04 September 2012

Dispatches from Blogistan

Former U.S. Marine and private security contractor Tim Lynch is putting his blog "Free Range International" on hiatus, so that he can focus on recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.). Luckily for Sherpa, bloggers such as Kentucky Woman and Kanani Fong have recommended any number of military and civilian personnel who are still fighting to write about life downrange.

Here are a few collected recommendations, posted here in no particular order:



Mobilized in December 2011 and deployed in late January 2012, writer Todd Uebele is a smart, cheeky U.S. Army captain (?) currently based somewhere in Afghanistan. In fact, he's snarkily living the deployment dream eerily similar to that which I once anticipated myself. Take, for example, this Aug. 25 post, titled "It's Good to be the King":
Apparently, there was a general was being briefed outside and had trouble hearing the briefer, so he or she ordered the generators shut down. Said generators provide power to a majority of the living area and office space here on camp. The good news was that a majority of the soldiers got a nice break. The bad news was they had no place to go as their living areas also had no power. 
I was talking to the Brigade XO and he suggested I go eat. I told him I already had. Then he suggested I go to the gym. I told him I already had. Next he suggested I do a general walk about. Just to keep the theme going, I told him I already had. Finally he offered me some ice cream money. Even if I already had, I would have taken it :).


"Before the Patrol," @2012 Skip Rohde
In stateside life, Skip Rohde is a contemporary narrative painter and former U.S. Navy officer. From 2008 to 2010, he worked as a civilian in Iraqi reconstruction projects. He's currently working for the U.S. Department of State, a civilian deployed to help building infrastructure in Southern Afghanistan's Kandahar Province. He's slated to return home to North Carolina in October 2012. In both words and pictures, he occasionally presents snippets and scenes of his Afghan experiences at this blog.

Armed with his artistic gaze, Rohde makes even seemingly routine scenes come to life in new ways. On Aug. 19, for example, he wrote about getting back into the Afghan grind, after spending some time back home in North Carolina. I love the details, such as "don't-give-a-hoot crews" and military-issue backpacks:
I arrived back in Maiwand this morning. It was a long trip. I left Asheville on Monday evening. The flight was delayed a bit by weather, but I still got to Atlanta in plenty of time to catch the flight to Dubai. Some of my friends have recently had some bad experiences with United (lost bags, cancelled flights, and don't-give-a-hoot crews and representatives) but Delta has been pretty good for me. Our flight was packed with lots of US civilians obviously heading to Afghanistan. How did I know? They had this certain look to them, of men who had done hard things in difficult situations for long periods of time; calm, competent, no-bullshit carriage. That, and the military-issue backpacks.


Blogger Ty Mayfield is a self-described "political affairs strategist" in the U.S. Air Force, with multiple deployments to Southwest and Central Asia. He holds graduate degrees in International Relations from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla., and in National Security Studies from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Ty is currently participating in the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) directed AFPAK Hands program and splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Kabul, Afghanistan.

Bottom line: He's wicked-smart. Also, he has a sense of humor. Take, for example, this Aug. 16 post titled "My Enemy has a Name: 'Checklist'":
It’s 5 or 6 pages, double-sided and written in about 10 font. Much of it is cryptic, vague and misleading. It seems simple but rest assured that when it comes to deploying; nothing is ever easy.

I was notified via SMS text message by an Afghan-American about my Oral Proficiency Interview (O.P.I.) test results well before the government could get word to me. In retrospect, it isn’t surprising and I didn’t find it unusual at all when the message came across. I mean, why would the Test Control Officer know first? It actually gave me a little chuckle and a glimpse into the networked life of Afghans. Word travels fast in a high-context, relationship-oriented society; any government that tries to outpace the speed of the SMS text is in for a world of heartache.


Dan Bohmer describes himself as "just another soldier far from home," a U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery turned Medical Service Corps officer deployed to Eastern Afghanistan. He says he likes to shoot pictures more than he likes to write. He doesn't claim to be a photographer, but, as he puts it—he does have a great camera. According to the "Big Day" counter found on his blog's home page, he will soon to return to the states. If that's truly the case, I hope he continues to write and reflect on his experiences, particularly as he has captured many different facets of military life.

