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PIECES IN THE SNOW |

January 22, 2007

PIECES IN THE SNOW
Name: CPT B. Tupper
Posting date: 1/22/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, NY
Milblog url: www.myspace.com/42094372
Email: tupper.taskforce.phoenix@gmail.com

The streets, the fields, the Market Bazaar, everything as far as the eye could see was covered in a coat of pure white. Overnight a snowstorm had passed through our corner of Paktika, dropping just enough snow to cover all the mud and dirt and garbage that paints the landscape of the town. 

I stood on the main road of the normally bustling Bazaar, in an expanse of pure white, staring at a mysteriously vibrant pink and red object. Around me, there were no footprints disturbing the snow except my own. It appeared as if this strange object had been dropped from the sky. It lay there in simple repose -- thin fibrous strands splayed like a peacock's tail feathers along its top. At the base, a stiff stalk of white segments adorned with bright red dollops.

After the initial distraction of marveling at its intricate make up, I refocused on my original purpose in approaching it. I needed to identify what it was. Having now done so, I turned and walked back to my Humvee. 

It was the neck stem of a human spine, blasted 150 meters in the air from the site of a suicide bombing minutes earlier. I had been in the middle of a slow, frustrating meeting with my Commander and our ANA counterparts, arguing over attendance numbers, when a very subtle vibration passed through our room. It was gentle and unassuming. With no one even mentioning the distant thud, we continued our conversation until one of my ETT Teammates ran into the room and yelled "We're rolling -- there's been an explosion in the Bazaar!"

Now I stood amid a chaotic scene. ANA soldiers and ETT's trying to organize a wide cordon around the blast site, with rumors spreading of a VBIED (car bomb) still in play, and the confusion of sorting out who was dead, who was wounded, and who was lucky.

These initial moments were pretty tense. Scattered in the road intersection were seven unoccupied vehicles. Any one could be a secondary explosive device positioned to kill the first responders, a classic enemy tactic. As we went about trying to get a grasp on what had happened and what needed to be done, we all were within the lethal blast radius of even a small car bomb. 

I found myself nervous, but ironically fighting to contain a smile. I kept expecting a fiery white light to instantly wash me away. BANG! Torn Car metal. Flame.

When none of this transpired, I was happy as a kid on Christmas morning.  And every second that there was no explosion, my grin continued to grow. I was just happy to have a few more seconds with no technicolor finish.

This reaction probably seemed out of place, given the random burned and twisted body parts laying around me as I walked through the scene. But no one noticed me. Each of us was in our own little world, trying to process the remaining risks and the results of this suicide blast.

The events up to this point were fairly easy to reconstruct. A lone suicide bomber had walked up to a group of ANA soldiers who had congregated at a street intersection outside of our Base. He detonated his explosive vest, which instantly scattered his mortal remains in a truly random pattern. Ground zero was a large blackened circle where he stood, which instantly evaporated the snow and burned the ground below it.Framed_tupper_ground_zero

His head flew straight up, landing about 20 meters away on the hood of a white Toyota station wagon. It rolled off onto the ground, leaving a red smudge and streak across the hood. His heart landed about 50 meters in the opposite direction. It sat there, in perfect condition, as if carefully removed from the chest by a surgeon's delicate incisions. An ANA soldier walked by, and kicked it like a small soccer ball down the road. A gesture of disgust at this suicide attack. 

And in my sector of the cordon, I stumbled across the aforementioned spine segment. Wandering another 20 meters, I found the rest of the spine, adorned with the remaining ribs, cracked and splayed like old fingernails.

And in this dramatic yet mundane spot, I spent my day. The sun rose, and the sun set. A cold silent street, randomly speckled with red pieces in the snow, devoid of people, activity, and life, except for the soldiers who remained to secure the scene for the bomb experts. The only other visitors to our grim vigil were gaunt dogs who, smelling the fresh meat on the wind, came to steal a meal from the bones of the bomber. 

The silence of this morbid scene was finally broken at sunset by gunshots, and the horrible yelps of a dog caught sniffing around the bomber's head. Shot but not yet dead, the dog was howling as it cursed the irony of locating food, only to die from its lucky find.   

Up until this moment, I had spent my day staring at parts of the human body normally hidden from view. I had poked at a large sheet of flesh, covered in goose bumps from laying flat in the cold snow. I had spent twenty minutes within the kill radius of a car that was reported to be loaded with explosives. None of this distressed me in the slightest.

But this dog's continued cries, echoing off the cold and silent market place, hit me like an emotional bomb. They were as painful and solemn as any noise I've ever heard. It's what bothered me the most about today.

Comments

Yeah. It's funny how u can maintain for just so long. Then something, someone, says, does, happens, doesn't happen, and it all turns to squat.

You might get to where, "It don't mean nothin. . ." It does, it might later, but I, you, we, can't afford to let it. You're in a world where everything, everybody, everywhere is a potential threat, a potential danger.

