Old and New

Well, I finally made it to Qatar three nights ago. The base is pretty nice. Every day at 1300 Hrs (1:00 PM) they have the sign-ups for the following days excursions. They give people who are close to returning back into theater first crack at them. They even have a sponsor program where people who work on base will take a few people into town but that program is spotty at best.

My first night I had two glasses of wine and one beer with my dinner. I really enjoyed that. On my first full day I got a manicure and a pedicure (my feet really needed it) and I went swimming in the pool. I signed up for the stand by list for the next days restaurant visit. Night before last I ate at the Chilis. They don't serve alcohol there (that is so un-American!!!) so I went back to the club and had my three glasses of wine.

Yesterday I signed up for the sponsor program hoping someone will take me to town. Sunday is supposedly the best day for sponsors to pick people up. Only two sponsors showed! I was twenty seven on the list so by the 1300 Hrs brief I was bumming. I did get a definite seat for tonight’s restaurant visit. I stuck around hoping that I would be able to get on last nights restaurant visit. Seven people didn't bother to show up so I was able to go. Two restaurant visits in a row plus today my group has first dibs on excursion sign-ups! Sweet!!

Last night I had grilled minced mutton, pickled cabbage, yoghurt with cucumber, and tea with mint. Afterwards we all retired to the veranda overlooking the docks (we were right by the water) and ordered houkas. I figure if you are in the Middle East you oughta smoke a houka at least once. This was unlike any tobacco experience I ever had.

The tobacco comes in different fruit flavors like apple, cherry, grape, and strawberry. I ordered a double apple. The attendant brings it out and it is a little over three feet tall. The base is transparent glass and you can see the water and the air pocket. From the base it is a metal pipe with two fittings to attach the tubes and mouthpieces. The metal pipe is topped with the bowl of tobacco. The bowl is covered in foil and the coals are on top of the foil. The bowl is covered with a metal canister.

I took my first draw and I expected to feel a burning sensation but I didn't. It was so smooth! I could only taste the apple; there was no hint of tobacco at all. Pretty soon I started to feel really good. I got a little light headed. After awhile the attendant came by with a ladle full of hot coals. He took off the canister, dumped the old coals into his ladle and gave me fresh ones. I could tell the houka needed more heat because the taste of the smoke got a little rough. Once I got new coals the smoke smoothed out.

Here I am in Qatar, full from a pretty good meal, smoking a houka by the water, looking at the skyline of the city, and right on the nose at 2000 Hrs (8:00 PM) I hear the call to prayers.

I can't even begin to explain how weird that felt. When I was in Tarin Kowt I sometimes performed officer of the watch duties. I would make my initial rounds and if I was in the right tower at the right time I could hear the call to prayer coming from Tarin Kowt. Pretty much most activity would stop during prayer time. When I heard the call to prayers in Qatar the traffic didn't stop and the attendants kept working. I half expected to see the traffic to stop and everyone jump out with their prayer rugs and start praying. That did not happen.

I guess the people of Qatar are trying to make the best of living in the twenty first century and still maintaining some semblance of their traditions. I was smoking a houka, an old tradition in the Middle East but the houka itself was of a new and modern design. The city I was observing is taking the time and effort to maintain the old tradition of calling to prayer but on the surface looked like any vibrant coastal city in the United States with a new and modern skyline. Last night I saw and felt just a little of how many people in the Middle East are trying to blend the old and new. I just hope they can make sense of it all.

CPT NightHawk


Will I ever get to Qatar?

All I want to do is take a few days off. That’s all, just a few days. But the US Air Force hasn’t been very helpful.

Last week I figured that if I wanted to ever take advantage of the Pass program I better do it soon. The planets were lining up nicely. The battle group I am assigned to is switching gears to a different type of operation. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO run operation, will be taking over Regional Command South from the US led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). I have already prepared the required annexes to the operations orders for upcoming operations. Plus, it looks like I may be reassigned to TF Aegis (our higher HQ) to work in the plans cell. I figure now is the time to cut the umbilical and take a short break.

