Simple Thoughts on Simple Rocks

Posted September 18th, 2007 by

I’ve thrown rocks at children. Many children, in fact. I’m not too proud of it, but it’s something you do when you’re in Afghanistan.

In fact, contrary to what you hear about opium poppies being the #1 crop in Afghanistan, truth is it’s the #1 cash crop. There is a crop that is more prolific even than the poppies, and that crop is rocks.

Now when we would roll up into a village, we were the neatest thing to happen there since Genghis Khan. Some of these villages were so remote, they asked us if we were the Russians because last that they heard, the Russians were the invaders.

Being interesting to the locals means that you get flooded with kids. They come from everywhere. You can stop your patrol out in the middle of the desert with nobody in sight for 3 kilometers, and within 10 minutes you will be surrounded by kids. They all ask for the same thing: pens. They need them for school. The ones with more advanced English skills would say something like “I am student, give me pen”.

On one of the first long patrols that I was on, we went to one village and the kids gathered around. The adults in the village threw rocks at them to chase them away.

Needless to say, I was utterly shocked the first time I saw it. But after a couple of weeks when the initial shock wore off, I started to notice something: when the adults would pick up a rock, the kids would smile and start to do little dekes left and right as if to say “am I gonna go this way or am I gonna go the other way?”

Then it dawned on me: throwing rocks at kids is a national sport. Not much else to do out in the desert except rock-throwing.

After a month of being in-country, I started throwing my own rocks at the kids. I would throw it slow–lobbing more than anything–just to let them know that they needed to stand back a little bit.

There’s a point to this little story, and that point is that after you’ve been in Afghanistan for long enough, a rock is the solution to any problem that you have.

Case in point: you park the truck on a fairly steep slope. You’re worried that it might roll away in the middle of the night. Solution? Put a head-sized rock under the tires.

Case in point: some guy dies and you need to bury him. It’s a massive PITA to dig a grave, so what do the locals do? That’s right, they build a rock pile right there.

Case in point: You’re bored and have nothing to do. Stack rocks up to build towers. The original theory as explained to me is that the locals don’t have HBO at home, so they stack rocks.

Case in point: You need protection from bullets. Instead of digging, stack up some rocks and build a fighting position. The bonus is that it blends in with all the other rocks on the hillside.

The ultimate act of rocks-as-solutions was one of the last patrols I did. We were in an irrigated area and needed to cross a ditch. There was a bridge but it was too narrow. So we took some large rocks, dropped them into the ditch, and put one side of the truck on the bridge and the other side on the new rock bridge.

I’m still trying to figure out what IT security problems I can fix with a rock, other than the obvious “You want to do what? Film marketing material in the data center? *smack smack smack* You sure about that?” or “My level of pain is equal to your level of pain.”

And as far as the kids and pens for them, after a month of being there, we started writing back home asking for school supplies and we handed out pens, paper, and soccer balls everywhere we went. I even made a habit out of giving beanie babies to the girls and gum to the boys.

See? I’m not a total jerk. =)

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Posted in Army, BSOFH, Odds-n-Sods | 3 Comments »

3 Responses

  1.  rmogull Says:

    I can’t think of many security problems that *can’t* be solved by a rock.

    Although coming out of the physical security/paramedic world, as opposed to combat, we just used Motorola radios.

    More expensive than rocks, marginally more useful, but easier to deny. The slippery little buggers are always falling on someone’s head.

    Awesome writing.

  2.  Darren Couch Says:

    Rocks, 1.5L bottles of pee, charms out of an MRE, used up motorola batteris, spent casings. Seems like the Afghani children had it a bit better than the Iraqi children. I’d take a rock anyday.

  3.  halon73 Says:

    Security from whereI sit has come down to one thing; the user. In most cases we have the technology to defend data but everything breaks down when you involve humans.

    So if you want to secure a country get rid of the people and if you want to secure a system get rid of the users. But then having the system in the first place would be mute? I think we’re going to need a whole bunch of rocks to bury all those users.

    Better yet lets build a nuetron bomb for the information processing system to vaporize the people when they log-in but leave the system intact. I think I’m going to call 2007 the year I came to understand and get in touch with my comtempt and hate for most humans. Simply put I’ve given up on people becuase they aren’t worth the effort.

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