11 December 2012
Don’t expect what you don’t inspect. That last sentence came back to bite us in the ass yesterday. I was able to hop onto the Squadron Commanders convoy up to the FOB that one of my platoons is operating out of. After a failed attempt at flying, this was going to be the easiest way to get up and see my troops. Along with the command groups Strykers, we were taking a cargo truck with us full of my platoon’s “C” bags and some mail that we had piling up in the mail room.
At 0900 sharp the mission brief started. The Squadron Commander’s Personal Security Detachment (PSD) have the pre-mission brief down to a science. Platoon leader briefs updates on the mission, air support, Platoon Sergeant talks about recovery if a truck goes down, Medic covers Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC), one of the drivers covers roll-over drills, and another driver covers fire drills. Once that was complete we loaded the Strykers and headed out the gate. I didn’t want to sit inside the whole ride so I volunteered to be the rear security on the Command Sergeant Majors truck.
After spending 27 months in Iraq and conducting hundreds of patrols, I thought I knew what “poor” was. I was shocked to see the living conditions the Afghan people live in around here. The one thing that stood out to me was the utter lack of color. Everything is brown. Every once in a while you would spot a young kid along the road that would be wearing an old pink coat that would catch your eye due to the extreme contrast of colors. Everyone is dirty and void of smiles, which is understandable for a country that has been at war for decades. The compounds and houses in Iraq had windows and were somewhat taken care of. They would have belongings, tables and such, scattered in front of their house that gave you a sense that people lived there. When you went inside, they were decorated with carpet, pictures, and some even had TVs and radios. Here in Afghanistan, the compounds the Afghans live in are made of mud, not like the brick buildings in Iraq.
My Grandfather has talked to me about always wanting to meet his Russian counterpart; an Infantry Colonel in the Russian Army. I want to do the same thing some day. I want to go back to Ramadi when I am 70 (if and when it’s safe) and talk to Abu Allah (one of the High Value Targets we went after) and have some tea. Pick his brain you know? Ask him if he knew how close we were to killing/capturing him. Did he know my name or that of my Platoon Leader Jimm. What was it like being on the run and how did he control his network with us so close to his tail. How did he train his guys? What were his orders to his network of insurgents? Were they to kill/capture us specifically or was it just to disrupt our operations.
I haven’t been here in Afghanistan long enough to want this with a Taliban counterpart. I would rather want to get to know my civilian counterpart. The question that kept repeating in my head during our movement yesterday was “What do these people live for?” Looking at their faces, the lack of personal belongings, the women that were stuffed in the back of the trucks to ride with the sheep, I couldn’t come up with any answer other than “Survival”. Mind you, I haven’t been beating the ground every day conducting foot patrols to get a good vibe of the people. This opinion is only coming from a trip in a Stryker hatch that lasted a little over five hours.
Around an hour into the drive I started to smell burning rubber and after a minute the cargo truck in front of us confirmed it by blowing out its front tire. We immediately pulled off the right side of the road and pulled security. I dismounted and took a look at the situation. Yup, it was unable to move until we changed it. I told the vehicle commander to get the tools, we will change it right here and then continue our move. Too easy… At least that’s what I thought! The vehicle commander does a loop around the truck, opening compartment after compartment, and comes back to tell me “we don’t have any tools on the truck”. Now, this wouldn’t be much of a problem had we another truck in the convoy that was the same, but we didn’t. The tool set on the Stryker didn’t have a socket large enough to fit the lug nuts on the truck. Uh-Oh…. To make matters worse, the Brigade Commander and Brigade Command Sergeant Major were riding with us.
A Scout Weapons Team of a couple OH-58D helicopters showed up on station to provide us with a little bit more security while we tried to figure out what we were going to do. We were well over an hour away from the FOB and QRF was spinning up to bring us some recovery assets. A Romanian patrol stopped and offered some support but didn’t have any sockets large enough either…. We were still screwed and sitting ducks on the side of the road. Just my luck! The one patrol I go on and we get stuck on the side of the road. With both the Squadron and Brigade commanders and CSM’s on the ground, it quickly became a scene of “Too many bosses, not enough workers” and I worked my way back to the Stryker to run the mounted security. I was talking with the other Strykers and giving the helicopters some areas to look at while we sat and waited for the QRF (which seemed like forever as the leadership was going to be late for a meeting and kept asking how long it was going to be for QRF to arrive).
The plan was for QRF to maintain security of the truck, fix it, and take it back while we continued our move to our destination. Time was dragging by when the pilots came over the net and asked us how much longer we were going to be. The PSD Platoon Sergeant explained that we didn’t have a socket big enough to fit the wheel and we were going to be here for a while waiting for QRF. And then that’s when the question of all questions was asked! The Platoon Sergeant asked the pilot if he would fly back to our FOB and pick one up. The net went silent. I am SURE the pilots were on their own frequency talking smack. Probably went something like:
Pilot 1: Did he just ask what I think he asked?
Pilot 2: No F’n Way!
Pilot1: I went through YEARS of flight training, I have a helicopter loaded with rockets and .50 Cal machine guns, flying in enemy territory, and this dude wants me to turn this into a parts truck?
Pilot 2: Didn’t they say that the Brigade Commander was down there?
Pilot1: Shit! That’s right!
Pilot 1 to PSD Platoon Sergeant: Not a problem brother! We are on our way!
The pilots ripped back to the FOB and picked up the socket and then conducted a quick landing in the middle of the road after we blocked traffic. Within 10 minutes we had the tire changed and we were on our way. We continued move and made it to our destination just in time for the meeting. But hey, when you are the Brigade Commander, you are never really late to a meeting, everyone else was just early!
It was nice getting to see the boys up at the FOB. My platoon knew I was headed up to visit them and as I stepped off the Stryker the Platoon Sergeant was waiting for me. I immediately broke from the group and got a tour from SSG Cereceres. The FOB is small, about 400 meters by 400 meters. They are collocated with some Romanian Soldiers and US Special Forces. The platoon is doing great things up there and have been continuing to improve the living and sleeping conditions. After the tour was over I got to do what I came up for. I sat down with all the Soldiers and just shot the breeze with them. They told me about the missions they were conducting, what they do on their off time, and all the specific things they have done to improve the FOB. I asked them all the same question: If you were 1SG, what is the one thing that you would fix here where you are living?
The answer was unanimous: chow! These poor guys are being fed by the Romanians, and from personal experience, they don’t put quite the same emphasis on food for Soldiers that we do. I was already tracking this and have voiced the concern to the powers that be. I explained to them that it was now out of my hands that that the head dude from our Division was going to pay them a visit the next day to fix it. Other than chow, the guys loved the mission, were happy with living conditions, and were content with living on this little FOB for the next 8 months! I was really impressed with them and what they have done.
The ride back was uneventful and in the dark. I got back and we immediately conducted an After Actions Review (AAR) of the mission to identify what procedures we are going to impliment to make sure we were not going to run into the issue of having a truck without the proper tools go on patrol. By the time I had dinner and checked emails, it was time to call the girls and hit the rack. I was tired and ready for a good night’s sleep.