Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting Adjusted

Ahh it has been a cool Afghan spring. It has only been in the low 110s earlier this week and I think yesterday was a cool 108. Everything is airconditioned. We are spending a gazillion dollars in diesel fuel to air condition just about every building and individual bedroom in a good sized town.....fortunately, for this fat old geezer.

Well, no surprise that my bowels decided to go romping with the camels in the desert for a few days. They were just rebelling against the food. Can't say that I blame them for wanting to do their own thing, but I was not overl thrilled with their independence. I put the immodium leash back on them now and they are behaving like a hardheaded puppy.

Well, i made a friend here and he gave me some of his pictures of downtown Kandehar. I know that I am not violating any security rules by sharing these with you, so here they come. This gentleman is well connected and he knows the Karzai family. He also believes that the Greg Mortenson book, Three Cups of Tea is a fake.
I went outside of the base the other day and rode in an armored vehicle through a small town on the outskirts od Kandehar. I asked and next time, I will take pictures. You can compare them with these pics. These pictures represena a calm, ordered city. The little town I went through was a study in contrasts. It was one of the poorest places I had ever seen. Complee with apartment buildings that were built by the Soviets and bumbed into rubble by the Taliban.

Oh well, that's my quick shot for the night - but don't worry. I've got a mere 51 weeks to go.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


No pics today - sorry. But I had my orientation yesterday in two ways. We were told what to do and where to go in case of a rocket attack. And we were told that a Dyncorp employee was unfortunately killed in the last rocket attack on March 27th. But the good news was that there had not been an attack since then and maybe the Taliban was slowing down.

We were told where the bunkers were and it was suggested that unless you realy want to go down to the bunker in your birthday suit, then you ought to wear some form of clothing to bed. So, being a good pupil in a war zone, I wore a T-shirt and a pair of gym shorts.

So, between jet lag and just being a fat old man (lost over 30 lbs though!), I had to get up and pee shortly before 3:00 am. As I was walking back from the potty, I heard an explosion - but no siren. So, I did not worry too much about it and I flopped back into bed. Just as soon as I got covered up, the siren went off and I hit the deck. Waited a minute and skedaddled down to the bunker. So we sat there from 3:00 am to 4:30 am when we got the all clear. So, I thought I could get another few winks and just got settled and off goes the siren again. This time, we only sit until about 5:15 am. Now it is light out and the birds are chirping. Oh well, time to start the day.

The good news, I get overtime for sitting in the bunker. Now that's something I would like to see in the next round of negotiations - time and one half for staying put during a rocket attack.

Long day and good night. More fun to come.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kandahar Oh baby!


Left Dubai about noon today. First time I had seen the desert from the air during daylight. Very stark and monochromatic drab brown, Khaki is the right color here. Landscape was flat and featureless. Then passed over the Arabian Sea out to Pakistani Airspace. Almost totally cloudless going out over the Arabian Sea and I counted 19 tankers / freighters in the shipping lanes. Several of them were obviously tankers because they were so large I could make out the piping on the deck. They are going slow so that by the time they arrive in port, gas prices will go up again.
The on into Pakistan. Again, very bleak and desert. Flat and featureless and very few signs of flowing or standing water. Not may vegetated areas but the few that I did see were apparently irrigated plots given the very regular square shape of the areas and they were just a slightly darker shade of brown.

The land got a little more rugged as we entered Afghanistan and it looked as if someone had taken a huge garden rakes and made deep ridges and furrows running from South West to North East. Then every now and then, there were weird curled mountain ridges that just came up out of nowhere. I could see the switchback roads that cut through the passes on the ridges. Not many roads and not many cars either.. None in fact. I took a few pics from the air but not much to see. Just brown.

Finally got to Kandahar. Spotted a herd of wild camels frolicking in the desert just before we landed. Then we slammed down quick and hard. We had to hurry off of the runway though because a couple of Blackhawk helicopters were coming in and a C-5A Galaxy (huge transport plane) was taking off. The C-5 A had to release decoy flares as it took off. Don’t know if it did that just as a regular precaution or if he detected a hostile threat. Hmm – folks this sure ain’t the Richmond airport.. There is so much stuff here you would not believe it. The civilian world gets to see a few military aircraft in an airshow every now and then but wha you see in an active airbase in a war zone is something different. I am learning to tell the difference between an F-16 and an F-18. And military jets are much louder than civilian ones.

