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



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 All OEB entries are previously unpublished.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.

Your writing is a hoot to read. Seriously, I've learned a few things and laughed quite abit. Not sure if you intended to be funny but it was. Whatever happened with the monkey. I've heard they are difficult pets.

My Afghanistan journal is still interesting even for myself to read over, simply for the fact that my state of mind was so much different than it is this time around. 1: I'm older now, in a leadership position, and married, meaning I have more to be concerned with than just myself. 2: I now know what to expect and how to mentally prepare myself for a long combat deployment. Mental preparation is everything in a place like this. With it, you can endure anything, no matter how terrible. Without it, you couldn't last a month even in the best possible overseas conditions.

That's where all the "PTSD" head cases are coming from. It isn't the war, it's the weak minded individuals who barely had it together BEFORE they left, much less after a year away. (But I digress, that's a rant for another post).

I laugh when I read over these excerpts from my old journal. There's times when the sergeant in me would like to go back and have a word or two with that cherry specialist.


p.s. If you want to know the fate of Dusty the Monkey, I guess you'll just have to wait around for OEB Episode VI.

HI Buck-
I was curious- what is the general method of filling sandbags? And is there any way it could be made easier? How many people and how long does it take generally to fill one sandbag?

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