MARK SWEENEY

My Afghanistan vacation
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This is what I've got so far.  As other memories come back to me, I shall relate them, and as soon as my traveling companions send me their pics, I'll add them as well. 

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Sunset in Qalat, Afghanistan

8/13/07

Dear Diary-

Well, I’m off to Afghanistan. I thought I was going to Iraq, I was wrong. Things change. I got home from Déjà Vu around 2 a.m., my cab came at 5, three hours of sleep. That should be plenty. I’m rested and ready to travel. My cab driver was a former Marine and somewhat of a conspiracy theorist. He covered everything from the Kennedy assassination to the Israeli Mossad. He had thoughts on everything, after 15 minutes, my head was spinning, I don’t even think I said anything but “uh huh.” That’s just too much info at 5 in the morning. I can’t think that fast. I’m not even sure he took a breath.

I rented a car in LA. I got a Prius battery car. It took me 10 minutes to figure out how to start it. I had to use the driver’s manual. The motor doesn’t turn on until you start moving. You just put it in gear and go. Bizarre. It shuts off when you stop too, I was confused. I know it’s economical but I’d like to at least know my motor is running. My flight to Frankfurt, Germany is at 6:30 p.m. I showed up at 2. If you’ve ever flown out of LAX, you know to get there early. It took about 90 minutes to get through the line and check in. Then you have to go stand in line to put your luggage through security.

I happened to snag an exit row seat for my 11 hour flight to Germany, I thought I had hit the mother load, I’ll have plenty of room to stretch my self out. I was wrong again. The exit row is right next to the bathroom, so everyone that waits for the bathroom stands right in front of me. That area, also unbeknownst to me, was the stretching area. Super. Fifteen minutes after we take off, the seat belt lights go off and at least 50 people get up and start moving around the plane. Fifteen minutes into an 11 hour flight and it’s a mad scramble of movement. I thought they were giving away free ice cream or something. Then there is a steady stream of people invading my area doing stretching exercises. Jesus people, we’ve been in air for 15 minutes, sit your ass down and get out of my aisle. Of course this went on for the next 11 hours. I won’t take this row again.

We landed in Frankfurt and got picked up by Pete, an Air Force dude, taking us to Ramstein Air Base. We stayed in VIP housing, that was nice. It would be our last time for 2 weeks we would have our own rooms. There is no a.c. so it’s a good thing the weather’s nice. I wonder what it’s going to be like in Afghanistan? The jet lag thing isn’t bothering me at all. I’m special, or so I thought. I went to bed at 8 p.m. thinking I’ll sleep like a baby all night.

It’s now 1 a.m. and I’m wide awake, I’m up watching German tv. Not an easy thing to do because they’re speaking German, it’s like they have a different word for everything. I go back to bed around 4:30 and flip and flop until 6:30, now it’s time to get up, chow and get ready to fly to Manas, Kyrgyzstan. I’m tired. I guess I’m not special, jet lag affects me too. Who’d a thought?

8/15/07

Dear Diary-

We’re in Incirlik, Turkey. Why? That’s just the way they do things. We had to stop and get fuel etc. Spent over 2 hours in Turkey, but we couldn’t leave so I didn’t see much of Incirlik. We were there long enough for me to have a sit down. This foreign travel is affecting me bowels again, just like my trip to Iraq. What the hell is it with me and pooping during world wide travel? I won’t cover that topic again, if you want, you can go read about my Iraq trip and get all the info you need.

We land in Kyrgyzstan around 3:30 a.m. little did I know there would be much night travel. As we’re getting ready to depart, we’re informed that the plane has to be towed to a more secure area. We deplane, get on a bus and head to a debriefing, why, as civilians, we have to be debriefed, is beyond me, but we do. Apparently there are many rules etc. that apply to us as we stay in beautiful Manas.

We debrief, head to chow and get ready for a nap. It’s now almost 8 in the morning and I’m laying down for my night time sleep. This could mess with a boy.

8/16/07

Dear Diary-

It’s noon and I’m up. Time for chow. We’re going to end up doing a lot of this, sleep and chow. You never know when you’re going to get another chance to do either. I knew that from Iraq, sleep and eat when you can. Our flight isn’t until 8 tomorrow morning. Of course, due to the military philosophy of “hurry up and wait,” we have a roll call at midnight. We show up to the PAX terminal at midnight, hear our names called and now we’re excited, we’re getting on a plane to Bagram, Afghanistan.


