Tag Archive for 'San Diego'

AfghaniStan Diego

Chapter4; Koyaanisqatsi ([kɔɪɑːnɪskɑːtsi]), – Crazy life, life in turmoil, life out of balance, life disintegrating, a state of life that calls for another way of living

In a matter of a few seconds, the weight that had rested on my shoulders for over a week was lifted. I was HOME. HOME was where my heart was. HOME was a place where I was in control of my levels of misery and happiness. HOME was my visual reminder of why I spent so much time away from HOME. In all of the chaos and anger, I had forgotten the three persons that suffered through every setback I suffered through as they anxiously awaited my arrival. I had lived in an earth/moon/universe revolves around me world for days. It was healthy and comforting to step back a bit, and to decentralize the universe from my existence.

Inside my HOME, I was reunited with my wife and two children. Doogel was extremely happy to see me. We had been best friends for 5 years, and our separation was tearing both of us up mentally. Chunkster was her typical reserved self, sneaking in a smile or a word or two every now and then. I spent 30 minutes reacquainting myself with my creations before unpacking and straightening up the office. My parents would be arriving in a matter of minutes and I needed to sort everything out to optimize our 5 days together.

Shortly later my mother and father were at my HOME. I was excited to have them both there and had already begun my mental planning of all the places I would take them and of everything I would show them. One thing that had grabbed my attention was the ridiculous amount of snow I saw up in the mountains as our plane approached San Diego. My dad grew up in a cold environment and might, to this day, like snow and cold weather even more than I do. I pulled him aside and told him that we were about 45 minutes away from a ton of snow, and asked if he thought my mom would want to go see some. My mother dislikes cold weather more than my father likes it. I remember inviting her to come visit us when we lived up near Chicago. It seemed that there was nothing I could say or do to persuade her to come up see us. Chicago was simply “too cold” for her. Still, I must have underestimated her love of her grandchildren as she seemed more than happy to accompany us up the mountain to celebrate our own little “southern tourist” version of the Christmas holidays. We agreed to set out early the next morning.

The trip was entertaining to say the least. First and foremost was the fact that our TOASTER-ON-WHEELS did not have enough room for four adults and two children. We discussed the alternatives and decided for whatever reason that my father (not a small man) would ride in the back of the car (where we typically throw our groceries). I suppose he didn’t care how we got there as long as he got to see snow. We stopped and picked up some fast food on our way out. Jade was extremely excited to go see the snow. I kept thinking about her reaction to “nose” in Chicago. She simply loved it. She would stay outside playing in it despite the ridiculous temperatures (-34 F windchill really???).

The trip took about an hour. As we made our way up Sunrise Highway the Junipers and other conifers began to accumulate snow. We stopped on several occasions to take pictures. At the top of Mt. Laguna, there was no less than 20 inches of snow on the ground. The locals reported totals up to 36 inches on or around the mountain. Several Parked Cars lined the roadway as their owners went sledding or skiing. We pulled over and jumped out of the car. Conditions could not have been better. The temperature had to be in the low 40’s. I grabbed Jade and began walking out toward an opening in the field. It was at that point that I realized exactly how deep the snow was. Jade’s lower half disappeared. I turned around just in time to see my mother sink down into the snow with a surprised look. Laura, Chunk, and my father followed. Chunk seemed intrigued by the snow however she was a little less than excited about it when she fell down. Her gloves kept coming off and she seemed to be very afraid of the mystical, cold sheet of white that she had never really seen before. We spent an hour or so playing and hiking around before deciding to get back in the car and drive around a bit.

We had watched several kids sledding down the slopes and I regretted that I again, forgot to buy Doogel a sled. I figured that the one-stop on top of the mountain might still have some sleds. I decided to drive around for awhile to let every one soak in the views. My dad contently looked out the back window as we drove/slid through the snow. After stopping at a couple of scenic overlooks, we made our way to the little store to purchase snacks and a sled. As luck would have it they had both. We turned the car around and headed back to the popular slope areas.

As soon as I parked Doogel jumped out of the car to go sledding. I handed the camera to my mother as I helped the pickle trek through the deep snow towards the slopes. We watched a few kids fly down before hiking up to the top of the smaller of the two hills. I sat down on the sled and instructed her to sit down on my lap with her legs extended out. After we situated ourselves I let go and off we went. Now I need to be honest about something. Though I have been around a fair share of snow, I have, for whatever reason, never gone sledding. I was half amused and half amazed as we gathered speed and barreled down the little hill. It took all I had to hold Jade in place as we spun around, and hit bumps and even left the ground on a few occasions. By the time we reached the bottom, I was lying on my back and had enough snow inside my coat to make a small snowman, and Jade was laughing so hard she was nearly in tears. My mother seemed to get a thrill out of watching and filming her little girls sledding. The more we did it the better we got. Jade even went solo on a couple of rides, her 50 lb. body flying into the air after every hitting each and every bump. Laura and I made an attempt at a new land-speed record (suggested by Mr. Griswald) but ended up wiping out entirely halfway down. I don’t exactly recall what went wrong. What I do know is that she, the sled, and I all decided to go our separate ways. Of all of us, I do not think anyone laughed as hard as the Chunkster. She laughed non-stop each and every time she bounced down the hill. I personally got a real thrill out of sledding with her.

Time flew and the next thing I knew it was time for dinner. Again we drove around for a while, and eventually made our way over to the little town of Julian. I wanted to show it to my dad since I had taken my mother out there a couple of years earlier. We strolled around, pausing to check out each store and eatery. It was getting dark and we were all very hungry. We hopped back in the car, crammed my father in the back again with the sled, and drove off to grab dinner at a little diner I used to frequent after mountain biking. It was very late when we arrived back HOME. All of us were spent, and I felt the full effect of a 12 hour jetlag.

The following days with my parents followed suit. Each day we would set out to do something, and would arrive back HOME shortly after dinner, and I would pass out prematurely due to the effects of jetlag. We shared a special Christmas together. My dad got nearly every part of San Diego my mom saw two years earlier. We shopped, ate out, and played video games together. Both of my children loved having them around. The 5 days we spent together flew by. Before I knew it I was driving them to San Diego International to board their plane.

The remainder of my vacation in the states was equally enjoyable. It was nice to have time alone with Ra, and with each of my kids. I enjoyed taking Doogel and Chunk out to the playground. I learned that Chunk was the polar opposite of her sister in that she was afraid of heights and falling. At an early age, Jade was a fearless daredevil. She would often do flips off of the couch and she would climb on anything she could and jump off. She was so reckless that I dreaded the day when I would have to rush her to the hospital. Logan on the other hand was calculating and very reserved. I observed and appreciated the difference between the two. Away it was easy to categorize Logan as a cookie-cutout, replica of Jade. In my time with them I began to learn of all the little nuances that made my Chunkster special and different. It was like having your firstborn all over again. In the days to come I would develop a special appreciation of her and a bond I thought I could only share with my BFF, Jade.

Laura and I indulged in all the fast food and beer we could get our hands on. We played guitar hero until we actually thought we could play guitar … (This happens after about 614 hours of playing). We shared our own little Christmas as we had two years earlier. Here I was, the proverbial teenager, sharing Christmas with my own wife and kids. That statement may seem scary, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t see the 16 year old in me when I look in the mirror. I imagine that will come to pass someday. I know now, that I am smarter, more driven, and certainly, more responsible, but I believe my similarities to myself back then outweigh the differences. Perhaps this is something everyone experiences.

