Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Just About the Cutest Thing Ever

I was trying to look up pictures of Ballistic Combat Glasses for a different post, when I came across this picture of a combat puppy wearing his ballistic eye wear. I think it might be about the most adorable puppy ever. I really do.

That is all.

An Ode To Sean Taylor

For those of you who haven't heard, or don't follow sports closely, Redskins All-Pro free safety Sean Taylor died this morning. Sean was shot yesterday while defending his family from burglars.

This morning, when I was feeling a bit blue about it, Lauren wrote a little story about what REALLY happened to Taylor. So, by way of tribute, I present that story to you in it's original, barely edited form. Enjoy--and RIP Sean Taylor.

I don't think Sean Taylor is really dead. I know, it seems far fetched. But bear with me for a second.

I think the knife incident two weeks ago was a wake up call for Mr. Taylor.

I think that, good father and boyfriend that he is, he faked his death to get him, his baby and his baby's momma out of danger. I think they are going to go live a life on a tropical island, and even now are flying to Tahiti or somewhere to start their life of anonymity and drinks out of coconuts.

Problem is, a man like Sean--he wasn't born to sip drinks and lay by the beach. He was born to play football. It's what god put him on the earth to do--he can't just hang around on an island forever.

Fast forward 2 or 3 years, and he'll want to play again. But he can't come back to the NFL, everyone will know its him. So he'll have to go play in the Canadian leagues. Where clearly his skill will outmatch everyone's, it being Canadia and all.

So the bad guys, the ones who left the knife on his bed a few weeks ago, will catch wind of it, and start blackmailing him. Lucky for Sean, though, there happens to be a washed up police detective living in Canada who loves the Redskins, but had to move to Canada after he blew a case b/c he started drinking when his wife left him. He too will recognize Taylor's skill, and Taylor and the washed up detective will develop an unlikely friendship. There may be a dog involved, or a plucky kid living next door.

Anyway, the bad guys try to take out Taylor - for reals this time - at the championship of the Canadian football league. Which Taylor has led his ragamuffin team of has-beens and cast-offs to. And the police detective tells him has to leave--the Grey Cup isn't worth the life of Sean or his family.

But Sean can't leave his friends--he's part of a team, after all. So the police detective and sean taylor hatch a crazy plan to catch the badguys and win the Cup. The Grey Cup. Then, with the bad guys finally caught after all these years, Sean can return to the Redskins.

And having been returned to grace, the police detective returns to the DC area, but decides to forgo an offer to rejoin the force in order to become the head of Sean's private security detail and live with Sean and his family.

And finally, Sean will realize that he never did marry his baby's momma--so they will get hitched at the 50 yard line of Fed Ex field in front of 90,000 screaming Redskins fans, with Chris Cooley's floppy hair presiding over the ceremony.

OXFAM Isn't Impressed

As it turns out, not everyone is as impressed with the job US Army Civil Affairs does in Afghanistan as we in the US Army Civil Affairs are.

OXFAM, a left leaning think tank dedicated to bringing about social justice, released a report suggesting that the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Astan engage in projects that are "unsuitable, unused or targeted by militants". Ouch.

Another criticism is that the civil projects spearheaded by the PRT's squeeze out local initiatives. This is a particularly interesting criticism, as one of the major tenets of civil-military operations is the legitimization of the host nation government. That is, the very thing OXFAM criticizes the PRT's for is something that the PRT's are explicitly trying do the opposite of. Not sure where the disconnect is.

One of the dudes at the Small Wars Journal (see comment 18) points out that we in NATO are still trying to get our head wrapped around COIN. So regardless of the merits of OXFAM's report, I think we will continue to improve our ability to rebuild in Astan.

That said, I'm sure things will start to improve exponentially once I bring my deadly rifle skills to the fight.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Different Sort of Thanksgiving

Things tend to get dramatic here at the forward edge of freedom, and Thanksgiving 2007 proved to be no exception.

First things first, the most important part of the holiday is that I was able to spend it with my beautiful wife Lauren. This was our first Thanksgiving as a married couple. Thanks to Uncle Sam and his relentless pursuit of Neo-Global Islamo-Fasciasts, our first Thanksgiving as a married couple nearly didn't happen.

You see, the good people who run FOB Patriot do so with a simple, powerful premise behind everything that they do--Theater Immersion. They reckon that the best way to prepare for life in Iraq or Afghanistan is to simulate that lifestyle as closely as possible for 6 weeks immediately before sending units overseas.