“We’re here, we’re here” we call out.

“That’s great sir, just have a seat.”

“When’s our flight?”

“0800, sir”

“You mean tomorrow morning?”

“Yes, sir, just have a seat, we’ll let you know when it’s time to board.”

“Well, what are we supposed to do for the next 8 hours?”

“Just hang loose sir, just hang loose.”

So we sat there for 8 hours waiting on our flight, we did a lot of that, waiting for our flights. We got used to killing time. We drank a lot of fluids, some of it due to boredom, “hey, what do you want to do? Do you want to get some more water?” That of course led to many potty breaks, all just a vicious cycle. You also learn how to sleep sitting up, leaning over, laying on chairs laying on the floors etc. Good times. Just like hobo’s, grabbing z’s whenever you could. I miss laying down for my slumber. Seems like something weird to miss eh? Sleeping while laying down. Odd, the things you take for granted.

 

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The C-117

8/17/07

Dear Diary-

Well, it’s now almost 9 a.m. and we’re airborne. We’re flying on a C-117 cargo plane. We just flew over the Himalayas, that was cool, I’ve never seen them before. I was doing a little video taping and somehow got my case strap wrapped around the door latch as I was backing away and almost opened the door at 30,000 feet. That was close, fortunately, it takes 4 other latches to get the door open. It still freaked me out for a second. I’d hate to be sucked out of an airplane from that height. Tough fall.

We land in Bagram, Afghanistan in the early afternoon, I think. The days are already starting to bleed into one. I think it’s Friday, but that would be the 17th, I think. I’m not sure. Who are you? Where are you from? It’s either Thursday or Friday, where am I? Who am I? Where did this cake come from? We’re in Bagram, it’s a little hotter here. I’m starting to sweat, nothing drastic, just a little damp. We’re being weighed for our flight to FOB Fenty, near Jalalabad. They can’t put too much weight on the prop plane we’re taking, or it could go down. Don’t want that. I’m starting to get tired. We’ve been up since 11 last night and I think it’s around 2 in the afternoon now. A prop plane flying through the Afghanistan mountains is not what you would call “a smooth ride.” There seem to be many updrafts and downdrafts and yes, maybe, even some sideways drafts. So we bounce and roll and swerve for about 15 minutes when we land.

I should introduce the group, I should’ve done so earlier, but I did not, so now I’m trying to rectify the situation. You should always introduce the characters before the story gets going, but since this really isn’t “a story” I just jumped right in with my dictation. My fault, my apologies, I digress.

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Rick, Sandy, Me, Jentle

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some new friends

Opening the show was Jentle Phoenix, from Long Island, New York, presently residing in L.A. Next we have Rick Kunkler from Seattle, now too, living in L.A. Batting third we have Sandy Brown, from L.A, living in L.A. Me of course, you know. Moving on.

We land at Nangahar Airport, Rick gets off the plane snapping pictures and taking video, until I point out the big sign that says “no flight line photography.” Rick had no video camera though, he used his phone. Which I thought was priceless. Video taping the entire trip on his phone. He did it though, never wavered, never questioned his decision, that by God, was dedication.

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LT Kodrin and Me

As we disembark, I notice the heat. It’s warmer here, like 30* warmer. I ask the fork lift driver how hot it is, “hot" he says. I believed him. Found out shortly it was 118*. Nice. I don’t think the heavy sweating will start for awhile though. By the time we had walked across the flight line. And yes, we walked across the line. There is a green/red light that lets you know it’s safe to cross, but we did cross right where the planes landed. We get to the gate and I’m soaked. I’m wet from head to mid thigh. Uh oh. I may be in trouble, this is hot.

