Tuesday, February 06, 2007


For the month prior to my return numerous people came up to me to ask me what the first thing that I would do when I got home. My answers varied and required great thought. Just as if I were pulling into port after a long at-sea period, there were so many things that I wanted to do.

After getting relieved of our duties from our task forces in Afghanistan, those that arrived with me met back up at Bagram Air Base. We shared the many stories of our varied adventures in the countryside and continued to speculate about when we would get home. Matt, being stationed in Bagram, still had his farewells to attend. So, being a good friend, he invited me to them. His unit had a good farewell with Pizza and awards and stories about how great he is and one of the South Korean Cols had a farewell dinner with him involving Karaoke and good food.

We spent a week in Kuwait dropping off our weapons and gear which would be sent back to South Carolina for reuse and then we made preps to pull chocks and get the heck out of the middle east. The day BEFORE our flight we got up at 4am, you have to love the army, so that we could drive to the other base (about a 3 hour drive). Having arrived there, we went through customs and spent the rest of the day just hanging out with each other and eating. Come early evening we went into customs lockdown, where they searched our bags again, only the carry ons this time because the others were already locked up, and then we waited. Around 3am Kuwait time (6 pm EST) we boarded the plane and started the long flight back to America. With one refueling stop in Ramstein, we arrived at BWI around 1330 and I set about to getting an early flight back to Norfolk.

We were the conspicuous ones in the bunch, the 100 or so guys walking around BWI in ACUs or DCUs. Some were invited into bars for free drinks and others entered into intriguing conversation with other (normal) people waiting for their flights. As we walked through the airport people would stop, shake our hands and say "Thank you for what you do." I am amazed at the support that the military gets, even though the media portrays the wars in such poor light. Boarding my plane for Norfolk, I said goodbye to my good friend Matt, whom I met just six months before, and set out for the final leg of my way home.

I arrived at 820 PM, a mere 26 hours after leaving Kuwait and was met by my good friend and roommate Jess. With the exception of some short catnaps, I had been awake now for 46 hours. I wanted nothing more than to find a shower and my bed. When I arrived home, I stayed up a talked for sometime with my friends, and then found the loving embrace of the bed that I left in July 2006. It spoke loving tones to me as I fell into it and did not get back out of it until the morning.

The first thing that I did when I got back to the states. . . I went to sleep, it was wonderful. Other highlights from the weekend? Good Tuna Steak and Superbowl with Turducken, the third annual.

Having returned now to my normal life, I find that it is very surreal. The most interesting thing to get used to. . . brushing my teeth with the tap water, not bottled water. The least interesting thing to get used to. . . going back to work and underways on submarines. The most annoying thing to do. . . move into my house, which I moved into right before I left. The least annoying thing to do. . . buy new furniture, which I sold most of before I left (although the 6-8 weeks delivery thing is quite annoying!).

Afghanistan is in the past, and it seems to have been so long ago, even though it really was just last week. . . very surreal. Everyone asks me what it was like, and the only quick response that I can give is. . . hot chicks and cold margaritas, who could ask for more. Sadly, none of those were in Afghanistan, so I would say that it would have been better with hot chicks and cold margaritas. As for the politics of the region and the hopeless battle against he fourth world economy that they can't struggle to get out of, well that is a topic for the more seasoned author and politician. Perhaps one day I will write down my feelings on those topics, but for now just know that it was not good.

As for Bubblehead Joe, the blog, I believe that for now I am finished with it. It has not yet answered the question of why a Submarine Officer is in Afghanistan, but rather it answered the question of what one guy did while he was there. As for why. . . that also may wait for further publishing, but for now I would say that I was there to change mindsets on certain equipment and tactics. Politically. . . the Navy wants to show face, to show their continuing support in the War on Terror, regardless of the cost to its own retention rates. Many volunteered to go, but a far greater number are forced to leave the job they know well, and may love, to fight a ground war in a foreign land.

