PASHTYLVANIA, AFGHANISTAN – Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. confirmed late yesterday that he has accepted a wager to spend no less than one year in the supposedly haunted command of United States Forces - Afghanistan (USFOR-A). Legend has it that there is a terrible curse on the command, located deep in the foreboding mountains of Afghanistan, and that inexplicably bad things happen to the careers of unwary commanders.
"I don't like this," says Dunford's career, folding its arms and staring out of Dunford's car at the darkening sky as they drive up the winding switchbacks toward the infamous command. "What are we even doing here? Is there even a strategic objective? We should have just gone back to Headquarters Marine Corps to be the next Commandant."
"C'mon, it'll be fun," says a smiling Dunford. "Just one year, baby, then we'll collect the money and go back to the beltway. After that, I promise I'll take the Commandant job, just like you wanted."
Earlier today, the two were greeted at the airport by a gray, sunken-eyed Gen. John Allen, who was too distraught to even shake Dunford's outstretched hand. Allen was accompanied by doctors attending to his restrained career, which recently and unexpectedly went insane. Allen is accompanying it home to see if it can be rehabilitated, but few hold out any hope.
Allen's career is not the curse's first victim. For many years, the curse was only a legend, and commanders never stayed in what was then Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan for a full year as a matter of custom. However, USFOR-A was established on the same site, and the custom was ignored by USFOR-A commander Gen. David McKiernan, who laughed at it as mere superstition.
As the one year deadline approached, McKiernan's career grew more agitated. Always known for how cautious it was, McKiernan's career believed it could out-think and outlast the curse. Then one morning it was found dead in a rocking chair, still holding the loaded shotgun it had gone to bed with.
McKiernan was followed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was discovered outside one morning holding an axe, surrounded by pieces of his beloved career.
As talk of a curse became more widespread, Gen. David Petraeus, one of the country's bravest generals, elected to spend a year in USFOR-A just to break the curse. Petraeus was believed to have beaten the spell, retiring honorably from the military and moving on to helm the CIA. However, in early November, his career was discovered dead in front of the television while watching the news, a final look of abject horror still frozen on its face.
Arriving at his headquarters, Dunford remains optimistic, stepping out of his vehicle and walking up to a small group of high ranking staff officers and battalion commanders.
"Gents, I'm your new commanding general, looking forward to working with ... ," but Dunford is cut off as the men stare gravely at him and then hustle away, looking down at the ground. One colonel pauses and looks back over his shoulder, then returns to place a silver crucifix around the neck of Dunford's career.
"Because evil travels swiftly," he says cryptically as he crosses himself, then ducks into an office.
Meeting with reporters later in the day, Dunford's confidence already seems to be wavering. He reported finding a mysterious package in his new desk, containing the journal of Col. Renfield, a former aide to Gen. Petraeus. Dunford said he felt strangely compelled to open it, as if the book wanted to be read.
He shared select passages with Duffel Blog:
Day 1: Just got off the bird from MacDill. Saw McChrystal's staff on their way out. They had a gaunt shuffle and a hollow stare. I asked one of them if he could give me a turnover briefing on Afghanistan. He said, "You know nothing. Afghanistan is only a word. The reality is much worse."
Day 11: Have finally met our mysterious host. He appeared at the top of a dusty stairwell in a robe and fur hat, some kind of ethnic outfit. He introduced himself as Hamid Karzai, the president of these lands.
Day 53: Received an e-mail in my inbox saying "Get out!" G-6 says it came from my own e-mail account.
Day 97: Sometimes I hear a press conference going on, but when I run down the hall to the briefing room, it's empty.
Day 162: Unintelligible writing keeps appearing on the walls of my CONEX, but I can't read it because it's in Pashto.
Day 236: The general keeps talking about a mysterious book he's found. I looked at it, and it seems to be gibberish, but the general insists that it all makes sense once you have the right metric. He wants me to start reading it as well.
Day 325: Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu Bagram wgah'nagl fhtagn.
Duffel Blog Investigative Reporter G-Had also contributed to this report.