Here is an item originally ran on Best Defense on JUNE 23, 2016.

My first deployment with my OD-A was to Afghanistan. We were the sole representation of our unit in the country and pioneered a highly austere version of VSO (Village Stability Operations). We peed in tubes and pooped through a hole in a second-story mud section of our compound, into a room that served as a giant toilet, a room of poop.

We kind of loved it. When we first arrived, after an awful trip, we had no defense whatsoever and broke bread with the villagers that owned the building. We were there to train a local militia of sorts and cast out the Taliban’s influence, creating a white space. In turn, we would go on to build a school and help link the locals with the provincial and Afghan federal government. And in the midst of that, our team shrunk by a couple of members, mainly because of bureaucracy, not because of the enemy.

We had to build everything from scratch, and nothing was easy. Our infiltration to the site took over ten hours, during which we traveled just over six miles, because of the snow and the mountainous terrain. But a senior officer briefed General David Petraeus, who had assumed command of the Afghanistan theatre, that we would be in place before the snow thawed and the Taliban, who were likely living it up on vacation in Pakistan, re-entered. We should not have made that movement; our foreign counterparts destroyed two Humvees, and now that I was driving, I had to tow them up the terrain, in the snow. It was a mess beyond our expectations, which were very low. You couldn’t help but laugh. It was on that convoy that I learned all I needed to know about the region. As we took turns driving up a very muddy and slender pass through the village leading up to where we were headed, we encountered a natural stream. And in it was an elderly woman gathering water, likely for cooking and drinking, and then downstream from her was a young girl, washing her families clothing. And downstream from her was what looked like a man peeing, and then one of our counterparts was vomiting into the stream, downstream from them all. You can’t make it up.