As the time began to run out on my wonderful little 15 day vacation things started to turn for the worse. The last couple of days HOME consisted of me running through the gauntlet of things I wanted to do or accomplish before leaving. This was the first of two, very humbling lessons I would learn during my vacation. As an organized, list-making guy, I was so concerned with accomplishing everything I set out to accomplish that I didn’t enjoy or appreciate the accomplishments as they happened since I was already thinking about the logistics of completing the next “Task”. For example, I promised Jade I would build us a tent downstairs for us to play video games in for an imaginary campout. Unfortunately I procrastinated that so long due to working on other important items, that by the time I erected the tent, Jade was practically already asleep. Our whole tent excursion simply consisted of me building it, and moving her half-asleep body to her side of the tent so she could finally good to bed for good. It wasn’t exactly how I planned it. I was stressing myself out, worrying about the things I wanted to do before I left. Perhaps I had the TERMINAL to blame. I was HOME with the ones I loved, and I felt remarkably distant from the word “relaxed”. Worse still, Jade began to realize that her time with Daddy was coming to an end. She began acting up, and putting the pacifier in her mouth. I spent the better part of the last two days disciplining her and ignoring her. To this day those memories break my heart. I mean that … they break my heart. At one point of time she sat up in her room coloring. I made my way upstairs past her room to do something in the office and she looked up at me with sad eyes and handed me her artwork. It was a picture of three stick-people with sad faces. Above the stick-family were random letters. I asked Jade what it said and she looked up at me with sad eyes and said, “It says I am sorry that I am a bad girl and I do not have any good ideas”. I had a hell of a time holding back tears. I was so self-absorbed with all the little errands I had to run before leaving that I forgot the reason I was running them. I picked her up and took her into the office. I sat her down, wiped the accumulating tears from my eyes, and began talking to her about her coloring. We made an art-book for me to take back with me. Outside I was comforting her and holding her, doing everything I could to let her know how special she was to me. Inside, the anger and pure hatred toward the Navy that had invaded me during my times at the TERMINAL was overwhelming me. After all, it wasn’t my fault that my children were hurting inside.

My time at HOME had come and gone in no time at all. Perhaps the TERMINAL had something to do with it. There, time had almost come to a complete stop. I remember looking at clocks mounted on the wall and thinking that they must have been needing batteries since they did not seem to move at all. At HOME, time wouldn’t even allow me the time to appreciate it. I took solace in the fact that I would be returning HOME again in a few months. I imagined setting right all the things that went wrong during my visit HOME.

As always the flight left San Diego international at balls-early-O’-clock in the morning. No one in their right mind was awake at that time. Paris Hilton had probably retired hours earlier. It was unnatural and cruel, because it robbed me of quality “evening time” with my wife….which was when we always played scrabble. I wanted to make the time pass so I forced myself to sleep the entire way. We landed in Atlanta and were herded around like cattle again. My connecting flight did not leave for 5 hours so I walked around to search for a spot where I could sleep. The floor was littered with depressed service members lying around or surfing the internet. I could tell they were all heading back to theatre. I again ignored everyone else and slept, or sat and did my own thing.

It would be a waste of time to take you through the details of my flight back. It was exactly the same as the flight HOME sans hope and happiness. Instead I wish to discuss the entire point of my narration of the events that took place during my Christmas leave. Surely you didn’t think that I would leave you hanging with no sense of perspective, completely lost and confused, and wondering what the point of all of it was (have you seen Remains of the Day?). Yeah it was miserable. Hopefully you got that. Yes, for all of those that have asked, I really did kind of lose my mind (As I read Persig…go friggin figure). None of that motivated me really to write about it. I didn’t need sympathy and in fact kind of dreaded telling the story as it would always leave me angry and unmotivated. The point of the story was the slap in the face that awaited me in Afghanistan. It was so obvious, and yet I had overlooked it all-together. I had always prided myself on being able to see multiple perspectives and on being as empathic as anyone. Yet here I was missing the big picture. I saw a single swirly brushstroke and the entire Starry Night.

I spent another couple of sweltering nights at the R&R tent I had lived at earlier on in my journey HOME. It was cold outside, and the mountains and plains were covered in snow, yet I still found myself sweating and hating life at night. On the third day I hitched a ride with a convoy heading to my base. Bagram lies about 1000 feet lower than Kabul. The entire trip we were climbing. I sat in the back of an up-armored vehicle starring off into the distance. About 15 minutes outside of Kabul we came upon a trash bag city. I have heard of tent cities, and have witnessed some of the eccentric habits of our HOME less in San Diego, but I have never seen an entire neighborhood using nothing but discarded plastic trash bags as shelter. Snow covered the ground and I found my eyes racing all over the place, identifying freezing kids, devoid of warm clothing, huddled under a plastic bags hung in leafless trees to block whatever snow was coming down. Their very essence and identity was centered on misery I will likely never understand. There it wasn’t about finding the time to play Halo with junior; it was about junior staying alive through another harsh winter. Only two days earlier I was bitching about sweating while I slept. How many children in the group of thousands I was starring at would pass away from the sub freezing temperatures in the same time span? As we drove along I caught the eye of a young boy on the side of the road, perhaps no older than 6. He was emaciated, shivering, and had a look of desperation as we drove by. He was hoping we would throw him something….anything. His image engraved itself in my head. I could not turn away. I lost sight of him about a half mile down the road. What a giant slap in the face all of this was.

The image of the freezing children and that homeless little boy jump started a self assessment mode that was long overdue. I began thinking about all the troops who had deployed and perished. I thought about them not coming HOME to their families at all. I wondered how many of them had perished in shortly before returning HOME for the holidays. It seems that things could have been horribly worse on both sides of the tracks. To think I had it worse than the Afghans I was sent over to protect was a selfish and childish thought that I will forever be remorseful of. I was also ashamed to have temporarily forgotten the pains and suffering of the families of my fallen brethren. For the remaining few months in theatre I thought of these things every time I wanted to denounce my fate or bad-mouth my luck.

When I arrived back to base I hopped out of the vehicle and drug my 3 bags and body armor clear across base. All said and done I was lugging a total of 200 pounds with me. The weather was very cold, and my rifle banged up against my knee on several occasions. The entire trip to my hut, as I sweated and grunted, and lost my breath from the 5,800 foot altitude, I never lost sight on the way things could be. The worst thing that had happened to me the entire day was being forced to drag my own shit across base to my warm, comfortable, room, to my second HOME. When I arrived, I threw my bags down and lay down in my bed, and starred at the ceiling. I had a lot to think about. In a moments time I fell asleep listening to the hum of our heater.


It has been 4 months since the ordeal began. Things in the Navy still irritate the hell out of me. Don’t get me wrong there. Hell, as I am writing this sentence I am waiting to receive any information regarding my travels to go play volleyball for the All-Navy Volleyball Team; information that I was supposed to have received weeks ago. Now, 10 days before camp, I don’t have a ticket, location, dates, or anything else of value. Time with my kids has been better. There always will be several aspects of fatherhood that befuddle me, but my resourcefulness and access to Google make me a formidable foe to the unknown. I am sad to report that one of the Lt’s we trained with at Ft. Riley was shot a couple of days after I arrived HOME. She was scheduled to return HOME in a couple of months. Many other American and NATO soldiers were killed during my stay in Kabul.

My Afghan friends still awake daily in a country that has an uncertain future at best. Here we worry about a recession. There they worry about rockets landing in the living rooms of their HOMEs, and starving to death. I try to do my best to remind myself and others that we have it good here. Whenever I am angered to the point of tearing up, or when I have reached the end of my short fuse, I imagine the freezing child standing on the side of the road in the plains above Bagram. Yes, I am thankful for what I have, how could I not be.

