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.
At Kandahar, there was a small camp where all the Air Force Combat Controllers hung out. We had Brad and Eric, our two CCTs, living with us, but there was a small contingent of CCTs who were piecemealed out to various other units. Among them were the two young Combat Controllers that Chief Dye had fired in Oman. Even though they were no longer with our platoon, they had still come over to Kandahar and were now living with the other Combat Controllers in this compound — which ironically enough, had ended up being moved right next door to us.
These two guys had not gotten over what happened in Oman. We would see them passing around the base, and they were clearly copping an attitude and trash-talking our platoon. They had gone to their OIC, an air force major, and given him their story on what went down — who knows how they’d described it — and we could tell he wasn’t very happy with us. This major was a big, burly dude, six-foot-six, looked like he could rip your arms off with his bare hands. We’d heard he was very big in mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting.
The issue got to the point where Brad and Eric went over and talked with this major and gave him their perspective. “Listen,” they said, “we’ve worked closely with this platoon for quite a while now, and these are good guys. We know those two young Combat Controllers weren’t happy about what happened in Oman, but there are two sides to every story, and the truth is, those two young fellows have a lot to learn.” They came back and told us there shouldn’t be any more problem, that they’d cleaned up the tension there.
Apparently, though, some tension still remained. The head glaring at us right now over that wall, spitting and fuming and going off on us, belonged to the air force major.
Dave, a SEAL who’d come to Kandahar to augment the DPV group (which I’ll get to shortly), started arguing with him. One of the Germans called out some comment, and the major shot back a profanity. The German chucked an empty wine bottle at him. It missed and smashed against the wall.
This thing was escalating fast, and our guys were turning into an angry mob — and then all at once the major was gone and everyone went back to his business. At first, it seemed that the whole escalation had reversed itself and things had gotten under control. When I saw Dave stand up and start over toward the CCT compound, I realized what had actually happened. Dave had told the air force major to “come meet me in the alley,” and he was going out there now to settle the dispute man to man.
This was not good.
Oz got to his feet and said, “Let’s go,” and he and two other guys went back out there with Dave. A few minutes later, I followed.
Dave tore out of our compound and, in the pitch blackness, ran straight into a Humvee we had parked there. As Dave recovered from that, the major met up with him and sucker-punched him in the throat — and then looked up and saw the rest of us.
“Help,” he started screaming, “the SEALs are ambushing me!” and he turned and ran for the entrance to the CCT compound.
Oz is a street brawler. He grew up in a tough San Diego neighborhood and learned early on how to stand his ground. With Oz, there’s no foreplay. He doesn’t do any trash-talking, chest-thumping, or pushing and shoving. If it’s on, it’s on: He just flips the switch and goes.
Some words were exchanged, but not many. Oz just laid this guy out. Punched him so hard that he broke his nose, knocked him out, and severed a vein. There was blood everywhere. The other air force guys who had joined the major stood there horrified, looking at their commanding officer, this major they all looked up to, this frightening guy with the big reputation as a mixed martial artist, lying on the ground bleeding all over the place. Oz looked at them all and spoke matter-of-factly. “Who’s next?”
None of them was next. They were terrified. Not only was Oz standing ready to take out anyone else who moved, but they were also now facing an angry mob of SEALs who looked like they wanted blood. A bunch of us had by now moved from the bonfire out to where this was all happening, and we were standing there ready to back our guys up if necessary.
One of the air force bunch ran to get army security, and the rest just stood there, afraid for their lives.
Suddenly this big German guy, Enne, started pushing through the crowd. “I’m a medic, I’m a medic!” he was shouting. ‘Let me through.” He crouched down with his headlamp over the air force major and started checking him out.
“Wait a minute,” I was thinking. “Enne’s not a medic, is he?“
Enne grabbed the major’s nose and started raking it back and forth. The major came to — and found himself lying on the ground with a big German guy tweaking his broken nose. He screamed in pain.
“Oh, yah,” Enne said with a completely straight face. “Diss iss definitely broken.” He looked over, smiled, and winked at us. I could not believe the audacity of this dude. After a minute Enne let up; the air force guys carried the major off to get him to the medics (the real ones), and we returned to our fading party.
A little later two army MPs came over to our compound to take Osman away. I met them at the gate. “Look, guys,” I said, “you aren’t taking anybody anywhere.” One of them opened his mouth to object — but I stopped him. “Let me explain something,” I said. “This is the last place you want to be right now. These guys have been drinking. They’re pissed off and they’re ready to rip someone’s head off. You don’t want to come in and try to take anyone out of here right now.”
I saw them wrestling with the situation, trying to figure out if they should back down or press their case.
“Look,” I said, “we’ll sort this thing out tomorrow afternoon with our chain of command after everyone’s had a chance to get some rest.”
They could see the logic of that. They backed down and left.
Harward, our superior, flew back down early the next day from Bagram, and man, was he livid. He reamed our platoon out, no holds barred. It was not pretty. Fortunately for us, when the medics operated on the major’s nose that night they could see that he’d been drinking, which meant that everyone involved was culpable and not just us. Technically speaking, nobody was supposed to be drinking on the base. Harward had known we were having parties here and there but had turned a blind eye to that. Until now. Now he had an enlisted man who had struck an officer, and his ass was on the line.
Within eight hours Oz and Dave had their bags packed and were on a flight out of there.
I have to admit, it was the right move on Harward’s part. Taking Osman and Dave off the base defused the situation. Now the army couldn’t come put Oz in the brig, and the two of them wouldn’t be around for the air force guys to run into. He had quickly put a lid on the whole thing.
Later that day the air force major came over and apologized to us all, shaking hands with each one of us in turn. He told us that he’d been drinking and he had instigated the trouble. I thought this was a stand-up thing for him to do. At that point, the tension had finally gone out of the whole conflict — but the long-term repercussions of the event were still to come.
After this deployment, Cassidy put us in for some major awards. Several of us, including myself, were lined up for a Bronze Star with Valor. Because of the incident with the air force major, Captain Harward knocked all our awards down a notch, and I ended up getting the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor. If you read the language of the award (“heroic achievement … in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service”), you can tell that it was originally written up for a Bronze Star and then demoted to a Commendation Medal after the fact.
I suppose Harward did what he had to do. As I said, the guy was an animal, without a trace of sentimentality. Regardless, I was proud to have been nominated for the Bronze Star with Valor regardless of Oz’s antics.