A Visit and Possible Return to Afghanistan

So far most of my articles have revolved around the adjustment of returning to civilian life from that of the  military.  But I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about a recent trip back to Afghanistan I was lucky enough to take.  It has been a couple of years since my last deployment so when the opportunity came up, in a civilian role, I jumped at the chance to return and see how things look on the ground today.

I traveled by military transport, so needless to say the comfort level of this grueling trip hasn’t changed much.  And surprisingly once i arrived things looked much the same as when I left.

From what I’ve been reading in the news, the Taliban has been receiving less and less funding from outside of Afghanistan.  Some of their supposed backers were wealthy donors in the oil rich areas of the Middle East, as well as the intelligence agencies of Pakistan.

From what you read here, you would think they are pretty well down and out.  Of course it doesn’t take massive amounts of funding to do damage to small groups of soldiers and civilians on the ground in a county like this.  So regardless of what you read, you had better be on your guard.

My mission on this particular trip is to assess whether or not I want to return as a civilian contractor.  The job would entail driving in convoy with people trying to assist the Afghans in rebuilding their country.  These missions are attempting to teach them to build sustainable agriculture.  Given the basic state of agriculture in this country, they’ve got a lot of work to do.

Essentially each day we would roll out of a protected compound, travel to remote villages and farms and spend the better part of the day instructing them on modernizing their farming methods.  Of course this particular part has nothing to do with me.  My squad and I would strictly be there for protection purposes.

Thankfully one thing hasn’t changed.  Guys in the same role I would be filling will be armed to the teeth.  You can never take security too seriously in this part of the world so most of the guys come over-prepared.

In addition to their weapons of choice, the M4A1 (also the first choice of Navy Seals) most guys carry an MK23 .45 caliber pistol.  Both of these weapons offer phenomenal stopping power.  From there things get a lot more basic. Most of the guys carry some sort of wicked tactical knife or even two or three.  In addition, they generally carry some sort of of field sharpening kit for their knives.

After this things become much more survival oriented.  Lots of first aid materials, water, water treatment supplies, and MRE type foods.  All in all it doesn’t sound that different from what I remember during my service.

I still haven’t made up my mind about going back.  The pros are that the pay is phenomenal, and attacks in general seem to have declined a great deal.  I always enjoyed the country and the people.  Of course the cons are months spent away from home and family in addition to the possibility of great danger.

No More PT, CrossFit is Key

For those leaving the military, staying in shape can be a struggle.  The forced physical training is enjoyable to many, but the lack of oversight or motivation once you’ve left your particular service can sometimes lead to weight gain.  For those that enjoy the physical exertion and the motivation of a group and instructor, CrossFit can be a great alternative.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit was specifically designed to hit every aspect of physical training.  It involves heavy lifting, including the Olympic style lifts of the squat, snatch, cleans, and dead lifts.  It also focuses on quick movements call plyometrics. These include exercises such as burpees, squat thrusters, box jumps, and double unders (jump rope).

Additionally, the WODs (workout of the day) focus on endurance.  Many workouts include runs, though typically nothing longer than a mile.  Rowing is another way in which cardio is worked into routines.

Focus On Form

Instructors spend as much time as necessary insuring that all students are performing exercises correctly.  Good form is crucial to performing the many Olympic style lifts involved in many WODs.  Flexibility is also crucial to form and instructors will help students with flexibility and mobility exercises to help them perform lifts properly.

The Olympic rings are a great example of a tool you don’t often find in a normal gym, but will be found in every CrossFit gym around the world.  Rings are used not only as an exercise tool, but as a method of teaching the body to deliver energy more efficiently.

When someone uses the rings for the first time, it typically involves a great deal of shaking.  The reason for this is simple.  While it may seem that the rings are an unstable platform on which to work, what’s actually happening is that they operate in a frictionless plane.  This means they move with very little input from muscles.  This can often highlight the bodies inability to deliver energy efficiently.

What You’ll Need

First and foremost, CrossFit is not inexpensive.  The reasons for this are simple.  Each participant receives as much attention from instructors as necessary.  Each class is lead by a qualified instructor, thus it’s fairly pricey.  But the fact that you are constantly motivated makes this a small price to pay for many.

Other than room in your budget, you’ll need a good pair of shoes.  CrossFit shoes come in any number of forms.  This website has a great guide to help you choose which pair will be best for your particular needs.

Other than that, you just need to show up.  Don’t be surprised if it’s as difficult as anything you’ve ever done in the service though.  These workouts are as challenging as anything out there.

A Word On Nutrition

If you’re not used to eating well, CrossFit will highlight your nutritional deficiencies.  You will hear the Paleo diet tossed around a good bit.  You can read more about it here if you’re interested.  Some CrossFit gyms will have Paleo snacks and treats for you to try.  It’s worth looking into.

Stepping Out of the Military and Into a Career

For many soldiers, leaving the service can be a daunting transition.  But the skills and technical abilities that many soldiers learn in the military are a great foundation for a career in medical technologies.

Technologists of every variety are in high demand within the medical industry.  Sonogram and Ultrasound technologists are currently especially high in demand as ultrasound technology is constantly evolving into new forms of diagnostics.

With a background in the latest technologies used in the military, potential candidates will have a leg up on other candidates without such an education.  An associates degree is required to gain certification in the industry, but this can be done at any variety of schools both online and campus based.

One of the biggest draws to this particular industry is the salary levels.  Sonogram technician salary levels in particular are some of the best in the industry.  With some specialties within this field earning into the low 6 figures, any expenses from school can be quickly repaid.

Certification is another step that is required.  This process is regulated by the ARRT.  You can check out their website at ARRT.org.

All in all, this career path makes a lot of sense for those with the technical aptitude and the desire to work in a medical field.  Leverage the training that you received while serving in the armed forces.  For more information on medical salary levels check out www.xraytechsalary.org Read more »