ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Afghanistan Food Supplement: Mexican Food

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AFGHANISTAN VOL_4-2018. Afghanistan Food Supplement: Mexican Food (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)


A little bit about the food here in Afghanistan. I’ll probably come back to this topic a few times as interesting things come about; people always want to learn how other people eat. Let me also assure you that I am not suffering in Afghanistan. The food provided by the military here is far more than what most folks in the world are able to eat. Please know that I realize that my comments here are purely first world problems, so take them as such.

The last time I had the luxury of an all-expenses-paid tour to Afghanistan, I was stationed in Kabul and had the pleasure (sic) of eating at the Supreme Dining Facility at ISAF Headquarters. My normal meal was to have soup and salad for lunch and then at night, eat something light like baked chicken breast with a vegetable and a salad. I supplemented the food from the dining facility with my absolute favorite brand of canned salmon, fruit, and various crisps (chips for you dorky Americans). The meals were predominantly fine except for Wednesdays, which were deemed Mexican night.

Admission: I might be a Mexican food snob. I think I’ve earned it from living in Southern California and Arizona. Okay. Fine. I am a Mexican food snob.

When I think of Mexican food, I don’t think of the Chimichanga or Fajitas. The Chimichanga was allegedly accidentally invented in Tucson in 1922 at El Charro Restaurant and Fajitas were cattlemen food in South and West Texas at the turn of the 19th Century. These are Tex-Mex dishes and aren’t real Mexican food. Basically, if it’s served at Taco Bell it’s not what I consider Mexican Food; although if someone wanted to open a Taco Bell in Afghanistan, I’d be the first one in line because it’s scrumptious food in general—just not what I consider Mexican.


What do I consider Mexican food? Because I live just north of the Mexican states of Sonora and am close to Baja, consider that those are my major Mexican culinary influences. So think fish tacos and shrimp burritos. Meats including carne barbacoa, cabeza, and adibado (my favorite). Birrierias that specialize in lamb like the ones in Aguascalientes, Mexico, are incredible. My sister’s unbelievable Red Chili Posole is definitely on the list. Any variation of a grilled meat or fish with pickled vegies on a small soft tortilla makes a great street taco, especially the ones at Lechón Mi Güero in Aguascalientes.

Taco from Lechon Mi Guero
Too often we think of Mexican food as heavy, weighed down after a plate of deep fried chimichanga with fries and refried beans. Although platters of green or red sauced enchiladas can be found at virtually every Mexican family get together, these are paired with grilled meats, limes, lemons, various chilis and both fresh and pickled vegetables. I find most Mexican food to be bright, simple, and terrifically tasting.


Even back in 1991, when I was in Beijing, I managed to find the only Mexican restaurant in the city
(maybe the country). Back then (was it 26 years ago?), China was just beginning to throw off its communist yoke and beginning to embrace the parts of Western Culture that would allow it to eventually become the economic superpower it is today. Back then, I hung out a bar called the Mexican Wave. Owned by Peter, son of the exiled crown prince of Uganda, this was a place for expats to come, socialize, let our hair down, and on Friday nights, eat Mexican food cooked by a Mexican woman who spent her days cleaning for diplomats. I remember the tacos tasted like they were in Mexico, small, using soft tortillas, but bright and light and succulent. I never did ask the provenance of the meat. Probably better that way.

My family at Lechon Mi Guero
This is my long way of getting around to talking about eating Mexican food in Afghanistan. For Supreme Dining Facility, Wednesday nights were Mexican food night. Tacos and enchiladas were the mainstay. They also served grilled chicken, which is a universal taste, dependent on what is added to it. In the case of Supreme, they added a homemade salsa/hot sauce that had a weird funk to it. I remember a tang that I could not place that wasn’t at all pleasant. And they poured this salsa on everything, topped with sour cream, and finished with handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese. All of my NATO friends ate this version of Mexican food with gusto. I might have stuck with it had the sauce not had that funk. I could have maybe toughed it out had one night's taste resulted into seventy-three visits to the bathroom.

