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.

HELPING AFGHAN CHILDREN |

December 28, 2010

Name: CAPT Mark Rassler
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back

Framed Rassler school 2 After weeks of planning, a major goal of many members of OMLT III was finally realized recently when we were able to visit and hand out school supplies to some Afghan children. Shortly after we arrived into Afghanistan we started receiving care packages from our friends and family, and from random families we have never met who simply want to show their support for troops deployed overseas. We started receiving so many care packages that many of us were receiving more items than we could use for ourselves. Nobody wants to waste any items that families back home have spent time and money sending to us, so we would share with our friends and other soldiers on our base. Still, many of us were fortunate enough to continue to receive more items than we knew what to do with.

Our Command Sergeant Major, CSM Sullivan, met some folks on our base, Camp Mike Spann, who had gone to visit and distribute school supplies to local schools. They revealed to him that the process is relatively easy, and you just need to have an Afghan Army or Afghan Police force presence. CSM Sullivan presented us the idea of collecting supplies and toys to give out to a local school. I and a few others on the team were very excited, and jumped at the opportunity to try and help local kids. Many of us put out the word to those who have been sending care packages, that if they might want to send us some school supplies that we could share with local kids. My mother put the word out to her church, Yoked Lutheran-Presbyterian Parish Church of White Sulphur Springs, MT, and I started receiving boxes. I also put a note up on my blog in September, saying that we had a goal to distribute our supplies in mid October. A couple other websites, milblogging.com and the Sandbox, with much larger readership, linked to my blog and soon after boxes from all across the United States started arriving at my little B Hut.

I went on leave in October, and expected that when I returned our planned school visit would have occurred without me. Unfortunately because of different mission requirements and for other reasons the school visit kept getting pushed back. So when I returned I was surprised to find that it had not happened, but was even more surprised at the number of boxes that had come in while I was away.

The supplies ran the gamut -- notebooks, pencils, sharpeners, glue, crayons, rulers, scissors, as well as several boxes of kids toys (mostly stuffed animals).

We have been outside the wire a fair number of times, and fortunately have never been shot at, though sometimes I would return feeling as though we had not accomplished much or made much of a difference. So after my leave I was anxious to get out there and visit some kids. So it was frustrating as each week a different issue would come up pushing our school visit back.

In September we spent several nights in the Chemtal district, camped out at the Chemtal Police station during the 2010 Afghan elections, helping our ANA pull security in the area. We noticed that there was a school, the Waliasr Secondary School of Chemtal district, within a quarter mile of the police station. Our Afghan Army Battalion had not been operating in the area much after that, however a Military Police unit from Nevada that has helped us on past missions had begun mentoring the Afghan National Police based at the police station. This past Sunday they were going out to visit and mentor their Afghan police officers, so I and two other members from my team tagged along with the goal of visiting the school to see if they would be willing to receive gifts from us.

During a lull in the mentoring, I ventured over to the school along with a police officer, a couple more soldiers, and my interpreter to see what we could find out. The school was fairly deserted of kids, as the morning session had recently let out. Fortunately the teachers were still there and the principal was gracious enough to receive us. I explained to her that our unit had collected school supplies, mostly paper and pencils as well as a few toys, and wanted to donate them to her and the children of her school at a time that would be convenient to them. She explained to me that her school operated in a couple shifts, with Girls in the morning till about 10am or so, and Boys in the afternoon starting around 1pm. I asked if it would be okay if we returned the following day, and to my relief she said that would be great. She only asked that we arrive later in the morning as the girls would be completing some tests.

The next morning we linked up with the MPs again, utilizing their Max Pro MRAP which has a lot more internal cargo capacity than our M-ATVs. Due to our team being all male, I sought to bring a female along with us as I knew that we would be at the school when the girls would be in session. Unfortunately my team was a bit short staffed, as some of the guys had already arranged to work with our ANA soldiers, so I had the female Captain who would be joining us work as a vehicle commander from my vehicle. This necessitated me riding as a gunner, which was unique change and a different way to see Afghanistan.

