Just Ask Lucille Ball’s Bank Account-Ain’t-or Aunt-Or Ant.
Oh Screw it!
You Know What I’m A-Tryin’ To Say.
Yes! Re-Runs Are Fun!
For ME NE-Way!
Be’Cuz I Have Never Had An Original Thought
“Letter From a South Park Jail” Letter The First: Part One (Apologies to MLK for Shamelessly Appropriating A Great Title)
NowPlease Do NOT Get Me Wrong!
I LOVED The Years
(And All My Tears Shed In Hell-Man! Province, Af-Gan-Is-Sand)
“Here, hold this!” said the Texan to his credulous girlfriend as he handed her his half-empty half-pint of Jim Beam, stomped the shit out of the accelerator on his pickup truck and flew headlong into oblivion…
“I don’t need no stinkin’ roads. I’m going to Afghanistan!”
I need to be ‘institutionalized’ somewhere far far away.
In a place where life is tenuous at worst and exciting at best and the pay is good and booze is scarce and the women are… well, usually not to be found, except on the Internet.
That is how Lance stays out of trouble…
It works well-enough in theory anyway.
The following is Part One of a transcribed letter I wrote to a Significant Other while cooling my heels in Helmand Province and Kandahar, Afghanistan trying to get my CAC renewed (Common Access Card: An ID card for Civilians working with the U.S. Military).
‘South Park’ is, for lack of a better term, A Holding Facility ‘soullessly owned and operated’ by DynCorp International for transients, itinerants, illiterates, sycophants, miscreants, and other sad and lonely temporarily homeless people just trying to travel through, hoping to land somewhere else, anywhere else, and the sooner the better…
South Park is understaffed, under-financed, under-achieving, under-esteeming, underwhelming, and sometimes underwater.
It is also overpopulated, misconceiving, deceiving and just plain infuriating.
Southpark will depress you, repress you, digress you, digest you, and shit you out if you allow it.
Writing saved me from insanity there.
“I’ve gotta go to South Park?”
“You’re shitting me, right?”
Saturday 28 July 2012, Camp Dwyer PAX Terminal, Afghanistan 1218hrs
I’m sitting in the PAX terminal. We boarded the plane, (Sixties-Era, prop job) a couple of hours ago, but they were just kidding.
After sitting on the tarmac for about forty five minutes they brought us back here. Seems someone forgot to feed the hamsters which are actually responsible for propelling the plane and hence, they died.
We were told not to worry; they are flying in some fresh, well-fed hamsters from KAF (Kandahar Air Field) and once they get those settled into the plane’s power plant, we will be good to go: wheels up around 1430hrs.
So here I sit, thinking of you, Dubai, and Hamster Avionics.
This PAX terminal isn’t too bad, as these places go. (I have seen worse—and better). Like every other facility on Dwyer, it is a tent, but it is a rather enormous tent and they have provided the weary travelers with bottled water and MRE’s. So I am sated, as far as it goes. You see, I really am low maintenance.
Not being inclined to ignore any opportunity to ‘talk’ to you, I am using the tools (pen and paper) I thoughtfully provided myself in the event such opportunity did manifest itself. So here I sit, happily communicating to you using Nineteenth Century Technology. I do hope you are properly impressed.
Page From Original Document
“And what lovely penmanship!” She exclaimed.
“Thank you,” he said.
Looking about the terminal, I have pronounced us a motley crew: About a dozen or so Indians & Sri Lankans, some Filipinos, a smattering of American Expats, couple of Brits, and a few bored Marines scattered about and some behind the counter, whose job it is to search the TCN’s.
The counter has a sign which reads:
“TCN Search Area.”
TCN: ‘Third Country National.’ in case you didn’t know.
“What did you do in The War, Daddy?”
“Son, I put my hands all over aromatic TCN’s.”
“What’s a TCN Daddy?’
“Uh…That’s a very sophisticated weapons system Son.”
1310hrs: PAX Terminal, Dwyer
Ok, for amusement, I took an inventory of the MRE’s stacked on pallets here in the terminal:
56 cases of MRE’s per pallet
12 MRE’s per case
Total MRE’s: 10,080 (assuming my arithmetic is correct, a rather liberal assumption)
Posted on each pallet are four signs which read:
DO NOT EAT!
MRE stands for “Meal, Ready to Eat,” in case you didn’t know, or in this case, “Meal, Not Ready to Eat.”
(“We done been eatin’ ‘em anyways. Hope we don’t die of ptomaine before the hamsters do, causing our Turbo Prop to morph into a glider…”)
1441hrs: Still in PAX terminal
Announcement: “Listen up! We couldn’t get the hamsters here, but we’ve drafted a couple of gerbils and they’re fit for duty.”
