Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Well this might be the last one in a while cause both blogging and writing the book can take up a great amount of time. However, I did want to comment on something another friend had said about "Fobbits" and their ilk.

"The American experience in Afghanistan varies widely. Some areas get no activity, some areas get excessive activity. The fobbits of Bagram may never leave the confines of that most august enclave for their entire tour.

The fobbits of Phoenix may only boast two conops in their entire tour.

Fobbits abound.

The young men out in Kunar* get shot at nearly every day.

The young men and women at Bagram and Phoenix get shot at never.


The major problem I had with some of the young Americans under my command was that most of them were scared, privledged, lazy, assuming, careless, disrespectful, harbingers of yet another generation of ungrateful black holes that believe everthing that gets caught in the tendrils of their gravity should be given to them on bended knee.

Kinda like the "I only joined for the college money." type.

Now I'm not disrespecting all of the tower guards and those who were forced by command to stay at Phoenix and BAF because a lot of them hated it and would be the pivot man on "Gay Thursday" for a chance to leave But, if you were there you could spot the fobbit a mile away. I actually had to "fire" i.e [send back to monster base] two of my squad cause they couldn't manage to play well with others. [see falling asleep on guard, dropping a 240 B off the roof and lying to the CSM about it, Drinking, driving a UAH into a river etc...] These were the types that were a danger not just to themselves but to all others around them for their carelessness and inability to spend the time and effort it takes to be a member of a team.
Some were released from "fobbitude" for a short forray into the wild , kinda like a catch and release program, they now feel that since they experienced war close up and were changed by it that they have the clout to pass judgment on others and their experiences. I got news for you boys…all the dead in Afghanistan can’t erase your guilt for surviving or end your grief. You must walk that path alone.

Many of these men hate me to this day for making them do the right thing but guess what...they may be alive today because of the things I made them do.

I'm getting out of the Army in a few months after 12 years and the war had a lot to do with my decision to leave but more to the point was the lack of heart and soul and sense of sacrifice from these young Americans I worked with.

Are all young men and women this way? Of course not. I have found many that I treat like my sons and would , if I had too, go back to war with. Alas, there are too few of them for me to stay.

* Kandahar, Jalalabad, Sangin, Zir coh valley, Farah etc…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

PBC continuation...The Road North...

We were given three men from the SECFOR element to act as guides on the ride up to Wolf but were told air cover was unavailable. The poppy eradication mission “Riverdance” has begun south of Lashcar-gah and Girishk and seems to do little more than piss off the general populace. The main problem is the MOD and the ANP are destroying the poppies but not compensating the farmers.
Last week we were operating out of Farah on a cordon and search when a guy drove into our area on a motorcycle with a six year old kid on the back. The ANA stopped him and went through all his shit and found a five pound ball of opium.
Now, I’m watching all this going on and the commander of the ANA comes over and starts a very animated discussion about the drugs and the Taliban and I’m thinking they’re gonna start roughing this guy up a little bit.
Instead, the man starts crying and begging the commander to let him go and tells him his whole life story and what happens?
He gives him back the opium and lets him go. At the time I was thinking “What the fuck, over? What are we doin here? I thought we were supposed to be curtailing the drug industry not helping it,” but later on the more I thought about it the more I understood why he let him go. This guy was just a little fish, and taking those drugs wouldn’t have made a piss in a rainstorm’s good to the whole drug eradication effort. He probably worked his poppy field for six months to get the only commodity he can sell.

The Road North

The morning of the 22nd we begin to prep for the run north to Wolf so I brought out the 240B and connected it to the pindel mount and set up the turret so everything is within easy reach. Travis walked over to my UAH and said “Hey Paul, looks like they’re adding a few vehicles to our convoy.

See those five, seven-ton Internationals over there?” “Yea…” I said uneasily. “They just got flown in from Kandahar and they’re coming with us” He said. “Oh yea, who’s driving um?” “The ANA.” He said.
No, no, no, those guys can’t drive in a wet parking lot for Christ’s sake and you wanna put um in brand new vehicles fully loaded with shit?” “Jesus sir, odds were gonna get hit on the way up anyway!” “I know Paul, I don’t like it anymore than you do but that decision was made way over my pay grade…roger?” “Great…I said. “I’m glad I’m up here in the turret cause there’s no way to keep my boots clean with this much shit piling up!”
I tried to find a place to write in my notebook but I can’t put it down anywhere. All the metal surfaces are blistering.
The turret layout: L-R…. Lubriderm SPF-15, 2-M18 smoke grenades purple, yellow, Green star cluster, MK3A2 Offensive concussion grenade, baby wipes, M4/M203 grenade launcher, paint brush for weapon cleaning, Spit cup, [smells like it’s fermenting into something alcoholic, hmmmm I been gone too long….] 4 oz bottle CLP oil for gun, 18- rounds 40mm HEDP for the grenade launcher, cleaning kit, 3-bottled water, compressed air, Dragonov sniper rifle, another offensive grenade, plastic handcuffs, and finally the 240B machine gun with 900 7.62mm rounds made by the FN Company Belgium. [Thanks Europe, the only good thing to come outta there in years.]
As the NCOIC of the SECFOR team I manage all security issues both inside the FOB, providing for the defense, and on the road during operations. I put Joker on the fifty at the front of the column so he can reach out and deliver a formidable punch if necessary. Bevis and Repo watch the flanks of the column and therefore we have a 360 degree overlapping coverage for the element. As the gunner in the last vehicle my number one priority is rear security for the convoy. Our ROE states that no one is allowed to enter or trail the convoy too closely so I keep all traffic at least a hundred meters to the rear using hand signals, threat, intimidation, then finally force to assure our safety.

