Its 1930, Saturday August 15th. I am sitting on a cot in a tent on FOB Salerno in eastern Afghanistan. I had to reach way back for the title to this one. I went all the way back to the beginning of our trip over here. I wrote a post called “Charlie Foxtrotting Our Way To Afghanistan.” So I thought it only fitting that I entitle this one the way that I did.
Anyway, today we hauled our asses out of bed at 0530. Or at least they woke us all up at 0530. However, given the fact that the new unit is in charge of all the trucks now and I had packed all my shit last night. All I had to do was get up, throw some clothes on, brush my chicklets, and get my shit and my self in the truck. I looked at the board and saw that we were leaving at 0800. Now why on earth would I get up at 0530 if we don’t have to leave until 0800 and the amount of things I have to do will take a grand total of 20 minutes and that’s only if I’m really dragging ass.
After falling back to sleep until 0620, I was rudely awakened by a rather pissy NCO. Was he mad that I was sleeping? Nope, he was mad that I was sleeping and he wasn’t.
“Why are you sleeping?” He asks.
“We don’t have to leave for like an hour and a half, and I don’t have shit to do.” I reply.
“We have to get the trucks ready!”
“Bullshit, that’s their job now. My only job is to ride.”
“True, but...” (he’s thinking about it)
He doesn’t even finish his sentence when he lays down on the bunk next to me.
Then we both end up sleeping for another hour. Which was nice.
Then we got up, threw our shit in a trailer, got in the truck and sat there. Waiting and waiting while these guys were trying to get all the radios filled, and the computers working, and the weapons mounted and all this other shit that would most likely have taken us a grand total of 20 minutes to do. But they’re new so let’s cut them some slack. We were only an hour late.
It wasn’t so much the being late that pissed me off. It was the fact that I could’ve slept another hour!
Now we finally got moving. Good for us, and good for these guys. Good for us, because we’re going home and good for them because this is their first time out the wire when they’re running the show.
And as luck would have it, the driver of the truck I was in had a sense of humor. Now I’ve told you what kind of ride these vehicles have. If you don’t remember just think of a dump truck with brick shocks. That’s the kind of ride this is.
So he decides that in order to give us a proper send off he is going to nail every single bump, pot hole, IED hole, and speed bump on the ride from Clark to Salerno. This guy hit one bump so hard that I literally flew into the air off my seat and came down sitting on my nuts! That’ll wake you up in the morning.
So after recovering my ability to speak with any bass at all in my voice, we made it to Salerno. We said our goodbyes to the new guys, grabbed our shit, and settled down for the night in the transient tents.
To the 2-151 Infantry, Indiana National Guard...y’all be good!
So now here I sit, typing away and thinking about a good long shower. We find out in a few hours when or if we are going to fly out of this hole tomorrow. We’ll still be in Afghanistan, but we’ll be one step closer to home. At least now, I can count this shit in days as opposed to months.
Finally before I wrap today up, let me tell you about something that we have to do tomorrow. We just got notified that we have to stand for the TOA formation. (TOA=transfer of authority) Meaning that we were responsible for all this, and now Indiana is.
Really? Like any of us want to stand in this thing. Just throw them the keys to the house and let’s roll out! But the Army is a slave to pomp and pageantry, and they certainly love a good dog and pony show. Which is why they are going around asking people if they have a nice uniform to wear for the formation.
Are you fucking kidding me? I have been in Afghanistan for a year and you know, sleeping outside, running through the mountains, sweating my balls off, fighting with the Taliban, blowing up, getting mortared, and basically living like a damn haji. None of these things are very good for the condition and/or presentability of your clothes. So NO! I don’t have a nice uniform. And this is one place where I got a little pissed at them. I don’t give a rat shit what the Sergeant Major, or the Captain, or whoever the hell else says about my uniform. I’ve been a bit busy for the past year and the last thing I cared about was making sure that my uniform was crisp and clean. They don’t like it, then tell them to ask the Taliban to confine their bullshit to business hours so that I have time to properly care for my uniforms. Other than that, you can blow your little formation and TOA directly out your asses!
