T-Back Thurs: Emails From Afghanistan: My Boss, aka: ‘That Guy I Wouldn’t Want Running An Elevator For Me’

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.*

Are You Kidding Me

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.”

I continue *Lance-looking* him.

 “I’m going to want you to run LSA 1 from this office; (LSA 2) are you ready to take ownership of this mission?”

“Sure, no problem,” I said. “But you do realize, Michael, that LSA 1 is over a half-mile from here and I have no vehicle?”

“Uh, I didn’t mean right now. But just as soon as Shannon gets everything settled down. Then we can come up with a plan forward.”

“Sorry Mike, but I’m not in the ‘Plan-Forward coming up with’ business anymore; above my pay grade, you see. But as soon as YOU come up with a Plan, forward or otherwise, I will be happy to follow it.”

*Looks hurt & confused* Mikey does.

“Well, uh” he stammers, “Everyone is gonna have to get on-board with all this.”

You mentioned that. Anything else? How was your R&R?” I said, hoping to change the subject and also out of mean-spiritedness, because I knew he was going to tell me something stupid. He didn’t disappoint:

“I had the flu for the first week and spent the next week getting over it.”

“Damn rotten luck. Perhaps DynCorp will allow you a ‘do-over.’ Whaddya think?”

*gears grinding as he searches—in vain—for something to say: painful to witness the mechanics of this*

“Nice chair,” he said finally, plopping his fat ass down in a chair Shannon had liberated from a Marine Corps office in one of the LSAs we’re taking over.

“Yeah, Shannon delivered that to us yesterday; nice to finally have a proper office chair in here after twelve months.”

“I have chairs on order for Billeting,” he reminded me.

“Yes, and ever since forever, even before I got here; still no sign of them,” I reminded him.

“Uh, yeah… they’re stuck at the Pakistani border; they’re gonna fly ‘em out.”

“Whatever. By the way, you do know these other two chairs are my personal property, purchased with my personal money, so don’t get any ideas.”

“Yes, yes, I know. I know those belong to you and your office.”

“Of course.”

I won’t bore you with the rest of the conversation; I think you get the drift and the general tenor of it.

After leaving work for the day I stopped by the Housing Office in the DynCorp LSA Compound (where there’s a tent I call ‘home’), and caught Shannon there, still working. (See? He does deserve to be Billeting Manager.)

Lance and Shannon

Shannon and Lance

“Mister Duckworth!” I saluted.

“Mister Marcom!” he returned.

“What up Duck?”

*gives me his best ‘exasperated’ look*

“Yeah, I know; they cancelled Christmas. What the fuck’s going on with MJS?” I asked as discreetly as I could; (there were others present) which was none too discreet I fear, but don’t matter; All Departments despise Monsieur le Mike, aka Michael J. Smith. (Not sure, but I think the ‘J’ stands for ‘Jagoff’)

“Don’t worry; it’s still gonna happen.”

“Christmas?”

“Yeah, an’ New Year’s too.”
“Ok, I’ll cool my jets an’ cancel my de-mobe.” (de-mobilization)

“Lance Bro,” (he sometimes calls me ‘Bro’) “Mike went to HR on me today.”

“Get the fuck out!” I said, honestly shocked. “Some brass balls on this guy.”

“Yeah, he told HR he couldn’t work with me anymore.”

“Pardon me a moment Shannon, while I fall down on this plywood floor and laugh my ass off. It’ll just take a sec.”

“Dude, (he sometimes calls me ‘Dude’) I’m serious! He went to HR on me and HR told me later about it and also told me to sit tight an’ chill; he will be leaving us soon.”

“Before Christmas, let’s hope,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah. Listen, Mike came to see me after he left LSA 2. He asked me, ‘What’s wrong with Lance?’ I tole him, I said, ‘Mike, every time you go to LSA 2 and talk to Lance, you come back and ask me this same stupid shit.’ An’ he says, ‘I don’t think Lance likes me. Why doesn’t he like me?’ This mothafucka is stupid.”

“Yeah Shannon, ya think? We all know this. Hell, tell the sonuvabitch to ask me next time, and you know what? It’s not as if I haven’t told him more than once to his face my issues with him. This guy wears me out.” (And I wonder why I have not been promoted)

“Yeah. You’re right.”

“Listen to me Shannon, take your ass on outta here and go to bed; it’s late.”

“Okay Brother (sometimes he calls me ‘Brother’), I’m heading out now.”

“Good. See you tomorrow. Night.”

“Peace out, My Friend.” (He sometimes even calls me “Friend”)

Throwback Thursday: Please Don’t Shit in my Showers

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?”

wpid-IMG_0685-2011-06-26-11-39

“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.”

