"Hopefully this Buck won't stopone of the best damn MilBloggers to ever knock sand from his boots." -- The Mudville Gazette

31 October 2005


Haji TV is on the air!

American Citizen Soldier *Extra*
This is the continuation of a series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal hand-recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. They are along the lines of a conventional weblog in that they captured the daily events and my thoughts about them in real time. All OEB entries are previously unpublished.

Never forget that your weapon, your helmet and your equipment were all made by the lowest bidder.
-Murphy’s Laws of Combat Operations

Tuesday 04November2003
3rd Squad has QRF (Quick Reaction Force) duty this morning, which means we have to be sequestered in another tent and on 5-minute recall status, with the rest of the platoon on 30-minute standby. We finally get comfortable in our little home away from home away from home and now we’re living out of a duffel bag again. It seems even when we’re on deployment, we’re on deployment.

Our PL gathered our platoon together for a little “pep talk,” to brief us on the recent developments and to make sure we’re keeping our heads in the game and not “getting complacent” during our monotonous guard rotations. He told us that the SF convoy that got ambushed was hit with RPGs and had their humvee shot up pretty bad--it had to be slingloaded back to camp by chopper because it was undriveable. He also said we would have been sent out as the QRF to assist them but couldn’t because there were no helo assets available to fly us out there in time. That would have been interesting, especially considering that most of us are still walking around with barely one full magazine of ammunition. What do they expect us to do, throw rocks at the enemy?

Luckily, they had AH-64 Apache attack helicopters in the area, and they ultimately hunted down and dispatched the bad guys with ease. I really hope they resolve this ammo shortage soon, because the situation is about to get ridiculous. I have only one 30 round mag on my person, which, given my automatic weapon’s average rate of fire of hundreds of rounds per minute, would last approximately ten to fifteen seconds in even a brief firefight. Anything longer than that and I guess I’ll be using karate. With a SAW, I can’t even affix my bayonet to repel a suicide charge.

Alpha company has been going out on missions while our company has had guard duty. I assume that’s who all the ammo has been going to thus far. Understandable prioritizing, I suppose.

Until now. We just got word that we’re going out on a mission. Sounds like a little surveying of a nearby village. Finally, something worth writing about. And finally some adequate SAW ammo. Rock ‘n’ roll, baby. Anything to get out of FOB Salerno and boring-ass guard duty for a little while.

Nevermind. That was perhaps the world’s lamest combat patrol EVER, even if it was our first. We suited up with all our gear, locked and loaded, only to walk about 200 meters outside the wire, take a knee, and pull security for five minutes while our leadership communicated with the village elder through an interpreter. We then did an about face and came right back to camp. Sad.

What’s even sadder is that we only patrolled around in “full battle rattle” for a grand total of fifteen minutes, yet were already physically smoked by the time we made it back inside the wire. The amount of gear we don just to leave the perimeter borders on the preposterous. I’m so weighed down and uncomfortable I can barely move my limbs, much less run, crawl, or shoot. I look and feel like a Ninja Turtle with cerebral palsy.

Wednesday 05November2003
This week has been like Groundhog Day--we keep reliving the same day over and over and over again. Sandbag detail all day, guard duty all night, six to seven hours of sleep, repeat. Personal hygiene has been a low priority this week. Most nights I’m so bone tired I have only enough energy to strip off my clothes, smoke a butt outside the tent, eat some toothpaste, and crawl into my rack and pass out.

Haji TV

The local Afghan villagers can be pretty amusing at times; they always seem to gather across the wire whenever we’re out working as if us building a sandbag wall is the most entertainment they’ve had all month. We are their television fix. The younger ones like to ape our every gesture and movement, and will actually imitate you in real time if you face them directly. With enough kids around, you can pretend you’re a master puppeteer and they are your willing marionettes, wildly gesticulating to your every command.

The kids like to curse at us in crude American slang and grab their crotches while giving us the finger. Bizarrely, I don’t really get the feeling they necessarily mean anything by it--it just seems like something they’ve picked up from being around American troops for the past two years. They’ll watch us choking down our MREs or slurping a warm soda and point to it greedily. “Pepsi, GI!” We’ll shake our heads no, and get the middle finger crotch-grab in return. “Fahk yoh, Amareekhan poohsee!”

Perhaps it’s possible they know more about what they’re saying than I give them credit for.

Thursday 06November2003
“Allahaaaahu… akbaaar…! Allaaah… (is great… is the best… is the man… is the shit… is cool… is a bad ass… blah, blah, blah).”

We’re getting real tired of hearing these daily Muslim calls to prayer, blasted from sunup ‘til sundown from loudspeakers emplaced throughout the adjacent village to the FOB. At first it was vaguely comical, as its foreign sing-song quality likened it to the theme from the Lion King. But now it’s simply irritating, in a country that takes irritation to a whole new level.

Life in an airborne unit is turning out to be not quite as “hooah” as I originally had thought. It’s feeling more like the regular Army every day that goes by here. Every so often we see a humvee full of Special Forces guys roll through and these Green Berets make us green with envy. These guys with their long, unkempt hair and scraggly beards, non-regulation clothing, weapons, and gear. Calling each other by their first names, eschewing rank and protocol to the point where they no longer even look military. Every man an experienced and self-reliant E-6 or above, fully competent in every way, and in stark contrast to our bumbling, lazy, and all-around sorry excuses for NCOs that so infuriate me around here. I’ve been searching in vain for military role models ever since I arrived in the 501st, but with these unconventional SF nomads it appears I’ve finally found someone worth emulating. I don’t know if I can take four more years of this Regular Army horseshit.