(‘Now there’s some happy news,’ I mused.)
He continued, “For all those going to KAF, this means now you’re flying non-stop…”
(Guess gerbils aren’t certified for multi-destination air duty.)
“…and your luggage is already back on the plane. As soon as we warm up the gerbils, you fly. Those of you who are going to FOB Shindan, you will follow me now.”
Someone pipes up, “Are we walking?”
There’s one in every crowd…
Having a few minutes to kill while the gerbils are doing their warm up exercises, I return to the MRE pile and rat-fuck a couple of the boxes.
Then I saw another sign which had previously gone unnoticed by me:
‘Rat-Fuck’ is a technical term which simply means, “To open several bags of MRE’s and take only the premium items, leaving the not premium items for the next schmuck attempting to do same.”
An example of this would be taking all the Reece’s Pieces and chocolate chip cookies, leaving only the cardboard crackers and synthetic peanut butter.
Wheels up and airborne and the gerbils gerbilling their little asses off. Time to destination: thirty minutes.
1613hrs: Flying High (I wish)
I am seated in a window seat. Normally I would take the aisle, but I wanted to describe the spectacular view and with all the beautiful details of this rarified vista below:
Perusing the in-flight movie list (from the one inside my head), I select Lawrence of Arabia (with subtitles in Pashtun). I estimate getting about half-way through the opening credits before we touch down. I listen to the wonderful Academy Award winning musical score.
The scenes of the burning desert are so real inside my head that I actually break a sweat. This Special Effect is helped along quite nicely by the fact that the air-conditioning on this aircraft in non-functional. I suppose one of the collateral duties of the deceased hamsters was operating the A/C unit.
1638hrs: Wheels Down
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Beautiful Kandahar.”
(I do not doubt his sincerity, but I did detect a bit of sarcasm in his voice.)
“For safety, you are required”, he continued, “to wear your full body armor with your helmet when exiting the aircraft. There really is no danger, but we want you to sweat just that much more. Thank you for flying Gryphon Airlines today and once again, we apologize for the teeny tiny delay we had in leaving Camp Dwyer and we do hope you will… uh, be flying with us again soon.”
Waiting on the bus and the Gomer to take us to the Badging Office. This time of day Afghanistan is pleasant—not hot—cool in fact. I tossed and turned all night and did not sleep well at all. I kept thinking about Dubai, well specifically about us in Dubai.
There were no Rockets’ Red Glare last night. So that cannot be used as excuse today for red eyes and sleepy Lance, not that I will be required to provide any, as no one gives two shits about anyone else here.
Waitin’ On the Bus–ZZ Top
Please Exhibit Mercy
I’m Tryin’ To Grow My Gray Beard Out
The Briefing was Brief: “This here’s the van gonna take you. Leaves at zero five hunert, and it’ll leave without yew, so don’t wander off.”
0523hrs: CAC Badging Office
We’re told to expect to be here all day. Perfect! (At Dwyer last time I had to get a new CAC, I was in and out in thirty minutes max. Shit!)
0630hrs: CAC Badging Office
No sooner than four hours from now…grrrr. Didn’t bring my sunglasses; didn’t bring any snack, “No phone, no pool, no pets; I ain’t got no cigarettes…” This day is gonna suck.
0758hrs: Boardwalk, KAF
Yes, you read that right: BOARDWALK. I’m sitting at a table drinking a Mocha Frappe purchased from Green Beans Coffee (Think Starbucks) Come to find out, the world famous KAF Boardwalk lies less than one hundred meters from the CAC office. Praise The Great White Cat of the River Nile! (Again)
The boardwalk embraces a soccer field but and there appears to also be a hockey court of some kind as well. On the Boardwalk itself are myriad food joints: KFC, Fridays (no booze), Pizza, Juice Bar, Kebab Joint, Convenience Store (called Downtime), Trinket Shops, ATT Phone Center, Souvenir Joint, Afgh Bank, Nathan’s Frankfurters, and God knows what else. Amazing! I’d heard of this place, but didn’t know it was of this magnitude. Having a lot of time to kill, I think this will be the place to do it. Damn! That mocha thingy was good. I now have a brain freeze. This is only the third time I have ever had a Frappe. Me! The World Traveler! Ha! Now I’m spoiled. ‘Ruint’ as we say in Texas.
To top that off (my discovery of Le Boardwalk), I ran into my old Filipino Electrician from Iraq days on my way over here. File that in ‘it’s a small world after all’ department.
