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.

ALL BEFORE 0800 |

January 13, 2009

ALL BEFORE 0800
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 1/13/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

Beep...Beep, Beep...Beep, Beep...Beep.  I look at the green face of my watch; 5 AM stares back at me. It's quiet and pitch black in the room; nice that it's quiet; this is the last time today that it will be. The rest of the day will be filled with radio calls, reports, yelling. I lie there in the dark with my watch still beeping.

The war in Afghanistan is typified by brand names; Oakley, Under Armour, Suunto, iPod and a myriad of others. It seems at times when we roll out that we resemble NASCAR drivers with logos and brand names plastered all over us; subdued yes, but all over us. Right now it's Suunto that's upsetting me, with its beeping and unwillingness to let me go back to sleep. Just leave me alone.

No such luck. I shut the watch off, get out of my bunk and put my feet on the cold concrete floor. It's fitting that we're ETT Vampire as we live in a concrete bunker with no windows. When the lights are off it's black no matter the time of day. I leave the lights off, grab my red flashlight, searching now for my iPod. Found it! Plug it into the speakers and find my mission day music: Mettalica, "One" from And Justice for All. The music floats from the speakers; setting the tone.

This is my favorite. Not for the words -- if you really listen to it, it paints a pretty bad picture of war -- but for the pacing. It starts slow, pianissimo, and builds to the punching, fortissimo ending. Much like my morning and probably day is slated to be.

With the soundtrack for the morning rolling, I find my ACUs and start putting them on. I suffer from OCD; every good soldier here does. I get dressed in the same manner everyday. I do not deviate. It's what keeps me ready and alive. My life is a bushel of habits and rituals, ingrained in me by years of Army training.

Pants first, left leg pocket tourniquet, right leg Combat Gauze, another brand name.

Search the shelves for my blood chit -- a piece of paper that says in 27 languages that the US government will pay money if someone assists me. No amount is listed on it, and I'm concerned that the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street may have cut into the money they set aside to get us back. The cold hard truth is that we've all agreed that none of us will ever be captured. The Geneva Convention does not apply to us here. We follow it; they don't. Many have seen the video of Daniel Pearl on the internet and we know what awaits us if we're captured. We'll do whatever it takes to ensure that never happens.

Pants are on, ACU top. Nine line MEDEVAC card, map, another tourniquet. By this time Mettalica is punching its way out of the speakers. Shake boots out and put them on. Check my M9,  M4 and Aimpoint sight. These were all cleaned the night before, but I still check them. "In God We Trust, All Others We Check."

Head for the latrine. I have a recurring fear here. It's not the ACM or an IED. It goes something like this; I head to the latrine with my flashlight -- we have portipotties here with no lights -- I get into the latrine and start to prep and sit down. Just then my flashlight catches the glint of the massive camel spider in the upper corner of the latrine. And the sucker pounces on me. I'm under attack! I spill out of the latrine in a very vulnerable position with this thing biting me. I now have to go to the medics and explain why I've been wounded in the latrine. I don't think this qualifies me for the Purple Heart, which is an award I'd just as soon not have, and I have to explain to everyone why I was evaced.

No attack in the latrine. Thank God!  Head over to the vehicles and climb in mine, start it up. Wait for air pressure to build and check the batteries. Everything in the vehicles is powered by the air lines or electrical. You can't open a 450-lb door without mechanical assistance. The vehicles are cold armored behemoths, sitting like tan mountains in the faint morning light.

Climb into the back and start the Blue Force Tracker and radios, do a radio check. Good to go! These have all been set up the night before. Vehicle is warming up and others from the team are spilling out of the building with crew-served weapons and various other pieces of equipment. The smell of exhaust, Break-Free and Copenhagen fills the air. These are the smells of pre-combat.

Belts of ammunition are feed into the crew-served; a shiny jewelry of death. Happiness is a belt-fed weapon. Clanking, hammering and cussing provide texture to the morning. Everyone knows their job and they go about it with precise professionalism. 

Go over to the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and check on air evac status, close air support and artillery. The mission is a humanitarian assistance drop, but in the words of Big John McCarthy, you'd better be ready to "Get it On" at a moment's notice. The day you're not ready will be the one the ACM decide to get frisky and bite a piece off. The TOC is the nerve center of the FOB and it hums with energy, human and electrical.