Friday 07November2003
Our squad leader SSG Sarten just informed us that our tour of duty has officially been extended three additional months. Suffice it to say, morale is now also officially in the toilet. Actually, it was already in the toilet after the week we’ve had so far. Now it’s in the sewer. But at least this is a wartime deployment with actual national security implications--specifically, denying sanctuary to terrorists, thereby preventing future domestic attacks--rather than some fruitless UN-concocted do-gooding mission that usually ends up doing more harm than good. Read: Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti… basically any military operation undertaken during the eight consecutive years of DoD castration commonly or otherwise regarded as the “Clinton Legacy.”
I’ve been reading a book SSG Sarten passed off to me called In the Company of Heroes by Michael Durant, the Army Blackhawk pilot downed over the streets of Somalia and held captive during the now infamous 18-hour Battle for Mogadishu. He draws some sobering conclusions from the wrong-headedness of the United States getting continually sucker-punched by the foolhardy and unrealistic notions of the UN.

Thank God we have a president now who doesn’t kow-tow to the UN anymore, and emplace the responsibility for our nation’s security and the welfare of its troops within the hands of a motley collection of antagonistic and ungrateful European elitists and unwisely legitimized tinpot Third World dictators.

Afghanistan operated completely unfettered for years as a virtual breeding ground for international terrorists and would-be mass murderers. To not eliminate such a threat to our security with military force and remains until the indigenous government can adequately police its own territory would be American negligence bordering on criminal. Our country already coasted through eight years of such ineptitude, and it led us directly over a cliff. The altered New York City skyline will forever remind us of this truth long after the books and magazines and talking heads have ceased to. As much as this deployment already sucks (and it is sure to only get worse), I will always be proud to have been a part of it, no matter how small.

Saturday 08November2003
We all were on the receiving end of a royal ass-chewing by the platoon sergeant this morning. SFC Blenker is a real easy-going person, even when he’s pissed, but today we got the message. Apparently, some OP’s had gotten caught sleeping at their post, and Sergeant Blenker and the PL were “concerned” that our platoon--as well as 1st and 3rd platoons--were getting too complacent at our guard stations.

It’s not hard to sympathize with the rogue sleepers, though. We’ve been working the same tower positions all week, and the monotony of the same view day after day begins to bore you to tears. It’s difficult to remember that there really are people out there beyond the wire who would like nothing more than to kill us, especially when each continuous day passes without incident. The only real form of entertainment (short of a firefight) while on OP guard is monitoring the ASIP (I have no idea what this stands for) radio that each position uses to communicate:

Crackle… beep… “Geronimo TOC, this is Hurricane, over.” Beep… crackle…

“Roger, Hurricane, this is Geronimo TOC.”

“Yeah, roger… uh, I’ve got a ten-year-old haji over here, swinging his wang at me from across the wadi, over.”

“Hurricane, Geronimo TOC. Is he swinging it in a threatening manner? Over.”

“I dunno… but it looks rather large from here. Either he’s holding a mortar round between his legs or he’s got the biggest donkey shlong I’ve ever seen on a ten-year-old boy, over.”

“Hurricane, please try and curb your pedophilia, over.”

“Geronimo TOC, roger that. Does this mean I can’t shoot him? Over.”

“That’s a negative on any shooting at this time, Hurricane.”

“Roger. Hurricane out.” Crackle… beep…

Sunday 09November2004
At the moment I am presently pulling guard duty on the latrines--I shit you not. (Pun most definitely intended). Apparently, somebody with rank and his head squarely up his own “fourth point of contact” has become perturbed by the cleanliness (or rather, lack thereof) of our porta-shacks and has ordered a round-the-clock shitter guard to ensure that everyone properly flushes their “business.” With this makeshift Paul Bunyan-meets- Third World plumbing though, getting these “toilets” to flush is not the simple task it would seem; thus slovenly paratroopers are not necessarily to blame. Just one more indignity in a deployment chock full of boneheaded decisions. Reason # 2,488 why I will not be reenlisting.

If this is going to be par for the course in the “Five-Oh-Worst,” then consider me on my way out. All I can think of now are my options for reassignment when we get back to Alaska. Nevertheless, for now I’m stuck as an Airbored Poopertrooper.

Monday 10November2004
The OP assignments got shuffled yesterday and Putuga and I ended up at a guard tower just outside the north gate. We seem to have lost our third musketeer, though, in the process. Shirey has been getting assigned to other miscellaneous duties as of late, and the quality of our OP shift marathon topic debates has suffered as a result. We had another friend of mine, PFC Bryce Standley, in his absense for a few days, but now it appears we’ve lost his services as well.

Bryce is an interesting character. We call him “GI Joe” or the “Militia Man,” due to his extensive collection of rifles, pistols, shotguns, and pretty much anything weapons-related that he keeps at his parents home in rural Illinois. It seems the main reason he joined the Army was for the opportunity to use all the “high-speed” gadgetry and munitions our duty entails. He’s one of the only guys I know who typically has better field equipment than the rest of us because he goes out and buys his own gear to supplement the oftentimes mediocre government issue. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him on a SWAT team someday. Either that, or the target of a SWAT team, having barricaded himself in a heavily fortified bunker on a vast Montana ranch, holding the ATF at bay with a Barrett .50 cal. BMG and pouring over the schematics of nearby Federal buildings.

But don’t get me wrong, Bryce is a good kid with a sly sense of humor and we have a lot of fun together pointing out the more retarded aspects of Army life. If I ever run for political office someday, he’d be my first choice for Head of Homeland Security. He’s also a quietly devout Christian, with the virgin credentials to match, despite his boyish good looks and easy demeanor.
Don’t ever let anyone sell you on any military stereotypes or preconceived notions of what soldiers are like. There aren’t any.

