The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger Ruminates

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Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist will appear as a periodic contributor to The Seeker throughout the next year as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Hey all,

Just a word of warning, there is some graphic content in this email, though I only describe it because I believe it helps you understand the situation.
It’s a weird stretch we’re in right now: I’m certainly no longer seeing Afghanistan as foreign, though I still am not completely seasoned. I feel like I’ve been here forever, but in reality, I still have several months to go. Though, when I look back at when I enlisted, I never envisioned being deployed at all, yet when I look back, I realize how much the National Guard has changed in the last decade. For instance, in 2008, I was on duty about 70 days of the year (and that only includes 3 days of this deployment), and in 2009, I’ve only had 4 days off the entire year so far. The “Weekend Warrior” truly has become a thing of the past, as far as I’m concerned.
When I think about it, if I had to be anywhere in Afghanistan, I’m glad I’m at where I’m at. It’s a place with such a rich culture here that other places don’t necessarily have (I stand in the same place where the Mongols once ruled, and one of Alexander the Great’s castles is on a nearby hilltop). All around me are the devastating effects of the Russian invasion, and the locals around me can talk for days about it. Not to mention, every morning I get to wake up to the sun hitting snow-capped mountains with beautiful splendor. I look at the mountains and imagine a tourist snowboarding it, and I realize that if that image ever becomes a reality, then we’ve accomplished our mission.
For those who are wondering how the overall mission is going, I must say it’s going well in most aspects. The Afghan military is really getting up to par, and this country has already become a place that terrorists fear. In fact, northeast of here along the Pakistan border, there is a district where the decapitated heads of dead Taliban are displayed on tall spikes, a message to all terrorists who wish to attack that district. It’s as if the heads can still speak, saying “Come, dear terrorists, and we will make you martyrs.”
The one aspect of the American training that isn’t going as well as expected is the medical aspect of things. The process to become an Afghan doctor is not very selective at all. One American doctor who is mentoring the Afghan doctors told me a story about a patient that came in with appendicitis. The Afghan doctor cut open the stomach and heart area of the patient, taking out all of the patient’s innards and setting it on his chest. The doctor then proceeded to massage the heart. The American doctor immediately stopped him and helped him to correct the mistakes, saving the patient’s life.
Though that seems completely awful, maybe even to the point where it’s as if there’s no progress being made, believe me when I say things used to be a lot worse than that. An American doctor who’s a Colonel here told me that he believes in 18 years, they will be up to American standards. He believes America has done all she can to help the Afghans in the medical realm of things, and that the only way they will learn at this point is through “evolutionary progress,” as he describes it. In time, they will learn what to do and what not to do through trial and error, life and death. He said, after all, that it’s the way Americans arrived at the point we’re at right now.
Essentially, the whole situation reminds me of a video game I used to play called Pikmin. (Yeah, leave it to Nate Danger to resort to a video game analogy.) In the game, you’re a space guy named Captain Olimar that goes to another planet and you meet all these little weak things called Pikmin. You lead them into battle and help them to kill the other species that threaten them. In the end, after you leave the planet, the Pikmin have learned to fend for themselves, and using the skills you taught them, they learn to survive. Suddenly, I realize how similar America is to Captain Olimar, and finally our Pikmin need us less and less. We’re not quite at the end of the “game” yet, but we’re really getting close. And I’m not just saying that to say that, I really believe we’re close to where Afghanistan needs to be.
Lately, I’ve developed really great relationships with the interpreters, or “Terps” as they’re called. They are my substitute friends, more than anybody else on the FOB, in fact. We have a lot of fun together: they discuss their Muslim religion as I discuss my Christian religion, we play cricket with each other, we go to the bizarre with each other, we go to the obstacle course together on the FOB, and we even had a dance party in their hut last Saturday. Many of them have actually even gone to church with me, and at least half of them requested Bibles to read. Unfortunately, I’m not welcome in their Mosque because I am not Muslim, so I haven’t had the chance to go to their worship time, although I see them pray throughout the day. I’ll just be sitting in their hut with them, and then they bust out a Muslim prayer rug and pray right there, allowing me to watch. They also inform me of stories they have of when the Taliban ruled when they were pre-teens, which really makes me understand why they like and appreciate me so much. The abuse they went through is incredible, and I feel really blessed to be a part of something that their country appreciates and needs.
A couple weeks ago, we had a Catholic priest and an assistant come to our FOB to provide Catholic Masses, which is a very rare thing, as there are very few Catholic chaplains in the military. It was a great time that they were here, and the priest spent a great deal of time getting to know who I am and where I am with God, more than any other chaplain ever has. His assistant, PFC Garcia, was really a cool kid, too. Garcia, who comes from New York City, told me a story that you may find interesting. He told me that last year on September 10th, he was at his church when the preacher pointed him out of the congregation and said to him, “You are going to a war zone!” It was a very weird thing, because though the preacher knew Garcia a little bit, he didn’t know much about his Army career. The preacher continued, “But, don’t be afraid, because God is going to take you home earlier than you expected.” Three days later, the U.S. Army gave Garcia a call and told him that he had been activated. Two days after that, Garcia was training for this war he’s in the middle of now. Yet, like me, he’s been promised early deliverance from Afghanistan. God is certainly moving here.
