Monthly Archives: July 2013

Waking to Shaking

Waking to Shaking

Getting jarred out of sleep in the darkness of early morning is disorienting, especially when it’s with a bang and a shaking bed. In those first few seconds, your mind sluggishly runs through the brainstorm of what it was…was that a knock on the door? No, I felt shaking. Was it an earthquake? No, I heard a bang. Did my roommate fall out of bed? Maybe that’s it. But then a few seconds go by and your mind has woken up a little more and the thought hits you, “No. That was an explosion.” I poked my head outside my door to see a bunch of other heads poking out of their rooms as we all witnessed a giant plume of black smoke rising up into the air from what looked like the other side of base. Then the sounds of gunfire from the same direction woke us up entirely. A firefight was happening between insurgents and whoever was trying to protect the base. We found out later it was less than a mile away but on another, smaller base…which housed all civilian contractors and local gate guards who died in the firefight.


I stayed in my office for the first part of the day because it’s a hardened shelter that would protect from any follow-on attacks, and the only information I could find was from a local internet news site. I made calls to other bases, but the scene was in such confusion that no one knew much of anything in those first couple hours.

All told, more than 15 people died in that attack yesterday morning…including at least 1 American and 1 Brit. As of the time I’m writing this, they are still digging bodies from the rubble, so there’s no final death count yet. A slew of injured civilians made their way over to my base throughout the day for temporary housing and medical assistance. One of the medics told me that a building 150 ft from the detonation caved in on a couple people, and they were able to survive by crawling through the debris and out of the wreckage. Pictures showing the 60m-deep and 140m-wide crater at the blast site with mangled metal and body parts made it clear how those guys who crawled out could be considered a miracle. The doc on my base who helps with my calluses from working out (yes, makes me feel pretty insignificant to say that) spent most the day saving those who could be saved, and writing death certificates for those who couldn’t. This morning he told me good heartedly that it gave him a chance to practice his French because France would not repatriate the French bodies without proper autopsies and embalming done, so he had to get on the phone with France and figure out just what they needed.

By late afternoon, I made my way over to coach my Crossfit class to discover that our gym space was being occupied with the civilians who had come over from base that got attacked for temporary living. They looked haggard and drained and in no mood for my questions as to who they were and what the heck was going on. The guy who initially snapped at me when I first came in and snorted “Crossfit isn’t here today,” eventually warmed up when I explained I was the coach and we’d be happy to move our workout outside if he didn’t mind me taking a white board and marker. It was a no brainer – again – I felt pretty insignificant even coming there for Crossfit after the day they’d just endured.

At the end of the day, there was no consolation to take, no lessons learned, no takeaway that I could offer to my classes of athletes, myself, or my friends and family who read my blog. Nothing. I can only hope that on days like tomorrow, the 4th of July, we can come together and celebrate the birth and strength and freedoms of our own wonderful country, and share in the festivities with all the foreign soldiers here next to us. I hear there’s going to be a dunk tank. …which has me wondering…did they build something like that over here?…or stranger yet, did someone pack one up and send it over? Either way, I’m going to go check out a general hopefully get dunked, and laugh and start again.

On the lookout for acts of humanity…

On the lookout for acts of humanity…

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ~Aesop

Afghanistan is an environment where it’s easy to harden your sense of humanity into very black-and-white molds of “good guys” and “bad guys.” I’m on the “good guy” team obviously. I listen to the soldiers around me sometimes talk about “vaporizing” the “bad guys” (ok I’m simplifying and PG-ing the “bad guys” terms…many more bad words mixed in there) like it’s just a normal part of life…which it actually is here. But you work in and around the concept of killing the bad guys long enough, and somewhere along the way, the bad guys’ evil traits spread in the minds of the soldiers to extend to all Afghans. I can see how easy it is to happen because of how many innocent lives are lost as a result of the bad guys on a daily basis…it sours all sense of hope for saving anything here. You see little boys running around in the street playing with a ball, and you can’t help but find yourself starting to hate the evil men some of them will become…yet they’re just children.

So I made a decision that for one day, I was going to stay on alert for “acts of humanity” here on the base I’m on. I would go around and do the things I normally do – but take note of anything that reflected goodness and heart and soul.

Results:

  • I saw a girl drop something (too far away to see what), and another girl passing immediately bent down, picked up the dropped object, gave to back to the girl with a smile, patted her on the shoulder and kept walking. – I went to a church service where the chaplain leading the service had us all bow our heads and pray for our friends and families back home…that’s something I don’t think most people back home realize…as they’re praying for the guys out here, they’re praying right back for the loved ones back home.
  • I witnessed a US soldier (my coworker) and a young Afghan man who works in the dining hall talking and laughing and getting to know one another. The Afghan talked about how he goes to college classes in the morning, then works the evening shift at the dining hall, and how his dad is a schoolmaster in town and makes sure his 2 daughters get an education by walking them personally to school every day. Here, the middle of war, two men brought together from completely different worlds and backgrounds getting to know one another and smiling and laughing.
  • In the gym on the evening of my “day of looking out for acts of humanity,” I stood there and took in the scene. There were Candians, Romanians, Americans, French, Croatians and Hungarians…everyone was working out together, talking and laughing, and even cheering one another on at the end of the crazy difficult workout. Here, again, the realization hit – here were soldiers from all over the world who have voluntarily signed up to do this job – they’ve all been transported to a distant desert country that is corrupt and filled with men who want nothing more than to kill them – and yet there they stood smiling, cheering, and working with one another.

It goes without saying that I was humbled by what I witnessed on that one day of observation. I’ll let the US soldier who let the dining hall door slam on me with a full tray of food in my hands off the hook because maybe he didn’t see me (though I’m pretty sure he did) – but the GOOD far far outweighed the BAD. …and I can sum up my whole experience here so far with that same outlook. The humanity and the goodness far outweighs the evil and bad here. It is in the eyes and smiles and determination in every soldier from around the world, every government employee and contractor (like me) who work alongside the military, and all of the local citizens who help make living here possible.