I got the royal pickup treatment. My boss Rodney Beyer was there to pick me up at the airfield. So I got escorted through “KAF” (Kandahar Air Field) customs rather quickly. We drove through the dustiest place on earth to get to Camp Hicks, my home sweet home for the next year. I got my Kevlar Vest, my helmet, sleeping bag as well as sheets and a huge fluffy comforter. Who are we kidding? A comforter? It was 102 F today. And it has not even warmed up. Then to billeting to find my lovely new home. Yes, it is a plastic pre-fab container that you can hook up and place on a truck trailer or a container ship. I have about 10 feet of one half and my neighbor on my back wall has the other 10 feet. It is about 8 feet wide and it has a single bed and an armoire and a desk. It has a lockable door and a fire extinguisher. If I ever let the fire extinguisher loose, then it would foam the whole place. Last stop of the day was the mess hall for chow. Er – pardon me, not the mess hall, that is the Army of 1974. Today it is the D-Fac – short for Dining Facility. Food was basic but not bad. Got some reasonably fresh broccoli and some salad. I’m happy.

Then “home” to bed. As I tried to type this last night, the jet-lag wall hit me. So enough until tomorrow. I have an orientation – that will be fun.

Pics are few. They are very security conscious here.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Another Day in Dubai - Oh Boy!

Dubai Day 2.5-9-11

No big day here. Off to the hotel for 9:00 am roll call and then back to Al Bustan to do important hang-around-and-wait stuff. We decided to go to the Lulu Hyper-Mart for some serious shopping. I bought a pair of plaid madras shorts that are al that and a bag of chips. If I had known that I was going to be stuck in a hotel, I would have brought some civilized ones with me but these are OK for loafing in a hotel room. Otherwise, they should not be shown in public. I would consider posting a picture on the internet but I don’t want any porn on my computer.

The walk to the Lulu-Mart was interesting because we got to peek behind a few walls and look at the construction. On one wall, there were lamps posted about every 20 feet. The wiring to the lamps was simply draped along the wall made to appear as ornamental roping. Don’t poke it with your umbrella. At one corner, the wires for a street lamp were coming up out of the conduit. They were neatly taped together with electrical tape. And the concrete is loaded with salty Dubai sand that does wonders on ribar. If they had to face a tsunami here, they might have some real problems.

The other thing we noticed way the perpetual haze to the sky. It is humid here but not any worse than Richmond in summer – in fact, perhaps not as bad. They claim it is not smog and who am I to argue but it is thicker than just the haze of humidity. It definitely has a bit of a tint to it. I guess that is to be expected in a city of several million and an apparent equal number of cars.

After muster this morning, we saw another class of Dyncorp recruits come in. These folks were from Kenya. There is a boatload of Kenyans and some Bosnians too. We think they are here to provide unskilled labor. This is quite a multinational affair. We hear that there is a flight tomorrow and we hope we are on it. We have been glad to see Dubai but we are all eager to get out of here and to do some real work. Besides, we are getting weary of schlepping bags, taking shuttles to meals and getting nickeled and dimed o death for things like laundry, internet, glasses in the bathrooms, 110 volt electricity washcloths and toilet paper. Furthermore, while some of the food is interesting and even tasty, some of the textures are strange and take some getting used to. I’m doing fine with the food but I am somewhat leery of the salads and fresh fruits. Hopefully the mess halls (or in New Army Parlance “D-FACs” which is short for Dining FACilities) will do better. I think I’m going to learn a whole new vocabulary.

This may be the last post for a few days. If we fly, things will be a little weird until I get settled. If I’m stuck as some people have been, I’m going to wait a day to post because internet access is 90 Dirhams for 24 hours. That works out to about $24.00 a day. There is no , none, zero free internet here like McDonalds or Starbucks or any decent hotel with amenities. And I love you all but paying $24.00 a day every day is just plain goofy. So, I'm trying to post this before my 24 hours is up.

So, a brief description of the pics. The building that looks like a Ukrainian tenement is our hotel. No pool. (But it does have running water) The beige tower is a minaret of the local mosque. The building with what appears to be blue tarps is the Lulu-Mart. The tarps are actually canopies to shade the valet-parked customer cars. The insides look like a dirty Wal-Mart or maybe a clean Food Lion – take your pick. Downstairs groceries,upstairs drygoods and electronics. I bought two washcloths and some Zip-lock baggies to put them in. The last shot is a gate of am Islamic school of some descripion. On the other side of the hotel is an Iranian (Shiite) school in the middle of a Sunni country. We will stay out of the crossfire.