AfghaniStan Diego

Chapter3; The Portal to Hell Opens and Reveals an 8th Layer

I was lying across two uncomfortable seats in the TERMINAL. No matter which way I turned the metal frames of each seat dug into my ribs and back. I thought of all of the stories I had read of the ridiculous horrors refugees suffered to free themselves from tyranny: Afghan’s fleeing their country inside of petroleum tankers, Jews hiding in the sewer to avoid concentration camps, Romanians living in trees for weeks. In my little TERMINAL world I was one of them. I was living in a God-forsaken shithole, where the temperature was always just a little too cold, where there was no comfortable position whatsoever (how is that even possible), and where somehow the news just kept getting worse. I was hungry and in desperate need of a shower, yet could not leave for fear that I would miss the smallest of opportunities, the passing of the eye of the shit storm.

I concentrated on the most random things to take my mind off of the situation. I meditated on the word “TERMINAL” much like Persig obsessed over the word “Quality”.

1. Situated at or forming the end or extremity of something.
2. Occurring at or forming the end of a series, succession, or the like; closing; concluding.
3. Pertaining to or lasting for a term or definite period; occurring at fixed terms or in every term.
4. Pertaining to or placed at a boundary, as a landmark.
5. Occurring at or causing the end of life.
6. Informal. Utterly beyond hope, rescue, or saving.

7. A TERMINAL part of a structure; end or extremity.
8. A station on the line of a public carrier, as in a city center or at an airport, where passengers embark or disembark and where freight is received or discharged.
1480–90; late ME < L terminālis, equiv. to termin(us) end, limit + It was obvious from studying the WORD that I had about a 50% chance of surviving the situation with my brain intact. My TERMINAL could have simply been a means to a new beginning, a prelude, and the end of a horrible extremity. It could pertain to a definite period (*this cannot go on forever*), a misery that would eventually end. My TERMINAL very well could be the boundary between me and a very happy reunion with my wife, children and parents. For whatever reason visuals of the other two TERMINALs lingered in my head along with the sickening feeling that my visit to this TERMINAL would bring forth the end of my life, and that no amount of optimism could restore a situation so far beyond hope, rescue, or saving. Somewhere along the line of deep thought, I collapsed on the freezing concrete floor and fell asleep.

I was awake, or at least conscious. I could hear people talking and feel the arctic air blasting out of the vent above me but for some strange reason I could not see. I reached up to my eyes to try to pry my eyelids open. They felt as if they had been Gorilla-Glued together. I spent a few minutes digging the sleepy out before I could finally force my eyes open, ripping out several eyelashes in the process. It was 10:00 AM. The newest group of TERMINAL employees had arrived, and one of them informed me that they had failed in attempting to fix the back hatch of my plane. The good news however, was that H.W was leaving this shit hole, so when a plane became available, I would be one of the first people on it. She told me to hang around because we would be re-palletizing our bags soon. I got up, stretched, walked to the restroom, lathered up my hands and face with soap and scrubbed away. I stepped out feeling surprisingly clean and refreshed. I walked around for a little bit to lube up my legs and back, as they had become quite stiff from my little nap. I noticed a pot of fresh coffee and a few half-stale bear claws. I gobbled a couple of them down, and sipped on my coffee/oil concoction while simultaneously heating my hands through the Styrofoam. Shortly afterward another Airman walked into the terminal and told us to go to the baggage area and move our bags over from one pallet to another. We all did so in a slow, deliberate fashion. A few of us hung around outside for a short period of time just to get a change of scenery. After about 30 minutes, we were cold enough to return to our front row seats to the play “Hell Unfolding”. A woman with a high pitched voice called for our attention over the intercom and casually informed us that our flight would be leaving at 17:00. It was 12:00.

I decided I would once again take advantage of the USO’s amenities across the street. I chatted with my wife for s short while via GChat, and inhaled 3 mini-bags of popcorn. “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” was playing on the big screen, and since I had seen it before I figured it would be a great time to catch up on much needed rest. Yup, you know what is coming … brace for impact.

I woke up at 14:30 with a crick in my neck. I stood up, looked around, and immediately wondered why the 100 or so people that littered the couches and reclining chairs before I fell asleep had dwindled down to a mere 20. I felt a bit nervous as I walked across the street to the terminal. The feeling I felt then was sickening at best. I think it may be best explained by likening it the feeling you get when you become detached from your mother or father at the grocery store when you are very young; pure, sweat-inducing panic. As I turned the corner to enter the TERMINAL I came face to face with a horrible sight I recently thought I would never see; emptiness. Rush Limbaugh’s conscious wasn’t as empty as this. Britney Spears’ life had more content. All of my partners in hell were gone. All of their things were gone with them. At that moment a woman walked up to me briskly with a sobering look on her face and asked, “Are you Kramer”? “Yes”, I replied. She then informed me that the plane had arrived very early and literally left the runway 5 minutes earlier. She told me that had been looking for me for about 45 minutes, and that they had even sent someone over to the USO. I suppose there is no point in discussing the shitty job that person did in attempting to find me. She looked at me with pity and told me that all of my bags were on the plane, and that I would have to wait until tomorrow morning to catch a flight in hope of reuniting myself with them. I can only imagine the expression she saw. At that moment I was tearing up from the purest breed of rage. I had difficulty hearing anything over the sound of my own heart beating at a ridiculous pace. My throat hurt, my head hurt, and I thought my eyes were going to pop out. It had been a while since I had been dealt such a devastating emotional blow. She saw a horrific potential in me (where is the nearest clock-tower???) and quickly decided to sit down next to the seat I had taken at some point of time during her speech (by this point I was doing things before I realized I was doing them) and told me “not to worry” and that “these things happen all the time”. After a few seconds of silence she said “Your bags will be there when you land. Why don’t you just try to get some rest and be sure to be here by 07:00 tomorrow morning.”

I decided to walk around the base for a little while in an attempt to calm myself down and to analyze my situation rationally. I eventually decided that it would be wisest to sit down, have a huge meal, shower, and catch up on my sleep. I couldn’t help but to be conscious of the fact that I was freezing. The high temperature was only 27 degrees and all I had on was a t-shirt covered by a light-weight fleece jacket, and a 5-point cover (all Army issued). After eating I made my way over to the PX to buy some toiletries, black knit cap that said “Bagram” across the front, a towel, some sandals, underwear and some new under-shirts. I opted out of purchasing a new razor and shaving cream strictly to save money. The undershirts were long sleeved and extremely thick, a godsend. I also decided to buy an Afghani scarf to tuck into my fleece jacket in an attempt to warm my neck and face. I couldn’t resist purchasing a very cute one-piece wool dress for Ra. I realized as long as I kept thinking about her and the kids my TERMINAL would simply be a landmark, a means to a better future.

I shuffled over to the nearest shower and lost myself in it. I was like a redneck at a monster truck show, experiencing the very essence of Heaven itself. Andy Dufresne didn’t shower like that after escaping Shawshank. It was unbelievable. I am ashamed to admit that it very well may be years before Afghans have access to hot water again after my little excursion. I felt relaxed and at ease. I made my way back over to the R&R tent and smiled each time I encountered a puzzled face, or the statement “you are still here”? I examined my comically soiled short sleeve undershirt, and decided I would once again make light of the situation. It took a while but I eventually found a black permanent marker and carefully stenciled “Bagram R&R Flight Cancellation Count: VI”. I spent a few minutes parading around while wearing it and was instantaneously the talk of the tent. Eventually I settled in the corner of the tent, opposite of the Sun’s blow dryer, and immediately fell into the deepest of sleep.

