Dispatches From Afghanistan: Mouses, Goats, and Snakes Oh My!
The Jordanians are coming: Specifically the JAF. (Jordanian Armed Forces) They will be living here in my LSA 2. Wonderful. Each of my tents have a capacity of 120 U.S. Marines. They ain’t comphy, but they cozy and U.S. Marines do not complain. They are Marines. The JAF contingent will top off at one hundred. They have been promised three of my tents. The math doesn’t work for me. I need every tent I have (twenty-four) to serve the Marines who transit through Dwyer on their way to the war.
After some lobbying (and predictions of pissed off Marines who won’t have a tent to sleep in), I got the JAF allocation down to two tents. Why after all these years the Jordanian government has decided to send troops to southern Afghanistan, I am not sure. But I have a theory: U.S. Department of State. Yep. Not military necessity. Not a request from the coalition of governments already represented here. Not the U.S. Military. Nope. Politics.
I have nothing against Jordan or the Jordanian people. In fact, I love them. I lived and worked in Amman Jordan for six months back in ‘07 while working to close out the paperwork on the USAID Rural Water Project we had completed in Iraq. (Bechtel, the prime contractor, had decided there was no point to continually put our lives at risk in Iraq doing paperwork we could just as easily finish in their Jordan offices).
I had a meeting with the Mayor’s Cell here on Dwyer. (The ‘Mayor’s Cell’ is the term used for the administrative branch of the Marines who actually own Camp Dwyer.) All decisions of the Mayor are final. Except, I found out, when it comes to the JAF and their accommodations. Apprehensive over the impending arrival of the Jordanians, I asked the Mayor, “Does the Mayor’s Cell have any special directive for treatment of the JAF?”
“Not at all Son. Treat ‘em like Marines.”
“Yessir!” (This was the response I had been hoping for)
With the help of the Labor Department and a few of my staff, I readied the two tents for the Jordanians. We were told to expect roughly one hundred men, so we set up fifty-five military cots in each tent. These tents in LSA 2 are best described as ‘Spartan.’ There are four ‘doors’ which are simply canvas flaps about four feet wide. When the wind is up the flaps flap open allowing Afghanistan to blow inside. The occupants are not allowed to tie the flaps shut, as this creates a safety hazard in the event of a fire—no quick egress. Each of the tents has two HVAC units. They are inadequate for the weather extremes here. The tents are in disrepair. They leak, they sag, they have mold. I cannot get approval from the Mayor’s Cell through DynCorp to provide anything more than patchy maintenance. “A lick and a promise.” That’s all. They tell me, “No more funding is available for LSA 2. Deal with it.”
I made a prediction to Shannon (my immediate supervisor and good friend): “Duck, I said, “There ain’t no way those Jordanians are gonna sleep on cots.”
“Why not?” he says, “They Soldiers, ain’t they?”
“Hide and watch what happens when they get here and have a look inside their tents,” was all I said.
Two days later they arrived. I got them checked in, inspected the tents with their liaison officer, and had him sign for the cots. (Over his protestations)
Next day I observed about a dozen Marines off-loading brand new bed frames and brand new, thick mattresses (still wrapped in clear plastic!) from two flatbed trucks. And I have trouble getting replacement cots for the ones rendered unserviceable due to fair wear and tear. Again, “Deal with it.”
I got on the phone and called Shannon over at LSA 3, “Hey Duck, get over here to LSA 2. You ain’t gonna believe the shit I’m lookin’ at.”
I couldn’t wait to hear his comments once he saw the Marines struggling to assemble the bed racks and unwrapping the new mattresses.
“Well, I’ll be damned. You called this one Bro. Hey! Those are brand new fuckin’ mattresses. The red ones. The best ones! Mayor’s Cell been telling me they got no replacement mattresses for my LSA. Shit-Mother-Fuck!” (LSA 3 was for permanent residents: CHUs—Containerized Housing Units–instead of tents and beds instead of cots, but money for that LSA’s maintenance was also drying up.)
Over the next week there was a flurry of construction inside the two JAF tents. The Jordanian officers wanted separate rooms inside the tents. No problem. Approved. Then built. These flaps won’t do; we need doors. No problem. Approved. Then built. We want our own smoking area with table and benches. No problem. Approved. Then built. (They continued to smoke inside their tents anyway—serious safety violation)
Another safety and health violation concerned food. We forbid any and all food in the tents. The only consumable allowed in the tents was water. The Jordanian officers had their junior enlisted personnel deliver plates of food to them from the DFAC. (Dining Facility) I observed some Jordanians washing pots and pans in one of the Ablution units (Yes. ‘ablution’ For some strange reason this is what the U.S. Military called the trailers which had the showers and shitters. Smacks of religious ritual to me.) So I knew they were also cooking inside their tents. Of course I confronted their officers over this MAJOR safety hazard, only to be lied to.