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But we’re here, we’re finally going to do a show. It took a cab, a rental car, 2 commercial planes, a military plane, a crop duster and a bus to get here, but we’ve made it. We’re off to our lodging. The girls are lodged in a hard building with nice ac, nice racks and a microwave, not bad for a FOB. Ricky and I are in a tent. That’s OK with us. We’re here to do shows for the troops not stay in nice comfy beds. We’re in a tent. It’s a big tent, but it’s a tent. OK, cool, we’ve done the tent thing before. Of course, I’ve never stayed in a tent in the Afghani desert when it’s 118* outside. The sun heats up the tent. I know, I know it’s a brilliant observation. It’s simple physics really, the sun transfers the heat to the tent top, which releases it into the tent “body.” It had to be at least 100 in there, and I’m being generous. It was obvious there will be no naps in this mofo. You can’t take a nap in those kind of conditions. I don’t care how tired you are. The heat tires you out too, I didn’t think of that. No wonder I’m sleepy. The tent did have a.c. but it only cooled the bottom 12 inches of the tent. Hilarious actually. I put my mattress on the floor and just stayed low. If you we’re laying down and decided to sit up, it was unbelievable, a difference of 40* or more. Wild, wacky stuff. I’ve got a headache. When do we eat?

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Laying in the only cold air

So we hydrated, and hydrated and then hydrated some more. In the first couple of hours we were at Fenty, I drank 3 gallons of fluids, I’m not shitting you. And only peed once. How’s that for some sweat? They actually have charts in the latrine asking what color your urine is. If it’s dark, you’re dehydrated, drink more water. If it’s this color drink more water. Even if it’s clear, you’re hydrated but they want you to drink more water. I don’t think I could’ve put any more fluids in me.

About an hour before the show, Rick heads to medical. He needs an I.V. it seems he’s lost more fluids than he’s replaced. The boy needs to be hydrated even more. We’re not sure he’s going to make the show, the girls and I are planning on going with out him. He’s on death’s door, he’s been taken down, out, there’s no way he can go on. The talk is of a medivac flight back to Bagram. He may be suffering from liver damage. We’re not sure how long the lad can hold on. He’s already been fighting for his life for over an hour. Has he received brain damage? Will he survive? And if he does, will he still be the same Richie Kunkler that we’ve come to know? God in heaven give us the strength to deal with…what? He’s here? Oh, well then never mind, he’s OK and ready to do the show. What a trooper. The show went very well, fun had by all. Then I was off to the shower, we’ve been up almost 24 hours and I’m ready for sleep, but I can smell myself and I’ve got a couple layers of salt dried on my skin. I don’t want to ruin the sheets on the mattress. Oh wait, we have no sheets or bed coverings or a pillow. Now I can make my famous pillow/case out of a t-shirt and dirty clothes. Just like in Iraq, sleeping with the smell of ass and dirty socks in my face. War is hell.

8/18/07

Dear Diary-

I know I skipped a day in there somewhere, but we went into the future getting here, so it seems right to skip a day or lose a day or whatever, I’m confused. We’ll call it the 18th and leave it at that OK? OK. It’s 120*, groovy. It’s not even a dry heat, there is a small river near by and it puts out just enough moisture to make even 120* seem uncomfortable. We mosey around all day, try and nap, get some chow, try to nap, grab some more chow and head out on a road convoy. I didn’t think they’d really take us on the road outside the wire, but here we are, and there we go. On the road in a military convoy of humvee’s riding through Jalalabad. Out of sight man. I didn’t really worry about getting blown up though. I figure if God’s going to take me out in an IED explosion, what can I do about it? If it’s Allah’s way, then it’s Allah’s way. Let’s party. We’re on our way to a FOB called a PRT. It’s reconstruction camp that helps the locals get shit done. The other half of the camp hunts the bad guys. It’s a nice synergy. Rebuild, hunt, hunt, rebuild.

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Riding in the humvee

We took a tour of the base and they had trees there. Apparently none of the FOB’s have many trees. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hot, no shade. Well, the PRT did have shade and it was lovely. Hard to believe standing in the shade was again, a 30-40* difference in temp. Give me some more please sir. I’d like some more shade. We did 2 shows at the PRT because they couldn’t fit everyone in the chow hall at the same time. So we did one, turned the room and 5 minutes later, we’re into the second show. Efficient indeed.

