Home

Happy to be home!  I won’t be writing for a while as I settle in.  I’m unpacking, spending time with friends and family, and mentally preparing myself for the next assignment.

Warm Regards,

Dominik

Nobody is Cool

I am in Qatar.  My time with NSOCC-A/SOJTF-A is at an end.  While I do feel comfortable talking about most of my experiences in person, I will need to continue to be careful in my writing, which can be publicized and misconstrued.

I will be responsible for writing blogs, white papers, and articles talking about my experiences here.  This is a direct order from MG Donahue.  But I don’t have good context as to what pubs or when.  I was suggested “War on the Rocks” and eventually “Joint Forces Quarterly”.  More than likely what I write will not have my name published as an author.  Additionally, it doesn’t make sense to publish earlier than January for reasons I don’t understand.

Another very difficult decision I have to make is what I do next with my job, and further along with my career.  My job at NNSA awaits me back at home as it always has.  I have a neat fit within the organization.  I turned down all offers to extend in Afghanistan.  But pressure began in June, and reached an apex the night before I left, to continue servicing technical projects even from stateside.  I haven’t made a decision yet.  I don’t like this situation.

My farewell was excellent.  MG Donahue said very nice words about me — that changing an organization’s culture is hard, and the hardest group to change is the Field Grades (O-4s to O-6s) who are stubborn in their ways in order to get through their deployments as rapidly as possible.  But I accomplished real change at that level like very few people can.  That’s all I can remember.

People called my farewell speech “electrifying”.  I told jokes, thanked people in the room, and thanked people who redeployed before I did who had mentored me.  I shared why I volunteered for NSOCC-A in the first place — to make up for my awful active duty submarine experiences.  Those ghosts are now truly in the past.  I told everyone my final wish was to be able to return to Afghanistan with my wife and daughter in 20 years to go shopping, skiing, and sightseeing, with my daughter clueless that a war had ever taken place there.

 

So where did all the value of my deployment come from?  Was it the contacts?  Was it the professional experience and mentorship?  Was it the networking, the knowledge, the travel, the awards, the evals?

It was none of those things.  At least, none on their own.  The most important takeaway was that I thrived in an environment where interactions among officers (staff politics) were not dissimilar to what I dealt with in the submarine force, but it didn’t affect my emotions one little bit.

In the submarine force, I wanted so badly to be a “cool guy”.  I wanted to be on an SSGN serving with SEALs and Divers.  I wanted to be Dive-qualified and do lockouts from the submarine into the open ocean, piloting the SEAL Delivery Vehicle to our objectives.  I wanted to launch missiles, kill bad guys, and conduct operations against our near-peers and close adversaries.  I wanted to be the top officer on the best crew, loved by everyone in my life, looked upon as a hero.

All of that was about me instead of the mission.  I was selfish.  I took things personally when my experiences on that boat didn’t meet my expectations.  I had a bad time, and would have had a bad time regardless of my actions.  My fellow JOs were bad people and I refused to participate in the bad things they did, losing their “protection” as a result.  Nothing I could have done would have made that experience tolerable.

But I have learned since how not to take such bad experiences personally.  These things were not my fault.

As I approached NSOCC-A, I had creeping items in my mind to be a “cool guy” once again.  I was determined I’d go out with an SFOD-A or Ranger Platoon at some point in my time out there.  I could morph my career from being a Submariner to an Operator.  I could be someone both good at tech and good at shooting and thinking.

But I met someone in my training pipeline that had built a career out of just that.  Starting as a Surface Warfare Officer, he transitioned to the Reserves and joined a Marine Field Artillery unit, qualified as a Forward Observer and JTAC (with the ability to coordinate air strikes from the ground), and had multiple deployments getting blown up and blowing other people up.  He served with Special Activities on the NSOCC-A staff, was the XO of SEAL Team 18 as a Reservist, and the SEAL Team 6 J5 as a civilian.  A “cool guy” by all means.

But he was alone in his life.  Divorced and couldn’t keep a girlfriend.  Always put his career first.  Nice to me, but an asshole to everyone else.  Not a fit model for the life I want to lead.

And so it has gone with the majority of “cool guys” I’ve met.  Not one of them embodies the life I want to live.  Most of these cool “operators” have weird personality deficiencies that prevent them from getting along with folks outside their community.  Most have kids and are divorced, or are on the verge of divorce.