Like the old joke, the bad news is; You'll probably live through it. I know that sounds awful. My kids say I laugh at the damdest things, still.

Vet centers helped some, but I didn't fit the classic profile and they got a one-size-fits-all approach. Yep, the bad news is you'll probably live through it and come back with a great big load in your psychological pants.

I mean, I understand perfectly why those bits were fascinating. I had to stand watch over a guy who was too stupid to know he was dead. In the morgue, the body cooled, and writhed, and moved, and banged the gurney while I had the mid-watch.

I cannot yet recall a more beautiful dawn over that jungle. Or a more warming experience when the relief guys played a joke on me. I mean, it was a stupid joke, but it wasn't about the dead guy, it was about a goat penned up nearby.

Most folks cannot even conceive a medical station with a perimeter wire 20yds away, a morgue with refrigeration and a goat pen. It's all too fantastic.

So, hey, I'm reaching out here. But I haven't been through your war, but I have been through mine. It's the same, at the core, but different in the details.

Sounds like you're handling it just fine.

Sincerely

Richard

Your experience is riveting. It is frightening to see what the human mind can "get used to". Why are stories like this not front page news? I can understand (from my limited life experience) how it would be possible to ignore the horror of the body parts and be more touched by the yelping of a feral dog. God bless you in your life...one step at a time.

The grin is totally normal after something like that. Maybe it's relief, who knows? But it's something that happens. So is the curious reaction to body parts. Who knows why? Does everything have to have an articulate explanation? Maybe we don't have words for some things. And perhaps the lack of self-perserving fear was due to the intensity of the experience. The sorrow over the dog makes sense, too. Maybe you'd had enough for the day.

An excellently written description of an awful experience. Your grin is totally understandable, as is the trigger of the dog's howling. That you can articulate this so clearly bodes well for your long-term well-being. That said, give yourself a break tomorrow even if it's just extra sugar or ten more mnutes in a warm spot.

Oh my, what an experience for you, and for us since it seemed like we were there with you... Sometimes, I think the best way to deal with things is to just put them into words... I think your reactions were normal for the circumstance you found yourself in... God be with you, stay safe and continue to put it all into words...

I am not honestly certain I could bear the suffering of the dog. God love you.

I don't think 'get used to' is the correct term. Perhaps 'block out' is better.
Please be safe.
Chriso

It was a horrific situation and yet I can fully understand the lack of emotion at the piecemeal bomber who wrought havoc on the ANA soldiers. And I certainly understand, as one who has spent many years owned by a dog, at this being the spigot for overwhelming emotion. I guess I cannot imagine why the dog was shot. The dog was innocent and the bomber deserved that one last, final and ignoble act from a world he had ravaged.

Stay safe Tupper; God bless and keep you.

What Richard said. Yup. LZ Andy outside Quan Loi, August of 69. We knew it was coming. Had been up several nights waiting for it. Bunch of firebases and LZ's hit at the same time.

Starting around 3 am, rockets, mortars, RPG's, small arms, sappers through the wire, taking out bunkers on the Green Line, then onto the airstrip taking out helicopters. Drove off the follow-up NVA infantry attack, leaving a hundred or so dead in the wire, and inside/outside as well. Sheridans firing flechette into the wire did incredible damage.

Took my jeep, loudspeaker, and interpreter out early in the morning as the sun was coming up, looking for wounded NVA and other survivors to talk surrendering.

Parts. Everywhere. Bits 'n pieces. At one point had to warn driver away from driving over a head, only to drive over some other, unidentified large organ. Wounded NVA in a culvert wouldn't surrender, took him out with a grenade.

And after all was said and done, gore fully viewed and appreciated, went back to my hooch and had an enormous C-ration meal. Whaddaya gonna do? Man's gotta eat. Just wish it hadn't been C-rats!

You'll get over it. Just takes a while.

A long while. Nice, though. Nothing really grosses you out ever after!

You're thoughts really resonated with me. My nephew was here on leave from the Baghdad area. He said the thing he was the most tired of was to have to "scoop up body parts off the street on a daily basis." When you've been observing this for two years of your life (yet feels like 10 years)one has to ask many questions. Stay safe; you're always in my thoughts, and I'll do all that I can here to share you're experiences as best I can with others so that we can find a solution to what you're going through.

i cant say i understand or yes don't worry that you or any of your fellow brother and sister soldiers will "get over" what you have seen or what will be the next experience horrible or good that will happen, but for you to describe what is happening there with you i can only say "god bless you" for sharing it with those who hang onto every word"like me" and want to understand what our soliders are facing every day. I can only pray for you soldier Tupper and all your fellow soldiers and i wish that all people back here at home who treasure their freedom and can go anywhere without looking over their backs in fear of what is around the corner can say thank god i can live "FREE" and not have to be living where you and your brother and sister soldiers are for whatever the reason. godspeed. please keep writing.

I love a good snow storm. It always helps to settle my mind and allow me some peaceful thoughts.

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