His name is Hernani and he was, without doubt, my best employee and also a very good friend. I have missed him and it was wonderful to see him again after almost three and a half years.
He has been here at KAF for three years now he tells me. Poor guy has been working all over the Middle East for at least twelve years, sending all his money back to the Philippines to support his wife and family. Now here is an honorable man. I truly admire and respect him.
0907hrs: Boardwalk, KAF
I snuck a couple of photos—not sure on KAF about photography—best to be cautious. I suppose I could just ask, but where would be the fun in that? As I was starving to death, I purchased a toasted bagel with cream cheese from a joint called YO Time. The ‘O’ is a clock. Clever.
The bagel was mediocre, the cream cheese probably made from powder, but it hit my spot and I feel much better. The airfield lies in the direction I’m facing and I’ve been observing various aircraft come and go. So far about half a dozen helos, a couple of Predator Drones, couple of cargo planes, and I swear, I think I saw Air France landing.
There is a large white blimp suspended overhead. We had these in Iraq. They serve as the Eye in the Sky. ‘Gomer, watch yer ass.’
I forgot to mention that the soccer/hockey field has a jogging track circling it. I may have to try it out for a walk-about, but it is already getting hot and I really don’t want to look like I just ran in front of a fire hose… (I tend to perspire…uh, no… Sweat. A lot, when I’m working out. But that’s OK. People who don’t sweat in the desert die of heat stroke) before I get my ID photo taken.
0959hrs: CAC Badging Office
Decided better return here to see how far I’ve moved up the list: Twelve in front of me now. Looks like they have been knocking out about four per hour. “Warp Speed Mister Zulu!”
Needed more caffeine—wanted another one of those orgasmic frappes, but my self-discipline kicked in—Diet Coke—Ah! Tasty. Before I left the badging office, I inquired to the Soldierette behind the counter, “If I have ten in front of me do I have at least an hour?” She laughed. “Yes Sir. At Least.”
The Boardwalk has really come to life in the past hour. Quite a cosmopolitan crowd here: U.S. Mil, civilians of every stripe, NATO forces, Afghani shop keepers, TCN’s and… Lance. (I deserve my own category—I have worked hard to be certifiable.)
It’s disappointing that there are no hockey or football (See, I didn’t say ‘soccer’ this time in deference to my audience) matches going on. Probably that sort of activity happens only at night. In November. In The Rain. When it’s cool. Anyway folks are walkin’ around the B’Walk stopping here, stoppin’ there, buyin’ food, eatin’ same, shootin’ the shit, cokin’ an’ smokin’ and if I didn’t know better, I’d think I was in Atlantic City. But I know better.
We do have lots of beach here, just no water. And they do sell beer. Non-alcoholic beer. Why even bother? Might as well drink camel piss. Probably could get that too (for medicinal purposes) now that I think on it.
1112hrs: CAC Badging Office
Only three in front of me. I can see the light. Read an article in Stars & Stripes about the casualties of contractors during the rebuilding efforts in Iraq.
Finally someone is giving credit to those who died doing this work! Personally, I lost two friends there in 2007. Not best friends, but friends—killed by a roadside bomb. We were in Anbar Province at the time. The story cited 719 killed, but the number is probably over one thousand: the USG folks estimate… according to the story. I know the number is much higher even than that.
1151hrs: CAC Badging Office: NEXT
Once saw a buxom brunette wearing a T-Shirt which read, “You can’t be the first, but you can be Next.” (Okay. I stole that line from Larry McMurtry… Please don’t tell him.) Well, I’m next in line for the CAC’ing Experience. Feels like Christmas Eve. Sorta.
1242hrs: TGI Fridays
Yep. I’m sitting in a Fridays in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Believe this shit?Iraq was never like this. This is almost the Real Deal.
Just need a frosty pint of my favorite Irish Stout to make it so much more Real… *sigh* Needless to say I am now the proud owner of a brand new Common Access Card, or CAC. This one is good until 31 July 2013. I am sure you are dying to know what I ordered at Fridays.
Chicken Sandwich. Gawd! I must be boring. Well, I am, after all, in training and must treat my body as a temple. I was staring around at the décor here and I must have looked like an idiot because a Gomer wait-person came over and asked if I needed any help. “No thank you,” I said. “Just never been to the Big City before.” He left, probably certain now that I am an idiot.
After I eat, I must try to find my way back to Southpark. This should prove interesting.