Take, for example, this confrontation with petty warrant officer tyranny, as the warfighter-customer (remember Sherpatude No. 19?) attempts to get a new ID card:
It was obvious [NCO 2] had not heard the discussion I had been having with her boss because as she stepped into the room, took one look at me and said, 'Chief said you might be back, let me check the system to see if it is up.' NCO 1 told her 'No, you cannot check the system until we get a call back.' NCO 2 said, 'What if they forgot to call us?’ NCO 1 said, 'Chief said they wouldn't; do not touch that system unless they call us.' NCO 2 gave her the look like she couldn’t believe anyone could possibly be so dumb, looked at me, shrugged and as she picked up the phone said, 'well, I'll just call them then.' NCO 1 started to say something but NCO 2 had already dialed the number and gave her the 'hand.' The phone call lasted about 15 seconds as the helpdesk assured her the system had been up for several hours.

NCO 2 made me an ID card ... NCO 1 just sat there with a stupid look on her face. WO1 has obviously taught NCO 1 well in the art of not doing your job while acting smug, smart, and important. WO1 & NCO 1 have a bright future at any DMV or government 'service' office ahead of them when they leave the Army.


I met Ryan Koch at the Military Experience and the Arts Symposium at Eastern Kentucky University last July. A fellow Iowan, he recognized my "Red Bull" bowling shirt. He'd joined the Iowa Army National Guard in 2007 after graduating from high school. He was a member of 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry (1-168th Inf.) before he transferred to active-duty in 2009, so he is also 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division alumnus. He deployed to Eastern Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division—the "Screaming Eagles"—at the same time the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Inf. Div. (2-34th BCT) was also downrange. He even came encountered some Iowa Red Bull buddies during his Afghan travels in 2010-2011. Big world, small Army.

Koch is now studying communications at Iowa Wesleyan College, Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where he's also a college sports reporter and is active in the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (V.F.W.). Since the symposium, he's been posting occasional essays and photos regarding his time in Afghanistan, including these regarding the comforts of home:
There was a chow hall, of course, about 4 hajj shops, a barber shop, and a bread store. The bread store was amazing. The Afghani who ran it was this really old guy who only knew how to say about 4 things in English; Sugar, no sugar, one dollar, and thank you come again. The bread in Afghanistan was actually pretty damn good, and he would bake it fresh every day. The best compliment to the bread? A Boom Boom. Boom Booms were the Afghan equivalent to a Red Bull, and they were only a dollar! They were damn good as well, and many times you would see soldiers leaving the hajj shops with a case of 20 Boom Booms. You would have to guard them with your life though, because snooping sergeants and other soldiers wouldn’t hesitate to snag one off your bunk if you left it laying there unguarded. [...]

It wasn’t the luxurious lifestyle we were accustomed to, but any little thing that could give us a taste of the civilized world gave us that little bit of a morale boost to keep us going another day.

Little did any of us know that soon, we would need every little bit of morale boost we could get, and it still wouldn’t be enough ...


  1. Red Bull Rising! Thanks so much for the link and mention on your blog. The Red Bull is where I got my start and where I still consider home. I joined 1st BN 123 INF in the early 90s and it was these early years that set the stage for my military career. I hope you’ll follow along as I head to Afghanistan for a year as an AFPAK Hand. Vr. Ty… Det 1, B Co, 1/123.

    1. Wow! Had no idea we might share a 34th Inf. "Red Bull" Div. connection. Big world, small army. Keep up the great work, story-telling, and analysis—and let me know if I can ever be of help.

      In the meantime: "Guide on our tracks!"

  2. Charlie Sherpa - thanks for the mention & the link. Also thanks for the ego boost by calling me young...for the record, I am a former Air Defense officer that was branch transferred to the Medical Service Corps many years ago. I am also a Red Bull (former for now) Soldier.
    Thanks again,

    1. Outstanding! Thanks for the corrections, which I'll make to the post. Godspeed your upcoming travels, and make sure to zap me an e-mail when you get a chance in the months to come. Keep shooting! Keep writing!

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