The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.

GETTING SHOT AT |

February 09, 2007

GETTING SHOT AT
Name: B.C.
Posting date: 2/9/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: FLORIDA

From an email I sent home:

I'm still at Firebase Snake, which is a cool-sounding name for a small group of ramshackle brick buildings and a Hesco wall tucked in a river valley somewhere in Uruzgan province. I can't talk specifics, but there aren't a whole lot of Americans here, and our only link to friendly forces is by air, due to the bad roads and worse people who control them. I'm working on month eight of this deployment, and I've been on plenty of patrols, but getting shot at is a relatively new experience for me. Since this is an experience most of you will never have (and I'm thankful for that), I'll do my best to describe the sights, sounds, and feelings of a gunfight for you.

Usually we have some kind of heads-up that the bad guys are around, so things haven't started in a surprise fashion for me, but even when you know it's coming the first shots are startling. The most prominent thing about a battle is the noise -- it is ungodly loud. Think of the loudest war movie sequence you've ever seen, and multiply that until it would make your ears bleed. Literally. One of our interpreter's ears were bleeding after this last one -- he wasn't wearing ear protection. I wear a radio headset that also acts as hearing protection, and without it I'd be stone deaf right now.

Guns make a distinctly different sound when they are pointed at you -- sharper and higher pitched. Bullets make a zip noise that's tough to describe, but it isn't like the movies either. You can sort of judge how close they get by the sound and intensity of that noise. Recently, as I was in the open rear-facing seat of a humvee, fighting started up at the front of the convoy. We were towards the back and couldn't see the engagement in front of us, and weren't taking any fire from the left, where it started from. Within a short time, I start hearing zzziip, zzziip. I look around in confusion, because I didn't hear any shots. The zips continue, and I still don't hear anything, so I yell to the guy up front, "Hey Larry, I think someone's shooting at me." It sounded so ridiculous I still want to laugh about it, but I didn't at the time because we figured out where it was coming from when the truck behind us got raked down its right side. So everyone swings right and lets loose on some mud compounds and trees just across the river. I never saw the guy or guys, and that's often the case, but the shooting stopped and we moved on.

Everyone's least favorite noise is that lovable RPG sound. Rocket-propelled grenades suck -- there's a whooshing sound and then a terrific BOOM when they hit. Thank God that the Taliban can't shoot worth a damn. Artillery, on the other hand, is such a beautiful noise, since we know it's ours. Of course, I'm partial to it by profession, but it makes a pleasing jet sound or low whistle when it goes over your head, depending on the angle, fuse, etc. etc. etc., and then a satisfying "crump" when it hits. Explosiony goodness and hot metal action for the bad guys. It must be terrifying for them, but I don't care.

Aerial bombs are incredibly loud -- the noise is a lot sharper than an artillery round, and more intense, but it's short. There isn't some multi-syllabic "kaboom," it's just every pot and pan in your kitchen hitting the floor simultaneously, and then stopping. The gun from an A-10 is really cool -- you hear dozens of almost simultaneous little booms when the rounds hit, and then a few seconds later you actually hear the gun fire with a low-pitched "brrrrrrrrrrrp." There's lots of yelling and radio traffic too. So, mash all of that stuff together and mix it in with the occasional bout of eerie quiet, and you have the soundtrack to a bad time.

The sights are captured a little better by movies such as Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan. There aren't huge fireballs from weapon muzzles; it's just a little bit of smoke and dust in the daytime. People in the distance are just little black dots with legs running, or peeking over a ledge at you. Bomb and artillery explosions are mostly dust and smoke as well, and they kick up a haze that lingers in the air with smoke from the inevitable fires. Mud houses don't really burn, but there are hay piles and other flammables aplenty. Airburst munitions provide a little more of a flash, but it's muted in comparison to some TV-show imagining.

You see some crazy things sometimes, like an idiot civilian woman with a herd of kids walking them right across the valley where the enemy is trading fire with us. They're lucky someone took the time to notice they weren't combatants, and we placed ourselves at greater risk by not shooting in their direction despite the enemy. There is the ubiquitous livestock presence too. I feel bad for those animals; they're tied up and can't run away, and some are inevitably hurt. Somehow this brown cow managed to make it through the crossfire untouched. It was amazing. I wanted to ask it, "How now?"

