I’m crossing the line separating positive attitude from self-delusion. Ever since I got over to this magical, wonderful place, I’ve reminded myself to be grateful for the things I’ve had and the relative peace I’ve enjoyed. I’ve kept my contemptuous feelings to myself. I’ve maintained faith in my leaders. I’ve kept my doubts suppressed. I’ve uttered only the rare discouraging word. I’ve stayed in my lane and not concerned myself with the apparent pointlessness of my deployment in support of this worthwhile, effective American effort. I know in my heart that without me and my positive attitude, the Afghan people would suffer as Operation Enduring Freedom ceased enduring and the Taliban claimed victory.
Not many soldiers share my ersatz optimism.
Take Koala Bear. He’s an angry Koala Bear and has about as negative an outlook as a guy could have. His favorite utterance is: “This is fracking bullwhip!” Koala Bear uses “This is fracking bullwhip” as if it were his greeting of the day we offer when he passes officers.
Koala Bear: “This is fracking bullwhip!”
Officer: “Fifty lashes!”
Another soldier told me he wonders how Koala Bear keeps from killing himself.
“If I were that mad and irritated all the time, I’d be suicidal,” the soldier said. “I couldn’t live with myself if I woke up feeling that miserable every morning.”
I have put special effort into not being pessimistic, even though there’s been good reason for pessimism. Every time I have felt myself getting close to using Koala’s greeting of the day, I’ve just calmed down and told myself there’s no reason to get too worked up over much of anything. We’re sitting around on Kandahar Airfield while the higher-ups fabricate jobs for us to do, and that’s our lot for the next three months. We’ll be filling our time with military make-work projects.
And since we have nothing all that important going on, we’ve been engaging in some serious rumor spreading and verbal backstabbing. I had managed to remain beyond such childishness until the commander called us together for a bitch session one afternoon in early April.
It was a great morale builder (delusional optimism), especially when he asked for people to let fly with our complaints. Me, of course, I had nothing to complain about, because I’m loving all the busy work and the great things I’m doing for the people of Afghanistan, but a specialist named Ouch got up and said she was sick and tired of hearing all the rumors. She was especially sick of hearing the one about her roommate and one of our new officers. I hadn’t heard anything about this rumor until Ouch spread it in a public meeting in front of the whole company. I thought it was fantastic the way she complained about the spreading of rumors before laying that beauty on us.
I liked this particular rumor so much and became so enamored with the idea of rumor propagation that I made a little video about it and put it on YouTube. Ever since the bitch session, no information is too baseless for me to pass on, especially since the commander spoke to each platoon separately and told us that the rumors had to stop. He ordered us to stop spreading gossip. He does have some power as a Captain in the United States Army, and I’m definitely thinking that all of the rumors will have come to an abrupt end thanks to his force of will. See? Delusional optimism is powerful stuff.
“Brilliant, Sir,” I told myself. “Your order is sure to keep everyone quiet now.”
The order was so effective that I immediately produced another rumor video about a soldier and a female navy medic. It’s all true. I swear.
My delusional optimism seems to be working its way right up the chain of command. The military’s star-wearing leadership still seems to believe that we’re making good progress here, and I have to say that I agree 110 percent. Enemy military forces can still carry out 18-hour operations in Afghanistan’s capital city. Whatever we’re doing here, we need to keep doing it because it is working. Slow and steady wins the war, I always say. Imagine what our generals could accomplish with their wished-for combat power and another ten years.
I will continue doing whatever we are doing here, but substantial cracks are forming in my optimism and just in time, too. My re-enlistment window has opened up. I can sign another contract, and I quake at the thought of agreeing to another three-and-a-half years. A well-timed dose of pessimistic skepticism is saving me. I can lie to myself only so much.
Sgt. Mike once worked as a newspaper editor in the Colorado Rockies. He’ll be wrapping up his service in Afghanistan soon and eagerly awaits a return to civilianism in spring 2013.