rest of the folks from the office for dinner as usual, but afterward we got coffee and cigars and sat out in the garden in front of the headquarters building telling stories and enjoying the rare clear night.

Then I had to go back to the office to take care of a few last-minute things:


While I was showing my appreciation for our civilian from the State Department, Greg Scruton was testing out his camouflage uniform:
Camo Scruton

The rest of the night was spent packing and checking, double checking, and triple checking to make sure I hadn't left anything behind.

At 0545 the next morning I hitched a ride with a convoy from Kabul to Bagram. Along the way I snapped a quick pic of what I hope will be the last I ever see of that place:
Last View of Kabul

There's a few things I'll miss about being at ISAF HQ, but nothing so much as our allies with all their cute little hats:


With ISAF HQ behind me, all that's left for me to do in Afghanistan is wait around with everyone else:
Airman Waiting

More to come. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Light at the End of the Tunnel is Suddenly SO MUCH Brighter

This afternoon I was gearing up to head out on another, longer trip to not one or two but three Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) when, on a whim, I paused to check my Yahoo email account. There, mixed in with all of the promises of fame and fortune and greater length and girth, was a message from the Navy's admin detachment in Afghanistan.

The short version of said message:
I HAVE A FLIGHT OUT OF THIS PIT!!


I figured that whenever I finally got notice of when I'd have to pull out, it probably wouldn't be much notice. Turns out I was right. After weeks of trying to get set up with orders and travel information I have just over one day before travel begins. Fortunately I was only counting on a few hours' notice, so aside from picking up my laundry and getting all of my last day signatures on my checkout sheet, I really don't have anything left to do here but practice my grappling:

Grappling Practice

Administrivia

So I've found a handful of ways to make a tiny bit of extra cash from my internet endeavors. If you feel like doing me a favor, click on one of the ads that shows up on this page. Even if you don't buy anything, it adds a penny or two to my account.

However, if you feel like spending money, I've been tinkering with a few graphic design ideas for a little while now. After a bit of poking around, I've found an outfit that will print, sell, and ship t-shirts and such for me. If you'd like to check out my junk, go to
http://printfection.com/TandA and you can find a selection of merchandise goofiness like this T-shirt I designed (available in a wide variety of colors and sizes):


The prices are a bit on the high side, but you get a discount if you order more than one of anything. I'm frequently coming up with more equally absurd ideas, so it's worth checking back from time to time.

So that's that.

In other news, I was standing in formation with a bunch of other folks in front of the headquarters building the other day, minding my own business, when some British RAF general came along and stabbed me in the chest with this thing:
NATO Medal
Since he drew blood I asked if I could get another medal too, but it turns out it takes a bit more than that to get a Plurple Heart.* If that's the case, I really don't want one.


*So far there's still no medal for whining like a little girl when you get pinned by a prick.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Logar Trip

Last week a group of us from the office decided to drive down to visit with the civilian-led Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Lowgar Province. Logar Province is directly South of Afghanistan's capitol city of Kabul, so it's a pretty short trip. The PRT has been operating there for just over a year and in that time nobody from my office (which is supposed to be visiting all of the PRTs) has ever been there.

The drive itself was fairly routine. The main exception was that I was behind the wheel again:
Thorsson Driving
Before we were out of Kabul Province we got stuck in traffic next to this charming little ice cream parlor (and butcher shop):
Ice Cream and Meat Shop
Once we arrived, we unloaded our gear and sat down with the PRT's civlian director, Ms. Bohumila Ranglova. Busy as she was, she set aside most of her morning to answer our questions and tell us all about the numerous reconstruction and development projects they've been running in the province. She was fascinating to talk to and has a tremendous amount of experience with humanitarian relief work and reconstruction projects. As far as I know, she is also the only female PRT leader in Afghanistan so far.

Small though it is, the Czech PRT is doing a lot of great work. They've upgraded schools and hospitals from tents to stone and concrete buildings, they've built government buildings from scratch, repaired dams, and established jobs and provided technical training for countless local workers.