Until a time comes that I feel compelled, dear readers and friends, this the last entry for Bubblehead Joe.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Korean New Years

One of the benefits of traveling through Bagram so often is the ability to continuously meet people and experience things that you otherwise would not. For example, as one of our coalition partners, the Royal Korean Army has a small contingent of forces here. This year, my friend Matt was invited to the Korean New Years Party. I, being Matt's shadow when I stay for periods at a time, was also invited.

The party was interesting. Held in the church here on base, the whole of the Korean Army gathered to celebrate the new year. As we entered the church we were given a sign in sheet and then escorted to our seats. Although not an intuitive language, it was pretty easy to pick up on most of the content of the shows. The party was a conglomeration of skits and songs. Koreans take their Karaoke very seriously indeed.

Unbeknownst to me, Matt had agreed to perform a song. Having done this not just for himself, but for me as well. So we get on stage and Matt starts jumping around and going all out crazy as U2's Vertigo starts to play. We have a good time, but in the end we did not win the contest. . . but we did get a participation prize. I think that is like the 10th place ribbon.

Following the show, we joined the Korean Colonel for dinner at the Korean DFAC. The feast was fantastic and definitely served as a good break from this Army grub that we eat everyday.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas in Torkham

Having returned triumphantly from my search for rest and relaxation, well as triumphantly as one can when vacationing with the Army, I set my sights eastbound. Traveling to Torkham is not as easy as it once was, and I had to layover in Jalalabad. Fortunately I made some new friends there as well and was not put in the circus tent for my one night stay. On my way there I tripped getting off the bus in BAF (my rifle caught on the steps or something) and I twisted my right foot something fierce. I honestly thought that I had broken it (wouldn't that be embarrassing), but had only twisted it. I did a good job, though, my ankle touched the asphalt and had it not been for someone else's rifle in my other hand, I would have been on the ground. I'm not sure they appreciate its usefulness to me.

I could barely walk on it that night and most of the next morning. The next afternoon, though, I made a point of exercising it so that I didn't look like a moron walking around. I hate being so pathetic.

After an hour long Humvee ride I arrived at Torkham Gate, the day was the 23rd and Christmas Eve was the next day. The morning of Christmas Eve we went out three and a half minutes to the Pakistan border crossing. We returned to a good surprise (to me anyway). It seems that the group decided that Christmas dinner shall be on Christmas Eve, vice Christmas day.

As a part of the Christmas Decoration Package sent by the Army, two Ice Sculpture Swans and one Ice Sculpture Eagle adorned the table. The food was well prepared by a cook that had just arrived and just found out about the meal being 24 hours early. All was good. Following dinner, the guys played a pick-up game of basketball in preparation for the next day's tournament.

Christmas Day passed with little fanfare. I spent most of the day watching movies on my computer and being lazy in general. Waiting up most of the day, I finally called home in time for them to be preparing to go to a friends house for dinner. The twelve and a half hour time difference is quite interesting.

I will be returning in a couple of days to BAF and from there head back to Salerno where my mail awaits and patiently wait for my relief to show up.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Recharge Complete

Since last I wrote I have been to Salerno, back to BAF and then off to Qatar, in search of the ever elusive rest and relaxation (aka R&R). In Salerno all of my hopes and dreams were crushed by the lack of any mail at all. It is not that no mail was available, but rather that due to the change of my HQ unit, any and all mail that said the prior unit's name was returned to sender. The week was made better by the departing of many of my friends (civilians) back home for Christmas leave. Now they are home, and enjoying their time with family (I hope).

The decision to go to Qatar was made rather quickly and was based on free time due to
helicopter schedules. I must say that it is unlike any port call that I have ever made. Enroute to Qatar the plane that we were in took us to Kuwait. I almost dreaded going back there, but was pleasantly surprised by the total climate shift since last I was there. Even during the day the temperature was quite bearable and nice. The evening brought on a good chill and even a slight to moderate breeze.