Putuga and I are manning our new OP right now, a position directly overlooking the main north gate entrance. There’s a lot more to look at now, as this is the checkpoint for the local-nationals and their vehicles as they enter and exit the compound. The good news is, this is where most of the action takes place. The bad news… this is where most of the action will likely take place.
I was already thinking this when SSG Arguello climbed up to our tower from the north gate to ominously inform us that battalion S-2 (intel) has reason to believe that a suicide attack by a certain Uzbek and several of his al-Qaeda followers is in the plotting stage for either FOB Salerno or nearby Chapman airfield. No one has a time or a date or even a description, much less how reliable this intel is, but nevertheless, Sergeant “A“ as we call him also made it perfectly clear that if a vehicle comes barreling down the road toward their position and betrays little intention of stopping, don’t wait for the dust to settle--light them up with everything we’ve got up here.

He won’t have to tell me twice. I’m ready to empty my SAW into anyone who even looks at me funny. For their sake, let’s hope no one does.

This is shaping up to be quite an eventful day. We heard a few distant BOOMS! while on guard tonight. Apparently, in the past 24 hours tiny Chapman airfield has been hit with three rocket attacks and had a fuel truck blown up by a shoulder-fired RPG. What’s more, a couple of “jingle truck” drivers (named for the jangly bells and decorations they adorn their vehicles with) that supply us from Bagram airfield up north were high jacked by the Taliban and pirated some of our battalion’s remaining gear. HHC (headquarters company) may have lost all their “B” bag duffels which held most of their cold weather gear. Sucks to be them.

The Taliban then shot up the trucks and pushed them over a cliff. Luckily, the majority of the truck convoy was warned ahead of time by local witnesses and held back to wait for us or the GAC to escort them the rest of the way. Some of the now truckless Afghan drivers showed up at our gate today via Haji Cab and gave S-2 all this info.

That’s one (and really, the only) benefit of guard duty--you get to eavesdrop over the radio and get the scoop before anyone else. We may get the call to helo out there and pull security on the site while they sling load the damaged trucks back to camp with dual-rotored CH-47 Chinooks. For now the chain of command is still mulling it over.

One more tidbit about this alleged suicide bomber that’s currently on the prowl: Word has it that the ringleader is the most successful purveyor of such attacks in Afghanistan right now. This Mohammed Abdul Kaboom apparently provides the training, in order for his “students” to pass with flying colors (and flaming body parts). Osama bin Laden must be so proud of what he’s wrought in this absolute nightmare of a country.

Bravo company and the GAC need to hurry up get here from Bagram already so we can start going out on the prowl, instead of sitting around playing defense all the time, just waiting for something bad to happen. It’s high time for a little seek & destroy on our part. If these terrorist a-holes don’t realize the war’s over, then the 501st and Task Force Warrior needs to remind them. GERONIMO!
(Insert sappy, yet motivational soundtrack piece here).

I finally received my first piece of mail in country (wouldn’t you know, a damn credit card application). PFC Scotty Lockhart from 2nd squad bought a monkey off one of the local village kids for fifty bucks. It was one of those cute little organ grinder monkeys complete with even a miniature yarmulke on its head. He named it Dusty.

Late this evening, a few of the local-nationals killed a viper on their way out of the north gate, roughly fifty meters from our OP tower. As if we really needed another reminder why Afghanistan sucks.

Yeah, it’s been a weird day, even for this place.

25 October 2005


It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it.
-Douglas MacArthur

Is Iraq the central front in the war on terror, or an unnecessary distraction? The answer would likely depend on who you ask, so let us begin with the enemy himself.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a written communiqué between two senior al Qaeda leaders. Dated July 9 of this year, it was reportedly intercepted in Iraq during routine counterterrorism operations.

This rambling, repetitive missive from Ayman al-Zawahiri--Osama bin Laden’s fellow Pakistan cave-dwelling deputy--to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his top field marshall of mayhem in Iraq, is telling on many levels. Al Qaeda websites have come out against its authenticity, highlighting further its revelatory nature and the political damage to their cause that may ensue.

The United States Government is purporting to have the highest confidence in the letter's authenticity, posing an interesting dilemma. For those predisposed to reflexively dismiss anything put forth by the current administration (just under half the country, based on the last election results), including those of the tin foil hat wearing conspiracy crowd, this would logically infer agreement with the official position of Al Qaeda Online. You‘ve Got Jail.

"Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists," said President Bush shortly after 9/11. In this case, you either believe us or you believe them, a motley crew of bloodthirsty killers. There’s precious little wiggle room. (Chew on that one, Melinda).

Being distrustful of global networks made up of genocidal lunatics, I do believe I’m going to have to side with the usually oxymoronic "government intelligence" agencies on this one.

As for the contents of the aforementioned thirteen page letter, it reads like the 7 Habits of Highly Defective People, or rather, a rough manuscript for a self-help guide to global jihad. In it Zawahiri makes it clear he’s been boning up on his Stratego, laying out a vision of war without end, whether the Americans pack up and leave tomorrow or remain another quarter century.

He admits that al Qaeda’s territorial ambitions extend well beyond the borders of Iraq, ultimately leading to the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic regime that would span the region and clears the way for a final showdown with the 58-year-old bogeyman of the Middle East. And no, I’m not referring to George W. Bush.

