BACK FROM A BRUTAL MISSION |
May 28, 2008
BACK FROM A BRUTAL MISSION
Name: Adrian B.
Posting date: 5/28/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: The Satirist at War
Two dramatic events from my most recent Operation bear remarking on. The first is that I was part of a rout involving a Battalion-minus element from an ally that will remain nameless. The second concerns a series of incidents that occured on a mountaintop somewhere in Eastern Afghanistan. The picture is of me on that mountaintop,not long before the first of those incidents. I'm looking to the South, and I don't like what I see.
For OPSEC reasons, I can't go too far into detail with either, but we'll begin with the rout. For those of you who have never imagined a rout, or read of another's imagining, a rout occurs when two elements clash, one is soundly defeated, and runs away without concern for anything, anything, but getting to safety. The other element is then left in sole possession of the battlefield.
You remember the child's game "King of the Hill," when that one fat kid got up to the top, and pushed everyone down until he was the King? It's not like that. That's defeat: You want to go back up there, but you know you're going to get pushed down again.
A more appropriate analogy would be when you were playing baseball by Old Man Collins' place, and someone hit a screamer through his living room window. Everyone dropped what they're doing and scattered, as quickly and far as possible. The terror of being caught, the rush of bodies away from getting your a** tanned, that's what fuels a complete rout.
I was with a Battalion-sized element of not-American soldiers in a village with strong insurgent activity. We handed out some HA*, got some Shura* action in, did a bit of engaging of Village Elders, and, on the way out, decided to split up. My element went South, and the Battalion went North.
We were supposed to link up at a nearby Madrassa. We conducted our part of the movement, but just as we were pulling up at the Madrassa, there was a boom, a machinegun began chattering away somewhere to the East, and the next thing I knew I was surrounded by allied soldiers streaming westward. Running, speeding by in 5-tons and Hilux trucks, screaming away from whatever contact had clearly terrified each and every one of them.
Leading the charge was the Battalion Commander, a short, belligerent chap who saw death, wanted no part of it, and decided discretion was the better part of valor, his soldiers be damned. I was almost struck by a Hilux*, then again by a 5-ton careening wildly through the woods. It was chaos. Three hundred meters to my West, where the road turned, I saw a traffic jam of allied vehicles trying to get away from the contact, and one lonely MRAP fighting its way East to my position.
So myself and another MRAP headed East, and eventually were followed by two more MRAPs. Heading into certain contact, with people running in the opposite direction on every side, was one of the strangest but most excellent experiences of my life. I remembered a scene in The Empire Strikes Back where the snow-speeders move in to take out one of those giant "Imperial Walkers," while the routed rebel army flees away from certain destruction. We secured the Eastern Flank, and, our rear safe, over the next two hours were able to rally the shattered forces, gathering them up over some five kilometers.
The second incident, or series of incidents, occurred on a mountaintop overlooking three insurgent-friendly villages. The actors here were myself, an Artillery Captain, a Reservist NCO Medic, a terp, and 30... uh... allied soldiers. A Platoon's worth.
"On a mountaintop" means one hour from the nearest reinforcements, so you'd think that pulling security would have been at or near the top of everyone's priority list, what with the insurgents and all. Well, myself and the Artillery Captain were the only ones in full kit until I reminded the Medic that we weren't in Kansas anymore, at which point he donned his body armor and helmet. Meanwhile, the 30 soldiers were drinking tea, sleeping, wandering away from their equipment (it is surreal to "walk the line" and discover three rucksacks, an AK-47, a Draganov, and an RPG-7 with spare rounds, look around, and not a soul in sight), and generally screwing off, save for four, who were diligently pulling guard.
I'm not saying that everyone should always be pulling guard. But on a mountaintop, alone, without hope of reinforcements? I don't know; one can only do so much, suggest so often, before one is reminded that it's three against thirty. When people don't like being told what to do, there isn't much one can do. So we established guard shifts for the night, I took first watch, followed by the Captain, then the Sergeant opted for the last one. "Wake everyone up at 0400 local, for stand-to," I said. "That way we can be ready to move locations at first light if we need to." An enthusiastic "Wilco!" was the reply I received.
My shift raced by under the glare of a beautiful full moon that filled me with anxiety that we'd be attacked and overrun, then it was the Artillery Captain's turn. Off I went to my position, to sleep fitfully among the jagged rocks. Next thing I know it's 0420 local, and the sun's rising. I throw on my kit, grab my rifle, and walk, as calmly as I can, over to the radio where someone should be pulling guard. There's the Medic, stretched out in his fartsack, sawing logs. I woke him up, perhaps a bit more rudely than I would have under different circumstances.
"I'm so sorry, sir, I swear it won't happen again," he said, after a bit of instruction on why it's important not to fall asleep during guard shift when one is alone on a mountaintop. He would not be pulling radio guard with me around ever again. I couldn't sleep secure at night for two days afterwards, nodding off during the day when exhaustion was too much.
I heard that the Battalion Commander who, like Sir Robin of Monty Python fame had "bravely run away", was drinking tea one day while I was one thousand meters above him. An officer who'd conducted a "security inspection" of his soldiers informed him that most were lounging in the open, or not pulling guard. His response was to turn away and ask a subordinate what time he planned on preparing dinner. When the next, logical question was posed: "What do you plan to do in the event of contact?", his answer was "We will fight." Based on experience, this seemed the least likely scenario. If he'd answered truthfully, it would've sounded something like this:
"I will run, as fast as I can, in whatever direction looks the safest. My men will become confused, and, in the absence of any clear orders, follow my example. My first thought will be to preserve my own hide at any cost; after that, I will think of the horrible things that might happen to me if captured; finally, I will consider refining my path of flight as necessary, and consider jettisoning unnecessary personnel so that my personal HMMWV might travel faster."
It is a minor miracle that I'm still alive. The good news is that, at this point, we have so weakened the insurgents that they cannot even exploit our weaknesses. The jab is the only punch they have left to throw.
HA: Humanitarian Assistance
Shura: meeting with village elders
Hilux: compact Toyota pickup