Kuwait was quite the same as I had left it. The sleeping arrangements were as cozy as before, but this time I had the added benefit of not having to carry a weapon. I have been weaponless for almost seven full days, and loving every minute of it. I turned them in to the armory and offered the guy $25 to give them back to me clean. I hope that he took me up on that. While in Kuwait I met two other Navy guys headed to Qatar, I didn't know them previously, but now consider them to be pretty good friends.

The numerous fliers that were posted around Kuwait spoke of various activities that the MWR and USO had to offer for the coming days. That included a guest appearance by Bill O'Reilly. Initially I thought that the flier was to watch the show with everyone, but sure enough there in MWR tent 2 was Bill O'Reilly answering questions, taking pictures and signing Autographs. He was accompanied by Col (ret) Hunt, one of Fox News' military analysts. Like all other guys there, I attended and got his autograph and a picture with him. He signed it "With Respect."

That night we flew from Kuwait to Qatar, which is pronounced by most as "cutter." Arriving in the early early morning, we quickly found racks inside a building inside a warehouse. The enlisted guys were put inside a tent inside a warehouse. The architecture of the base as a whole left much to be desired and would be considered only as bland. Most buildings were the same warehouse construction with wide open spaces inside. The next day was a late start, though not as late as expected, having gone to sleep around 5am, I was surprised to have awoken at 11am. I then set to orienting myself to the building and base. Lunch was at Chilis, the only true sit down restaurant on base, and a very welcome sight.

The next day we went out for a "lunch on the beach, to include SUV ride through the sand dunes." The ride was just that, a pretty lame attempt to get some very minor cheap thrills, but did not really satisfy the true 4 wheeler in anyone. It was quite disappointing. Arriving at the camp on the beach, the weather was not quite beach weather, even though the water was pretty warm. Some played volleyball while others just sortof lounged. Most of that was brought to a grinding halt as the rain started to come down. Lunch was served, kababs, hummus, and vegetables adorned everyone's plates. The real trick, though was to run from the serving tent to the eating tent without getting drenched. As all finished their meals, thoughts quickly turned to getting the duck out of dodge. That is, all of the military guys were thinking about leaving, but the guides thought it best to wait out the rain. Sadly this is the hardest rain that Qatar has received in 40 years, so the rain did not
let up and we took another disappointing ride through the sand dunes back to the blacktop with the base to follow.

The roads were certainly not equipped for rain, and it is very quickly apparent why most vehicles are 4x4, the water level at some roundabouts came up to the upper half of the tires, if not a bit higher. Both of my times outside the base I only ran across two stoplights, otherwise the form of traffic management was the roundabout, an effective, but very dangerous tool. Some roads were composed mostly of potholes while adorned on either side by everstreching desert or impoverished industrial areas. Some of the potholes are almost not navigable by anything but an SUV. In the more suburban to downtown areas, the roads were very well maintained, and the roadside bustling with businesses.

Upon arrival in Qatar, we were informed that the Asian Games were on their waning phase in Doha, the country's capital and only large city. With this, we were left with very few options for activities. All of which included venues only done outside the city. Two days later the games ended, and were we authorized to go to the mall and go golfing. Not being very well known for my golf skills while being in practice, I thought it best to forego golfing (it has been almost six months since I've been). So we went to the mall. The mall was three stories of pure shopping madness, that is if you are looking for women's clothes and the latest in modern middle eastern wares. Sadly I was looking for neither, so we went to Applebees. Having found no good option for local foods, the Applebees was a welcome
sight. One store was quite interesting. It was a rug shop that ONLY sold Persian rugs. I have never seen so many Persian rugs silk and wool alike. Sadly most of them were above my price and also completely superfluous to me. I did however go to one of the three Starbucks retailers there. Sadly no ground coffee in sight, so I bought a coffee cup that says Qatar and a grande Americano, my coffee of choice. It was good, very good.

I must say that coming here, I expected certain restrictions, being a foreign country in the Middle East, but was unprepared for just how restrictive they were. As I said before when the Navy hits a port and has a completely controlled area, the rule of thumb is to just not piss off the Master at Arms with the big sticks. However, that is not the case with the Army. It was an experience that I will never forget,and could not live anywhere else.

