The Jams and Condiments NCO wears his “Hajji Don’t Surf” patch partway under his chest rig. The patches are ubiquitous, but seldom see the light of day up here in Kabul as they’re considered too aggressive or politically incorrect; The closer you get to the bureaucratic heart of the war, the more oppressive the over watch.
Mick, whose actual title is Training NCO, has done a couple of combat tours and, like most of the guys on this training mission, wishes desperately that he was “down south” on another. Ropey, tattooed and mustachioed, he looks the part, but more importantly has the reserved, welcoming and slightly cynical temperament that says fighter. Down in Kandahar he’d readily share his last bottle of water on a fighting patrol. Here, he readily makes tea for guests to the Headquarters building of Camp Blackhorse. A pyramid of Nutri-Grain bars shimmies atop a filing cabinet, with a couple of them tumbling onto the coffee maker below. And while there is no fighting, there are plenty of fighting adages: Fighting boredom, fighting to stay sane, fighting for the last sugar cube.
Like all the camps around the city, the stacks of care-packet candy and coffee mailed from Canada never diminish. A plastic bin is filled up with bite-sized Tootsie Rolls, Life Savers and Werther’s Originals. A safe distance from the rumbling laser printer, Tins of Tim Hortons coffee are stacked in a tower competing against President’s Choice brand Hot Chocolate.
“It’s like no one back homes realizes the mission has changed,” Mick says while pushing around his prized jar of Nutella. “There’s no way we can eat all this shit. But I guess that’s better than those who don’t even know we’re here — unless there’s some pact back home to turn us all into diabetics.” Water boils in the kettle, steam curling to the ceiling.
Mick dunks his teabag up and down. He is counting down to tour-end – one dunk for each week left – but he does, at least, get to boot around in the sprawling, wreckage filled desert where the ANA learn to march. ZSU-234 (The Soviet anti-aircraft weapon system), T-64 Main Battle Tanks and BTR60 troop transports, crumpled and burnt, still liven up the landscape — unwanted and untended remains of the war before this war. It’s one thing to walk and drive amongst the ruins of history as a passive visitor, but it seems something else entirely to know that, on this mission you’re brewing PG Tips to a honed perfection while RPGs and Gunships are setting the land and sky alight a few hours south.