Tuesday, 18 December (06:00 AM)

It was 0530. My watch had been chirping at me for 30 minutes. I shuffled through the ice over to the DFAC, and grabbed a quick wholesome breakfast. I decided to double up on my long sleeve undershirt while waiting for the bus. In a moments time I would be back within ITS walls and boundaries and I would not be ill-prepared.

I walked in and was immediately approached by an employee who smiled and asked if I was finally ready to go home. She informed me that the plane was parked right outside, and that I would soon be leaving Bagram to rejoin my luggage. I spent the majority of the morning soaking in the deafening sounds and beautiful sights of Prowlers taking off and wondering why again I did not pursue a commission as a Navy Flight Officer. I decided in the event of another flight cancellation that I would ask the front desk for a black sharpie, lift up my fleece jacket and etch another “I” on my R&R cancellation shirt right in their presence. Perhaps because I was looking forward to it, the opportunity never arose. 4 Hours later I was in the air, flying out of Afghanistan.

The flight was long, and dark, and we all had to wear a heavy Kevlar helmet, and our 70 pound IBA’s which only go midway down our backs. Several planes had been peppered by .762 caliber firearms in the past few months during the process of taking off and landing. The armor was not an option. The reprieve I felt from moving forward in my journey did go a long way in masking all pains or discomforts, but I challenge you to sit perfectly upright for 5 hours with 70 pounds on your shoulders using a back support that only extends down to the middle of your back. The 130 or so people on the plane were squirming, and readjusting, and moaning, and moving, and doing anything else they could to keep their minds of their misery. I certainly felt it to. My back had tightened up so bad that I actually feared standing up when we arrived. Still, I am fairly certain the smile never left my face throughout the entire flight. I had won a major victory. Clark Griswald may be getting his bonus after all.

Wednesday, 19 December (01:00 AM)

We landed at Ali Al Salim in Kuwait. We spent 30 minutes on the ground waiting for the buses to come and pick us up. Eventually they arrived and we were instructed to board them. They drove us to the central R&R processing center and let us out. We were herded like cattle from one station to the next. It was 02:00 AM. After receiving our tent assignments and a short orientation, we were told to go to the baggage area to pick up our luggage. I could hardly wait to pick up my bags. I had already identified that minor inconvenience as the last major hurdle between me and my family. As we walked from the briefing tent to the baggage area I was made aware of just how freaking cold Kuwait could get. It was 27 degrees with a brisk 25mph headwind. Sand was blowing everywhere. Here I was at sea-level freezing my ass of when only a couple of weeks ago I was relaxing comfortably at 6000ft altitude in Kabul.

As I arrived at the baggage area I found the nearest employee and explained my situation. He pointed to where my bags were and I was on my way. As I approached the area I noticed there were about 10 “orphaned” bags sitting off by themselves in a corner. At about that time I noticed that none of these bags belonged to me. Again panic, fear, anger, anxiety, and more panic swept over me. I quickly realized that this last hurdle may in fact have been the most damning of them all. I walked as fast as I could through the freezing wind to the person I had spoken with earlier. He told me to go check with the lost baggage representative in tent #2. I was supposed to be attending another brief at that moment, but suffice to say I didn’t really give a shit. The lost baggage representative looked overwhelmed and overworked. It was immediately clear that this was a very common occurrence and even more clear that those who had lost their bags rarely found them. He walked around the tent with me to show me all of the possible places they could be. They may have been brought here, taken to them, stored in this connex, turned into these people. There were literally like 7 places where I may or may not have found my bags, my belongings, my families’ Christmas. I was already appalled at how unorganized things were.

We spent a good 30 minutes wandering around the freezing camp looking for my stuff. He told me to come back and talk to the morning shift representative as it was possible that he handled them himself. Saying he was less than convincing when he spoke would be the understatement of a lifetime. I knew then and there that I had probably lost everything for good. I could waste away 60 pages of writing attempting to explain or illustrate my feelings and thought process at the time. It wouldn’t make a difference. There is no explaining the HATRED that I felt at that moment. I looked down and saw Lucifer cowering at my feet.

I blew off the final briefing all together and decided to walk frantically around base searching for my things. How the fuck could they have been lost on a flight with no layover? They didn’t just fucking vanish. I was seeing black. The wind ripped through everything I wore and caused my eyes to water, which caused me to get even more pissed which cause my eyes to water more. I stopped and wrapped the scarf around my face and donned my Bagram knit cap. I hadn’t shaved in about 4 days and was breaking at least 5 uniform regulations. I dared anybody, anybody to correct me on the matter. I must have walked around for a good hour looking my hardest through teary eyes in every nook and cranny I could find. I had difficulty walking due to the fact that my legs were shivering so violently. I walked into a trailer we were all supposed to stop at before retiring for the morning. Their only purpose was to process you travel packet, and make sure that everything was correct so that SATO would issue the airline ticket you needed. They asked me if I wanted to fly out Thursday night. I suppose any bit of human interaction would have catapulted me into a rage. I snapped back with spite and told him I was not plying out until their two-bit, piece of shit operation located my bags. He looked confused more than anything and told me I had to select a date. I told him to pick Thursday, and that I would show up or not show up as I saw fit. He starred at me with a peculiar expression as I walked out the door. Right as the door was closing I swore I heard younger Army kid say “wah, I don’t wanna go home”. I stood there for a second, opened the door and looked at him to see if I could concur that I had in fact heard that. He just stared at me and I said, “Sorry what was that”? He looked at me with a smile and said “oh nothing”.

Another 30 minutes of walking around watery-eyed, out of uniform, and looking for a confrontation. At some point of time I decided I would walk around and look for my little jester friend. I circled the base many times over imagining what I would do. I was very aware of the consequences of such an action; jail time, and loss of rank, pay and vacation. I really didn’t care. I wanted to get very personal with him in the worst way. I wouldn’t use my gun, or a knife. I figured I would confront him and just go absol-fucking-lutely ape-shit before he even knew what was happening. I imagine choking him with my bare hands. I imagined gouging his eyes, and breaking every bone in his face. I could practically hear the screams, and cracks. I was ready and more than willing to bridge the gap from my former sane self to a new and improved sociopath. His mangled corpse was the only thing that could rid me of the emotions that were slowly destroying my insides. Talk is talk, I get that. Lord knows there are plenty of military talkers; war heroes, former all-state boxes, etc. In a world where everyone is a bonafide bad ass, and where every male swings a 9 incher, I was the person that needed to be feared. I was a wolf in wolfs’ clothing. Had I run into him again, I would have gone out of my way to kill him in the most painful and deliberate way I could. There is no doubt in my mind about that.

I sat in a corner, with my back up against the concrete slab. My face had ice on it from the tears flowing down my cheeks. I was coming down from my fit. I suppose it was only natural. There was no way my body could endure such an adrenalin spike for an extended period of time. In returning to my pseudo-normal self I realized just how close I was to doing something that could have ruined me and my life as I knew it. I thought of my kids visiting me in prison, of my wife moving on with another man, of my parents crying in court, and most importantly, I thought about reaching a mental state that I had thought was entirely unreachable by a rational person. Until that moment I had never really understood serial killers or their hanus crimes. I sat and cried. I cried because I knew deep down inside I was more than capable of doing something that scared the shit out of me.