So Mexican nights became Pizza Nights. We were fortunate to have the Italian PX called Ciano’s on ISAF which imported all of their ingredients from Italy and cooked the best real Italian pizzas. My favorite was their Gorgonzola pizza. I’d order a large, eat about three huge pieces, then take it to the office and leave it for the rest of the folks. Mexican night soon became Weston Is Bringing Pizza Night, because that’s how I rolled. (Except for that time we were traveling and had Cianos in Herat -  I could have moved into the bathroom the amount of time I spent in there. I know. It's the water.) 

Currently, there's a dedicated Mexican night at a nearby dining facility that I can go to. But I've heard that their Mexican lasagna, tacos, and enchiladas were questionable. I've heard the sauce has a funk to it. And alas, there's no Cianos. So, I guess I'll have to wave Mexican nights and let the rest of the folks fake the funk.

Until then, I'll eat the other things on offer. But one thing I will do as a nod to my beloved Mexican food is add metric tons of jalapenos to whatever food I am eating. God bless the folks at the dining facility. They don’t scrimp on fresh jalapenos. I add them to my tuna melts, to my salads, to my spaghetti, and to my soups. I add them to about everything.

I guess until I get back to my corner of the world that’s the closest I will get to Mexican food. Until then, I will pine for a Filliberto’s shrimp burrito, an adibado taco with lemon, my sister's red chili posole, and pork tacos with my family at Lechón Mi Güero.

Those are memories I can culinarily embrace.


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To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts:

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Why I Want to Go to War

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AFGHANISTAN VOL_3-2018. Why I Want to Go to War (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

I’ve been asked many times why I’m in the military. I have several pat reasons I can monotone deliver with a thousand mile stare that will satisfy most folks:

Patriotism.

The flag.

Founding Fathers.

Apple pie.

Grandma.

‘Murica.

Words that makes people nod, experience brilliant red, white, and blue rainbows, and become filled with warm fuzzy jingoistic electric feelings of goodness and belonging. Those reasons are all appropriate, I suppose, but they don’t get to the soul of my belief system.

Who I am can’t ever be represented by an NRA sticker.

Nor can it be codified by a mantra shouted at a rally.

Nor is it represented by your favorite stove-piped news channel.

Trying to define why I do what I do is like attempting to quantify the feeling one has when petting a dog or climbing to the top of a hill and looking out at the far horizon.

In order for you to completely understand my belief system you’d have to extract and study it. The problem is, once extracted, what remains would dissolve into a noxious bowl of primordial dross, destined to eventually swirl down the drain into irrelevancy. So, you’ll have to take my few words on the subject as the Gospel According to Weston.

Bottom line is that I am a humanist. I spent the entire introduction of my military story and essay collection FUBAR explaining what that means to me, but for you ne’re-do-wells, here’s the CLIFF NOTE version for those of you who don't have it.

  • I believe in the idea of good and evil;
  • I believe in the little guy, those who can’t protect themselves. This is not only exemplified by me helping a person, but it extends to societies helping those who can’t help themselves- what the French once called Noblesse Oblige;
  • I believe in my brothers and sisters in arms and will do whatever I can to protect them. I fight for them and my family. I rarely find myself fighting for politics.
  • I believe that as human beings we have an obligation to do what we can to protect every other human being and the planet where we exist.

I can see some of you shaking your heads. You either think I’m a simpleton or a romantic. If it makes it easier to swallow, call me a simple romantic. I’m fine with that. It’s just who I am. I can also see you equivocating and pointing out that some of my beliefs might contradict each other. To that I ask what doesn’t contradict? I didn’t pretend to be simple, that was a label given to me. Actually, I am very complicated.

