Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Situation, Man, The Situation!

Nothing really tweaked my beak today, so I decided to reach back into a bag of old things I sent a few years ago from a little country we all but owned at the time. The more we give it back, the more dangerous it gets, but that's the way of these things.

Here, from that deployment, is a little account I penned the day after Christmas, of a holiday surreal enough to trump even this one.


It's been very quiet here today--as if all the people at higher headquarters who had to justify their going in to work on the holy day itself by bothering us with stupid questions finally decided to take a day off. Fewer than half a dozen (as opposed to several dozen) e-mails. No phone calls to compare with yesterday [Christmas Day]. Let me replay one for you, without any exaggeration:

Field phone: "Ring, ring"

Me: "CJTF One-eighty, CJ Four, LtCol _, unsecure line."

Idiot at the Pentagon: "Col _, this is the Army G-4 shop. I'm calling on behalf of General _, sir. I wonder," in a somewhat hushed tone, "if you can tell me if the situation at Bagram is still the same."

"The situation?"

"Yes. The situation at Bagram."

Now at this point my mind is racing. In the last week, we've had an F-16 run off the end of the runway after the pilot ejected at the last minute, and until yesterday, it sat in a minefield while we cleared a path to it (11 mines delicately removed--the wheels missed one by inches), downloaded its ordnance and fuel, then slung it out under a Chinook. Two nights ago we had a C-130 do a landing, which, technically I think, met the USAFA Contrails definition of a crash, to wit: "a landing in which the vertical velocity is so great and the time spent in reducing it to zero is so small that the resulting forces are large enough to cause structural failure."

No one was hurt, but when the aircraft came to a stop it was half on, half off the runway, about midway down, with only the two nose gear tires still inflated. The air smelled of burned rubber for an hour. Result: runway now closed just as Dave's flight is getting ready to come our way from Kandahar. And that is why David Letterman really never made it to Bagram.

There have been numerous issues that I can't discuss here. All of which, however, seemed strangely normal for a war zone, so I had my pick of "situations" to choose from--some new, some old, some resolved, some disgustingly the same. Back to Col Flagg (wasn't that the spook in MASH?) and "the situation at Bagram" . . .

Finally, fed up in general with folks back in the states who could and should be in their homes with their families instead of bothering us to justify their need to come to the office, I answered: "Well, it's still the same. Bagram's still situated in Afghanistan about 26 miles northwest of Kabul." I swear. That's exactly what I said.

"No. No!" he said with some urgency, "the situation, the SITUATION at Bagram."

"Hold on a minute," I said. Then with my hand over the receiver I asked the three other people manning my tent section on this sunny Christmas afternoon, "Does anyone in here have any idea what SITUATION the Pentagon might be calling about? Is there something new going on I haven't heard about yet?"

"Do what?" "The situation?" "Who?" "Beats me." "You've got to be kidding." etc.

I turned back to the phone. "No one here has the slightest idea what you're talking about."

"The SITUATION, sir, at BAGRAM," then finally, exasperated, firing the words out as quickly and softly as possible, as if whispering them at high speed might make them somehow less intelligible to any enemy listening in, "IstherunwayatBagramstillclosedtoone-thirties?"

"Why don't you call me back at _. Out." And I hung up. I didn't really care whether he'd had time to copy down the number to the secure line or not. In fact, I rather hoped he hadn't. First, it's good to be a LtCol. You outrank most of the people in the military. Second, if I turned out not to outrank him, I still didn't need to worry too much, as my chain of command doesn't really run up Army channels, even here, and I could always turn the tables on this idiot for beginning a conversation with the assumption that the topic shouldn't be discussed in the clear and then changing his mind. It would have been a simple thing to ask for a number to call back on to go secure. I had visions of Col Flagg cornering Hawkeye in a tent and repeating, "The situation, damn it man, the situation."

Oh lord, did the Air Force gang have a good laugh last night.