Framed Rassler school 3 Our six vehicles arrived at the school a bit before 10am, and as I had told the principal, I would be the first to greet her when we arrived. As I had promised, I arrived with several trucks of soldiers, and they were waited patiently outside the gate of the school and were looking forward to sharing with her school the gifts that we had brought. I asked her to come out to our truck so that we could come up with an idea of how to best distribute the supplies to the kids. My goal was to find a balance between disorganized chaos and regimental discipline, so that kids and soldiers could have a good time together. The principal recommended that we bring the supplies in and set up in an empty room. The idea was discussed that we let the kids cycle through the room and take an item, but she insisted that it would be better if we distributed the items to the kids in the classrooms.

Framed Rassler school 5 We first tried to present to the teachers some items which we knew we did not have enough of for all the students, and which would be better used at the teachers' discretion; scissor, rulers, glue, etc. Surprisingly the teachers were a bit reluctant to accept our gifts. When our soldiers began entering the classrooms I got my biggest shock of the morning, as I was slapped in the face with the fact that Afghanistan is a totally different culture than what we are used to. The guys on my team politely entered the classroom with the boxes of supplies, along with a teacher and an Afghan Police officer. For the first classroom I stayed behind and let others pass out the supplies, and I was surprised to see some of the girls in the classroom covering their faces with their head scarves or bowing their heads. I was expecting to see more smiling or excited faces, but at least with the girls I saw more nervous faces. Granted, having a bunch of strange men enter your classroom -- some wearing their body armor, and all of us wearing at least our pistols -- was probably intimidating in itself. Add in the fact that in Afghan culture the sexes are still very separated, and I could see how the young girls may have been a bit nervous.

As our soldiers went through and distributed at least one notebook and three pencils to each girl, I took the time to address each class. I wanted to share with them that these items were gifts from our families in the United States, and were gifts to them to help them with their education. As we feel that education is the key to the future for Afghanistan, we hope that these gifts can help them or someone in their family succeed in school. I told them that we expected nothing in return from them, however if they did want to thank us the best thanks would be their smiles and waves when any of our vehicles drive by them.

Framed Rassler school 6 While we were inside passing out school supplies, the guys who remained outside the school perhaps had the most fun of the day. All kinds of little kids started showing up at the school wondering what was going on. Those curious kids became the lucky kids as they received stuffed animals and pieces of candy. I was later relayed stories of how some of the crafty kids would get a piece of candy, put it in their pocket, then run up to a different soldier asking for a piece of candy. Other kids helped the soldiers pass out the toys and candy to their friends or brother and sisters.

Framed Rassler school 8
After we had visited each classroom and ensured that each girl had at least one notebook and several pencils, we still had a box almost full of notebooks, and over a thousand pencils. We knew that we would not have enough notebooks to ensure that students in the afternoon class would all receive something. So we decided to leave the remaining boxes of items with the school staff, and hope that they would get passed along to the neediest of students.

All in all we felt that our school project was a success. Later in the day one soldier who wasn’t able to go on the mission asked how we would be able to tell if it was a success or not via some sort of military benchmark or goal. In the back of our minds we secretly hope that giving the supplies will help the kids and their families trust the US and other forces in the area. But what it comes down to, whether or not that does happen, is that we all just wanted to give some gifts to some kids to hopefully help them with their education. Plus following the old adage that it is better to give than receive, a lot of smiles and senses of accomplishment were brought to the soldiers from the Minnesota and Nevada National Guard as they passed out the various items.


As a final note, we would like to say thanks to everyone who helped us out by sending the boxes of school supplies, toys, and candy that we were able to share with the Afghan Children.

A SONG FOR THE SEASON |

December 24, 2010

Name: Scott
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: The Sand Docs

We want to send Christmas greetings to our families, friends, and supporters. I think that we, like all service members, agree that the most trying aspect of deployment is separation from our loved ones. Christmas is the day when this sentiment is felt most strongly.

The length and closeness of existence during deployment practically forces a unit to become family. My friends who left the service long ago often remark that the camaraderie is the one element of military life that is hardest to replicate in civilian life, and that which they missed the most about their time in service. So it is with us. This year each of us will be spending Christmas with this family, even while never forgetting our own.

My gift to readers of this blog is music. Bing Crosby recorded some of the most famous renditions of the Christmas classics. He was also known for his support of troops in the European Theater during World War II. In fact, in one poll, he was voted by those troops to have done more for GI morale than any other figure, including President Roosevelt, General Eisenhower, and Bob Hope. The version of Silent Night that plays on my IPOD was recorded by him at the end of World War II for radio broadcast to the GIs around the world.  It has added meaning for us this year.  It begins with a few words,

"This is a happy Christmas all right. A great Christmas. Next year, pray God, all of you will be sitting at your own fireplaces and around your own trees. This song that means so much to all of us."