But don’t take my word for it. Let the Z-man speak for himself:
I want to be the first to congratulate you for what God has blessed you with in terms of fighting battle in the heart of the Islamic world, which was formerly the field for major battles in Islam's history, and what is now the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era…

It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the [Middle East]… As for the battles that are going on in the far-flung regions of the Islamic world, such as Chechnya, Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Bosnia, they are just the groundwork and the vanguard for the major battles which have begun…

If our intended goal in this age is the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet… then your efforts and sacrifices -- God permitting -- are a large step directly towards that goal. So we must think for a long time about our next steps and how we want to attain it…
Next, Zawahiri speculates that the jihad in Iraq requires several incremental goals:
The first stage: Expel the Americans from Iraq.
Sadly, I don’t think it involves Geraldo.
The second stage: Establish an Islamic authority or emirate, then develop it and support it until it achieves the level of a caliphate -- over as much territory as you can to spread its power in Iraq…in order to fill the void stemming from the departure of the Americans, immediately upon their exit and before un-Islamic forces attempt to fill this void.
Here he makes it patently clear that the war does not end upon U.S. withdrawal, but merely shifts crosshairs to the Iraqi Army and police forces left to fend for themselves.
The third stage: Extend the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.
But keep in mind, there were absolutely no terrorists in Iraq until we got there!
The fourth stage: It may coincide with what came before: the clash with Israel, because Israel was established only to challenge any new Islamic entity.
That’s right, the creation of Israel had nothing at all to do with the century-long obsession with wiping the Jewish populace off the face of the earth. It was all about whitey keeping the mullahs down. Where have we heard this tired excuse before?
…the [jihadists] must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal. Instead, their ongoing mission is to establish an Islamic state, and defend it…
In other words, we can fight them now in the streets and alleys with AK-47s and crude roadside bombs, or we can sit by and watch as they build a "legitimate" army of tanks, planes and missiles, and lobby at the UN for Security Council protection under the auspices of "national sovereignty."

And you can count on a mass slaughter of epic proportions as the Iraqi Shiites, northern Kurds and others who dared take a chance on a better future and defy their Sunni masters are repaid in full for being foolish enough to trust the Americans yet again.

Zawahiri also acknowledges an acute sense of political cunning and PR manipulation:
The Americans will exit soon, God willing, and the establishment of a governing authority--as soon as the country is freed from the Americans--does not depend on force alone.

Things may develop faster than we imagine. The aftermath of the
collapse of American power in Vietnam--and how they ran and left their agents--is noteworthy.
For those whose grasp of American history is as flimsy and weak as Zawahiri’s (i.e., you attended an Ivy League college or typical liberal arts university), keep in mind that the U.S. military did not "lose" the war in Southeast Asia. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the United States Congress retroactively cut off our South Vietnamese allies from all the promised financial support that Richard Nixon assured them before the last American boots left the ground. Up until that point, the war was won. The troops had come home and the South was still free. Then came the media frenzy of Watergate.

The North Vietnam Communists lost militarily on their home turf yet hung on because they saw their cause succeeding politically on ours, as eventually it did with an assist from celebrity activists, doom and gloom journalism, and a campus counterculture cast of thousands of self-indulgent students. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

The danger of the people--and their elected representatives--becoming distracted by domestic brouhahas is real, and should not be discounted in wartime. Neither should the eroding effect of a perpetually pessimistic opposition party and a mainstream press that behaves more like a fifth column than a fourth branch.

Zawahiri gets it:
…however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us. …more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media... in a race for the hearts and minds of [the entire Muslim world].
The inane press comparisons or Iraq to Vietnam persist, yet the few that are still apt are worth noting. Once more, we are seeing U.S. victories on the battlefield spun into defeat on the home front by the filtering, distortion, and outright anti-American bias of the media. And once again, the only way we can lose the war at this point is if we as a nation turn on backs on the millions of innocent people we’ve committed to support. The antiwar movement purports to stand for peace, yet if successful, their aims will only lead to untold carnage of ordinary Iraqis.

"Know thy self, know thy enemy," instructed Sun Tzu, the oldest recorded military advisor.

The enemy have made their intentions known. They have staked out their allegiances. They have broadcast their objectives on Al Jazeera--the Fox News of the Middle East--as well as on CNN, the Al Jazeera of the West. Yet millions of Americans across the spectrum continue to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear.

Many still dispute whether Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. Though among the global terrorist network, the debate ended long ago. Just ask Osama Bin Laden:

"This Third World War is raging" in Iraq and "the whole world is watching,” he says. It is an outcome that will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation."

You want an exit strategy? How about "victory."

18 October 2005


photo by Buck Sargent

The surest way to end a war...
Is to lose it.

View the trailer HERE

Filmed, edited, created, and lived by BUCK SARGENT

Full length feature coming soon/eventually.

Advance praise for GIVE WAR A CHANCE:

“Armed with nothing but his Fuji digital camera, M4 assault rifle and the truth, Buck Sargent has already captured more reality on film in four minutes than Michael Moore has in four years... a modern cinematic masterpiece of war, it’s consequences, and the effects on those sent to bear them.”
-Barbara Hadley
Akron News Register

"I agreed with John Kerry* last year when he called Iraq the ‘wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.’ It is only now that I realize… we were both f-ing morons!”
Harvey Loomis
Village Idiot Voice

*The failed presidential candidate who by the way served in Vietnam

“A rollercoaster thrill-ride that will knock your socks off and pull you up by the bootstraps! If you like simultaneously choking on your popcorn and pissing in your pants… you’ll love this film!!”
-Harry Balzak

-Dale Dooley
99.7 KSOG-FM Morning Zoo

“If you only see one film this year… you really need to get out more!”
-Ray Finkle
Pensacola Sun Times

"Give war a chance. That is a highly flippant sound byte to use, considering that most wars involve killing, imprisonment, taking over land, and acquiring assets for the benefit of the leaders of the victorious country. Most wars the US has been involved in are not about protecting our lives; they are about making acquisitions to continue to feed a need to have the more than is necessary. Buck, do you think it is okay for powerful thugs to break into your house and steal your cash and valuables so that they can protect their way of life?"
-Melinda V.
Total Nut Job


17 October 2005


photo by Buck Sargent

American Citizen Soldier *Extra*
This is the continuation of a series of selected excerpts from my Afghanistan war journal recorded from October 2003 to August 2004. They are along the lines of a conventional weblog in that they captured the daily events and my thoughts about them in real time.

