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June 23, 2009
With ping-pong and puns, soldiers stay sane in Afghanistan

Anup Kaphle is embedded with British and Canadian forces in Afghanistan. He is reporting for Atlantic magazine, and is chronicling his experience on the “Dispatches from Afghanistan” blog. He describes how soldiers stay sane on a military base in Kandahar.

British and Canadian soldiers meet with their Afghan counterparts.

The marine brushing his teeth at the basin next to me was carrying his M-16 cross chest on his back. The gun stared right at my limbs. I rinsed my face and as I looked up, another soldier appeared to my right. He raised his arm to brush his teeth and his revolver peeked out of the case under his arm. I thought to myself, Where else in the world could I be rinsing my face in the presence of two no-bulls**t guys armed with weapons, and still be able to get out alive?

Call me stupid, but I might very well be on the safest place on earth right now.

At the base, it’s easy to witness a life far from the war. Sure, there are faces overrun by emotions — some who’ve lost their friends, some who’d just landed in a bizarre desert so far from home and some who’d seen it all and were ready to face it all. But these same fingers that are ready to pull the trigger are also seen scrolling their iPods, playing fussball, holding a non-alcoholic Beck’s or even swinging away their guitars.

Like any other profession, the soldiers here make it clear that to produce results, you have to stay sane. If anything is different, it’s how they choose to absorb that sanity.

My personal favorites are the bathroom doors. It almost seems like the first person updates their Facebook status and a serpent of comments follow it. The one that immediately comes to mind is from this morning. Someone started, “Chuck Norris is a coward.” Here is what followed:

[…]When Chuck does a push up, he doesn’t push himself up, he pushes the world down.

When the soldiers are not chatting about Chuck Norris in the “ablution room,” they go to one of the refreshment houses — and most member countries have one of these club-like lounges for their troops, where you can get everything from a haircut to a non-alcoholic beer to a ping pong table. The other lively place is known as the “Board Walk,” a mini version of a stadium, built with wooden planks. Inside, local Afghanis set up shops to sell paintings, arts and crafts.

But the best entertainment for some of these soldiers is us, the journalists. I could hardly claim a good sense of humor, but some of the Canadian journalists down here are hilarious. Immediately after finishing a briefing today, where we were told that the Afghan National Army and the Security Forces had a successful operation in Salavat, a fellow journalist offered a tactic to lure the Taliban next time around.

“Call the pizza place and tell them to deliver it to the Talibans,” he said. “We could call them Pie-EDs.”

– Anup Kaphle

Photo courtesy of Flickr user lafrancevi under a Creative Commons license.

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Where could i get the name of a Canadian Soldier in Afgan so i could write him with my tks for what he or she is doing for us

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