They invest everything in their careers.  Their happiness resides on the love of their bosses and teammates.  Their self esteem rides on the uncontrollable ebb and flow of staff politics.  They are far more emotionally sensitive than action movies would lead you to think, almost totally unable to take criticism, terrified of failure.  Many will likely go on to be alcoholics, drug addicts, or worse after they retire, once they leave their teams and have no families remaining to receive them.

 

When I first showed up at NSOCC-A, as I began to learn its mission and its task organization, I compiled a list of experiences I wanted to achieve — going on a manned ISR flight, visiting an AOB and an SFOD-A, travel to each corner of the country (Kandahar, Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Nangarhar), do a convoy through Kabul, visit the embassy, and much much more.  I did almost everything on that list.  Of the things I didn’t do — for example, shoot mortars or field artillery at ISIS, or go on an AC-130J ride — I could care less at this point.  I have been a war tourist.  I have been a bit shameless.  Either I can say my cravings have been satisfied, or I’ve grown up.

Did these experiences help me professionally?  Yes.  Did they boost my “cool guy” status?  There is no “cool guy” status!  Nobody cares!  I did my job.  My work was valuable.  I’ll never be an “operator”.  I will always be a big-picture tech guy.  And you know, that is a critical enabling role that the vast majority of operators will never be able to fill.  I own my own special status that those guys will never be able to achieve.  Nor should they want to.  Nor should I try to be something I’m not.

Whatever I endeavor to do in the future, it shall never have anything to do with how “cool” the organization or its people are or might be.  That crap is for suckers.  Instead, my questions should be, what is the mission, how important is it, and how will I be able to help?

And as for making it through selection processes, climbing through top tier organizations, becoming a favorite “star child” of rising flag officers — this is all crap I could care less about.  That’s all politics and has nothing to do with my work or skill.  Favor comes and goes like the tide.  By being insensitive to favors, I can thwart the vast majority of folks trying to manipulate me for their gain.  I can be the center of attention and be totally forgotten without taking anything personally.  Because it’s not my boss’ love that matters — it’s my family’s.  I will always have something to go home to at the end of a deployment or a workday.

This is how I’ve truly grown up in this top-tier SOF environment.  Not for becoming more like them — but for becoming a far better version of myself.  I didn’t suck up and try to fit in with the crowd.  I added value to the organization by doing what I do best — creating, teaching, and enabling.  I helped create an enduring Counterterrorism platform in Afghanistan.  No one can ever alter that fact.

I will never again in my life tie my self esteem to anything but my self respect and my love from my wife and kids.  This is the best, most true lesson I can take away after all the crap I’ve gone through in my life.  I now truly understand how not to take anything personally.  It is not because of my achievements.  It is because I have been part of “the best of the best” and understand what a bunch of social losers we all are.

 

That’s all.  Sorry if that was a rant.  This is just a way to get my feelings down on paper.  I feel good about it all.

I’ll be in Qatar a couple more days, then mandatory psychological decompression in Germany, and then at least a couple weeks in Norfolk before returning to my home station and going on terminal leave for the holidays.

 

See you all soon.

Regards,

Dominik

MIT Review Tech Articles

https://www.technologyreview.com/magazine/2019/11/

MIT Review produced a bunch of excellent tech articles on war.  All of them are very highly relevant to stuff I’ve been involved in.  Except I guess the one about the penis transplant.

7 days left.  I have an identified replacement that I’m turning over with — an Air Force Acquisitions Officer.  Great news.

But I am starting to feel again what I felt back in May when I was first pulled from my job — staff politics.  Many staff members, vying for influence over the boss, are “frenemies”.  They fight proxy wars against each other by adopting junior officers as mentees and compete by how successful their mentees are.  It’s a silly game, but I’m feeling it.  Since my own mentor redeployed, I’ve gotten plenty of passive aggressive behavior from some folks who weren’t friends with my mentor.

What’s funny is that I’m not upset about it at all.  I’ll leave here soon, and while those folks will continue to grow in their careers, and I may even bump into them again, none of this behavior is even remotely close to how I was treated in the submarine force.  And it doesn’t impact my own career.  It doesn’t impact my self-esteem either.  I know I’ve done good work regardless of how I get sent off.  My pride is intact, and very strong.

I’m not working the same hours I used to.  Before it was around 17 hours a day…now it’s hard to pull more than 14 without feeling extremely tired and unmotivated.  I don’t want to start anything new.  I just want to go home.  Not because this job is bad — but because I miss my family.  I still have about three weeks before I see them again, another 2-4 weeks on top of that before truly returning home.

 

That’s all.  Have a good night!