It may be hard for some to understand the reasoning behind the level of anger/anguish that I was feeling. Let me attempt to rationalize the irrational. First and foremost was the thought of my kids going without Christmas. I had spent months planning what I would buy and make them. It took me well over a month to make one of Jades gifts, a jingle truck filled with over 150 miniature letters explaining why I love her. I had cut out and hand written one for every month of her life through the age of 18 … and it was now gone. To me, it was as if as piece of her was gone. It meant so much to me to give that to her. And now it and all my other gifts were gone. Chunk’s camouflage teddy bear was gone. Throughout my life I had bought my mom a pair of house shoes once every other Christmas. I had an Afghani pair made especially for her. They were gone. I would never see Ra don the outfits I bought for her. The items I bought for my nephews and nieces and sisters, and father, also gone. Jewelry, clothing, and wood carvings, all of high sentimental value were lost. That incident left a scar on me deep enough to for me to justify saving this draft about 20 times in the last hour for fear of losing all my work (2 Months later). Yeah, it was that bad.

Aside from thinking of Christmas, I also had to deal with the fact that over 50% of the world as I knew it was also gone. We have very little space to store anything in theatre or on a ship so we live literally out of a couple of sea-bags. Well all at once, I lost shoes, clothes, toiletries, military issue cold weather gear, boots, an IPOD, a nice backpack, a gyro ball, books, hats, a ton of DVD’s and CD’s and countless other items. Essentially half of the content that made up my temporary home had all vanished. Wilson fell off the raft and was slowly floating away and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

What to do what to do? I figured I could call Ra, and simply hope her voice would bring me back over to the light side of the force, or I could try to get some sleep. I gave Ra a shot. I called her from a TERMINAL phone and had a hell of a time hiding my emotion. Eventually I confided to her that I was scared of my present mental state. She kept asking me if I had already turned my gun in. I distinctly remember something I said in an attempt to calm her down that, in hindsight probably made things much worse. After she asked about my gun I coolly informed her that “I had no intentions of harming myself, and that I did not intend to use my gun to harm those that needed to be harmed, as shooting them would not be personal enough”. The weird thing is that was entirely honest. It was in no way contrived. I believe Ra sensed the state I was in, and honestly I do not think she knew how to react. After I said that, those words echoed through my head, each repetition amplified over the last. I cannot recall the remaining conversation. I don’t know what Ra said afterwards or if she was crying when she said it. I could only hear those words echoing through my head. I had to try to sleep.

I walked to my tent and opened the door. Pitch black, and freezing. I used my watch lamp to determine which racks were occupied. I found a top bunk empty and threw my stuff, (my laptop bag and a small plastic bag) up on top. I climbed up and lay down. There was no pillow, and no sheets or blanket. It only took about 20 minutes before I had to resort to using the mattress as a blanket, lying directly on a sharp, cold grid of springs. I sang to myself “Sleep will not come, to this tired body now. Peace did not come to this lonely heart”. Luckily daylight was only a couple of hours away.

As unbearably hot as my tenure was in Bagram, my stay in Kuwait was equally miserable as its polar opposite (+5 for cunning use of the word “polar”). I again found reprieve in a hot shower. I got to the tent early and asked my friends for information since I had no idea what was put out while I frantically searched the base the night before. I found out I needed to take care of a couple of items, before my out-processing began.

I had every intention of describing the specifics of out-processing when I sat down to write this installment of my saga a few hours ago. Truth is I am emotionally drained now from reliving all of this shit. Out-processing was exactly how one would expect the military to handle it. We were herded around all day like cattle from one location to another. We weren’t people but jobs and numbers. Go here, pack, unpack, walk over there, sign this, next, tent 3, inspection, customs, wait, eat, go here, talk to them, etc. Now that I think about it, it was very similar to my very first military experience; in-processing. I did find time to talk to the morning shift baggage rep, and of course he had no idea what happened to my stuff. He had me fill out a lost baggage report, which they apparently filed away and never looked at again (chapter 4 will discuss this). In between getting branded and neutered, (what else happens to cows before they are killed?) I searched hopelessly for my lost bags. At 20:00 I gave up hope and boarded a bus to head to Kuwait’s civilian airport.

The bus ride was interesting. We were in a cluster of 10-15 expensive, chartered buses. The lights were out, the window curtains were closed, and we were instructed not to peek out no matter what the circumstance.
It kind of reminded me of Ann Frank’s family hiding from Nazi’s. Everyone was very silent. About an hour into the trip we pulled into a guarded area at the airport and the busses came to a stop. We were told to mill around in the sand and use the port-o-johns until our plane was ready for boarding. That took about 45 minutes. Once I stepped foot on the massive 400-seater I was more than ready to close my eyes, and rid myself of the memories of the last 24 hours. It was either that or watch “Ghost Town” for the 126th time in the last 6 months.

Thursday, 20 December (time unknown)

The flight from Kuwait to Germany went by fairly quickly for me since I spent just about every minute either sleeping or eating. As we began our approach to Germany I peeked out the window to see the earth covered in a white sheet. We were lowering very quickly and I couldn’t even see the airport much less the runway. As we got within 50 feet from the Earth I quickly realized that we were landing on an unsalted/unplowed runway. We touched down and within 30 seconds came to a complete halt. That was the first and hopefully last time I land in 6 inches of snow. The flight crew was very nonchalant about the whole situation. I suppose that was just how things were done there.

I exited through the back door of the jet, and walked about 200 yards through moderate snow to board the airport shuttle. It took us around the corner to a TERMINAL and gift shop area. I spent some time snapping photos of the snow as it fell nearly horizontally. After a while I decided I would check out the gift shop. There were a few items there that I was interested in, however everything was ridiculously expensive. A small stuffed animal that would normally be 7 dollars anywhere in the states cost 30 there. I ended up spending a little over 100 dollars on stocking stuffers. Still, it made me feel a little better to attempt to salvage my families’ Christmas. I was getting closer to them, and I wanted to arrive in San Diego without the anger and stress that had plagued me for the last week.

After milling around in Germany for an hour we were herded back onto the shuttle and driven over to our plane. Each person seemed to go out of their way to prolong boarding the plane. Some walked slowly up the stairs, some walked around in the snow, and others just fought their way to the back of the line. We all wanted to go home, but very few of us were excited about the 12 hour flight that lay ahead.
The flight was almost entirely uneventful sans a couple of spells of turbulence. Again I did my best to force myself to sleep, only waking to devour the surprisingly delicious in-flight meals. Eventually I could sleep no longer and I was faced with a dilemma. The Dark Knight was showing on no less than 8 screens within my view, and I needed to do my very best to avoid watching it as I had promised Ra that we would see it together for the first time when I got to San Diego. For a while I stared at the flight information screen (-71 F really???). I quickly bored myself with that and whipped out my new IPOD to watch Donnie Darko. By the time it was over, the Dark Knight was as well. We were a few hours away from Atlanta, and I just wanted the time to pass. Again, I forced myself to sleep.

We landed in Atlanta early Thursday morning. My mind and body felt like it was Friday. Everyone on the plane made a mad dash to get out, collect their stuff and make their way to their connecting flights. I had a hefty advantage in that I did not have to wait to pick up luggage since everything I owned was carry-on. People in the Airport were marveling and beaming with pride as they watched 300 of their countries’ finest filling into airport. Everyone looked so clean and professional, all ready to reunite with their families looking their very best. Then there was me. I was still out of uniform, with my scarf tucked into my jacket, I had two separate boots on, and I hadn’t shaved in about 5 days. I looked like crap. The funny thing was that civilians and military members alike apparently thought I was some sort of Navy Seal or Spec-Ops guy. Nobody said a damn thing to me. Even funnier than that, a warrant officer jumped down the throat of some young Army kid because he was “a week overdue for a haircut”. I was standing right next to him when it occurred. The kid looked at me and then looked back at the warrant and said “yes sir”.