Back to the hooch, call my wife and see how things are at home. It's the evening there and she's getting ready to have dinner. I can't tell her that I'm leaving or what I'm going to do. I have no idea who could be listening. She's doing well and I tell her I'll call later; she knows by the sound of my voice that I'm preoccupied and getting ready to go somewhere. She doesn't say anything, but she knows. I tell her I'll call or email later. "Love you and be safe" is what she tells me.

Grab the rest of my equipment. Check my vest, radio, mags, frags and all the other equipment that goes on it; at this point it weighs about 30 lbs. Individual Body Armor with plates is ready to go. It's getting a little ripe and needs to be washed. Won't matter in a couple of hours, as I'll smell just like it. Note to self: wash this nasty thing when I get back. Another note: check everyone else's armor to see what state it's in and get them to wash it. We all must smell rancid.

Put all of this stuff on and head to the vehicles. IBA, vest, helmet, gloves, eye protection, pistol. I've now increased my body weight by 60 lbs. Start doing inspections. You can do this one of two ways. The first, line everyone up, walk through and look at all their stuff. I prefer the second way taught to me by my first Platoon SGT. Go to each guy individually and ask them how things are going, talk to them and listen to their answers. Soldiers know when you're just talking to them to talk. While you're doing this look at their equipment. If you see anything wrong tell them you noticed it and have them correct it. My personal opinion is it keeps guys more relaxed, and you can have the other guys doing stuff while you inspect. Plus, you can spend more time on guys that have issues without embarrassing them in front of the rest of the team. Just a technique.

Load everyone into the vehicles and head over to the ANA side. The ANA are staged and getting ready to head out. I get out and talk to the commander. Any updates, changes, everyone ready to head out? He's good and ready to go. A nervous tension permeates the air. The mission isn't combat today; but the enemy always has a vote in the matter. The ANA are getting more and more professional by the day. It used to take us an hour to get them ready and now they're ready when we get there. We must be doing something right.

Final checks are going on, artillery laid on target, radios still up. Usually at this point a radio decides it doesn't want to work and we play the what happened and how do we get this thing back up game. Not today, things are going well. Everyone got everything? The team gathers a final time before we mount up. Rehash the mission, any critical points, check.

Mount up and strap in, discuss rollover drill. It's what we're going to do if the vehicle rolls over. The terrain here is a series of washed out wadis leading to steep hills, so the possibility that we'll roll a vehicle is very real. Inside our vehicle everything is tied down; an ammo can hitting you in the face as the vehicle rolls will ruin your Crest smile pretty quick. Everybody knows their part.

Start rolling, final radio check. "All Vampire vehicles, Vampire 06 in sequence radio check." All reply with good comms status. "All Vampire vehicles, Vampire 06, roger on comms. Good hunting!"

And now we see how the enemy will vote.

Comments

Nice. Like your choice of music to get rolling to!

I really enjoyed this diary. Can almost smell the place, the way you described it. Sometime it's the mundane stuff that makes us understand better what things are like for someone else. Keep 'em coming. This was really good.

I'm with your wife: stay safe. And hey, vampires are all the rage just now in books and film---so the callsign brand is good, eh?

EXACTLY HOW LONG DOES ALL THE ABOVE TAKE? MINUTES? HOUR?

those of us who served are with you in thoughts and fighting for you here. Please stay safe, and keep us informed in your writings, thank you for giving all of us a "picture" of your day.

I find it very hard to believe that U.S. military follows the Geneva Conventions. In fact, I just plain don't believe it. What I want from the military is for all you young men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq to come home NOW. Of course, you have no control over that. But that's the best support I can give you. The American people are deluded if they think your presence in these countries are winning us friends. I'm sorry that your time and that so many lives have been and are being wasted. You're just not going to come home the same person you once were. Good luck.

What a life. I appreciate your post and you sharing a typical “day in the life.” I thought getting up at 5AM was hard in the US. I guess it’s nothing compared to 5AM in the desert; dodging camel spiders, throwing on a sixty pound suit of armor, and dodging IED’s on the morning commute.

I enjoy your posts. Thank you for your service.
I find it interesting ptgrunner takes the time attack your honor
concerning the Geneva convention since I have seen nothing but honesty in your posts.
All the best.

I very much appreciate all the fascinating posts. It makes it easier to understand at least a little of what the troops may go through. Thanks to all for your service.

Vampire06 - Your posts are terrific! Have you (or someone stateside) thought about publishing them? I'll keep following, and take care of yourself and the other guys/gals. We're trying to bring home safe - and soon!

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