I know, I’ve not posted anything in far too long. I’ve done a lot of things since I last talked to you all. I’m nearly into my new apartment in Mons–I signed the lease Thursday and move in before the close of next week, and I should have my new car (2011 VW GTI Mk V, 200HP of awesome) soon.
I’ve not lived in the US for some time now–my time in Afghanistan and my time deployed with SAN–essentially since late 2008 I’ve not lived in the US. Granted, living in a FOB in Afghanistan is not exactly cultural immersion, even in Kandahar a–NATO base–English was the dominant language, with native toungs only using their language between themselves. That said, having come more-or-less strait from Kandahar to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), is not as radical a step as I expected…
True, that in the most important sense Casteau, Belgium is radically different from Kandahar. As I am not having to hit the deck from indirect fire and 107mm rockets multiple times a day, nor have a M16 slung over my shoulder. Though (and this is different from the two months I was just back in the States) being out here, when I hear a sound similar in timbre, even in the slightest sense, to the rocket alarm in KAF, I tense up and nearly do hit the deck. I attribute this to me again being in a new environment. Where the rest of my senses are still getting their bearings, my instincts are dominant over reason.
However, in KAF I was exposed to many of the Nations who’s flags fly outside of the building I work in today. I am used to seeing French, Belgian, Dutch, Canadian (their desert uniform, at least), and British uniforms. I know Army and Air Force ranks and rank structure, I know to call an Air Force E-8 Senior, just the same as the Navy, an Army E-8 a Master Sergeant, that Air Force junior personnel call their senior enlisted Sir or Ma’am (in many cases). I also got used to the notion that one has to travel all over a base, rather than different decks and frames on a ship, to accomplish a check in process…. Though, in one sense the inverse is true of Casteau in comparison to KAF: RAIN.
When one does not see it rain for a good length of time it becomes noticeable, and for me, kinda depressing. I am sure to some extent, 120 degree weather and dust finer than talcum powder contributed to the environmental realities being depressing. But, I can clearly remember longing to see rain. Where as the days absent of any rain in Belgium are the exception. Standing outside in it, it occurred to me that getting rained on constantly did not have the same psychological effect as did perpetual heat and dryness. But, ask me again in another three or so months of this, if I still feel the same…
It is a fairly common thing in the States, at least the parts I’m from, to hear someone voice the opinion that if you’re not going to speak English, that you shouldn’t live in the US. While I am not looking to make a comment towards that one way, or the other; it is still interesting to note how that sentiment has affected me out here. In talking to the locals, I am ashamed that I do not speak their language (French in the part I live in, Dutch in the Northern part around Brussels) beyond basic greetings and niceties. Even when I speak the few words I do know, I then become overly aware of my less-than-good accent. In other words, I am now that guy that does not speak the native language, and with all geo-political realities aside, I shouldn’t live here unless I learn their language. It’s silly, but this sentiment stresses me out a little in social situations. Though, there is a funnier anecdote to this…
My name is French, very, very French… This fact is not lost on anyone who speaks French. In fact, the Realtor through whom I got my apartment, her maiden name is Gauthier. So, in breaking the ice with any local I meet, I now tell them, that I’ve been nothing but a disappointment since I got here. Eyes light up when they think that maybe this stupid American might know the language of his heritage, but then they learn that well, no.. He is, after all, an American… That ice breaker works, in person… Trust me.
My beer tally is at 8. By no means impressive at this point; but it is a work in progress. For my birthday two new Shipmates took me up to Brussels to a bar named Delirium. The EU in some sense banned smoking in restaurants and bars. However, many of the places ignore that law it seems, and you can smoke in bars, no one stops you or the other 100-ish others. This bar’s beer list is a tome the thickness of the Bible. It’s said that nearly every beer in Belgium, save the super-rare Trappist varieties, are available here. I however, only got four beers in (Delirum Nocturnum, La Guillotine, Keizer Karel (Charles Quint), and Charles Quint Blond) before the curfew the train schedule imposed on us meant we had to leave. At the train station, they were giving out samples of what looked like to be an energy drink from a distance, though once we got closer it was actually premixed wiskey and coke in a can. No one was getting carded, and they would give you two cans, if you asked nicely. +1 Europe.
I am sure you’re all now wondering if I really do any work, and the answer is yes. I’m just not fully spun up, yet. While my duties and responsibilities are still being hashed out to a degree, what I hoped for has already been exceeded. I’m not sure yet how much leg I can show, so I will hold off on the full brief until I have a better understanding. Though walking the P-ways and meeting my new shipmates, I get a lot of ‘Oh, you’re the guy who emailed the Admiral, to get the job? That was ballsy.’. So, in the interest of full disclosure I’ll run through exactly how I ‘emailed the Admiral’ to get the job, here.
It was just over a year ago, maybe by a week or so, that he put out his ‘Top 10 list’ of accomplishments for 2010 on facebook. I was in Afghanistan and got back from work that day, and saw it once I logged in. So, I decided to comment on the posting with the following, “4,632,982 on the list – make sure YN2 Gauthier gets to come work for me, because he is awesome and has read everything I’ve ever written.” I thought it just to be a funny thing to say, with no one ever going to take any real notice. However, someone did… That someone became my current boss, too. I was messaged on facebook and asked if I really wanted to work for the Admiral. Then over the course of the rest of my tour in Afghanistan it all got worked out, and here I sit now, in Belgium working at SHAPE. Unreal, right?