A FAMILY'S WAR |
July 13, 2012
Name: CAPT Doug Traversa, USAF, Retired
Hometown: Tullahoma, TN
Milblog: Afghanistan Without A Clue
A few of you may remember me, if you’ve been reading The Sandbox from its earliest days. I spent a year in Afghanistan, from June 2006 – May 2007, embedded with the Afghan Army’s Central Movement Agency, their only transportation unit. I won’t rehash the old stories, as my purpose is to talk about the war today and how it affects my family.
After returning to the states, I finished my career at Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, Tennessee, retiring in January 2009. After that, I became the lay minister of the local Unitarian Universalist Church, and have been in seminary for the last three years.
Soon after my retirement, both my sons joined the military, my older son Taylor joining the Army, and my younger son Ryan the Marines. If my daughter Elise ever decides to join the Navy, we’ll have all four branches covered.
It wasn’t long before I had the unsettling experience of sending not one, but two of my children off to fight in the same war I was in. I know I’m not the first to have this experience, but there is something intuitively wrong about watching my sons head off to the seemingly endless Afghan War. People often ask me for my opinion on the war. Those of you who read my posts years ago may remember that I was optimistic and hopeful. I no longer am. My sons would both probably agree. Their experiences are a combination of the surreal and the insane. I suspect that every one of their compatriots would also agree that our involvement over there makes no sense at all.
I find this very interesting, because I still see hawks on TV telling us that "the troops” don’t want to leave Afghanistan now, that it would make all of our efforts, all of the lives lost, a tragic waste. All I know is, I have yet to meet a single military member, not one, who thinks we should still be over there. These mythical people may exist, but I would place them in a very, very small minority.
When did I lose hope? After the last farcical “election,” when it became clear that once again, we were backing a foreign government that came to power through rigged elections. That, to me, was the last straw. It had all been a waste. And once we pull out, and US dollars stop flowing, watch what happens. I feel such sadness for everyone who has lost a loved one in this utterly useless war. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.
I’ve urged Taylor and Ryan to submit stories to The Sandbox. The stories they have told me are wild beyond imagining. Taylor is still in Afghanistan, so his stories are fresh from the front lines. Ryan made it back safely last Thanksgiving, and in two more months Taylor will hopefully be home too. And then I can stop checking my computer on a daily basis to see that my son is still alive, and hasn’t died in this idiotic war.
So I now hand off this post to Taylor, with the first of hopefully many of his stories.
Taylor, me, and Ryan at Taylor’s wedding.
IN APPRECIATION OF SLEEP
Name: 1LT. Taylor D. Traversa, US Army
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Greensboro, NC
Normally sleep is an event a person looks forward to, a time to unwind, relax, and decompress. As time progressed throughout my deployment, a deployment dubbed by the media as the last major offensive in Afghanistan, sleep slowly morphed into a task, a requirement to move into the next day.
Within two weeks of arriving to our small COP (Combat Outpost) in Eastern Afghanistan, along Highway One, I awoke to my tent shaking due to a deafening explosion. Highway One is the primary commerce route in Afghanistan, It loops around the whole country, providing the major means of transportation throughout the country. Coming from a field artillery background, I have heard many explosions and learned to sleep through them, but now it was different. Did the explosion come from artillery or mortar rounds from the enemy, a friendly vehicle hitting an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), or perhaps our EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) team detonating an IED that had been found?
No matter what the explosion was, I was jolted out of my deep sleep and looked at SSG G, the company FSNCO (Fire Support Non-Commissioned Officer) who was on his sixth deployment. Without hesitation Gio (what I call SSG G for short) screamed "Get to the bunker!" and we both jetted for the concrete “C” barrier outside of our tent. Gio seemed to think the explosion was incoming rounds; I had nothing to compare the noise to. As we squatted in the bunker, illuminated by the eerie glow of moonlight, we heard the bustle and yells of confusion throughout the tiny COP. My legs started to grow weary after crouching within the bunker for a couple of minutes. Gio looked at me with a shrug, and we decided to move back to the tent to grab our gear and move to the TOC (Tactical Operation Center). As the Fire Support Officer for an airborne infantry company, it is my responsibility to control all mortar assets, helicopter support, and Air Force support.