Regards,

Dominik

Song of the Year

Eleven days remaining.  However, that’s the remaining amount of time I have before I depart Kabul and separate from NSOCC-A/SOJTF-A.  I will take a 30 minute helicopter ride to Bagram where I’ll wait for a flight to Qatar.  Because of both bad weather and the fact that half of all the mobility air in CENTCOM is being used to exfiltrate forces out of Syria, I have seen folks waiting over a week for their turn to fly out of country.

A few days back at al Udeid in Qatar for outprocessing, then gear turn-in and mandatory decompression in Germany for six days.  If all goes well, I’ll return to Norfolk the day before Thanksgiving.  Average in Norfolk is 10-14 days for medical and administrative redeployment, but folks sometimes spend over a month there taking care of their issues.  Then I check back in to NOSC Baltimore, go on terminal leave, and return to my normal life.

Well…maybe not “normal”.

Did I mention NSOCC-A/SOJTF-A got a Joint Meritorious Unit Award?  One more ribbon for the rack.

Did I mention I was nominated for a Bronze Star Medal, but was downgraded to a Defense Meritorious Service Medal?  I mean…I’ll be awarded my last day here.  Unfortunately, while the Army thinks I deserve a BSM, but administrative folks said nearly 100% of BSMs awarded to Navy personnel are revoked, the exceptions being those involved in significant amount of combat.  I wasn’t.  Our Chief of Staff said they were not willing to spend weeks or months fighting the Navy awards board to keep a BSM.  So DMSM it is.  Still, not a lot of O-3s out there with that award.

Did I mention I recently went to Mazar-e-Sharif, Nangarhar, and Herat?  Checking up on some of our Afghan partner forces out there.  I hope I helped out.

Anyways…

The song of the year for this deployment is Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plastic Love”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gj47G2e1Jc

English lyrics:

Don’t mess up the program of love
With your sudden kiss and fiery stare
I cleverly plan every hello and goodbye
Because everything comes to an end
Don’t hurry!

Ever since the day love hurt me
My days and nights have been reversed
At the flashy discotheque, dancing the night away
It’s the trick I learned
I’m sorry!

Never take loving someone like me serious
Love is just a game, I just want to have fun
I dressed up my closed heart in fancy dresses and shoes
They were my friends in loneliness

Every guy that asks me out ironically looks just like him
For some reason my memories run wild
Even if I drop my glass and suddenly cry, don’t ask me the reason why

When I fall asleep on the highway
Only the halogen lights shine mysteriously
Even if a voice whispers out that
I’m a woman cold as ice
Don’t worry!

I’m just playing games

I know that’s plastic love
Dance to the plastic beat
Another morning comes
I’m just playing games
I know that’s plastic love
Dance to the plastic beat
Another morning comes
I’m just playing games
I know that’s plastic love
Dance to the plastic beat
Another morning comes

Why have I been mesmerized by this song ever since I first heard it on accident on a YouTube playlist back in March?
I have no good ready explanation.  It’s about the emptiness associated with a party life.  Part of why this song is so striking is how cheerfully the lyrics are sung, even though the subject matter is horribly depressive.
Do I empathize with the depression?  Well…
This war in Afghanistan has been a party for so many coalition folks for such a long time.  My first four months here, every day was operations, strikes, and special reports to the commander, with the vast majority being cases those of our causing unintentional civilian casualties.  Every day…
And with each day, killing so many enemies resulted in no change in relationships between us, our allies, our partners, our rivals, and our enemies.  The killing, except when in self-defense, seemed entirely meaningless.  And yet this has been the business of the bravest and brightest in our entire country.
I was relieved and excited when I moved on to lead special projects.  These projects could either help us end the war, or tremendously benefit our relationship with our Afghan partners in case we got the word to suddenly exfil the country, as has happened with Syria.
I am proud of my work, and so the song does not ring with the same irony of cheerful, hollow meaninglessness as it did before.  Will my work make a difference in the long term?  I don’t know.  But at least we, as the command, tried.
There you go.  My song of the year, and my interpretation why it resonates.
A little more time to go.
Regards,
Dominik

14 Days Left

Time is still going incredibly slowly.  I just want the relief of not having to do this job anymore.  It’s fun — I just came from Kandahar, Herat, and Jalalabad — but not getting to see family all the time just feels too heavy.

When will the war end?  Who knows.  When will a drawdown from Afghanistan begin?  One prediction that I heard is 90 days before the 2020 US Presidential Election.  Still, I’m making tons of preparations for leaving good partners behind.

