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.


February 13, 2008

Name: MSGT Ken Mahoy
Posting date: 2/13/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Third Time's A Charm

Some days I really love my job. We can moan and complain all we want about the living conditions here, the weather, the absence of most amenities we enjoy back in the states, much less the fact that there is an element of danger living here, but every now and then there are weeks when you realize why you’re here. This week was one of those.

It is easy to forget sometimes that there is still a war going on, if you are not here. The lion’s share of what I do each and every day you never hear about because, well, it’s boring. At least I think so. But also because it’s just not the sort of thing that most people want to hear about. We are a society -- scratch that -- a country that’s fed up with the War on Terror, and while most support those of us who are serving their country, most don’t want to hear the details of what actually goes on in Afghanistan, Iraq and abroad. It was also my choice not to brow-beat the war efforts into any of you reading my posts. But allow me this rare instance to speak a little about what an average day is like for me here when I’m “working".

I have set hours that I am supposed to be “in the office” so-to-speak, but we all kind of chuckle at that posted schedule because we are always there before, during, and after our posted hours. Case in point, I worked 21 hours yesterday, slept four hours, and then worked 19 hours today (I really should be in bed now!).

My days typically begin around 5 am with a quick check of email after putting on my uniform, and then the usual cold jaunt across the compound to the chow hall to get breakfast. A quick cappuccino on my way out, and off to the Comm Shack I go.

I am considered a “maintenance group” guy and I am the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) of the other enlisted “maintenance” guys here. Our day began with a problem for the “operations” guys in the command post (called the CJOC –- Combined Joint Operations Center), and when I went to respond to it, there was a TIC (Troops In Contact -– basically our troops were in a firefight) going on to the east. We couldn’t scramble any aircraft out to help them by providing close air support, because the systems I support were not working. Sparing you the details, the “fix” was dependent upon another admin from another unit elsewhere on base fixing the server I had no access to. That required me to go to the “helpdesk” and ask for their assistance.

In my years in this business, and especially through my past deployments, I’ve learned that there are times when you can't be the "nice guy", and have to be a thorn in someone’s side to get the desired results you want -– if  there is a sufficient emergency to warrant it. This was one such occasion.

I went to the helpdesk, cut in line past four other people -- much to their chagrin -- and explained my situation. The answer I got back was, “You’ll have to wait, they don’t come into work until 11:30.”

Heh heh...What followed was a heated conversation with a fellow Master Sergeant that I’m not particularly proud of, but he quickly got a new sense of urgency and heeded my demands that he get “what’s-his-name” out of bed -- NOW! –- and get him in here to fix this problem. “Ummm. Okay. I’ll send someone to get him.”

“No! YOU will go get him now and then come find me at the ASOC desk in the CJOC!” I replied. (Okay, so I was a little hot under the collar. But our guys in the field were in a firefight, with no help, and this guy is moaning about having to wake someone up to help? Come on!)

Soon, “what’s-his-name” was in. He fumbled around for ten minutes and then determined that he didn’t know how to fix the problem. What?! He then told me that there was one other person who could fix it but she was not there either. Well what do you think happened next? (*grin* -- any takers?) Yep, I made him wake her up as well.

While she was working on the problem, I went to do what I could back in the CJOC. Scotti had just left to go to bed after yet another double-shift (like he’s been doing for the past week). He'd been trying to get a system working which provides a Predator feed (an unmanned aerial vehicle that flies over and provides reconnaissance video to us) back to the CJOC. After fighting night and day for a week he had finally just got this system working, and went to bed exhausted, knowing that he had accomplished what he set out to do.

Less than 30 minutes after he left, one of our CH-47 Chinook helicopters crash-landed east of here. We were immediately able to get a video of the downed chopper up on the large screen on the wall so that we could direct efforts to scramble aircraft to protect it, send another Blackhawk and Apache helo’ out to provide support, and send an A-team out as well to provide security as they rescued the 13 people that were on that helo’.

Without the Predator feed that Scotti got working none of this would have been possible. And he slept through the whole thing! But he while he slept off the exhaustion of the past week, he helped save the lives of four crew members and nine very grateful  passengers.

As the day went on, we had four or five other TICs that we responded to, and I had various other computer system “glitches”, which always appear as a result of a new team coming in to work. Call it “turnover terror” if you will. There are only so many things an outgoing unit can tell us in three or four days' time, so all these “glitches” were ones they had experienced as well but just forgot to tell us about, or didn’t have an answer for.

Ugh. I ran around from office to office, compound to compound all day throughout these emergencies to finally come to a point where I was almost done with my double-shift as well. Then we had Italian and German military guys come to the Comm Shack, upset because they'd destroyed one of their satellite antenna cables. We didn’t have a spare one to give them, so we soldered and repaired it for them.

Later that night we had a scheduled outage of our satellite to upgrade our bandwidth. It was using modems, terminals, GPS clocks and other equipment that we’ve never even seen before, much less used. What was supposed to be a two-hour downtime ended up taking five hours, but we accomplished in one attempt what the preceding unit hadn't been able to figure out in three previous attempts over the course of the entire year they were here in Afghanistan!

A couple days ago we made national news because of a TIC we maintained that lasted for over 21 hours with no lives lost. Today we simultaneously controlled aircraft for five TICs, one of which lasted for over 20 hours.

Anyway, I am not saying all of this to put a feather in our cap. I am just really proud of the guys here and the job they have been doing and continue to do. It’s the sort of thing that reminds you why you chose the military and why you love what you do. We’ve had little time to get spun up on what the outgoing unit left for us, but despite that fact, I can comfortably say “We are in the zone!”


Did I read this correctly that you can't provide air support when you have troops in contact with the enemy unless you have a goddamned computer working?????
That may be Army strong but it's not very Army smart!!

Thank you for a great discription of the part you & several others are playing over there! I have often wondered just what some of you do. Although I agree at least a bit with Dennis W about the computer dependence, there are probably aspects of that about which we are unaware.

Fascinating piece on what "modern" warfare can consist of. But for the guys in the TIC, it must have been just like contact in Vietnam, Korea, WWII, etc: Too hot/cold, dirty, scary, hungry, tired, . . .

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