The last picture is definitely something that children should not see.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Dubai in the Daylight

May 8th Dubai

No apparent jet lag but slept reasonably well. Pleasantly surprised to find that washcloths are not a standard feature in hotel rooms. Who wants one anyway? I mean duh, you got soap doncha? So, we make do and move on.

Got to the 9:00 am muster with only a minimum of confusion and did our timesheets. First things first you know. Then we got lucky and we ran into Ashraf who works for or owns the Afridi tours. Ashraf offered to take 5 of us around to the various Dubai sights for $20.00 each. The price went up by $5.00 a person at the end of the tour but it was well worth it. I doubt that I will ever do this again and quite frankly, not sure that I would want to at the expense of some other adventures.

First of all, I am definitely a stranger in a strange land. This is a very westernized third world country. Many of the traditional Arabic ways still exist with men and women in the traditional garb and the separation of the sexes. Much of the work is done with manual labor and in the more modest areas, the construction techniques are shoddy. We see that even in our hotel. By the same token, when we got to some of the very popular tourist areas, such as the malls and surrounding buildings, the architecture is simply stunning in its artistry. The Dubai Tower may allegedly have some structural deficiencies but it sure is a looker.

So, first stop was the Dubai Museum. It was a great historical and cultural look at the area. Inside was a timeline showing the development of the area over the last 80 years. In the 1930’s this was a small costal village of fishermen and pearl divers. Mot much changed until oil was discovered in the early 1960’s. Then it took off like crazy. I saw on exhibit some of the silver jewelry done by some of the old artisans. Gorgeous stuff and quite frankly, impossible to buy.

Oh by the way, there are mosques of all shapes and sizes all over the place. Some beautiful and ornate with the very traditional flowing Arabic lines and the beautiful blue mosaic tiles and some quite modern. And, they all have a minaret – no matter how large or small and some even have speakers to call the faithful to prayer.

We stopped along Jameria beach and looked at buildings shaped like sails that move in the direction of the sun to keep one section perpetually in the shade. Then we headed for the Emirates Mall where they have an indoor ski slope and snow park. On the way we passed the university area known as Knowledge Park. Several universities are located there including the American University and the College of Dubai. The beaches along the way were beautiful and one large park had a beach that on Sundays is ladies only. Alo passed the palaces of several of the minor princes. The properties were all walled and guarded so we could not see any of the actual houses. But from the looks of the walls and the Army or Police guards, you could tell that these were some serious dudes.

Next stop was Palm Island. This is the man made island that sticks out several miles into the Arabian Sea. At the extreme end is a resort called the Palm. It is an absolutely huge hotel / apartment complex with security, manicured lawns and – of course – palm trees. You can tell that there is a recession down here though because there are huge condo complexes that appear to have high vacancy rates. The leaves of the “palm” form inland canals where the condo dweller have their private boat slips complete with outlets for shore power, water, sewage and likely internet. However, lotta slips. No boats.

Then on to the Emirates Mall which has the ski slope. This is actually the smaller of the two major tourist malls in the area. The ski slopes were good places for women to wear the traditional garb. They probably had a tough time skiing but at least they were warm. The thermometer in the place said it was -4 Degrees C, about 25 Degrees F. Nice and chilly considering it was 93 outside. This mall was huge. It had all of the girls fashion stores that my daughter would know so well and, as an added bonus, it had signs in English and Arabic. I have not seen a Cabelos, Gander Mountain, Bass Pro Shop or even a WalMart anywhere. So, my fascination was with the size of the store, the diversity of the customers and the BMWs in the parking lot rather than the contents of the stores.

On to the Dubai Tower and the Big Mall, Dubai Mall. This one has a skating rink and an aquarium where you can go scuba diving. It also has more fashion sores.

While this may be a great place to “go shopping” It seems to me like a giant Potomac Mills store. About the same very diverse ethnic mix and higher prices.
Oh by the way, if you want to eat here, well, OK but anywhere you go in Dubai, the food has an interesting local flavor that may surprise the domestic US palate.

