July 23

Q: What your day in Afghanistan like?

Days in Afghanistan for me aren’t particularly exciting, unless you’re excited by work, sleep, eating, and fitness. This is a typical day for me:

          0600 – 0700: Wake up, get dressed for the gym, eat a quick breakfast.

          0700 – 0900: Work out (with built in foot dragging)

          0900 – 1000: Do a bit of personal maintenance, read, get ready for work.

          1000-1230: Work. (And study in my downtime.)

          1230-1330: Lunch.

          1330-1830: Work.

          1830-1930: Supplemental evening workout & shower.

          1930-2200: Work.

          2200 – 0600: Go back ‘home,’ read, get ready for bed, sleep.

On my days off, I get up a little later, don’t work, work out, and wander the base (sometimes) to take pictures and relax.

Told you it wasn’t particularly exciting.

July 19

Parallel Universes & Time Travel (Of A Sort)

I’ve not written in a while… no good reason why unless you count the long days as reasons… but I’ll give it a shot today.

Coming back to places and people after being gone for years can be strange.

When there are minor changes, it feels like you’ve entered a parallel universe where things are just a little bit different. Maybe a coffee shop has moved. Maybe the road has an extra lane. Maybe the houses on a street you used to travel are painted different colors. Those small changes can be a little unsettling… things are just off enough to make your past familiarity suspect.

Major changes, well, those are easier. Those are more like traveling in time. Imagine going to sleep, Rip Van Winkle style, and waking up to discover that your town had implemented Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. In my case, after leaving for a year and a half, an entire light rail system that changed the flow of the entire downtown area came to be. While strange, it was BIG strange… and because it was BIG strange, it was somehow more palatable.

Of course, those are just place changes. People also change. They age, sure, but their relationships change, their interests evolve, they have children, their children grow… you go from friend to friendly acquaintance to a likable outsider who left the flow of their reality way back when. And even when you do reconnect, you’re reconnecting to the new them with the new you. You’re not so much rekindling old friendships as you are building a new friendship on the foundation of the old.

And heck, people forget you, except as an idea or an abstract concept. “I know this guy who travels the world,” they say, but the truth is that they KNEW you, and now you just exchange an occasional hello on the Internet. And (despite your initial angst) you get used to it, accepting that this is a) psychology in action and b) the fault of everyone involved. After all, you know that you didn’t make the efforts (in most cases) on your side either.

Basically, you settle into your role as a time-traveling ghost, avoiding more than friendly acquaintanceships because you know that more often than not, you’ll be losing touch once your geography no longer matches. Best scenario, you’ll skip across time and space to say hello years later.

(Incidentally, this is why I relate to The Doctor in Doctor Who… I get, in my own way, what it is like to be untethered from the day to day reality of the people I know / knew / will know.)

And… enough. Back to your life, and I’ll go back to mine. 😉

June 18

Danger, Desert ,and Downtime (Q&A)

I meant to write on Tuesday, but I got distracted with nothing in particular. Sorry!

Q (Multiple People): Is it dangerous [in Afghanistan]?

Okay, so first things first. There is always an undercurrent of danger when you’re working in a combat zone, but for what I do, the danger is relatively low-key. I tend to equate the danger in living here to the danger of living in a major city. If you are smart, exercise good judgment, and don’t intentionally do stupid things (like ride on convoys unnecessarily) then you’re almost certainly going to be fine. I mean… I’m not a gun-toting mercenary, shooting at the Taliban… I’m a system admin. Let’s be real.

And sure… I’m jaded. I’ve been here often enough (this will make the third time) and I’m not the kind of person to freak out anyway. But I’m also careful. Any risks I choose to take, here or elsewhere, are calculated. So… short version, you’re probably more at risk in the USA from traffic than I am from random terrorist silliness.

Q (Multiple People): So how’s the desert?

Kuwait sucked… it was like, 117 and humid and gross. Bagram, however, is at 5000 feet above sea level. There are trees here, there’s snow on the peaks, and it doesn’t get much above 90 or so. So… it’s no worse than summer in the USA, really. It IS pretty dry, though, and the altitude does take some adjustment… especially for my running; I can definitely feel it… so it isn’t all peaches and cream.

Q: (Multiple People): What do you DO out there for FUN?

Dude, I work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Free time is limited. But… I mostly read, study some things I didn’t have time to study while I was law schooling, and I work on getting fit. I’ve set the bar for this year pretty high… we’ll see how much I can accomplish in my year “off” from law school. 😉

June 12

Q & A Series: Travel in Afghanistan

Andrew B: Is [Afghanistan] an easy country to travel?

Like many questions, the short answer is “it’s complicated.”

Getting into Afghanistan isn’t particularly easy. Where I was once exempt from requiring a visa, now I have to be vetted and approved by the Afghan government before I even think about traveling. Of course, that does give me the freedom to come and go as I please for a year, within reason… assuming I could get to Kabul airport, I book a ticket and fly away. Those visas typically do not issue to tourists, though, so good luck finding your way in

To get into Afghanistan, I rely on military transport, so I’m subject to the whims of the US military. When working as a contract employee, I tend to fly military air, or “MILAIR.”

