A few nights after we got back from the mission to Prata Ghar, we had a party to celebrate the successful collaboration of German and American forces. Since the Germans were the only ones on the base with beer, they played host. 

This would be the first of a series. Over the following weeks it became commonplace to hear a bunch of SEALs leaving our compound saying, “Hey, we’ll be back, we have to go debrief with the Germans.” We had a number of parties with the Germans after that first mission, the last of which was quite memorable — although not in a happy sense.

We also went on additional joint missions with the Germans, including one that took us high up in the mountains to Ahmed Kheyl, on the Pakistani border north of Zhawar Kili, to explore another complex of caves. This place was high above the snow line, so we were going to insert by helo and trudge up there on snowshoes to check these caves out. All the intel said it was a fairly benign environment. 

Once again, we flew up to Bagram the day before the op and stayed there overnight, departing early the next morning on a few Sikorsky H-53s. This is a big-ass helicopter, much louder than the CH-47, and it puts out such a large rotor wash that you can’t really use it for targeted search-and-rescue missions. Stealth was not an important element here, as we were going to be inserting at a friendly checkpoint. 

They dropped us off right before sunup, and we immediately sank three or four feet into the snow. We set a quick perimeter and affixed our snowshoes. This was the first time I’d ever been on snowshoes. I loved it. 

We hoofed up to our checkpoint and checked in with the commander there. This was my first sight of a blond-haired, green-eyed Afghan. Despite his traditional Afghan clothes and hat, with his cheap shades and blond beard he could have easily passed for an American. I thought it must be the Russian influence. I was wrong. In fact, I later learned, there are a lot of Caucasian, blond-haired, green- and blue-eyed Afghans that trace back to an invasion of Europeans led by Alexander the Great. These guys have been defending their turf for a long time.

We hiked up another 3,000 or 4,000 feet in elevation and confirmed the location of the entrance to the caves. It was a big complex and we explored pretty much all of it. In retrospect, I think of this as a fairly low-key mission, since the intel turned out to be correct and the place was more or less abandoned. But we couldn’t be sure of this going in. Spending hours creeping through thousands of yards of dimly-lit caves and tunnels known to be host to a terrorist enclave never knowing what you’ll find around the next corner (or what will find you), burns an awful lot of adrenaline. 

After we had cleared all the caves, we prepared to hike back down again. I stood and looked out over the valley. Perched up there on that mountain, we could see for miles and miles — a hundred at least. Everything was silent except for the constant flux of the wind wafting through the mountains and crags. It was breathtaking. The snow conditions were unbelievable. “This would make a great place for a ski resort,” I thought. “That is, except for the part about the constant warfare.”