Friday, April 22, 2005

Welcome to your new home, neighbors

Dan, Jack and I had gone up to Asadabad to "help out" with some operations near the Paki border. Coming up from our A-camp, where an A-team and a few support personnel were the only Americans living with some Afghan security guards we hired and about a company and a half of the Afghan National Army, A'bad was a pleasant surprise. This was a by-God firebase, with a battalion or so of the 10th Mountain, a Special Forces ODB and five or so A-teams, a FAST (forward area surgical team - kind of a baby MASH), a battery of 120mm mortars, some other, more specialized units, and a lot of supporting personnel. After the A-camp, it was incredibly luxurious - both the 10th Mountain and the SF unit there ran a mess-hall, and both of them had hot showers!

In Asadabad, I did figure out exactly what people mean when they say the Army is like a family: just like growing up with sisters, living with hundreds of soldiers meant that you had to time your showers carefully. Fortunately the 10th Mountain was running a tight ship. They'd get up early, shower and shave before breakfast, and then be off working or training for the rest of the day. That was fine with us, since we could fit our showers in after breakfast - no lines, no waiting, and not enough hot water for a battalion of soldiers was more than enough hot water for three SF'ers. And, best of all, the showers were actually indoors. It was a welcome change from trying to stay out of the wind by huddling behind a plywood partition, while showering in a tepid trickle from a solar shower - and usually running out of water before running out of dirt.

The toilets weren't any better than we had at our A-camp, but there were more of them - plastic Port-a-Pottys, wooden outhouses, and a row of traditional Afghan squat crappers that had been remodeled with the addition of a plywood box over the hole with an appropriate seat bolted to it.

The only problem we had was with the neighbors to our rear . . .

As soon as we got off of the chopper, we let the ODB sergeant major know we'd arrived. He gave us a rundown on who was there, what was supposed to be going on, what to do if the firebase were attacked, and even threw in a quick tour of the camp (taking care to point out the showers and mess halls - I suppose he could guess what sort of place we'd come from), and then told us he ran a nightly brief at 1930 hours, and one of us should show up so we'd know what was going on.

We found ourselves sleeping in the old aid-station tent. It had become too small for the camp's medical team, and they had moved to more expansive headquarters, but it made a perfect transient quarters, with a plywwod floor and walls, and a diesel stove for warmth. Plus it had plywood counters and a plywood desk, so we felt like we had it made. Plenty of room for us, our gear, and for some specialized equipment we'd brought with us. And it had a hesco wall behind it and in front of it, so unless a bad guy dropped a round right on our tent, we were pretty safe.

We were still getting oriented and set up - and still recovering from the after effects of second helpings at the surprisingly good 10th Mountain messhall, and from the first hot showers we'd had in two months - and it was coming up on 1930. Jack and I were trying to get our equipment ready and get comms with the rest of our team set up, so Dan went over to take the brief. He came back, pretty disgruntled, at about 2100. After I'd been to one too, I figured out the problem with the nightly briefing: it was pretty much the same problem I'd seen in attending departmental meetings in the civilian world. Anything that was of interest to anyone came up at the meeting, whether everybody needed to be involved or not. As a result, Dan had just gone through ninety minutes to give us a sixty second briefing on what we actually needed to know, and wasn't particularly happy about it.

After he finished putting the word out, we dropped by the chow-hall for an evening coffee and snack (no, really, you could drop by and get coffee and munchies anytime - it was like having a poor soldier's Starbucks down the street), and then went back to our new home and slipped into our sleeping bags, and drifted off to sleep . . . no guard duty, no radio watch, no duty in the morning. There was nothing to keep us from getting a solid eight or more hours of sleep for the first time in a long while.

KA-BWHOOOM! In the middle of the night, an explosion rocked the tent. Whatever it was, it had gone off right behind us. I jerked awake, yelling "Holy fucking shit!" Of course, as a trained and combat hardened green beret, I reacted calmly and professionally to the sudden crisis. Thanks to my unerring instincts, I knew that I needed to get out of the sleeping bag, get off the cot and on the floor, grab my body armor and helmet and get them on, get my boots on, grab my weapon, check on everybody else, and assess the situation. The only problem was that I tried to do them all at once - I rolled out of bed, still in the sleeping bag, and whacked against the floor, feeling around for my headlamp and body armour. "What the fuck was that?" My only consolation was that Jack's reaction was, if possible, even less graceful than mine was. From the sounds in the cot next to mine, somebody had thrown an alley cat into Jack's sleeping bag with him, and one of them was going to come out. He was desperately trying to get the quick-release zipper on his sleeping bag to function under high stress and it just wasn't working out for him.

