Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Day in the Life

Once in a while, you get a letter or email that really changes your view of things. I received this letter from a close friend who is currently deployed to Afghanistan. It touched TLS and myself and after editing it a bit for OPSEC (operational security) purposes, I wanted to share it with all of you.

It's been a while since my last update, so I'll try to cram as much in
as I can.  I made the trip from Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan on July 23rd,
flying a jam-packed C-130 (large prop cargo plane) and landed at
Kandahar Air Field (called "KAF") at night.  Pitch black outside and
inside the plane, we waited patiently for our palletized bags and
equipment to be offloaded by a forklift and then filed out off the
plane, legs asleep, dust in the air, and no idea where we were going.
Our liaison guided us into a hardened building with sandbagged windows,
and the first thing I noticed was the missing plaster on the ceiling and
the cracks running up the stone walls--mortar damage.  Yep, definitely
in a warzone.  Since I had had the same awakening when I flew into
Baghdad in 2008 the feeling wasn't new, but boy was it intense.  Our
welcome brief consisted of instructions on what to do during a rocket
attack and how to check the bottled water for contamination before
drinking it.  Great.  We grabbed our 100-lb bags, wearing all our body
armor and carrying weapons, and loaded onto buses headed to our
temporary home.

My first day at KAF was nothing special, except for the first time I

heard F-18s fly over the base.  You see, most military aircraft sound
like all other planes, just louder, but for some reason an F-18 turning
overhead sounds exactly like the first thing you hear when a rocket is
about to hit near you.  I'm intimately familiar with the sound of
rockets (and the booms afterward) from my last deployment.  At FOB
Rustamiyah in Baghdad last deployment we endured two to three rocket or
mortar attacks everyday for three months.  Add it up...that's over 200
rocket/mortar attacks, and each attack was several rounds making several
explosions...in a base smaller than a Manhattan city block.  So, anyhow,
I heard that an hit the dirt.  And got laughed at.  My pride's intact
because those jokers obviously don't know what it's like to be rocketed
several times daily and would cry if they knew.

The soldiers and contractors at KAF make a big deal about the rockets.

It's no sweat--once a week, 1-2 rockets max, hitting an area the size of
Central Park.  Sissies.  The worst threat at KAF was the smell.  My
temporary building was located precisely downwind of the largest sewage
lake I've ever seen.  I don't exaggerate when I say the signs saying
"biohazard" were placed every four feet around its perimeter.  I'm not
sure why the lake exists in the middle of our base or what actual
function it serves, but it sure smells bad.  General impression:
different location, same bad deployment smells.

In early August I got the "Go" word to fly out to FOB *****.  ***** is

in a region known as the Arghandab River Valley, also known as hell.
The fighting here is constant and sometimes intense.  We flew out on
Chinooks with double armed escort and the helicopters sure wasted no
time in dumping us off at the ***** helicopter landing zone (a flattened
area with large gravel covering it).  After hefting my bags and
equipment to my tent, I stopped by the headquarters to see what was up.
Oh, nothing much, just another dead soldier and two wounded across the
river.  Damn.

The unit we're replacing hasn't sustained this many casualties since

World War II.  They've had a rough time, though, because when they came
in here nothing American existed.  They built everything from scratch.
We're hoping to take their momentum and hit much better statistics.  The
people here aren't conniving and dishonest like many of the Iraqi
civilians were; one actually feels a sense of brotherhood with everybody
here.  So, there's hope, and not just hope but realistic expectations.
The only problem is we have to fight our way to those goals, and that's
what we're doing now.

So far we're doing pretty well.  Only one serious injury in the

battalion.  Things are going to pick up drastically in about a week, but
that's normal and we've made preparations for it.  The roads here are
horrible.  By "roads" I really mean cleared pathways of dirt that accept
trucks.  We've rolled over four or five of our armored trucks already.
We've also hit several IEDs, but we've found lots more (that's a good
thing).  Our soldiers are probably the closest people I know to heroes.
It takes guts, pride, and a ton of determination to do what they do on a
daily basis.  That's because they're Infantry soldiers, like me, and
their job is the toughest in the Army: go out on foot or in trucks,
through heavily mined fields and jungle-like vegetation, try to outsmart
the enemy, and when you finally do make contact fight in a coordinated,
disciplined manner for your dear lives.

So, I glamorize it, but you can take away the connotation of my wording

and the job description will still be 100% accurate.  You can't get paid
enough to do this work; there's some other motivation.

So, a little about my experience here.  Day one was boring because I had

no work to do.  I pretty much sweat it out (did I mention it's always
about 110 here by 8:00 am?) and drank water to stay hydrated.  Day two
was an introduction to all my counterparts in the outgoing unit and what
additional tasks I'd be responsible for.  That night I came down with a
severe stomach disorder and wound up vomiting all the water I'd drunk
the previous days and becoming incontinent.  Embarrassingly, I stumbled
to the aid station and requested an IV to replenish the fluids in my
body.  They gave me some medication that made me very light-headed, and
sure enough, our FOB came under rocket attack.  This FOB is about the
size of a large Walmart, so we take these attacks very seriously.  I
wound up inside a bunker, IV stuck in my arm, with a blanket over my
head.  What a start.  So day three I slept.  Day four was the beginning
of work, and every day since then has been a repeat.  The Groundhog Day
effect (reference to the movie with Bill Murray) is horrible here.
Doesn't matter what day of the week it is; same old, same old.