Exiting the base is also nearly impossible. Personnel on the base are (with exceptions) supposed to stay there, so I’m basically on a small city sized installation with no way to explore elsewhere. With my 12 hour work weeks, that’s fine… just about anything I want is available on the base, Amazon ships here, and I can eat for free. So, no reason to leave.

Of course, I have left the base before, last time I was here, to ride from Kabul to Bagram. In reality, there’s not a whole lot to see in this area. Afghanistan has suffered immensely, so most areas…. Kabul being the exception… are ill-suited to random travelers.

I do have the option to fly out “commercial.” There’s one carrier that goes to Dubai daily… when I leave for my vacation, I’ll almost certainly fly out that way. That’s typically how one leaves for vacations… MILAIR is too unreliable as far as scheduling to bother with.

On base, there’s a bus system. For official business I can check out a vehicle, and for most daily activities (the gym, laundry, food) I can walk. Mostly, I walk… there’s no real reason to be lazy unless I’m going more than a mile or two. It’s pretty safe to walk, all things considered, so I tend to walk even after dark.

In the more general sense, Afghanistan is a difficult place to travel outside of city center Kabul. Finding lodging would be difficult, you’d stand out as a foreigner, and you’d have a pretty good chance of being targeted for attack. Hell, even in Kabul, you risk being targeted… there’s a reason most hotels catering to foreigners advertise their security features. One even has a dedicated private entrance to a shopping mall so you can remain inside for the duration of your trip.

Anything I missed? Let me know!

June 7

AFG III Series: Deployment as a Contractor

So, let me explain how heading into the Middle East* (and Afghanistan) works if you’re an average contractor. The process isn’t particularly difficult, but it can be time-consuming and occasionally obnoxious.

T Minus 30 (Days): There are a number of things you need to complete before your contingent offer becomes a solid offer. First of all, your background check must come back clean. Then, you need a special government ID issued, a special training account, and a valid passport with a visa for your destination country.** You also need to have your eyes checked, and (depending on your employer) you’ll need a physical, blood work, and a dental exam.

T Minus 7 (Days): Assuming the previous step was completed successfully, you’ll fly to a “CRC.” A CRC is basically a mobilization center, where you’ll do a ton of computer based training, medical screening, classroom work. You’ll also be issued a 50 pound bag of gear, 30 pounds of which will almost certainly remain in the bag for the duration of your tour. Expect 10-14 hour days during this week of training… and unless you want to come out of pocket (or your company is exceedingly generous) expect to stay in old military barracks with no transportation. But hey… food is free, right?

T Minus 0 (The Flight): You’ll have to be ready to go at 0430 to 0630, for a flight that will leave around 1200. The flight itself will be a charter plane… if you’re lucky, Delta, if you’re not, some unknown carrier using 1980’s planes and 1980’s food. Your flight will stop at least twice for stuff and reasons… once to do a bit of PR, and once to refuel.

When you arrive (almost certainly in Kuwait) you’ll think you’re done. 5pm isn’t so bad, right? Not so fast. You’ll take four hours to immigrate (9pm) and three more to get to the base. (12a.) You’ll sit around for an hour or two, processing and listening to an in-brief… finally getting released to go to bed around 3am.

Your sleeping quarters are (usually) a shared bay that fits 200 people in bunks. You’ll be there for 1-7 more days, at which time you’ll be bused to another place (2.5 hours away) to wait all day to get a plane to your destination. As an example, I am writing this from a terminal at 5pm, waiting for instruction at 6pm… and I started this process this morning at 0930. I’ll probably fly around 8-10pm, arriving in the wee hours of tomorrow morning.

And there you have it! The convoluted process of deployment.

* Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq, and the UAE. As far as I know, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia don’t use this process.

** This is sometimes waived, but waivers are becoming less common.

June 3

And here I go.

So, it has been done. My transition back into IT (albeit temporarily) is complete. I’ve passed all of my medical and training and I’ll be on a plane tomorrow to dive back into the world of “austere” support environments and technical skills.

But… I’m not just retreading what I’ve done. I’ll be building new skills, because… let’s face it… leaving on an epic journey into a dangerous place almost demands that you come back better, stronger, more skilled… else, what’s the point in going?

I mean. Aside from ensuring my freedom from debt. That’s a big one.

And yes… I do have a new plan. A year-long plan, even. It’s not done… I’m still working out the details… but there are a few broad stroke items I’m going to address.

1) Fitness. Always and forever, but this time I’m going to try to do a few things with it. One, I’m going to rock a Marathon… either on my own for distance, or officially with a base event. That’s been on the eventual list forever, so I’ll try to knock it out. Two, I’m going to work on flexibility. I think my flexibility limits my strength, so… time to knock it out. And lastly for now? I’m going to to try for a fitness level that meets top-level Army requirements.

