Read Part One here.

Rumors were going around within a week of being on the job that we were deploying to Afghanistan that winter, only four months away. Right before we loaded up for a month-long rotation to the National Training Center (NTC), it came down the pipe that our battalion would be given the Village Stability Operations infantry uplift mission for a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. Our NTC rotation would thus reflect living on a VSP (Village Stability Platform), raising up Afghan Local Police, and all the other little training objectives for counterinsurgency the Army wanted us to train on.

The NTC rotation had all the typical madness any unit experiences there. For me and Bobby, we came together well as a Platoon Leader/Platoon Sergeant team. The previous Platoon Leader had been relieved for being incompetent, so it was an adjustment for Bobby to have an officer who actually led the platoon. There were times when we butted heads; he had been so accustomed to giving orders to the platoon as the platoon leader that he didn’t necessarily like a 2nd lieutenant asserting himself and giving the orders. But we worked through those issues, and our platoon was recognized as the highest performing for the rotation.

Image courtesy of the US Army
This is me and Bobby, he’s laughing because I just told him a joke. Image courtesy of the US Army

For the Afghanistan deployment later that year, our company was directed to split up the platoons into smaller elements at the request of the Special Forces ODAs (Operational Detachment Alpha) in theater. My platoon was going to be split in half. One ODA wanted a platoon leader and platoon sergeant who could independently run operations, so I was going there. The most kinetic and dangerous VSP in Special Operations Task Force-South, VSP Belambai, wanted two squads, led by the most combat experienced and responsible NCO we had. Coincidentally, at that moment the Army sent a Sergeant First Class down to my battalion who needed platoon sergeant time. Bobby was the only Staff Sergeant filling a slot meant for a Sergeant First Class, and so he was removed from the position. My company command team, faced with a series of difficult decisions, decided to keep Bobby within the platoon as the senior squad leader who would take the two squads to VSP Belambai.

Bobby was angry he was effectively being demoted. It was awkward performing functions as a platoon in the last few weeks before deploying with him as a squad leader. He had run the platoon for the year before I got there, we had established a great relationship, and now he was replaced by a new NCO who was totally new to the unit.

When we arrived at Kandahar Airfield in December 2011, we were rushed through a series of quick mandatory training events, and told to get ready to move out to our VSPs with our respective ODAs. At this point, Bobby seemed genuinely excited to be getting away from the company. He did not like the Platoon Sergeant who replaced him, probably for no other reason than he was now the Platoon Sergeant, and morale was low across the battalion for a number of reasons. In his eyes, he was going to be able to do his job as an Infantry NCO in combat, and would effectively be the senior guy on the ground again.

On our last night at KAF, when I found out my ODA would be picking up my half of the platoon in the morning, we gathered up the platoon for our last goodbyes. It was awkward. Everyone sort of hugging and shaking hands while jets were blasting off and washing over us with jet noise, the smell of burning plastic that hung in the air, and the general awkwardness of a forced and artificial goodbye. I shook Bobby’s hand, told him good luck and that I’d be staying in touch, and without knowing it, that would be the last time I would ever see him.

The first few months of the deployment were largely uneventful. By coincidence, our two squads with me at VSP Ezabad got into minor engagements with the enemy within the first week or two on the ground. The same was happening with Bobby at VSP Belambai. The nature of southern Afghanistan and Kandahar in particular lends itself to year-round conflict. There are no treacherous mountain passes covered in snow, no Himalayan style peaks stretching into the sky. It’s just flat, dusty, rural Afghanistan. Because the weather never closes routes, fighting can continue even in the winter months. Where I was in Maiwand District, fighting had lessened considerably than what it once was. We received sporadic contact from great distances, encountered a few Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), but nothing major.