OPERATION ENDURING BOREDOM - EPISODE III
American Citizen Soldier *Extra*
This is the third in a three-part series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. They are along the lines of a conventional blog in that they captured the daily events and my thoughts about them in real time. I am posting them on the eve of my current deployment to Iraq as a study in comparison to the OIF columns to follow.
As I will be necessarily incommunicado for an indefinite period while in military transit to the Middle East, regular postings will continue as soon as my situation on the ground permits.
Another day in the ‘Stan, another gigantic mountain to climb for 3rd Squad - 2nd Platoon - Charlie Company - Task Force 1/501st - Band of Sherpas. Pull security for four hours, rack out for four more. Rinse. Repeat.
Sitting high atop Afghanistan doing nothing more strenuous than looking through binos and working on your farmer’s tan is not bad work if you can get it.
Our platoon leader hiked up to our current observation site for a few hours to sham out a little bit and get away from all the looniness below that usually surrounds the CP (command post). The PL and Sergeant Boyle and I just sat on our duffs and took pictures and “shot the shit” for a little while, talking smack about our fellow Geronimos while simultaneously swearing each other to secrecy.
“Not a word of this leaves the mountaintop. Got that, Specialist?” 1LT Harbor eyed me suspiciously as I pretended to scribble furiously in my journal and record him verbatim for posterity. Ever since he learned of my bachelors degree he has been accusing me of being an Army CID plant (Criminal Investigations Division). My one little running joke with the Platoon Leader. Ha-ha.
Before he left our mountain perch,the El-Tee let it drop that our platoon will be going to Kabul when we return to Salerno after this mission is over with. Kabul should be interesting, if nothing else. Apparently, the women there (who knew there were even any women left in Oldassman-istan?) will actually walk the streets sans full-body black ninja robes. The nerve!
If the Afghans have lightened up as a culture at all it’ll probably be on display in the capital city.
What do we want? Deodorant! When do we want it? Now!
Hell no, we won’t grow (our beards)!
It may not exactly be Haight-Ashbury or Greenwich Village, but come on, these people don’t even have a single Starbucks! (Oh, the humanity...)
They can’t burn their bras until they first learn of the invention of the bra.
Pearl Harbor Day
Last night I finally gave in and ended my streak of eight consecutive MREs consumed without "moving my bowels," easily breaking the previous personal record set back in basic training. Nothing is more distasteful than crapping while in the field, other than perhaps having to crap off the side of a mountain in the dead of night. Let’s just say it’s a tad difficult to concentrate on one’s “business” when you’re worried about falling to your death with your pants around your ankles.
The fighting positions built up with rocks that our squad has been sleeping in for the past two days look like they’ve been here awhile. It makes you wonder who else has stayed in and fought from this exact spot high above the crossroads leading to the Pakistan border only a few hundred meters away. The Taliban? Other American military units? The CIA-backed mujahadeen ambushing the hapless Soviet army twenty some odd years ago? Alexander the Great and his legions of conquerors? It’s a bit awe-inspiring to think about.
The strangest thing of all is that you could travel back in time about a millennium or so and this place would look exactly the same as it does now. As it will probably look in another thousand years.
We’re supposed to descend our little rocky mountain retreat today to go help check and clear caves with the rest of the platoon, but so far we’ve been stuck up here all morning while 1st and 2nd Squads hog all the glory. There is supposed to be a huge complex of caverns hidden in a nearby mountain range that the CIA helped the Afghan freedom fighters build back in the 80s, and that al-Qaeda has surely inherited and utilized at some point since.
Hopefully, 3rd Squad will get in on the action too before the day is out. Still, it’s doubtful we’ll find anyone home.
Word has it our element is choppering back to the rear tomorrow for refit and a regrouping of sorts. Apparently, this mission has gone to hell in a hand basket in a heck of a hurry.
One: Alpha Company bugged out days ago after stupidly trying to hump all over creation and burning through their water and chow rations in a single day. They’ve been chilling out at the FOB for who knows how long while we’ve been out here all by our lonesome -- a single platoon in the heart of Taliban country -- tempting Custer’s fate.
Two: We haven’t detained, PUCked or even caught a faint whiff of a single baddie since we first air assaulted out here last Wednesday. Either the enemy is too smart to tangle with us or our S-2 intel sucks the big one. I don’t think I have to tell you which one I think it is.
