Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday night in Afghanistan.

Went to work this morning, 12noon. The chow hall served chicken fillets, and french fries, also chili. Supper was fried chicken, rice, green beans. I am eating so much less here, no ice cream, my belt is down two notches already.

I am running out of clean clothes, so I will do laundry tonight, when I get off work at midnite.

Work today was unusual. I had to go up on the elevator truck, and I get vertigo real bad. I guess that I will get used to it. I took a spray jar of soapsuds, and sprayed some inflated plastic, to check for leaks. I found some, and marked them with a felt tip pen. Tonight in the wind, I went out with adhesive and patches, and patched the pinhole leaks. Similar to patching a bicycle tire.

I am on garbage detail this week. Two days ago, I put on rubber gloves, and got on my knees, and scrubbed out the bathroom. This, after 5 1/2 years in college.

This is undoubtedly, the worst contract I have ever had.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where Masonry stands in Iraq and Afghanistan

There is both good news, and bad news about Masonry in Iraq and Afghanistan. (I have been working in South-west Asia for six years). The bad news, is that after all these years, there is not one working F&AM lodge, chartered by any mainstream Grand Lodge, anywhere in South-West Asia. Not one.

There are a number of working Prince Hall lodges, operating on the various military bases in Iraq/Afghanistan. Most of these are chartered by MW Prince Hall Grand Lodges of Oklahoma and Texas. Victory Base Complex (Baghdad), has four working lodges, and two Eastern Star chapters, all Prince Hall affiliated.

The Grand Lodge of New York F&AM, holds the charter for Land, Sea, and Air Lodge #1 (UD). This lodge was first chartered in 1917 (World War I). The lodge was de-activated, and then brought back for WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and its most recent activation was Sep-Oct-Nov 2005. (Send me a PM, and I will send you the link). I volunteered to assist in the administration and activation of LSA#1, in November 2005. I had the traveling charter with me, at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. In December 2005, the Grand Lodge of New York, directed me to return the charter to New York, so that it could be displayed in a museum in New York City. I was promised, that a new traveling charter would be issued, next year (2006). I never received a new charter.

If a military or civilian Mason, serving in this part of the world, wishes to participate in Freemasonry, the only route is through Prince Hall Masonry. If a man holds membership in a Grand Lodge, which does not recognize Prince Hall Masonry, he risks suspension or expulsion. If a man holds membership in more than one Grand Lodge, and all of his memberships are not in communication with Prince Hall Masonry, he risks suspension or expulsion.

There are a number of informal Masonic assemblies here in SWA. I started a “Masonic Square and Compasses Club”, at Al Asad. It was not a working lodge, just a bi-weekly meeting, where we would drink a soda, and fellowship.

The Grand Lodge of Nebraska F&AM, developed a program, to enable Masonry to be practiced in Iraq/Afghanistan. They produced a “Lodge in a box”, which included all of the working tools necessary for Craft Masonry, including a charter. They called these portable lodges “Swisher Kits”, named after the first Nebraska Freemason to be killed in Iraq. The program never got off the ground, because several Grand Lodges made it known, that they would not accept degree work, from any of these temporary lodges.

It has been a real disappointment to me, that I have been working in Iraq/Afghanistan since 2004, and I have never been able to attend a lodge meeting. I am also disappointed, that not one Grand Lodge in the USA, has shown any initiative to issue a traveling charter, for a military lodge in this part of the world.

“The opposite of love, is not hate. The opposite of love, is indifference"- Elie Wiesel. Nobel Prize winner, and holocaust survivor

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday afternoon

I work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have our slow periods, but Thursday was awful. The food in the military dining hall is usually pretty good, but today was a loser. For lunch they had hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. I ate a bowl of Special K cereal. For lunch, it was shepherd's pie, shredded lamb with mashed potatoes on top. I ate a salad, with ranch dressing, and a bagel with cream cheese.

The nights are still cold in Afghanistan. I feel like I will never be clean again. This place is so dusty, and the garbage pit, where the garbage is burned produces smoke.

May 20, was the bloodiest day for dead soldiers in 2010. A contractor was killed at Bagram (I was stationed there for three months).

Today was not too bad, I drove the forklift truck, and moved some lumber and building supplies around. I also helped on a project, where we prepared a cable for shipment to the USA. I had to wear rubber gloves, and smear epoxy sealant on the work. I enjoyed it.

There was a new pair of boots that no one wanted, so I latched on to them myself.

Keep up with my progress on the blog!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday night in Zormat

The day started out quite beautiful. I got up, and walked down to the chow hall. The lunch was four tortillas, with ground beef, and salsa. I made a couple of enchiladas. I walked back to the office. The sky was clear and blue. The sky in Afghanistan can be quite spectacular.