Is this a good way to train, in my opinion? I think that, as with everything, there are tradeoffs--but generally, Theater Immersion, if done well, seems like it might have a small incremental affect on our survivability overseas. If a spot of hassle and discomfort are the price we pay for one or two or 10 dudes not getting hurt or killed, then it was a small price indeed.

That said, Theater Immersion sometimes stretches the bounds of common sense. Such was almost the case this Thanksgiving.

To wit, we were originally supposed to spend the entire Thanksgiving holiday here at FOB Patriot, locked down as always, despite the fact that we had NO training scheduled for the day. More reasonable minds eventually prevailed, and we owe that almost entirely to our battalion chain of command. Our Battalion Commander has fought relentlessly for the well being of the soldiers in my unit since the day we arrived at FOB Patriot.

Unfortunately, though, because of the late notice that we'd be able to leave the FOB over Tgiving, most of the battalion was unable to arrange for their families to visit. I was fortunate that Lauren lives relatively close to here, but we literally made the final call on Tuesday or Wednesday for her to come down to Fort Bragg.

Once here, Lauren and I spent the holiday with my old friend Matt Holmes and his beautiful family. Matt has opened up his home to me and Lauren time after time since I've been at Fort Bragg, and once again I find myself at a loss for words in thanking him for his generosity. Lauren and I had a wonderful day surrounded by babies and pets and a loving family.

And more than anything else, Lauren and I had each other. So while things didn't play out exactly as Lauren and I had planned, our first Thanksgiving as a married couple will forever be a holiday to remember.

p.s. I wrote many moons ago about the amount of turkey that I had consumed at Army dining facilities. Since then, I've been served surprisingly little turkey, much to my chagrin and/or relief. That said, Lauren and I definitely ate the hell outta some turkey on Tgiving. And then on Friday, when I had a few more hours free, we got lunch at Boston Market, split an 8 oz turkey plate with stuffing and mashed potatoes, and pretended that we were eating leftovers.

Range Week at FOB Patriot

Hello again, folks.

For the last week or so I have been engaged in an epic battle with freedom hating, terror loving man-sized silhouettes. After seven days and hundreds of bullets, the results are in--if man sized silhouettes pop up at me for 3-7 seconds at a time at a range of 50-300 meters--remaining perfectly still and not firing back--I will totally shoot them approximately 75% of the time. Put that in your water pipe and smoke it, Taliban.

That's right, everyone, I successfully qualified not once, not twice, but three times on my M16--once on a computer simulation (35/40), once using my iron sites (26/40) and once using my laser optic (25/40). For those of you scoring at home, the minimum to pass is 23/40, so yes, my never ending hunger for terrorist killing remains tragically hamstrung by a persistent streak of mediocrity in my marksmanship.

I also got to qualify on a 9mm pistol for the first time in my military career, which was enjoyable. As Lauren says, the targets are sometimes so close that you think they're jumping out at you (they start at 7m away) but shooting a pistol w/ accuracy is no mean feet. And I actually got the designation "1st class" with the pistol, which at the very least makes me sound cool. I'm not exactly sure how to work "Pistoleer First Class" onto my resume when it comes time to seek post-Army 2.0 employment, but I'll let y'all know when I do.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Better Half is Getting Older

And last but not least for tonight, happy birthday to my beautiful wife Lauren. Twenty eight years ago today she came into this world, and we're all that much better for having her in it.

Here's to you, babe, on your special day.

Search Engine Optimization Update

Hey everyone.

I haven't checked in for a while regarding how Army 2.0 shows up on search engines--but it turns out that we're sitting at number 3 when you Google "FOB Patriot". I've already had a couple of folks contact me with questions about the FOB. As always, I'm glad to help those Soldiers who come after me know a little more about what they're about to get themselves into.

Glove Update

For all of you out there who were worried, I found my Nomex Flight Gloves. I say again, my Nomex Flight Gloves have been found.

Why do I require Flight Gloves anyways, you ask? I'm not entirely positive, but I think it has something to do with Fire Retardation.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Potato Chips are Delicious

I know that you aren't supposed to eat when you're down. But after venting a bit in that last post, I talked to Lauren and chomped down a bag of Cape Cod Salt 'n Vinegar Potato Chips.

For the record, Cape Cod Salt 'n Vinegar Potato Chips are delicious, and the good people of Cape Cod should be commended for living somewhere worthy of having so tasty a snack named after their home town.

