Well, I've had a couple of requests for an update on the current conditions in Afghanistan, and all I can really say is that not much has changed.
I still live in the same 5x8 tent corner. I still take showers in the same disgustingly filthy bathrooms (a pair of underwear sat on the shower floor for a full day). And I still go to work in a windowless tent with an air duct that blows directly into my face.
Having said that, what has changed? Well, actually quite a bit. We finally got a semi-legit dining facility that can seat a couple hundred comfortably and is climate controlled. They still serve a variety of all things fried, but they did finally get Baskin and Robbins Ice cream, which I indulge in once a week. I'm still opting to go to the German DFAC because ours is loud, serves unhealthy food and should generally be avoided with the exception of surf and turf night which is really completely overrated. You should see the ridiculous line for surf and turf night (Sundays). It's the one day that all the Germans come to our DFAC and the line is of Six Flags proportions. You either have to get there 30 minutes before it opens or be willing to wait about that long in line. I normally wait until it is almost closed because that's about the only time the line dies down. This is also my ice cream night, so my normal routine is to cut in through the back way, get the ice cream, and then come back for the main meal later.
There's really not a lot to do, so I have been able to get back into my gym routine. It feels good to be back. I had definitely let myself go in the last month prior to deploying, mainly because I was working ridiculous hours, but also out of laziness. I made a vow to myself that I was not going to sacrifice my health for work once we finally deployed and I've pretty much kept that promise.
There are not a lot of activities here, so with the rest of my free time, I normally just meet with friends (co-workers) and drink coffee and talk about whatever is going on at the time (the stock market, real estate, the annoying guy at work, dancing with the stars, etc.)...Ok, I'm pretty much the only one who talks about dancing with the stars.
I haven't seen Nick for about a month and a half. It seems like it has been forever. I went to see him in Shindand on our last rendezvous. He seems like he is getting along fine and takes enjoyment in being "useful". After much back and forth, we decided that it is best for him to just stay at Shindand and not to try to join me at Mazar e Sharif. This was a difficult conclusion for us and really hard for me to accept, but I'm glad to see Nick pursuing something that I know means a great deal to him. I'm really proud of all the work he's putting in to this deployment. I'm not sure when we will get to see each other again. I'm hoping that maybe we can see each other for a couple of days during Christmas, but only time will tell.
Other than coffee and working out, I spend most of the rest of my time studying for the GMAT or planning our impending vacation. I actually have managed to stay quite busy. Originally we weren't being terribly imaginative and had settled on going to Australia. Although Australia would definitely be a great place to visit, I had this feeling that I was squandering a prime opportunity for a free ticket. For some time, I've really wanted to go to the Maldive Islands (think sandbar in the middle of the Indian Ocean), but the hotel prices are astronomical. I really couldn't give up on this dream, so I started exploring some other locations that were close to the Maldives. Naturally, India is the closest country, but another place, Sri Lanka, was equally as close, so I started to look into what it had to offer. Upon further inspection, I've found that Sri Lanka actually has a wealth of activities as well as history, and while there are some luxury hotels, it is not so outrageously expensive. If we went this route, we could spend the first 10 days or so in the more reasonably priced Sri Lanka and the last few days in the Maldives. Really, how long are you going to want to spend on a sand bar, eating and drinking and lounging about? Ok, don't answer that. Anyhow, I think we are definitely leaning towards the Sri Lanka/Maldives combo now. I mean, I'm sorry, but once you look at the Maldive Islands, the Whitsundays just look 3rd rate. Anyway, more to follow on the vay-k thing.
On a down note, we did have our first suicide (disclaimer: it has not yet official been determined as such). Luckily, it was not in my unit because any death creates a load of work and headache for me. Apparently, local nationals bring drugs onto the FOBs and Camps and sell them to Soldiers. It looks like this guy either accidentally or purposely ODed on some sort of controlled substance. It's always sad when something like this happens and, quite frankly, I'm surprised it's taken so long. One of the downfalls of being on a FOB is that Soldiers do have so much contact with the outside world, but they also don't have a lot to do. This gives them a lot of time to focus on other things like problems back home. Don't get me wrong, the guy out on patrol has his own demons to fight, but there is a whole range of other issues with which guys working 9 to 5 have to deal. Right now, I'm going to be honest, we are not exactly busy, which means a lot of Soldiers work less deployed than they do in the rear. This all goes back to Soldiers not being actively engaged and getting themselves into trouble. Even if this is not determined to be a suicide, this Soldier still had time to track down drugs and the motivation to use them. What I'm getting at is that I think (sometimes) suicide is target of opportunity rather than a true mental issue - Soldiers resort to this extreme because there is nothing else better to do to distract them from problems. The interesting thing is that the Army dumps thousands of dollars into suicide prevention programs, but they are reluctant to build permanent housing for us. If they took even part of the money to improve living conditions while deployed (i.e. entertainment centers, education centers, activities, competitions, you name it), I think that would do more to improve the problem more than anything else. I'm speaking strictly of a downrange approach. Of course, I could be naive. There has to be a lot of other contributing factors before someone decides to kill themselves, but I do think that having a purpose goes a long way towards prevention. There are a lot of Soldiers out here that, I think, are really alone. They go to lunch by themselves, never get mail, and don't have anything to do besides go to work for 8 hours and then sit in a tent. The Army needs to start being proactive rather than reactive or at least that's my two cents.
Until next time....