Monday, March 26, 2007

Initial reactions


  • Did you volunteer?
  • How did you get suckered into that?
  • I wish I could go. If I were only younger/not married/without kids.
  • Cool, you get a chance to be part of history.
  • Exciting (new staff member)
  • You know, if you need help like this in Afghanistan, I can't come out to help
  • you (support staffer).
  • Let me know if you need anything done here.
  • I bet your mom is not happy again.
  • You're going to Afghanistan? You need to talk to ____ (this is a very common
  • response to a statement of any type at work)
  • I'm coming in ___. Hopefully we can get together.
Volunteer organizations colleagues
  • I hope you volunteered
  • That gives you alot to think about
  • I have a soft spot for all our boys who deployed (guy who went to Desert Storm)
  • I heard you are going on a trip.
Shooting range
Keep your eyes open and head down.

Pittsburgh Symphony
  • I wish you the best of luck with and safest journey to Afghanistan.
  • Good luck, you're a truly remarkable human being
Churches (Chicago/Pittsburgh)
  • Can you get out of it?
  • Do you get to carry a gun?
  • When we say "support the troops," we don't mean actually go.
  • What is ___ (girlfriend) going to do?
Asian groups in Pittsburgh
  • Stay safe, and keep us informed
  • He's a scholar and they're sending him to Afghanistan!
  • What does ___ (girlfriend) think about it?
  • You are going to have such an adventure!
Amateur radio volunteers
  • Been there, done that in my time.
  • Stay safe.
Book club
  • Stay safe. I know you have a lot of people are helping you, but if you need anything done here, let me know.

Former co-workers
  • Remember, duck, and duck faster.
  • You always go to such interesting places.
  • Go to a carnival and practice at the duck shoot. That way you get a prize if you hit something.
  • I'll be with your mom in the worry camp.

Websites about Afghanistan and War

Doonesbury - The Sandbox

Gary Trudeau has a long history of writing/drawing about soldiers. The Sandbox is made up of blogs of soldiers about life in general. Generally high quality writing, only the better posts make it here. Most compilations of blogs group like-ideologies together. This is just about quality of writing about what it is like to serve in theater.

The Strategy Page

Lots of articles about the practical aspects of war. Explains reasons behind choices that people make, both physical and social. There are a couple of headings devoted to editorials, but the focus is on practical matters of decisionmaking.

BBC News - South Asia

The standard source for news internationally. Afghanistan is roughly on the border between the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East. As its history is closer to Pakistan than Iran, the BBC puts it here.

Small Wars Journal

If you are serious about taking a peak at American military personnel thinking about war, this is a place to look. (Note: there is nothing "small" about small wars); By some retired Marines who thought this sort of thing needed an outlet not filled by the various military war college journals. The Research Links page is a good annotated reading list.

ISAF Mirror

Monthly newsmagazine put out by the NATO International Security Assistance Force
(ISAF). Public Relations pieces by NATO for all the folks back home.

Birding Babylon

Actually about Iraq. The writer of this spent a year deployed in Iraq as part of the Connecticut National Guard. He spent his downtime birding. This blog has become a gathering point of Iraqi naturalists in general.

Other Reading

John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife

This was a PhD dissertation turned into a book. The author was a US Army Battalion Operations officer in Iraq, then went again as a Battalion Commanding Officer. Looks at the British experience in Malaysia and the American experience in Vietnam. 1st edition hard to get and expensive (it was a PhD dissertation). 2nd edition is a paperback and readily available.

David Kilcullen, Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-level

Kilcullen is an Australian officer with experience in East Timor amongst other places. He writes this for company level officers (usually a ~28 year old captain in charge of ~100 men) who had some trouble reading and distilling T.E. Lawrence, David Galula, the new Counterinsurgency manual, and the other 1000s of pages of reading on counterinsurgency that was in their reading list. This short article is easily found on the web.

Thulcydes, The History of the Peloponnesian War

The first true history book. About the war between Athens and Sparta (and both of their alliances) after the greeks beat back the Persian invasion of Greece. Free versions abound. Also at any library. And any publisher of classics has an edition.

Other sites I like

Kevin and Kell

My favorite comic. I met the artist when he came to Pittsburgh last year and helped coordinate his patron (fan club) dinner.


