The main playahs - characters
I apologize in advance and give fair warning about the length of this update. It took me longer than expected to compose a fair and decent assessment of my team mates. Through this email I hope to give you an idea of my immediate group and the personalities which compose it.
Every army unit is composed of a group of individuals that together, make up the collective success or failure of the team based on their strengths, weaknesses, age, experience, personalities, idiosyncrasies, and ability to get along. My team is no different. We come from across the US (Texas, Maryland, Nebraska, California and Georgia). I’d like to think we’re successful because of my astute leadership abilities, but I’m not dumb. I create the environment in which we can succeed and my team mates work their hearts out – some more than others.
I’ve long wanted to give you a snapshot of our team and finally decided to reveal the inner machinations of a, dare I say “kick ass” group of Soldiers. I told the team I’d be updating my friends/family with information about each of them. I’ll give each one an alias – and to be fair, I’ve offered them the chance to give their personal opinions of me. But let’s be honest, you – my friends and family – already know me and have your own opinion and view of who Todd is. But your opinions might differ from those of my coworkers and as such, I’ll include their assessments (if they choose to provide them) in this update. Let’s start with Chip.
“Chip” is my assistant team leader. (I’m the boss) He’s half Asian, but is atypical in the sense that he’s a monster of a man – approximately 6’2” tall, and 235lbs. He’s got a great laugh when he chooses to do so often greets his contemporaries with “What’s up fuckface?” or “Hello Faggot.” Yeah, Chip plays that whole “abrasive” thing well, especially with his friends, but I’ve gotten used to it and had to shut it down to prevent four-letter word fests. He likes to give the impression he’s in a bad mood and will verbally push you to see if you’ll back down. (I never have) Chip rags on his ethnic friends hard – especially the Mexicans – which is quite ironic and funny considering they make fun of him in a bad Asian accent. (Chip has no accent) It took me awhile to get used to him, but now I wouldn’t want anyone else as my second in command.
Although he has 10 yrs in the army, this is Chip’s first deployment in our career field, having re-trained from another specialty. I think that experience, his life experience (he’s 37), his mixed family and his time living in both Japan & Cali have made him great for this job. Chip can talk to anyone when he’s in the mood, but can be an ornery cuss. In fact one of his nicknames is Eyeore – you know, the donkey from Winnie the Pooh? That was one of my favorite books as a kid, although Eyeore was never my favorite character – who ever heard of a blue donkey? I more identified with Pooh, maybe because I was an overweight kid……Ah, sorry, back to Chip. He’s called Eyeore because of his occasional drab, down responses to questions.
One of Chip’s traits that we pick on him for is his habit of looking intently at you, eyes ablaze, as he describes something important – while raising his eyebrows up and down for emphasis. It’s like they’re attached to electrodes or something. We’ve laughed at him enough times that he consciously tries to keep a motionless forehead but it’s obvious when he’s trying, and we make fun of him anyway. (Maybe I could try my Botox experiment on him?)
Since being in Afghanistan and getting to know what’s expected of us here, Chip has “picked up his game” exponentially. He’s become the workhorse of the team – talking to the most people, QC-ing reports, taking care of the junior enlisted Soldiers and letting me do my job of providing direction, liaison with outside agencies, fighting battles, protecting our interests and developing an environment in which we can flourish. Chip is a Sergeant, an NCO, and I give him free reign to do NCO business. “Callie” another coworker once called Chip the “Mom” and me the “Dad.” Chip didn’t like it but we all laughed.
Sister Mary Danger
She’ll kill me for using that nickname, but Callie is a riot to have around. She dropped out of a Georgia college after two years of school and decided to join the army after working as a Sous chef for awhile. I guess the swimming scholarship and academics didn’t sit well with her abundant energy and smoking habit. Oh yeah, Callie smokes like a longshoreman. Wait, is that even a profession anymore? I’ve heard the saying and understand it well enough, but I’ve never met a longshoreman. Anyway, Cal love her cancer sticks – and I rag on her for it almost daily. I made a bet with her over something and she lost. The wager – one day of not smoking! Yeah, and I get to pick the day. Well, being the benevolent (and manipulative) boss that I am, I promised Cal I’d give her that smoking day back if she enrolled in and completed a college course during the deployment. She’s so addicted to cancer (my term for smoking) that she’d forego one day of abstinence for weeks of classes. I think it’s a good deal because it gets her mind back in the “school” game – to which I want her to return after the deployment. Besides, she’s already promised me she’s gonna quit smoking before the deployment is over so it’s “a win” for both of us.
