Life on the FOB: Day 3 in Afghanistan
After a couple of days of taking care of some administrative work at the FOB I have finally gotten to my own work. I have been embedded with a British unit of combat advisers who work with the ANA. These guys have been great. I have been watching them work with ANA instructors who are trying to teach new ANA how to be infantry. To a newcomer, like me, watching the ANA is both shocking and sometimes nearly tragically hilarious. ANA officers and NCOs go around throwing rocks at their students when they make mistakes while shooting heavy guns on the live fire ranges. Others will kick the students for missing their targets or not sitting correctly at the .50 cals. The advisers don’t intervene at all, saying that to do so would mean the instructors loosing face in front of the students. Such a move would create angst among the instructors and make it harder for the advisers to do their job. Interestingly, the advisers invoke “culture” to dismiss intervening. To claim a act is “Afghan culture” is not simply to describe it (after all I had recruit training officers who threw rocks and brass at myself and students at the academy, purportedly to see how we would shoot under stress). Rather, by saying a behavior is “cultural” the advisers classify it as something that they ought not deal with. This suggests that labeling something as “other” or “cultural” may also be part of strategic moves to limit their own responsibility for training outcomes, which, as they will admit themselves, are extremely poor.
The Brits are a hilarious bunch. They have a Scotsman that they claim they can’t understand but I have not had much difficulty with. Most of the guys are pretty salty, many with 10+ prior deployments to Afghanistan or Iraq.
Life on the FOB is sparse but certainly improved from what some of my friends have experienced in the past. Our forward cell has small, cell like units, for sleeping that have been made out of Conex containers. They have small air conditioners and one or two electrical outlets. The FOB also has its own “Golds” gym, in the way of some antiquated treadmills, a couple of ellipticals, an incline and decline bench and a full rack of weights. Its enough to get the job done.
Food isn’t too bad. Tends to be heavy on the fried foods and is served up by, I think, Russians. The salad bar consists of a chopped up head of iceberg lettuce and for accompaniment you can sprinkle some shredded cheese on it. Most of the army guys at the FOB complain that deployment is supposed to get you in shape but that with the DFAC at our FOB the only thing you are likely to do is get fat and slow.