Last Sunday, I got the paperwork signed and placed myself on the wait list for a flight. I clear off my desk, configure my “out of office” message on all the e-mail systems I use, said good bye to everyone, and later that night I encamp myself at the terminal for a flight with a report time of 0400 Hrs local. I was the only one in the terminal going to Qatar. Everyone else was going to Bagram. When the Bagram flight was manifesting, I asked the dude at the desk about the status of the Qatar flight.

“Sorry sir, we just found out the bird has developed mechanical problems. They are going to attempt to fly anyway but will not take passengers.” My response, “I need to get to Qatar, what are my options?” “Tomorrow there is another flight departing at the same time.”

I trudge back to my quarters. My room mate was just getting up and was shocked to see me. I told him about the mechanical problems and he laughs (I would have also if I were in his shoes). He asks if I will go in to the office. “What? Are you kidding? I been up all bloody night and I will be up all night tonight again! Screw that, I will be in Qatar tomorrow.”

Monday I sleep till lunch time. I go to the gym, shower up, grab dinner, and then I trudge to the terminal. I ask about the status of the flight. “Sorry sir, that flights been cancelled.” I look at the guy in total disbelief. He tells me that there will be another flight tomorrow at the same time. This time I get the terminal phone number so I can call to verify my flight. I go back to my quarters, my room mate laughs at me again, and I hit the rack.

Tuesday, I do the same routine except this time I call and verify. The flight is still on. I trudge over to the terminal and ask the dude at the desk, flight is still on. I go over to the Green Beans Coffee joint (thank goodness they are open 24 hours) to enjoy a coffee and Danish while reading some investment reports on my laptop. I trudge back over, flight is still on. The flight arrives, they manifest everyone, me and three others can’t get on because the good folks in Bagram already put eight people on. Curses!! Foiled again!!!

Wednesday, same routine. My roommate tries to wake me up for lunch and I say I am not hungry. He then accuses me of being lazy and that I am just trying to avoid going to the office. My response was if I would have known that I would have been delayed as much as I have been, I would have willingly gone to the office but this whole staying up all night to catch a flight is getting intolerable. In any case, I call the terminal and the flight was cancelled!!! They did tell me about an Australian flight and they did get me their number.

Will I ever get to Qatar? I have a sure thing early Friday morning. I called the Aussies and they had one seat left. I am on it!! They have my name and service number. I am not on some wait list. There is a US flight tomorrow as well but screw those guys, I might get bumped or some other crazy thing will happen. Thank God for the Aussies! Hopefully, my next post will be from Qatar.

CPT NightHawk


What Kind of Men are We Up Against?

I was recently asked to participate in a red cell to do some wargaming. I was given a stack of papers to read. Ugh! Tendentious, dry, boring. Fortunately for me I picked up a book when I was home on R&R at Downtown Book and Toy in Jefferson City that really helped me prepare. For those of you who really want to understand how the average militant muslim operates, I highly recommend Militant Tricks, Battlefield Ruses of the Islamic Insurgent by John Poole.

There are a slew of books out there that shed light on why we fight the way we do. One author, Victor Davis Hanson, PhD, has written numerous books on the western military tradition. One in particular, Carnage and Culture, uses key battles between western and non-western armies to illustrate how western civilization makes a superior military establishment. Another classicist, Donald Kagan, PhD, wrote in 1995 On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, which helps us understand why western societies go to war.

Carnage and Culture discusses two battles where an Islamic country took on the west, Tours-Poitiers fought in 732 AD and Lepanto fought in 1571 AD (I am old school, I refuse to substitute AD for BCE “before the common era.” BCE is a crock of BS). The Islamic countries lost. They tried to emulate the west militarily but did not have the underlying institutions or cultural characteristics of the west. There is a chapter on the Tet Offensive of 1968 where the US did win tactically but lost strategically. How did the US lose in Vietnam?