When it’s time to go back to Fenty for the night, we have to have a “briefing” about our journey. We’re standing in nothing but the headlights of the humvee, wearing our body armor listening to stuff like- “if we get hit by an IED, we’ll radio for an evac from where we get hit, if we take an RPG or small arms fire, we’ll destroy the enemy and move back here for any medivac that is necessary.”

As comedians, we’re all looking for some comedy in this, but there doesn’t seem to be much there. I want to give some clever comment about what he’s saying, but he seems so serious, I thought twice about that. Then he tells us “We’re on the look out for any taxi’s or a white corolla, that is known to belong to a insurgent.” As he’s giving out the license plate number, I’m reaching for a pen, I want to take down this number and keep my eyes peeled. I’m ready to help out, let me take a weapon and sit up top. “That won’t be necessary sir, we’ve got you covered." As we’re leaving the gate the Afghani who is manning the post is taking too much time lifting the gate and our driver yells at him "hurry up mofo, you’re making us a target."

Wait… what did he say? Making us a target? Was that it? Making us a target for what? That doesn’t sound too good. Making us a target? Should I be concerned? Should I do something? What am I looking for? I don’t want to be “made a target.” I’m not sure anyone does. Can we get moving please? Nothing happened though, it was a nice ride, short too. Praise the Lord. I’m still tired and I’m still hungry and I’m still hot and sticky. I love it here.

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View from the back seat

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cooling down

8/19/07

Dear Diary-

It’s 0800 and already over 105*. Eight o’clock in the blessed a.m. and it’s already hot. You can’t really bring enough powder for a trip to Afghanistan in August. I’ve been dusting my boys about a dozen times a day. It’s all you can do, just keep dusting. Keep a fine layer of powder all over. I smell baby fresh, for just about 10 minutes. I better get some fluids. Speaking of fluids, I should cover “pee bottles.” Pee bottles are quite simply, bottles you pee in during the night. The latrines are too far away and it’s too dark and too much hassle, to get up, find shoes, find a flashlight, and waltz all the way over to the latrines. It’s much easier to pick up an empty bottle and let ‘er rip. Perhaps letting her rip is misleading, you don’t really let anything “rip.” It’s a cautious ordeal. First of all, you have you use a Gatorade bottle, a water bottle doesn’t have a big enough opening, you end up peeing mostly on your hand or down the side of the bottle. That is a lesson you learn the hard way. Always use a wide mouth bottle. Ricky had the record, he filled up six one night. That’s a lot, six pee bottles. I guess he had some fluids today. That was usually the first chore you saw the men do each morning, walking to the trash can with their collection of pee bottles in their arms. Classic, simple. I woke up last night about 3 a.m. and never made it back to sleep. We’re taking malaria pills and they give you these wild, intense, vivid dreams. A couple have even been disturbing, and I’m not a man who disturbs easily.

 

 

Last night Ricky had a little rash “downtown” from all the sweating we’ve been doing. I must not have been paying attention because he mentions something about “hand sanitizer will help jock rash, won’t it?” Next thing I know he’s on his bunk with legs in the air wailing about “it burns, it burns.” I guess he must have put some of that 90% alcohol hand sanitizer on his balls. We had a good laugh about that, one of those, I’m so tired I can’t stop laughing moments, we went on and on over that one. It was pretty funny, and strangely enough, it seemed to help.

I realized this morning that I still have a headache. It’s been 2 days and my head still hurts. It must be the heat. It can’t be from lack of fluids. That seems like all we do, consume fluids and then go pee. Fluids, pee, fluids, pee. The girls skipped breakfast and lunch today and were reminded by LT Kodrin that if you don’t eat or drink out here you will die. They made it for dinner.

We can’t get to our next gig tonight, it’s too dangerous so we’re doing another show here at Fenty. I hope we get a different crowd. Ha ha, get it? A different crowd. Oh that’s rich.

Had “surf and turf” for chow tonight, once a week they have surf and turf nights. We had steak and crab legs. Nice. One problem though, the silverware is made of plastic and doesn’t open up crab very well. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried opening crab legs with your bare hands, but it hurts.  Hurtful and messy that's what crab legs are. By the time dinner was done, I had open gashes on my palms and one half way up my wrist from a slipped grip. Next time, I’m getting macaroni and cheese.