“No. No cooking. Just making coffee and tea.”
“Doesn’t matter. It must stop immediately. You are putting the entire LSA at risk from fire.”
Few days later I was visited in my little office by the JAF liaison officer, (a man I had actually become good friends with).
“Salaam,” I said.
“Howdy” he said back. He had been trying to teach me Arabic and I was trying to teach him Texican.
“What can I do for you my friend?”
“We have mouses.”
I had to laugh. “Mouses, eh? You know why you have ‘mouses’, don’t you?”
“No,” he replied softly, studying his boots.
“You have mouses because your folks are bringing food into the tents.”
“Oh no, No food. Just cookies and things like that.”
“Uh huh,” was all I could muster.
“We need traps and poison.”
“I can get you those, but until your men stop eating in the tents, you’re gonna have mice. And guess what comes next?”
Looking up he said, “Don’t know. What?”
“Snakes” I said.
“I don’t like snakes,” he said, now looking horrified.
“Well, the food brings the mice and the mice bring the snakes: simple Darwin progression.”
“Who is this Darwin? He the one with the traps and poison?”
“Never mind. Look, you have to try to stop your men from keeping food in the tents. That’s the only way to get rid of the mice. Or if you don’t want to do that, you may soon discover a snake in your bed.”
“I don’t like snakes,” he said again.
“Listen my friend,” I said as sincerely as I could. “Personally I don’t care if your guys eat in their tent and I am sorry you have mice and soon you will have snakes. This doesn’t bother me at all. But, what if one of the snakes gets bad info from another snake as to where the mice can be found? Perhaps that snake gets lost and wanders into the wrong tent, a tent with hot and dusty and tired U.S. Marines. Now suppose one of these Marines don’t like snakes any more than you do. Suppose this Marine freaks the fuck out and empties a clip in the general direction of the snake. You see where I’m goin’ with this? Then the Marine finds out the snake was just trying to find your tents. Now you have bigger issues than mouses, me, and snakes. You have one pissed off Marine.”
“I am beginning to understand.”
“Good. I will get you the traps and I’ll have the Vector Control lady put out more poison. Anything else I can do for you?”
“No thanks,” he said as he turned toward the door, then looked back and said, “Adyoose.”
I laughed and said, “Mas Salaami.”
Some days later I had a visit from Labor One. (See the Wheeless Wheelbarrow post) The Labor guys were responsible for the twice-daily cleaning of the Ablution Units.
“Labor One! What brings you to my humble LSA Office?” I greeted him.
“I have problem,” he announced. (His Romanian accent is music)
“Well, I am here to help. If I can. What is the nature of your problem?”
“The Jordanians are making a shit in showers again,” he said.
“Again? This is the first I’ve heard of this,” I said, somewhat pissed that this had not been brought to my attention before now.
“Ya. They make a shit in shower. Sometimes they make a shit in the back of toilet.”
“The ‘back’ of the toilet?”
“Ya. You know, the part that has the water.”
Still somewhat confused, I asked, “You mean the reservoir with the flushing mechanics in it?”
“Ya, They take lid off, stand on toilet seat and make a shit in dere.”
“Oh ya. Believe it.”
“OK. OK. I’ll look into this,” I said with a heavy sigh.
His crew was a mite squeamish, so I really needed to fix this little problem)
The problem of course is that all the ablution units had western style toilets. Middle East folks do not like to sit on a toilet. They prefer to squat. They also do NOT like to discuss anything relating to shit and toilets, squatting or sitting. I would have to approach this one with tact and diplomacy.
I had fielded complaints from a few Marines about Jordanians washing their feet in the sinks. No small feat (pun maybe intended), my aging body could even attempt, the limberness and elasticity having long since gone.
At this point I should explain why the Jordanians were billeted in LSA 2 in the first place. Dwyer had an Afghani LSA which seemed to me more appropriate. After some enquiry I found out the JAF didn’t terribly much care for Afghans. Why then, since they are not transients, but actually doing Six-Month tours of duty here, are they not billeted in one of the LSA’s for long term residents? The reason: They wanted to live close to the Mosque. LSA 2 has the only Mosque on Dwyer. It is a tent just like the other tents, but it had somehow been ‘Mosque-a-sized’. I confess ignorance of the ways of Islam, so I cannot tell you what that means. But apparently it means a lot. At any rate, I had the care and feeding of the Jordanians for the foreseeable future.
When Ramadan came around, all five DFACs on Dwyer changed their operating hours to accommodate the one hundred or so Jordanians of the JAF. Basically this meant the evening meal hour was pushed back until after sundown, seriously pissing off any Marine you cared to ask. This had not been done for past Ramadans even though Camp Dwyer must have had hundreds of Muslims already living and working on board.