I’ve got a couple nicknames for Cal including Betty Sous, Mary Mumbles, Scrappy Doo, Munchkin, Betty Badass, and one she came up with herself – Mary Danger. Well, because Callie went to a Catholic high school, I call her Sister Mary Danger – or a derivative of it. Danger soaking wet is about a buck ten (that’s 110lbs for those unfamiliar with the term) and a complete tomboy. She has this uncanny ability to talk without moving her lips – I swear that girl has a future in ventriloquism. She’s always asking to “go out on mission” so she can kill Taliban. We originally joked that Danger would be the first in our unit to get a confirmed enemy kill – but I’m certain there’ll be someone else who gains that distinction, thank God. If you’ve ever seen the original Alien movie – the character which best describes our Sister Mary Danger is Vasquez – the tough, badass chick who wants to shoot first and ask questions later. Well, kind of… she also reminds me of those Rosie the Riveter posters from WWII, especially when she shows off her impressive guns.
Like Chip, Danger is a workhorse. She’s got a chip (ha ha) on her shoulder and one of the best work ethics I’ve come across in a junior enlisted Soldier (she’s a 23yr old Specialist – SPC). She’s up in the morning to hit the gym and in fact, has dragged me there more often than I’d like. She’s one of the first in the office, usually is the first to clean the meeting tents (we talk to people in our tents), the first to clean and dispatch the vehicles, the first to volunteer for whatever I need done, the last to depart at the end of the day and unfortunately, the one with the most unproductive and challenging group of people with whom we must meet. But Danger makes a positive out of it and helps out the rest of the team.
In spite of her two years of college, Sister Mary has a remarkably narrow vocabulary – and blames the Georgia public school system. She’s been working on it though by hitting the crossword puzzle magazines we’ve got piled up in the office. She usually will only try the level 1 puzzles, but we’ve got her to level 3 a few times. She even admitted that she’s learned a lot of new words since working with me (I edit her reports). I said, “Yeah, like ‘hello’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you!” and for once, she was speechless as we all roared with laughter! One of her favorite pastimes is to make fun of me – usually the more outrageous the better. She’s good at it too.
“Shaniese” is the last person to join our group (but not the last person I’ll describe). She was originally part of another team but was moved to our group toward the end of our training cycle at Ft. Lewis, WA. That team went to a FOB (see previous updates) which doesn’t support women. By that I mean the FOB has no separate shower, toilet, etc facilities for women. I’m glad we got Shaniese because she has a fresh, once could say naïve, outlook on the army, our job, and Afghans.
Shaniese spent time in college, but not as much as Mary Danger. She’s young (22), originally from Nebraska but lives in Dallas, talks a mile a minute when she’s excited, a former high school athlete (basketball), has a smile that lights up her entire face, and is a total “dude” magnet. Oh yeah, the guys flock to her. Recently the team had eaten dinner at the DFAC and was leaving when this tall guy in PT clothes literally came running after Shaniese, throwing his game, trying to get her phone number or email. I witnessed it all because I was holding the exit door for her and watched “Cool Breeze” pour on the smooth talk. She and I smiled at each other (her beaming) – it was funny. Breeze was embarrassed as he saw me with the door, but Shaniese motioned that it was okay so we left her to be wooed by the most recent war zone Don Juan.
Shaniese is very attached to her family and calls them daily, sometimes more than once a day. I’m unfamiliar with phone plans available to deployed Soldiers, but I did ask my carrier – AT&T about overseas rates. It wasn’t pretty. AT&T charges at least $4.99 a minute to call home from Afghanistan. I don’t know what phone plan Shaniese uses, but if it’s AT&T, that girl is gonna be broke when we return.
Yes, Shaniese is from the country and man, can that girl speak country. It’s quite endearing even if I must sometimes ask her to repeat what she says, usually just to tease her. The other day I had her go through our old files, seeing what we could toss out. She asked me what I wanted to do with some old files – but it sounded more like fowls. I repeated “Fowls? I didn’t know we had some chickens up in here?” (I know, it was a stupid joke and you really had to hear it to appreciate it, but we laughed, including Shaniese.) She freely admits to sounding too country.
If she’s known for anything in the Battalion, it’s for her notoriety during combatives training in CA. Combatives is basically hand to hand combat Soldiers must undergo as a part of validation to deploy. Poor Shaniese was paired with the Battalion Commander – an opponent everyone dreaded because of the possible, imagined repercussions (if you happened to win). The BC warrants an entire chapter by herself, but this is about Shaniese and how she became the BN’s heroine. To put her match in perspective, Shaniese was paired with one of the few people who had universally united the 250+ Battalion Soldiers. How? The BC is a stay-at-home mom who had never deployed in her ~20 years of service before this trip to Afghanistan. She is insecure, misogynistic, emotionally immature, a closet racist and has a Jekyll & Hyde complex. It’s fair to say everyone hates her.