 

8/20/07

Dear Diary-

A day off today, no show, no travel. We just hung out, drank fluids, peed and ate. That was it for the day. Today was the Afghani Independence day so we went across the airfield to where the Afghani Security Forces stay. They work with the Americans to fight the Taliban. We had some traditional Afghani food, which I, of course, was going pass on. I’m a picky eater and won’t eat just anything, especially food that has been prepared in the mountains of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, if you don’t eat what they’ve prepared, it’s considered an insult. Well, far be it from me to start an international incident because I didn’t eat goat meat or  camel feet or yak balls or whatever the hell it was. I didn’t ask, I just ate. It was actually quite tasty. See felt? Do you see what you get when you try something new? Do you see? Felt.

Afterwards we stayed and did some traditional Afghani dancing. I danced and danced and danced until I felt I could dance the night away, I danced until I couldn’t plum dance no more. Just about 5 minutes. There is much leaping and prancing and jumping about. I just don’t have that kind of energy. After 5 minutes, I again, am soaked with sweat from neck to knees. Very attractive. Not that it mattered, for outside our girls and a couple from the camp, there were no women there. The Afghani’s don’t party with their women. They have a whole different outlook on the female persuasion, which I won’t go into. It was just the men folk, dancing their little hearts out.

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Dancing the night away

We took many pics, and the Afghani’s love to look at the pictures once they’ve been taken. It’s an amazing thing, these guys are mesmerized over the ability to take a picture and then be able to look at it. Rick and I also have a pic with Major Houzman, the head of the Afghani Force. What an intense dude. You can see by looking at him, he’s a no nonsense s.o.b. I found myself just staring at him. He intrigued the hell out of me. LT told us he’s been fighting the Taliban for years. He also was leading the charge against the Russians when they invaded. His platoon of course, were on horseback and they were attacking Russian tanks. Now that is some wild shit, attacking tanks on horseback. The dude has been around. So we’re taking pics and taking more pics. We also soon realized that we were the only four left and each time we took a pic, there would be 20-30 Afghani soldiers swarming us, or the girls actually. That’s when the LT. said, ‘we’ve got to go right now.” You don’t have to tell me twice, let’s boogie. It was a great experience. It was the first time in my life I’ve gone dancing with the Afghani Security Forces. Adios my new friends, perhaps we’ll be able to dance together on the next full moon.

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The Afghani Security Force

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Ricky, Me and the Major

8/21/07

Dear Diary-

We’re now back at Bagram. We’re waiting on a flight to Kandahar. It’s now noon and our flight is at 1:30a.m. We’ve got some time to kill. We met the Catholic priest named father O’Brien. This guy was a card, from upstate New York, chained smoked and sounded like a drill instructor. Hilarious. He was telling us about the “shit pools” in Kandahar. And yes, he used the term shit pools. It’s a group of four sewage treatment pools that sit at the edge of the base and when it gets hot (which is everyday we’re there) you can smell them as soon as you get off the plane. We got in at 3 a.m. so we didn’t get to smell them. I’m not sure why I used the term “get to smell them” like it’s something to look forward to, but we didn’t smell them at all.

That night.

We’ve got a 2 p.m. flight to a FOB in Qatal, Afhganistan, so before we leave Capt. Tucker takes us by the shit pools. I’m not sure why, I think we just wanted to experience them. I mean, what’s the point of going to Kandahar, if don’t get to smell the pools? He drives us over and then says to open the windows. We do. Wow. What can I say? I started to gag and the Capt. is laughing his ass off, so I take another breath and throw up in his lap. That will teach him. Words can’t give this aroma justice so I won’t try. It’s raw sewage, it’s 122* and there is no wind. That is all I can say.

We’re flying to Qatal in a Blackhawk chopper. The pilot wants to know if we’d like to fly with the doors open. Yes. Yes we would, let the gentle breeze float over us and chill our overheated cores. Well, that was a mistake I shant make again. I sat in the back row, facing the front. All I can say was that it was like being slapped in the face by three people for 45 minutes. I was totally miserable. I wish someone would’ve said, “don’t sit back there, it’s a little windy.” It was advice I could’ve used. The straps from my helmet, my body armor, my hat, my shirt, my camera bag, everything that wasn’t secured down is whipping me about my face and neck. I can barely look out the open door, not only do I have helicopter blade wash attacking me, but the wind is over 120* and it is launching a non-stop assault upon my tender face. It was my worst helicopter ride…ever. I finally take my helmet off and cover my face. I got used and abused. I won’t do that again.