The previous question begs another. So what happens when a non-western country decides to fight in a manner that is best suited to its culture and way of thinking? Ever since Alexander the Great tore his way east with his army, the denizens of the east have been steadily developing a way of fighting to counter the classic western juggernaut. They have come up with what a couple of former US Marines refer to as Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW).

Hanson touches on why the US eventually lost in Vietnam. John Poole (left the Marines a Lieutenant Colonel, later re-enlisted and retired a Gunnery Sergeant) does a better job of explaining why in his latest work, Militant Tricks, Battlefield Ruses of the Islamic Insurgent. The focus is on Iraq and Afghanistan and Poole uses examples from prior conflicts, especially Vietnam, to illustrate his points. He spends most of the book applying the thirty-six stratagems of deception from ancient China. Poole quotes extensively from Wiles of War: The 36 Military Stratagems of Ancient China, Thirty Six Strategies of Ancient China, and more (his book has an extensive bibliography and has endnotes). There is another book written by a former Marine, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century by Col (Ret) Thomas X. Hammes, that also discusses 4GW tactics but Poole’s book provides a non-western perspective, specifically an Asian perspective.

I already had an idea of how our adversary fights. Can’t help it when you are reading intelligence reports and patrol reports, you see the same stuff over and over. What was new for me was seeing how our adversary fights placed in the broader operational and strategic sense. The biggest “eureka” moment for me was getting a better insight into the eastern mindset and how they fight as opposed to how western armies fight. For that, I have Gunny Poole to thank.

Seeing as I am now in the business of recommending books, there is another I recommend even though I haven’t read it yet. I have purchased and am eagerly anticipating the arrival of The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy, by Stephanie Gutmann. I bought this book on the strength of the review by Joseph Tartakovsky of the Claremont Review of Books found here. Many people back home ask my bride about what I do in Afghanistan. Part of what I do as an Information Operations Officer is working with the media. Read the review of Gutmann’s book and you will get an idea of what I have to put up with.

The adversary here, even though he doesn’t have the advantage of technology that we westerners have, is dedicated, tough, and adaptive. We blast the hell out if his fighting position and find maybe one or two dead fighters with the rest having buggered off. Gunny Poole’s book does an excellent job explaining the theory behind the tactics the adversary uses and uses to great success. The media sure doesn’t make it easy but that is something I have to deal with.

I end quoting a conversation between Strother Martin’s character and Robert Ryan’s character in the classic movie The Wild Bunch:

Coffer: Mr. Thornton? What kind of men are we up against?

Deke Thornton: The best….they never got caught.

CPT NightHawk


Happy 230th Birthday, America!

I can think of no other place I would rather be than with my bride and our two sons kicking back on the family ranch. My Dad and I will take the boys out to check out the cows and horses. We will then spend some time in the swimming pool and then start the fire for the barbeque. After numerous glasses of wine, the meat will be ready and we will all chow down. When it gets dark we will break out the fireworks and watch the boys have a blast (literally). Anyway, that is what my family will do. I, on the other hand, am fighting a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and contending with fireworks that are designed to kill you.

I am taking a break from work to write this post. I spent all day tidying up the details for a mission I will be running soon and am just now finishing up (my day started at 7:00 AM and it is now 10:30 PM). The work never stops when you are here. There are ups and downs to the operational tempo but the tempo never ceases. Because I am filling a unique niche in the staff here, I have my feet in both the battlegroup and brigade headquarters. I am taking on more brigade duties because the problems that the battlegroup were having are sorting themselves out, freeing me up to do some really interesting “spooky secret squirrel” stuff.

Today my coalition brethren were all wishing me a Happy Independence Day which is poignant in a way because they all know I am originally from Canada. Through the course of the day I got to thinking about what makes the United States of America a truly unique country. Working with my coalition brethren brings a few points home. We as a nation are dedicated to an idea. The idea that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. We aren’t bound as a country through race, religion, or monarchy. We have this “git er done” attitude that is lacking in some coalition partners. We are generous to a fault and we expect next to nothing in return for our largess.