It ends with bells, about which he says,

"The bells of Christmas 1945 ring out clear and free around the world to you. Their message comes from the hearts of one hundred and thirty-two million grateful Americans: 'Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men.'"

Here is Bing Crosby singing Silent Night as we wish for peace on earth amidst the grimness of war.



Here is also his version of I'll Be Home For Christmas which I extend to our loved ones.



May you have a blessed Christmas and holiday season.

INCOMING WOUNDED |

December 23, 2010

Name: RN Clara Hart
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog: From Our Perspective

“Does this guy have legs?” came the question. 

“Um. . .yeah, I think so,” was my response.

My coworker and I were in the midst of setting up for incoming wounded arriving from Afghanistan. It wasn’t a surprising query, because lately most of our WIA troops have been coming in minus their legs. I can remember when a patient without legs was a cruel oddity. Now we look and say “Oh, he’s only lost his legs.” As cold and cynical as that may sound, we are seeing such an increase in triple and even quadruple amputees that we have developed a tendency to downplay the loss of a young man’s legs.

The wounded arrive in numbers I haven’t seen since Fallujah; the sheer magnitude and severity of wounded warriors flooding in is overwhelming. But have you heard this on the evening news? CBS did an awesome two-part story on wounded Marines this past week, but it's rare that you see anything about our troops on mainstream media.

Recently while caring for an injured soldier I asked him why he joined the military. His answer: “Because I didn’t want another man fighting for my family’s freedom.” As 2010 comes to a close I want to remember some very special men; men who fought for their families' freedom.

M.S.
A man with many friends, one of whom tried desperately to visit him. In an email posted on the wall of his hospital room this particular friend wrote, “I’m trying really hard to get there but I don’t have enough money for a plane ticket right now. I looked online and found out you’re only 12 hours away by car but I can’t rent a car because you have to be 24 years old. But I’m gonna try dude, I’ll come up with a way to get there. I love you M. Hang in there and stay strong.”  M.S. died before his friend could come and see him.

M.L.
Not even old enough to legally drink. His image was captured on camera while deployed: a single photo showed a grinning boy-man in a lighthearted moment holding a puppy to his chest. The boy-man I saw lying in a hospital bed bore little resemblance. His body half blown away, we knew when he arrived he would be with us only long enough for his family to say goodbye. 

R.J.
Voluntarily deployed to Afghanistan in hopes of earning enough money to pay off family debts. A husband and a father a dozen times over, placed in an unforgiving and fatal circumstance.

D.W.
A man who climbed into a helicopter and flew into dark, dangerous skies in hopes of saving those who had no other resource. A man who knew the meaning of and had more than earned the two little green feet tattooed on his body. A man who gave his life so that others might live.

R.A.
A Marine who asked his father to make the most difficult decision ever, but a decision that honored his wish: “If I can’t drink a beer or ride my Harley with you anymore then let me go.” And so the father did and the son died on the same day as he was born.

M.G.
From a family looking for a better life, a family who clearly were very poor. One in which a father so worried about losing his job if he took time off that he couldn’t even be at his son’s bedside as the son lay dying. My heart broke as I watched the wizened grandfather sitting outside the room of his grandson, brushing away the tears streaming unapologetically down his face.

These are the men who fought for their families' freedom, and many, many other men and women just like these gave their lives this year for our freedom. I pray that all of them were carried by the angels to God’s awaiting arms.

ADVENTURES IN NAHRI-E-SHAHRI |

December 13, 2010

Name: CAPT Marc Rassler
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back

Recently the Recon Company of the Battalion of ANA soldiers that we mentor was tasked to pull security and have a presence in the Nahri-e-Shahri distict, during the Afghan Regional Development Conference. I am not really sure what was discussed or happened during the conference meetings, just that Nahri-e-Shahri district is just north of Mazar-e-Sharif and we went to the field to help support a company of our soldiers.

