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.

TIMES ARE CHANGING |

February 05, 2008

TIMES ARE CHANGING
Name: SPC Beaird
Posting date: 2/5/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: allexpensespaidafghanvacation

Things have been pretty busy around here lately. Missions and QRF have been keeping us quite active, and there's lots to do organizing mounds of clothes and gear to figure out the final packing list heading home and getting our footlockers ready to ship. And in the free time I have had I’ve been extremely lazy and tried to sleep as much as possible. It helps the down times go by that much faster.

Among the many things that you see or think about differently while on a deployment is the weather and seasons. Being here forces you to look at those things from a new perspective and for new purposes. Each change is vivid and noticeable.

I arrived in Afghanistan at the end of March. The mountains still had snow on their caps, and much of the terrain was green from a spring bloom. We were told both by our higher ups and by the news that the Taliban was mounting a “spring offensive” and we were coming in at the kick-off point. As the warming weather melted the snow in the mountain passes it would free up routes used by the bad guys coming from Pakistan, who are supposedly just seasonal fighters. Though this year was the most violent year yet in Afghanistan, the spring offensive was over-hyped, and not as intense as we expected.

In the summertime the 120 degree heat is amplified ten-fold when you add in having to wear your $6,000 worth of gear that weighs 60-70 pounds. Somehow you sweat so much even the cover on the outside of your helmet gets a sweat stain. With the scorching temps, most all of the green in the land withered away and turned brown with the exception of areas closest to rivers. The heat and lack of any rain was a perfect recipe for stirring up a fine moon-dust that would always seem to coat everything.

A lot of the crops in the summer were full grown, making it easy cover for someone trying to hide from us. Is that guy ducking down in the field just tending to his crops, taking a piss, or is he prepping the trigger device for an IED with your name on it?

The fall became harvest season and the tall crops came down, making it easier for us to scan an area.

Winter came seemingly overnight, and more concealing landscaping was taken away as many of the trees in the river valley shed their leaves. Winter also brought back snow to some of the mountains, and reminded us that time is moving on and seasons are changing and we’re that much closer to heading home. As the temperatures drop, the locals layer up their clothing to stay warm. These bulkier clothes, however, make it seem easier to hide weapons or a suicide vest underneath. Now you have to look extra hard when scanning people for being suspicious, because a dude with a big puffy jacket that may be hiding a suicide vest doesn’t stick out in a crowd like he used to during the summer, when the choice of clothing is much lighter.

Typically the “transient Taliban” take a vacation in the winter and head back to Pakistan before it gets too cold and the routes they use become snowed in. However, there are plenty of local bad guys in just about every province in the country to keep us busy with ongoing activity. The unit we replaced lost a couple people in the winter months last year, so we know all too well to keep our guard up and that it’s not really over till it’s over and we’re stepping on that chopper out of here.

Towards the end of winter comes the rainy season. During the past month we’ve had more rain than we’d seen the entire time up until then. Heavy rains also tend to bring a lot of flooding, erosion, and the washing up of old mines, grenades, and sub-munitions from the Soviet era, giving us lots to do with the task of getting rid of them. (One mission that was originally planned for picking up one of these, turned into finding three total, placing them all together and having our EOD guys wire up a nice little demolition explosion.)* The rainy season also means less air traffic with choppers, with longer layover times between bases, and the mail doesn’t come as often.

The changing seasons means shortening and lengthening of daylight hours, and the illumination of the moon comes into play also. You acutely notice the changing times of sunrise and sunset when there is a complete light blackout policy on your FOB outside any building at night. Am I going to need my flashlight just to go to the chow hall or latrine tonight? Does the bright moonlight mean I need to stay extra alert tonight for that mission? The bad guys like to work more on the nights when the moon is close to full.

Being here forces you to analyze and notice your surroundings differently.

*Speaking of explosions, here's a video I call "Boom". Enjoy.

Comments

My significant other will love the video with perfect music. He is a retired Army combat engineer who would love to be blowing those things up! God speed for a safe trip home.

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