By late March we knew we were winding down. We had a stellar track record in Afghanistan, but we’d been in this theater of operations for close to six months, and soon it would be time to rotate back home. As it happened, the Germans were about to rotate in a new crew themselves, and the group that was getting ready to leave wanted to have us over for one last get-together before they were gone.

This time the party was held at our compound, around a raging bonfire.

That night the Taliban were shooting mortars at us. They were staged pretty far away and weren’t likely to score a hit. There was nothing for us to do about it, anyway; we weren’t responsible for camp security, and the army was dealing with it. So we just treated their firepower like fireworks. Every time another mortar went off the Germans would yell, “Prost!” and raise their beers in the air. We thought it was pretty hilarious.

Late that night, as we were enjoying ourselves, drinking, listening to the stereo, and laughing every time the Germans raised a toast to another futile Taliban mortar round, I heard a loud voice yell, “Turn that fucking music off!” I looked around and saw that someone’s head had popped up over the wall that separated our compound from the one next door.