After saying goodbye to Lauren, I jogged the quarter mile to the shower trailer, and I enjoyed a nice hot, 5 minute shower. Nevermind that I forgot my shower shoes and very well might have picked up some foot funk, it was a damn fine bathing experience.

So I guess my point is, and continues to be, that all things considered, we've got it pretty good here on the FOB. As glorified prison camps go, we're living in the Hilton for sure**.

**To any and all FOB personnel, administrators, and well-wishers--I don't in any way shape or form consider FOB Patriot to be a prison camp. You don't get paid salaries to go to prison camps. And they don't let you have your own guns. I get paid good money to be here, and I walk around armed to the hilt. I rule. And I really do dig it here. But, as you might imagine, I miss my wife a lot...

Did I say "easy as Wednesday morning"?

Well, it turns out that my morning me-time might very well be going the way of the Do Do. All of our morning start times are getting pushed up, in part because we want to jam as much training in during these next many days so that our instructor/trainers can take time off over the Thanksgiving holiday. As best as I can tell, my unit will get the day off for the holiday, but we'll have training all through the rest of the weekend.

The instructors don't live here at the FOB with us--they rotate in to teach whatever classes they're assigned. There is a separate chain of command that administers the FOB itself, and a third that makes the training calendars that governs us, the FOB administrators and the trainers. Having this many cooks leads to some (a lot of) confusion and crossed signals, but that's an entirely different post...

Bottom line, my free time at the FOB is about to get a little more restricted. And I lost my Nomex gloves. And my slightly torn/strained rotator cuff doesn't like the armor I wear every day. And even though we've been here 14 days now, we have 28 more days of FOB Patriot.

But for now, I know that I've got next Thursday off. All I'm focussed on is drudging through 5 more days, getting in some more good training, and (hopefully) seeing Lauren for Thanksgiving. From there, we'll see where things go.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Easy as Wednesday Morning

I wanted to check in, and briefly give a shout out to my second favorite time of day (my favorite being any time that I get to talk to my wife). Our schedule around here is pretty insane, and I keep not getting around to a day in the life post--but for now I'll just say that most mornings I have about an hour to sit in my camp chair by my bunk, relaxing, reflecting, and preparing for the day.

I check in my favorite Afghanistan news sources (http://www.e-ariana.com/ and http://www.bakhtarnews.com.af/default.asp?Lang=E), check box scores, catch up on email, and listen to music.

The hour always flys by, and I need to rush off now to eat some breakfast and get ready for the training day. But still, mornings here aren't bad at all.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cat's Barber Shop and the Yadkin 500

There's this strip right outside of Fort Bragg that back in the day was called the Yadkin 500. Not sure if it still goes by that name, but the 2 mile stretch of Yadkin Road immediately outside of Bragg is one of the quintisential Army post strips in the entire world. It has everything--tattoo parlors, military gear stores, strip bars (though not nearly as many as on Bragg Blvd), pawn shops...and barber shops.

My buddies and I counted once, and I kid you not--there are 31 distinct establishments in a 2 mile stretch of the Yadkin 500 where one can get one's haircut for a reasonable price. Tonight, I had the distinct pleasure of patronizing one such establishment for the first time.

Up until now I've taken my haircuts on Fort Bragg, with decidedly mixed results. I never made the move to the Y500. Why? Because as anyone who is familiar with this type of strip can tell you, they can be a little on the sketchy side-and the Y500 sets the gold standard for sketch, at least for the live-ball (post 80's malaise) era. Haircuts haven't been a big deal anyways, and I've stretched the bounds of the Army's uniform and appearance standards by going 4 and 5 weeks between cuts. But that won't fly now that I'm with an actual unit, and need to set an example for the soldiers who I outrank.**

As such, I took some time during my free afternoon today to trim the old lettuce.
But when I got a bit behind schedule, there was no time to make it back to post for a mediocre cut with my local Army barber. The only thing I had time for was, you guessed it, the Y500.

Now, I didn't have a particular location on the Y500 in mind. I figured I'd just drive down the street, and choose the first barber shop I found that seemed to be open, well lighted, and in a high traffic area where the likelihood for Pulp Fiction-i-cation was as small as possible.

I found just such a location in the form of Cat's Barber Shop.