Yet another email I dispatched from Camp Dwyer, 2012:
Around 1730hrs a truck pulls up outside my office at LSA 2. I didn’t see who was in the truck, but I figured I was about to have a visitor. (I’m really smart that way) After the truck had been literally blocking my door for about five minutes, Mike Smith (My Manager. The BBB: Billeting BIG BOSS) walks in holding up a pack of L&M cigarettes. Now remember, I have not seen this guy for the day-and-a-half he has been “back” on Dwyer.
“Anyone in here smoke these?” were the first words out of his mouth.
I look up from my personal emails and say, “Dunno. Lashonda smokes, but afraid I don’t know her brand.” (She was out of the office, actually smoking at this time)
“Well, I wish whoever is smoking these would stop doing it on the bench.” (There’s a bench just outside my office door and it sits in a ‘No-Smoking’ area.)
“Sorry Mike; not on ‘bench patrol duty’ today. Could’ve been anybody; probably a Marine with a rifle or a Jordanian with a goat. Did you trek all the way across this burning desert to tell me this? Or do you have some business here? Oh and welcome back by the way.” (Saturated sarcasm, I’m afraid.)
“Uh, no… You do realize we have a serious situation on our hands in Billeting?” (Well, duh. You’re the schmuck who has been gone, not me). I just gave him my best *You’re fucking kidding me, right?Lance, peering-over-his-glasses look.*
He continues, struggling now to maintain his Authority Voice, “Uh, of course you know everyone is gonna have to ‘get on board’ with all this new responsibility.”
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.”
Interior of a KAF South Park ‘Port-A-Shitter’ in case you have never ‘experienced’ one
This is the continuation of a transcribed letter/email I sent to my Girlfriend (Isn’t she pretty?) while stuck in Kandahar, Afghanistan
1423hrs: South Park DFAC
It was a long and winding road which led me back to South Park home base. As I was trudging along, sweating my ass off, I kept reminding myself of the New Yorker’s directions given to someone looking to get to Texas from NYC:
“Head west until you smell shit. That’s Oklahoma. Go south until you step in it. That’s Texas.”
I found my way back to South Park in similar fashion: Followed my nose to the ‘Poo Pond’ and took a left—ran right into South Park. Easy as Poo Pie.
Poo Pond Song
#1 With A Bullet
I LOVE My U.S. Military. And My Having Been Given The Honor To Serve
Street Cred for Shared Vid: JimmyMisawa
Original Artist Credit: Music and video by Jimmy Moreland
Kandahar the Song
Also #1 With A Bullet
(It was a ‘Foto-Finish’)
“Kandahar the song is about life at Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan. Everything was filmed, photographed, recorded and edited at Kandahar (KAF) except the stuff that wasn’t. Yep, Rocket Attacks, the Poo Pond and reflective belts are a way of life at KAF. Enjoy”
Street Cred for Vid: HeySargeUSA Spillane
As soon as I got back and kicked yet another Gomer off’n my rack (What’s wrong with these people?), I went to Flight Ops to see if I could fly the hell outta here tomorrow. I’ll tell you what they told me:
“We’ll have to get back to you on that.”
1738hrs: Sitting on my Rack
Shoo’d the Gomes off… again. I sent you an email few minutes ago, telling you my show-time is 0100hrs for my flight back to Dwyer. I believe it’s a Helo this time. They are slower, but it’s a short trip. On Saturday, I could have walked here and gotten to the CAC office same day before they closed.
The computers here have been acting stupid today, so I don’t know if you got my recent posts. Only thing left for me to do is update my time sheet at 1900hrs and eat supper.
I stole a sleeping bag from the Billeting laundry box so I wouldn’t freeze my ass off tonight. (The A/C works really good in this tent starting around midnight). Problem is, not getting to sleep much. I must confess something: I like a routine.
I do much better when I have a routine. You probably would never have guessed that about me.
Hopefullywill not still be there on Dwyer whenever I get home, but I had no email from Shannon, so I suspect he remains. Shannon surely would have told me if he finally did leave. I would hope so anyway.
Ode To An Asshole:
1915hrs: Sitting on my rack
Supper was yummy. Roast pork(?) and a chicken breast. South Park’s population seems to have doubled today. Trying to find a spot to sit in the smoking arena is an exercise in futility. Time for me to leave obviously.
I’m gonna miss this place.
I am really exhausted now. Tomorrow will be another Long Day, but at least at the end of it I’ll be back in my own bed and in my own hooch.
My Classy, Comfy, Cozy, Crib
I’m sad right now a little bit ‘cause I have not heard from you. Hopefully a bit later before I depart for the flight line and most likely another long wait to get on yet another bird… I hope they fed the hamsters this time: “Helicopter Hamsters.” Sounds like a song: ‘Muskrat Love…’ (Lance, you need sleep Son)
Tried to sleep. Failed. Ideas of what to show you and do with you and to you in Dubai race around in my head and look for a place to rest.
