10 December 2008. 5 years, 1 month and 19 days ago I first set foot in KAF. Tomorrow, on 30 January 2014, I’m leaving it for the last time. A lot of people might expect this to be a bittersweet moment but a lot of people are idiots. Sure, the job’s been fun, exciting, and rewarding. I got to work with some great people and I sure learned a lot. But the job’s also been dull, stressful, and frustrating. I got to work with some people who were a pain in the ass and I learned shit about other cultures I wish I could unknow. And, most damningly, it’s been 5 years of working in fucking KAF with its overabundance of stench, heat, crappy food, boredom and NATO goddamn stupid-ass bureaucracy…and, of course, the seemingly ever present poo. That’s enough of that.
I figured I’d wrap up the 2 1/2 year history of Just DFACs Ma’am with some history, some explanations, some thanks, and a little summary of what it’s all meant.
Altruism, Thrill-Seeking and Greed
Some of you more sane people may wonder “Why did he want this job?” Well…
In 2008 I was Deputy Commanding Officer (DCO) of a software engineering squadron in the Canadian Air Force. My 27 year career as an Air Navigator had been a lot of fun. I tracked Soviet subs in the ’80s, traveled to much Europe and North America, instructed baby Navs and learned a bunch of cool shit. After I won the cold war (you’re welcome), however, the Aurora became an aircraft looking for a mission. Counting fishing boats just didn’t thrill me. However, I plodded along in my career which was still kinda fun and, what the heck, I had job security.
After 10 years of volunteering for every deployment that came along, I was finally selected to go on a six month UN peacekeeping mission to Sudan in 2007. I ran UN air operations in Rumbek, South Sudan. I was the senior Canadian on site and I reported to some UN civvie dude up in Khartoum. That was where I first learned to love having my boss several hundred miles away. It was also my indoctrination into life in a shithole. The South Sudanese culture was ignorant and violent and, overall, seriously fucked up, but it was a hell of a lot more interesting than managing the software squadron’s budget.
So, after the excitement of Sudan I found myself back at my DCO job puttin’ in time. It was then that a Captain (DD) that worked for me got a job here in KAF with my present company. He brought a job posting into the office on one of his final days…they were looking for someone to run an operation over here. So, I applied on a whim. When I was contacted for a third interview, I said to my wife “Holy shit, Joanie, what do I do if I get the job?”. She sagely replied “What jobs do you want to do in the Air Force?” “I don’t WANT to do any but will do any of them…the pay’s good”. “Take the fucking job” she said.
The primary driving force behind me coming here was to feel I was doing something meaningful. I knew our operation over here, originally in support of the Canadian Forces, would save Canadian lives. I also, rather naively in hindsight, thought we’d be helping the Afghans have a better life. Yeah, even at 45 years old, I was still a bit of an idealist and somewhat altruistic. What a fucking goofball, I was.
I also wanted to have some excitement in my work life. While approving leave passes and writing personnel evaluations along with resolving disputes between civilian squadron employees about how close to one’s desk another person can walk (yes, that actually happened) was gratifying and all, I thought “Ya know, war zones ain’t so bad”.
Thirdly, of course, was the pay. As anyone who has done this overseas contracting thing will tell you, there is such thing as a “shithole bonus”,. The shittier the place, the better the pay. You may not believe this, but way back in 2008, this was the least important of the drivers behind me taking this job. It was so.
So, here I am. That poor fucker, DD. I was his boss in the military. He ran all the way to KAF and then I rocked up…as his boss.
In the Beginning
I got out of the Air Force on 15 November 2008 and reported to our company head office on 20 November. After 9 days of briefings, I was sent home for a few days before leaving for KAF on 8 December. I got off a DFS flight on 10 December 2008 and was met by T. You might remember him from several of my posts. Well, he was in the military then and was my counterpart in our early contract score talks. He was a bit of a tough negotiator so we eventually hired him as my deputy.
Anyway, T drove me around and showed me our partially constructed hangar. He then walked me out to a gravel pad near the runway (this was before there were fences and shit) upon which were a couple of seacan towers. He then reminded me we had to be flying within 3 weeks. “What the fuck have I gotten myself into”, I thought. We didn’t even have an aircraft here yet. Hell, the first techs didn’t show up for two more days. D likes to chide “I bet you thought when the techs showed up we’d know what the fuck we were doing”.
Well, none of us did. Sure, the techs had all been trained but they’d only been with the company for 3 months. None of us had ever been to KAF before. It was a glorious, exciting, stressful fucking nightmare. But we flew 3 weeks later.
