(Originally published Jan 2012) The Mongolians are an incredibly unique group and not just because they’re Mongolian. Think about it for a second – say the word “Mongolian” to an American and what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A Mongolian BBQ restaurant, where you stuff a bowl full of vegetables, meats, liquids and spices then hand it to a cook (never a Mongolian) and stand around with a bunch of others mesmerized by the hot round grill while the cooks stir fry your concoction. If you know what you’re doing or are lucky, the food is palatable. If not, repeat the process with different contents. Can’t say I’ve seen the Mongolians here do any sort of cooking, but believe me, they stay busy.
First, a bit of history – Genghis & Kublai Khan were fierce warriors from an expanse of mountains and pastures south of Siberia and north of present day China. Genghis and his posse road out of the home territory on small ponies and subjugated an unimaginable number peoples and cultures. Hell, times are different – I know, but wouldn’t it be great to enjoy the same success in Vietnam, Korea, Somalia, Iraq or Afghanistan as the Mongols? But then again, we don’t slaughter people, no matter how deserving they might be. Anyway, his crew got as far as the gates of Vienna before being defeated. I tell you this to give ya a clue as to the warrior culture DNA of a Mongolian.
You see the Mongols everywhere on base. Wait, is it PC to call them Mongols? Kinda sounds like mongrels doesn’t it? They’re definitely not mixed-breed dogs – but they are visually unique. I guess they’re properly Mongolians, but Mongols works doesn’t it? Whatever. Oh, before I forget – they’ve got the most unpronounceable names. I thought Aztec names were tough, nope. Mongol names are like 12-18 characters long, have a lot of “Z’s, Q’s, K’s, U’s, S’s and E’s” plus an alphabet of other mismatched letters. I’ve found myself looking away from their nametags when in the chow hall – which is the complete opposite of what I normally do.
Their military detachment here is responsible for security in a couple locations. Security, you know, the tough guys who don’t take sh!t from anyone and protect us. Love that, trust me. Even though the vast majority of them look like they’re in the 18-23 yr old ballpark I feel completely safe. Why? Because I’ve seen them “condition” or work out and these guys are on the edge of insanity, and by “insanity” I don’t mean that pussy DVD workout. Here it goes...
My 2nd floor office overlooks the volleyball / outdoor lifting court. There’s been quite a lot of snow so no one is playing v’ball now, but the court still gets plenty of use. Every day for about 2hrs the Mongolians workout, or do what you’d call conditioning. And man, are they loud. Groups of 20-30 guys take turns either doing marching movements or hand to hand combat. The marching is pretty intricate with them doing all kinds of half steps, turnabouts, rifles twirling like batons, arms swinging wildly in unison, facing movements, etc. The first time I watched them it reminded me of the Ice Capades for some reason. Weird I know, must’ve been the snow.
Their hand-to-hand combat is completely different. They roll around on the snowpack like wild animals. The guys will either pair up and fight at the blow of a whistle, or they’ll do complex kickboxing type movements in unison while shouting at the top of their lungs with each thrust. Hell, enemies would be repelled by the sheer noise of an attack forget about the actual assault. Try to get a bunch of Americans to work out like that in the snow – laughable. Number one, most are not nearly in good enough condition to do what this Mongol horde does, and secondly Americans would probably complain about rolling around in the snow (the Mongolians don’t wear hats, gloves, scarves, or jackets – just their regular uniforms and boots).
Here comes the badass part, (this would never fly with American leadership and our extreme, one could say coddling avoidance of extraneous risk). I watched the Mongols throw knives at wooden boards. No biggie, right? Well, the plywood boards are about an inch thick, 2’x3’ in size and here’s the best part – the boards are held by another dude, usually right next to his torso or his head. WTF-ing crazy shit is that? Yeah, one dude flings a sharp object at a board about 20 feet away, which is held by a fellow Mongol. Imagine if you’ve just had an argument with a dude and he’s the one throwing the knife and you’re stuck holding the board. No thanks man. After I witnessed this absurdity I ran downstairs and told my friends, who immediately all ran upstairs to watch in astonishment as dudes kept switching out to practice knife throwing. Unfortunately the poor bastard holding the board never got relieved. I wonder if he relieved himself in his pants, couldn’t tell – his back was to us.
