December 19, 2007

Name: SPC Beaird
Posting date: 12/19/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: allexpensespaidafghanvacation

I’m on a tower guard rotation this week, definitely my most despised duty while I’m here. It is comprised of 12 hours of nonstop boredom sitting in a guard tower pulling security from sunset to sunrise. The highlight of each night is midnight chow, the best meal of the day, when a different set of cooks comes into the kitchen and makes the meals from scratch rather than just reheating schlop. Being a smaller FOB, compared to the bigger bases like the one at Bagram, we still have a chow hall run by army personnel instead of KBR contractors, which makes a huge difference in the quality of food.

Other than the exciting midnight chow, we pass the time by watching the Geminid meteor shower through our night vision goggles. It is easy to see them even without the optics because of the zero light policy of our base at night, and the lack of lights on the dirt roads and mud huts of rural Afghanistan. Adding this week to the slow week before, I’m getting a slight case of cabin fever from not leaving the base for so long. I’m glad I’m not a Fobbit that never gets to leave, or I would go nuts.

Being in a guard tower for so long causes your mind to wander. You think about almost everything imaginable, which often leads to some interesting conversations and debates with your partner for the night.

And yes, sometimes you even talk to yourself, haha. You’ll think about things that have happened since being here, think about the time that's left, and daydream about going home, imagining how weird some of the daily activities back home will be once we get settled back in -- so different from what we’ve become used to here and do routinely, like the two are parallel universes.

I had a small taste of this when I was on leave in Barcelona, of seeing how sometimes my mind was still processing the environment as if I was still in Afghanistan. My first day there my buddies were walking with me down to grab some pizza at a restaurant in the Gothic quarter of town. There were lots of narrow stone streets with buildings four or five stories high; real picturesque. However I was zoning out for a bit and they asked me, “Hey, what’s up? You’re extra quiet right now.” I told them how I was just thinking how much it would suck to get ambushed in a narrow street like that, with tons of rooftops, windows, and hiding spots for people to pop in and out of.

I was only doing what it's been ingrained in me to do since we came here; upon entering into a new location, to immediately start to process the surroundings, looking for possible avenues of attack from the bad guys and defensive positions for us in case the shit hits the fan. I’m glad most of the environment we see in Afghanistan is small villages in rural areas, and we don’t have to see too much of the urban fighting like guys in Baghdad are seeing, though the rough terrain and mountains in this landscape can sometimes be more overwhelming.

Another thing that popped into my head the other night was a mission we had a couple weeks ago where we were making several stops with our civil affairs and engineer teams checking out ongoing projects. One of our stops was a boys school, elementary age from what I saw. There must have been a few hundred kids there, of which a large number were having their classes outside because, I assume, there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the building. There was some digging for the foundation of another building under way. So there were mostly kids around, and as usual we attracted a small crowd of curious onlookers.

You’d think with so many kids around we shouldn’t have too much to worry about security-wise, but not necessarily. There have been reports in the news and we’ve had intel briefs about the Taliban training up and brainwashing young boys to be suicide bombers, and just recently in the news there was a female suicide bomber on the border of Afghanistan/Pakistan. So not only do we have to keep an eye on males of the fighting age, but now also women and children.

And so, when I saw a boy, probably around the age of eight, with a bulky object underneath his man-jammies, I didn’t think much of having one of our guys go check him out and have him show what he had on his stomach. I sure as hell wasn’t going to check it; he could have a bomb strapped to his chest!

Just kidding. I was in the turret and couldn’t leave, so one of our dismounts checked, who happened to be the lowest ranking private. It's standard operating procedure, having the lowest ranking guy check things out that may go boom, like when we find a possible IED we have a Private go run up and kick it to see if it explodes. No, we don’t really do this, it’s just an old joke in the military.

It turned out to only be some books and papers he had wrapped up in a plastic bag stuffed around his waist. At the time I didn’t think much of it. But later, after coming back, and with my extra time in the tower this week to “think”, it disturbs me a bit. What kind of messed up, twisted war and place is this, and what kind of people are we fighting that we have to check out little kids to make sure they’re not going to go kamikaze on us?


I think the force that twists things so much comes from the disparities in the thinking of the groups of people involved. One group's objectives are driven by a cluster of people that consider 8 years to be long range planning, the other group's objectives are set by a consortium that considers 3 to 5 generations to be mid-term.
While you joke about using the pvt as detonators, they apparently take this to heart and use the lowest ranking members of their society explosive propulsion systems.

We appreciate that you are dong the best under these circumstances. Continue to represent us with honor. Godspeed.

Enjoy the quiet time on watch out there on the tower.

Thinking is good for the soul.

When you need it, your attention and passion will return, tenfold. The wire will wait.

Out beyond the wire? That's next week and the next mission.

Stay safe and shoot straight.

I can't tell you how sorry I am that you have tower guard... I KNOW how bad that sucks.

I thought I was going to lose my mind on those days/nights... and I only had it a few times. Can't imagine the troops that had to pull it every day.

Just don't get complacent... you know what happens when we do.

And as far as the scouting for possible avenues of attack, I don't know if that ever gets better. I wish I could tell you that it does.

Take care Soldier.


Thanks for pointing out the correlation about how while we joke about using privates as cannon fodder, they actually do use the lowest ranking members of their group as walking bombs, hadn't put that together.

Army girl and Desert Sailor,

Tower guard does suck, luckily I don't have to do it that often , just part of the rotation we do between missions and QRF. But...true...time up there with some time to think can be good for the soul.

sounds like Vietnam to me

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