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oh, it's breezy

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8/22/07

Dear Diary-

Great show last night in the chow hall in Qalat. FOB Lagman. Great guys. We took some pics on humvees, holding weapons etc. The motor pool guys showed us a bunch of pics of what goes on around there. I can’t share it with you because I took a pledge of silence. Ricky and I shared a tent that was right next to the place where they store the explosives they find on the roads etc. I wish we would’ve known that before hand. There are also a pallet of acetylene canisters right outside our door. That’s a lot of explosive shit right next to sleeping quarters. If a mortar comes in anywhere near us, I do believe that Rick and I are toast.

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FOB Lagman

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DFAC at FOB Lagman

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some more new friends

We took another road convoy to a PRT in Qalat. That’s always a trip. They ride right down the middle of the road, telling people to get out of the road.

We get to the PRT and have some chow, very casual. Sitting on the ground and eating some grub. Not too bad, it’s actually kind of comfortable. The sun is going down and we’re in Qatal, enjoying a nice little supper. There is a puppy running around and we start to play with him. He’s adorable as hell and we can’t help ourselves. I’ve got him in my lap and the 1st Sgt. tells me,

“I wouldn’t be playing with that dog too much.”

“Why not? I reply.

“Because she’s wild Afghani dog with no owner, who roams around with no shots, if she bites or scratches you, there’s no telling what kind of disease you could end up with.”

“Okey doke” I say as I gently put her back on the ground. You don’t have to tell me twice. Seemed like sound reasoning. The last thing I need is some type of intestinal parasite from the pooch. Or distemper or rabies or scurvy or the flu or botulism or chicken pox or some other type of weird middle eastern disease that hasn’t been seen in humans for 200 years. What if I get the Black Death? I bet they still have it over here. The girls didn’t care though, they were carrying her around all night.

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Cruising through Qalat

We did the show in DFAC (chow hall) with no lights or sound. Just us standing there in front of the crowd. I use the term crowd loosely. There were only 56 people on this FOB and most of them were Romanians. They didn’t speak any English, but they came to the show anyway. Trust me when I say there wasn’t anything else to do. They didn’t laugh much, but they seemed to enjoy the physical hijinx. The generator ran out of fuel half way through Sandy’s set, so we held our little flashlights on her until the genny came back on. It went pretty well considering the circumstances.

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I've still got the magic

8/23/07

Dear Diary-

We’re back in Kandahar. The shit pools greeted us home like a long lost lover. Open arms enveloping us in a putrid cloud of revulsion. Welcoming, beckoning us home. A warm, wet embrace if you will, one that you hope doesn’t become too clingy. That’s not something you want hanging off your clothes, the shit pools odor, no sir, that‘s not something you want a‘tall. “You’re back,” the pools seemed to say; “we’ve missed you.”

“Who’s hungry?” someone asks. Turns out-we all are. Let’s go chow. Even the pools can’t stop the hunger. We’ve eaten three times a day since we’ve gotten here. Unreal. I’m talking full meals too baby, not just some snacking going on. We’re eating some damn food. Even the girls ended up grubbing down on a regular basis. Well, it’s either that or die. Let’s eat. We’ve got a show tonight at the outside pavilion. Huge place, the biggest so far. We’re excited. We have to be back at 7:30 for a sound check. Maybe we should go get some chow. You know, while we’re waiting. Ricky and I show up for the sound check, the girls over slept their nap and are running a little behind. Ricky and I handled it pretty well. Fifteen minutes before the show, there were about 5 people in this huge pavilion. Five, that’s it. We’re in deep trouble here bro, there’s room for 1000+ in this mug and we’ve got 5. Airy. Plenty of room to stretch out. Plenty of room to stand. Plenty of room to throw a football. Hell, there’s plenty of room to hit a 5 iron. There’s space open man, there’s space open. Grab a little, sit right down, we’re doing a comedy show. For the love of the sweet Saviour, somebody show up to the show. What the hell is going on around here? This is the biggest venue we’ve played and nobody’s here. Then Capt. Tucker tells us there was a comedy show here last week and it was packed. Well that’s just super. Here we thought we were something special. Turns out; they have shows all the time, bands, comedians etc. They even had the Buffalo Jills Cheerleaders out there a couple of weeks ago and had lines a mile long. Now we’re here and there’s 5 people here. Well tra la la la la la.