Because of force protection requirements whenever we (the US Army) go outside the wire of our base we have to go with a minimum of three trucks. Which translates to a minimum of at least nine soldiers; each vehicle will have a driver, truck commander (TC), and a gunner. Additionally we will also have at least one interpreter, often two; as well as other US soldiers from our team to fill up available seats in our trucks. The Recon company is mentored by our Croatian partners, so they also brought three fully staffed trucks. So we were mentoring a group of about 30 Afghan soldiers, yet we had almost as many mentors for this weekend excursion.

The night before we departed we got our first real rain that left visible traces of moisture since the day we arrived on the 22nd of May. I was quite tickled to finally have some rain, but like everything in life, be careful of what you wish for because you just might get it. The paved roads in Afghanistan for the most part are in pretty good shape; the dirt and gravel roads are another story. Heading out to the area in which we would be operating we were slinging mud over the top of our M-ATVs from the recent rain.

Our base of operations for this mission was a school near Nahri-e-Shahri. Because over the elections there had been some violence in the area surrounding the school we made sure to set up a good perimeter. My truck, affectionately known as The Big Lebowski, drew the unenviable task of taking the area near the school toilets. Because this is Afghanistan and effective plumbing is sometimes hard to find, we were next to a row of outhouses.

Framed Rassler Adventures 1


Plus, unlike western outhouses, they were just little rooms with holes in the floor. In our case the pun did apply, we had the crappy job of guarding the outhouse. Fortunately for us the enemy did not want to attack the school outhouse on either night that we were there. My truck had a fairly quiet night of scanning the area around, seeing only mice and an occasional cat or dog running around. We helped ensure the ability of Afghan children to safely and securely use the toilet in the future.

Both nights that we were out in the field were for the most pretty boring nights for all the guys on the team. One team saw some men doing something they perceived to be kind of suspicious in the middle of night, a few hundred meters from their position. To be on the safe side, a team of the Afghan soldiers were awoken to go out into the field and investigate what the men were doing. By the time the soldiers were awake a hasty plan was put together and they started walking towards the men, the sun was just starting to come up. When the investigating Afghan soldiers came upon the men, the men ran -- as I think I would if armed soldiers surprised me and all I had was a shovel. It turned out that they were in a field working on an irrigation ditch from about 0300 till sunrise. Who works out in the field in the middle of the night, let alone without a flashlight? Although I think that if you ask the guys who first saw the men in the field, they will still be convinced that they were in the early stages of planning to assault us, with their shovels and mud balls.

Because the school is a working school, when morning arrived we had to pack up everything and move off the school property and hang out in a nearby field. I don’t know who discovered it, but a few hours after we had gotten parked in the field, the senior office of our team, my Croatian Lt Colonel, said that I should come with him as there was damage to the school that had been caused by my truck. As the Truck Commander for The Big Lebowski I am responsible for anything that my truck does. This really confused me when he said there was a problem, as we were careful in parking near the outhouse and could not think of anything that my truck might have done. The M-ATVs that we drive are like driving a 30,000 pound 4X4 semi-truck, only less maneuverable and with a lot of blind spots for the driver. In fact, so many blind spots for the driver that whenever the truck enters a restricted area the truck commander will get out and ground-guide the truck. Apparently I did not do a very good job of ground-guiding The Big Lebowski, as it got a bit too close to the school and, due to the sheer weight of the vehicle, cracked a bit of the sidewalk.

We were introduced to the headmaster, and the LTC expressed our regret at causing damage to his school. He said that we should correct this damage and help out, and looked at me. It suddenly became obvious to me where this was headed. I asked my interpreter to ask the headmaster how much it would cost to repair the small portion of sidewalk. In my mind I was prepared for the headmaster to tell me cost for the small portion of sidewalk, but also pad in the cost of the all of the other repairs that the school might need. Much to my surprise he only listed off repairs for the repair of the sidewalk. They would need a bag of cement, and would need to pay a man to do the labor to fix the sidewalk. This he figured would probably come to about 1500 afghanis (the Afghan form of currency) which translated to about $35. I did not have any afghanis, and US Dollars would have been useless to him.

Framed Rassler Adventures 2

Fortunately my terp had some afghanis, with which he paid the man, and I later repaid my terp with dollars. So for $40 dollars I bought my first piece of real-estate in Afghanistan, about two feet of cracked sidewalk.