With the stopover in Kuwait having lasted basically two days, I am now behind schedule and will have to try to travel a bit faster. One of my stops is sure to be cancelled so that I can be back in time to meet my relief. That is a very welcome appointment. I have but one more stop then it is back to Salerno until my relief comes. As it happens I will be spending Christmas at one of my favorite FOBs. . . Torkham Gate.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Warrior Thanksgiving

So this post, as with most of the previous posts, does not have any pics, but I will try to alleviate that shortly.

Since last I wrote, I went to a wonderful place known as FOB Warrior, which is the coolest name for a FOB that I have been to as of yet. Some argue that calling it FOB Ninja would be better, but I don't have a whole lot of say into that. In fact they are trying to change the name to FOB Wild Boar, which would degrade its status to the worst named FOB that I have been to. However, while I was there it was Warrior, and that is how it will stay in my memory.

As with all of my travels, there were some irregularities in my getting there. It seems that no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot travel from point A to point B with no interuptions. This time I tried really really hard. I got on a Chinook in Salerno that was supposed to go directly the Warrior. Yeah, I could not have done better. Sadly that direct flight was redirected to BAF, the blackhole of helicopter travels, where one of the Chinooks was pronounced DOA. It had some sort of electrical malfunction. The flight was cancelled and I ended up stuck, yet again, in BAF. Knowing that leaving BAF for Warrior was going to be a challenge, I befriended the helo crew and we made plans to meet again in the morning to attempt to leave BAF together. We met, they left, I stayed.

As we prepared for departure, some person that had precedence over me decided that I was not going to make that trip. Conveniently for me the helo was to do a round trip and go back out. So with all of my bags already burried in the bottom of a rather large pile, I told the aircrew, whom I had befriended, to simply leave them on for the round trip. It was easy and it even saved time. Now this was somewhat foolish, but I had faith that my bags would make the roundtrip. Six hours later, when the helo returned three hours late from its trip, one half of my bags was not there, but rather was waiting for me in Warrior. Not bad odds, really. Sadly the trip took three hours longer than scheduled and the next trip was cancelled till yet the next morning.

The next morning I went back out to the helicopter with the crew that I had befriended and loaded my bag and some equipment, as I had the prior day. As a thinking man, I had talked to the jerk that took me off the flight the day prior and arranged for my ride on this time. As we spin up the rotors, the other Chinook comes up with another problem, and I am yet again pulled from the flight. This time the pilots hook me up with another bird going my way. So, I ran across the flightline to the other bird and they convienently had one seat open, it was the seat known as "shotgun." The seat is aft of the pilots (slightly), facing forward (nice), and located directly below the forward rotor trnasmission box. The best seat in the house, except in any sort of accident. I got a set of headphones and talked to the crew as the flight made its way south.

When we arrived in Warrior, the other bird (the one with my bag and equipment) had already come and gone. The crew, which I had befriended, put my bag off with the rest, but forgot to get the equipment which I had stashed under the cargo seats. No problem, they were scheduled to make another trip that day. As the day went on I waited and waited. As I mentioned previously, everything sounds like a helicopter when that is what you are waiting for. Finally the bird arrived, and I got my equipment. Finally, I was all there . . . in FOB Warrior. It took another twenty four hours to find my bag from the previous day, but it was there and I was happy.

I spent eleven days in Warrior, doing various things. In that time Thanksgiving took place. The FOB had an interesting meal arrangement. They normally serve a brunch and then a dinner due to short staffing. The day before Thanksgiving they closed down the Galley following brunch, which meant that the dinner meal was to be everybodies favorite. . . MREs. YEAH!

On Thanksgiving the galley opened at 1130 for dinner. The big question on everybodies mind. . . was it worth it? AKA was an MRE for dinner the night before and the really long line worth the meal. My answer is most definately yes. In fact it was the best meal that I have had in country.

