Sunday, February 24, 2008

Day in the Groundhog

I wanted to go through and discuss what a ‘normal’ day is like – including the special days, like Friday – which they call “NATO” Friday – or ____ Off Friday – since Friday is the Muslim version of our Sunday – what they consider a holy day. Most folks either don’t work at all on Fridays or work only half days. Of course, the war continues – but I think that’s obvious. :) Now, we don’t get days off. We work every day – same schedule – so that’s why it becomes more like Groundhog Day for us here. Not much changes day to day.

However – there are certainly ways to gauge the day based on what is happening on base. For example… Sunday is chapel. Now, this is not your normal, run-by-a-chaplain military base chapel. Nope. There is no ‘protestant’ chaplain on HQ ISAF – to start with. I’ve heard that there is a Catholic Chaplain, but haven’t met him. No – out chapel is run by the laymen. We have Jon, a major from the UK Army, that typically leads the singing – unless of course SFC Handren is in town. WOW – that guy can sing! He has such a deep clear voice – sometimes I just like to hear how he’s singing the songs as opposed to singing with him. Then there’s the US Navy Commander that plays the songs on his computer as we sing along. Now, often Major Jon is seen as the ‘leader’ of the chapel, at least by me. And he will preach occasionally. But the special treat is when MG Kennedy preaches. His knowledge of the Bible is absolutely stunning. His depth and breadth of knowledge is indeed formidable. The man is. . .wise. I don’t know very many men I would call wise. Some wise-guys – sure, but actually wise – few and far between. MG Kennedy is wise. Another interesting tidbit would be that, were we under the auspices of the Afghan law, we would be breaking it – as preaching Christianity is illegal in Afghanistan. Or at least it used to be.

Monday through Wednesday – Groundhog Day – all the same. Thursday night – now that’s party night. Typical signs that its Friday morning on ISAF – vomit on the ground outside the Cadillacs – typically smelling very much like beer; rumors about bunker 5 and a certain nation’s men engaging in what I believe is against NATO policy (I won’t go into that – plus there’s no proof); ‘some’ shops being closed – but not consistently; folks not being at work; the post office on base only being opened from 0930 – 1100 – and only for pickup; the chow hall not opening until 7 – but staying open until 10 (for ‘brunch’); and there are others. Thursday night is the big ‘party’ – for some folks (not all) – and Friday is the NATO holiday.

Saturday and Sunday? Well, outside of having chapel on Sunday nights, the weekend is just pretty much like every other day – nothing different. Everything is open, mail is open – you know, it’s a bit odd getting mail on a Sunday, but you get used to it – all the shops are open, and nothing really stops.

Maybe that’s part of the insanity of war – no days off. That’s why after WWII (or was it I) the world went to a 5 day work week. Maybe that’s when vacations started. Maybe that’s when calling in sick started. I don’t know – but it certainly is a different reality to get used to.

Ok, back to work. . . it’s. . . .


Groundhog day.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Roadie, rock 'n roll & philosophy

When I met Mark, The Major with the New Zealand Army that was the current bass player for the Tali Band, I told him that I could step in as soon, or as late, as he’d like. I’m in no hurry – and I realize that this is his gig. I’m willing to be the replacement when he is finished – no worries. There are a couple gigs coming up – Sunday birthday gig at the Milano, and then Monday a trip to Eggers (about 2 blocks away – but have to get there via secure travel, and armored up – even though it’s a ‘green zone’ area). Sounded good – so I thought I’d go ahead and travel with the band and act as roadie, helping get set up – an extra set of hands & ears are always helpful for band setup.

The Sunday gig – the birthday gig (last Sunday of the month, every month, at the Milano restaurant) was cool. I was there, helped set up – got to tweak the bands levels in the EQ – yes, Kevin & Kevin actually taught me some good things about running sound over the past few years – and we got them sounding really good. All the levels sounded good, vocals up front, nothing too much louder than anything else – a pretty good mix.

So we get done setting up – check sound a bit, then all head out to eat, run, whatever prior to the gig at 8. So I went & got some chow, and hit my room for a bit to check email prior to the gig.

The gig went fantastic – crowd really into it – folks dancing a bit, and everyone just having a great time.

