Thoughts of tomorrow’s mission weighed heavily on my mind. We were traveling further south on Highway 1. It has been nicknamed by the US soldiers as the “Highway of Death” or the Afghans refer to it as the “Highway to Hell”. Highway 1 extends 300 miles from the capital city of Kabul to Kandahar and the re-makeover was paid for by the U.S. at a
cost of $300 million dollars. It was originally built as a symbol of peace leading to a bright future and a logistical lifeline to connect the provinces with a main artery to expedite commerce, trade, and travel. But since its construction, it has become the Taliban’s number one target of opportunity. They set up impromptu roadblocks
and extort, terrorize, kidnap and kill local civilian travelers. Corrupt ANP also have been known to set up armed checkpoints and shake down the travelers for money too in an effort to make up for the inadequate salaries they are paid. It was also on this same highway that 50 trucks loaded with fuel and food destined for U.S. outposts were
burned and 7 drivers were beheaded as a warning to those supporting the coalition forces. Even more gruesome was the Taliban’s savage act of mutilating a U.S. soldier’s body almost beyond recognition after they attacked his team with RPGs and mines. So between the half-inoperative heater in the wooden b-hut and these graphic images, it was a restless and cold night.
We all woke up about the same time and repacked our ruck sacks and sleeping bags, ate some hot chow, fueled up the MRAPs and prepared for today’s mission. When we came out of the chow hall, we were greeted by two energetic puppies. It was obvious someone was training them as they sat on command and posed for my camera. Of course a few morsels of beef jerky that accidentally drop from the hand seem to mesmerize just about any dog in Afghanistan….lol. Seeing these furry critters was a good sign for the beginning of a long day.
After the trucks were refueled, we began our journey further south. The presence of other ANA soldiers lining the highway at various points helped to
quell some of my anxiety. I kept my interval spacing from the lead ANA up-armored Humvee. When we approached certain towns, I noticed the ANA gunner took a much more defensive posture and would squat lower behind his Ditschka (.50 cal equivalent) gun and scan the fields and village houses. This was also the same time I
started noticing the IED scars on the highway. The pavement was irregular and it was obvious at one time an IED was placed in a culvert under the road. Some of the filled in craters were quite large and I can only fathom the explosion that might have taken place.
It was a bit contentious riding over these battle scarred roads. In a 15 mile stretch, I must have counted over 40 former IED pockmarks. When my MRAP would roll over the rough pavement, sometimes the contents in the vehicle would shift making an eerie bang causing my heart to skip a beat. The sides of the highway were lined with the charred carcasses of fuel trucks and transport trucks. These burned skeletal hulls seemed to serve as a grim warning for those who might brave traveling through this region, especially the trucks who were supplying logistics to the coalition forces.
Our convoy continued to venture south while the ANA general would stop at ANA OPs and visit his soldiers. I kept my eye on road signs and saw a bi-lingual sign and noted we were about 25 miles from the Ghazni Province. We had just traveled almost the entire southern length of the Wardak Province. Our next stop was a U.S. Combat Outpost
strategically positioned on a steep hillside known as COP Carwile. If my information is correct, it was named in honor of Army 1Lt Donald Carwile who was killed by an IED explosion. (More about Carwile here: Freedom Remembered: 1st Lt. Donald C. Carwile)
This would be a good pit stop and an opportunity to possibly get our MRAP heater repaired. Before leaving in the morning I took a sip of water and then placed the bottle next to the windshield. It was so cold inside the MRAP; the water crystallized and created an oblong ice cube in the center of the water bottle! While most of my team went to the chow hall, I took my vehicle to the mechanics. They made a temporary fix and I had heat for a few minutes. Later on, our Marine mechanic was able to fix the heater to the front cockpit, but my dismounts suffered miserably in the back of the vehicle as those heaters couldn’t be repaired.
The command was given to mount up and we piled back into our MRAPs. We had a long drive ahead of us as and this time we were going North-West of FOB Airborne. Our next destination would be COP Conlon. To be cont’d…….