My morning commute took me past the Mosque and the JAF tents on my way to my office on the opposite end of LSA 2. The day before the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr or Feast of Breaking the Fast, I was greeted by the bleats of two very shaggy goats which were tied up to a stack of wooden pallets. Between bleats they were munching on a pile of orange peels, apples, and some other items I didn’t recognize. As far as I knew, the only animals authorized on board Dwyer were the military dogs owned and operated by the Marines.
“Mike’s gonna go bullshit when he sees this” I thought as I walked past the goats toward my office. “And I’m gonna love it.” (Note: Mike was the Billeting Manager, and not one of my favorite people. For more on his story please refer to my recent post: Emails From Afghanistan: My Boss, aka: ‘That Guy I Wouldn’t Want Running An Elevator For Me’)
Every morning at 0700hrs we conducted a meeting of the Military Billeting side of the Big Billeting Department House. This meeting was always held in my office. As folks were filing in that day all had commentary about the goats.
Persad probably had the most to say, as Persad was full of opinion (Note: Please refer to A Conversation Over a Plywood Wall In a Tent in Afghanistan).
“Hey Mar-cone,” he began. “Did ya see dem goats over to the Jordanians?”
“Yeah Persad. Kinda hard to miss ‘em.”
“What dem Jordanian need wid dem goat?”
“Buddy, I really don’t wanna think on that before I get some coffee in me.”
“Well…I tink they don’t need dem goat here.”
“Persad, guess what I ‘tink’? I think I don’t give a shit. We’ll kick it up to Mayor’s Cell. Although the Mayor must of authorized the goats. I mean, how do you suppose they got past security at the main gate?”
“Mistah Mike, he gonna be pee oh’d ‘bout dem goat. Ya know, he doan like nuthin’ outta ordinary.”
“You let me worry ‘bout Mike.”
“Okay Boss, but dem goat…”
Mike showed up a few hours later and upon entering my office said, “Marcom, do you realize there are goats in your LSA? In front of the JAF tents?”
“Goats? Mike, you know pets aren’t authorized. I ain’t seen no goats. You sure ‘bout this?”
Mike opened my office door and said, “Look down there. Goats!”
I got up from my desk and slowly walked to the door. Looking out, I said. “Mike. There are goats in the LSA.”
“Marcom, you had to have known this. Stop fucking with me. I want you to go over to the Mayor’s Cell and tell the Mayor about these goats.”
“Michael, this is above my pay grade. You know I never bother the Mayor with my little issues,” I lied. (The Mayor and I were on a ‘first-name basis’ and we were friends). “Why don’t you, as Billeting Manager, manage on over there and talk to him? Your words will carry more weight. But I figure the Mayor knows already. I mean, he must have authorized the goats. I’d even venture that they have Dwyer ID badges. Did you check to see if they had badges?”
Why he didn’t fire me, I can only speculate. I played a major role in his getting shit-canned months later, but I probably should not detail that here, as I am using his real name and this story is all truth, and I don’t wanna get sued or something and… and… and. Suffice to say, Mike was not well-liked by anyone I have ever met. I will leave it at that.
Mike kept on fuming, “This LSA is your responsibility. You better get to the bottom of this goat business before close of business today.”
“Okay Mike. Relax. I will sort this out, but that one goat, the one with the baby-shit-brown eyes, she kinda cute.”
He turned on his heel and left my office, slamming the door.
Lashonda remarked, “Lance, one day you gonna push that man too far.”
“Naw. We friends an’ shit Lashonda. It’s all good.”
Lashonda rolled her eyes, then said, “Lance, I love you, you crazy white-boy sonuvabitch.”
(She had been treated badly by Mike in the past and did not favor him at all)
I walked down to the JAF tents looking for my Jordanian friend (the liaison one). Found him and asked about the goats.
“They are for our Eid festival,’ he informed me.
“Friend, you cannot have goats here. How did you get them past security?”
“They said it was okay.”
“Really? Did the Mayor sign off on this?”
“Not exactly. I told the security men that this was OK with the Marines.”
“So, the Mayor’s Cell knows nothing of this?”
“No, my friend, they don’t”
“You do realize I must tell the Mayor, don’t you?”
“Yes,” he sighed. “But if you will give me a few hours, I will make them disappear. Eid is very important to us and we need to have our feast.”
“Okay My Friend, but if you slaughter these goats and cook them in my LSA, I am not gonna be happy.”
“Don’t worry. I will take them out of Camp with tonight’s patrol and we will cook them there and bring them back in the morning.”
“Good enough. But I want a plate of roasted goat delivered to me for lunch tomorrow.”
“Hahaha! Yes Boss. You will have it!”
“Shukran,” I said and left him to it.