Sadly that night the peace was broken when one of the units out on patrol got into a firefight, and lost one soldier while critically wounding another. The wounded man survived. . .the wonders of modern battlefield medicine.

A few days later I returned to BAF where I now sit waiting to get back to Salerno. This month I am going to try to go to Quatar for a little bit of down time. I am still not sure when, though.

Till next time. . .

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Salerno Nights to Terwa Days

I have been out of comms for a few weeks, some of this is my fault and some is not. The majority of the last three weeks was spent in Salerno. During that time I was able to watch the whole cycle of the moon. With no light pollution, the nights were pretty awesome, as I have mentioned before. For almost two weeks everynight was like watching an old western movie, where they used a filter to pretend that it was nighttime. Moonshadows were not uncommon and stretched through most of the night.

As most of you know when I get bored, I have a slight tendency to spend some money. Apparently no exception is made for being in war. I bought a rug, it is an afghan hand made wool rug and is bigger than the space that I had intended it for. I will have a picture of it shortly. Interestingly enough the pattern is really sortof southwestern, which is typical of afghan rugs. I think this is the only one that I will buy, but I may buy a smaller Chinese silk rug. Who ever thought that I would be buying rugs?

For the last week and a half, I have been in Waza Kwah. My stay here is being made much shorter than I could have hoped. I went out to two smaller fire bases, Terwa and Doa China, and was luckily only at each for a short time. As most of my travels have been, I was lucky in that the trips to and fro were made closer together. I am not sure if there was a real reason, or if the fire base commanders just hated having someone around that out ranked them.

I do enjoy visiting Waza Kwah, there is a small group of Navy guys that I can hang out with and watch some movies. They are good guys and also have an important mission here, though it is different than my own.

I got my new hard drive, of course it arrived in Salerno the day after I left. I expect that the next blog will be nothing but pictures. . . assuming all goes well.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Staying Put

It seems that all of my previous postings have been about my misadventures in traveling in Afghanistan. Since my last posting, however, I have stayed put. It has been nice creating a new routine, a new Battle rhythm. My routine consists of enjoying a cup of coffee from the local Starbucks wanna-be coffee shop every morning, going into my office, and spending the evenings talking about the things we would rather be doing.

After sleeping for several nights on my cot in my tent, I was greeted with a very welcome surprise. . . a bed with a mattress. The mattress is super soft, with no real form, but its embrace is certainly better than that of the cot. I can't even imagine what it will be like to sleep in my own bed again.

The coffee shop that I go to every morning is called "The Green Bean," and they serve the normal coffee shop fare, to include some muffins and the like. It is actually sortof funny because Thursday nights they have poetry night and on some other night they sponsor kareoke. Though I have never been the best image that I can conjure is the opening scene in "So I Married an Axe Murder."

Returning from my journey through Afghanistan, I have finally met all of the members of the staff here in Salerno. One of them is a Master Sgt who spent his early years in the Marine Corps, then joined the guard. He is now back on Active Duty and is trying to get a College degree. He mentioned that he needed help with his Pre-Algebra, so I volunteered to help him out. Little did I know just how frustrating it would be. Initially it seemed as though he was really understanding it, and getting into it. I was excited, as it seemed as though I had accomplished something in the forsaken country. My excitement quickly waned as it appeared that he could not truly maintain the knowledge that he had gained. I could only watch as my excitement turned to frustration. There are times when I can see him understanding it, but most of the time he just gets frustrated and starts spewing random mathematical terms.

The weather here is in need of some variety, though we have had some strange and short lasting strange weather. Twice in the last week, the sun gave way to clouds and those clouds produced rain, that rained morphed into hail. Large ice drops fell from the sky. . . the hail was about an inch across, and that was after it fell to the ground and broke into pieces. Other than that the days are hot and the nights give a hint of a chill.

Kindof boring, but that is all for now. I will write more soon, assuming the internet stays up and running, unlike the current situation, where it has been spotty at best.