The explosion tore me from sleep. I scrambled up from bed and burst outside, assuming an air of indifference as soon as I saw the others. There were five or six of them, all looking over the Hesco barriers at a distant stain of black smoke. Pogues — engineers, corpsmen, attachments like myself, here to dismantle the VSP.

The move was upon us. I had been in Watan for two weeks now, and had yet to see any combat whatsoever. As soon as I’d arrived, it seemed the most volatile region in the country had suddenly quieted. The blasts of impending mortar strikes turned out to be nothing more than our own mortars, or controlled detonations, or on this particular morning, some other false alarm.

I joined the other pogues, hands in my pockets, hair matted up from sleep, following their gazes over the barbed wire.

“MCLICs,” said an engineer. “Shit’s on now.”