Enough of the background. You want to know why I’m in Afghanistan. Why is a successful author intentionally knee deep in hand grenade pins instead of knee deep in wine corks in America?

I blame it on my grandfather.

I blame it on my mother.

Most of all, I blame it on my father who introduced me to Shakespeare. Never has there been someone more attuned to what it means to love one’s fellow man than Shakespeare, even when his characters pretended to be women (because at the end of the day, we are all human). And never has he expressed it so well, as in the St. Crispin’s Day speech spoken by King Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, where the English were massively outnumbered and held little hope for victory. The gist of the speech is that all those who weren’t in the battle will have wished they were a part of the battle, because the outcome was going to be so magnificent.Let's take a moment so that you may listen to it. The speech is magnificent. Some of you might remember a certain chapter in Grunt Traitor where my hero promises his team that he won't so the St. Crispin's day speech, but then ends up doing it anyway.

The irony of it all, I suppose, was that it wasn’t originally Shakespeare who introduced me to the St. Crispin’s Day speech, but rather it was Danny Devito in Renaissance Man. Ever see the movie? It’s about a down on his luck advertisement exec who finds himself training Army privates who have learning disabilities. The scene where actor Lillo Brancato Jr. recites part of the speech while standing in the rain at the bivouac site while a drill sergeant played by Gregory Hines watches on is classic. I actually love that movie. In fact, if you look at my beliefs, they are central to the plot, with Devito’s character learning to embrace them as a placeholder for ourselves.

But not everyone appreciates those beliefs. Even more don’t even like the military. They don’t understand what we stand for and think of us as nothing more than jingoistic arm pumpers ready to kill indiscriminately for the pure joy of it. Although, like in any segment of society, there are those who take matters to extreme, the vast majority of the military doesn’t ascribe to such nonsense. I’ve never been around a band more professional than the military. Period.

That didn’t keep Pico Rivera City Councilman and high school history teacher Gregory Salcido from recently commenting on those who would join the military. His comments went viral, not for their efficacy, but for their idiocy. When confronted by the fact that the reason one of his students wore a Marine Corps shirt was because of his intent to join, Mr. Salcido, who’d also been elected as mayor, verbally whiplashed the young man. The boy wore his shirt out of pride for his uncles and father who’d served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

"You’re freakin' stupid Uncle Louie or whatever,” Salcido began. “They're dumb shits. They're not high-level bankers. They're not academic people. They're not intellectual people. They're the freaking lowest of our low."

It’s clear that Mr. Salcido does not ascribe to my beliefs. He feels that the opportunity the military provides to young men and women through their subsidized college and vocational programs isn’t worthwhile. He also doesn’t understand what it truly means to serve, treating his election as if it was something to be won rather than something to be earned. Finally, he doesn’t understand the fellowship engendered by those who decide to serve in environments hostile in order to help those less fortunate remain safe in their beds is a bond that cannot be bought or sold. And he will never understand because he is an opportunist rather than a patriot.

So to Mr. Salcido, I quote from William Shakespeare, That he which hath no stomach to this fight, Let him depart; his passport shall be made, And crowns for convoy put into his purse. We would not die in that man's company, nor would we want to.

That is not to say that someone cannot disagree. Hold your anti-war signs high. Shout for all wars to end. Make it be heard to the heavens that we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan or Iraq or Korea. You’re voices are your weapons and I respect your fight. My nation was founded on dissent and it should always be held in high esteem. There is no one who despises war more than those who live it. But until you win your war, we have to fight ours. Still, we root for you. I root for you.

To my fellow warriors, those with whom I am currently serving, I say:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen (at home) now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day. 

Danny Devito’s character understood this, as well did his wards.

I understand this, and revel in the words, knowing that my manhood is not held cheaply.
My friends and family understand this, although they might not like it, they respect me for my feelings.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Why do I do what I do?

I suppose I do it for my brothers.

What about you?

Why do you do what you do and why do you do it?


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To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts: