AFGHAN TWILIGHT ZONE |
January 16, 2007
AFGHAN TWILIGHT ZONE
Name: CPT B. Tupper
Posting date: 1/16/07
Stationed in: Ghazni, Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, NY
It had been a difficult day, with a patrol through mined roads and in an area with recent enemy activity. Awakened by a lingering case of dehydration, I decided to get something cold to drink, and walked over to our TOC, the tactical operations center. While grabbing a cold bottle of Gatorade from the mini fridge, my attention was diverted by frantic voices coming over the military radio. Somewhere, out in the darkness, in some valley, at some random grid square, members of my Task Force were in a bad firefight. Some of my U.S. brothers and their Afghan Army Unit were in a pitched battle with the enemy.
Combat on the radio here is nothing new. But the urgency, the terror, the frantic tones of their voices was out of the ordinary. Normally, Army radio transmissions are very formal and programmed. But when things go bad, it's all out the window. And things had gone bad.
"Keep your eyes on that fucking wall -- he's there! He's there!"
The staccato of a 240bravo machine gun ripped the radio's speakers. Voices faltered, quivered. Strong men were choking on their words.
"Fucking shoot them! Fucking shoot them!"
The bottle of Gatorade slipped from my hands onto the floor. I flashed back to recent moments here when I've found myself outflanked, outmaneuvered, outnumbered, and under enemy fire. The hot summer air in the TOC had become cold, and I literally shook. I had a familiar sense of being alone, vulnerable, helpless. I couldn't move. I had become part of their distant fight.
Afghan Twilight Zone. My mind was working overtime, filling the silent radio's void with the fear and adrenaline rush of combat. I could literally see the fight as if I was there. But being alone in the TOC, with this deafening silence, I just couldn't take it. I ran out into the warm night. I didn't know how the battle ended. I didn't want to know.
I nervously laughed at myself as I ran in the darkness back to my barracks, half mocking my childish fear, half running from something I felt was pursuing me.
But you can't run away from the war. When I returned to the TOC in the morning, the radio squawked with normal administrative chatter of movements, reports, and updates.The office was filled with my teammates and the usual upbeat, boisterous banter. I relaxed and joined in the small talk. Then a report come over the radio that an Afghan National Army soldier had been killed last night in the fight I overheard. He was found alone, separated from his unit in the fog of combat and the blackness of the night. He'd been captured by the Taliban, and his throat was cut. His body had been booby-trapped with explosives.
My fear of being alone last night came back. Listening to the fight unfold on the radio, feeling as if I were being drawn into it, all in the last moments before this soldier was killed. Alone. I'm glad I ran through the darkness last night.
Note: This photograph is not of the man who was killed, but I think it is a very humanizing picture of an ANA soldier.