Dispatch From Downrange

A Year Behind the Leash

Jack liked staying under the bed in his cave.                             Since I was in charge I had all the paperwork to do.        I build this shelf to make things a little better .             Every space was used. I even scored a vacuum.


We have all heard the old saying, ďTime FliesĒ.  Well I can personally attest to whoever coined that term was not here in Afghanistan.   Here, compared to some of the soldiers I have it pretty good.  Of course there are pluses to being active duty and a soldier.  The support system here is geared to them as it should be.  As a contractor, I donít have near the support system they do.  That being said I still have it good.  I attribute most of that to being a pretty self-supporting person.  Even among the other civilian contractors, I am considered self-sufficient.   Being older, having been in business back home, and always being one that questioned why not instead of why, Iíve done ok.  I also attribute a lot of my ability to be OK here is that I was in the Army.  I was really the same even back then.

If I need something I find it, trade for it, build it, or on rare occasion, go through the channels and request it. (That normally doesnít work very quickly). Iíve become the ďGo To GuyĒ if someone needs something.  We needed kennels to place at a remote point so I built them out of the wire Hesco barriers. We needed a shelter from the sun for the dogs and wood around here is at a real premium.  Ironically, every day the local Afghani workers cart off stacks of wood and supplies.  I often watch this and think to myself, ďHey, I could sure use that.Ē 

This is where being a dog handler helps.  Jack is a real ham for affection and everyone wants to spend time with the dog and magically wood appears.

Many times it is a barter system.  I can build something or I have found something that someone else needs.  Put the deal together and it makes things so much easier.  Need a vehicle tire fixed?  I happen to have a compressor I traded for months ago.  Need a network cable made?  Yep I have those materials and better yet, the knowhow to do it. 

This is how it works.  It is how it worked when I was in the service.  I think those that take it on themselves to just fix stuff instead of waiting for someone else to do it will always make the best of their situation.  What does that mean to me?

Well I do live in an 8 foot by 10 foot box.  That is the size of the room I have.  Stack all the stuff you need and all the stuff you donít need that you acquire, and 82 pounds of shedding, drooling and sometimes very needy dog, and it can get a little tight.  Iíve made it pretty comfortable all things considered.  The bed in this room, well, sucked, so I built one.  All it took was a couple of 2x4s and a piece of plywood.  Throw the mattress on top and it works.  I set the frame high enough to get some drawers under and found out that Jack likes to live under the thing.  I think he sees it as a den or something.  The mattress, well, it also was in the same class as the bed  but there is an easy way to fix that.  Take your sleeping bag, fill is with some cheap pillows and put that under the bottom sheet.  Instant pillow top mattress.   I built a computer stand for my laptop that actually swivels out of a camo netting support system.  The poles for the camo also became a clothes hanger rod.  It is suspended from the ceiling by two loops of parachute cord. I built shelves, a bookcase and even a medicine cabinet.   I didnít have a chair so I built an ottoman I can sit on.  Cushioned it with trashed rubber foam and covered it with a camo blanket.  It actually looks ok.

All in all the room is pretty good. Itís tight but good.  Even though the room has all this stuff I built in it, the walls do close in.

All this building and fixing up does two things.  One, is I need the stuff, two is it occupies the mind and keeps me busy. Regardless of all the stuff, it still is not home.  No fast food, no outdoor lights, none of the things we take for granted. I canít tell you how many times Iíve nailed my shins on things outside in the dark. Get hungry at night and you better have squirrelled away something for the long evenings.

That is pretty much a description of the living quarters in a nut shell, in fact you could say we live in a nutshell.  The soldiers are a little different.  Some have rooms, seldom by themselves, some are in tents that have been divided, some are in conex containers and some are in what we call clamshells.  These are big, and I do mean big, vinyl structures.  They remind me of the old Quonset hut buildings except on steroids.  They house offices, dining halls, gyms, and soldiers, a lot of soldiers.

There ainít Sundays anymore!!

I remember a Texas representative saying that some years ago during the debates over the Texas Blue laws. Those words are certainly true here.  Every day is a work day. There are no weekends, there are no holidays, and the bad guys sure donít take time off just because we do, so we donít.  Days are long and right now hot and dusty.  I just canít get used to it being light outside at 0430 in the morning.  There is just something wrong about that in my book.  Itís funny but you seem to build your schedule around meals. You get a certain amount of stuff done and it time for breakfast.  OK. Back to work until lunch.  Then, work some more and go to dinner.  Same place pretty much every time but it is a break in the day.  You also know what day it is by the food served. Yes they try to be pretty creative with the foods they work with.  Yesterday they have a special ďCheeseburger in ParadiseĒ.  The guy behind me in line asked what it was.  I couldnít resist and told him it meant Jimmy Buffet was cooking.  (he didnít get it)  I guess the DFAC (dining facility) manager is a parrot head.  Clearly my age is showing again.  Speaking of age, I am fighting the sands of time in the gym.  Without the distractions of normal life, there is time for self-improvement.  I hit the gym every night, and I do mean every night.  It has become a habit that I hope I can continue when it is time to come home.  I also teach.  I am an adjunct instructor for Central Texas College and I teach Criminal Justice a couple of days a week in the evenings.  I did this back in Germany years ago when I was active duty.  The soldiers still need it and I enjoy teaching.  

I started this article with the title ďA Year Behind the LeashĒ.  That is the title of a book Iím writing while here.  Besides a little background why Iím here, what caused me to choose to leave my home, my journey through PTSD from my patrol car accident back in September of 2010, it will be a compilation of the dispatches.  The dispatches you have been so kind to read and the Gonzales Cannon has been gracious enough to print them.  

Writing these dispatches has been an outlet for me and they will continue to be a way for me to connect with those back home.   As I was writing this one there was a loud speaker announcement notifying the FOB of another Fallen Soldier Ceremony.  I got Jack and we went up the hill to attend, again. We stood, I saluted, and watched the helicopters fly away with their cargo.

Iíve been here a year and these ceremonies are having a profound effect. This may sound a little strange but these are something that I think everyone should attend. It just might make a difference in the way we as a nation see things. For me, Iíve always felt there was a long line of silent soldiers somewhere standing guard over all of us. Itís an honored sacred line of heroes.  Today two more heroes took their place in that line.

As for me, I need a break. Itís time to come home. 

Thanks for reading, thanks for listening, thanks for your support. Iíd love to hear from you. Iíd love to hear what you think of my little stories.  Iíll answer.

From here in the company of some of the finest people I have ever met, here in the shadow of people doing the very very hard things in terrible surroundings, from here with other Americans doing their very best.

Iím Jon Harris

And this has been another Dispatch from Downrange.