On an unclassified level, I can say we’re working with Afghan Partner Forces to give them a sustainable “mission command” platform: https://lapis.palantircloud.com.  I hope it all works out.  I’ve poured lots of time into this.

More articles:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/31/human-rights-watch-report-links-cia-backed-units-to-afghanistan-abuses — this is really bad.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/26/world/asia/afghanistan-whatsapp-taliban.htmlReplyForward — this is really true.

 

Even when I leave here, I still may not return home until Christmas…

Regards,

Dominik

Late Night

Late night.  Couple articles.  Things are going well towards the end.  A few nice words once in a while are all I need to keep going.  Strong finish.

And…cutting off the Inderal I was taking.  It completely killed my energy and my workouts.  My hands stop shaking when I take it, but I’m better off without it.

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2019/10/21/congressional-leaders-travel-to-afghanistan-amid-uncertainty-over-troop-deployments-overseas/

Final Month

I haven’t written in a while because the wi-fi in Kabul is terrible.  I’ve been trying to set my room up since I returned but haven’t made much progress.

Life is nice now.  I work 16 hour days instead of 18 — those extra two hours for sleep and free time make an enormous difference.  I am free to work out almost every single day.  I no longer attend most staff meetings which means I have lots of extra time on my projects.

But I’m at a disadvantage — I’m in Kabul, separated from most of my peers.  And I mean my project peers, not my age peers.  When I want to get face-to-face time, I have to travel.  That takes time.  But it’s what I’m doing now.

I was very blue when I first returned to country.  I felt as if my projects had taken on a life of their own and were totally out of my control.  I could do little to influence them.  And being in fewer meetings meant more isolation.  I was counting down the days I had left in country every time I walked from one place to another, far sooner than I should have.

I have roughly 31 days left now.  But I feel much better, having spread my wings and traveled to other bases without asking anyone.  I’ve gotten together with other stakeholders and now the projects are back where I want them.  I know what I want to accomplish with my time left.

I’ve gotten great hookups since I’ve been here — good evaluations, good recommendations, good qualifications, and likely a very good award.  Unfortunately, I will probably have to fight with the Navy awards board to keep it.  We’ll see.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be counting too soon, but I expect to walk away from this deployment with four new medals and three new ribbons.  That’s almost doubling what I started with.  It shouldn’t matter, but it does.

Does my work matter?  Yes — deeply.  Strategically, for this nation.

How’s this nation doing after peace talks collapsed?  Well, the national elections went through.  There were no high profile attacks, but voter turnout was abysmally low due to fear and lack of voter confidence.  It is possible that there will be some violent contests after results are announced.  Low-scale civil war, perhaps, among the ethnicities that once formed the proud Northern Alliance.  What a shame.

As for the cancellation of a negotiated settlement — perhaps it was for the best.  Our primary condition was that the Taliban would promise not to harbor al Qaida anymore.  Taliban senior leadership swore oaths saying they had nothing to do with AQ for years.  Only a few days after the talks collapsed, we got the head of AQ in Afghanistan/Pakistan/India, and all the evidence post-mission proves massive, extensive ongoing collaboration between the two groups.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/08/world/asia/al-qaeda-taliban-afghanistan-raid.html, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/07/taliban-still-hasnt-broken-with-al-qaeda/

Fuck you, Taliban.  Fuck you for thinking you could lie so blatantly to us and get away with it.

There’s a lot of other stuff in the news now — Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, Iran, Saudi, impeachment — I think Afghanistan will fade far into the noise.  We’re talking about all those events over here, but we’ve got a job to do.  Keep on securing the country.  Keep on getting the country to secure itself.  It’s not easy and may last a long time, until we’re ordered to pull out.  It was a campaign promise after all, and may happen sudden, with several changes along the way.

I can’t wait to go home — but I will sprint to the finish, accomplishing all I can to better the country’s security situation.  And I’m not going to be humble about it — what I’m doing is really helping out.  I hope it lasts after I leave…

 

Stay safe.

Regards,

Dominik

Post R&R

I completed R&R in Poland yesterday and am in Kuwait, on my way back to Afghanistan.  I have about two months left.  I hope they’ll fly by quickly.  Not because I’m not enjoying my deployment, but I am feeling ready to return home for good.

I have many thoughts, but will only share a few here.  First, on my own future.  I have a lot of options upon my return.  Plenty are very good.  But I need to prioritize family.  I have seen too may people put family after work, and after so many years they reap what they sow.  Even if their marriages stay intact, their kids often resent their parents.  I don’t need that and don’t want it.

