Chapter 2: Life on the FOB

Posted: September 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

Once all the dust from the journey settled, most of us quickly moved into a routine of work, sleep, work. The army calls this a “Battle Rhythm.” My clinic was small and the job required me to run dental “sick call” twice a day, six days a week. Soldiers would fly in from smaller outlying outposts with every dental emergency one could imagine. Sunday was officially my day of rest. I would not see routine sick call patients but was on call for true dental emergencies – trauma, swelling, and acute infections only. Having Sundays as a down day allowed me to handle administrative tasks, reset the clinic, go to meetings, and gave me some flexibility with traveling to other locations. At first some people grumbled that the clinic wasn’t open on Sundays, but when I explained my reasoning most people understood.

Our FOB was pretty big -about 4 miles around the perimeter. We had a very busy runway that supported all sorts of fixed and rotary wing operations for the area. To my surprise, there were quite a few creature comforts on the base. We had two gyms, a large dining facility that was open 24 hours a day, two barber shops, a coffee shop, and a couple of little stores where you could buy small items and tobacco. Alcohol is prohibited, but you could buy non alcoholic beer at the PX for those special occasions.

Life on the FOB and its associated battle rhythm got old fast. At least six days a week I did the exact same thing from dawn to dusk. A typical day for me looked like this:

  • 0630: Wake up, clean up
  • 0645-0730: Make French press coffee in my room.
  • 0730-0800: Breakfast in the DFAC
  • 0800-1200: Sick call in the clinic.
  • 1200-1300: Lunch
  • 1300-1500: Afternoon sick call.
  • 1500-1630: Run, Gym, Shower
  • 1630-1800: Whatever
  • 1800-1900: Dinner
  • 1900-1930: Call home
  • 1930-2100: Smoke cigar and watch movies with the guys. Sit around a fire if it was cold.
  • 2100-2230: Whatever Part II
  • 2230: Go to bed
  • 2230-2330: Try to ignore my loud neighbor on Skype

That list was pretty detailed because I did pretty much the exact same thing every day for a year. Deviations from this routine were pretty rare unless I was traveling to another FOB. Sundays I would usually sleep in until 0730 then some variation of this routine would unravel.

In the afternoons my friend Jon and I would usually go for a run around the airfield. It was exactly 3.5 miles around the runway which made the perfect route for several 5K and 10K races. The FOB commander insisted we run with a battle buddy so we wouldn’t get sexually assaulted. I’m not kidding. The side we lived on was 95% NATO and coalition forces. On the other side were some Afghan National Army bases and a couple of off-limits compounds inhabited by guys with very high security clearances. Runs around the airfield would take us within very close proximity to the ANA soldiers which always heightened the pucker factor, especially after the increase in “green on blue” incidents. They were always armed with AK-47s and stared at us as we ran by. Occasionally they would yell something in Dari or Pashto at us. All we had were our legs and the hope we could outrun them if they were looking for a fight…or worse.

Guljan and his Carpet Palace

Next to the small PX we had were a series of plywood huts known as the “Haji shops.” These were local vendors who had little stores where you could buy rugs, rip-off electronics, and all sorts of other knock off contraband from India or Pakistan. The rugs were beautiful and Haji Guljan assured me that all the rugs in his Carpet Palace were handmade in Mazar-e-sharif or Iran. I wound up spending close to $1,400 on some of his rugs, after a week of negotiations course.

The movie shops sold these rip off copies of the latest movies back in the states. Two or three days after a movie came out, we would have it in our Haji shops. New releases usually had Russian subtitles, but we could watch it before most people saw it back home. The quality was pretty crappy, but when you watch it on a tiny computer screen it looks pretty good.

The worst part about life on the FOB was that there was no getting away. I was technically at work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was the only dentist and they always seemed to be able to find me whenever anyone needed a toothbrush. Since I was the only dentist, I could never turn my mind off. There wasn’t another guy to cover a shift for me so I could go for a run and not worry they were going to come get me. On several runs a golf cart showed up with one of my assistants summoning me back to the clinic. Every time I went anywhere, I knew that if any dental emergency arose I would have to answer the call.

That was the most stressful part of the job: never being off call. The stress kept building and building for almost six months until R&R. When my temporary replacement finally arrived to cover the clinic before I left for R&R,  I could almost feel a physical weight lifted from my back.

  1. Stephen says:

    Your articles are very enlightening. Thank you, for taking the time to write them down.

  2. Caroline Baker says:

    Enjoying your accounts; very well-written!

  3. Nate Tenney says:

    These are great to read for someone who is going to be active duty in a few months. Thanks for sharing

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