OLD SCHOOL |
November 06, 2006
Name: CAPT Matt Smenos
Posting date: 11/6/06
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Santa Maria, CA
In general, I am a fan of the concept of the National Guard. So far, the majority of my experiences with the citizen-soldiery of our great nation have reinforced my belief in a nation of volunteers, a society of step-up and serve, as a model of success and a lesson to others. Yet there are inherent disconnects that will develop among the constituents of a land of freedom and bravery. The guardsmen with whom I serve here in Afghanistan are from all walks, religions and professions among various age-groups. There are fairly clear differences of opinion on just about every topic from politics and the war(s) in the Middle-East to the raising of children and the treatment of the Afghans. It's interesting how the smallest of concerns can give you a sense for how an individual will react to the largest.
Drinking my coffee and reading my Slate: Daily Brief, I heard a rustling to my right. A glance at the stack of supply boxes beside me exposed the perpetrator. “Dusty Roads” has become a legend in our Brigade Ops Center. Rumored to be a jumbo sewer-rat, with super-human strength and the power to cloud the minds of men, the saw-toothed evidences of his audacious larcenies have led to many a frustrated knee-slap and curse. No bag of Care-Package goodies is safe, nor any unattended granola bar or forgotten potato wedge. Even the most stalwart attempts to secure dry-goods in cabinets and plastic tough-boxes are thwarted by this increasingly notorious rodent. I have never joined, or cared to join, in the hunt for this chupacabra of chew-holes, this wraith of raided raisinettes. And perhaps it was due to the indifference I had exhibited, in the days of bored rat-hunts, as gray camouflaged guardsmen tore apart supply cabinets, set traps and uttered “If I ever...” curses, that the little devil came out to me in particular. Blinking up at me, with tiny brown orbs and a twitching nose, the infamous Dusty Roads dared me to betray him as he polished off the dried remains of blueberry muffin dough from a mis-tossed wrapper.
He fell somewhat short of his reputation. At two inches long, and dusty brown, this tiny mouse was hardly the Grendel of Beowulf, more like someone from the Secret of Nihm. I had him in my sights. I should’ve respected the tenets of shared battle-space, of joint-military doctrine, of Army and Air Force working together to cleanse a place of a world-threatening menace. What to do, what to do? The National Guard had taught me what to do. They taught me “Old School”.
Old School. What does it mean? I had considered the question as I walked into the laundry hut. The words suggest something taught (education) that is revered or time-honored because of long-standing success or reliability. I guess I’ve never been to that school. As I threw my soiled gloves into the washing machine, I reflected on how brandishing the badge of Old School had led to one of the saddest and most disappointing days of my life. The stumpy, old Guard Sergeant and I were driving our Humvee to the helicopter landing area to receive a shipment of mail, when we saw them. Five or six dogs, domestic mongrels of mixed breeding, chased each other merrily back and forth through the blowing dust. Having been born and raised in urban settings, a pack of free-roaming, unclaimed dogs seemed strange to me. The sergeant informed me that dog packs like this were common in his home state of Utah, and that he knew exactly what to do. As I wondered why anything needed to be done at all, he wiggled his way from the driver’s seat up to the gun turret. Before I could say a word, he had charged the weapon and fired a thunderous barrage of .50 caliber rounds at the frolicking animals. Out of consideration for anyone who might read these posts while eating, I have elected to omit the graphic depiction of the outcome of this one-sided fire-fight. Needless to say, he won the day. As he laid off the trigger, I was able to hear his wheezing, cackling, manic laughter. As I twisted, uncomfortably, to look up at him in the turret, I realized I was speechless with shock.
Approaching shouts of surprise and alarm could be heard as the landing zone’s Sergeant At Arms sprinted from his tower toward us, pistol drawn. We wound up standing in the sun for over thirty minutes while the local MPs filled out a significant incident report. When asked why he had discharged the heavy-assault weapon without cause, the Sergeant answered with a tirade about dogs and cats and rodents and how in his day...blah, blah, blah...ending with “I guess I’m just Old School.” Not only was my name and rank and unit information recorded in association with this slaughter (no matter how hard I tried to lay blame where it was due), but I was also instructed to assist with “the clean up," hence the soiled gloves.
The entire ride back from the landing zone (I drove this time), all I could do was boggle over the senseless brutality of what had just happened. The roads in Afghanistan are very rough. Dirt and mud packed with gravel, mostly. The citizens come and go on foot, bicycles and the occasional moped. The Humvee is not a common fixture, and, frankly, it really doesn't belong. Try as they might, it is difficult for pedestrians and bikers to stay on the narrow roads and avoid the large, armored vehicles that have suddenly become so common in the impoverished nation. My companion was enraged by their seemingly aimless meandering in the road. He barked and shouted and spat, leaning out the window, hurling his most heated and intolerant jibes at those with whom we shared the road. Certainly there are bad apples, but I think they are the exception to the rule. We sat in silence for the rest of the ride down the dusty road...
Speaking of Dusty Roads, there he and I were. He worked his little jaw on a stale piece of granola as I watched from my seat. I knew that the Sergeant and his Ilk had been looking for this fugitive fur-ball for weeks, but I also remembered the dogs. I finished my news article, locked my computer and went to the gym. Race on down, little Roads. Nibble and chew and scrape and good luck to you. It’s a tough world in which to be desperate and helpless. I’m happy to leave what I can for you in the corners. If they ask me why I never told…I’ll just tell them I’m Old School.