Full disclosure: I am posting this ancient history in the midst of my current deployment to Iraq as column filler due to the fact that I am too busy and too exhausted at the moment to come up with anything original for this week’s submission. Regular postings will continue as soon as my situation on the ground permits. Several articles and a movie trailer cataloging my experiences in Iraq thus far are currently in development. Stay tuned.

God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.
-Daniel Webster

Tuesday 28October2003
Afghanistan. It’s hard to believe that we’re finally here, after talking and prepping for it for the last 3+ months. It really doesn’t feel like we’re on the opposite side of the planet; it looks like some uninhabited spot in New Mexico or Nevada. It’s extremely dusty and barren, and warm out for November. If we care (or dare) to venture outside the wire perimeter we have to do it in full battle rattle (weapon, k-pot, flak vest, LCE). There’s a small outdoor bazaar run by local Afghans, selling everything from marble chess sets to rugs to cigarettes that look and taste like they date back to the Soviet occupation.

The locals we’ve seen so far have been polite, clean, friendly people with excellent English speaking ability. It’s hard to believe there are others just like them beyond the wire that would as soon slit our throats as sell us rugs. Perhaps these people are no different.

A First Sergeant from the 10th Mountain Division who gave us our welcome brief today had a little surprise for us. It seems the very same photo of our deployment ceremony that ran in the Anchorage Daily News last week also just happened to make the front page of a Pakistani newspaper. The enemy not only knows we’re here, they’re advertising the fact. Not a good sign.

Wednesday 29October2003
We’ve been working off Zulu time (a standardized 24 hour system utilized by pilots to avoid confusion when flying across multiple time zones), but so far the only thing it has accomplished is mass confusion. The sun comes up around 0100z to 0200z, lunch is around 0800z, and the sun goes back down at 1600z to 1700z. So basically, we know what time it is but we never have any idea what it means.

I’m not sure how much I trust these local-nationals who are employed all throughout our camp. They seem friendly and grateful for the jobs, but one can never tell with these people. They could be going home every night and spilling their guts about everyone and everything they see here. The Army obviously trusts them (or perhaps they don’t either), but I sure hope they pay them well either way. Because if they don’t, there are plenty of others who will kill to find out what they know.

I nearly forgot today was my birthday. I guess I was too busy digging holes outside our tent for a chin-up bar or playing endless games of Scrabble and chess. We have a lot of free time right now; I’d better enjoy it while it lasts.

The weather here today was idyllic--80 degrees and sunny without a cloud in the sky. Supposedly, it rarely rains here--no more than 12-15” a year--but we’re told it typically comes all at once in a few sudden torrential downpours that threaten to flood the otherwise bone dry moonscape that is Afcrapistan.

Friday 31October2003

Our chain of command had us link up with a company from the 10th Mountain who our unit is going to take over control of FOB Salerno from sometime next week. Their CO (commanding officer) briefed us for a little while and then had us mingle with their troops in order to ask questions or just to get a feel for what to expect from this place while we’re here. They had a lot of experienced guys, many of whom had already been to “the ‘Stan” once before in OEF I (Operation Enduring Freedom Rotation 1). A Specialist Boudreau I chatted with had been in country 10 months thus far, but had been here during Operation Anaconda in the freezing Hindu Kush mountains only a few months following September 11. He had seen and done a lot, and was obviously ready to go home to his new wife. He figured their current tour would be up around January or so. Unfortunately, his unit is moving on from here to a more unstable part of the country, so I wish him luck.

As far as Salerno goes, we learned quite a bit about this area that our briefings previously had failed to mention. First, Khost (pronounced: “Hohst”) is not some tiny tribal village, but a veritable city (at least as far as Afghan cities go). Intel reports estimate as many as 600 al Qaeda members operating out of Khost alone. I didn’t realize there were even six hundred people living in Khost, much less that many potential hostiles. Can’t wait to go search houses door to door!

SPC Boudreau had some interesting factoids about the enemy activity he’d seen: They film themselves when they attack American or coalition forces. Apparently, the only way al Qaeda will pay you is if you present proof that you fired this RPG at a humvee convoy or shot that AK-47 at an American patrol. It seems the only ones still fighting this war are foreign mercenaries. Muslim Chechens have even been captured in these parts. Every wannabe terrorist towelhead in the Middle East comes across these mountains now just so they can claim they fired a few potshots at American soldiers and collect their “Jihad badge.” Kind of like a fantasy camp for terrorist assholes.

Still, I think I’d prefer it were this way in the end. I’d feel much better about shooting some prick who thinks he can just waltz into someone else’s country and prolongate a war just for shits ‘n giggles, than some poor goat farmer who thinks he’s simply defending his homeland from yet another group of western invaders and could care less about the politics of it all.

But don’t get me wrong; either way, if it’s a choice between me or him--that’s no choice at all. It’s gonna be him.

Saturday 01November2003
Another day in the ‘Stan. The luxury of each squad having its own tent has now become a liability, as spending the majority of the day with the same eight people is beginning to test the limits of everyone’s patience, myself included.

Third squad’s lineup has changed so much since I first arrived in the company back in April that every time we take a squad photo or make out a roster it’s usually obsolete within a month’s time. Only three original members remain from my first day in it.

My closest friends in the platoon all happened to get shifted to other squads for this deployment, including my buddy PFC Shirey. He’s the only one in the platoon (or perhaps the entire company) that I really have anything in common with, at least in terms of pre-Army life experience. He and I are approximately the same age, we’ve both been to college and worked other jobs before coming into the Army, we’re both avid readers and aspiring writers, and most importantly, we both have big plans for our lives once we leave the military behind.

Like myself, he abandoned his civilian persona and enlisted in a surge of post-9/11 patriotic fever. He and I call each other by our first names, a rare mark of comradeship in the infantry. Paul is in weapons squad now; thus, despite living only a tent or two away, I rarely see him over here except for the occasional game of team Scrabble.