I was one of the first 30 persons processed. As I made my way through yet another security screening the agent looked me over and commented on my appearance by quipping “long flight?” or some such remark. I suppose she saw that I had been through hell. She let me through the checkpoint with a 20oz soda, and many toiletries that were much larger than the allotted limit.

I made my way to my newest TERMINAL, pausing to read the signs overhead. Atlanta to San Diego… this is where I must fight to clear my next hurdle. My connecting flight was not scheduled until the early afternoon. I spoke to a desk worker about swapping tickets for an earlier flight but there was room for standbys only. I signed up and made me way to an internet station. I had to pay 5 bucks for the service but did so happily since I had not had access to internet service faster than dial-up for a very long time. I spoke with some friends, and informed Ra via Gchat that I was finally in the states. For some reason my T-Mobile phone would not pick up a signal, so I could not call her or anyone else.

About 30 minutes passed before the call was made to begin boarding the plane. I kept my eye on the electronic boarding prompter. I was 7th on the standby list and the flight was full. After about 20 minutes of boarding there was no one around but the standbys. I walked up to a young continental employee at the information desk and asked if the standbys could board yet. She looked at me, paused, glanced at my name-tape, and asked if I was going home. I told her that I was. Next thing I knew I was boarding the plane as the only standby.

I sat next to a couple of elderly gentlemen who insisted on discussing anything and everything about the military and the war. They wanted to know what I did, and told me about their neighbors and sons. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was sick of it all, and that we were technically losing the war. I found out that it was virtually impossible to tell somebody that you are not at liberty to discuss what you do without sounding like a complete James Bond hack-wannabe. I felt a bit uncomfortable from all the “thank you for servings” so I picked up the latest and greatest edition of Skymall and read. Soon enough I would be home.

As we approached San Diego I peered out the window to see that the mountains were covered in snow. I knew we were very close to San Diego because we were dropping altitude very quickly. I must have missed a hell of a snow storm. I spent the final 30 minutes of our flight staring out the window, attempting to identify features I was familiar with. I saw a mountain pop up that looked very familiar. It took me a couple of minutes to realize that it was Mt. Miguel, my mountain biking Mecca that had burnt down a year or so earlier during the wild fires. A couple of minutes later we flew over Petco Park and began to line-up for landing.

Once I was on the ground I walked as fast as humanly possible to get out of the Airport. I think I may have beaten everyone on my flight. I flagged down a Taxi and jumped in. We drove a short two minutes down the road and came to a stop next to my house. I paid him and stepped out of the cab and grabbed my two, pathetically small bags. I paused to reflect and absorb the beautiful sight of my home. Ra swung the front door open and began to walk toward me with a smile.

Thursday, 20 December (12:30 Pacific Time)

It was finally over. I was finally home.

AfghaniStan Diego

Chapter 2; It’s Always Darkest Just Before it Goes Pitch Black

Before I resume the chronicles of my leave misery I must first provide a warning to the hundreds 3 of you who read my blog. This warning should be read similar to the way legal caveats are read in a quiet, crack-cocaine paced manner at the end of a used car sale commercial; ApprovedAPRTaxTitleLicense … SoulMustBeSignedOverToDealer … EventEndsMonday … etc. Before I offer my warning I need to step back a bit and offer a bird’s-eye view of the situation I found myself shortly after my last entry. At some point during the saga I ended up spending 2.5 days straight in the Bagram Air Field TERMINAL, with little sleep, living off of popcorn, coffee, and snacks provided from the USO. As would be the case with anybody else, I completely lost track of days & time during that period. I recall the events that took place quite well, as each permanently etched an unhealable emotional scar upon my being, but that is about all. I suppose in that sense, my story will resemble that of a drunken wino who witnessed the JFK assassination attempting to describe what happened. So, in short, understand that the traditional ‘Who’, ‘What’, ‘When’, ‘Where’, ‘Why’, and ‘How’ method of storytelling will, in all likelihood, dwindle down to ‘What’ and maybe, with luck, ‘Who’. To my credit, the ‘How’ and ‘Why’ of the situation could not be explained even in the best of mental states.

I made my retreat back to the R&R tent again, this time leaving my 2 larger sea bags filled with Christmas presents, under a baggage awning so I would not have to drag them back with me in the morning. I had already finished the only book I intended to read in transit, so I decided to attempt to lighten my mood a bit by watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. In hindsight, the only constant that remained throughout my entire trip was the sadistic parallels to movies that illustrate the ludicrous things people endure in a humorous or dramatic fashion. I would eventually identify with everything Clark Griswald went through, tragedy after tragedy. He remained by my side smirking all the while, his chimple (chin dimple) basking in all of its glory; he’d whisper “I know how you feel. I have been there too, hang in there it will all work itself out.” In the darker times ahead I would look down at my waist and see Frodo looking up at me in a gay little hobbit way; he’d say “I too have endured the pains you now feel, I too have lost everything in an attempt to reach the end of the Earth.” Oh yes, his Mordar was my San Diego, and I would endure equally trying times ahead. So far the relatives had arrived, and I still had to put up the Christmas Lights, watch the Christmas Tree go up in flames, battle a squirrel, electrocute a cat, and learn I would not receive my Christmas bonus. At that time I had no idea my brother Eddie was well on his way and that the sword of a Ringwraith would damn-near take my life.

Another night in the oven. I started to sympathize with bread. I laid awake thinking about organizations like PETA that make every effort to protect living creatures. I wondered why there are no great protectors of yeasts, or of breads. Hell, female doctors massacre them by the billions and they are still considered the poster-children of American Society. I vowed to myself that I would take up arms on their behalf first thing in the morning, for I saw that we were brethren, for I too have felt the feeling of being cooked to death.

Sunday, 14 December

Upon awakening I decided that I would go eat breakfast and perhaps visit the gym, and dropped my pursuit of becoming the great yeast protector all-together. I had a few hours to kill so I made a conscious effort to savor every bite of my breakfast, and to do exactly what my commander and chief had suggested the troops do in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006; to de-stressify [sic] myself. There are many people who don’t quite understand gym rats at all. Hell, I typically hit the gym 5-6 times a week and I am both puzzled and amused when I see large, spaghetti-strap-shirt wearing guys throwing plates down and yelling each time the lift something. One thing can be said without debate of frequenting the gym; the stress release is remarkable. I finished lifting and smirked as I noticed an attractive 40-something kind of looking me over. For those of you who don’t know me personally I need to qualify the previous statement by informing you that outside of the volleyball court, I am in no way conceited, and that I smirked because I get such looks once every 5 years now less frequently than I used to (perhaps losing my ghetto booty?), and so, when a female does show her approval of my physique, I tend to bloat about it and revisit the memory later in life much like a young kid reminisces of solving their first puzzle or scoring their first goal when their ego needs patch-work.

