Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lions in Autumn

Home is where the heart is.

That is what they say. What happens when you don't know where your heart is anymore? What happens when Home just doesn't feel like "Home"? There is warmth, there is goodness, and all manner of blessings, yet something is missing.

Once, home was a part of me. Something that made me whole and right. Now, I just don't feel that anymore. Its not the distance, nor the people there. On the contrary, I love my family and they are the greatests gifts given to me by God.

Its just not home.

I remember an old show on Animal Planet I saw some time ago, where they followed a pride of lions on a Kenya game reserve. These lions, who's life, strangely resemebled our own. Had every moment of their existance filmed for the period of two years. During the second year, something happened that stuck with me for some odd reason, and know I think I know why. There were two young male lions, who had reached the point in their lives where their manes were full and their size large. The Alpha of the Pride, began to fight with them, forcing them from the pride. Basicly, sending them out to find their own way in the world. The two young males, however did not fight back. They kind of just went. As if they some how knew it was time for them to go.

My father has never kicked me out or anything, he actually wants me to stay at home. Weird.

I digress.

I have not really discussed this with anyone, but somehow, I just feel like those young lions. Something inside me tells me that it is time to go. It is time to make a new "home' where ever that may be.

I have traveled half the world. Seen sights that most people dream of seeing. I wander, but I am not lost. I know I will find what ever it is I am looking for.

These mountains, this land. It is not home, nor will it ever be, but it is home for now. Texas, doesnt feel like home anymore. I dont know where it is. I know I am here. Here is home. Here in me.

Friday, August 26, 2005


"We at war with terrorism, racism, most of all, we at war with ourselves."
--Kanye West

Scars. How many scars do we have. Superfical, mental, and spiritual. The essence of a scar is in its permanence. Forever. They have...become a part of us. As such, they define us. We are our laughter, our thoughts, spoken and silent, and so much more. Above all these, are our scars.

Where do we get these scars? Our enemies. It has been said that the only teachers who teach us anything worth learning and remembering are our enemies. Wether you find them at the end of a rifle or point of a pen. Our enemies are the blacksmiths who forge us from raw earth into the instrument that we choose to become...or let them mold us into against our will.

I have a scar on my left knee from reconstructive surgery. I tore my ACL in a sacrafice to the Football Patheon. I was told that I could not join the military because it would not let me perform to the rigorous Army standard. There is a dark patch of skin on my right elbow. It was red with clotted blood after a friend told me that I could not skateboard down a ramp. Now its hardly noticable, but I know its there.

Challenges, Dares, Obstacles real and imagined....enemies all. It always comes down to you versus it, him, her, or them. What do you do when that happens? What synapes fire in the deep and dark corners of your mind? What nerves begin to send signals to your muscles in reaction to the barks of your mind and spur you to an action? Fight or Flight.


Only through conflict of the self versus everyone and everything do we learn anything about ourselves. Your strength of will against the whole fucking world. Like a slab of marvel in the hands of Michaelangelo. Each conflict chips away at you like a hammer and pick. Each drop of blood. Each tear of frustration. Every single cry of pain. The acidic burn of the taste of your own blood flowing down your throat from biting your tounge to keep from screaming out. Slowly shapes you into who you were meant to become. Each scar is another piece of marble gone. After time we begin to realize that all these scars have created the masterpiece that is the self. The person of belief and self assurance.

You see, when you avoid conflict for fear of the scar. You deny the artist the chance to mold you into the work of art we were all supposed to become. A life devoid of conflict is no life at all. Face your enemies. Let them knock you down...

When you are knocked down, you prove to the world that you stood for a reason.

It is in that instance. That divine moment of clairity when your clothes are covered in dust, when you are soaked in sweat, when you can't take another breath. In that perfect moment when the world has tried to knock you down...you take another step.

Yes, we may fall again and we may fail.

There, our enemy has taught us of our most valuable lesson, our weakness. Now, we can go about confronting our weakness. So that when the time comes again we will be ready. We will have the scar from the last confrontation, and will have LEARNED from it.

It is when you do not confront your enemies, that they become something far worse. Demons. Demons of regret, guilt, and loss. Unlike our enemies they teach us nothing. Instead they haunt us. Constantly tormenting us of our past failure and our inability to think or act when we needed to. Demons beget man nothing. We all have a few of these. Times in our lives when we refused the chisel of the artist and chose to remain content with our misshapen form.

People say that pacifism is the answer, and they mistakenly associate this with a life without conflict, a life of harmony. Ghandi and MLK come to mind. Their lives were born of conflict. Even to the end of their days, their enemies forged them into the great men they became. Why, because they did not shy from chisel. They stood. They were knocked down, they got back up.