31 July Tuesday 0021hrs: DFAC – Strong coffee
Taster’s Choice instant. ‘Twill serve. Just got off the computer a few minutes ago and had several emails from you. Happy Now. Some dude was very vociferous about some folks taking more than their allotted ten minutes (I’m not guilty of that. Not Much). Anyway, I had to go.
Got a couple hours of death-like sleep until a Billeting Gome woke me up (very politely) tapping me on the shoulder, making sure I knew I was scheduled to fly. I assured him that “Yeah Baby! I’m flying outta here.” My alarm was about to go off, but I’m glad he woke me up just in case it didn’t.
They have the Olympics on TV now here in the DFAC. I had forgotten about them and I suppose they are well underway by now. I do hope Texas brings home a lot of gold this time! Gotta go and grab my ‘kit’. See? I can speak Brit. Heading to the rally point.
0315hrs: PAX Terminal KAF
Been successfully herded from South Park.
0348hrs: Taxi Runway
Didn’t even have time to finish my coffee.
Gryphon Airlines exhibited uncharacteristic efficiency today. I did manage to wolf down part of an MRE I had rat-fucked on the 28th. Not on a helo—thought I would be. A/C on this bird no better than the last one.
Waiting to take off… Plane is full and we have two stops before Dwyer. Hopefully I’ll be home in time for DFAC breakfast, but not likely. Oh, plane holds about forty-six in case you’re wondering.
Escape Velocity Breached!
“Once more unto the Breach!”
On our way! Yippee Ki Aye! Captain is female, Michelle. I love her already.
0519hrs: FOB Shindand
Sitting here in Beautiful Shindand. Well, just sittin’ on the plane which is sittin’ on the tarmac in Beautiful Shindand. I have never been to Shindand, so I have no emotions one way or another about Shindand, but apparently I like writing the word ‘Shindand.’
It is just before sunrise here and this time tomorrow I should be back in MY Gym on MY FOB. But for now, next stop FOB Ferah. Shindand Gomes are boarding now…
While they are settling in, I’d like to tell you more about this airplane. As I said, she seats around forty-six. I am semi-comfortably ensconced in a window seat, seated near-the-rear of this DHC-8-300, aka: ‘Dash Eight’ and we just ‘dashed’ from KAF to here at twenty-thousand feet and I must assume at about 250 mph, but I’d have to verify that with Michelle, or her hamsters.
Here is a Dash Eight that ‘Dashed’ to the Scene of the Crash.
For brevity in the local vernacular: a‘Dash Crash’
This is an Eight-Hamster plane: two hamsters per propeller which is in accordance with FAA, ‘Fuckin Afghan Aviation’ regulations. Our Flight Attendant, Gail, is going through her spiel again (poorly) and has informed us that
“No one would like to hear the smoke alarm going off (ya think?), so please don’t smoke Schmuck.”
I added the “Schmuck” because I am in charge of this letter and it made me happy to do so. Well, the hamsters are warming up their little legs, so I reckon, we’ll be departing presently. And… in fact we ARE!
I love my Life!
Airborne now and I see the sun just peeking over a mountain—very romantic. Why does Shindan get to have mountains and Dwyer does not? Shindand looks like Aspen on a bad day, and Dwyer looks like Lubbock on any day.
0613hrs: FOB Farah
Gotta get off here briefly. The hamsters will be taking on Hamster Fuel, probably corn, or corn nuts, or whatever it is that fuels hamsters.
0629hrs: FOB Farah
I love this FOB! Well, what little I have seen of it anyway. It is tiny and nestled in some really cool-looking mountains. As we were landing I was watching for the asphalt runway to appear. It didn’t. We landed on a dirt strip. How cool is that? Not my first dirt strip landing but it caught me pleasantly off guard.
When I first got to Afghanistan, I was hoping to be sent to a small remote FOB such as this, alas, I’ve been stuck at Dwyer for a year.
Now that the hamsters have refueled and I’ve had a taste of my ‘Dream FOB’ nothing left to do but head back to Dwyer, which should begin in a minute or two.
0655hrs: Airborne Again
Gail told us we have thirty-five minutes to Dwyer and I believe her. Shouldn’t get over twelve thousand feet altitude, “And once again, this is a non-smoking flight.”
“Thank you Gail. It’s been at least thirty minutes since I heard that.”
This concludes our Special Broadcast and we now return you to your regularly scheduled emails, already in progress.