My day commences at 0530. I am awaken by the after-burner of a fighter jet that shakes my walls violently. I collect myself and prepare for my morning workout. The sweet melody of a barking Platoon Sergeants cadence drowns out my iTunes as a platoon runs by my camp. The sun has already risen, the day will only get warmer.
I ensure my workout is the first task I complete. The unpredictability of my job can consume the day making it impossible to plan for personal needs. I’ve established a makeshift gym behind one of our tents. People refer to my workouts as “jail house” and they think I’m out of my mind. Bystanders stop and stare as if I were a cave man. My gym consists of a large tractor tire, bicycle tire inner-tubes, sledgehammers, sandbags, PVC pipe filled with sand, 50-foot rope, and a punching bag that I procured (cite: Acquisitions “crack deals”). I tie parachute cord around the tire, connect it to my waist, and sprint up and down a dusty gravel road. I strike the same tire in repetition with the sledge hammer until I can no longer lift my arms. The 50 foot rope is secured to a fixed point where I can climb it. I strap on my flak jacket, and begin my ascent. The bike inner-tubes work like cables and pulleys. I knotted several of them on T-walls (big jersey barriers) and attempt tricep and bicep exercises. My gym lacks mirrors, air condition, and plasma TVs. The floor is composed of rocks and sand while barbwire hovers above me. This is my escape, my time to reflect.
After working out, I clean up for breakfast. My bathroom is what you might expect from a third world prison. A short walk across camp with my shaving bag is barely enough time to mentally prepare for what I am about to encounter. My shaving bag is comprised of bare essentials secured in plastic to prevent contamination from sand and dust. Inside the bathroom lies a box of bottled water, hand sanitizer, shower, and one plastic toilet with a missing seat. The toilet leaks water. We use a pair of vice grips to turn a valve on and off when using it. Our toilet paper is pink and a rare commodity. “Night ops” are conducted against other units to secure this elusive item. My shower has the equivalent pressure to standing under a light rain. The water is cold and unpleasant. It’s an internal fight to consider showering at all. Finally, I conclude by brushing my teeth with a bottle of water. Whatever vaccinations you’ve had, it’s not enough to drink from the tap.
On my way to the chow hall, the streets of KAF are bustling. Convoys are staged with eager soldiers ready to send Jihadist to meet their virgins. Various aircraft fill the sky and the sound of explosions can be heard as A-10 Warthogs practice bombing runs a distance away. Unit flags are coupled with Old Glory, which remains half-mast from soldiers killed in action. Small blimps linger in sectors outside the base perimeter relaying imagery of suspicious activity to the Tactical Operations Center. I wonder what the average Afghan thinks when he sees one of these blimps. Our technology must be mind blowing to these primitive people who still travel on camels and donkeys.
I arrive at the chow hall thinking about my tasks for the day. Stickers from past and present military units conceal the chow hall door. Savvy slogans flank pictures that represent individual units. I pause to take in some of these clever designs. Today I saw a patch with a curvy animated nurse, scantily dressed, wielding a syringe near her face. The sexually suggestive slogan read: “The louder you scream, the faster we come”.
Everyone is required to fill a sign-in sheet at the door listing; name, rank, unit, badge number, and signature. Since the nature of my work and unit affiliation are secret, I fill out the sheet using identities of cast members from various TV shows I know. This method works because people believe I’m either a Navy SEAL, Delta Force, or Special Forces from my scruffy beard, military bearing, and the weapons I bear.
There is no such thing as an average day here. My work tempo is based on military tasking handed down to me and my team. My team is comprised of 16 local Afghans whom I’ve recruited. We conduct missions and gather information for coalition forces in efforts to neutralize insurgency efforts. I’m able to blend in and rove around Kandahar making my role vital to military command elements who are more risk adverse. I wear local clothing to blend, drive unarmored (thin skin) local vehicles, and conceal an assortment of weapons, grenades, communication equipment, and survival gear close to my body.
Parliamentary elections will be conducted in a few days and I’ve noticed an indubitable increase in Afghan security checkpoints. The Taliban warn locals from voting and declare the election is being manipulated by Infidels resulting in an increased security posture by Afghan police. Vehicles are stopped randomly and searched along with its occupants. Checkpoints are manned by corrupt police while phony checkpoints are erected by Taliban fighters. It’s the Wild West. I won’t describe my methods in this forum, but I have been able to move free and clear so far with little confrontation. As I drive through Kandahar and move into rural Taliban strong holds, I survey bombed out cars and blasted pavement where IEDs have succeeded. A few days ago, I witnessed 5 men with pick axes placing an IED into a drainage ditch under the road I was traveling. My rules of engagement allow me to eliminate this group of men should I choose, my mission stated otherwise. I must balance risk vs. gain along with common sense. Being the only American and experienced operator, I understand the necessity of selecting my battles wisely. This was one I chose not to engage in.
Yesterday marked the conclusion of Ramadan. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sex from dawn until sunset. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. Attacks were predicted to be less frequent because of the Taliban’s weak and laconic state from not eating and drinking. With that said, we are getting mortared and rocketed about every other day. Three times in August, the Taliban have tried full-scale perimeter assaults on my base. When we are attacked by rockets, a siren blares announcing the attack. We are required to hit the ground and seek cover until another “all clear” message is broadcast. I’ve been in the chow hall twice when this has occurred. Occasionally, someone will make an off comment like, “get off my nachos” to keep the mood light. This is old hat for me and have become accustomed to such attacks. My logic is, if a rocket is going to hit you, it’s just your time. I don’t seek cover and continue business as usual.
“I come in peace, I didn’t bring artillery. But I am pleading with you with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”
– Marine General James Mattis, to Iraqi tribal leaders
Image courtesy of bookitornot.com