Dan, on the other hand, was strangely calm about the whole thing. His headlamp snapped on from the head of his bunk just as a second explosion went off, again from right behind us. "Oh yeah," he said, lifting his head up from the pillow and opening one eye, "One more thing I needed to tell you from the briefing tonight. The 120mm mortars have a middle of the night fire mission - they should start firing at 0320." I let go of my helmet and hit the light on my watch - the mortars were right on time.

I also found out the hard way that they were right behind us. Dan didn't seem to have any trouble dropping back off to sleep, but oddly enough, it took me and Jack a while longer before we could relax.


Anonymous Lilly said...

Good thing Dan spoke up before you guys ran out of the tent ready to fight. That's so funny. Are you sure he really 'forgot' to tell you? lol

10:30 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Enjoyed the read. That was a good story, thanks for posting it.

Jennifer Martinez sends

11:10 PM  
Blogger JACK ARMY said...

Smooth. That's all I can say.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous DrainBamaged said...

Awesome story.

We had immersion heaters heating the shower water at our camps. Made for a fairly quick turn over for hotwater/showering.

Until my Sgt blew himself up with one. Well he only lost some hair and eyebrows, but still,...

12:58 AM  
Blogger jbrookins said...

LMAO, I bet nearly everyone of us had that same experience just in a different camp.

2:32 AM  
Anonymous Jim "Ringo" Ringland said...

Not a bad story, however, I sincerely feel that you need to learn the differenc between incoming and OUTGOING. Been there done that in Nam, and believe me, there is one hell of a big difference............Ringo Sends

4:45 AM  
Blogger Special Forces Alpha Geek said...

Hi Jim
Well, yeah, and by the time they had finished for the night (they were firing like a battery 4) I had figured it out. By the end of my stint in A'bad, I'd barely wake up when they went off in my ear.

(For those who wonder what he's talking about, there's a difference in sound between a mortar / howitzer / artillery piece firing, and a round exploding)

By the end of my time in Afghanistan, I could tell celebratory fire in the village from aimed fire, a mortar going off from a rocket coming in, even a rocket that was going to be close versus one that would miss widely, and so on.

But the first time, completely by surprise, in the middle of the night, the effect was a bit . . . startling.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Kristy said...

I'm with Jack Army. All that training and the guy couldn't get his sleeping bag open? Good thing we have the SEALS to defend the nation. *ducking*

Great story. Thanks.


4:12 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Ooooohhhh, that's a low blow there Kristy.

A bit about my dear friend Ringo: He spent 26 years in the Army, 6 with the Infantry, 7 with MI and 13 years with SF. He was a One Zero and ran recon with SOG's CCN and CCC. He is currently the President of SFA Chapter 82. Also, in case someone isn't aware, One Zeros are Gods :-)

Keep your powder dry, stay in the treeline, and watch your six

Jennifer Martinez sends

6:01 PM  
Blogger Consul-At-Arms said...

Something similar happened to my entire company task force at a little dusty place called TAA Hound in Iraq, sometime in May or June 2003.

A major (MI & reservist) had attended the BUB (battle update brief) at the armor battalion HQ (Hound was the home of an armor task force of the 4th ID) and neglected to mention that the Hound's self-propelled arty was going to be doing some interdiction fire later that evening.

Things got kind of loud and hectic in an awful hurry before we confirmed that all the fire was OUTgoing.

Only later did the MI major get around to mentioning that it'd been announced at the BUB.

Not that he couldn't have shared that information earlier.


2:09 AM  
Anonymous 11thacr said...

It's true about the sounds of War. I was in Nam 71 and it took a while before you could distinquish outbound to in coming and the difference between an AK47, M16,M60 and so on....and after a while Incoming wasn't very just did the Job you were trained to do.....I was a Cobra Mechanic but pulled my share of Guard Duties and an occasional Volunteer of some sorta sweep.....
.....Good Post.......

9:52 PM  
Blogger jenny said...

great site .

4:32 AM  

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