Continue reading

Three Day Southpark Survivor Chapter Two

Southpark: Day The First

For those who may not have read Chapter One or Letter From a Southpark Jail,  This is a transcribed letter/email sent to my Girlfriend from Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Ed Note: Most of the photos are ‘clickable’

1820hrs: Southpark

Checked into Southpark and got me a bottom rack—With a Lockable Locker!

My Rack

My Bottom Rack (with I-Pad)

First time that has ever happened! Bad news is now it is too late to get to the CAC badging office and they are closed on Sundays. Therefore, I waste a day here. But at least I have you now (don’t I?) and can occupy my time with thoughts of us in Dubai in a few short weeks. And just in case I take a pause from that lovely daydream, I have fetched along Ishmael, Captain Ahab, and Moby Dick to keep me company: just a little light reading.

Sunday 29 July 0830hrs: Southpark Smoking Area

Sitting outside in the smoking area surrounded by Bosnians all on one table, Indians on another, Filipinos at yet another, a few Americans strategically placed, and on and on. Oh, and some Brits, also strategically placed. The Gomers have a ‘work detail’ list. They are dreaming if they broach this subject to me. I am Forced to Be Here; that is all they will receive from me: My illustrious presence and my promise not to kill anyone while here. Every morning at muster, we are forced to sign in on the Sign in Sheet. Lest we forget, there are signs everywhere to remind us:

“If You Do Not Make Muster and Sign In You Will Not Be Paid. And Furthermore: Not Making Muster Will Result In Disciplinary Action Up To And Including Termination (And An Ass Rendering Administered By Conan Our Resident Barbarian) Thank You for Complying and have a nice day…yada yada yada.

Don't Lose Your Head over SP

Don’t Lose Your Head over SP

I found DynCorp to be a little too subtle for my taste. I always like to know exactly where I stand with a company I am helping to fleece the Government on the backs of low-paid TCN’s. (OK, I promised I would not ‘dis’ DynCorp. Overmuch.)

0859hrs: Southpark DFAC (Dining Facility) Tent

Sitting in the Southpark DFAC, such as it is, having some coffee, such as that is. AFN (Armed Forces Network) is on the TV. Yes, there is a television (another first). This is all we ever see over here (was the same in most parts of Iraq, but when I was in Basra, I could watch Al Jazeera—in English–but that probably wasn’t looked upon too kindly) and actually, it ain’t bad. They pretty much broadcast the same shit one gets back in The States: CNN, Fox, ESPN, lousy movies, Andy Griffith, etc. The only way to know you are watching AFN, in fact, is by the ‘Commercials’: All PSA’s detailing how U.S. Service Personnel are expected to comport themselves and various other things mil-centric. Some of these “Made in the U.S. DOD commercials” are quite professional and slick as Baby Shit, while others are so bad as to be hysterical. I love watching the bad ones–the ones that look like High School Plays.

1015hrs: DFAC

More coffee. Regarding last night’s rocket attack: (Guess I neglected to mention that) My Dear, this is just routine for KAF. As far as I know, it has been at least two months since the Taliban Assholes have actually hit anything or injured anyone. In other words, they usually can’t hit shit.

Point being, please do not worry about THAT. (I just caught myself looking for the “Save” button on this steno pad. I must be losing my mind.)

1127hrs: DFAC

DFAC

DFAC

Just returned from PX Mission: Mission accomplished. No apparent casualties.

1134hrs: Picnic Area

Got kicked out of the DFAC so ‘they’ could clean it before lunch time (1230hrs). Purchased an alarm clock at the PX since I have to get up at 0345hrs tomorrow to go to the CAC badging office and I forgot to bring my Dwyer alarm clock with me. “Hell Lance! It’s only money.” I now have three alarm clocks plus my watch. “As God as my witness, I’ll never be late again!”

Picnic Area

‘Picnic’ Area

Ran into an acquaintance from Dwyer. His name escapes me, but he told me Dwyer was slated for closure in December. Hmmmm…. I may be out of a job soon. Maybe they did cancel Christmas after all.

1255hrs: Sitting on my rack…

…After I came ‘home’ and discovered two Gomers with their butts parked on same. They removed/relocated their butts as soon as I pointed out to them that I was not (in this case) a very nice person. In case you missed it, I am never a very nice person while I am stuck in Southpark. But then, I am not alone in this. Lunch, or as we call it in the Texas, ‘Dinner’, was eat-able. I had the chicken, as the other meat offerings were unrecognizable to me. Wasn’t bad actually, the chicken (yard-bird?) was burned to perfection.