The feelings involved: I can't speak for anyone else, but mine are usually stark fear, adrenaline, and excitement. Fear is very uncomfortable, like you had lead pancakes for breakfast. Four-letter expressions are quite common. Oddly, there's a good bit of laughter and joking too, often after a near miss, along the lines of "Oh shit, that was close. Hahaha." Gotta break the tension, I suppose. When it's over and done (and we're all in one piece), elation: "I am still here, and he is not." Then, bone-weariness and an urgent need to pee. I looked at my watch, and six hours had passed in what seemed like the longest five minutes of my life. I was a little woozy from 3,000 rounds of .50 cal being fired next to my head, but otherwise fine.

I debated not mentioning this topic at all, to keep you guys from worrying, but I think you're better served by knowing what goes on and what it feels like, and how truly terrible it is. Hawkish behavior is the realm of people who haven't done this before.

Comments

BC - There is no way, really, to describe combat to someone who has never experienced it. The only thing I know is what it IS; it's not "like" anything else. Your phrase "I am still here, and he is not." fully describes my feeling after firefights in Vietnam. Sometimes it might also be described as "I'm alive and he's dead and that's the way I wanted it to be." (To paraphrase Robert Heinlein's Lazarus Long.)

Stay safe.

Thanks for your afirming what I have thought for a long time. 'War is hell' I have watched 'Blackhawk Down' and 'Saving Private Ryan' at least a dozen times each just to remind me what I really hate about war. I have now added 'Pork Chop Hill' to my must see list. I appreciate what you are doing, although I hate your having to do it. Keep your head down.

When I try to imagine the intensity of what you all face each day, I will now think of your words. And pray that you and all those serving in our country stay as safe as possible in your situation.

Thank you for "mentioning" this topic. If everyone would read more of what the troops are facing, there wouldn't be so much stupid conversation going on. War isn't romantic.

Very good post and descriptive

one reason I joined AF and not ground pounders like my brother.

Thanks for writing this. This is a good (and important) education for me. I always wonder what it's like for you guys out there facing that kind of real danger; what the sound of 'lethal' is like. Your blog begins to give me some clue (and set straight those TV/Movie versions).

Indeed, stay well.

Thank you very much for your post. In my verison of a perfect world, the actual combatants would be those who make the decision to start the war. I want a world where people cannot be forced into hurting eachother, or profit in any way from harm done to others. I realize that that that the probabilty of all of us learning to say "no" at the same time is low, but it is an answer to a problem that is considered insoluble. Don't worry about us worrying. If we worry more, perhaps you will have less to worry about. I wish for you the very best of luck!

Been there....done that, WWII, ETO....and I don't like it either. Too bad the desk jockey war hawks, haven't. Keep your head down and God bless.

Vivid description and especially important to know and remember that those sounds become etched in our memory. So good that you're 'talking' about it since that's the stuff that keeps coming back in the form of PTS. Take care!

Excellent writing! PLEASE keep sharing your experiences. That's why we read blogs, so we can understand better, appreciate what our people go through. I like the image of lead pancakes. And as Dee mentioned, perhaps writing about it, talking about it, will help. You all are in our thoughts and prayers.

very intense

Very nice writing and fighting, thank you. I recommend reading "The Afghan Campaign " by Steven Pressfield. A veteran of the area would appreciate it more than most. I did and no one ever sent me to Afghanistan, but I would go if they did. Take care out there.

Its nice to here you discribe what it is like,mabye if more veterans told their stories the rest of us would better understand a litte of what it is really like.stay safe. peace.

As a 20 year old volunteer myself. Serving in the Army: C-Troop 3/4 Cav. 25th Inf. Div. . During 1974-1978. We trained with the ut-most vigor as anyone your age. I was trained during the pull-out period of Vietnam, seeing no action.

It is reading your words. I'm able to see and feel your days or war, as if they were my days of wars in which I trained for and never used. Back in the 1970's.

Feel safe in knowing you do have all of us who have served during the peace time and war time. Have your back.

Keep on with your writings for us to read.


Stange way this story had inpact on me... We were riding in the country and there were two brown cows, one sitting under the tree, and I instantly thought of your experiece... Those cows are like us at home, absolutly no clue what its like, going about our busy lives... But that little reminder keeps me remembering, and I always send a prayer your way... Be Safe... God Bless...