I loved that time in the job. Sure, we were living in tents. I spent some nights sleeping on a cot in my office (and the rest in a fucking tent). Twizzlers, Pop Tarts and Mountain Dew were often substitutes for missed meals But, for the first 6 – 9 months here, I was in my element. Everyday brought a new crisis and our team solved every goddamn one.
After that, we got into a routine with just enough changes, including a new customer, to keep it interesting for a few years. COMKAF certainly provided their share of random rule changes and asinine bureaucracy but I think I’ve posted enough about that over the years.
Culture Wars – Poo Edition
Sure, rocket attacks can be annoying and, at times, a little frightening but the single most disconcerting part of this whole adventure was probably the washrooms. I remain agog that there are people who think nothing of leaving their feces all over the fucking place. This coupled with a seeming inability or simply a lack of desire to maintain even a basic level of personal hygiene makes me think that some cultures are just incompatible. This post links to many of earlier rants on this issue. There’s now a great swath of south Asia that has been removed from our post-retirement travel plans. Sure, seeing the Taj Mahal would be cool…but cholera ain’t.
I’d love to name some key people who made our mission so successful but I’d be sure leave tosome people out (some deservedly and some undeservedly so) but I’m pretty sure they know who they are; I’m told them to their face. However, I will take a moment to thank my regular dinner companions whose wit, eccentricity, and overall good sportsmanship provided me with so much blog fodder and helped make Just DFACs Ma’am garner far more regular readers than I’d ever imagined possible.
Dan (D) – Your gruff exterior, which intimidated the hell outta me when you first showed up here, provides a perfect cover for your incredible store of arcane knowledge and mastery of the droll one-liner (and the fact you get teary when you talk about puppies).
Don(DN) – While your chocolate pudding atop chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream concoctions were a tad off-putting, your dry wit and understated delivery made mealtimes a blast. It’s also always nice to hear about someone else with a shitty ex-wife. Right, John?
Arne (A) – Another rich source of one-liners but more often a source of one hundred-liners. No one can make a 2 minute story last 15 like you can, Arne. I know you were often doing it on purpose just to get into the blog, man.
Mario(The Original M) – Ya gotta love a guy with no filter. Your honest (yet sometimes awkwardly loud) assessments of KAF food were delicious.
Mike (M formerly M2) – A man of arbitrary rules, (“Cake and ice cream simply should not be”) you made me feel a little less weird. And, of course, your great work on the DFACoMatic was instrumental in securing the freedom of the Afghan people.
Larrisa (L) – Your sense of humour, delivered in a swanky English accent and littered with non-words like lorry, dustbin and togs added the international sophistication and hitherto unknown cuss words that Just DFACs was otherwise lacking. I saw sailors covering their ears.
Kerry(K) – Thanks for bringing an Army perspective to this group of spoiled ex-Air Force types. It consistently made us feel better about our life choices.
Rachael(R) – While we worked together for only a few months, you, with your fancy-pants university degree, brought an air of urbane worldliness to the table. Admittedly, your Glasgow roots and consequent penchant for using the “c” word, love of deep-fried anything, and daily talk of stabbin’ detracted somewhat.
John (J) – Your obvious pleasure in watching me write down something you said for inclusion in the blog belies your claim to never have read it and your oft repeated promises that you “would read it tomorrow”. I know you’re reading this.
Tom(T) – Thanks for all the quips and, most especially, your many battles of wits with John. I guess I can safely tell you that you won most of them…since he won’t read this.
To The DFAC Guys
I know I took the piss with you guys pretty harshly sometimes. I get that you have a really big task in feeding tens of thousands of meals each day and, overall, you did a pretty good job. I’d go into the DFAC hungry and, usually, leave not hungry…and I guess that’s really your criteria for “Mission Accomplished”. I do think, however, that you guys could up your game quite a bit just be giving a little bit more of a fuck. That’s all I was ever saying.
Was it worth it? Well, I’m no foreign policy expert but my experience in both Sudan and Afghanistan indicates to me that trying to bring freedom to people who don’t give a fuck about freedom is a mug’s game. However, I put two kids through post-secondary education debt-free, paid off my mortgage, bought a ’69 Beaumont, remodeled my kitchen and bathroom, and put enough money away to retire at 51. That along with saving some coalition lives equals Mission Accomplished to me.
I am so outta here.
“I’m either going to be a writer or a bum.” – Carl Sandburg