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.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS |

March 25, 2008

UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Name: SPC Beaird
Posting date: 3/25/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: All Expenses Paid Afghan Vacation

Framed_beaird_unfinished_him_3 We’re getting into the stages of "last time doing this", "last time doing that" and so on now. I can’t believe it’s almost all over. Some of the days seem painfully slow, but looking at large blocks of time it has gone by quickly.

It seems like just at the end is when things have started getting good around here. The gym has been completely renovated, the weather has warmed up to being perfect, and a new aviation unit is in country with a lot more assets than the last one -- meaning we have air support and escorts flying overhead on a lot of missions now. Just the other week one of our trucks was able to return fire on a baddie position (very small small incident with just a few shots). There was even a brief upturn in the chow hall; I saw chicken nuggets for the first time in a year, and they actually tasted pretty decent.

It’s definitely a big boost on the awesome scale and confidence level to have a couple helicopters flying overhead while out on mission in case anything kicks off. They can see a lot that we can’t and are able to be a forward recon, relaying what’s ahead and providing a lot of firepower if we need it. I only wish we had seen them around earlier in our deployment. Nothing happened with any type of enemy contact for those missions, but I kind of wish it had, so we could rock their world. Yes I’m crazy, in case you were wondering.

I can’t believe how quickly it has warmed up. Just a few weeks ago it snowed for a couple hours in the morning, and now it feels like we are back into the 70s during the day. The last couple missions I went on I broke a sweat for the first time in a long while. Part of this was due to the warmer weather and partly because they were dismount missions.

Actually I don’t think they would classify as real dismount missions, considering we were only walking to a few buildings which were right outside our base. But since they were still technically “outside the wire”, we still had to suit up in full battle rattle to escort our big wigs and CA* reps to go carry out their meetings. It was nice to go out for once and not be stuck in the turret, standing in a little three foot diameter circle for a whole mission. I miss my days as a GIB* when I’d dismount on missions.

Framed_beaird_unfinished_kids_3 One of the missions was to provide security while one of our PRT* officers answered questions during a live radio interview in which locals could call in. The kids from the nearby villages came out as usual looking for any handouts. But as my fellow PRT member Desert Dude said, you get hounded so much by the kids that you learn to save your generosity for the ones that look like they really need it, or the ones that are the least annoying. I gave a couple water bottles to a little boy and girl who were herding a big group of sheep around. I found out they were cousins. They must not have been more than 10 years old, though guessing age can be hard, as people seem to age much quicker here. Even the kids' faces show the hard life they live, with the wrinkles and wear and tear of a person twice their age.

While waiting for the interview and meeting to finish, I chatted up one of the workers of the radio station. He actually spoke English really well, almost as good as some of our terps. I had a good time talking a bit of politics with him, as he listens to some of the election news from the States. He runs his own show on the radio, playing music and also teaching a bit of English on the air to listeners. You learn something new every day. When he told me he was only 18 years old I was surprised again, thinking he looked 25 or 26.

You may wonder how I could want or hope for a TIC (troops in contact) or a firefight, and think I’m nuts. Well I probably am. I guess anybody would have to be somewhat nuts to join the Army while there are two large scale wars going on -- and choose to be in the infantry. But even through all the shit this year, I can’t help feeling like I’ll be leaving with some unfinished business. I never got to shoot off a slew of rounds returning fire on an enemy position. Maybe I’m immature or naive to think this way, and maybe I’m better off not having that memory from this deployment, who knows. But I think if you haven't been in this type of environment, you would never understand.

Imagine going out on countless missions, sitting behind your crew serve weapon of the day -- MK19 or .50 Cal with an M4 on the side and a pistol on your hip, a massive amount of firepower at your fingertips -- with this view:

Framed_beaird_unfinished_gun_3

Now imagine seeing a couple of IED ambushes go off in your convoy, one of which killed Browning, then the bad guys start shooting some small arms fire. Or on other occasions being mortared and rocketed at your outpost, or waking up in the middle of the night to the FOB being shot at, and manning a fighting position on the wall for two hours looking for another hit. But with each of those incidents you never once get a positive ID on the bad guys, on where the triggerman is, or where the small amount of AK or PKM fire is coming from -- just enough fire to piss you off, but not enough to let you pinpoint where they are.

Just one of those times I wish I could have seen a muzzle flash or somebody with a weapon so it would not have been only a one-way live firing range but a two-way. I didn’t come here feeling that strongly about this, but when you take enough sucker punches from cowards who hit you and run, you wish the bad guys would stick around just long enough for you to get eyes on them and return fire. But that’s the way these wars are. At times it feels like we’re fighting ghosts.

The majority of the times we’ve gone out nothing much has happened. Mostly life here has been pretty boring. Missions were mostly just a whole lot of sitting in my turret providing security for an area while our CA or engineer reps did their thing in meetings or on project assessments. And the few times something has happened when I’ve been out, I never even got to fire a single shot. Some guys on our FOB* have had the luxury of doing that, and I wish I could say the same.

On my last day in Afghanistan I’m hoping my platoon will start a big round of celebratory fire, like they do in the scene at the end of Jarhead, spewing bursts of bullets into the air, letting out all the bent up aggression and burning up all the ammo we never got to shoot. But I’m not holding my breath...

I’m ready to head home, but I can’t help but feel like I’m leaving with some unfinished business.

*
CA: Civil Affairs
GIB: guy in back
PRT: Provisional Reconstruction Team
FOB: Forward Operating Base

Comments

I can emphathise. Figure red dirt, jungle, nobody there, the bullet hits before you hear the sound, and nobody fired it. No contact, no joy, no body.

Yeah, harrassment is the goal. No, they're not going to do anything suicidal -- well mebbe here, they might -- like standing up. Cowards? I dunno. Your M4 and sidearm equals the firepower of a Dub2 rifle squad. Would you stand in front of a pissed off soldier with that firepower available?

But hey, last day, bust those caps. Even if you did get to fire at a target, you might spend the rest of your life wondering if you'd killed someone.

It looks like they've called open grunt season in Iraq, so the 'Stan is cool for now. Man, it just never is like in the movies, is it? Hope your tour is boring, uneventful, and safe.

I know, I know. It's hard to get War just right.

I hate to read "the last this", "the last that" and I hope you are being super-careful of yourself and your buddies. This may be superstition, but it's way too often "the last whatever" when guys get hurt or worse. Take it easy out there, please!!!

I work at a CSH in Iraq...and what's worse than not being able to kill the enemy? It's having to take care of them...bring them back to life...with their eyes bound, as you watch another black bag zip and tears streaming down grown men's faces or multiple young men coming in with extremities missing and still being more worried about how their friends are doing.

I have 4 months left and I know I'll leave with unfinished business b/c my mission will always be to save lives and not take them. Talk about a sad reality...or maybe I'm just crazy too.

Stay safe...

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