On a concrete basketball court, long strands of white tape formed segmented grids. Each square grid was marked by their respective longitude and latitude degrees. Shale rock would serve as a border outlining the route and signify the mountainous terrain. A toy Jeep was used to demonstrate the route and the various stops that were planned.
Our ANA counterparts watched with eager interest as the whole mission was mapped out in front of them. This battlefield drill was one of the many tools used in conjunction with PowerPoint briefings used for our upcoming mission. Our mission was to escort the Brigade ANA General throughout Wardak Province and visit numerous ANA Combat Outposts (COP) and Observation Posts (OP). In conjunction with a platoon of ANA soldiers, my brigade team would provide joint security for the general. The ANA general wanted to meet his soldiers and commanders and make a first-hand assessment of their needs and quality of life issues. In addition, members on my team would conduct their own evaluations at the jointly operated COPs.
Normally for safety and security reasons we would fly to these remote COPs, but this time it wasn’t feasible and we were driving. I would be the lead US driver and would follow behind an ANA up-armored Humvee. The remaining vehicles would align on my vehicle and establish appropriate intervals as needed. Our convoy totaled 14 vehicles and
we carried enough ammunition and explosive rounds to start a small war. If we were to encounter any Taliban, we had enough fire-power to decimate a small town. But the real threat wasn’t so much from insurgent small-arms fire as it was from hidden IEDs that might lie in our path. We would be traveling on the section of road
nicknamed the “Highway of Death” which has claimed many lives of coalition forces and Afghan civilians alike. These deadly homemade devices are responsible for over 60 percent of the coalition fatalities in Afghanistan. Even as I write, 14 minutes ago it was reported that two more of my US brothers in arms were killed by an IED device.
Day One: This morning was really chilly outside. Most everyone wore their thermal underwear and shirts to combat the cold. The MRAPs were fully loaded with water, MREs, extra ammunition, and our cots and ruck sacks were strapped to the sides of the vehicle. We had our mandatory convoy briefing and the convoy commander said a group prayer before we jumped into our vehicles. Well we don’t actually jump into the vehicles, instead it’s more of a climb and a crawl, especially with all the armor we have on and the weight of the ammunition and other gear really weighs a person down. Due to my height and size, it’s even more of a challenge for me to squeeze into the armored cockpit of the MRAP. But somehow I manage. At times I look like a contortionist bending my legs and body before getting behind the steering wheel.
We fired up the massive diesel engines and they groaned and grumbled under the strain of 40,000 pounds of armor and vehicle weight. But before we could leave the parking lot, we had some communication problems and one vehicle experienced a Class III leak of transmission fluid. This wasn’t good, but fortunately maintenance just repaired our other MRAP and we were able to transfer all of the gear, weapons, etc. to another vehicle. Although we were running a little bit late, so were our ANA brothers. But within a half hour, our convoy was aligned and we were driving out the gate with our train of vehicles.
We meandered through the city traffic which was surprisingly light and then headed west. But before leaving the city, one of the ANA vehicles started having mechanical difficulty and stopped in the middle of traffic. Somehow they were able to repair the deficiency and the convoy was moving again. Our first stop would be FOB Airborne. The convoy was making good time and we could see the outline of FOB Airborne in the distance. We coasted down the long hill leading to the FOB and they pulled over for a short halt. I’m still uncertain of the reason, but have grown accustomed to this. On other trips, the ANA will stop and buy cigarettes or snacks and stop without giving any indication. However, this time when I tried to pull out I lost all of my air pressure to my brakes and until the pressure resumes, the vehicle won’t move. This took a few minutes and then we resumed our drive to the FOB Airborne.
While there, we had enough time to top off the vehicles with fuel and our Marine Gunnery Sgt mechanic made some minor adjustments to a quick disconnect coupling on my vehicle. This seemed to do the trick, but we didn’t have enough time to work the heating issue. My MRAP did not have any heat and we were freezing cold inside.
My vehicle wasn’t the only one having mechanical problems. The lead ANA vehicle motioned me over and was pointing towards his power steering reservoir. Without the aid of an interpreter I was able to decipher what he was trying to tell me. He wanted to get some additional fluid for the vehicle. So I drove his vehicle over to Airborne’s maintenance facility. Our Marine mechanic diagnosed the problem and discovered the ANA added engine oil to the power steering fluid making the steering more difficult. So I got a container of fluid and the plan was to drain it at the next COP and put in the right fluid.
Our convoy departed FOB Airborne and we started driving south. Most of the mountain peaks were snow-covered and the air was much colder too. To be cont’d ………………………