Some days, Air Force Sergeant J.G. Buzanowski's mission in Afghanistan is concrete. Literally. A public affairs journalist currently stationed in Panjshir, Buzanowski's been working with a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) that teaches self-governance, supplies humanitarian aid and assists with construction projects. Recently, the PRT was helping to build a new school -- checking spacing on the bricks and assessing the water content of the cement mix to make sure the school won't collapse. See? Concrete.
When we had Congressman Mike Thompson in the office a couple weeks ago, he gave us the governmental justification for being in Afghanistan: destroying al-Qaeda and the Taliban while stabilizing the country's government ("Mike Check," Sept. 10). Reasonable objectives that nonetheless fail to resonate much on a personal level.
But J.G. Buzanowski? Hell, I know that dude. We were video clerks together years ago. I remember him as a smart-assed New Yorker -- a long-suffering Mets fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of James Bond movies and a penchant for bad puns. He usually greeted people with a studly "Yo" and once paid $600 to see Billy Joel play Central Park on New Year's Eve. (He called the store just before midnight -- not quite 9 p.m. in Arcata -- and I could hear the crowd roaring in the background.)
He's been in the Air Force for almost eight years now, having joined right after 9/11, and has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Another former co-worker recently pointed me to the blog that Buzanowski co-writes with his wife, who's also an active-duty sergeant in the Air Force. Their collected musings on duty, family, strained romance and the everyday minutia of military life provide a glimpse into the American experience in the Middle East that's far clearer than any news story or political analysis I've read, no matter how astute or well-informed. Finding Buzanowski's goofy puns and pop culture references in the context of war is disorienting because in one seemingly tossed-off line he manages to bridge the huge divide between then and now, here and there.
On establishing a firm withdrawal date from Iraq, Buzanowski speculated that it might motivate American troops: "This way we know what needs to be done and absolutely by when," he wrote, "kind of like this being the last season of Lost." On the lack of sufficient supplies to soldiers, he lamented, "For crying out loud, they need better reading material than issues of Maxim from a year ago." When he and some fellow troops discovered a cache of special Iraqi weapons, including crossbows, homemade rocket launchers and 19th Century flintlocks, Buzanowski picked up a matching pair of gold-plated pistols and mugged for a James Bond-inspired photo op: "I'm the Man With the Golden Guns!" he wrote.
But the posts include darker themes, too, like fear, trepidation and anger. Married last April, Buzanowski and his wife Jennifer struggle with their sometimes conflicting loyalties to the mission, each other and their kids, Zachary, 8, and Edward, 4. Serving staggered deployments with increasingly short intervals in between, they'll go months without seeing each other, then have a few brief weeks together before separating again. In one post, Jennifer calculates that of the 36 months between their marriage and the end of her current obligation (March 2012) 23 months will be spent apart and just 13 together. While trying to find a window in which to conceive another child -- and figure out which stage of infancy she'll be present for -- Jennifer breaks down. "For the first time in my adult life," she writes, "I'm questioning if my personal values and Air Force values are in alignment."
As a public relations journalist, Buzanowski isn't often in immediate jeopardy. But he's got his war stories. In November 2003, while preparing a Thanksgiving story in an Air Force newspaper, he went around Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina asking people what they were thankful for.
"[A]nd Lieutenant Molly Cook said, 'Chocolate. Doesn't matter what kind -- white, milk, dark -- just any kind of chocolate,'" Buzanowski recalled on the blog. "When the paper came out, she was embarrassed about [having] her answer in print for all to see. But for the next several days, people kept bringing her chocolates and leaving little treats on her desk. Those little kindnesses from people made her smile the whole week. They told that story at her funeral a few months later."
I asked J.G. in an e-mail if he or his fellow soldiers have strong opinions about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. "We all have our individual opinions," he responded. "The military is a slice of everyday America, so you have folks from every walk of life with a variety of viewpoints and beliefs." For his own part, Buzanowski said he believes in what he's doing, which is why, "after much deliberation, consternation, contemplation and acceptification," he decided last month to reenlist for another four years.
He's hoping it won't all be wartime. "I've always wondered," he wrote in an e-mail, "if we'd have had the resources to dedicate to this country a few years ago, how much farther along could [the mission] be? But we're starting to get it right. Finally."
Buzanowski's blog can be found at http://thesergeantsbuzz.blogspot.com/.