I watched the TV screen for a while. Then I helped haul the balloon down. The sky looked a bit threatening.

Supper was unusual. The chow hall served meat loaf. It was little blocks of ground beef, about 2 inches per side. I ate some with strawberry soda.

Evening is quiet. When the balloon is down, there is little to do. My co-worker is refurbishing an old motorcycle. He also does some carpentry work. When the Army needs something sawed or cut, he is always there to volunteer.

I wish I had some leisure activity. I work 12 noon to 12 midnite, 7 days a week. When I get up in the morning, it is all I can do to, put my clothes on, and go to the office (about 100 yards away). This morning, there was some gunfire, the Army must test their big guns, so BOOM every 15 minutes or so.

Got my first paycheck with the overseas bonus. I got no serious issue with the pay. I am certainly no expert on this technology. What the hell do I know about balloons? And the weather? and how to spot wind drafts at 1000 feet? I feel like a real idiot, bending my neck back and staring at the sky.

I am only here for my in-country orientation, Then I will be transferred to another base. It will probably be another small base like this one. I just hope that all of their equipment is installed, I dread having to take a set of this equipment from the crates, and then installing everything.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wednesday night in Zormat

Like the film "Ground Hog Day", this place never changes. I work from 12 noon to 12 midnite. We have busy periods, and slow periods. Today, I took an air compressor, and blew the dust out of the air conditioner. Somehow, the filters were installed backwards. I cleaned the same air conditioner last week, and the filters were installed properly.

I had to assist in filling the balloon with more helium today. It was interesting, to haul the hoses, and assist. We brought the balloon down, and it was about my fifth time here, helping on a down-haul. I am getting the hang of it, I wish was more expert.

After completing the re-fill, I helped hang some protective blankets on the balloon platform. The blankets are industrial plastic, with metal fillings, imagine a bullet-proof vest that is 20 square feet. The blankets are heavy, I strained by hands, holding them.

I am charged with garbage removal, and it is amazing, how much garbage 6 men can generate. I collect it during the day, and then at 1000pm, I haul it to the base dump, to be burned.

I don't know if I can stand 12 months in this dump. I am at Zormat for training, and then I will be pushed on to another base. It will probably be a small forward operating base, like here. If it is really terrible, I will have to re-think my employment situation. There are a lot of jobs in the USA, they do not pay so much money, and they do not have the tax-free status of overseas work.

Food here is about what I expected. I was in the chow hall at 1130, exactly when they open up. For lunch, there was chicken nuggets, cold, and french fries, also cold. I ate some, and they felt like lead bricks in my gut.

Dinner was good roast beef. Thoroughly marbled and stringy, with big globs of fat hanging off it. Also mashed potatoes and peas and carrots. A decent salad, also. Dessert was sara lee pecan pie, and M&M candies.

Back to the office after dinner, slow today. I did a cross word puzzle and a cryptogram. This base is entirely gravel. The rocks do a job on my feet, I must wear combat boots. Someone left a brand new pair of boots in the office, so I decided to "glom" them. ("glom" is a Yiddish word for "take"). I used to live with a Jewish woman, and she taught me a bunch of Yiddish words.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Saturday night in Zormat

Fairly pleasant day here in Zormat. The guys decided to grill some burgers, and I had two, and they were delicious. The weather was clear, so we flew the balloon for some hours. In the afternoon, we hauled it down. I am getting more practice with raising and lowering the balloon.

Dinner tonight, was cajun rice, and fish fillets in spicy sauce. I ate some salad. I could really use some decent desserts. I will lose weight here, I always do.

Biggest hassle, is the depression. I am working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. When I get off at midnight, all I can do, is go back to the trailer, and try to sleep. I get up around 1100am, and get dressed. The dining hall opens at 1130, so I eat, and the get to work at 1200noon.

Summer is coming to Afghanistan. At least I will not freeze, working outside.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Three days on the site

I am at Zormat, Afghanistan. Possibly the bleakest outpost I have been assigned to since I have been working in Iraq/Afghanistan. I flew in by chopper, on May 1. I have a decent trailer, clean and quiet. One other man is in the trailer, he works 12 midnite to 12 noon. I work 12 noon to 12 midnite, so I have the trailer all to myself when I am off duty.

This is a rough assignment. I have to learn new technology, I work the balloon. I also work the electronics and cameras. I never even saw a balloon until 13 April in Akron Ohio. I now must be proficient in operations.

I also have to learn how to work on a lift-truck. Today,I drove the lift-truck around the camp, and ran the elevator up 40 feet. I am not used to heights. We were caught in a cloudburst, and I was soaked, the rain was like needles. We brought it down, and I got in out of the rain, and changed my clothing.

I enjoy hearing from readers, if you have anything you wish to comment on, please feel free.

Charles E. Martin
Forward Operating Base Zormat