May 20, 2009

Name: Michael Brameld
Posting date: 5/20/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: A Year in the Sandbox

A couple weeks ago I lucked out and got two days in a row with no mission scheduled, a Thursday and Friday. Most weeks I only get Fridays off, and a lot of weeks there are no days off, so I planned to take full advantage. We spent Thursday building walls in our hooch to replace the hanging sheets and blankets. Even though we actually worked the whole day it was much more enjoyable than another combat patrol. Friday I planned to sleep until noon.

Friday morning at 8 am a guy I work with woke me up. “Hey Brameld, there was an earthquake out in Sherzad, killed a bunch of people. They’re throwing a mission together to take some HA (humanitarian aid) up there, you want it?”

“No I don’t want it, I want to sleep till noon!” I thought as I said, “Sure, I’ll take it,” and climbed out of bed. He told me they were leaving right away so I shaved and dressed and made it to the trucks with all my gear in 15 minutes only to find out they weren’t leaving for another hour and a half. There’s a reason I call this particular co-worker “Ready, fire, aim!”, although Chicken Little would be an apt nickname too. So I went back and took a shower and ate breakfast before we left.

Our Civil Affairs team has had a few 1151s since we got here and they just picked up a couple new MRAPs a couple weeks before. They haven’t had very good luck with them. They’re the ones that almost rolled the MRAP off the side of a bridge. File this tidbit under obvious foreshadowing.

I ended up in the back of their MRAP, which was the lead vehicle. We made it just past the ECP* before the driver managed to get it stuck in a ditch beside the road. We hadn’t even made it completely off the FOB and we were already stuck. We hooked up the winch to a tree and managed to get it out and on the road again.

The first hour of the drive to Sherzad is on hardball, after that it’s all dirt roads. About five minutes after we left the hardball we were in another ditch. These trucks are actually more narrow than the 1151s but it’s hard to judge how much road is left on the sides from the cab, especially on the right side. So the new drivers tend to stick close to the left since they can judge a little better over there. In the picture below it’s hard to see but this is about the widest stretch of dirt road I’ve seen in Afghanistan, but our driver thought the ditch would be a better option. This time there were no trees to hook the winch to so we used the 5-ton that was carrying the HA to pull it out. We switched up the order of march and had the SECFOR* MRAP lead the rest of the way.

Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE stuck 

We finally made it up to the Sherzad district center and after a short meeting the sub-governor led us out to the village with the most damage. It was way up in the mountains but there were still a lot of people living up there, lots of mud houses. The earthquake happened pretty early in the morning, at 1am or so. By the time we got there they had already evacuated the seriously wounded people. The docs worked on some minor injuries while we unloaded the HA. We were only on the ground for an hour or so, but the commander made the decision to take off so we wouldn’t end up camping out.

Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE village

Walking down to the village.

Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE damage

Close up of some of the damage.

Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE elders

Elders surveying the damage.

Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE fixing

Fixing the plumbing.

We made a few personnel changes in my truck: the TC (truck commander) took over driving duties, I became the TC, and the old driver became a quivering puddle of useless shame in the back.

The trip back was uneventful for the most part. It got dark when we were about 45 minutes from the city, so that made things a little more interesting. When we got close to the city the convoy commander chose to take the shorter route through the city instead of the bypass around, thinking that there wouldn’t be much traffic out at 8pm. Little did we know Afghanistan had won a spot in the cricket World Cup that evening and the whole city was out celebrating. The streets were packed with people. They were cheering, dancing, setting off fireworks, running around like crazy. Some people had aerosol cans they would spray and light on fire. It was nuts. It made it very scary for the gunners. With all the noise and lights and people everywhere it would have been a mess if somebody had started shooting at us. It would have been impossible to figure out where it was coming from. Luckily we made it through without incident and got back to the FOB.

Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE rainbow

A rainbow we saw on the way back.

Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE other stuck

It’s not just MRAPs that get stuck out here…

From what I read in the news later there were 20 or so people killed in the earthquake and hundreds of homes damaged. I’m sure they’ll be cleaning up and rebuilding for a while.


ECP: Entry Control Point

SECFOR: Security Forces


Thanks for the interesting day-in-the-life post. Reminded me of my own travelogues - except for the armor...

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