With one foot outside of the bunker, I heard the whiz and whoosh of what seemed to be an RPG round go flying over my head. Gio ducked back into the bunker with me right on his heels, both of us thinking “What the hell was that?” Within seconds we got our answer, as the sky lit up with a blood red glow. Gio and I looked at each other with the same thought: “Oh shit.” The red parachute flare that lit up the sky was the signal to implement the COP defense plan and had been shot into the air by the Sergeant of the Guard. We scrambled for the tent, grabbed our rifles and body armor and sprinted for the TOC.
The TOC was abuzz with activity; no one seemed to know what was going on. One thing was clear, that at this early stage in the deployment there were many kinks that needed to get worked out. People were in various states of dress, some in full battle rattle, others in PTs with body armor and helmet, and yet others in just PTs, clearly having rushed to the TOC to help out. A phone call to Battalion quickly painted the picture that we were all hoping not to see; one of our sister companies had hit an IED, two kilometers up the highway. From the sound of the explosion, we knew that it was a massive IED, and all expected the worst.
Gio and I quickly sprang into action, contacting battalion to get air support in case an ambush was to follow, laying mortars onto possible trigger man locations, and briefing up our Forward Observer who would likely have to go support our sister company. The IED ended up being over 120lbs of homemade explosives, enough to shake the ground two kilometers away from the explosion. Thankfully no one was seriously injured in the explosion, and after a long recovery mission to secure the destroyed vehicle we were able to return to ours cots and tents to sleep and recover for the next day.
The IED was a major wakeup call for me. While no one was hurt, it was the first instance where I was shocked awake to some major incident. The next couple of weeks brought a number of nights where I would jolt out of sleep due to hearing what I thought was an explosion. Often the noises that woke me from my half sleep were things as simple as a door slamming or a person stomping into the tent. Due to the cap on the number of people deployed and minimum manning at our COP, I constantly needed to run to the TOC to support the paratroopers on the ground, whether it was troops in contact, the FOB up the highway taking mortar or rocket fire, or an ANA or AUP checkpoint being attacked.
This responsibility started weighing heavily on my mind as I was trying to sleep, causing me to stay in state where I constantly had one ear open waiting to rush to the TOC, awaiting that dreaded tap of a runner from the TOC to fetch me, or the whisper of some poor sap given the unfortunate task of finding me. It seemed nearly every time I would start to reach a state of comfort in my rest cycle, whether it was over a period of a week or a month, some catastrophic event would happen and I would be reminded of just how real the war was, and the importance of my job. My body started to feel the wear and tear of restless nights. I would wake up sorer than when I went to sleep, with a splitting headache being caused by the grinding of my teeth in my sleep. Awaking in the morning was a blessed moment as I realized I had made it through the night with no major incident and was one day closer to going home.
As a POG (person other than grunt) in an infantry unit, you are often treated or viewed as a second class citizen, but as the deployment continued to grind on, the infantry men began to realize the importance of my small five-man fires cell. As we started to take more IDF from the enemy as well as get into fire fights more frequently with them, the paratroopers gained a new appreciation of the job the fires cell did. The sight of a helicopter or A-10 Warthog over a group of paratroopers on the ground was always a boost to morale and renewed confidence after a traumatizing event. The screams of victory that resound from the paratroopers when an Apache, Kiowa, or A-10 engages the enemy, began to renew my strength to shove myself out of bed every day.
Paratroopers that I saw on a daily basis, who had often not given me a second glance, started thanking me for all the hard work and support of my fires cell and how impressed they were with our ability to kill the “bad guys.” This new-found appreciation was just what everyone needed to keep going. Despite still being awakened at least once a week to support the paratroopers, I was able to sleep much better knowing my job was saving lives and that I had finally been accepted into the privileged ranks of an the infantry paratroopers.