A podcast music show built around covers (think music version of a remake). Available as an downloadable audio file. I get it via iTunes podcast.

Baen Free Library

This is a potentially a HUGE time sink, so be warned. Baen is a publisher of science fiction, and have a large back catalogue that they have made freely available in electronic form. Of course, there are a variety of tastes so you would have to browse. I like the Belisarius Series by Eric Flint and David Drake. There is a big focus on the moral and material sides of war as opposed to the technical. Of course, part of the reason I like it is the focus on logistics, which is frequently the hinge on which a plot turns, a lot like real life.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Q: Where are you going?
A: I will be going to Afghanistan, working with US and NATO (ISAF) forces there. Note that this is still provisional as I don't have written orders. However, I'm in training now.

Q: Is this for ____?
A: This is for work. We have a few analysts in Iraq and Afghanistan for various reasons.

Q: I thought you were going earlier?
A: The original plan was for February, but there was consideration of cutting back in Afghanistan. Apparently the group in Afghanistan we were supporting complained of lacking someone from my company. So my predecessors were doing something important.

Q: Are they making you go?
A: I volunteered.

Q: How long will you be there?
A: The agreed term is 3 months. So I should be there from late-April to sometime in August. But everyone from my company who has gone to Iraq or Afghanistan has extended their time to a greater or lessor extent.

Q: How does your mom feel?
A: Not very happy. Worried. I'm pretty sure that it is part of the job description of being a mom to be worried when a son or daughter goes to a war zone.

Q: What will you be doing?
A: I am going there for operational analysis, very much like the first British and American operations researchers did during WWII. And since I am there, I will do any other quantitative analysis that the commander finds helpful.

Q: How many are going from your company?
A: To my location, just myself.

Q: Will you grow a beard?
A: A beard is a sign of a mature male of status. Being very junior, and not having to much contact with the local population, I don't expect it to be needed. There are a couple of others in my company who have very nice beards. And they do go wandering around neighborhoods, villages etc and seem to command a measure of respect.

Q: Will you be wandering around?
A: No. I'll be pretty much limited to going from base to base.

Q: Will you get training?
A: I am going to Virginia for training this week.

Q: What kind of training?
A: Some basic working with the military presentations (Geneva convention), first aid, some cultural familiarization, survival and weapon training. Although my feeling is if I have to use my weapon, that is a clear sign everyone around me is having a bad day. On my own, I've picked up language materials in Dari (a dialect of Farsi), but my lack of language skills has been proven repeatedly. I have an Afghani collegue who I have spoken with on a few occasions. As well as collegues who have gone and returned

Q: How are you taking care of things at home?
A: I have a couple of neighbors who will watch my apartment, check mail, etc. daily. And let me know about things like bills, anything really important. Red Cross will have to cover my few shifts every month with other volunteers (and they were just going to promote me too :-( ) My Pittsburgh Symphony spot will go silent, unless I find something interesting and cultural to write about over there :-) My NAAAP board responsibilities will have to be covered by the remaining board members (a call for help has gone out).

Q: What do you think about the war?
A: My sense is part of the American tradition of civilian control of the military is when the decision to go is made, the focus on those going to war is doing their duty. That being said, I don't agree with my graduate student bible study leader who believed that you should trust authority because they know things you don't, we are intended to be thinking members of a democracy. As for myself, there is probably enough in the form of book reviews available over the internet that you may discern how I think. But for now, my focus going there is on doing my job.

Q: Will you keep in contact?
A: My initial intention is to keep a blog of some sort. Of course, it would be of the type that my mother will read, so some things will not be in it. But it will likely be a mix of day to day life and naturalist observations of they type pioneered by To that end I am getting a South Asian birding field guide (the only (!) one that includes Afghanistan) and I'll be bringing binoculars and my birding notebook. I expect that there will be some form of internet access, but it was in flux as of last check.

Q: Will you be visiting Washington DC?
A: I expect a quick visit while returning for training (and meeting some people for lunch Saturday, March 31 in Silver Spring). Most likely there will be at least one other visit during a workday.

Q: Will you be visiting Chicago?
A: I will be making another visit to family and friends in Chicago during the April 7-8 weekend.