A life of peace is an empty life. Inner peace is being a wall. A wall that has a self confidence and understanding of what it is and what it wants to do in this world. Knowledge of the self.

How do we attain the knowledge of the self? By letting our enemies teach us.

A difficult mid-term, a job interview, a difficult relationship...all enemies. Enemies that we must learn from. If not, they will become the demons of our past and haunt us till the end of our days.

We are at war right now. A continuous conflict with an enemy. We will learn from this. We must learn from this. The cost of this lesson has been great. The price of this knowledge is more than some are comfortable with. That is not my place to decide.

The chisel continues to fall upon this country, these people, and those of us among them.

We are the sum of our scars given to us by our enemies.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Learning to go 'sans'

One of the first things you learn when you join the Army is how to go without alot of the things you are used to.

In basic training, you are kept sheltered from the outside world. No television, no newspapers, no internet. No privacy...but that goes without saying.

On a deployment, I thought it would be worse, but it wasn't. I had pretty much everything I needed to be comfortable, save whiskey and women, but hey, I can deal. Not too long ago I was sent on a new mission to establish communications at FOB Red Falcon here in Afghanistan. This was a brand new base. In the military, new is not nessecairily a good thing. This place was pretty damn barren. No kitchen, no showers, and no AC.

Doing without hot chow is easy. MRE's are tolerable for a time. Especially when you get creative with them. Coco mix+Peanut Butter= Ghetto Reese's Pieces mix. No AC, is adjusted too quickly. Eventually your body runs out of water to sweat, so you dont have to worry about that.


That was the roughest. When was the last time you 'scraped' dirt off your skin? Babywipes help alot, but still, they can only cover so much. I mean they start off white and end up black. You learn to adapt though. You become one with the dirt. It becomes a part of you. Everyone else adapts as well. Your sense of smell loses its 'Funk' detector. Around the clean and polished you might reek, yet among your soiled peers, you are brothers in funk.

Your smell is normal for the situation, so is everyone elses, hence...funk is normal.

Luckily, we recently got showers, and by recently I mean today. These 'Showers' have already aquired a quaint nickname. We call them 'R.Kelly Showers.' You see the pumps they use to pressurize the water are not very strong. So the water pressure is horribly and agonizingly weak. So the water comes out in a steady single thick stream.

Like if R.Kelly was peeing on you.

We are doing okay though. Spirits are high, thanks to a Xbox and Madden 2005. Im not a big fan of Sports games. Mainly because I was never that great at them, an episode concerning BaseballStars on the NES comes to mind, but thats for another day.

So we started a Madden tournament to help kill time. The funny thing is we refer to it as if it was a living breathing, Sports Center worthy event. We will sit around eating, saying, "What? you didn't see that game? Oh man, you missed a good one."

It never ceases to amaze me how we adapt so quickly to our surroundings. The mind finds ways to occupy itself, it finds ways to deal. You learn quickly to live outside of your previous lifestyle. Your mind finds way to compensate for what was lost. No TV, you read. No books to read, you write. No paper to write, you make cave drawings. In itself it is a form of survival. You need to adapt and overcome or you will go insane. I think that is the true strength of a soldier. The ability to ignore hunger, fatigue, sleep, and internet depravation, and 'drive on.' It is a return to the basics. Not in the hunter gatherer sense, but the old Tribe system. Where your whole existence is based around survival. You do not create anything of substance or art. You simply do what needs to be done to make it to the next day.

Drive on.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Perpetuating the Cycle

So here I am. Another week gone by, another grain of sand passing through the hour-glass.

Only 3 months ago I became a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), Sergeant to be exact. Traditionally this is no small feat. Many soldiers work their asses off to get the chance to become a NCO. In my own defense I had to put forth a bit of effort to earn my "stripes" the three Chevrons of the Sergeant.

This is where the soldier begins his career as a leader of men. No longer is he taking orders consistantly. He is now giving them. Those orders must be obeyed and executed in an expedient and professional manner or the mission fails. In the military when the mission fails...people die.

Imagine that burden?

You are a 22 or 24 year old young man, still with a half-cocked alcohol glazed view of your little world. Now, you are responsible for the health, training, and morale of other young men who look to you to have ALL the answers. If you dont have those answers, you damn well better find them fast.

Throughout the military, no matter what the job. A supply NCO who doesnt order proper equipment for soldiers on patrol increases the chance of those soldiers dying in the field. A Motorpool Sergeant who doesnt properly train his crew on vehicle inspections, lets a vehicle go on a convoy that wont be able to maneuver properly. What happens if that convoy gets hit and the vehicle cant react in time to a RPG?

How do you know if someone is ready to shoulder that responsiblity?

My soldier and best friend is going to the Promotion Board tomorrow. He will stand before the Sergeant Major and other First Sergeants of the base and have to prove to them he is qualified to wear the stripes of the NCO.

