We just returned from our first mission outside the wire (OTW) and boy was it a memorable one. The massive mountains observed from our camp would be the same ones we would travel through. But the best made plans don’t always go as planned and today would be no exception. Our mission was to escort several ANA 7-ton trucks loaded with humanitarian assistance (HA) to a remote firebase in the mountains. The HA consisted of beans, flour, tea, fuel, etc., for the local villagers. Note: Some of the information I am writing is from second-hand sources and until I get settled, I can only make assumptions about the accuracy of the information.
We prepped our vehicles, loaded our equipment along with food (MREs) and water. We were armed to the teeth with our personal weapons along with the crew serve weapons mounted on our armored vehicles. We have enough munitions to be self-sustained to start our own little war.
As we departed the camp, we enjoyed the luxury of traveling on asphalt (hardball) for a few miles. The hardball is not your typical road due to the numerous potholes. New Jersey’s roads would be smooth compared to these roads. In fact you have to make a decision to which pothole you want to hit and not which pothole you want to avoid. Before long, the hardball turned into dirt and stone which made for a bumpy ride.
I might also point out that riding in an up-armored HMMVW is not a thrill ride either. They were not designed for tall people with long legs. I have much more leg room on an airplane in coach seating. Imagine having your knees jammed against the seat in front of you while your feet are wedged under their seat for several hours. Then tie a cinder block to your head so you can feel the weight of the helmet. To add to the enjoyment wrap yourself in a weighted garment weighing around 50 pounds and place your weapon between your legs for additional pleasure. Then set the A/C on low only to have it blow on your hips. Of course your ride wouldn’t be complete without strapping on ballistic eyewear that carves a notch on your nose along with a communications headset and thick Nomex gloves. Now prepare yourself for the bumpiest ride of your life as you feel every pothole, rock, or bump.
The temperature by now had reached 95 degrees. As a “window licker” (dismount) I had the opportunity to look through the passenger windows and take some pictures and record some observations in my head. We drove through several small villages annexed to the dusty roads. I spotted children holding sticks tending to herds of goats and ragged-looking sheep. But what shocked me the most is that these children along with their families lived in crudely constructed tents. These nomadic tribes are prevalent throughout the barren waste lands with little vegetation. The houses I observed were primitive and constructed of mud, stone, and brick. I can’t ascertain the age of them, but they look old. Many of the houses are surrounded by protective 18 inch walls made of mud and stone. These walls can stop our 50 cal and 240 rounds, which gives the enemy an advantage except when CAS is called in. I couldn’t help to think how long it took to construct these massive walls.
Mud huts and the village wall
Anyhow, our first stop was at Bagram Airfield. This is an extremely large base with many gates, airplanes, and lots of Air Force personnel. Here we loaded up with HA to begin our journey. We had a little bit of down time, so we decided to take advantage of the amenities the base offered. We couldn’t believe our eyes. They had Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Popeye’s Chicken! They have a BX with everything you could possibly imagine for purchase. Individuals were walking around freely in blue jeans, shorts, PT uniforms with no weapons. The base also seemed crowded with uniformed military personnel too. It was almost like we landed at a stateside installation. They had numerous retail shops that sold rugs, jewelry, blankets, and other trinkets. In comparison, our camp store has 2 rows of wooden shelves that are sparsely filled with soap, toothpaste, and tobacco products. They are living the big life at Bagram! But hey, this is one of the reasons I joined the AF, because they take care of their people. My teammates and I joked that they probably have hot tubs in their rooms too….lol.
As we set out for the mountainous areas, the topography quickly changed. I observed trees, grassy fields, and acres of wheat being tended to. Apparently the poppy eradication program has been successful here and has been replaced with wheat and other bumper crops. In addition, I was informed they are going to start growing saffron as an alternate crop. If this is the case, this is good news for culinary cooks like me who use this expensive spice. Previously they introduced pecans (I think this was the correct type of nut) as a bumper crop and soon the world market was flooded driving down the market price.
One village we drove through reeked of raw sewage and was littered with piles of garbage. I saw young children sorting through these piles looking for something of value that could be sold for money. But despite their poverty, they would wave at our convoy. I even witnessed one young boy raise his hand to his face and salute us. I learned their friendliness wasn’t without motivation. In the past, soldiers would toss them candy, water, and cheap ballpoint pens. Now when they hear us coming, they rush towards our vehicles in hopes of scoring some booty. Since then it has become a safety hazard, so only the tail vehicles are allowed to toss items to the little ones. It breaks your heart to see the rugged conditions these children endure and live in on a daily basis.
My attempts to take pictures were a bit futile due to the constant rocking of the vehicle as we maneuvered the dusty roads. We stopped briefly in a small village to wait for some livestock to clear the roadway. One of our 7-ton trucks was losing large quantities of oil and it wasn’t long until it came to grinding halt. We just passed through a village and stopping wasn’t on our agenda, but we had no choice. Immediately we employed our security procedures and waited for the ANA to hook up the truck and tow it. I wasn’t sure whether the towing truck could pull it up the rugged switchbacks as they were both fully loaded. It was a slow and torturous climb, but despite these big trucks spinning their tires, we made it to the top of the mountain and stopped at a remote outpost for mechanical assistance. On the way up the face of the mountain, we encountered a young boy who was hobbling with the aid of a stick. It appeared his leg was amputated. Our gunner felt sorry for him and tossed him a bottle of water. The child picked up the water and after we passed by, he dropped his leg down. We joked; our gunner was fooled by the ol’ “amputee leg trick” in hopes of getting some candy.
We arrived at the top and entered the outpost. These outposts are extremely rugged and this one was no exception. The French were the main forces here along with the ANA. I might point out that the French military are not afraid to take the fight to the enemy. In fact a few kilometers from our next stop, the French were engaged in an 18 hour firefight with the enemy. After filling up with fuel, we continued on our journey. By now it was already dusk and we were running out of sunlight. Our anxiety levels were peaked as the light disappeared and we drove in the dark.
While driving through a small village a few children threw rocks at our vehicles. Apparently they don’t like ANA or US personnel. One of the rocks hit our gunner in the ear. When he flinched and yelled an expletive, I was a bit excited, but he quickly recovered and we continued on our mission to the next fire base. While at the firebase, I took advantage of our down time and used the facilities. Unfortunately I forgot to wear my gas mask as the smell of ammonia was overbearing. The toilet facilities here are much different than the ones I accustomed to. I will write about these facilities at a later date.
By now we were completely enveloped in darkness and a command decision was made to drive back to our camp. The trip would take us at least 3 or more hours driving on dirt roads, treacherous switchbacks, and over small bridges and canals. These are quite dangerous during the daylight, but in the dark, your pucker factor tends to increase because of the threat of hidden IEDs. We eventually made it back to camp around midnight. Our first mission was a success, despite being OTW for 15 hours.
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Filed under: Food and living conditions, Missions | Tagged: Afghanistan, Bagram, Deployment, ETT, FOB, HMMVW, humanitarian, IED, linkedin, media, military combat patrols, multimedia, photography, poverty, war | 4 Comments »