To be honest, I didn’t witness their match (I was at a different school), but people described it to me in vivid detail and it’s almost like I was there. 22 yr old Shaniese is stuck doing hand to hand combat with the 45 yr old “leader” of the entire Battalion because they’re relatively close in size. Shaniese destroyed her. Every time the BC tried a move, Shaniese knocked her down. Whenever forced to take the “passive” role during a re-set, Shaniese quickly took the upper hand. The best part was when the women were standing, the BC behind Shaniese – in a vain attempt to force the young girl to the floor. Shaniese easily grabbed ahold of the BC’s arms, quickly bent over and flipped that detested woman! The BC made this ungodly scream of terror and incredulity as she went from vertical to horizontal in a flash, while all 100+ Soldiers looked on, some cheering! People still talk about that match…..with a smile.
What really surprised me about Shaniese is that she knows and sings along with some of my music. (More on that in another update) Her gramma loves and plays Motown music so Shaniese is very familiar with all those classic artists. I grew up listening to Motown and play it in the office on my iPod. Only she and I know who performs those tunes, so I guess when I play Motown for us, it might remind Shaniese of times at gramma’s house. That might be a great memory, but the last thing I want to do is equate spending time with the Boss with spending time with gramma…..
Devon aka Woody
How does one begin to describe “Woody?” I hope you’re sitting down, this may take a while. Woody is from Baltimore, 24 yrs old, possibly of Greek, Italian, Jewish or other Mediterranean descent. He fits in perfectly here because with his hair grown out and a full beard – he can pass and is often mistaken for an Afghan. Sometimes he smells like an Afghan – so that lends credence to people thinking he’s local. Yeah, there’s another chapter coming on “life with an Afghan.”
Woody reminds me of one of those Borscht-belt comedians – kinda like a Groucho Marx. The way he talks is almost stage like at times, as if he’s performing. (I think his brother is in some way connected to the theater) He’s quiet, brainy, reads books on psychology & loves reading new words in the dictionary. Sudoku is his friend. He often mumbles when answering questions – for which we all yell at him. He chews his nails down to the nub and even the skin around some of them – maybe the guy’s always hungry. He gets really animated when he’s passionate about something and you have a different opinion (or just wanna fuck with him and take the opposing side). He has this trite habit of raising one eyebrow whenever someone aims a camera at him so most photos of Woody depict this one-eyebrow-raised, hairy Afghan looking guy. You’ve got to catch him off guard to see the real Woody.
Devon has a hundred nicknames – he seems to acquire them daily. The guy does so many dumb, funny, things it’s easy to find a name for him. Woody is a derivative of Hollywood. Why? Well, the guy can’t help but look at his reflection – store windows, mirrors, polished metallic surfaces, etc hence, Hollywood – he called himself that. Well, the name is too “sexy” one could say therefore, I dubbed him Woody. But it wasn’t the first nickname. During training me & Silas (a buddy of mine) took Woody to a restaurant for dinner. I knew he’d be on my team and I wanted to get to know him. Silas asked Woody his middle name (Curtis), but Silas heard Curly. So, we started calling him Curly in spite of his protests. Ironically, Curly tells me later that his nickname as a kid was Curly – it’s fitting now because the guy is covered with this thick, black curly hair – I mean you could braid the hair on his legs. He’s self conscious about it and thank God we must wear pants around here. Otherwise, I’d probably start calling him Chewbaka.
Woody is his universal nickname among team members, but I also call him other stuff. He was dubbed Lurch & Grinder the day he learned how to drive a stick shift. One of our vehicles is a standard pick-up truck. I had to teach Mary Danger & Woody how to drive. Mary stalled out 4 times before we moved even a foot. Lurch, aka, Grinder, aka Woody ground the gears a few times and we lurched forward at each stop. I’m so glad there are no hills on base.
I forgot why I started calling him Morty one day. Woody has a habit of disappearing. Who knows where he goes, but poof, suddenly he’s gone. I hit upon Harry – from the Harry Potter (HP) series, because they “disapparate” all the time, but Harry was a good kid. Not that Woody’s bad, but it wouldn’t be a nickname if he liked it so I called him Morty – short for Voldemort, the evil wizard from HP. Plus, it sounds Jewish and fit in with that whole Borscht belt thing. So, “Morty” lasted a hot minute but honestly, everyone just calls him Woody now. Wonder if I can get his parents to start using that name.
Woody has a self-professed, bad work ethic. If the kid applied himself – he’d “mop up” around here. He worked as a bartender at a bowling alley back in B’more so he’s got that “I can talk to anyone” thing going for him. The bad thing, is that he’s really introverted at times, but not like you’d think. During music appreciation (more on that later) Woody’ll stand up and jam on the air guitar, or start this goofy dance – he feeds off the attention and laughs, but he doesn’t want to go to the Sunday night BBQs where we can interact with our counterparts. I’ve nearly had to physically drag him there. And the kid is forgetful. He forgets what time we need to be at work in the morning (I think I finally fixed that problem), he forgot to take his phone on a mission the other day, he forgets where he puts his clothes, he leaves stuff everywhere, etc. He’s the typical guy – forgetful of unimportant (to him) things yet functional in life.
