I don’t need to write an explanation for this piece. The real telling thing is that it happened in late May of that year. It was written and published on 25 July. Those were busy days between . . . Best job I ever had.
I had just come off a three day observation post, pulling security on an empty stretch of Afghan dirt. No one would have buried IEDs there if we didn’t go there. We only went there to prevent insurgents from burying IEDs.
I walked into the command post in the same clothes I’d left in. Moon dust clung to the sweat in my uniform. Salt stains streaked down the fabric. We had a platoon strongpoint mission. The CO gave me the timeline. Seven more days out.
I had three hours to pack and prep.
This became the norm.
Last minute “Hey You” missions. Bullshit taskings. I executed in the spirit, if not in the letter.
I passed up my schedule by FM. Task and Purpose. Timelines.
It was all rudimentary. The closest I came to the “military decision making process” was to scribble lines on a map that never resembled our actual routes.
I would have worked toward an “end state” if there had been one in the first place. Nobody likes to use the term “presence patrol”. It’s a kinder, gentler way of saying Movement to Contact. Which is a kinder, gentler way of saying Search and Destroy.
That sort of thing doesn’t brief well anymore.
I made a passing attempt to work with our “shonas”. The rag-tag group of Afghan Army soldiers assigned to us so that the field grades could say, “Yes, Afghans are taking the lead.” We dragged them out on patrols in the heat.
At night they got stoned with our ‘terp and giggled like school children.
Afghans are always offering tea. After some badgering, I conceded and sat with the Afghan platoon commander for lunch. Flatbread and rice. They even gulled me into trying the watermelon.
It was a mistake.
I mistook the symptoms for dehydration.
My CO called and told me to push back my morning patrol. I was to wait for a group of “Afghan Special Forces” to accompany me. They arrived four hours late. We didn’t step until mid day.
The heat was oppressive. My head swam. I could barely concentrate.
The commando group was a shameful lot. They frolicked among the rotting poppy husks. They threw the heads at one another, and their SAS handler.
We cleared a target compound. There were empty fuel barrels and stained earth. Signs of HME production. We found no damning evidence. My boys waited outside, pulling security.
I walked gingerly in the pre-marked path, stepping around a spot marked for a positive metal hit. Everyone knew to avoid it. I motioned to my guys to pick up and get ready to move.
An Afghan commando walked right past me and stepped directly in the marked area.
The commando looked around with child-like eyes, confused about why everyone was yelling at him. Nothing happened.
He walked away.
The Brit and I locked eyes; a deathly serious exchange in silence that read “I have to LIVE with this.”
That afternoon, I radioed up to the company that I was cancelling my evening patrol in favor of a night OP. My guys were smoked. Half of them were sick. Shitting and puking.
The CO was unavailable. The XO – another lieutenant I had worked with before – told me to push out the patrol anyway. I was furious. I bit my tongue, force-hydrated, and took a different crew. I barely made it.
By the time we reached our destination, I was ready to fall over.
My medic was watching me closely. I kept a stiff upper lip until we made it back to our compound, but I fell out soon after. I dropped onto the stretcher I was using as a bed as my stomach twisted in pain. That night, I evacuated my bowels no less than once every thirty minutes.
By morning it became mucous. Then blood.
My platoon sergeant picked up the AM patrol. I laid on the stretcher, delirious from heat and fever. I went nowhere but the slit trench. I couldn’t keep food down.
X-Ray came over the radio and ordered us to put our game faces on. VIPs were headed our way. No less than a pack of light colonels and a general officer.
I hadn’t moved off the stretcher. Doc took my arm and looked at my veins. My forearms are incredibly vascular. I was so dehydrated that doc had to jab both arms bloody to find a vein. It took two IVs to get me on my feet.
I barely had enough time to throw my uniform on when the parade arrived.
My platoon was so under-strength, I didn’t even have the Regional Command’s minimum required manning to occupy the strongpoint we were in.
The general took one look at me and knew I was a mess. He didn’t seem to mind. I kept it together long enough to give him the tour. He and his counsel of colonels praised my guys, packed it in, and hit the road.
Military Bearing means keeping a straight face while your own bloody discharge runs down your legs.