Some of you have asked me if I believe it was a mistake for me to have enlisted in the Army. And, for a long time, I wasn’t sure. But, for those of you that have asked, I finally have an answer. My answer is no, it was not a mistake for me to join the Army, and I don’t regret it. At the time, I joined for all the wrong reasons under all the wrong premises, (I enlisted because I was a naïve 17 year-old who wanted something to be proud of, and I enlisted under the premise that I would never see war because I would only be working “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” as the recruiter promised), yet God has been able to completely fashion me into the person I believe He wants me to be at this point. Joining the Army has had its setbacks, of course, but when it’s all said and done, it will have turned out to be a good thing for me. And for those of you thinking about enlisting, don’t assume that because I’m saying this, it will be the same for you if you enlist; I’ve just been blessed on my journey in the Army, that’s all. For me, things happened at exactly the right moments for me: promotions, this deployment, training, etc. This isn’t the case for most soldiers.
For those of you wondering about our friend, SGT Bandee, he has now been on his share of missions and faced quite a bit of real danger. For instance, do you remember how I said there’s four levels of roads in Afghanistan, 1 being the safest and 4 being roads that nearly guarantee an attack? On one mission, his convoy got lost and strayed from his level 1 road to a level 4 road for a couple hours. His Humvee was ambushed by little kids asking for chocolate and candy and stuff, and there’s no telling how close he was to getting hit by a terrorist in a nearby building. At one point, he told me it got so bad that his convoy got stuck in a dead end, and they were literally driving backwards through the town to backtrack the route they’d traveled! He emailed me something that was just too poetic not to share with you. He puts my writing to shame. I asked him if I could share it with you (because, like I said, his stories give you much more perspective than mine can), and he didn’t have a problem with me retelling it. Also, it’s been slightly edited for content, as he… well… swears like a soldier. But again, he gave me permission to edit it as well. And so, I’d like to close this email with his account of a convoy operation:
“Along the way, I took the time to really appreciate the kids of the country. The kids are constantly giving soldiers “thumbs up” as they pass by on convoys. When convoys pass through Afghanistan towns, the kids run out to the edge of the streets like American kids do for the ice cream man. I look out to the kids and see them use their hands to wave at me, and my hands return the gesture. They use their eyes to look at me in sheer intrigue, and my eyes replicate that intrigue. Their hearts go out to me because they know I’m in a dangerous spot, but not before my heart aches for them for the same reason. And as all that happens in a split moment, we drive on.
Along the route, I looked out my window and saw the remains of several cars blown up by IED’s. There was one field in which there were probably around 15 blown-up vehicles, abandoned and alone, never to be used again. And as I am in the vehicle thinking these things, we continually hit potholes that feel like the precursor to an explosion, making me believe that I’m about to be launched out of my seat and added amongst this field of death. That is, until a quick moment passes and I realize that I’m still on the road, not being thrown from the Humvee.
Yet, along the way, we receive reports on our Blue Force Tracker that there was an attack on three vehicles that are about an hour or two behind us, taking the same exact route as we just did. In times like that, you have to think to yourself, “that could have been me just now,” and you recognize that if it had been you just then, that you need to be a true soldier and do what you don’t want to do: fight alongside your fellow soldiers and possibly even have to kill another human being.
We continue into a dangerous district named Saydabad, in which we are told that we should expect to be fired upon. I pull out an extra carton of ammo and open its case, ready to feed it to the gunner in case he runs out of ammo in the anticipated excursion. Fortunately, it’s extremely cold right now. In fact, it’s so cold that I am shivering and my toes are going numb to the point that I am continuously wiggling my toes to fend off frostbite. The arctic frostiness is so severe that I feel disabled. I barely want to move, yet moving is what will keep me warm. I have a love-hate relationship with the weather, because as it conquers me, it also conquers the Taliban. And on this specific trip through Saydabad, nobody dies today because it’s so dastardly cold.”
Today, for my faithful, I ask that you pray for the troops as a whole. As Bandee just said, right now, it’s cold here, and I agree with him that the cold truly is an awesome thing. But in no time, things are going to start heating up, and it will be common news for us to hear about our fellow soldiers going home early in a coffin. The cold has protected us a great deal, but the winter is thawing, and the blood of spring is right around the corner. As for Bandee, the next time he goes through Saydabad, I doubt he’s going to be as lucky as he was this time… he knows it, too. So, may God be with all of our troops as we enter the long stretch of warmth ahead.
I’ve attached two pictures of myself in Afghanistan to give you an idea of the kind of snow that we get in this area. There are also two pictures of my FOB at dusk that I thought you’d enjoy.

Oh, and at the bazaar here on the FOB, they sell a lot of black-market movies and TV shows, and I thought I’d share with you a verbatim description on the back of a Family Guy DVD box:

“Peter (protagonist) is always a lovely Shasha says his family. His wife is addicted to a baby son, the mischievous fun of the day, she envisaged how to control what she-year-old son, the one year old The son of a Trick or Treat ghost is born, he would come up with many ways to let his parents angry surprising things.”
Thank you, and God bless!
love Nate

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Written by seeker70

February 7, 2009 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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