Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Change of Cast

The old PRT ripped with little fanfare. People began trickling out in waves, leaving 10 to 20 at a time until only about 40 of the original hundred were left, and those 40 held a brief ceremony on their second-to-last day to officially transfer authority to the new guys.

It was a short affair. The PRT had already held an awards ceremony for the entire team before people started leaving (everyone received a certificate for participating in Operation Enduring Freedom; some received a second award for extraordinary services rendered), so the transfer ceremony was quick and to the point.

The Guam guys had been pared down to a barebones force of maybe 20 people, which still left them as the largest remaining section of the PRT. Despite being down 30 guys, they seized the occasion to choose a random person -- an enormous body-building captain from Supply -- and sing happy birthday one last time. El Comandante gave a brief speech covering the same themes he talked about every time he addressed the PRT as a whole -- discipline, consistency, teamwork and professionalism.

The Navy is ritualistic to a fault, and tradition dictates that during TOAs (as Transfer of Authority ceremonies are called), a flag or standard is passed from team to team. The flag began with Senior Chief Literal, the old team's gruff, no-nonsense Senior Enlisted Advisor, who had spent the five minutes in advance of the ceremony practicing color guard-esque flag maneuvers while I stood three feet away and annoyingly photo-documented it.

(Senior Chief Literal spent the four months I knew him taking everything I said -- piercingly sarcastic or otherwise -- at its literal face value. "There's nothing healthy in the cafeteria," he groused. "Did you not see the fried pork chops?" I asked him. "Surely those are on your diet." He stared at me unblinkingly, shook his head and replied flatly, "no, fried pork chops are not on my diet." He was towering and bracingly physically fit, and I did everything I could to spread an insidious rumor that he kicks his legs while doing pull ups -- a process called kipping that's considered cheating and will disqualify your efforts during a military physical fitness test. "I've learned so much from Senior Chief," I told people within his earshot. "Like how to do pull ups correctly. I had no idea it's all in the legs." That statement, which is about as close to defamation of character as you can get with the military, would invariably cause my interlocutor to look disbelievingly at Literal and ask -- "you KIP!?" El Comandante warned that I was risking death and that if Literal clubbed me, it would be totally deserved. "How could I possibly be afraid of someone who kips while doing pull ups?" I asked).

Literal passed the flag to El Comandante, who took it and saluted. He then passed it off to the Godfather, who by that point had already spent two weeks shadowing El Comandante in preparation to take over as the new commander. He in turn passed the flag to his Senior Enlisted Advisor, whom I don't know well enough yet to assign a nickname. Salutes were passed back and forth, and authority was officially transferred. The Godfather spoke briefly, citing some African concept of team. I took notes, but he speaks quickly in a stream-of-conscious style that was hard to get down on paper.

I wasn't in Farah when the last remnants of the old team left. The had some difficulty arranging a C-130 to Kandahar which delayed them for a few days, and while they cooled their heels (giddy at departure, annoyed with the delay), I and the Godfather flew to Mazar-e-Sharif, in Balkh province in the north, to attend a joint RC-North and RC-West conference on sub-national governance.

The conference was hosted by the Afghan central government out of Kabul, and I found out later that other State PRT officers had been told that there was no need to attend. I failed to get that memo. I also failed to realize that it wasn't a working-level conference, and my woeful lack of suit and tie left me feeling bracingly underdressed throughout the conference, which was a forum for provincial leadership to connect to the central government and which I had no place attending. "For the first time in Afghanistan, I feel completely underdressed," I told the godfather. "Why?" he asked deadpan, motioning at my cargo pants and polo shirt. "Just because you're dressed like a hobo?"
I anticipate that we'll have an excellent working relationship.


Dakota said...

I do of course have photos of all this. Sadly, the photos are on my laptop, which is still in Afghanistan, and I've moved on to my first R&R and left the laptop behind. I may backfill later on, time and willpower depending.

Mr. Cavin said...

I certainly hope you do. This is my favorite blog right now; I check it every day or so. And I don't send fan mail like this lightly.

Dakota said...

I'm dying to know what your other favorite blogs are. I assume you have great taste -- not just because you're complimentary of The Afghan Plan, although god knows that certainly helps.

Mr. Cavin said...

Well, my tastes mutate, of course. And they are rarely serious. But if you like horror movies, this guy's a genius: Arbogast. His yearly October countdown, 31 Days 31 Screams is a great little niche of the blogosphere.

Joel said...

Love the latest portion about "kipping". Seems like something that would occur in Catch-22!

Esmeralda said...


Rachel C said...

4th paragraph - "The Navy is ritualistic to a fault." Navy??? Come on now....


Dakota said...

The Navy! I'm with a Navy-led PRT (SecFor is Army). Was I not clear about that?