Very accurate description of the sights, sounds and feelings associated with combat and your line regarding "Hawkish Behavior" is right on th emoney and reminded me of a often used phrase from the Vietnam Era that went: "FOR THOSE WHO FIGHT FOR IT FREEDOM/LIFE HAS A FLAVOR THE PROTECTED WILL NEVER KNOW".
Semper Fi & Stay Safe!

"Hawkish behavior is the realm of people who haven't done this before." An eloquent phrase I plan to remember and use. Please post again. All of us wish you well.

Damned good description B.C. took me back 39 years to TET 68 among other events. Can hardly hear yourself think, but the training kicks in, and you usually do the right thing.
Great job son, give the bad guys hell and stay safe.

Wow. Mark Twain wrote, "War stories by those who have been through it are always more astounding". Thanks, BC, for your really articulate account.. makes me frightened and yet proud to know that there's a lot of "Good Guys" trying hard to take care of bizness over there. I hope we can take care of YOU from this end. Stay safe.

I tried to discourage my son in getting into the ARMY,but I guess there was no stopping him. He was downrange for a while and found out why it takes a lot to startle me with loud sounds.And being responsible for 11 men, his actions made me a proud parent and proud of you men. Stay safe guys.

Your last comment, "Hawkish behavior is the realm of people who haven't done this before." rings so true. Think about Cheney and Bush's record.

Peter- C.I.B., Purple Heart, in '68 and '69

Right now my gun collection right now is mostly just Eastern Block Military peices. I love them all, and have lots of fun shooting them, however none of them are terribly valuable. I do have a few slightly more valuable peices such as a Browning Challenger III, a Ruger GP100, and a Ruger P89, and a Remington 870 Express Magnum 12 Gauge. I'd like to add a few more collectable and valuable guns to my collection, but I'd like some suggestions.

What a sorry state of affairs. When PJs was launched in 1994 as Pete & Johnny's it was the first smoothie in the UK; and probably in Europe. However, another post showed how a lack of innovation and brand development allowed innocent, launched 4 years later, to take over and grow to a 72% share, leaving PJs with a lowly 13%.

http://www.safemeds.com/viagra/online.html

http://www.safemeds.com/viagra/generic.html

Excellent writing! PLEASE keep sharing your experiences. That's why we read blogs, so we can understand better, appreciate what our people go through. I like the image of lead pancakes. And as Dee mentioned, perhaps writing about it, talking about it, will help. You all are in our thoughts and prayers.

Thank you very much for your post. In my verison of a perfect world, the actual combatants would be those who make the decision to start the war. I want a world where people cannot be forced into hurting eachother, or profit in any way from harm done to others. I realize that that that the probabilty of all of us learning to say "no" at the same time is low, but it is an answer to a problem that is considered insoluble. Don't worry about us worrying. If we worry more, perhaps you will have less to worry about. I wish for you the very best of luck!

When I try to imagine the intensity of what you all face each day, I will now think of your words. And pray that you and all those serving in our country stay as safe as possible in your situation.

Stange way this story had inpact on me... We were riding in the country and there were two brown cows, one sitting under the tree, and I instantly thought of your experiece... Those cows are like us at home, absolutly no clue what its like, going about our busy lives... But that little reminder keeps me remembering, and I always send a prayer your way... Be Safe... God Bless... steroids

Stange way this story had inpact on me... We were riding in the country and there were two brown cows, one sitting under the tree, and I instantly thought of your experiece... Those cows are like us at home, absolutly no clue what its like, going about our busy lives... But that little reminder keeps me remembering, and I always send a prayer your way... Be Safe... God Bless.

I want to encourage one to continue your great posts, have a nice holiday weekend!

I tried to discourage my son in getting into the ARMY,but I guess there was no stopping him. He was downrange for a while and found out why it takes a lot to startle me with loud sounds.And being responsible for 11 men, his actions made me a proud parent and proud of you men. Stay safe guys.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c5f3053ef00d834e2960353ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference GETTING SHOT AT:

« Previous Article | Main | Next Article »




Search Doonesbury Sandbox Blog

LINKS


About

My Photo

FEATURED BOOK