19 May 2011

Beginning of the End

I recently stated my formal intent to not renew my contract with Corporate, which feels oddly like a break-up.  In the past week, I’ve been pressed to reconsider on five separate occasions.  Various and sundry individuals have asked how certain I am, if I might like to try another position within theater, if maybe I would like to take some time at the program office in the States, perhaps if they made me a mixed tape?  Even with the inducements, I can’t wait to get back.  Eventually, of course, I plan to find a job not war-profiteering, but in the short-term, I plan nothing more engrossing than sitting in the sun (hopefully evening out my appalling farmer’s tan) and eating real cheese.  The most immediate implication of my decision is that my attention span is roughly equivalent to that of a gnat, or specialist after five Monsters.  This must be the big kid version of senioritis.

Even so, I am attempting to spend my last few months taking stock of my time in Afghanistan, appreciating what has been a totally unique phase in my life.  I wouldn’t exactly go so far as to call it nostalgia.  More an awareness of something the like of which I might never again experience.  My somewhat vexing introspective kick co-incided with the advent of my last few road-trips, what I’m blithely thinking of as my farewell tour.
Outside Sharana
 The first of my last stops began with a trans-state passage from Sharana to Herat.  Generally the site visits were unremarkable, though a cracked runway did strand me at KAIA for several days (not that I was terribly fussed; ISAF DFACs are so much better).  I did enjoy my first ever opportunity to ride in MRAP.  While mildly exciting in its own way, the experience was rather forcibly heightened by the addition of my IBA, the bulky demotions of which make one quite literally sit on the edge of your seat.  I was amused to note the jaunty little red and yellow sign just inside the gate at Herat, reminding us that seat belts are required past the wire.  In the realm of unexpected safety phenomenon, it also transpired that my Aussie flight crew was the most persnickety of any I’ve been with, proving to out Stiffly Stifferson ever the Germans (Kevlar and IBA required at all times, and vomit bags pre-emptively distributed).  I so didn’t call that.

I probably should have heeded all of the precautions as an omen to steel myself, as I spent much of these last trips (and I expect this to be doubly true on the final one), been yelled by military POCs, mostly regarding issues of payment.  Remember the slow implosion of Kabul Bank?  POCs do not seem understand how this impacts the prompt payment of their linguists, and have been demanding that Corporate simply start cash payouts.  No corruption potential there, no sir.  ‘Tis the joy of being quality assurance – site managers like to pretend I have some institutional power and throw me at the problem children.  I have no power, of course, but I don’t mind taking the abuse for a few days.  They need a break.

Of course, in no small part due to my new-found apathy, I’ve been answering their ire with a fair bit of my own.  I know that we all have spring fever, but what, I have to wonder, is with the spate of scandal?  I rather desperately wanted to inform a chief warrant officer that, contrary to what he might have been told, his linguist is not getting paid 200k plus to be his personal concubine.  Shocking, I know.  This gentleman actually deposited his linguist at a FOB when he went on leave, instructing two E5s from his battalion that she was to be treated as ‘a princess’ in the interim.  Sweet glorious goodness.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone reassigned so quickly (it was especially delicious when she told us that she couldn’t be transferred, as she had left gear in the chief’s locked room.  What, he didn’t give you a key?).

In the meantime, though, I’ve managed to find my own Quijotic fixation.  This particular windmill, as so many of them have been in the past year, is centered on base mentality and local national linguists.  Phoenix, I’m sad to say, is not alone in their absurd re-inventions of security procedures.  Incoming commands the country over are making increasingly untenable demands of their Afghan work force.  Once upon a time, back in those innocent days of 2010, LNs were only ever really required to have TB tests.  Now it’s polio shots, blood draws, Hepatitis tests, stool samples…incidentally, I’m not making any of this up.  At one site, the screening cell is so zealous that, after requesting linguists for themselves, they gave the linguists back – it was too tricky to follow their own procedures to get them badged.  

Another delightful tidbit?  Units are refusing to pay for these bi-annual tests, and are instead pressuring their linguists to pay out of pocket.  At some sites, linguists are paying upwards of 400 USD to be able to keep working.  That’s half their monthly salary.  Mind you, these are the same POCs that deride me for not ensuring the linguists are paid on time.  Even better?  Most camps have approved local medical vendors (who in at least one case charged 20 USD for a polio shot that is free ‘in the economy’, or off-base environment), maintaining that the work of just any Khalid MD is not acceptable.  Of course, when the badging cell applies that standard so stringently that they won’t accept the test conducted by an SF surgeon, one begins to suspect that something is rotten in the state of Paktika.  I am ignorant of the details, but do know that the arrangement between one base command and their on-base Afghan MD was being examined for any ‘improprieties’.  I wonder if he had a vaccination for kickbacks in his bag of tricks.
At Camp Stone
 That said, there are other sites that might want to consider upping their badging standards a wee bit.  I also had the dubious honor of ‘escorting’ a local linguist whose unit suspected him of pace-counting in patrols and making really rather lovely scale sketches of the base.  As the POC wrung his hands about how to prevent this from happening again (sleepers, to my mind, are inevitable.  I’m just pleased that they were lucid enough to notice), a CI team eventually swept in and very gently led the linguist away.  I’d never imagined a ‘black-bagging’ to be quite so cordial.   

But soon, these concerns will be behind me.  Tragically still real, but I’ll be searching for other windmills.  It’s not as though the world lacks ample reason to face-palm.  After all, even as I’m breaking up with my current company, I’m bracing myself to go on blind dates with a host of new ones.