So, went back to the Dubai Grand for our muster at 6:00 pm and ate dinner. After that, went to the restroom and found out that a public restroom in Dubai was not a wonderful place to be. Ohh baby! Life of the world traveler. At least some good pics today. Jet Lag finally got to me. Uploading Pics, then Goodnight. More fun to come!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On the way to Afghanistan - the Journey Starts

May 2, 2011. The Journey Begins

What a way to start the day. Get up at 3:45 am, take a shower and head to the airport to get there by 5:30 to check two whopper bags for a flight to Dallas – Ft. Worth. I’m grumpy already and have not yet been bitten by a sand flea. Get there late because of storms in Dallas. So it’s raining and I’m schlepping my whopper bags from concourse to concourse to get to the correct ground transportation pick-up.

We finally get Crazy Jimmie our driver who can make a Ford mini-bus hydroplane at 75 mph. We go past the giant Texas Motor Speedway and Jimmie guns it. I think he’s daydreaming about racing Danica Patrick. Next stop, the DynCorp Deployment center at the Marriot. This is not a bad hotel. Nice amenities but out in the middle of nowhere. They don’t want any escapes. This may be the only hotel in America where you can buy tactical field gear in the hotel lobby store. Anything from fancy tourniquets for $24.95 to camouflage watches.

So, the work day today starts at 2:00pm. Sign in; report for “muster”, then go do 6 or 7 more computer based training modules. I hate computer based training modules. The whole class hates computer based training modules. So, I started taking a poll. What did you learn in the SAEDA module? The huh? Did you learn what SAEDA meant? Uh, well, I mean, well …….not really. But I got the certificate. So, I finish up about 9:00 pm – some of the other poor bastards are still there because they did not bother to do the classes at home. Finally, right at 9:00 pm I eat a quick cheeseburger because I have to fast for at least 8 hours before the medics start drawing blood. By 9:30, I’m in bed thinking about 5:15 am. I can’t sleep. What am I doing here?

Day 2 – May 3, 2011.

What a perfect day. This is just like the Army. Hurry up and wait to get poked, prodded, peed and bleed. I have to give a urine sample but no coffee allowed and I just peed about ½ hour ago. I’m grunting and squeezing and finally after I just about rupture the blood vessels in my eyeballs, I manage to squeeze out about 1/3 cup of pee – the bare minimum. I’m starting to think this may set a standard. Bust your ass for little reward. Next stop, bleed me. Fortunately, I have more blood than urine, so that was actually a little bit easier. Now it is time for shots. I produce my G.I shot record last updated in 1978. The medics start to laugh and pass it from one to another – “Man, that’s really old!” “Wow, they gave you that???!!! It’s a wonder you did not die. Do you still have liver function?”

Bottom line, I got to get al the shots. Six of them. All in the same arm. In under 3 minutes. Even faster than saving 15% or more with Geico.

Well, the good thing about the hurry up and wait is that I get to learn about my classmates. There are two who are working for CHM2Hill as subcontractors to DynCorp. There are 3 unemployed electricians from various parts of the country, a crane rigger, an emergency medical technician, an operations analyst, a “vector control” expert (he kills rats, flies and snakes) and several others, jobs unknown. Several of them have been in the Middle East before either as contractors or as military. But surprisingly, about half of the class is made up of folks who have not been in the military and have not been out of the country. Could be rude awakening time.

After medical and lunch, we start out training. Really, more a bunch of orientation sessions. The class has been split into two groups and I have been anointed the “A” group leader. There is one other manager and she was anointed “B” group leader. This is a very responsible position. We get to see who does not show up for roll call.

So we start out with a LOGCAP IV brief. Logcap is Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program. The original LOGCAP started prior to the first Gulf War and basically was an omnibus services contract to move and store supplies and to provide infrastructure to support the military. The concept is the same with LOGCAP IV and there are two primary vendors for LOGCAP services in Afghanistan: Dyncorp and Fluor. Dyncorp has the southern half of the country, Fluor has the north. In this briefing, we learn that the place is a desert and that the food in Kandahar sucks. If you want good food, go to one of the smaller bases, particularly where the Marines are located. I have it on credible source that they have served lobster on one of the Marine bases. God Bless ‘em, they deserve it.

Now we get to the really great part of the day – the new hire forms. Taught by an HR person. I hate HR. Wait, I AM HR – yes I hate HR. What bureaucratic menches we are. A blessing here to all of my friends at Philip Morris (OK, those in Altria, too). In looking at the healthcare rates, folks, we have it good. Even retirees have it good. For a plan not quite as rich as ours, their rates are about 50% more than ours for family coverage.