The next night we had to head over to another base, Eggers. Now, it’s only a couple blocks drive, but we still had to ‘suit up & load up’ – which means put on the body armor, helmets, and load a magazine into our various weapons of choice – mine being the 9mm. Now, loading up may conjure up different things for different folks – especially military. In the AOR here in Afghanistan, the ROE states that when we ‘load up’ a magazine, we only put the clip in without chambering a round. AOR = area of responsibility, aka the theater of operations. ROE = rules of engagement – the rules for how we ‘fight’. When in this area of the city, we load the magazine, but don’t chamber a round – which means we don’t cock the gun, and we don’t load a bullet in the chamber, or barrel. Doing so makes the gun immediately ready to fire. We have the weapon in a state ready to go – but needing to be ‘charged’ before firing. Safer for us – but also brings in a bit of delay were we to get involved with the enemy. No worries.

So, we load up the gear into the armored vehicles – what a way to travel – and head out. When we arrive at the base, just after leaving, we go to the tent where we are going to play to find a 4’ stage in a fairly nice, large tent for the show. Very cool. We got to moving things around and setting up, and suddenly one of the MWA folks (morale, welfare & activities) folks tell us there is a bunker call, and to stay put. Well. Isn’t that nice. A bunker call – is what happens when there is an attack, and they want to get everyone to a safe fortified position – the bunkers. There was not an attack, but this was only a drill. Even better.

The bunker call ends – the show goes on – folks come in, have fun, even dance a little and the world – at least in Kabul – is a better place. That’s the coolest part about what we do in the Tali Band – we bring folks into a musical environment where they get to forget that there is a war going on right outside the walls. . for a few minutes. They get to relax, and be normal. . . before heading back out and defending the freedom we find so dear.

Pretty darn cool if you think about it.

I’ll close tonight with a quote from one of my favorite philosophers – John Stuart Mill:

“A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Condi Rice & David Milliband

I’ve not met lots of famous people. I have met a few, some interesting, some not – mostly musical in nature. I have not gone out of my way to meet people – especially famous people, as that fame thing does not really appeal to me. I would much rather spend time with my family or friends, rather than go hunting for folks. When I was in LA, I didn’t meet anyone famous – and certainly felt like the trip was still fun & worthwhile. I did ‘run into’ (i.e. stand next to) from the bands Styx and Damn Yankees. He looked like I felt after flying for 10 hours – so I didn’t bother him.

Anyway, I’ve always thought that Condoleezza Rice came off as a fairly straightforward person; at least she appears that way. Very knowledgeable – she’s a PhD – and seems like a person of substance and of some moral standards. When I heard that she may be coming on a VIP visit to HQ ISAF, I thought it would be interesting to see what she has to say, so I found out about the when’s & where’s and arranged to get there. This was kind of a last minute thing – as the security around the travel arrangements of important folks in the AOR is often pretty tight – so we didn’t hear until the day of. We were told to be at the gymnasium (the best place, really – for a large gathering) so we showed up at the appointed time only to be told there was a delay, to return later (about and hour and a half). So we did. The gym is actually pretty close to the shop, so no biggie. When we returned, there were many rumors about what was to happen, but not much organization. We stood around for a bit – maybe a half hour, and then the base Sergeant Major (the senior enlisted for the entire compound) has us form up into a couple of formations. He then explains about what is to happen – Mr. Milliband and Ms. Rice will enter, give a short talk, and then be on their way. We should not try to get autographs, as they are on a tight schedule, and please show military bearing, yada yada yada. Okay, so we were going to be a bit military – that’s understandable. We were then told that they were about 20 minutes out. Okay, so we stayed loosely in formation – haven been given the ‘at ease’ command, so we talked a bit, milled about. This went on for about 45 minutes, til we were told they were 5 minutes out. Given the recent math – we figured we had about a half hour. Forty-five minutes later we were again formed up, and then an additional fifteen minutes, and we were called to attention, and saw the cameras light up as the procession came into the room.

I’ve never met a royal – but the first word that came to mind was regal. Ms. Rice looked confident, self-assured, and calm. I’ve seen her walk on CNN or Foxnews before, so recognized her from that. Then she began to talk. She was very proud of us – and wanted to thank us for our service, our commitment, and she did it in such a way that was very sincere. I’ve seen political speeches – who can miss them nowadays – but this was no political speech. This was a heartfelt thank you.

