Photo: This Ain’t Hell
As I’ve mentioned before, my co-blogger TSO is embedded with U.S. Soldiers in A’stan and he’s sending us his colourful dispatches. Here’s the latest. ~ Jonn
Even before I made it out here (Forward Operating Base Andar) I had heard a Non Commisioned Officer (NCO) tell me how lucky I was to get embedded with Able Co, 3-66.
“Awesome unit, awesome leadership”, he said. “They love the CO, but they worship the First Sergeant (1SG), dude is a stud.” That was my first impression when I met the leadership as well, but I decided to ask one of the NCO’s I was out with yesterday. He sort of smiled, “Well, that’s half right, we pretty much worship the CO too.”
Getting here wasn’t easy, and it was filled with anxiety. KAF-BAF-Sharana-Andar is a pain in the arse travel scenario. At one point an Air Force (AF) person told me my ticket would cost $122. I was somewhat stunned, since the orders just said I was to have access to anything I needed, but I said “ok, how can I pay.”
What followed was a surreal experience as they explained that I couldn’t pay cash, couldn’t pay credit card, couldn’t be billed for it. Then the AF female and a KBR person just started screaming at each other, and the loadmaster that was for my bird whispered to me, “We’ll get you on the bird man, don’t worry about this horse[expletive.]” At the next stop, an Army female and a KBR guy also got into it over who had priority for weighing folks on the one scale they had.
So by the time I made it here, I was pretty tight and apprehensive all around. Every unit I’ve been in has had some defect. Whether it is the leadership being not up to par, or the troops not getting along, there’s always something. Here, not so much. Everybody gets along great, and they play jokes on each other constantly. And the Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeants all seem top notch, none more so than the Platoon I went out with yesterday.
Ostensibly the mission was to check out this area for a range. Nothing too sexy, but it was outside the wire, and any vehicle leaving from this place that belongs to Able Co, I am headed out on.So, we load up in the vehicles (I think I am forbidden from saying what types, but some of you will know) and headed out to the location that was selected by the Mike Golf (master gunner) from overhead shots and map surveillance. We get there and I dismount with a few other dudes. At this point the PL, PSG and a 3 man detail goes to check the right limit to make sure it is clear. They go on foot. I am standing there with the platoon medic, an amazingly affable SSG whose Dad was a lifelong 11B and virtually begged his son not to enlist.
Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat. “Holy [expletive], what was that?” So we duck behind the vehicle and the PSG comes across the radio letting us know the ANA is firing in their direction with a DShK, and our vehicle needs to SP over to their location and tell them to stop firing. So we load up, and thankfully I popped the video camera on and captured the scene I am about to describe.
We move about 500m over to the right, where the firing was coming from and dismount. Sure enough, there is a Humvee with ANA, and a DShK. About 5 pax, all smiles and “my friend, my friend.” Handshakes all around as Doc is explaining in hand talk, “hey, our dudes are over there and would prefer not to get shot.”
Another 2 ANA vehicles pull up and I notice two things at this point. First, the test fire of the DShK must not have gone well, because they have stuck a metal rod down the barrel and are proceeding to wail on the end of it with a big rock. A hangfire round isn’t a good thing, but I am fairly certain the manual says nothing about immediately beating a rod with the rock. But, whatever, this pales in comparison to what I see coming down the road from the other vehicles: a guy walking with an RPG round, and he is swinging it around like a golf club, and flipping it up in the air. Oh boy.
Eventually the PL, PSG and Terp get out of the dirt from where they took cover and start heading towards us. They look less than enthusiastic over the range clearing procedures of the Afghan National Army (ANA). Understandably so. What follows is an animated discussion wherein the ANA guy tells us he only fired it in the air (little known fact: Newton’s laws of physics dictate even in Afghanistan that a round fired up in the air still does not leave orbit, and must of necessity return to terra firma at a great rate of speed.)
I’ll save the rest that for when I can upload the video, but it was full of mirth let me tell you.
At this point we get back to firing, and then a storm rolls in. Because we are needed elsewhere, we load back up and head out. We take up a position for security about 2k outside the FOB, and just sit there. It was every bit as exciting as I remembered it.
My absolute and complete boredom was interrupted by one of the crew members every 15 minutes saying “drop the ramp, I have to take another leak.” Said it before, will say it again, as necessary as force protection is, it is the most mind numbing experience you’ll ever go through. As I was contemplating how dumb I was to leave Indiana to sit in a vehicle half a world away, the Doc suddenly screams and jumps into me. It seems the driver had seen some movement outside the vehicle, jumped out to take the thing into custody, and brought it back. A desert turtle.
You ever meet a guy afraid of turtles? Neither had I until yesterday. Either way, this is a good distraction from just sitting there, and the vehicle jointly comes up with a game that can be played, “Turtle Staredown.” This involves holding the turtle at eye level, and staring at it. I’m sure more rules would have developed if we had had time, but for what happens next as the PSG engages in this clearly athletic sport.
Apparently when you stare a turtle directly in the eyes, they reciprocate by emptying their bowels.
As Visini from Princess Bride might have said, never go up against a turtle when poop is on the line.
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