Eating and food – wow. Did ya ever have a kid brother who made a complete mess every time he ate? He always took too long to prepare his sandwich or ketchup concoction or cereal. No one wanted to sit by him because wherever he sat there’d be food everywhere, and usually on him too. That's Woody! He’s oblivious to the fact that he wears half his meal. Add the thick, hairy beard to the feeding mix and it doesn’t make for a pretty sight. If it wasn’t for us making fun of him the guy would walk around with enough crap in his beard to feed a small Afghan family. I make a conscious effort to comb my beard after every meal thanks to Woody.
“Josh” is an honorary member of our team, I feel sorry for the dude. The poor guy was yanked from his original team and kinda floated around BAF (see previous update reference that hellhole) for a bit before finally settling in Salerno. Josh partly worked for me but partly worked for the Commander and partly worked for another group which has a less strenuous work pace. He never really felt like he belonged anywhere until very recently when he volunteered to replace a guy in another group who redeployed home much earlier than anticipated.
Josh has pale skin, flame red hair and a slightly darker red beard. He’s been dubbed many things including: Ginger, Flamer, Powder (his skin tone), Duracell (the coppertop battery) and Red. But Josh was dared to do something during training and hence, the nickname Firecrotch came about. (I can’t help but laugh to myself whenever I hear or say that name.) Apparently, Josh was dared to prove that his “drapes match the carpet” so he pulled down his pants and showed everyone his bush. Now his nickname lives in infamy. He’s smart, soft spoken, occasionally quick witted and fun to have around, and of course, there’s that crotch – just don’t dare the guy in public.
(As promised, here’s the contribution about me from a team member)
The Boss Man
I am sure everybody who is reading this thinks they know Todd. But living with the man twenty four hours a day, seven days a week…let’s just say you pick up on EVERY LITTLE THING. It has been one hell of a ride with Todd being the boss man. Here are just some of the stories about Todd.
We get a lot of care packages, most having bags of nuts and chips. God forbid if somebody opens up his bag of chips or nuts, Todd would not eat any because “everybody’s hands have been on his nuts”.
We must clean the office every Sunday per Todd’s orders. Every Sunday he is amazed by how much dust can collect in a week…HELLO PUMPKIN…we are in Afghanistan. What did he expect being in Afghanistan? And if there is one speck of dust left over…oh man…we are in for a rough week. I think Todd has flashbacks to being a medic. I can actually see him coming into the office one day with rubber gloves up to his elbows, scrubs, mask, and rubber boots armed with a mop saying, “alright guys lets have some pure, unadulterated fun!”
Speaking of which…Todd uses some big words. I am from Georgiaa, so my vocabulary is limited. Almost every sentence Todd says has a big word in it. I think I have opened up a dictionary more in the 2 months we have been here than I ever had in my life.
The other day, he thought he could get away with having a quiet birthday. We figured out two days later that it was his birthday. Todd was in for a surprise. Being here, we are kind of limited on resources, and the only thing we could find were oreo cookies. We made a make-shift cake out of the oreos and wrote a bunch of notes on paper and covered his desk complimenting his age. He wasn’t too happy being reminded over and over how old he is. I think I got at least four text messages that night explaining how much he hates me.
Colonel Caution is a nickname we all use for Todd, for good reason too. Todd will buckle up, driving 20kph (that equals to about 12mph) in an up-Armored vehicle with tinted windows. He says we have to buckle up because if we get pulled over we will get a ticket. The windows do not roll down and the windows are tinted, so nobody can see in, I do not understand his logic sometimes. Colonel Caution will yell at anyone for driving even one measly kilometer over the speed limit.
Speengeta is Pashtu for old man or (white beard). This is the definition of Todd. Todd is the oldest of the group which means he should be the wisest. Todd regularly has senior moments, however. Speengeta is everybody’s favorite word now. We all make sure to use that at least once in every sentence we say to Todd. Every time we say that “S” word though, Todd gets mad. He gets this look on his face like he was about to strike a pose for the camera, its his “pout-y” face.
When Todd really gets into typing he looks down and types really slow, like he is reading something on his lap. It’s really funny and he doesn’t even realize he does it. He looks like Phil Collins playing the piano when he types.
Overall, Todd is a great boss and even better mentor. I think I would really go insane if anybody else was my boss. Todd has very few menopausal times, which makes a very great environment. He is my gym partner and thanks to him I have gained ten pounds in muscle in about five weeks. Whenever there is an issue, Todd is the first to come up with a creative solution. I am glad I got deployed with him, I look up to him a lot…well in a Speengeta way.