The nice fellows at Cat's were the type of older, southern gentlemen that you feel comfortable cutting your hair--Fox News on the TV, Army crap all over the walls, look like they're 60 but they're probably only 45--you all know the type. I got a good hair cut at a decent price, to include the straight razor treatment on my neck to wrap things up.

And the kicker was, this guy didn't even ask me how I wanted my hair cut. Literally, I walked into Cat's and sat down immediately. I made an apology for my hat head (we like our hats in the Army), and he said not to worry about it--he could fix me right up. And without any further ado, he did just that. He cut and trimmed and razored my lettuce, and he did a good job of it all. I briefly considered interrupting his cutting to let him know exactly what he was looking for...but considering that all Army haircuts are a little silly regardless, I might as well let the man do his thing and see what would happen.

What happened was a great haircut. And I owe it all to the Yadkin 500.

**I know that some of you will rightly point out that as a Captain in a Civil Affairs unit, I don't technically out rank that many people. As best as any of us can tell, the chain of command in CA goes roughly Private, Specialist, Captain, Sergeant, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, Major. But there are still like 3 or 4 Specialists in my unit, so I have to be strong for them so that the rest of guys don't rag me too hard.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Matt Sarazen and the Decemberists?

I download episodes of Friday Night Lights on my painfully slow Verizon internet card (blame the FOB, not the hardware). I use Amazon Unbox, because I like the Amazon..com...and because NBC ripped all their content off of iTunes.

On last week's episode, Julie Taylor just asked Matt Sarazen to a Decemberists show. Never figured rural Texas high school quarterbacks for fans of indie rock songs about whales and pirates (and assorted other sea-faring type things), but what do I know.

WSJ Article and Portapotties

For the time being, here at FOB Patriot at the forward edge of Freedom, life is a study in competition.

On the one hand, I am focussed outward on places and events and goings on that have very little to do with the day to day mundanity of FOB living. Here is an interesting op-ed from the WSJ that touches on some of the big picture things going on in Astan.

On the other hand, my short term health and happiness is entirely a function of the day to day mundanity here at FOB Patriot. And yesterday, the powers that be installed 5 new Portapotties 50 meters from my tent. That means that I can take care of basic human functions without walking 10 minutes to the other side of the FOB. And it makes me enormously pleased with life.

So, on that note, have a great holiday weekend everybody.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Afghanistan Blogs

Hey everyone. I have a favor to ask.

I'm trying to track down all of the interesting and informative blogs out there that focus on Afghanistan. I'm interested in blogs by soldiers, aid workers, locals, journalists, pundits...any and every source that in some small way contributes a viewpoint that reflects the situation in country.

Part of my job for the time being is to help my Civil Affairs unit develop situational awareness of what's going on at the micro and macro level in Afghanistan. Big Media reports are easy to come by, and I'm curious to see how useful blog sources can be to complement/contradict the news media at large.

Feel free to post to comments, or to email me directly, and thanks in advance for all your help--I can honestly say that doing this will help me and my unit of doing a better job fighting the Taliban and AQ. Crazy sounding, I know...but true.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Heard this one before?

I'm sure you all remember a couple of the IRR/HRC stories that I shared a few months back. It would appear that the incident linked to above is not an isolated one.

Not too long ago, a group of non-IRR service members were brought to Fort Bragg in support of the the Global War on Terror. Some were volunteers, reservists who were sitting on the sidelines and decided that they wanted to do their part. Others in this group were ripped from their active duty military jobs to fill spots.

All were assigned to the Civil Affairs mission that I've been a part of now since early July.

As it turns out, there were more folks called in than was necessary. Who, then, got sent home? The active duty folks, of course. So while the volunteers are sent home, the volun-tolds get to keep doing a mission that they didn't sign up for.

This is interesting to the IRR crowd that I'm a part of. To wit, if there is a supply of volunteers out there that is being sent home, why do folks who would prefer to sit on the sidelines have to come on in while the volunteers are told they can't play ball?

There are a number of reasons, I'm sure. These personnel decisions are made at echelons well above me or anyone I know. I'm sure there are good reasons for all of it.

FOB Patriot

I have officially occupied FOB Patriot, here at Fort Bragg.

Life is pretty good, and the FOB is pretty amazing. Great facilities, considering it's a big tent/trailer city in the middle of the Fayetteville, NC wilderness.

They are finding ways to keep us exhausted here. But things are good. Gotta get those warrior skills back somehow or another. Never thought I'd have to type a sentence like that, but hey, that's how things go these days.