I was surprised by the ways that Lenna had developed.  I didn’t know how much attention and playing she’d want or need.  She was happiest just climbing up and down stairs over and over.  She didn’t like staying still for long.  It wasn’t difficult to make her happy, but it did take time and attention.  I realized this level attention would probably be needed for many years to come, and I should temper my expectations for my career and my personal/private time accordingly.

For Rui — I was surprised that the majority of our career and family planning discussions regarded her plans.  I thought debating my options would be difficult, but they weren’t.  Rui’s were much more challenging — to help figure out her options, evaluate preferences, and come up with a good strategy to approach these.

Together we have a pretty good plan from here through my return home in December, as well as the next year or so.  There are a lot of variables over the next two to three months, but these are all positive opportunities.  If all these chances fail, we still have very good options in front of us.

I am vague on purpose.  This time in Afghanistan has exposed me to some very interesting groups of people.  Maybe I’ll find ways to continue on with them.  This depends on the attitudes and tempers of the people I work for, whether they’ll recommend me or not.  I also have to do some digging as to what type of work style these opportunities will be.  If they’re as tough as what I’m going through in Afghanistan now, this may not be a wise choice for my return home.

Rui doesn’t want to be left out of all this action.  She knows who I’m working with and what I’m doing and wants to try the same.  But it’s not as straightforward for her to join these groups as it is for me.  While I may have only one door to walk through, she may have several.  That’s fine — we have a plan.

Already I have had to think twice about what I’ve written here…but I will leave it.

 

President Trump’s cancellation of peace talks has been an upsetting dismay.  We were so close to a peace deal.  Even if there was little to no assurance or guarantee that the Taliban would keep their end of the bargain, at least we moved one step in the direction of peace.  Now we have no deal, no path to peace, no plan.  We have nothing.  I guess I will find out what’s next when I return.

I’ve read so many articles about how the peace deal would have been awful.  I disagree.  The peace deal would not have resulted in peace.  But it would have begun the intra-Afghan dialogue, which had a modest chance of peace.  Now I don’t know if that will happen or not.

It is what it is.

 

Regards,

Dominik

Almost There…

https://www.voanews.com/usa/afghan-taliban-say-peace-deal-us-sight

Every day I have a better understanding of what’s going on.  Should I offer my conjecture?  Maybe not.  I am too close to relevant sources, and that might betray them.  Better not.

I’ll just do what the Generals do when exchanging emails that hundreds of folks are cc-ed on.  They make quick references and infer that if you are “in the know”, you’ll get what they’re referring to.  Otherwise, it’s just gibberish and code-speak.

https://www.apnews.com/add4a393afed4ca798401c5a0958f2c2

Read these articles.

Taliban wants to end the war too: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/taliban-say-ending-the-war-in-afghanistan-is-very-necessary/

Some people feel this way: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/23/afghanistan-at-risk-of-being-abandoned

ISIS-K: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/20/world/asia/isis-afghanistan-peace.html

There are other articles on this, including from Foreign Policy (which I like) and RT (which I don’t like).  Here’s a good brief version: https://www.tolonews.com/afghanistan/cia-plans-keep-proxy-units-afghanistan-report

 

That’s all.  Plane for R&R to Poland leaves in a couple hours.  I can finally rest, be with family, and reflect on all that I’ve lived through in the past 8 months.  When I return, I’ll have just 6-8 weeks left, and then redeploy home in time for Christmas.  Rui and I have plenty to talk over regarding future plans, based on stuff I’ve experienced and new opportunities that have come up.  What is best for our family?  To be determined.

I wish all the best for Afghanistan, and hope my efforts have contributed to their country and all the countries of the coalition.  I’ll be watching the news every day to see what’s happening — I anticipate big things to return to.  I will pick my duties back up, and hopefully help just a little bit more prior to departing for good.

Warm Regards,

Dominik

No News

I swear they’re blue-balling us here.  Even the President’s tweet about the Taliban negotiations was one of the calmest he’s ever sent.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/08/will-americans-call-afghanistan-victory/596188/

You know…I strongly considered becoming an AFPAK Hand.  The training was awesome — Defense Language Institute, SERE School, defensive driving, guardian angel training, and much more — but the commitment was immense.  It basically would have been a career change — one that would have stunted mine permanently.  Would I be willing to trade off promotions for excellent experiences?  The folks I’ve met who made that choice tend to be very jaded after it’s all done.
That choice will come up again.
Two weeks until R&R…I can’t wait.
Warm Regards,
Dominik