One thing we get around here in abundance is some crazy mud. With the snow melting we have mud everywhere, and it’s not just regular, every day mud. The mud here in Qalat takes several forms; when it’s wet it’s like thick chocolate pudding, when it starts to dry it’s like chocolate pizza dough and when it finally dries completely it’s like concrete.
But watch out, I’ve already been stuck three times right here on the camp when a low spot turned out to be a deep spot. Depending on where you are driving and who did the construction the compaction of the dirt on the roads around here varies widely. It is easy to find yourself driving in an area that looks solid, but is really just un-compacted fill dirt, which can swallow a HMMWV or SUV whole.
In its chocolate pizza dough phase it sticks to the bottom of your boots layer after layer until your boots become platform shoes. And once it’s there it just won’t come off, so you track it everywhere: into your vehicle, your office and your room. When this tracked-in mud dries it becomes like concrete dust and gets into everything, and everywhere.Finally, in its concrete stage it becomes like…concrete!
As I’ve noted before, the local Afghanis use this mud, mixed with straw or hay, to build houses and walls and barns. Used properly, it is great building material. And since I have yet to see a tree here in Zabul Province I guess it is the best local option for home construction. One of my NCOs even used it to repair his HMMWV! He turned a little close in our cramped motorpool and caught the front fender of the vehicle, tearing the fiberglass. As you can see, with the application of some Afghani mud/cement it is good as new. I guess we know where they got the desert tan color for the vehicles.
Now for the good advice…
Another thing readily available on the FOB is good advice; Barracks lawyers and wanna-be Dear Abbys abound. In that tradition, I’ve decided to take a chance on dispensing some advice. I’ve received several emails and comments about my last blog, many with the same question, “How often should I expect to hear from my deployed loved ones?” At the risk of over-generalizing or setting up unrealistic expectations I thought I should address this question. I can only do so based on my own experience and observations from a previous one year deployment to Iraq and this 15-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Of course, the obvious place to start answering this question is with another question, “How often did you talk to him or her before they deployed?” I find that chatty communicators will find a way to continue; and, conversely, quiet introverts will continue in their ways as well. With a blog, a facebook account and access to email and a phone I fall in to the chatty communicator category. My wife probably hears from me more than she wants. A quiet introvert could have access to all these and still not talk much.
The next thing that affects the frequency of communication is the deployed loved one’s job. Some of us spend all day in a HMMWV, some spend all day in an office. As the first part of this blog demonstrates, sometimes things here are so boring and dull that the consistency of mud is a topic of conversation. On the opposite extreme, as some of my earlier posts from the Salerno hospital demonstrate, sometimes things are so intense and painful that they defy words, at least initially. Many of us have jobs that toggle between extremes; in an office one day, on a convoy the next; fighting boredom for days on end, then fighting fear and panic and loneliness and despair. At the end of either day, it’s sometimes hard to sit down and put your feeling into words in an email or blog post or (for those from the old school) a letter.
Finally, the other factors affecting communication are discretionary time and access to a computer. Some of us have plenty of discretionary time; some have very limited discretionary time. Discretionary time depends a lot on rank, but that cuts both ways. I know colonels who have little discretionary time, and sergeants who have plenty, and vice versa. Discretionary time is affected by your rank and your job and your position in the organization. Access to a computer is affected by location. There are some FOBs with large, well equipped MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) facilities: computers, wireless internet and phones. There are smaller FOBs with no MWR at all. Most FOBs are somewhere in between. If you are dependent upon MWR for your access to computer you are restricted to 30 minute sessions if someone else is waiting. That means staying up late or getting up early to get on a computer or phone. And since we are halfway around the world from our families it means dealing with an 8 or 10 or 12 hour time difference to connect with friends and family.
So, as you can see, the answer to the question, “How often should I expect to hear from my loved one?” is quite complicated. A lot depends on how much they communicated before they deployed, and then on rank, position, location and other factors. But the one simple part of the answer is this, if you want to hear from them more often, let them know that. Let them know what you are interested in hearing about. Give them specific ideas, or just ask questions. For my wife, she wanted to know what a “typical” day was like for me; where did I live, where did I work, what was on my FOB, who were my friends? She asked, and that gave me ideas for emails or blog posts or even letters to send home. Communication is a two-way street, and both parties can drive!
As always, thank you for reading and caring and supporting and praying.