3. The nights after the rain

I was originally trained in Arabic translation, and served as a translator for the first four years of my five year enlistment. In the last year I took a fantastic opportunity to move to D.C. for five months for a crash course in Pashto. After our short training we would then go directly to Afghanistan, because there was an extreme poverty of military translators at the time. Joe and I were sent from our original unit in GA, to join 3rd Radio Battalion on their in-progress deployment. After a month of training in GA, we flew to HI, underwent the minimum deployment training required, and took off in a small pool of augments to join the Battalion.

Home away from home, Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
Home away from home: Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

Dec. 7th, 2009 (Entry 7)
And when we arrived to our base, for the first time in what they said was months, it rained. And not surprisingly, since our arrival overcast or cloudless skies haven’t brought another drop.

“I still don’t think this is happening,” Joe jokes. Every unsure step of progress towards this deployment has been marked with his skepticism. Whether the countless times in Georgia and Hawaii we were told if and when we were going, or the sheer unknowing of how we were getting from Kuwait to our base, Joe consistently reminded me of his doubt. Joe and I saw way too much of each other the last month and a half of deployment preparation. My Minnesota-nice and his California-chill attitude can generate plenty of friction if pressure cooked, but it still forged a basic unity.

Three days after arriving here, they split up us augments into three different places. I won’t see them again until it’s time to go home. As annoying as the pessimist is, I miss him.

===

Inside the network of tents I would work in for the next few months, we waited for instruction. A wall of care-package overstock drew the attention of us new arrivals while we waited. If you were thinking about sending something, don’t bother with tooth brushes, razors, Sudoku books, Swiss Miss Marshmallow lovers, or plush reindeer, there’s plenty to go around. We had been on base for about two hours.

Finally I mustered the courage to address the Cpl of a pressing matter: “Is there any coffee?” It wasn’t delicious, but it was my touch with reality. Every human has five basic needs. Mine include coffee, internet, and quiet time, and I just found the first. I stocked up on extra razors before we went to find our beds.

We were sent off to settle into a transient tent full of inbound Marines waiting to be relocated to another base or permanently billeted. Behind the tent flap was maybe fifty bunk beds in three rows, with upturned cots to make a combat futon around a 24/7 card game. Marines huddled by DVD players. We stayed there for three days before we would be integrated into the workforce, also getting our introductory training.

The land is really flat here, so the horizon is vast. Mountains guard our North, and the rest of the line is nondescript. I’ll be damned if I knew I was gonna see Orion’s Belt in the night sky here, but disappointingly it’s the same. Fortunately constellations have nothing to do with my basic needs. When there isn’t dust and the clouds clear up, it means two things: tomorrow is going to be fucking cold, and you have an uninterrupted view of the biggest night sky you’ve ever seen. Right now I’m working days learning the job. When I get off shift, the cold walk to my tent is diminished by the view of the night sky. Cold walks to the bathroom in the middle of the night are not any better because of the view.

===

On the top bunk, third down on the left, I’m settling into a checkpoint in my life. This is the bed I have for the next three months. These are the three months of my life the last few years have built up to. It’s no culture shock being in a tent surrounded by people I don’t know. Marines are generally similar, and after moving from bed to bed for so long, I’m not sure if there’s a bed I miss being in. Except the one in D.C. That one was awesome.

Continue reading: 4. Haircut hysteria

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