Camels and mules, sure. But four hundred and fifty kamikaze al-Qaeda? Not even close, pal. Try zero. We can’t seem to find a firefight even when we advertise for one. What is it going to take to finally see some action?
If I don’t get to fire my weapon at a bad guy soon, I’m going to go bonkers.
You’ve got to hand it to the 501st. They’ve even managed to make combat boring.
Well, it turned out 3rd Squad got the chance to go al-Qaeda spelunking after all, albeit about a day late and an afghani short. The cave complexes we patrolled looked like they’d been cleared by about a half dozen units already, though I suppose they always could be reinhabited afterward, rendering our presence at least somewhat important.
The other squads in the platoon had found all sorts of discarded IEDs in their caves, but ours were by and large barren. If you’re not seeing very clearly in your mind’s eye what these caves look like due to the lack of exposition on my part, fear not, for I will assist you. Just picture a small but quaint condominium circa the Bronze Age, and then throw in some anti-personnel mines and tripwires.
A few of the cave mouths still bore signs of giant craters where the Air Force dropped JDAM bombs on them during the main effort of the war, probably around the time of Operation Anaconda.Most of them are surprisingly resilient, though. Our sappers tried to collapse one with nearly 150 lbs. of C4 explosive (a monumental sum), yet it barely left a scratch. These hajjis must have really paid attention when the CIA taught them Cave Construction 101. Talk about your all-time boneheaded moves. Why not teach them how to fly commercial airliners while we’re at it.
Tonight we’ll be sleeping near the CP at the base of the mountain in preparation for tomorrow morning’s helo extraction back to the rear. You know you’re sucking when you’re already fantasizing about getting to sleep on a cot again for a night or two. Ahh… the simple pleasures.
Too bad it looks like rain tonight.
3rd Squad’s one night of uninterrupted, continuous sleep was spoiled by a miserable bout of uninterrupted, continuous drizzle. Even with my poncho, fartsack and camo bivy cover, it felt as if I was sleeping -- or attempting to sleep, that is -- in the middle of a rain gutter.
To top off our off-Broadway performance (waaay off Broadway) of Sleepless in Afghanistan, we were rocketed awake -- literally -- by a sharp explosion a few hundred meters from our position.
Several joes witnessed the flash of the launch, and a few claimed to have spied the smoke trail in the moonlight as the RPG came streaking in toward the CP. Others didn’t even bother to poke their heads out of their sleeping bags. I suppose the drone of nightly outgoing mortar fire at the FOB has already inured some of us to the sound of huge bangs in the dead of night. For the first few weeks in country, nearly everyone would practically jump out of their skin when the One oh Fives would hang-fire their huge rounds out into the surrounding hills. It took awhile for us to tell the difference between an outgoing crump and an incoming ka-boom. Judging by last night, a few heavy sleepers still can’t.
The bad guys must have been disappointed; not only did they not hit us, they didn’t even get a reaction from us for at least a good thirty minutes as the hajji crow flies. No CAS, no return fire, nothing. The mortars finally launched a pair of illumination rounds toward the estimated azimuth and range of Abu Musab al-Sneaky Shooter’s location, but by that time it was nothing more than a feel-good exercise. Without any mobilized air assets or hilltop overwatch to scan the mountain range, the only likely effect of the illum rounds was to help the bad guys find their way home in the dark.
Tip of the spear, that’s us. Too bad the spear's only three inches long.
Curiously, I seem to recall the Afghan “terps” and AMF personnel who had bivouacked with us throughout the mission deciding just before dusk last night to bed down next to a cliff face a ways from the CP in order to “stay out of the rain.” Later that same evening we nearly get blown up. Coincidence? You make the call.
We proceeded with the plan to airlift back to FOB Salerno later that morning, which was a welcome respite -- not from the rocket attack (it was the only cool thing that happened all week) -- but from the nasty funk of seven straight days in the field wearing the same duds. You know you stink when you can smell your own drawers through your pants. Any woman who deems it sexist for females to be barred from the infantry need only to spend a week humping the Afghan Alps with us in order to set her straight. Trust me, our “sexism” is doing them a huge favor.
It’s not certain whether 2nd Platoon’s part in Operation Avalanche is over just yet -- we may still go back out. But this much is certain: the only thing we seemed to accomplish is demonstrate that if you creep up and attack us from afar, not only will we not come after you or shoot back -- we will actually pack up and be gone by morning! The Roman Legionnaires would not be impressed.
Veni Vidi Vamanos (We came We saw We split)
We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.
Well, that’s the theory anyway.