After a long and fruitful conversation we took a walk around the base. The PRT is actually located within an American-run Forward Operating Base (FOB) called "Shank." It's a big place with lots of folks stationed there and a constant buzz of activity. We ended up getting a great view of the whole thing from one of the lookout posts next to the perimeter. Here's part of it:FOB
From here there were also pretty impressive views outside the compound:
Somewhere over the wire

Lowgar Scenery

Here's Greg Scruton in front of the obligatory sign with directions and distances to the hometowns of soldiers stationed here:
Scruton in Lowgar
Of course all of the signs point the same direction because all of the towns are in the Czech Republic. That's also why all of the distances are in kilometers.

Having wandered around and gotten the lay of the land, we had some time to spare before dinner. Somewhere in there I snapped a self-portrait:
Thorsson in Lowgar

The food there turned out to be some of the best food available in all of Afghanistan. If nothing else, the US military is doing a really good job of feeding folks on US bases. Before you ask, the HQ compound I'm stationed on is not a US base.

FOB Shank was every bit as comfortable as any other FOB. What makes them fun is the little bits of silliness that you find when you look closely. Take for example the little stacks of bottled water pre-positioned all over the base:
Poisonous Water Bottles

On the plus side, I didn't have to sleep on the deck this time:
Nice digs

The next morning, Vic Vale and I mounted up with a Czech convoy carrying a couple of the civilian engineers out to check on some of the ongoing projects. Here's me about to climb into a up-armored HMMWV (pronounced "humvee"):
Convoy Ready
On the road I got the typical soldier's view of Afghanistan:
Soldier View of Lowgar

Still, there were plenty of interesting things to see if you kept an eye open: Logar Locals2

Logar Locals3
Here's a run-down old house with a fairly new well in front of it:
Hovel

Lowgar scenery

Logar Kids
Our first stop was at a nearby village where the PRT is funding and managing the construction of a girls school. Here you can see some of the Afghan locals at work:
Girls School Construction

A year ago classes here were being taught under a tree. Now there are several functioning classrooms in the building to the right and eight more being built in the building in the background. Because our convoy included men, we had to visit on a day when classes were not in session and none of the girls were present.

While we toured the facility, the Czech soldiers provided security overwatch:
Village girls

The local children were very curious about us:
Logar Kids

Logar Kids2
We also visited a local hospital, but I didn't take any pictures for fear of offending anyone. Suffice it to say that a year ago the facility was simply a tent and now it's a walled compound with several concrete buildings, electricity, ambulances, and running water.

During the drive back to the FOB I snapped a few more interesting pictures. Here's a local man crossing the street:
Logar Pedestrians

And here's an Afghan sporting goods store:
Afghan Sporting Goods Store
After a few more meetings with the various civil-military affairs folks working in FOB Shank it was time to call it a day. The next morning we packed up, took our time having breakfast and coffee, and rolled out. On the way back there was still plenty to see:
Logar Traffic

Logar Traffic2

So taken for all in all it was a good trip. We got a lot done and got plenty of fresh air:
Logar Scenery
Of course as we got closer to Kabul, there was no mistaking the murky pall of smog clinging low to the ground:
Logar Scenery2

*sigh*

Hopefully I'll get to leave this place soon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Parwan Province Pictures

Earlier this week a handful of us from the office made a run up to Bagram Air Base to visit with the PRT Commander there and check in with the guys from the 101st Airborne's staff. As an added bonus, this would give me a chance to check in at the Navy admin shop where they manage all of the naval personnel in country and find out when I'm leaving.

The whole thing was pretty routine. The weather was just moist enough to keep the dust down in the morning on our way out of Kabul. As we were halfway out of town, we passed one of the countless guys on bicycles making a delivery. This wouldn't have been unusual if it weren't for the fact that this particular guy was delivering balloons:

balloon dude
Other than that, the drive from Kabul to Bagram was unremarkable. We passed the usual assortment of jingle trucks and open space and little kids filling potholes in the road.

Everything we had to do in Bagram went smoothly enough. The only real problem was that I still don't have the orders I need to get me out of this godforsaken country and the guys in the Navy's admin office tell me there's nothing they can do to help me. I'm trying to get back into the Zen mindset that makes it easy to roll with all of the delays and disinterest I'm getting from the folks that are supposed to take care of this crap, but it's a bit more frustration than I'm used to.