While we’re having this explained to us, Rick is doing an on camera interview with AFEES, which is military programming. But while he’s doing this interview, he keeps asking me the questions the interviewer was asking him because he couldn’t remember. It was priceless. The camera is on him and he’s looking off camera going “Hey Mark, where have we gone?” “What have we done?” So I’m answering him and then he relates my answer to the camera. It was just more good times. Now it’s five minutes to showtime and I haven’t been paying attention to the crowd. I turn around and there’s about 400 people out there. Where the hell did they come from? How did I not notice that the place was filling up? Are they all Special Forces? Are they so sneaky, they can fill up a pavilion, without the people on stage noticing? What ever the case, we had a great show. Up in the mountains of Afghanistan, in the dark of night, on stage with the sound of gunfire periodically sounding off in the night, a 105* breeze, so gentle, it’s like a baby’s kiss, bringing with it, in a soft cradle, the smell of the shit pools. Man, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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Kandahar

8/24/07

Dear Diary-

Now we’re on our way back to Bagram, one more show, then it’s on the way home. We couldn’t get a regular flight out, so the Capt. hooked us up with a friend of his who flew prop planes. He told us off the bat, it was windy in the mountains today and it may be a bumpy ride. It was. We flew high, we flew low, we flew sideways, and I shit you not. At times we were so low the mountains are all we could see. No sky. I’ve been in a lot of planes in my day, from military cargo planes down to float planes in northern Canada, but I’ve never been in a plane when you couldn’t see sky. There has always been sky somewhere, somehow, you’ve always been able to see the sky. Not this time Jack. No sky out the side, no sky out the back, no sky out the front. I’m not sure how that was possible, but it was a small plane, you could see out the front and I swear, I didn’t see any sky, just brown. Unsettling you ask? You bet your ass. I didn’t even point it out to my fellow passengers, I thought I should just keep this between me, George and Rob, and Brad too, he noticed, he’s a Special Forces dude and he was standing up in the aisle, looking out the front, so I’m assuming he knew how low we were. I bet we could’ve jumped out of the plane and not been killed, now that’s flying a’low. We do some maneuvering, and twisting and turning and he gets us back in one piece. Thank you George, thank you Rob.

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The Mod Squad

Another big show tonight, maybe 400, it was in a huge tent with poor sound. I just talked really slow and things were fine. A lot of pictures taken after the show, mostly of the girls, the girls had their pictures taken a lot. I think it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200-1350, rough guess. Rick and I were in the neighborhood of 9-15, rough guess. Guys just didn’t seem to want their pics with us instead of the women. Hmmm. Weird.

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Bagram

We’re on our way back to Kyrgyzstan tomorrow, then to Germany, then to L.A. I’m pooped, I’m down to my last pair of socks, I’m ready to sleep laying down, I’m ready to take more than a 2 minute shower, I’m ready to shower with out a puddle of mud forming at my feet, I’m ready for my Q-tips to come out of my ears clean, I’m ready for 100* heat, so I can laugh in it’s face, I’m ready to decrease my daily fluid intake to 1 gallon, I’m ready to forget the smell of the Kandahar shit pools, I’m ready to stop flying for awhile, but strangely enough, I’m not ready to leave.

 

8/25/07

Dear Diary-

I was awakened at 0330 by Jennifer, our MWR contact at Bagram. We can’t to to Kyrgyzstan, they’re not flying out to Germany for almost a week, we’re going to send you to Kuwait and hope you get a flight out of there. Then she leaves. I’m laying in my bunk- “what did she just say? I was sound asleep, she shakes my leg, lays this riff on me and bolts. I’m not sure what’s going on. Something about Kuwait instead of Germany? No way, I’m not getting stuck in Kuwait and have to buy a ticket home. We’re confused, bewildered and still half asleep. Rick’s up and we start bitchin’ about it. I thought we had learned some patience from this trip, I mean with all the “hurry up and wait” the military still seems to love so well. But no, as soon as someone messes with our plans, “this is bullshit” starts and the “we’re classified as GS-15,s” nonsense. We bitch about it then fall back asleep.

