Tag Archives: war

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.

Two Sides of the War Coin

Two Sides of the War Coin

“We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it… Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not so bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good.” ~C.S. Lewis

I am a white female, and as such, have rarely been subjected to ethnic or racial degredation. Even in places like Hawaii where white military men are sometimes looked down upon, being a white woman has usually given me a pass in life…until now. Unless you count that one time when I bumped into a big, local Samoan woman on the Senor Frogs’ dance floor in Waikiki while making fun of how she danced…I almost got beat up that night…but I digress. Because I am stuck in limbo waiting for violence outside this base to settle enough to drive to the other end of this city to the base at which I’ll be stationed for a year, I fill my days with recreation. One day I challeneged a newfound friend to a friendly game of ping pong in the military rec center/tent. We were playing and jumping around chasing stray ping pong balls and having a fun time when I suddenly caught the most evil look being directed right at me from a local man who was doing some repair work inside the tent. I never understood before what someone looked like who hated or wanted to hurt me, but this was most definitely that look. I froze and a chill ran up my spine because I’ve been taught to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary that may cause danger inside the base here. My ping pong opponent noticed my immediate stiffness and calmly said, “Eh, no worries mate (he’s Australian), these men are Pashtuns and to them, you are the quinessential definition of sin and evil right now.” Wait, what?? He went on to explain that A. I was a woman B. I had my bare arms and head exposed (wearing a polo shirt), and most importantly C. I was playing a sport…apparently the triple whamy trifecta. I know I come off as some sort of sheltered little puppy as I write this, but I know that in life most people have experienced being the target of hatred for no other reason than they are just being themselves, and I can now sympathize. We continued to play ping pong, but I took note every time the construction men passed me with their haunting, warning looks which pierced right into me, as if they wished their eyes were actual knives. I am new to this hatred, but the brief exposure I had was the darkest, scariest thing I’ve witnessed.

Later as I was mulling over the concept of hatred of enemies, an interesting discussion came up with a solider here. He’s been a soldier on the front lines for over fifteen years, and he has seen and done it all. The topic of hatred came up and he looked at me squarely and said, “You know, as a soldier I don’t hate my enemy. I don’t hate that man out there that I’m ordered to shoot. On the contrary, I understand that we are merely opponents in this war and I know he is probably fighting his fight for good and sincere reasons. If I get killed at the hands of the enemy one day, I only hope he is a worthy opponent that gives me a run for my money.” He even had a sense of reverence in his tone about his enemy combatants – both past and present.

So in the span of a few days’ time, I have witnessed both sides of this war. I have seen the raw, generalized hatred directed at me becuase of the people I come from and the people I represent. I will never be anything more than that symbol to those men. They will use my ping pong as additional fodder for their own bitter resentment of an entire civilization. Then I see through the eyes of a calm, experienced soldier who knows no hatred – even of the men who have taken so many of his fellow soldiers and friends. He stated matter of factly that he doesn’t fight this war for his country alone, but for the safety and security of all countries who are threatened by the sort of hatred that breeds exponentially here. I’m grateful to men like him and all the soldiers in this fight who are fighting hatred with cool and collected experience and understanding that this war for us is not about hatred, but instead about the love of all those back home who should never ever be subjected to the sort of raw hatred that exists here. How is it I have found a glimmer of hope in the midst of all this?

Still Stuck

Still Stuck

Stuck here on day three at the airport base in Kabul because of motorcycle bombs right outside our base. I just heard that Camp Leatherneck in the south where Prince Harry is based (that’s for you, Mom) was infiltrated and two Marines were killed last night, and a base here in Kabul was hit early this morning. I have to say that it feels a bit like I’ve moved to a crazy inner-city in some futuristic movie where all hell has broken loose…oh wait, that IS where I am!

But inside this base, there is a sense of “normal”…once you get past the constant rotten egg smell and the crazy diversity of nationalities because it’s a NATO base. There is an internet cafe (where I’m at now), a rec-”center” with pool, ping pong, and Xbox; a gym; a bazaar selling electronics and rugs and jewlery and such; restaurants (though I’ve been warned that the “Steak House” has made many people sick and that they’re not even sure it’s actually steak); and even a “bar” with music at night. They sell the non-alcoholic beer and pump up the dancing music at night – last night was salsa night and tonight is club-music night…I’m assuming that’s like pop and stuff. Just keep in mind that all of these places are in big tents – buildings seem to be a rarity. It was cool watching the salsa dancing last night because soldiers of all nationalities were in their uniforms just dancing away with each other…instead of peace talks I think we should have peace dances…dancing makes everything better! There were Italians, French, Portugese, US, Romanian, South Korean, Canadian, and Australian soldiers there last night…all getting their sober salsa on!