Anyhow, once we were all done with our various to-do lists it was time to drive back to Kabul. Unfortunately we ended up stuck behind a French convoy:
French Convoy
Along the way we saw the usual assortment of traffic:
Veggie Jackass
Then I spotted the first camels I've seen since arriving in Afghanistan. It wasn't for lack of looking, they just happened to be elsewhere:
Parwan Camels
But for some reason there were plenty of them this time around:
Parwan Camels2

There was also the usual alltoment of small children alongside the highway waving:
Parwan Locals
Of note, most gas stations I've seen in Afghanistan use gas-powered pumps. If you look at the pumps in the background above, you'll notice small engines like you'd find on a lawn mower attached to the far side of each one. Whoever pumps the gas has to pullstart the pump first.

Then, in the midst of all of the little kids who usually stand on the side of the road filling potholes, there was this one little girl who decided to stop waving and point the bottom of her feet at us:
Angry Girl In case you didn't know, it's considered an insult in most Afghan tribes (and most Muslim people in general) to show someone the bottoms of your feet. Bitch.

Aside from that part, we had the usual scenic drive through Parwan Province:
Parwan Countryside

Back in Kabul we returned to an unusually serene afternoon:
downtown Kabul
With the usual assortment of oddities on the road:
commuters

Also, I noticed a local bicycle repair shop for the first time:
Afghan Bike Shop

So that's that.

Stay tuned for story and pictures from the trip to Lowgar Province. It should be at least as interesting as this post.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Found Online...

The other day I stumbled across mention of a very talented stopmotion film maker named Patrick Boivin. If you get a moment, CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT HIS YOUTUBE CHANNEL. He has a number of technically fascinating, wholly hilarious videos posted, but here's a couple of my favorites:

Prime History of Dance:






Mandalorian Dance:





I realize I'm a huge nerd, but everything about this guy's work makes me want to rush out and buy a bunch of toys and a camera and some lighting equipment and some video editing software and...

...ahem. Back to reality.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Hint of Light at the End of the Tunnel

I forgot to post it when it happened, but my relief arrived a few days ago. He is now largely taken over all of my duties and I'm mostly just hanging around the office to answer the occasional question.

In other news, I still haven't received the demobilization orders that will make it possible for them to transfer me to an outprocessing center in the states. What makes this funny is the fact that the new guy already has his demobilization orders in hand.

*sigh*

Sadly I'm still not in charge of the making sense department.

Friday, April 17, 2009

LCDR Thorsson. Now 94.7% More Navular

After months of walking around in my Army costume and getting mildly irate everytime someone mistakenly calls me "captain" (or "major" since the promotion) I'm happy to report that I've found another little way to mark myself as a naval officer.

All of the Army guys have their little merit badges that they wear on the huge velcro patches on their sleeves that mark them as Airborne or Rangers or Special. The other day I walked into one of the shops on base and found a velcro patch version of the
First Navy Jack in subdued colors:
Navtastic

I like it because it pisses off Army guys and it serves as a bit of a reminder of the kinds of places I expected to be stationed and things I expected to be doing:


Speaking of places I expected to be stationed and things I expected to be doing, I'd like to take a moment to mention how glad I am that the Navy took down the Somali pirates who were holding Captain Phillips of the Maersk Alabama. A classmate of mine from SUNY Maritime College had just signed off of that ship right before that voyage and I know a lot of guys who sail with that same company. With a little bit of luck, I might quite well be on a similar ship in the same area in the next year too. So it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to know that the United States is likely to intervene on my behalf if some third-world criminal decides to board my ship and hold me at gunpoint.*

The other nice thing about the recent bit of news is that the denizens of the internet have started posting much cooler motivational posters about the US Navy. Here's a couple of examples:

Sniper

navydemotivator
The new ones are much cooler than the old ones:

*If a ship is sailing under a US flag, that makes it sovereign US territory. Being boarded by unwelcome foreigners is tantamount to an invasion.