He will knock on the door to the board room three times. He will hit that door so loud, that the entire base will think that we have rounds incoming. He will then say...

"Permission to Enter."

They will tell him to enter. He will march straight and true to the President of the Board, the Sergeant Major, salute, and say...

"Reporting to the Board as Ordered."

The senior NCO's there will then inspect him. Uniform, shave, boots, weapon, every aspect of this being will be critiqued in those few seconds. For them it will be hours. Trust me I know.

They will take him through facing movements. Left Face, Right Face, About Face, Forward March...all the while watching him for any flaw, hesitation, or lapse. When they are satisfied he will be ordered to take a seat in the only free chair in the room. Usually directly in front of the Sergeant Major, but far enough from the table to see all the senior NCO's.

He will then be ordered to give a brief biography of himself, but the board doesn't really care what he says, but how he says it. With confidence and strength.

From here he will most likely recite the Creed of the Non-Commissioned Offier...

"No one is More professional than I, I am a Non-Commisoned Officer, a leader of soldiers..."

It continues for about 50 more lines.

Now the NCO's will begin to ask him in turn, different questions relating to the Army. Its history, the schematics of weapons, camoflaging techniques, and everything else under the sun. He will be exepected to answer quickly and without hesitation. Hesistation is death on a board. Lack of confidence in oneself will result in a non-recomendation for promotion. He will have to wait till the next board for another shot.

I have no doubt he will succeed and make a fine NCO.

Our job is not easy. The pay is bad, the hours are long, and by the time the shit has rolled down hill to get to you...its pretty big. As subjective as I take the military, I do take pride in being a Non-Commissoned Officer. I do not buy into alot of what the Army sells, but I do know not everyone can do what we do.

But I know my soldier and friend can.

Good luck Cris, not that you'll need it.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Afghan Sauna

Whack shack,
Sweat shop,
Urinal Oven,

It has a million names, but every soldier knows the torture and sweet relief of the FOB port-o-pots. Blue, White, Mauve and so many other drab yet calming colors in the shape of a rectangular temple to human enginuity. The port-o-pot is truly the greatest thing since sliced bread.

How could such a wonderous creation, designed by God himself and handed down to man as a sign of mercy, be associated with death himself.

This fucking heat.

To venture into the port-o-pot for any period longer than the 10 seconds needed to unbutton, whip, release, shake, tuck, and button spells doom for the unwary soldier. Much like Dante venturing into the Inferno, above the doors reads the inscription:

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here.

It gets up to 120 degrees here...on a cool day...in the shade. If you have the unfortunate circumstance to have to spend some "quality time" in the port-o-pot, you might as well attach an I.V. to your arm. The entire water stores in your body evaporate whilst you drop the kids off at the pool. Or as I like to believe, the Sarlac Pitt like in Return of the Jedi.

And why do people look into the pit? You know you do. Everyone does it, but no one speaks of our hidden fascination with the abyss of piss. Sometimes we even lean forward a bit and tilt our head ever so slightly to check out just whats going on down there. What are we looking for anyway? I mean one time a saw what appeared to be a nice watch, but I sure as hell wasn't about to repel, ranger style, down into the pit. It was like a strange oddity, circus-like in appeal.

"Well isn't that interesting" we say as we question how it got there.

One of my buddies here, who shall remain nameless, actually dropped his hat into the pitt. Valiantly and with no regard to his own sanitary well-being reached in to save his own little piece of government issued property. Like a small child fallen down an abandoned water pipe in Buttfuck, Arkansas the hat had to be saved no matter what the cost. Yea, there was no media circus or cheering when his hat was brought out of the pitt to bask in the glorious rays of Afghan sunlight and perch upon the head of its owner, but it was the stuff of legends, of that I have no doubt.

I digress...

Soldiers fear the port-o-pot. I saw one rather large soldier go in only to emrge 20 minutes later and 20 lbs lighter! Not just from last weeks Cordon-Bleu, but from all the sweating done while held captive by the whack shack. Now, he goes in there after work outs, with a towel over his shoulder and in flip-flops. He takes a water bottle and splashes the water around on the inside to create more steam. Its nuts. Though he has lost alot of weight. I guess we should be thankful. I mean people pay good money for access to a world class sauna. So be it.

I for one have managed to strike an uneasy alliance with the shack. I reserve time in the early morning before the sauna is open for business and has not yet reached its briskett roasting temperatures for me to spend quality time with in its confines. In return, I have promised to tell its tale of mystery, tragedy, and wonder.