OK, Not My Rack

OK, Not My Rack

While I was on my PX mission, I was also searching for the Gym that someone at Dwyer had assured me was ‘Close to the PX’ – didn’t find it and now it is too bloody hot to go on another reconnaissance mission.  If you’re wondering how I am able to move freely about, sans escort, it is because ‘they’ changed the rules once again. This time for the better: A First in all my previous Southpark experiences. Now, those in possession of a valid CAC card are no longer restricted in their movements, bowel or otherwise. Praise Be to The Great White Cat of the River Nile.

1313hrs: Sirens Again! Then the BIG VOICE:

*ROCKET ATTACK! ROCKET ATTACK! TAKE COVER! TAKE COVER!*

(Don’t these people ever give up?) Be right back.

1315hrs: Still sitting on my rack

ALL CLEAR! ALL CLEAR! Glad I didn’t get up. Probably a false alarm. How do they expect me to get distressed when the BIG VOICE is female with a soothing British accent?

1405hrs: Sitting on my rack

Waiting on the Gomers to finish cleaning the DFAC Tent so I can get another coffee. I seem to drink heavily when I am on-board (bored) Southpark.

Oh, I forgot to tell you… After I kicked the two Gomes off’n my rack, I asked one of them to take my photo (action shot of me writing to you) Look for it amongst the attachments. It will be the one what says, “Bad Mutha-Fuckah.”

???????????????????????????????

1435hrs: DFAC

I suppose it is time to explain why I use the term ‘Gomer’ when referring to TCN’s (and everyone else On Staff, for that matter). During my Iraq days, I had a good friend (Rick) who referred to the Iraqis as ‘Gomers’. Not sure how he arrived at that, but it seemed to fit at the time. Gomer, Gomer Pyle or Get Out of My Emergency Room (Really. Google it.) Anyway, the moniker took hold–took hold so well that all in our clique began using it to refer to all ‘others’. And let me further say it actually became, over time, somewhat of a term of endearment.

Gomer 1 and Gomette 2 Amman Jordan '07

Gomer 1 and Gomette 2 Amman Jordan ’07

We started calling each other ‘Gomer’. Since there were several of us, now all Gomers, things could get confusing. To prevent miscommunication, we labeled each other ‘Gomer 1’, ‘Gomer 2’, ‘Gomer 3’, and so on. I was, of course, ‘Gomer 1’ (and I can prove that, as I have documentation—and it was a high honor.) There were never more than four Original Gomers, or ‘Gomes’ for short, but we did have one ‘Alternate Gomer’, just in case one of the Founding Gomers got taken out by an Iraqi Gomer with a lucky mortar shot.

2002hrs: My Rack

Was wonderful to discover several emails from you earlier. Unfortunately it took forever to load Gmail and by the time I had finished reading them I had no time left to respond, as it was time for everyone to start entering their hours on the electronic time sheets. We must do this every day and management has no sense of humor if we don’t. (Up to and including termination…)  Supper tonight was turkey, which tasted very much like the chicken I had for lunch. Available also was some roast beast, but I had to take a pass on that. (My sense of self-preservation is quite refined).  I went on Walk-About for about an hour this afternoon, but of course it wasn’t the same as I don’t have my ankle weights with me. I’m proud of me for making the effort, at least.

2029hrs DFAC

Coffee. Hell, why not coffee? I probably won’t sleep much tonight anyway and I have to get up at 0345hrs anyhow. Ran into the aforementioned buddy again (still cannot recall his name), not that it matters. Well, he told me where the gym was and it is NOT where some other buddy back at Dwyer had told me. If fact, it is about as far removed from THAT location as is possible. If I am not too whacked out tomorrow after the CAC Badging office, I will check it out and report my findings to you. If all goes well tomorrow, then tomorrow will be my last full day here until I come through on my way to Dubai. I had an email from Shannon today, saying that Mike was still hanging on. Christ! Firing that jerk is proving more involved than impeaching Clinton (or Nixon). I was hoping he’d be gone when I got back, but now I’m not so sure. This DFAC tent is actually pretty squared away, now that I am really studying it. It is small, yes, but the Gomes keep it clean and tidy. Not really an easy task, given the scores of people who use it at all hours. I never leave a mess when I depart. I am good that way and am famous for cleaning my own hotel rooms before checking out. Does that make me weird? Don’t worry though; I’m not anal about it. One thing that strikes me funny about this DFAC tent is that there are three smoke detectors (that I can see from where I am sitting) that are all clumped together in relatively the same area—about six feet apart. Logic would seem to dictate that they be spread out a bit, but what the hell, right?

************

Chapter Three Here

Comments, as always, much appreciated.