I'm writing about a lot of the negative aspects of this deployment, but

I'm doing so with good humor.  I'm not complaining, but there's really
nothing else to write about.  It's the nature of this deployment that
life will be difficult for a year, and it actually fills me with great
pride knowing that I'm able to positively affect the outcome and produce
tangible results.  We don't live in sadness over the losses we have and
will sustain, but sometimes it gets to us.  Already, a soldier in one of
my infantry companies stepped on a mine placed on top of a large IED and
lost his foot in the blast.  That's very sad, because we all knew him
and liked him, and we all shed some tears shortly afterward, but his
sacrifice wasn't for nothing, and that's what we keep working for.  We
repeatedly see medical evacuation helicopters landing across the river
to evacuate wounded or dead soldiers, and while it's sad, there's no
point spending time dwelling on it when we can spend that limited time
making better plans and improving our tactics to prevent such things in
the future.  I guess what I'm saying is we're going to be alright in the
midst of this battle, because if we weren't the enemy would achieve his
goal, and by nature or nurture we have the tenacity to stick through it
and beat the enemy.  (Obviously typing this out is a way I'm dealing
with it.)

And, besides, we're winning our battles.  It can be hard sometimes to

define overall victory in this fight.  When they attack us we almost
always win, even if we take a loss.  But for the overall objective of
stability and peace, sometimes you just don't know how to gauge how well
you're doing.  It will definitely take time, but it's achievable.  By
comparison, last deployment we saw little progress for months, but by
month nine my small 40-soldier Infantry platoon's success was more than
evident.  There were tangible effects that we could use to gauge our
progress, and we sure had made a ton of progress.  Here, the only
tangible effects we're likely to notice for several months is the number
of Taliban we kill or capture...and by the nature of the fighting we
aren't able to capture many.  The kill ratio is meaningless in the large
scale, though, and we know that.  Still, it doesn't hurt to know that in
two weeks we've killed a large number of Taliban through active
firefights alone.  They'll keep coming, but they'll be less well trained
and much more afraid of us, which is our ticket to isolating them from
the civilians here.

Okay, enough morbid talk.  Let's talk about what I don't have that would

be useful if you send something.  Of primary use would be Gold Bond body
powder (the yellow bottle) which is used to avoid rubbing and blisters
on feet and legs.  Also useful is Charmin Ultra Strong toilet paper
because the stuff out here doesn't cut it, and when nature calls there's
often no place to wash your hands afterward.  I have enough books to get
me by and my simple life here requires few other distractions.  But I
like reading cards sent to me, not because they bring me home (for right
now this is home) but because they remind me that people back home
actually care about my unit and my soldiers.  Anything with nicotine or
caffeine in it would be outstanding since we're in a really rugged
environment with nothing but mountains, valleys, and desert around us
(certainly no stores we can go to).  Don't worry about phone cards; we
have no phones they can be used on.  Also related to the cards are
photos.  Photos of you all can form that tangible connection between us
here and the people who care back home, so send photos with cards if you
have them.  I'll put them up, starting with my desk space and moving to
a board I put up in the headquarters if I get enough.  Seriously...it
sounds silly, but it means a ton to the soldiers here.  This time around
I'm going to prepare a list of all my soldiers so if you have a charity
organization that sends Christmas or holiday cards to soldiers that
organization can send to my soldiers.

Not going to lie...this is a bad deployment, and we're going to get

rocked hard.  Thinking about my soldiers who don't get mail because they
have no one back home has gotten me a little down.  Letters of support
and pictures are probably the two most important things to send.  Send
them all to me regardless of who they are for, but if it's a letter for
my soldiers or the unit as a whole please use something like "To all the
Soldiers of ****** Company" in the card or letter.  It'll be a boost for


  1. How can we help? Is there an address for the whole general group of them where we can send letters/Gold Bond/etc?

  2. wow.... this is soo serious.... i wish all the soldiers good luck and best wishes... xxxoo

  3. thank you for sharing this letter. i think it is so easy for us in the states to forget the extents that other men and women are willing to go to to protect and serve our country. i hope this post is a reminder to all.

  4. Please let me know where to mail cards, etc to this group of brave men & women.

  5. Hey,
    Send me the address and I will definitely send something out. Working for the Army, I always hear about our soliders but never from them.


  6. Hey, If you send me the address, I would love to send something. Working for the Army everyday, I hear about our soldiers but never read from them. I would love to help.


  7. Oh wow... This is just... Wow. Thank you for sharing it. It sounds eerily similar to the deployment I friend from high school is going through right now. I second all the requests for an address so we can help - my sorority would love to do something.

    If you would rather send it privately, my email is sarahwyland@gmail.com

  8. Thanks for sharing this! I've know many friends and family members who have fought in this war but I don't have any there now. This was a great reminder.

  9. I don't have anyone deployed at the moment, and would love to adopt a company :) If you are comfortable with it, please send me an address for your friend's company to desperatelyseekingseersucker@gmail.com. OR..if you want me to send to you to send to them? Either way.

    I'd love to send some gold bond and charmin and antibacterial wipes for after using "the facilities" :)

    Thank you so much for sharing this letter! We all know our soldiers are over there fighting for us, but it's so rare that we have a chance to hear directly from them. What an honor.