ANA armed escort.
It was a brisk morning and the mercury was holding steady about 26 degrees. We ate a hot breakfast and prepared for the next leg of our trip. We met up with our US escort to finalize the details. The route clearance guys (IED hunters) would go in front of us and actively search for IEDs implanted in the culverts and along the road. As fast as the IED
Road leading to district center.
hunters dispose of the IEDs, the insurgents wait until they pass and reseed the road with these lethal home-made bombs composed of two types of fertilizer and diesel fuel. The fertilizer is cheaper than a bag of flour and is abundant in country and available anywhere for resale.
We aligned the convoy and picked up additional ANA troops and vehicles
We got ourselves a convoy!
along with some commercial trucks transporting food and drink supplies for the troops at the Charkh District Center. In all, we had over 30 vehicles in our convoy. As we traveled down the dusty dirt road, our gunners were given an opportunity to fire the crew serve weapons at the mountain side to ensure the machine guns were functioning properly. My gunner who is an AF SSgt enjoyed this part of the trip.
Village children by their house door.
The terrain was barren and desert like, but the IED craters in the road were a reminder that the enemy was somewhere in the vicinity and didn’t want us traveling to their town. We turned off the dirt road on to an asphalt one that would lead us directly into the village center. I was surprised to see the abundance of the trees and orchards that paralleled this road. The village children came out of their houses to watch as our armed convoy passed by. One small boy had a wood switch in his hand and used his other hand motioning for us to get out. It was as though he wanted to whip us with his stick! Look at the picture to see the seriousness on his face, it was unforgettable and made us chuckle at
Afghan boy who wanted to whip us.
As we approached the combat outpost, the road turned into talcum powder like sand. This caused the tires to spin, thus creating dust clouds making visibility difficult. I tried to capture this with my camera, but there was so much dust, you can’t see the vehicle in front of us. We arrived safely at the camp and set up our gear in a nearby tent. While eating our MREs, we heard a torrent of machine gun fire. We were certain there was a shooting range nearby and they were practicing their marksmanship. This was not the case. Our escorts departed the FOB and drove about 1 kilometer and they were attacked by small-arms fire. One of the US gunners was injured by shrapnel and after the fire fight was sent to the medical clinic at FOB Shank an hour’s drive away. I was informed the soldier is going to be fine.
Outside of school.
It was obvious our presence wasn’t welcome. This was the first time, the FOB had attempted a VMO and HA distribution since being set up earlier in the year. But this wasn’t going to discourage us, so we walked next door to the VMO site. It was a 2-story modern looking school. An Army LT explained that the insurgents previously
riddled the school full of bullet holes. Since then, the holes have been patched, windows replaced, new desks purchased, and the school was painted. The villagers may have reached an agreement with the Taliban to permit their children to attend the school, because it hasn’t been attacked since. The Charkh DC is composed of a 178 miles
Afghan women villagers in burqas.
of populated villages (pop. 40,000), orchards, deserts, and mountains. There are approximately 30-40 hardcore extremists who try to control the district and about 100 other insurgents who seem to take turns attacking the coalition forces. In addition, there are over 500 sympathizers who provide some sort of assistance to the
Carrying in school supplies.
My ETT team along with the ANA unloaded medicines, blankets, clothing, and school supplies from the 7-ton truck and stored them inside the school building. The ANA doctors and US medics were busy setting up the pharmacy and the treatment rooms. The
Afghan teenagers who hate Americans.
village women and children would be treated on one side and the Afghan men and boys would be treated on the other side. After they received their medications, they would visit the HA center.
While the team was preparing the site, I ventured down to the entry control point to take some pictures. There were several boys perched on top of the mud-brick wall motioning for my attention. I walked over to them along with my interpreter Omid. The boys were demanding “rawdios” and callum (radios and pens). The radios are one of the most popular items we hand out, because it has a manual crank and doesn’t require electricity. I didn’t have any radios or pens to hand out. But I saw this as an opportunity to create some dialogue. I inquired whether they liked Americans or not. The oldest teenager responded and my interpreter was hesitant to translate. I insisted he translate word for word. The translation was “I hate Americans”. At first I was a bit disgruntled and thought to myself, “You hate Americans, but you want our HA and medicines we give out”. Instead, I told him, that I respect your opinion and wanted to know more. Here is a generalization of our conversation:
Me: Why do you hate Americans?
Boy: Because you are a non-believer.
Me: (Recalling my conversation with ANA mullah) I am not a non-believer, I just have a
different book than you do. (Referring to the Bible for Christians and the Koran for Muslims)
Boy: It doesn’t matter; I am supposed to hate Americans.
Me: Why do you say that?
Boy: Because the village mullah teaches us this way. (In the interim, another younger boy interjects)
Young Boy: (Talking to older boy) Don’t tell him that because he won’t give us a radio or a pen.
Me: Come here tomorrow when we are open and I will give you a radio and other HA.
The VMO/HA site was set up and the doors were secured. Afterward, I joined in a friendly game of volleyball with the ANA and ANP. Despite being 44 and 7/8 years old, I was still able to block their spikes and hold my own. Meanwhile my teammates went to eat and after volleyball I would do the same.
After chow, I was in the small computer and phone center. Suddenly the windows rattled and a large explosion was heard. An Army Specialist came running inside and yelled for everyone to leave and grab their gear because we were under attack. I was in a bit of a pickle because my body armor, helmet, and my M-4 rifle were secured in the tent. To get to the tent, I would have to pass by the Entry Control Point (ECP) where all the action was taking place. Instead, I decided to take cover in the small concrete wall room along with two of my interpreters. I was still armed with my M-9 pistol, so if an ambush would take place, I could still defend myself at a very short range. The insurgents were using air burst Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) to try and take out the guard towers and the ECP. The soldiers on duty opened up with a deafening reverberation of 50 caliber machine guns. There were several large booms. Admittedly, I was a bit scared and so were my interpreters as they hunched down low and took cover under a wood platform supporting a computer. It was like everything was in slow motion. The attack only lasted for 10-15 minutes, but it was agonizing. So many thoughts flashed through my head. My biggest worry was an errant RPG because they are inaccurate and unpredictable. I thought about my lovely wife Liisa and about our future vacation plans in a few weeks. I pulled out my gold cross she gave me and said a small prayer. Then just as quickly as it happened the gunfire was silent and we waited another 15 minutes until an all clear was given. Unknown to me at the time, my teammates were huddled in a bunker wearing all of their body armor.
Afterwards the Army soldiers were yelling “Hooah” and talking about the attack and previous attacks. I recall one soldier bragging about #67. It had been several weeks since they last attacked and it was obvious this one was meant for us and to instill fear in the villagers and discourage them from coming out to the VMO site.
We returned to our tent and I looked at the various expressions on my teammate’s faces. I’m sure several of them experienced the same thing I did, but probably won’t admit it. We settled down for the night and lit the wood burning stove. This proved to be quite a chore since we didn’t have kindling and resorted to dipping the large wood chunks into diesel fuel. The stove was too small to heat the large tent and the 2 foot flames being emitted from the flu might possibly catch the tent on fire. The Army 1st Sgt managed to find a diesel fuel connector but the amount of heat it provided was dismal at best. You had to be 6 inches from the stove to feel the heat. It was freezing outside and not much better in our tent. It was going to be a cold night.
Filed under: Missions | Tagged: Afghan National Army, Afghanistan, ANA, Charkh District Center, Deployment, ETT, FOB, humanitarian mission, IED, insurgent attack, Logar Province, Taliban, U.S. Air Force, war | 1 Comment »