For those of my fellow citizens who feel comfortable jumping on the “screw America” bandwagon pulled by eurotrash know it alls, check out the article by Peter Brooks. Brooks paints a pretty grim picture of what life on this planet would be like without the USA. The second half of the article he details all the money we spend just on humanitarian assistance and yet we still get a lot of grief from the rest of the world. The shocking thing about the article is that he doesn’t detail what Americans give through PRIVATE charities!

I like this quote from British columnist Tim Montgomerie:

It's easy to think of reasons to hate America - we're fed them on a daily basis by our friends at the BBC - but the 4th July is a day to celebrate our transatlantic friends. When we even have Tories idiotically suggesting that we should be as worried about the President of Iran as the President of America it's time to remember why some of us love America...

There are few other countries that could be trusted with so much power. America is a democratic country committed to the extension of freedom throughout the world. In his second inaugural address George W Bush said that "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world." Does America always live up to this self-interested ideal? No. It sometimes acts incompetently and sometimes hamfistedly but rarely in a malign way. We are fortunate not to live in a world where China or Russia are the superpowers - using their power for ill. Or a world where Chirac or Schroeder are the commanders-in-chief - appeasing the world's despots in return for commercial gains.

I can’t fathom what the world would be like without the USA. I thank God every day I am an American citizen. Today and everyday, I and my fellow soldiers show the world what the USA is all about. I wish I was with my family right now but I am proud to be abroad representing my adopted country.

Right now they are shooting illumination rounds to celebrate the 4th. Not as flashy as the fireworks at the capitol but pretty cool. I have to get back to work so….

Happy 230th Birthday, America!

CPT NightHawk


Rockets Red Glare

One of the things that make Kandahar Airfield (KAF) exciting is the occasional rocket attack. These rockets are old Russian rockets and are woefully inaccurate. Sometimes they get lucky.

My first rocket attack occurred when I was in my rack watching the movie Serenity on my laptop with my headphones on. Out of the corner of my eye I see my roommate hurriedly getting dressed. I pulled my headphones off and asked him what’s up. He looked at me and said “Can’t you hear that?” I then heard the siren wailing. I threw on a t-shirt, grabbed my pistol, and we hauled ass to the headquarters. He was saying that the explosion was really loud and couldn’t believe I didn’t hear it. I was at a part in the movie where there were huge explosions so it must have blended in. The rocket landed within fifty meters of our headquarters. A Dutch soldier was wounded because he got caught in the open.

My next rocket attack I was in my office working late. No one was hurt because the rocket landed in a remote area of KAF. The next rocket attack I was at the gym working out. No one heard a boom but we all heard the sirens. Out we go to the bunker and we just wait. Again, no one was hurt.

Last night they got lucky. I was on the phone talking to my dad when we all heard the boom and seconds later the sirens when off. They hit the main dining facility. Fortunately for us, dinner was winding down so there weren’t many people in there. There were some walking wounded and two that got hurt pretty badly. One guy got shrapnel in the ass which is a rather embarrassing way to earn a Purple Heart. The other guy is on the way to Germany after they stabilized him. The shrapnel went in his back and nicked some vital organs. He is in pretty critical condition. All in all we got lucky, it could have been much worse.

Today is Canada Day (or Dominion Day for the hold outs). There was a grand opening of a Tim Hortons here which is a big thing up in Canada. After my workout I had an iced cappuccino and a sesame seed bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese. The change they gave me was fake money so I spent it and got three chocolate Timbits (donut holes). Tonight there will be a barbeque in the Canadian NSE (National Support Element) with beer! Since I work in the HQ of the battle group and I was born in Canada, I am a special guest.

The Fourth of July is coming and I am sure the Americans will have something cool to do. I hope that when we are singing the Star Spangled Banner that we sing about the rockets red glare instead of watching one arc into KAF.

CPT NightHawk