After the speeches, eash person went to an opposite side of the room to talk with us, the troops. There were many nations represented here – I stopped trying to count, but the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, UK & US of course, but many others as well; and every branch of service was represented as well. Given the warnings from the sergeant major, most folks just kept in their places as they came by – until one particular lieutenant. Now, he works with us – and I’d heard he was going to do this – but when he did – well, everything changed. He unzipped his flight suit to reveal a t-shirt underneath with the words – I Condi – written across his chest – and he asked if she would mind signing his shirt. She immediately broke out into a very genuine smile. Ear to ear. That was the key. Everyone broke away from where they were to get a look – and a photo. :) The news cameras were actually running to get it on film. I heard that it made CNN – but never did see it myself.

Since the proverbial ice was broken, everyone started to crowd – just a bit – and Condoleezza Rice moved around the room – talking to every single person, shaking hands, saying “Thank you for your service” – and stopping for anyone that had a camera. She seemed very genuine – and very nice.

If she were running for office – I’d vote for her in a heartbeat.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Tali Band

Valentine’s Day turned out to be something special at HQ ISAF – turns out there was a live band playing. WHAT?!?! A live band – I am so there. :) So 8 o’clock rolled around, and I made my way to the Milano restaurant to see what was going on. There was a band there alright – and they were very good. There had to be about 9 folks up on stage, 3 guitars, 2 acoustics (one doubling on mandolin), bass, drums, trombone, 2 singers (in addition to 2 guitar players that also sang), keyboards. . . I think that was it. They were doing cover tunes – stuff you would know from the radio – songs from the 70’s & 80’s – and they were doing very well. Here I am, Kabul Afghanistan, and there’s a live band playing. How cool.

As a point of reference – and reading this blog you should realize this by now – I am a musician. I love music. I play in a couple bands and as a worship musician at church. Knowing as I did that it was possible that there would be some downtime while I was stationed here, I brought with me a few items that would help me pass the time – including one of my basses. I brought my fretless custom Wilkat/Anderson/BEE with me so I could practice my intonation on the fretless and just get more comfortable playing it. I mean, I’ve only had it for, what – maybe 6 months by now. So I knew there would be time on my hands, and what better way to spend it than by honing my craft. I know the guys back home are working on writing a new cd – in StrangeLand – and DC Key just finished a cd – so there may be gigs to play. What could be better?!

The band played through a set for about an hour – then they went on a break. I grabbed the bass player, Mark, introduced myself, and asked if they would need a bass player at some time in the near future. He was very friendly and nice, and instructed me to come on in to a practice, and they would be more than happy to have me. Sweet! I was in! I listened to the rest of the set, and then turned in for the night with a plan.

I attended practice and met the guys, who all introduced themselves (including “Jim” – who I later learned was a Brigadier General in the UK Marines!). Very nice folks – and some very talented folks. The band included folks from all over base, and all over the world. LtCol’s in the USAF, a LtCDR from Canada, a BG from the UK, a Major from New Zealand, and on and on. This band was a pretty diverse group – and as we played and learned the songs, I found them to be a talented group as well.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Lunch with Ishmatella & Abdul

Going out shopping here on HQ ISAF is always interesting – at least compared to what it would be like back home. Here – over at the Carnaby Street shops, there are several shopping places – a few jewelry shops, rug shops, a tailor, etc. Today, Ken invited us to go have lunch with him at the Bahktar Jewelry shop with Ishmatella and Abdul. I wasn’t sure what to expect – but how cool could that be – having some traditional Afghan foods with a couple local merchants – that sounded really great – so I told him I was in.

When we got there, the shop was very small – about 10’ wide, about 20’ long – so not very large – and with cases on all 4 walls and a standing case at the back – we used that as a table. The guys were very nice, and immediately offered us hot tea and seats, as they got out the feast. The meal consisted of ishmish (raisins – room dried, not sun dried), pistachio nuts, and another nut I’m not sure of, the main course was kabob’s – both chicken and steak, a rice dish, cooked with Chicken in it – almost like a fried rice, but it didn’t seem fried, and then another dish that was kind of like a ravioli, with a meat in it, and sour cream on top. Everything was absolutely delicious! What wonderful flavors – and as we sat, our new friends were very friendly, talking about their culture and families and asking us about ours. One thing I noticed was that there was no mention of business, no questions about what we were going to buy – or how we in some way were indebted to them for the meal. None – whatsoever. This was such a foreign way to do business! It made no fiscal sense – at all….. but I think that is the beauty and charm of it. I felt a kinship with these guys just due to the fact that they made us lunch, expecting nothing in return. Why would I not shop with them!?

Needless to say, I don’t shop at any other jewelry shops. :)