I returned to the R&R tent and shuffled over to the shower room to enjoy a nice 30 minute shower. After showering I shoveled down lunch (so much for savoring) and grabbed my bags to head to the TERMINAL. It is 11:30. At the TERMINAL, I and about 200 other military members shuffled around with deer-in-headlights looks permantly fixed upon our faces as if we all moved aimlessly just for the sake of not standing still, doing whatever we could to prevent from falling into total purgatory. Hours passed and there was still no word on our flight. The TERMINAL continued to fill up and the standing room only portions were soon no longer available. We were all part of a massive rave, or concert, sans music, fun, and alcohol of course. I noticed as an interesting social dynamic developed. I seemed to feel that I knew many of these people, and not just by facial familiarity. I had not spoken to more than 2 of them, and for the most part they haven’t spoken to each other, but they seemed to share the same observation, perhaps realizing that we all would share whatever fate the TERMINAL sent our way collectively, and similarity begets social familiarity. It had been 3 hours since we all turned in our ID’s in order for the TERMINAL workers to manifest us on the next flight. I noticed a chaplain reading the “Audacity of Hope” and laughed out loud at the irony before becoming self conscious of people questioning my sanity. We struck up a conversation and I could not help but to appreciate his genuine empathy and honesty. He was soft-spoken, a good listener, non-judgmental, and very bright. I wondered quietly how history would have changed if all Christians were like him. It is an interesting thought really. We were interrupted by a voice on the intercom which announced that our plane had left Kandahar Air Field an hour earlier and would soon be landing to transport us off to our little holiday heavens. The ETA for our plane was an hour. Everyone became restless and instantaneously chatty. The mood was temporarily lifted.

2 Hours passed and whatever good-will the Chair Force had generated had long since vanished. I imagined a 200 person coup overpowering the TERMINAL and hijacking a plane to fly to Kuwait. I looked around and noticed the others imagining the same thing, or perhaps something much worse. Even old chappy at this point was carving an anarchist symbol on the wall with a dull survival knife. (This last part may have taken place solely in my imagination due in part, but not exclusively, to a lack of sleep and the physiological results of a popcorn-pop tart diet.) I looked up to see a young teenage Airman wondering into the crowd with a little sheet of paper placed in his hands. There was sweat on his brow and he looked absolutely horrible. I have seen rabbits in lion dens that were not as timid as this guy. He was Kunta Kente at a Merle Haggard concert. He stopped and scanned the room for a way out, and in a sense found one in the chaplain. A look of relief swept across his face as he shuffled over towards us. He kept his eyes on the floor as he muttered, “Your …uh flight… has been cancelled.” The others started to sense that something was rotten in Denmark and began to talk amongst themselves. The chappy stood up, took a deep breath, and told us all that our flight had officially been cancelled. There were a lot of horrible things said throughout the ordeal. More would follow. I won’t go into that too much. Suffice to say the entire group was approaching a level of anger than has not been seen outside of a Scottish Soccer Match.

Monday, 15 December (12:00 AM)

I sat, in my seat, in my own little wooden and textile world. I would not give it up no matter what the cost. A senior enlisted female made her way in to drop the full story on us. Apparently the plane left too late and did not have time to land so it just flew over us. I sensed that our collective mood was in danger of reaching a point of no return. I am not sure if it was a genuine effort to make everyone’s life a little bit better, or simply because at heart, I am a smart-ass. For one reason or another I mimicked her voice and said, “However, we may have seats for three on Santa’s sleigh which is presently scheduled to arrive at 14:00 on December 24th. I got a pretty good response from that and others immediately began to turn the situation into their own little standup/sit down routines. The senior enlisted female did her best to ignore all the smart-elic remarks as she told us that another flight would be arriving soon, and that seats were available for 70 of us. They had some weird scheme for deciding who would be on that flight. She started calling our social security numbers and low and behold I was called. Once she was finished the group of non-selectees mumbled and cursed as they made their way out of the TERMINAL in hope of salvaging some sleep.

We sat, and sat, and sat. Civilizations rose and fell. Great walls were built and torn down. Ice caps melted and turned to rain, which turned to snow, and created more ice caps. And we sat. It was sometime around 2 in the morning when we, the lucky 70, where instructed to grab our gear and prepare for our flight. At that point in time I had been in the TERMINAL for about 14 hours. We all collected our carry-ons and began shuffling to the back of the TERMINAL in preparation of boarding our plane. We got on buses that shuttled us to our C130. Everyone was excited, jubilant, and awake. It was the best of times.

We boarded the plane and took our seats. We strapped in and looked around at each other with silently communicating some sense of achievement. Some needed to take a piss, and went through the difficult process of propping themselves up in the back of the plane , and aiming into a small cone-like object about 6 inches in diameter, all the while trying not to be seen by female crew members. Others simply rested their heads against the plane and went to sleep. I sat, alert, observing everything, and eventually began imagining my arrival in San Diego as the plane began to taxi to the runway. The lights were out, and most everyone was asleep. We seemed to drive around for a good 15 minutes before we came to a stop. I remember thinking at that time, “there’s no fucking way.” The back door of the plane opened and I looked around for some visual explanation. Those that were asleep began waking up and looking around and commenting that the flight seemed “quick”. I turned to them and informed them that we never left the ground. Once again the emotional rollercoaster had lifted us up sky-high only to drop us to an all-time low, and at an unparalleled speed. Nobody said a word. It was the absolute definition of silence. Like the offspring of Helen Keller and Charlie Chaplain silent. A female crew worker stood on a chair and requested our full attention. She informed us that the back hatch would not shut fully, and that we would have to leave the plane while they attempted to fix it. She also told us that the buses were being used somewhere else so that we would have to walk all the way back from the runway. Again our little group, previously the ‘chosen 70’, now the ‘cursed 70’, erupted. Cursing, slamming, throwing things, kicking, biting, clawing, and doing everything else one might experience during a trailer-park Christmas. I figured I would spearhead operation ‘lighten things up’, though I was certainly angry myself. I called for everyone’s attention. The looks on their faces indicated that they do not know rather or not to take me seriously. I quickly answered their doubts. “I just received news that a plane will soon be arriving, and that it will drive us back to the TERMINAL!” Everyone hooted and hollered their approval, and the jokes continued from there. I proclaimed loudly that I doubted the Taliban went through such problems going home for Christmas, and that was definitely a positive recruiting point. For about an hour the jokes continued back and forth as we waited for word on the condition of our plane.

On the outside I was the jester, on the inside I was Jack Nicholson in the Shining. I could not escape this evil place and could not imagine any ending other than me loosing my peanut jar. I swore I heard the word “redrum” echo in my ear. Children were riding big wheels down hallways as it snowed outside. All the signs were there. It felt hard to breath. My neck and throat hurt like they do when one breaks up with their first true love. I was breaking down like 80,000 mile Dodge sedan.

Again an employee shuffled into the TERMINAL and told us all that they were working on the plane, and that we needed to stay there in case they could actually get the hatch fixed before they silence the runway. Whaaaaaaaaaaaa? Silence the runway? I ran up to ask her what that meant. “Oh”, she said with a smile, (oncoming morning shifter with a good nights sleep, food and coffee) “The president is landing here at 0800 and the runway will be shutdown from 0700-1100.” Now let me step away from the story awhile and explain something. There is a definite yet unpredictable progression of feelings and emotion that run their course when one encounters relentless adversity. At first I took the hits in stride. After awhile I began to get angry, which in turn morphed into me making fun of the situation. I believe it was after this news that I reached my next point on the Totem Pole of madness, pure, unbridled amazement. I am a numbers guy at heart and always have been. Even when I was young I used to spend hours on end observing chaos and probability. I used to play with my dad’s little lottery trinkets just for the sake of witnessing the unexpected … wow, 37 four times in a row! What, with regard to the whole system of things, was the possibility of experiencing such a progression of epic shitiness, and even more interesting, what was the possibility of each event overshadowing the last? Numerically speaking it was a marvel, the 8th wonder of the world, a perfect shit storm.