I swear the shit the Army comes up with sometimes is enough to anger a saint!
That was yesterday, now it’s August 16, 2009. And I got to do something that I haven’t been able to do for a long time.
I GOT TO SLEEP IN!!!!
Last night before we went to bed the platoon daddy said we ain’t really got shit to do tomorrow except that transfer of authority formation which is at 1230 hrs so just sleep till whenever and make sure you’re at the formation.
So I did.
You want to know what time I ended up getting out of bed?
That’s it, that’s all the more I was able to sleep. I couldn’t stay asleep. I tried. I woke up at 0700 and I already had this feeling of dread that I was late for something. Then I remembered that I don’t have to be anywhere until 1230. So I tried to go back to sleep. And I tried for an hour and a half before I just said, “To hell with this” and got up.
This is what a year of this can do to you. Sleeping in for me used to be 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Hell if I got drunk the night before I could sleep until dinner! Now my body won’t even let me sleep past 0700. And I can’t even force myself to go back to sleep. Fucking Army!
So I got up, smoked a few cigarettes, took a shower, ate lunch and then got ready for this TOA formation.
Just the usual. A few Colonel’s and Sergeant Majors, along with my commander, first sergeant and all of us standing in our nice little rows and columns.
Fist the Chaplain gets up and gives a prayer asking God to bless everyone and their brother and bless this, and bless that, and bless him and bless her, and yada yada yada...
Then the Colonel gets up and tells us what a great job we did this past year even though he has never even seen us before.
Then our commander gets up and tells us what a great job we did, and tells the new guys what a great job they will do.
Then the new guy’s commander gets up and tells us what a great job we did, and then tells his guys what a great job they will do.
Then our commander encases our guidon.
Then their commander uncases their guidon.
And its over.
Took about 20 minutes from start to finish.
I was glad it didn’t take very long. I mean, who the hell wants to sit there and listen to some Colonel yap about missions and winning hearts and minds and all the other talking points he has had delivered directly from the General’s office. Not to mention, its about as hot as the floor above hell here, so I didn’t want to stand out there any longer than I had to.
So I was thinking about this while we were standing in this formation and I started to imagine what I would say if I were the commander. What would I say to a company full of new guys? What would I say as I looked into the green little faces, and stared into the steely eyes of all those who were with me here over the past year.
Well, here is what I would say...
Gentlemen, we had a helluva year. We blew up...A LOT! We fought it out with enemy, we won some hearts and minds, we traveled a million miles, we worked our asses off, we dealt with a mountain of bullshit, we accomplished every mission they hit us with (even the ones we weren’t prepared for.) We got through all of this and everyone is going home breathing and with all their appendages still attached. So as far as I’m concerned it was a successful year.
And to all you new guys...
We’re going home, AND YOU’RE NOT! And I’m not going to lie, that sucks. You’re going to blow up...A LOT. Just like we did. You’re going to be introduced to Mr. Taliban Man, and those introductions will probably take place very, very soon.
So the only advice I could really give you is this, keep your eyes and ears open, your mouth shut, and your ass down. The only job you have here is to accomplish the mission that is set for you, and to bring all your boys back home with you. That’s it and that’s all.
Be safe, and we’ll have a beer for you when we get home!
Yeah, that’s what I would say.
I guess you could look upon the TOA formation as a kind of metaphorical period put on the end of our deployment. Its basically saying that we have no responsibilities here anymore other than getting home. And I like that. This makes me very happy. So in that respect it was nice.
Couldn’t help but laugh about something though. Sometimes something happens that just subtly reminds you that God is watching and Karma is hanging around. You’ve read all about the mountain of suck that this deployment was for us. It will most likely be the same for the new guys. There’s just no way around it. So we’re doing the TOA ceremony, and its a beautiful day, except for the searing heat its a bright sunshiny day. Then about half way through, right about the time that the commanders were encasing, and uncasing the guidon, it started to rain!
Maybe Karma was saying goodbye to us...
...and saying hello to this bunch of FNG’s.