Even though I really didn’t want to pay for the cracked sidewalk, I knew that in the long run it was the right thing to do. I feared that it would just be a shakedown, and if we were to return to the school in a couple years the sidewalk would still be cracked. In addition to it being the right thing to do (because we did crack their sidewalk) it showed that the coalition forces want to protect the school and not damage it while protecting it. Much to my surprise, when we returned to the school that evening someone had already set up some forms, mixed some concrete and fixed the cracked sidewalk. Seeing that was probably the biggest surprise of my day.

The next day before we called our mission complete and departed back to our base, several of us got to check off the box "Got to pet a camel." In the late afternoon three or four camel trains came through on the road near where our vehicles were parked. When we saw the train of camels coming through we grabbed our terps and asked the camel drivers to stop so that we could get some pictures near their animals. We were like a bunch of kids at a children’s petting zoo. Some were a bit nervous to get next to the large beasts, and one of us was able to convince the owner to let him have a short ride. But most of us, including me, were able to get a picture. Only in Afghanistan.

   Framed Rassler Adventures 3

UXO |

December 08, 2010

Name: Scott
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: The Sand Docs

It was relatively quiet for the latter half of November. There are several theories as to why. It has been the Muslim holiday Eid-al-Adha which may have limited hostility. Also, perhaps the "surge" which has been at it's peak this fall has had some effect on insurgent activity. Finally, it has been the normal pattern for the Taliban to halt activity in the winter, reportedly to resupply and take refuge at home. We had thought that this may have accounted for the slowness. However, the weekend has proven that the war has not taken a seasonal hiatus yet as there have been daily cases. One case was particularly grim.

Afghanistan is the most heavily mined country in the world. Between the Soviet invasion and the current war, this country has been at war for 20 of the past 30 years and, as a result there is an enormity of unexploded ordinance (UXO in army lingo) throughout the country. The United Nations puts the number of mines and UXOs in Afghanistan at 10 million, a number that is frankly hard to fathom. Whatever the exact number, a Google search for "Afghanistan landmines" shows dozens of images that display the magnitude of the devastation from UXO. It was only a matter of time before this fact collided with our reality. That happened yesterday.

A 12 year old boy was brought to us. He had been scavenging through a trash dumpster when he found a mortar round. Mortar rounds, along with rocket propelled grenades, are often set so that they explode after completing a set number of revolutions. This round must have been close to that number because it detonated in the boy's hand. He lost his right hand, burned his left hand, and suffered abdominal and head injuries. The good news is that he survived. The bad new is that he faces a difficult future.

VALUES |

December 06, 2010

Name: Charlie Sherpa
Unit: Deployed to Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising
Email:
SherpaatRedBullRising.com

 

In 2007, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Courter and 15 other Illinois National Guard soldiers deployed to an Embedded Training Team (E.T.T.) mission in the Wor Mamay district, Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Along with three other ETT members, he helped mentor a company of 35 Afghan Border Police (A.B.P.).

Since his deployment, Courter, now an Illinois National Guard recruiter and part-time seminary student, Courter has continued to wrestle with questions and insights he gathered in Afghanistan.

In 2008, he self-published his “Afghan Journal” notes as a book (available as paperback and in Amazon Kindle format), and continues to blog at: www.lifeloveandtruth.com.

Red Bull Rising invited Courter to share his thoughts with the recently deployed soldiers of 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division. Some Red Bull soldiers will directly mentor Afghan police and army units. Others will fight alongside and support them.

*****

AFGHAN TRAINER: VALUES MORE IMPORTANT THAN TACTICS

By Jeff Courter

To be effective at “how” we fight, we should begin with “why.” Some warriors emphasize tactics, and ignore the reasons we’re on the battlefield in the first place--as if they’re independent variables. They’re not. The right values can be the greatest tactical advantage of all, especially in Afghanistan. That’s because soldiers--whether U.S. or Afghan--will fight harder and longer when motivated for the right reasons.

Young soldiers may roll their eyes when old warhorse NCOs trot out the seven Army Values--“Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless Service. Honor. Integrity. Personal Courage.” But face it: Values work. They work for individuals, as well as entire armies.

Sharing these principles with our Afghan colleagues is mission-critical.

Granted, progress may not be swift. It may even span generations. Whether you frame this conflict as multiple small wars--or a single very long one--the road to constructive, sustainable change won’t be straight, and can’t be hurried. Our enemies are patient, committed and ruthless. We must be patient, committed, and valorous.