2) Cybersecurity. I plan on using Coursera, my law student resources, and some IT training to beef up my skill in Cybersecurity. I’m toying with the idea of privacy law and cybersecurity / cyber-law… but I need more skill on the technical side to excel so… that will happen. Without going into tons of detail today, I suspect we’re approaching a battle over government need and individual liberties.

3) Human Rights (Trafficking.) The exploitation of individuals sucks, and I’ll be looking into ways to fight it using the tools I already have and the tools I intend to acquire.

4) Post-Law Plan. I’ll be working on this while I’m gone.

Questions I’m getting:

Are you coming back to finish law school?

Yeah, I think so! I never say for sure because that’s inviting trouble. But my plan is to do a year or so before I return. Sorry, classmates… but I’m sure you don’t miss me much anyway. 😉

Why did you do this? You’re crazy!

Because it makes sense for my long-term plans. And yes, I may be insane.

Is where you’re going dangerous?

It can be, but I’m surrounded by the best of the best. So… you’re probably in more danger walking through NE Philly at night.

Will you send me something cool?

Maybe. I’ll definitely send a postcard… but if you want more than one, you have to write back.

Anything I missed? Let me know.

May 28

Quickie

I’ve been tooling around, having fun with girlfriend and losing my fitness edge on my all too short 3 week break. I’m off to training now… soon, I shall be on my way back to the land of sand and chilly winters.

 

April 29

Random.

Basically, few people read this. I have it to voice my thoughts to the void… and to argue that I posted an update to my life without having to deal with the baggage that comes with Facebook.  Shh.

So.

I’ve landed a contract with SOJTF, I’ve put law school on hold, and I am working on my 365 day plan for the coming year.  I’m still trying to get myself centered, so I have nothing to share… but no, I have not died. And yes, I plan on blogging more now that I have free time.

Though… I’m not sure that moving it here was a good decision if I actually intended it to be read. Ah well.

April 20

Close that book!

20150416_072433_Sophia_BluegradFew things in law school are as contentious as open v. closed book exams.

With an open book exam, you have access to all of the material you care to carry into the exam. If you can print it /and or summarize it, you can use it to draft an answer to the undoubtedly evil prompts that your professor has provided. If you forget something, you can look it up in the book… and if you don’t know something at all, you can usually parrot a passable answer that touches on the major points.

On the other hand, an open book exam makes even the minutest details fair game. Remember in that one case about the thing, where the guy and the girl said that stuff about the OTHER thing and there was a very specific model of doohickey that was used? No? Well, you’d better look it up, because the professor expects you to know it. And you’d better cite every case, too… after all, you have access to the material.

With a closed book exam, you’re relying on a pen and your intellect. You can’t look up details because, quite simply, those details are either in your head or they’re not. You’re doing battle with the test, you’re walking a tightrope of doom with no safety net, you’re…

I mean, you’re on your own. That’s what I mean.

But… that can be good. Most reasonable professors realize that it’s the rules and the broad stroke principles that matter, so you can focus on the stuff that’ll be important to… you know… actually learning the law. You can show off your comprehension instead of showcasing your mad skills at looking things up. You’re almost guaranteed to do fine if you understood the class.

Me? I prefer closed book exams because I don’t care about case names, and flipping through the book to make sure I remember them interrupts my flow. And because I hand write my exams (an issue for another day) I can’t just go back to fill in the gaps.  A closed book is conducive to my style of learning and my style of test taking. I’m not saying it is better, necessarily…

…no, wait. Yes I am. 😉 It is better. Without a doubt. So there.

April 11

“I’m not a Trump supporter, but*…”

Mini memorial, right after September 11, 2001
Mini memorial, right after September 11, 2001

Too many of my conversations, of late, have started with that line… and quite honestly, I resent the fact that people are making it necessary to say it. When you have a media whose members have thrown off all semblance of objectivity and reason to push for their own candidate du jour, however… well, here we are.

Look, Trump is a pretty garbage person. I’ve been suffering through his campaign speeches, I’ve been watching his ego-driven campaign with a mixture of amusement and disgust. And hell, there’s a lot to dislike about the guy. But we have media outlets photoshopping his skin tone to compare him to a Nazi, celebrating the anonymous hackers who are attempting to silence his campaign, and digging up his family’s migrant name to associate him with 1940’s Germany.

Like, what? Jesus, people, focus on his message. Judge him on what he’s saying. Isn’t that sufficient? It should be sufficient, because the things he says paints him in a pretty nasty light. But of course, the End Justifies The Means to those yellow journalists and cowards who would skew the election at the cost of democracy.

Trump isn’t the only…. I hesitate to say victim because I do in fact dislike the guy, but.. he is the most egregiously victimized here. A robber who is himself robbed of his rightful possessions is still a victim, as just as it might seem on the surface.

In short? Focus on his statements and the policies he supports. Focus on his vileness as a candidate.

Stop making him into a martyr for those angry folk who see his brand of hate politics as our only path to greatness.

* – No, I am not voting for him, are you kidding me? Absolutely not, not ever.