 

Please Don’t Shit in My Shower

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?”

wpid-IMG_0685-2011-06-26-11-39

“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.”

Continue reading

A Conversation Over a Plywood Wall In a Tent in Afghanistan

A co-worker from Trinidad, but calling Houston home for the past 20 years, (let’s call him “Persad” since that’s his name), lives in the “cubicle” next to mine in Tent C-9.

He was “home” when I arrived. He greeted me from over the cube wall.

My Hooch_Afghanistan

My Hooch

“Lance Mar—cone!” (that’s how he calls me, ’cause to him, that’s MY name) “Waz da happn’in’s?”

“Same ol’ same ol’. Where you working these days?” (he just got back from RR yesterday)

“Dey got me over to the new LSA, Bro.”

“That would be LSA Six… Bro,” I answered back. “You got an office over there?”

“Nope, no office,” he lied.

“Well, I heard you got a CHU.” (Containerized Housing Unit–small trailer, kind of)

“Ya, but no furniture.”

“Pretend you’re Japanese; sit on the damn floor. What you need furniture for anyway?”

“Damn Bro! I be too old an’ shit for dat.” (I am aiming for “Island Accent” here.)

“You do realize, Persad, that you are in a war zone?”

*Unintelligible grumbling*

After a pause…

“Hey Mar—cone!”

“Yes?”

“I spoke to yer girl today.”

“You mean Lashonda?”

“Yeah, dat one.”

“She’s not my Girl, but, yes, she works for me; ‘Bout what?”

“She said you dun give her dat office chair.”

“You mean that office chair I bought with my own money months ago for my hooch here?”

“Ya dat’s de one.”

“What about it?”

“She said you give it to her.”

“I did in fact; it’s my chair.”

“You give it to her, or to the office?”

“I gave it to her for as long as she is on Dwyer.”

“Why you give her dat chair, Mon?”

“Because her back was hurting and I am a gentleman.”

“Oh.”

“You want a chair?

“Ya.”

“Amazon dot com.”

“Damn Bro, caint you H Bee Oh; Help a brother out?”

“No.”

“You gots some scissors I can borrow?”

“Yes,” I said, handing them over the wall, “Here ya go; don’t run with them.”

“Tanks.”

“No prob.”

Emails From Afghanistan: Stop The War!

Excerpts from a couple of emails I sent from Camp Dwyer in 2012:

The boys are still moving cots and I think we just had a heat casualty. At least that’s what I heard on the hand-held radio. At first I thought it was here in LSA 2. (LSA—‘Life Support Area’—euphemism for ‘Small Tent City’)

LSA2_tents

LSA 2

I went to the tent where Kushal was supervising but the casualty wasn’t there; apparently he was in LSA 6. The radios aren’t good enough to transmit from here to LSA 6 so details are sketchy. We don’t need any safety issues. Management gets all stupid over the slightest incident. Personally, I would just put the dude in the shade, give him a cold beer (NA of course) and continue on with the mission. But in Corporate America these days, a “Safety Stand Down” is required. All work stops while they “train” us once again to “drink plenty of water.” One would think that since humans have been drinking water for some years now, it would not be necessary to conduct this training, but hey! Guess that’s why I’m not in Upper Management. “Keep on spendin’ Boys! It’s only money!”

Speaking of management and such, I suppose I should get my butt back to work…

–Lance, just another worker-bee schmuck.

My Office

My Office

  ***Breaking News***

The “heat casualty” turned out to be a bug bite on the neck. Yes, you read that right: a fucking bug bite! Kushal told me this just now and my reaction?

“Are you shitting me?!”

 

 

Pandemonium on the radio. People freakin’ out.

Stop the work! Stop the War! A bug bite?

I need to find another job.

And they call me crazy for walking around wearing ankle weights.

Unbelievable!

******************************

We have a crisis of sorts here in my LSA at this very moment: All work has stopped. It seems someone spotted a spider in the passenger van used by the Labor Guys. Eye witnesses reported the spider to be about the size of a cantaloupe. I heard this on the hand-held radio and burst out laughing. I grabbed a fly-swatter and headed over to the van. I forced my way through the crowd of Indians and Filipinos who were all staring into the windows of the vehicle and trembling visibly. I immediately started moving shit around inside the van, looking for this monster, and laughing at all of them for their antics and panic. Not finding the spider, I stood up and announced to the assembled crowd:

“STOP THE WAR! WE HAVE A SPIDER IN THIS VAN! SHUT DOWN THE OPERATION! PACK YOUR SHIT BOYS! WE’RE GOIN’ HOME!”

No one really appreciates my sense of humor over here.