Well here it is the 4th of July. Not much fanfare here and for good reasoning since we are in a combat zone. So if we don’t have any fireworks tonight, this will be a good sign. Anyhow, I woke up early this morning and prepared for another mission.
Today my team was going to the firing range to practice shooting the crew serve weapons. These are the weapons that are mounted on our armored HMMVWs and can reach out and touch someone at more than 1,000 meters away.
As usual we had to convoy or patrol to the location. It seemed to take forever to get to this specific range. Even more surprising was the amount of local civilians who live nearby and the children casually visit the range. I think they gather the brass casings left behind and sell them. Normally we have to clean up all of our brass before departing the range. But today, we cleaned out the vehicles and dumped the casings on the ground.
Off in the distance appeared to be a very prominent looking structure. According to our interpreter Saleem, this building used to be the Presidential Mansion for former King Zahir. Previously I visited one of his summerhouses by the lake, so I can only imagine what this place looks like inside.
But annexed to our shooting range is another building. At one time it was a huge dwelling and was supported by its own water well. Now, it has been destroyed and resembles a piece of Swiss cheese with all of the bullet holes and pockmarks from explosive rounds. Several years ago the Taliban or the insurgents were responsible for destroying this residence. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any additional information about this house or its history.
Anyhow, after our safety briefing my team loaded ammunition into the 50 cal. and M-240 machine guns. A few people had the opportunity to shoot some explosive rounds at the targets using the Mark-19. Our targets were some old metal vehicle shells and positioned 800-1000 meters away.
I suspect they were former Soviet vehicles. Throughout my travels (over a thousand miles now) I have seen many skeletal remains of old Soviet armored personnel and tracked vehicles. In fact if you looked closely at the waterfalls picture I posted during my first week here, you will see a Soviet APC flipped upside down at the base of the falls. If you didn’t catch this detail, then you probably won’t qualify as a gunner for my HMMVW. It’s almost as if they kept these carcasses as a souvenir to display their triumphant victory over the Soviet invaders.
Being it was the 4th of July, I was feeling a little bit frisky and decided to fire the M-240 machine gun from my shoulder. Perhaps I watched the Rambo series too many times or perhaps I just wanted to see if I could do it….being the ol’ man I am…lol. Normally this weapon is mounted in the turret and secured by a metal pin because of its awesome firepower. It’s also made to be fired using a bi-pod. But after seeing one of the Georgia Boys fire it from the standing position, I had to try and repeat this feat. Surprisingly, I was able to hold it and fire a few rounds at my target. The weapon is really heavy and the recoil caused it to ride up, but I accomplished my goal.
After our target practice was over one of my teammates who also happen to be my roommate or cubicle mate (whatever you want to call these blankets strung on 550 parachute cord separating our space) seized this opportunity to reenlist in the US Air Force. Our team leader administered the oath and this SMSgt select raised his hand and repeated the oath.
After returning to camp, I logged on to my e-mail account and was humored by the pictures my wife sent me of the dogs sitting by her laptop. My dogs are now “celebrities” and had their pictures printed in the local newspaper back home in Tampa. When I get a good Skype connection with video I am able to see them interact. I miss playing with my “boyz” and making them bacon and eggs for breakfast on the weekends.
Tonight our DFAC showed their 4th of July celebratory spirit and decorated the dining facility. They hung decorations from the ceiling and paper flag replica table covers adorned the tables. But what really caught my eye was the fruit and vegetable sculptures. Normally one or two are on display, but tonight they were everywhere! We have two individuals who are responsible for these works of art. One is the sous chef and the other is a local Afghan. In the future, I will have to research this in more detail. I really think there is a story to tell.
Customarily I try to eat BBQ chicken on the 4th of July and they had some tonight. However, it just wasn’t the same as being back in Pennsylvania with my mom and dad and extended family or with my wife at home in Tampa. I suppose having to cook for several hundred people might have something to do with this. Although it’s still early, I’m sure my Uncle Blair is preparing the charcoal briquettes for his outside grill to appease 60 hungry visitors. This is my family’s tradition in PA. Most of my relatives come there to celebrate the 4th of July with the traditional BBQ chicken. The marinade or rub is still a family secret and come to think about it, I still don’t know what it is. It was passed on by my grandfather and when applied and cooked properly, the meat just falls off the bone. Anyhow, after my relatives gorge themselves with chicken and all the home-made covered dishes we play volleyball in the backyard only to be followed watching firework displays later in the night. Hopefully next year after this deployment, I can rejoin my relatives and celebrate with them.
For those history buffs and inquiring minds, Afghanistan celebrates its independence every August 19th. This date symbolizes the Afghan victory over British colonialism. The Treaty of Rawalpindi was signed on August 19, 1919. It should be noted that Britain never conquered Afghanistan. Not only does this date commemorate the country’s independence but is also symbolic that their nation will never be conquered by any invading force.
Admittedly tonight is a bit of an emotional low. Writing this blog entry makes me miss home and most of all being with my wife. Tonight she will be at our best friend’s home without me and later on they will watch the city fireworks display along the bay water’s edge. I will not be there to hold her hand or embrace her body to see the sky being lit up with pyrotechnic explosions. Instead, I have to hope the sky here stays void of any flashes or rockets. Say a special prayer for our Marines down south who are heavily engaged with the enemy. Freedom isn’t free. Happy 4th of July America!!