Finally, time for the 18:00 hour muster and a good meal down in Fort Worth with my sister Carey and brother-in-law Rick. I can’t thank them enough for their hospitality. They are my link to the civilized world after learning that some thing like 10% or more of the dust in the air in Afghanistan contains feces.

And with that, good night. More tomorrow

May 5th, 2011

Yesterday was fun. We started the day with First Aid training.

The first segment was on hygiene and preventative stuff. Dust storms, insects, scorpions, spiders, malaria and what the mega-doses of doxycyclene do to our guts. We got a list of good stuff that we need to take with us like anti-fungal cream, insect repellent, bandanas, SPF-30 moisturizer and acidopholous pills. Even female vaginal cream recommended for guys for athlete’s foot. On thing that is a big deal is Avon Skin-so-soft. I wish we had had the list a month ago.

Then we learned about shrapnel, arterial bleeding, gut wounds and how to triage folks. We learned how to treat a sucking chest wound with a plastic bag and how to tie off an artery with a shoelace. The instructor said you could even treat a sucking chest wound with a credit card. Someone asked “Which One?” Someone else replied, “American Express, - you get points” We also heard about real life stories where some Dyncorp employees had actually had to use these skills. Despite the wisecracking, we all took it very seriously.

Quite frankly, this morning session was not for the faint of heart and brought home some of the reality that this is a war zone. Two people apparently decided that this was too much and they quit. Interesting. I recall from my Army days that their training was not nearly as detailed and graphic. Perhaps if it had been, more people would have gone AWOL or un-enlisted somehow. And if this is part of a weeding out process, then so be it. This is definitely not a venture for someone who is not committed.

The afternoon was spent learning about Improvised Explosive Devises. Again, scary and sobering and we are all hoping that they are not things that we will see.

The last part of the day was probably the scariest part of the day. How to fill out the electronic daily timesheet. We have had more warnings and cautions about this than we have had about IEDs. So far, I have had to read and agree in writing to comply with timesheet policies, take a couple of computer based training courses and now take hands on training. Timesheets are a major part of Dyncorp’s function and we can blame Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi for this curse. At first the pendulum swung one way, now it is on the other end. Oh well, such is life as a government contractor.

At the end of the day we got our dog tags. Same things that the GIs wear. For old times sake, I pulled mine out from 37 years ago. I hope they get the same use that they did the first time I went to the land of the bad guys – none!

Today , May 5th , has been hurry up and wait. We had to fill out what are called ISOPREP forms. That stands for Isolated Person Recovery. Bottom line, if we get lost, kidnapped etc, then we will be able to identify ourselves to the Army (or Marines or SEALS or whoever rescues us) by correctly answering a series of personal questions that only we would know the answer to. It is a little more detailed than knowing your mother’s maiden name. I’d publish all my answers on line but then everyone would know when I lost my virginity. And who wants to admit they were a 40 year old virgin.

After that, a run to Walmart for all the stuff that we learned about yesterday. Again, thanks to my sister Carey who magically found some Skin-So-Soft.
Carey, I owe you dinner. Only problem now is that I get to stuff 10 pounds of stuff into a 5 pound bag.

So, this evening, we will get our deployment orders. I imagine that I will fly tomorrow. So tonight and tomorrow will be filled with some long cell phone calls and more than a few mixed emotions. But the good news for the followers of the blog – soon I will have pictures of Dubai! Yeah!

May 6th

Had a great dinner with Carey and Rick last night. Lots of jokes about the last supper. Well, at least the last supper with Martinis (for a while anyway).

Today we fly. So I took a couple of pictures of the Marriot and the Tactical Equipment Store for the record I took my first doycyclene pill this morning and all I can say is that I hope they have lots of potties on the airplane. It kills all the bacteria in you guts and has some less than desirable side effects. Pinto beans can’t even compare with doxy. Everyone – and I mean everyone – has to take a pill a day for the time they are over there, while on leave back in the States and for a month after we return. Supposedly it is the preventative for Malaria. Whoopee! Or should I say whoopee cushion? Oh well, enough bathroom humor.

Tonight I will be in Dulles and sometime Saturday evening, (their time) landing in Dubai. Looks like we will be in Dubai until Tuesday so I ought to be able to see a few things then on to Kandahar. So, the interesting posts should start then.