We wake up some confusion. We’re told we’re on a flight to Kuwait and it leaves in 2 hours, get ready, you’re leaving. They allay our fears about being in a foreign country without knowing anybody, we’ll be on a military base and we’ll be taken care of. We get to Kuwait and it’s 130*. Seriously, I’ve never been in that kind of heat before, you can feel your skin burn. It’s a weird feeling. Your skin burning. It feels warm in your lungs too. It’s like opening the oven and taking a deep breath. So we sweat and lug our bags and clear up the confusion of trying to check in and hearing “who are you now?” They don’t have a record of us etc. But they put us in VIP billeting, which was a tent just like everyone else. But it was pretty sweet. The ac worked splendidly, cooled all the air not just the bottom, it was only set at 75, but since it was 130* outside, it felt like a fridge.

Well…it’s chow time again. We haven’t eaten in almost 5 hours and we’re famished. By the end, every time we went some where the first question we asked was “when’s the DFAC open?” Chow hounds. Yummy. So we ate, bummed around, those guys did laundry, which I couldn’t see because we’re going home tomorrow, why get some clean clothes all mashed up and mixed up with dirty ones. We should be dirty coming back from all this dirt.

 

8/26/07

Dear Diary-

We’ve got a 9:45 roll call for a flight to Dallas. After that, we’re on our own. We pack our trash, line up our bags in the Dallas line and we’re set. We’re ready, we’re lined up and ready to go sir, count us in, we’re here. Well, not so fast there sonny, the Dallas flight has been canceled, you’re now going to Atlanta. Be back here at 12:45, when’s the flight? 10 p.m. OK sounds good, that will give us…let’s see 9 hours and 15 minutes to be ready. That should do it, I don’t think we’ll need anymore time than that. Well, let’s head back to chow.

It’s hot again, surprise. The thermometer says 132*, and it’s in the shade. This may have been a hallucination, but I swore I saw a camel blowing on his balls. That’s how hot it is here. Thank God for powder. I may share some with my camel friend.

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It doesn't look 132*

We’re back in line for roll call. We’re called, instructed and informed. We have to start going through customs, one by one. There are about 300 of us going and we all have to go through customs. We go in and dump everything out of all our bags and I mean everything. They go through each item you have individually and then put it aside, once that’s done, you take it over to another table and re-pack. A hassle? Of course, but the way I pack, I was done quickly, good thing all my clothes were dirty. We go to another hooch and do another roll call. We go back to the hooch and then the roll call again. This time, bring your stuff. Now we’re all in formation, civilians included. It’s been along time since I stood in a military formation, but there we were. Little soldiers, of all us, well, three little soldiers and one Marine.

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According to this: Nashville is only 17 miles from St. Louis

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having a guiness in Ireland

The formation turns and heads towards the buses. We get on the bus with our back packs in front, so we can sit down in the seat. We’re headed to the Kuwait airport. I’m not sure how long I thought the drive would be, but I didn’t expect an hour. I’ve been to Kuwait before and swore I saw the airport 45 minutes before we got there. But we got to the airport, got on a plane and now we’re heading to Ireland to refuel etc. We had a Guinness at the airport bar, that was cool, having a Guinness in Ireland. Then the Colonel came up and said the no drinking thing included us. Good thing I was already finished.

 

 

So, that’s my trip to Afghanistan. I wish everyone could take a trip like that to see what it’s really like. Not like what you get from the news but what it’s really like. I wish everyone knew what our men and women are doing over there. What they’re doing to get by, what they’re putting up with on a daily basis. What they miss about home, who they miss at home. War sucks, it always has, unfortunately as humans, we haven’t figured out a better way to get along with other humans. I think if people really knew what our people are coping with over there, they may never again bitch about anything they put up with here in the states. Don’t forget them, they haven’t forgotten us.

Good night sleep tight and don’t forget to take your malaria pills.

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I'm adapting