Yet another thing the Mongolians are known for is horrible karaoke. Judd was in the MWR tent one night trying to connect to the free Wi-Fi (WTF? Just let me pay for Wi-Fi already – at least I’ll be guaranteed a signal – this free stuff is infuriatingly unreliable). He listened then watched in amused horror as the young, earnest Mongolian Soldiers decimated song after song, some in English, most in Mongolian. Really wish I had the chance to see that happen – they’re so into everything they do: yelling with gusto during conditioning, eating with abandon at the chow hall, pushing themselves to the limit in the gym, etc. I can just imagine how awful but excited they were singing. Go figure – Afghanistan is probably a resort location as far as their military deployments are concerned (they don’t go to Germany, England, Japan, etc. like we do) – plus they’re making NATO wages. So, this has gotta be a short term paradise for them. I don’t love ‘em as much as the Sri Lankan chow hall workers, but I certainly respect their work ethic and enthusiasm.
I may have to recant that last statement. All that knife throwing and wrestling practice the Mongolians were doing the past month culminated in an interesting show of marching and a WWE-type exhibition. Melody and I heard about it a couple days prior and decided to get to the PX parking lot where the spectacle was to unfold. We perched ourselves on a 2nd story stairwell landing for an unobstructed view of everything. Lily showed up just before it started and we talked her into joining us. First came the marching/rifle twirling/tossing exhibition. It was okay. These were the taller dudes and wore white gloves with their camo uniforms. When they did some of the moves it still reminded me of the Ice Capades. Remember those shows on ice when you were a kid? Now I think it’s like “Disney on Ice” or some marketed crap like that. “Sell the brand…” Anyway, these dudes did a decent job. Check out the pix.
That part wasn’t so great, but we were in for a treat. The badass part came after the “pop pom squad” cleared the parking lot and the wrestlers came out. There were two lines of troops about 25 yards apart. A whistle would blow and 2-3 from each row would run to the middle, bow to the judge then start wailing on each other in well-choreographed fighting movements. It lasted like 20 minutes with different sets of 3-6 guys busting on each other. Definitely was cool.
But wait, there’s more. When those shenanigans were over, the meathead type lunatics brought out empty bottles, bricks, plywood boards, and pieces of concrete. The bottles/bricks/wood were set up in 7 stations with 2-3 guys per station. The head dude poured fuel from those “empty” bottles on the bricks/boards then lit them on fire!!!!! Next, the crazy Mongols broke the now empty bottles on their foreheads, and then karate chopped the flaming bricks & wood pieces. Me, Melody and Lily were trippin’ out!
We laughed our asses off in horrified empathy for one poor bastard couldn’t get his bottle to break on his forehead and kept beating himself with it… (I’m dying over here)… he ended up with blood dripping down his face! Another dude couldn’t get his flaming bricks to break – bet he broke his forearm trying to bust them. I hope he just gave up. We witnessed another bit of madness when a dude swung a sledgehammer at this big triangular piece of concrete (think of a much bigger baseball base). That by itself is no big deal, but the piece of concrete was resting on the stomach of another Mongol. WTF kind of genetic mutation have these barbarians experienced through the centuries since Genghis Khan that equates such performances to acceptable public demonstrations for professional Army personnel? I’ll bet teenagers growing up in Kentucky or W. Virginia do the same kinda shit. I can hear it now “Hey ya’ll, lookey here….” as the dirt bike hits a tree and rolls into a ditch. I’m still laughing inside. So, the Sri Lankans are “special” sweet, but the Mongolians are crazy cool. I learned these displays are held with each Mongolian troop rotation. Yasss!