Our PL (platoon leader), 2nd Lieutenant Harber likes to task me out for any letter drafting that he needs doing, and today’s assignment was to correspond with a kindergarten class from Ursa Minor Elementary on Fort Richardson who would be sending us letters and drawings of encouragement and various care packages throughout our deployment. My reply was as follows:

Dear Mrs. Teekell’s kindergarten class,

Thank you for your letters, drawings, care packages and especially your kind-hearted support of our platoon. It is very dusty here in Afghanistan. We all live in large tents but have to sweep them out several times a day because of all the dirt and dust. It gets everywhere!

The desert is very hot during the day, but gets cold at night when the sun goes down. Not as cold as in Alaska, but still pretty cold when we wake up in the morning. There are many dogs here in Afghanistan. There are even a few puppies that stay right here in our camp. The local Afghans that work for us are friendly and some even speak English fairly well.

Before the United States Army came to Afghanistan, very few of the country’s children were allowed to go to school or play sports or even to listen to music. Now they can do all those things and more, but America’s soldiers will have to stay here for a little while longer to make sure the bad men don’t come back and take away the freedom that the people of Afghanistan have worked and waited so long for. The children here are so grateful for the chance to learn and go to school just like you, and love to receive pens and paper in which to write and draw with.

We hope it doesn’t get too cold for you back at Fort Richardson this winter, and we hope to see you all back there real soon.

Dutifully yours,
The soldiers of 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, Task Force 1/501

It wasn’t easy to describe this place to a bunch of kindergarteners without scaring the bejesus out of them. How does one explain this place truthfully to kids that young and exactly why it is we’re here? I barely understand it myself.

I guess the bottom line is that there’s still a lot of people that would like to see this region descend back into lawless anarchy so that the strict Islamic fundamentalism of the Taliban would be welcomed back by an Afghan populace weary of chaos and tribal feuding. It’s our job to ensure that that does not happen, and if it means that we have to stay here until every one of those bastards is dead or captured, then so be it. It looks like those kindergarteners got the truth after all.

Well, some of it anyway.

Sunday 02November2003
There’s an old man who the 10th Mountain hired to clean the camp latrines when they expanded the FOB perimeter and took over his orchards. The old man had not been paid for years for his work in the fields, yet he worked them every day just the same. So the 10th Mountain paid him $50 (per day, per week, or per month, I never found out), but either way, he was basically given a sympathy job because our presence here displaced him to some extent.

Well, now that the 501st has arrived and “Geronimania” has already begun, this old man is about to be laid off so our brilliant chain of command can save a few bucks of the Army’s money. (Right, because we all know how thrifty the military is).

Bad move, I say. Why create disgruntled locals where none existed before, especially someone with intimate knowledge of our base camp. We fire him today, you can bet he’ll be on the AQ/Taliban payroll by next week (assuming he’s not already). The only loyalty people here observe is to the local mullah and to American moolah, and if paying them off is what it takes to keep them on our side, then I say: Show them the money!

Changing of the guard took place today, two days earlier than expected.

Exit: 10th Mountain Division.
Enter: Geronimania.

Geronimania is when our battalion chain of command gets involved in something that was previously running smoothly and fucks it up beyond all recognition until everyone in the unit is uniformly pissed off. See: fubar, goatfuck, clusterfuck, and/or gagglefuck. Geronimania means that chow will now begin to suck again, we’ll never get enough sleep, we’ll be made to do pointless tasks all day for inexplicable reasons, and all our free time will evaporate into thin air.

Our guard shifts are starting out as 8 hours on, 16 hours off, but I’m sure they will get longer over time. I’m assigned to an OP (observation post) guard tower at one of the inner perimeters near the flight line. Tonight it was with SPC Semanu Putuga from my own squad (he’s Samoan--a great guy to know, a bad one to piss off), and my ex-3rd Herd buddy Paul Shirey. I hope the guard roster stays the same for the four weeks that our company will have it, because as boring as it is to be on your feet for eight straight hours looking through green tinted night vision goggles, it’s a lot more tolerable when you have people around you that you actually like.

Paul and I talked about movies for near four of the eight hour shift. He’s really hard to stump at movie trivia due to the fact that he owns something like 800+ DVDs, has seen nearly every film ever made, and can name just about every actor in them with corresponding director, cinematographer, gaffer, and "best boy."

Shirey worked in the film and television industry before he came into the Army and is always toting around his video camera for the documentary he’s planning to put together about this deployment. He’s also currently working on a screenplay about trolls. He’s definitely a unique individual in the military, which is precisely why we get along so well. I pray the Big Green Machine never succeeds in squeezing that individuality out of him completely.

Monday 03November2003
Geronimania lives! Our platoon got off guard close to midnight last night, has to go back on guard and hour earlier today, I have ASP (Ammo Supply Point) guard with PFC Christy right before going on the same eight hour tower guard as yesterday; and to top it all off, the whole unit had about two hours of our precious free time wasted earlier by the battalion sergeant major so we could do a “Hands Across Salerno” police call of all the trash, junk, sandbags, and cigarette butts that the 10th Mountain graciously left for us to clean up when they pulled out yesterday.

Not many people know this, but 99% of what an infantryman does on a daily basis centers around “police calling,” i.e., picking up other people’s garbage. Not firing your weapon, not parachuting out of a C-130, but picking up trash. Reason #2,487 why I will not be reenlisting.

We’ve been forced to take anti-malaria pills every Monday since the week before we left Alaska. The medication makes you feel like dogshit. The perfect complement to any dirty, dusty, exhausting deployment half a world away.

My interest in daily Scrabble sessions has waned, as my game board has since become monopolized by soldiers with the vocabulary of Dr. Seuss. The game loses its zeal when every other word placed on the board is “cat,” “hat,” “tub,” or “ball.” It’s like playing Pictionary with orangutans. There’s only so many times one can repeat the phrase: “Sorry, but (fill in gibberish here) is not a word. Try again, Genius.”