Our guides from the other SECFOR team told us about the many times they have had to disable a vehicle that has tried to pass the column or followed to close to the rear. A thirty to fifty round burst from a 240B does a good job at turning a Corolla or a mini van into a fine effigy of Swiss cheese.
We had barley gotten on to the ring road when we stopped for the first of a multitude of vehicle problems. One of the TATAs driven by the ANA had a flat tire and they were told to go back to base. As they passed me they were both smiling from ear to ear like they had won the lottery or gotten that last call from the Governor or something. I didn’t realize until later that they may well have received a reprieve from a death sentence.
As we were rolling through Gereshk a guy [single male no passengers] driving a burgundy colored SUV comes speeding up from the rear so I started waving my arm to get his attention then, held it in the “STOP” position but he just smiles and starts gaining on the convoy. He doesn’t heed the warning so I lower the 240B on him…no change in speed…I fire a dozen 7.62 rounds off his front bumper, the vehicle stops…then lurches forward again. This time he gets half the belt into the ground inches off his door panel. By now the convoy has stopped and everyone un-asses the vehicle and covers down on the driver. We motion for him to get out of the car or we will kill him where he sits. VBIEDs have become the weapon of choice for terrorists down here in the south and they have killed too many people in this country. He moves out of the car, arms raised, with this big shit-eating grin on his face. I’m thinking, this fucker must be insane but perhaps he’s just scared "shite’less."

We passed 611 and turned north into the desert along a small path sprinkled liberally with camel shit and rosemary. To this day whenever my wife makes some recipe using it I get a little shiver and say a silent prayer. Everyone seemed to be out in the fields tending the poppy crop. As we passed by a small group of children drinking from a puddle of filthy water one looked at me and slit his index finger across his throat and pointed north. I’m thinking these were not the happy little faces we used to see in Shindand and Herat.

This was the beginning of the “dead eyes.” A term I used to describe the length and true depth of the hatred these people had for us. You could see it in their eyes, black and empty like a endless void you could sink into until the very pressure of their loathing crushed you to the size of a pea. There may have not been any discernable facial expression but you could feel it as sure as Luke Skywalker felt the force. Twin black lasers burrowing into your soul, if looks could kill there wouldn’t be an American left alive in Southern Afghanistan.
We had already lost one truck and now the fun really begins. First of all, the Afghans can’t drive for shit and none of them as ever seen a license much less had any formal training on how to operate a vehicle. The drivers are usually chosen by who has the biggest hash supply with them.
After all, it’s hard to light your doobie in the back of a speeding Ford Ranger with all that wind so…that’s where the driver comes in.
These knuckle heads are driving these huge international trucks and every coupla hundred meters one of them gets stuck in the sand or takes a path up a gradient too steep for that monster and were forced to stop the convoy and pull them out. After a coupla dozen times of this shit I’m ready to shoot the bastards and drive the truck myself. Finally, one of them breaks a steering rod and we’re forced to tow it the rest of the way to the FOB.
All along the route there are burned out hulks of the vehicles hit by enemy fire and abandoned to the desert, a grim reminder to remain vigil. We have fired upon anyone who appears to be “enemy spotters.” Some of them just appear on the distant ridgelines watching us as we pass and others ride along on motorcycles pacing the convoy. This doesn’t last for long after we start shooting at them. Finally we were within 6 KM of the base and the one we had been towing could not be pulled over a steep incline. We radioed the FOB and asked them if they had anyone who could fix the damn thing but they didn’t have any parts for these new vehicles so we sent a small element forward to scout the approach to the base.
We could see the base from this spot we defended. Every time a chopper landed on the LZ it would throw up great clouds of dust visible for miles. It was getting near dark and this was not where you wanted to be after making so much noise earlier in the day. The prevalent opinion, mine for one, was to cut our losses and burn that sucker. Unload what we could and toss a thermite grenade in and let the dragon eat its fill, leave nothing for the enemy. Finally someone was able to charge the brake lines and we towed it in long after nightfall. I climbed down out of the turret sunburned and exhausted and Joker led us to an underground bunker where we ate some canned meat and fruit, got a brief from the commander on actions on contact, then promptly passed out in a Conex container they used as a shelter.