Staying Connected Faraway In Afghanistan

Alex

Alex is a 24-year-old Army lieutenant leading a platoon somewhere in Afghanistan. He is originally from Vermont, roots for the Red Sox, listens to the Dropkick Murphys, and majored in Poli Sci. For security reasons, he has asked us not to post his photograph or last name.

My Everyday Life

Wednesday – Letter From Afghanistan: Staying Connected

Army Lynx Mk9A Helicopter Over Afghanistan

Image by Defence Images via Flickr

 OK, so the Internet is working quite well today—I think it has something to do with the overcast weather. Don’t ask why, but the satellite has better connection with cloud cover. The Internet also seems to want to work when I don’t have any pressing issues and lots of time to kill—when I decide to try and get back in touch with “the world.” I say this because I was speaking with my mother over the phone the other day and she kept on bringing up things like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the volcano eruption over Europe, and the Red Sox season so far. I had next to nothing to say about any of these things. I seem to exist in my own bubble, unaware of the planet Earth passing by around me.

My mom asked me if I had heard about the latest inadvertent civilian casualties caused by some massive piece of military weaponry. I told her I had no idea. She sighed, “Well I guess the Army doesn’t want you to know about these things.” She never was a fan of my choice of occupation. “It’s not that the Army doesn’t want me to know,” I explain, “It’s that it didn’t happen in my immediate area and therefore doesn’t really pertain to me.” Every day I spend a good amount of time getting up to date on events within maybe a 150 kilometer radius. If it goes boom within this area, I know about it. Otherwise, it may as well be in Alaska.

afghanistan-army-outpost_20070809_4415

Image by Zoriah via Flickr

I like to read my fellow bloggers on the Book of Odds website in cases like these where the Internet works and I have time to kill. It is a cerebral transportation of my thoughts into the minds of people who deal with everyday things completely different from my own, but in a way I can relate to each. Molly writes about attempting to control her temper when controlling her kids. Rachel writes about trying to get her patients to listen to her professional opinion. John writes about having nightmares. Emily writes about the pros and cons of living alone.

I often have to catch myself when presented with the completely absurd things this place makes me do. I try to save my angry voice for when it is a life and death situation, and not receiving a mail drop today is not a reason to fly off the proverbial handle. My Soldiers say I am a very laid back person, that I don’t like to raise my voice and I tend to keep my cool. That held true until one of my Soldiers drove through a known minefield. I think I burst some blood vessels in my eye that afternoon as a result of the one-way conversation we had.

Afghanistan

Image by The U.S. Army via Flickr

I have previously mentioned the ANA and their bad habit of doing the exact same patrol every day. Time and again I have pleaded with their commander to change what he is doing, throw a curve ball at the Taliban, try and catch them off balance. He rebuffed me, and we both knew why. As long as the ANA keeps the same pattern, the Taliban will know where they are and what they are doing and can go about their business without much friction between their forces. Exasperated, I try to explain that intelligence reports that the Taliban has fresh fighters and a new commander in the area of operations, a sure sign of increased aggression. I am ignored, and the following morning I read a report of three ANA Soldiers atomized by an IED placed on the same hill where they park their vehicles over watch of the main highway at 7:00 am every morning.

Sometimes I think about what sort of person I am going to be when I get back to the United States. Am I going to have nightmares? Am I going to hear fireworks on the 4th of July and freak out? We have a superstition that listening to club/dance/teenybopper music while on patrol will protect us from anything dangerous. It somewhat started with singing music from the Little Mermaid, and progressed from there. This all held true until the other day as the impacting crack of bullets splashing white spider webs on my windshield mixed with Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” in my ears. Now the song is ruined, and I think it will make for some bizarre memories in the future. I had a roommate in college who was in the initial invasion of Afghanistan, and he used to complain of nightmares. He was also a chain-smoking, womanizing alcoholic of the finest quality and refused to seek any help to deal with his issues. I have made a pact with myself to seek mental counseling if I start going down that route. I am not going to let this fucked up country ruin the rest of my life.

afghanistan

Image by The U.S. Army via Flickr

I am going to be turning 25 years old this year, and I have yet to ever live alone. I think I should try it when I return. I do like having others around, it is nice to come home and there is someone there to talk to about your day and have a couple of beers. I really have no desire to walk around naked, and having roommates has never stopped me from blasting music. Maybe the Army has ingrained itself in me so much that I feel the need to have someone nearby at all times. The military is by no means a place for those who need their space; we live piled on top of each other. We share feelings of fear and anxiety as well as endure each other’s stench and a plethora of obnoxious personal hygiene habits. I never knew someone could look so weird while trying to scrape their tongue.

Contact with the outside world is cut off on occasion. This is called a blackout and it happens when a Soldier is either killed or wounded grievously to the point where he must be evacuated out of the country. We are put on communication blackout with the United States until the military can properly notify that Soldier’s next of kin. We all hate the blackouts, but we don’t complain. We wouldn’t want our families to find out about our demise through a memorial Facebook group either.

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