The port-o-pot: soldiers health spa and torture chamber.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Before I Forget

Here I am, where I’ve been
I’ve walked a hundred miles in tobacco skin,
And my clothes are worn & gritty.
And I know ugliness,
Now show
me something pretty.
I was a dumb punk kid with nothing to lose
And too
much weight for walking shoes.
I could have died from being boring.
for loneliness,
She greets me every morning.

At the most I’m a
I’m the hopeless son who’s hardly there.
I’m the open sign that’s
always busted.
I’m the friend you need, but can’t be trusted.

--Patrick Park

Its so empty here. There are people here, who bustle about from hovel to hovel, like ants carrying the strangest items in some attempt to prepare for a disaster that will never come. Paranoia is served every morning here along with a side of anal retention. So many lives, well engineered pieces of shit, and imported bottled water dancing in a well coregraphed hustle to the rythym of "hooah."

But its still empty.

There is no reflection here. Like a vampire in a bad 80's movie, we are there, but not.

What is here, are rocks. Lots of wonderfully jagged and ankle-twisting rocks. So plentiful and each one unique with a personality and character all its own, like retarded snowflakes. I think that this country, in all honesty, has more rocks per square foot than any other place on God's green earth. Seriously, you can't throw a rock here, well...without hitting another rock. Rock on rock crime is a big problem here by the way. The Igneous rocks have a long standing grudge with the ultramafic rocks on the east side of base. Its a cultural thing I suppose.

Rocks have been here for awhile, and apparently these upstart Afghan's, as they like to be refered by, call this place home. This land belongs to the rocks. No one else should be here. There is no water, no shade, and no foliage suitable for adequate sustanance of today's livestock. So why in the Hell would anyone live here? Honestly. Its like how when some one tells me they are from Alaska, Arizona, or Canada; I'm like "Why, it sucks there."

Home is where you make it I suppose. So home for me I suppose is here with the rocks. They are not the most gracious of hosts, but they don't seem to ask too much of us, their guests.

Squatters in an empty land that belongs to no one but the sun and inhabitable by no one except the children of pressure and time. So it is that little by little with lots of pressure from the idiots who run this place, and a year of time, we too become like our stoic hosts.

Unique, boring, and unfeeling. Retarded snowflakes.

And I know ugliness, Now show me something pretty.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


The worst thing about mornings is PT (physical training). Every Monday through Friday morning we wake up about 0120, rub the boogers out of our eyes, lick the roof of our mouths trying to get that weird taste out and get dressed up for PT. A disturbing number of the people I live with sleep nekkid, not naked, nekkid - naked is beautiful, nekkid is scary. So any how, formation is at 0130, so from the time we get done scratching, we need to be formed up to begin another day in paradise. This is a struggle.

The best thing about the mornings is breakfast. Thanks to the wonderful American tax payer and the gernerous personel of Kellog Brown and Root, we get awesome chow here. You can get omlets made anyway you want, fried eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, hashbrowns, grits, biscuts and gravy, fruit, cereal, waffles, its like the buffet at Shoney's. It rocks!!!

Now this is gone from me. We just had an influx of personel and the lines for breakfast are huge. It reminds me of that old film footage from the USSR where the people used to wait in line for four months for a half of loaf of grub eaten rye. I mean c'mon man! I want my frosted flakes and some expiered orange juice( most of the prepackaged food is borderline expired, but hey, the law of the lowest bidder.)Now, we trudge through the line everymorning, its like Space Mountain without the futuristic music and photos at the end. Egads!

So now, we sneak in through the exit, skipping the hot food, and make a b-line toward the ceral rack, grab some milk, enriched with vitamin R, whatever the hell that is, and go out the other door. The cereal comes in sealed cups about the size of a coffee mug, it takes about two to make a half decent breakfast.

We then head back to our hut, plop down on the couch and watch TV. Dont ask how we got the couch, you dont want to know, and the bodies haven't fully decomposed. So we plop down, and proceed to consume the best that Kellogs has to offer! They're GREAT!

Its funny becasue this reminds me of home alot. I remember early mornings before school, when my mom would wake me up way too damn early, 4 hours before my first class, and I would eat breakfast in the living room. I'd grab the tupperware bowl, you know the one you use to mix cake, the 5 gallon bowl. Fill that bowl up with half a box of cereal, use the whole carton of whole milk, yes, I said whole milk you communist skim milk drinkers. Then watch MTV or Sports Center till the cereal was shoveled away and it was time to get to class. We dont have MTV but we manage to substitute it with DVD's of Family Guy or Friends.

Now breakfast is back to the best part of the day, because its the only real normal time. Everything here is just too damn weird, ignorant, or just plain wrong. Its good to know that every morning for 30 minutes, me and the rest of my section get a little closer to home. Except we wear body armor and carry rifles to school.

Despit it all sometimes, 30 minutes of home is enough to last a lifetime.