My main challenge seems to be my gender…which I was sort of expecting. I definitely don’t blend in like any other male contractor walking around in civilian clothes (which is usually khaki pants and a collar shirt). And the NATO soldiers don’t hide or make subtle their acknowledgment of this difference…they rubberneck it like I have a cleaver sticking out of the side of my head. This morning I went to the cafeteria alone and it felt like a scene in a movie where I was naked and the record screeches and everyone stares as I awkwardly walk with my tray through a sea of staring, camoflaged men to find the nearest open seat. I know it’s because I’m a girl, but it doesn’t make the trip from the food line to the seat any less uncomfortable! The key: look straight ahead and know where you’re going so you can walk with a semi-appearance of confidence and purpose. What’s difficult is that I’m an uber people watcher and I love seeing all these nationalities in one place. On the inside I feel a bit like the open-jawed tourist wanting to see everyone, but I have to keep a straight face and at least look like I know what I’m doing. Hopefully someday soon I actually will!

Every time I hear about a soldier dying at the direct hands of terrorists, I know that this fight has to be fought and has to be won. Many of my friends (Hawaii, you know who you are!) don’t think we should even be here and think we should just leave and let this country implode on itself…but the emboldening and empowerment that would inevitabley be given to the terrorists here would have immeasurable impact for our own country and all the innocent lives there. No. Keeping the fight over here and treating the terrorists as enemies who we need to be overcome instead of inconveniences we need to ignore is the only answer. I am so honored to be a part of this – ok well not yet because I’m just getting paid to write blogs and go to the gym, but hopefully one of these days!

I love you family and friends!

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

I REMEMBER.

I REMEMBER.


It’s September 11th. It’s both an honor and a reality check that I find myself on my second day here “in country,” as they say. Looking around, you would have no idea that today is different from any other day here on base. Soldiers get up, eat breakfast, and head to work. I hear sirens in the distance as I write this, but from what I’m starting to understand, that’s a pretty normal thing around here.

Yesterday I found some shade to escape the HOT HOT sun and was drinking an iced coffee smiling to myself at the two songs that played through nearby speakers – “Walking on Sunshine,” then, “Come On Baby Light My Fire.” Haha, real funny, I thought. Suddenly an all-base alarm went off and all the soldiers around me calmly but without hesitation laid down on the ground. I’m learning to follow the crowd in learning the ways of life here, so I followed suit. Though I knew it in my head factually, it struck my heart for the first time that I was in a war zone and that this was no drill. Somewhere on the base there was some sort of incoming fire from a distinct enemy outside the base. We all laid there quietly and upon some cue I missed, they got up all at once and walked calmly to the nearest bunker. I must have looked confused because a couple of them directed me with them. We sat there baking for a while in the concrete bunker – me thankful for my rapidly melting iced coffee – until the “all safe” announcement blared throughout the base.

Today of all days I’m reminded of this decade long face-off we’ve had with this enemy, and the fight in which we find ourselves to help make this world a safer place by not succumbing to the enemy. As I look around me in the chow hall (aka cafeteria), the majority of soldiers I see are very young…so young, in fact, that 9/11 was probably not a big moment in their young lives when it happened. There are guys as young as 19 and 20 here, which means they were 7 or 8 years old on 9/11…hardly a life-changing moment for them…yet here they are serving their country far away from home trusting that there is reason behind their work. I believe there is, or else I wouldn’t be here out of my own volition.

Last night I had the honor of laughing and letting loose with some of the soldiers. Every Monday night here is karaoke night. There is no alcohol allowed here, and cause I generally like to have a little liquid courage to belt out my very bad singing voice, I snuck in and sat in the back to watch the brave souls getting up on stage. Some were bad, some were good, but none of that mattered because everyone was smiling and having good time. My favorite songs were a young, skinny white kid belting out “Baby Got Back” complete with dance moves, and another guy singing the entire “Come Sail Away” song in an Eric Cartman voice. I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks.

It’s a great privilege to wake up in Afghanistan on September 11th and to look around first-hand with appreciation at the work being done. To see these men and women serious when they need to be as during the alarm, and then laugh when they can while belting out “Livin’ On a Prayer” in unison.

I’m proud to be here on this day, proud to serve my country, proud to be surrounded by soldiers doing the same thing, and honor all the innocent lives lost 11 years ago today. May their deaths, and those of the people who have died in this fight since that day not be in vain. I send out a warm prayer of love and peace to all the families of those lost in this war.

God Bless.