“Letter From a South Park Jail” Part One (Apology to MLK for appropriating a great title)

“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…

“Roads?”

“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.

Airmen worked together to clean up after a flash flood that occurred on Kandahar Airfield Feb. 8. Airmen in South Park awoke in the middle of the night to flood waters reaching approximately knee-deep in height both inside and outside their tents. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nancy Hooks)

***

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?”

“RIGHT??”

***

Saturday 28 July 2012, Camp Dwyer PAX Terminal, Afghanistan 1218hrs

Dear Lady,

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.”

“Wow! Cool!”

1310hrs: PAX Terminal, Dwyer

Ok, for amusement, I took an inventory of the MRE’s stacked on pallets here in the terminal:

15 pallets

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!

Pending Inspection

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.

***

1600hrs: Airborne

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:

BROWN

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.”

(As if we will have a choice)

***

Please look for Part Two tomorrow.

******

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.”

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