AfghaniStan Diego

Chaper 1; Misery and the Death of All Things Good

I did not have the faintest clue what the future had in store for me as I loaded my bags into the Chinook. I had heard several stories of my fellow sailors spending a total of 6 days waiting and transferring from airport to airport in route their final leave destination. The itinerary included stops at Kabul International Airport, Bagram, Kuwait, Germany, Atlanta, and San Diego. I expected to encounter hiccups; hell my experience with military matters had at least taught me that. Still, looking back I wonder what I would have done, or how things would have changed if I knew then what I know now.

The trip started out ordinarily enough. The helicopter ride was uneventful with the exception being me losing one of my 80 dollar gloves while assisting others with unloading their luggage. I was a tad bit upset about that, but quickly decided I would attempt to find a replacement when I got back in Theatre. I sat around the TERMINAL for awhile waiting for a lift to the R&R tent without knowing that I would soon spend some of the most grueling days of my life there. The person in charge of the R&R tent swung by to pick me up. Halfway across base we drove past my LNO, and our driver took the opportunity to stop in the middle of the road to speak to him about getting me the requisite briefs for the next flight out. He responded that he will get back me later that night at the tent. Little did I know that was to begin the catastrophic snowball that was my leave transit.

I looked around for him the entire night but did not find him. Though I knew where he worked, I declined to pursue the issue further as I figured he would have notified me if there was anything he could have done to expedite things. I decide to take advantage of the time and threw my 200 pounds of gear on the only remaining bunk in the tent. Again, if only I had known.

Wednesday, 10 December

I could not sleep. I tossed and turned and swapped positions, but nothing I did seemed to provide me any escape from the blow-dryer like heat that had been assaulting me since midnight. I sat up, looked around, wondered through the tent, attempted again to sleep but eventually gave up the matter all-together sometime around 4 AM. I suppose I should describe the R&R tent to give a bit of perspective on my surroundings. It is almost like a miniature circus tent, and sleeps about 100 military members. In it are a theatre and a small internet usage station. As my unbelievable luck would have it I slept directly across from the world’s most roided-out heat machine; a 30 inch diameter blow dryer chucking out an unlimited supply of hot air to counter the tents lack of insulation. I reluctantly checked my watch to get the exact temperature. That first night it hit a sweltering 91 degrees. As the sun came up one of the tent admins walked in and turned it off as it had warmed (outside of my area) quite nicely. It was only then that I was able to sleep.

I awoke at 10:00 in the morning and began to inquire about the brief that I needed to attend in order in catch the earliest flight. As it turned out it had already been held at 8:00 that morning. Of course I was not informed of any of this whatsoever. I sat around wasting time and packing to pass the remains of my day.

Thursday, 11 December

I woke up on time despite suffering through another night that would make the average Haitian run to the nearest walk-in freezer. I threw on my uniform, and sat outside waiting for a ride to the briefing location. 8:00 rolled around and I was still alone. At 8:30 the situation was the same. Who was running this show anyhow? Why is the military so horrible at disseminating important information, yet so proficient and micromanaging things? Isn’t that a bit of an anomaly? I sat outside for hour thinking about seeing Laura and the kids. I went through every foreseeable possibility as I imagined how we would spend our first day together. I had barely noticed that the sun had taken what would become a symbolic second seat to the smog and clouds that filled the valley.

I eventually found the wizard who apologized and assured me that the next day I would have a ride to the brief. Better yet, I had company in another couple of sailors who would eventually share much of the same fate I endured. I decided to pass time by reading The Kite Runner.

Friday 12, December

It is the middle of the night and again I suffered as I did the previous nights. I am Bill Murray from “Groundhog’s Day”, sans sleep. I listened to “I got you babe” playing itself in my head on repeat mode. My bed was again soaking with sweat. Still at some point of time in the middle of the morning, my body gave in and I fell asleep. My alarm awoke me at 7:30 and I quickly threw on my clothes. I ran outside just in time to jump on the bus along with me three comrades. Ten minutes later we found ourselves at the gate of hell again; the PAX TERMINAL.

We wondered throughout the TERMINAL looking for any sign of life. It was eerily quiet. Eventually we found somebody who worked there and asked them where the R&R brief was being held. “There is no R&R brief on Friday” we were told. Once again, I felt entirely alone and uniformed. The whole process from there on out would be solely in my hands. There obviously wasn’t anybody on base who knew about or assisted with the transit process. Again, I made my way back to the tent. I finished The Kite Runner. I had nothing else to do but attempt to catch some early sleep before the heat plague of biblical proportions would once again set in.

Saturday, 13 December (When I was scheduled to be home)

Again, I could not sleep. Again sweat. I found in my stupor I would mutter loudly “what the fuck”, and “are you fucking kidding me”. Needless to say I was awake when it was time to catch the bus again to get to the brief. When we arrived at the TERMINAL the entire area was jammed-packed with wannabe leave candidates. We were all eventually ushered into a holding area where we were informed that there were only 90 seats available on that day’s flight to Kuwait, and that there were 140 of us there. I began to feel uneasy. They told everyone who had leave dates beginning after the 14th of December to leave, so those that were scheduled before them would have priority. I looked around and noticed very few people left. I overheard 3 young kids next me discussing their situation. “Mine starts on the 16th, when does your start?” one douche-bag muttered. “15th” the other replied. “Fuck it, let’s stay here and see if we can get on” said the head-douche.

In case my writing has betrayed me, and I have failed to properly communicate my mood at the time, I was bordering on a good old fashion Kramer shit-fit. Still, I decided to remain calm, and have faith in the system. About 30 minutes later the people running the show returned and informed us that they would be calling out social security numbers. If your social security number was called you were instructed to bring up your leave form. I heard several people liken the situation to the lottery, Battleship, etc. I sat back and took a deep breath as she began to yell out the last four of the first SS#. Midway through my number had still not been called. My head was aching from anger. 0756…..I fucking hate this place….. 5412….I swear to God I am going to lose control and frag this entire terminal……9739……how the fuck are they doing this to me …….9127……..the douch-bag in front of me who’s leave day started on the 16th jumps up high fives his friend and runs up……5623……his friend follows suite…….I am close to erupting……and on and on. She reached the end of the list, and my social was never called. The selected few were high-fiving each other and smiling. I sat visualizing how I would end the lives of everyone in the room. The ring leader stepped up once again and announced, “If your name was called you are not flying out today, as we show that your leave dates are not what you claim them to be”. Hells yes! I was loving life, the system actually worked. I smiled as I watched head-douche and his minion attempt to re-collect their leave forms to bypass the humility of explaining why they stayed when they were told to leave earlier based on their leave dates. Looking back, I think this single solitary upper, may have saved me from going Columbine on the base during the trying times that would follow. We were told to report back later in the afternoon for our flight. At this point I would be lying if I said I recalled what time our first flight was, but I do remember our call sign for the route,” Moose 76”.

I reported back on time and sat around waiting for information, instructions, anything pertaining to our flight. Eventually somebody came out and collected our identification cards. Afterwards we waited around for another hour or so waiting for information. Eventually somebody came out and informed us that the flight to Kuwait had been canceled. Apparently there were no contingency plans, or additional flights leaving to Kuwait for the remainder of the day. We were told to report back in the morning. This would be the catalyst for yet another Groundhog’s day routine of trying to sleep, reporting, waiting around all day, and being told my flight was canceled. By that time any optimism I may have had towards the situation had long since left my mind. As I walked outside attempting to resign myself to my newest fate, I noticed that the sun was entirely hidden by gloomy, winter looking stratus clouds.

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