Guard duty again tonight; same place, same people. It’s fun to watch the locals who live right outside our perimeter with our binos. It seems all they do all day long is amble back and forth along the dirt road that doesn’t really go anywhere, breaking only long enough for their “Allah is the Greatest” prayer times.

Cows, donkeys, mopeds, bicycles… we get the whole Third World Theme Park experience.

08 October 2005


photo by Buck Sargent

The following is the initial installment in an original American Citizen Soldier serial novella. Additional chapters will be posted sporadically, or as written.


1. someone who works without being paid
2. someone who does something, especially something undesirable, without being forced to do it
3. someone who has offered to serve in one of the armed services rather than being required to join by law

One volunteer is worth ten pressed men.
-Admiral Horatio Nelson
British Royal Navy

Fighting Mad

He thought for a moment he had lost consciousness.

He couldn’t see, he couldn’t hear, he couldn’t think—actually, he thought he had died in that first incoming round of volley-fired RPGs. He could recall an IED exploding up ahead of the convoy, and he had adjusted the focus on his NVGs to spy the green outline of a plume of smoke rising above the lead humvee.

There was a flash, then stillness.

Yet, Sergeant Clifton Colby still had his sense of taste, which is what alerted him to the fact that he was still very much alive. He could taste his own blood from a missing bottom molar. He would later learn that it had been jarred loose from the blast of a concussion grenade that had exploded on his squad leader’s ammo pouch, killing him instantly. It must have taken a direct hit from the enemy AK fire that suddenly erupted from the tree line off
to their nine o‘clock position.


An unseen enemy, blending into the population and co-opting advanced American tactics of striking from beyond visual range and using remote detonation to keep fighters out of harm’s way.

The IED was only a decoy, designed to corral them into the “kill zone” and distract them from the real threat to follow. Unconventional Warfare 101.

Colby still couldn’t hear. He’d remembered his earplugs, fortunately, preventing his eardrums from being severely ruptured by the blast, but his Kevlar helmet and NVGs were gone. He felt alongside his body -- his short-barreled M4 was still there, wolf-strapped to his vest. All he could do until his natural night vision slowly returned was stay low and wait for the opportunity to return fire, if he lived that long.

He prayed for that opportunity.

Something slapped hard into his calf muscle and for the first time he felt a surge of pain. Pain was good. It meant you were still breathing. Ironically, being wounded can actually help keep you alive in combat.

People have one of two reactions to being shot.

One, they get scared and start to panic. Panic in combat is the kiss of death. Once it takes over, you’re done. Box you up and ship you home.

Or two, they get mad. As in, royally fucking pissed off. As in, who does this son of a bitch think he is, shooting at me? These type of people are dangerous to shoot at. Because even if you drop him with a three round burst, the bastard isn’t going to die until the adrenaline coursing through his veins wears off and his body realizes it’s lost three pints of blood charging your position.

Colby wasn’t one of those people. He panicked.

Another bolt of lightning tore into his left upper bicep, nearly shredding it from the bone.
As he lay paralyzed from the blunt force trauma he felt someone run there hands over his limbs and torso, and then the cinch of an emergency field dressing being tightened around his lower leg. Another followed on his useless, mangled arm. This one as tight as a tourniquet.

A meaty hand slapped him roughly on the back—good to go—and then vanished as quickly as it had appeared in a sudden flash of light and dust. A streaking RPG vaporized the platoon medic where he stood, a pink mist suspended in the air. Sergeant Colby’s guardian angel to the end, the medic’s body had apparently shielded him completely from the effects of the blast, except for a few stray chunks of shrapnel that embedded into the rear ceramic plate of his body armor.

Later he would overhear a field surgeon commenting on those chunks that turned out to be fragments of bone and skull; bits and pieces of his guardian angel.

His hearing was slowly coming around. The sound of firecrackers was all around him, getting louder by the second. He could smell the unmistakable stench of burning flesh, and instinctively patted himself down just in case.

Nope, not me. At least he had one thing going for him.

The mad fusilade of American rifle fire around him now stopped as abruptly as it had begun, allowing competing sounds to now be heard over the din of battle.

The pained cries of men. The wailing of women and small children, those first desponders, already out of their homes to mourn their dead. Colby rolled onto his right side. Civilian bodies littered the sidewalk. A popular hahji shopkeep kept late hours peddling tobacco and chy tea to fellow Muslim insomniacs.

Collateral damage. The cost of doing business in the Middle East.

The bastards picked this spot to hit us for a reason. More carnage, more chaos, more mayhem. Anarchy. Victory.

The idiot shopkeeper probably watched them dig the hole for the IED up the road or plant it in a parked car and never said a damn word. Now he’s a bloody smear, along with his clientele. Here, the customer is clearly not always right.

The moonless sky was now abuzz with invisible activity, as blacked-out orbiting Apache gunships and low-flying Kiowa Warriors criss-crossed the target area, impatient to get into the fight but powerless to assist the boots on the ground.

Out of the darkness appeared a set of kneepads, it’s wearer grabbing him under the arms and hoisting him up on a shoulder in a fireman‘s carry. The pain of being carried in this fashion was unbearable. He could feel the jagged edge of his cracked fibula stabbing through the skin of this calf, threatening to protrude further with each successive jolt.

He opened his eyes briefly and caught a sideways glimpse of another casualty being dragged out of the street by the backstrap on his vest. This guy was limp, all dead weight and dragging limbs.

The silhouette of another behind them was moving under his own power, holding a riggers belt tight against his upper arm with his free hand, screaming and cursing the whole way. He could vaguely make out someone yelling his name behind them, but Colby could barely breathe in this position much less talk.

Those who could scream would probably make it, he figured. The quiet ones had already lost too much blood to make much of a fuss.

