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Larry the Lizard

Guys, Hope I don’t overwhelm you with all these updates. We've had rainy weather the past week and our operations have shut down. I've some free time on my hands which I'm trying to put to good use.


When the weather started getting warmer we noticed a few changes near the office. First, the olive trees behind us, and all the weeds within, sprouted new green leaves and sprang to life. More song birds come to nest in the trees, fighting with the loud, grey winged crows, and we encountered a new “friend,” Larry the Lizard.

I had heard about Larry from Marc, the supply sergeant. His office is in the same building as ours, but at the opposite end. Marc has 5-6 metal connexes – similar in shape to the box part of a semi truck, but shorter. They sit in a line across from our building at the edge of the olive grove. We store all kinds of stuff in and behind them and you can walk between two of them. Directly behind the connexes are piles of rocks, some big some small. Woody would say the rocks suck because I had him organize them in piles once as “corrective training.” The rock pile is where Marc first encountered Larry.

Word spread of Larry’s presence. Everyone had heard of him but few had actually seen him. Shaniese kinda screamed, eyes bulging when she first encountered Larry and quickly ran into the office to tell us. Finally, I saw Larry one day on my way to water my experiment. He’s tan, about 3-4 feet long from his head to the tip of his tail. He stands about 6”off the ground and swaggers back and forth in typical lizard fashion. Larry likes hanging out on the rocks, under the connexes and in the olive grove. One of the locals we regularly meet gave us a basket of fruit from his fruit tree. The fruit were small, resembling lychee and mildly sweet. They were really ripe and since there were many left over after we all tried and ate some, I decided to see if Larry would eat them. I took the basket outside, placing it on the rocks at the edge of the olive grove – where Larry sunbathes. I can’t say I ever saw Larry eat the rotting fruit, but I expect the birds had a field day with them. They left typical bird “evidence” of their presence on the rocks all around the basket. I just hope Larry got his fill too.

Olive grove after R&R

Though I returned from R&R a while back, I distinctly remember the frustration I felt immediately upon returning to the office. Recall the olive grove I described in previous updates. It’s where I conducted my watering experiment, where we hid from the scorching sun, where we corralled our goat until we gave it to a local national, etc. The olive grove became a sort of catch-all refuge for our team and others. It was also a sanctuary for all the wildlife we saw on base. Mornings you’d hear the incredible din of the local birds as they met the sunrise. They continued their songs all day long. Midday the rocks bordering the olive grove were a basking ground for Larry the Lizard and other small reptiles. And evenings, the grove camouflaged the movements of the coyotes which roamed around base at dusk. I keep referring to the olive grove in the past tense because it no longer exists. The Army bulldozed it.

Foliage and particularly trees are precious in Afghanistan. They represent wealth and status, provide income and labor and when past their usefulness, they become firewood. Trees are a natural treasure in a land which is rugged, barren and hopeless. To the Army, these trees were excess and stood in the way of growth. It’s sad to think of it, because the US will eventually leave this country and regrettably, we’ll leave some places worse for the wear.

The olive grove behind our building was actually a remnant of what was once an expansive collection of fruit trees covering this valley. In addition to the olive grove, there were orange groves and date trees. There still are some eucalyptus and mulberry trees on parts of the base, hopefully safe from destruction because they either provide shade to nearby buildings or they line the streets – out of the way of construction. Although I’m not a surveyor, I’d guesstimate the olive grove remnant was about 20 acres big. It stretched far from our building in two directions. There were watering pump stations within the grove as well as a paved road. Surely this was a means of income for its owners before the US began its occupation here. It was part of my deployment history.

So, I return from R&R to see the trees bulldozed over, laying on their sides. No one has any idea how, when or by whom it happened. Chip noticed them a couple days before my return. One morning the team wakes up and sees all the trees had been knocked over. Birds were still perching on the limbs but it their songs were muted. It was more than heartbreaking. My touchstone to a reminder of life back home was destroyed. All for the sake of space, the Army had razed a living grove, not just a home to bunch of animals, but also a respite of tranquility in a sometimes shitty place. Whatever, I was too saddened to be angry, and besides, anger would’ve been a futile waste of energy when I had a lot of work to catch up on. I had to let it go….

This wasn’t my first experience with the Army’s insatiable appetite for land. During my Iraq deployment, the Army destroyed an incredible orchard of peach, orange and apricot trees to make way for a chow hall. I was based at a former palace in Ramadi situated along the Tigris river. Maybe it was the Euphrates, I don’t know. But the military wanted to expand and instead of using other land, it bulldozed a productive orchard to make way for a slop shop. It was disheartening and short sighted – like many military decisions.

Back to now, the reason for losing our olive grove is “the surge” of troops – which we haven’t experienced yet. True, housing is at a premium on base and there is little to spare. But instead of building barracks on newly reclaimed land on the far side of base where they plan to build a new chow hall, the geniuses in charge decide to tear down trees near our area and put up more billets, which means more noise, trash, shitters, traffic, etc. No more quiet sanctuary, no more idyllic song birds, no more Larry the Lizard, and no more furtive peeing in the trees. It’s time to go home.

From FOB Salerno, Afghanistan

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