Not all of your new Afghan colleagues may share your values or professionalism, but that shouldn’t deter you. Let your actions do the talking, no matter your assignment or situation. To paraphrase General Petraeus:
“Regular training teams can’t be everywhere, so units must help enforce local military standards, enable performance, and monitor for abuses and inefficiencies. Any coalition unit working with local security forces will be studied, emulated and copied--for better or worse. Therefore, we must always set the example. Any coalition unit operating alongside local security forces is performing a mentoring, training, and example-setting role.”
Think of Afghanistan as the Wild West. Think of the Taliban as a bunch of outlaws. And recognize that most Afghans are innocent townspeople, who just want to stay out of the line of fire.

During my tour, our larger mission was to secure the area from Taliban activities. We conducted hundreds of “presence patrols” among local villages. The ABP always joined us, to “put an Afghan face” on our operations. They were also there to learn first-hand how persistent police visibility can disrupt insurgent activities.

When our convoys rolled in and our ABP colleagues offered food, clothing, school supplies and medical assistance, villagers often greeted us warmly. But cautious tribal elders sometimes tempered their response, for fear of Taliban reprisals. Chieftains explained that Taliban fighters would steal into their villages at night and threaten them with violence. Some elders even spoke in hushed tones, fearful of being overheard.

Once, we circled back to a village that we had visited only days before. Surprisingly, we found a ghost town. While there, our unit repelled an ambush from an overlooking hill. Later, we learned that Taliban fighters had stormed the village after our initial visit, demanding payment from the chieftain. When he refused, they threatened to kill him on the spot--until he placed a Quran on the ground and claimed that their actions violated Islam.

The thugs backed off, but promised to kill him if he and his family remained. That night, he packed his belongings and led his entire village to a distant hamlet. The Taliban simply waited for our return to the village, assuming we would investigate reports of its abandonment.

In many ways, the real enemy in Afghanistan is fear. The Taliban feed on it. But by demonstrating our values, by protecting people, and by “closing with and destroying” the bad guys, we deny our enemies an environment where fear can grow. It all begins with a spirit of trust.

When a seasoned U.S. law enforcement officer visited our Forward Operating Base ("FOB"), he emphasized the importance of gaining trust from the local community. Here’s his two-pronged approach:
  • Give local Afghans a reason to believe that, whenever they share intelligence, you’ll respond as quickly and decisively as possible. It’s not about arriving immediately every time you’re called. That’s unrealistic. Rather, it’s about proving, over time, that you’ll strive to do your best when needed.
  • Police can’t fight crime everywhere, simultaneously. So, when your resources are assigned to a specific area, stay focused on that area. Take control of territory you hold, and deny the enemy an opportunity to move freely in that space. It’s less about eliminating the Taliban altogether, and more about stopping them from operating in your local environment. Eventually, they’ll move on.
Bottom line: It’s not rocket science. It’s about walking a beat. It’s about making people feel safe, because you’re there when it matters.

Let me tell you about one day when it mattered:

Early one morning at our FOB, there was a commotion at the front gate, as a young man sought medical assistance for his very pregnant wife. Their young son had accidentally shot his mother with an AK-47. The bullet had ripped a hole through her abdomen, and intestines were spilling from her side.

Our medic was in his early 20s. Although he’d been trained to treat combat wounds when emotions are running high, he wasn’t prepared for this. As we waited for a MEDEVAC helicopter to airlift the woman to a hospital, “Doc” did his best to stabilize his patient. Language and cultural norms were a huge problem. Whenever Doc uncovered part of the woman's body, her husband rapidly covered it back up. Eventually, Doc blindly bandaged the wound from beneath a blanket.

The clock was ticking. Time was running out. The woman was nine months pregnant, and both she and her baby were in critical condition. Family members began to argue about whether she should be left to die at home, rather than being evacuated. Our ABP trainees stood-by throughout, ensuring crowd control and helping to maintain calm.

An hour later, the chopper swooped down and left in a cloud of dust, lifting its precious cargo along with our hopes and prayers. Later that afternoon, we received a radio update – mother and child were fine. We rejoiced along with the ABP. Their commander thanked us, insisting that our actions proved to local villagers that “America is good!”

That day, values mattered. That day, we scored a victory, without firing a single shot. We beat the devil at his own game. And we helped a woman and her baby cheat death.

Along the way, we forged a new level of trust.

It was glorious.


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