The young sergeant performed a quick mental calculus and decided not to be quiet.

* * *

Sean Gibson and Cliff Colby had been best friends since freshman year at Penn State. They had been trying to date the same petite blonde sorority pledge, yet here they were six years later -- college mixers long behind them and flighty co-eds long forgotten.

They were more than friends now -- they were brothers. Each of them had grown up with three or more women in the house, thus requisite male bonding had always been in short supply.

Now both of them had it in spades.

Sean had been the first to visit the recruiters two days after 9/11. He had always been the firebrand, the one to dive into things headfirst and ask questions later. Cliff was slow to test the waters, but where Sean was concerned, rarely would he fail to follow behind.

Besides, he knew better than to try to talk him out of enlisting. Sean grew up in New York City, his entire extended family hailing from one borough or another. Eleven cousins and one uncle rode the 87th floor of 1 WTC to the ground that cloudless Tuesday morning. Some may even have jumped rather than face the inferno, hundreds of gallons of jet fuel and molten steel raging throughout the floors below.

For their part, the Colby clan had been unscathed on that fateful day but not unmoved.
Goodwin Colby had served as a midshipman aboard a destroyer in the South Pacific, a mere lad of 17 when he stood in line to sign up with the Navy three weeks after Imperial Japan bombarded Pearl Harbor.

Uncle Robert Clifton Colby landed with his fellow Marines at Da Nang in the late summer of ‘65. He was returned home to his parents in Shelton, Pennsylvania on Christmas Day. A bicycle path there still bears his name.

Cliff’s father Gordon “Guy” Colby had been too young for service in Vietnam, though he later spent the entirety of the Reagan/Bush years in the Reserves. Exhaustion and poor circulation medically retired him following a six month stint in the Saudi Arabian desert during the run-up to Desert Storm.

Though none had been career military men, service to country ran deep in the Colby line. Cliff Colby instinctively knew he could not avoid it forever -- it was in his blood -- and now here it was, beckoning at his doorstep.

Sean’s family history was one nearly devoid of military service, though it contained at least half a dozen Irish rebellions spread over two centuries. An adopted Thomas Kiernan Gibson was believed to have fallen at Chancellorsville for the Union side but had left no wife or children and no legacy other than an historical footnote: the top of his head can barely be made out among a group of regulars photographed with President Lincoln in Maryland circa 1862.

This was according to Grandma Gibson, of course. The same Grandma Gibson who had saved every newspaper, Parade magazine, and empty butter tub she had accumulated in her adult life. The same Grandma Gibson who had proudly displayed in her home a framed typewritten reply to an angry letter she had sent to the Washington bureau of the F.B.I. in 1969, frustrated with the unruly antics of the counterculture and the governments languid response.

Dear Madam,

Sun Tzu once wrote:
To subdue the enemy without fighting is the
acme of skill.

Respectfully yours,
J. Edgar Hoover

“I’m gonna do it, Cobe.” These were the first words out of Sean’s mouth when he returned to their shared campus apartment in early October of ‘01. He had attended more funerals in the previous week than most do in their lifetime. “This shit is for real.”

Cliff sat at his computer, never averting his eyes from the screen. “You pick a branch? Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines? Coast Guard? Peace Corps? Park ranger?”

Army Ranger.”

“Army Ranger.” It wasn’t a question, more of a sigh. “You have to jump out of planes for that, you know.”

“I know,” he said.

“You know.” Another sigh. “In the Navy you’d never have to leave the ship.” Cliff’s life was fast-forwarding in his mind, static line in hand, eyes clamped shut, stomach in his throat.

“Dude, if I’m gonna do this, it’s gotta be all the way. No half measures… no ‘chillin in the rear with the gear’… all the way.” Sean waved his arms around a lot when he talked, and right now he was a human windmill of adrenaline.

“You heard what the President said. This wasn’t just another terrorist attack -- this was an act of war. Your grandfather would have said the same thing.” Sean was in his full salesman mode now.

“Yes, and my grandfather would have -- did -- join the Navy and not slogged around a hundred pound pack and slept in the dirt.” Cliff wondered if they had internet in the Middle East. Had they heard of the internet in the Middle East?

“Whatever, man. Back then, the Navy was where all the action was. Try and name another country today with aircraft carriers.”

“I’m sure the Brits have at least one…”

“Come on. The point is, this is the best route for me, by far. A minimum of time spent training, then right into the breach. It’s a no-brainer.” Sean sat back on their couch and flipped on Fox News. O’Reilly was already well into his opening Talking Points memo.

“What are you, Henry V now? Don’t start quoting Shakespeare to me, pal. You barely even passed that class.” Cliff removed his glasses and began to clean them with his shirttail, the way he did whenever he started to get worked up about something. Something usually involving Sean.

“But you’re right about the ‘not needing a brain’ part, Scarecrow. Have you told your mom yet?”

“Dude, I just finished telling you. Besides, she’ll understand. She always does.”

“Right. Like the time she ‘understood’ when you wanted to drop out mid-semester sophomore year and race dirtbikes…”

“Look, Cliffy,” he said. “She's got enough on her plate right now. My family's just been decimated, man. But I’m not dropping out, alright? We’ll both be done in January, and then we can ship out. Just wait, you’ll see I’m right,” he said. He reached back for the cable remote and turned up the volume.

Cliff took his hand off the mouse pad and reached for his soda perched on the monitor. He finally swiveled to face Sean, already in full channel-flip mode. “What do you mean, we?” he asked.

Sean kept flipping. “Oh yeah, I meant to tell you.” He unconsciously began scratching his three-day beard -- the way he always did when he was about to nonchalantly drop a bomb on you -- and as he always did, Cliff braced for impact.

“I told the recruiter it was a package deal.”


"Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed." -- Abraham Lincoln