So tomorrow we fly out of here to Bagram Air Field (BAF). We turn in the last of our ammunition, and exchange our ratty, torn, burnt, dirty, and destroyed uniforms for brand spanking new ones, and then we’ll get on another plane and fly out of this country. Then, at least for us this deployment will be over.
I’d like to say that, for us the war will be over, but I have a nagging feeling that that just will not be the case.
But that’s enough for today, tomorrow is another day and another few thousand words...
And now its the next day, Monday August 17, 2009. What was supposed to happen today? We were supposed to get up at 0530, pack up a 5 ton truck with all our gear, then move on down to the flight line at 0800 to fly out of Salerno to BAF at 1100. Well as I’m writing this its 1320 hrs, and I’m still in Salerno.
What happened? It rained.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, the worlds most vaunted military machine (the US Military) can be brought to a screeching halt by a little rain. Okay, so it wasn’t a little rain. It rained pretty much all last night. And it was a downpour. But I see those Coast Guard guys flying in hurricanes, so what the hell is wrong with these Army pilots?
So we get up this morning, hoping that it wasn’t raining anymore and sure enough it wasn’t. So at the time, I figured that there wouldn’t be too much trouble with us getting out of here.
Then we get the word from the flight line that no flights will be leaving because, get this, because the runway is too wet. Oh, yeah I forgot to tell you that the runway here is gravel. Every single building on this FOB is made out of concrete. Even a few of the shitters are made of concrete, but the runway is gravel. So basically, they are saying that we got stopped from flying by mud.
(Just a fun little aside, I shit you not as I’m writing this I heard a plane, then ran outside to observe a C-130 flying overhead. You know, nose up, low flying heading away from the flight line. Its a certainty that it just took off. Apparently, only OUR C-130 has trouble with the mud.)
Oh joy. What a wonderful day. Whatever, so when the hell are we leaving? Well in their infinite wisdom they have decided to reschedule our flight for 2330 hrs, tomorrow night! So basically, the rain just bought me and extra day and a half in this hole.
But here’s the fun part. Due to our schedule, and the fact that our date to be out of country is rapidly approaching. They are going to have to hustle our asses out of BAF within about 8 hours of us landing.
Here’s how this is supposed to go. We are scheduled to land in BAF sometime around 0030, and then we are supposed to hit customs before we even leave the runway, they are bringing the customs guy out to the runway to meet us, that’s how fast we need to be out of this country. Then we have to go to the terminal to get the “don’t beat your wife, don’t beat your kids, don’t drink too much, don’t kill yourself or anyone else, don’t get arrested when you get home” briefing. We won’t even leave the terminal before we got on a plane and fly to Manas, Kyrgyzstan by 0900 the next morning.
Now why do we have to hustle like this? Well that’s pretty simple. The government/military gives deployed soldiers a lot of extra cash. Hostile fire pay, eminent danger, combat pay, family separation, not to mention the fact that we don’t pay taxes. All of this money adds up, and if you spend even a single day in a combat zone during a month they have to give you all those entitlements for the entire month. They have to get us the hell out of here before September or risk paying those goodies to 150 soldiers who weren’t supposed to get it.
I don’t think Uncle Sam can wait another month before he starts taking that big bite out of my paycheck again!
Alright, now its Tuesday August 18, 2009 and its about 1600 hrs and we’re still in Salerno. But we were supposed to still be here anyway. So what did I wake up to this morning at 1000 hrs? I awoke to find out that our flight had once again been pushed off. Now we are leaving at 0600 hrs tomorrow morning, which means we’ve gotta be in the terminal at 0300.
Which means that everything that goes along with loading up a plane is going to happen in the middle of the night. Which has its good and its bad points. Its good insomuch as we don’t have to do all this shit under the oppressive midday sun. Its bad insomuch as we have to do all this shit in the pitch dark of the middle of an Afghani night. Not to mention this is a blackout FOB which means the only light we’re going to have is the red and blue lens lights that aren’t anywhere near strong enough to make this process easy.
Definition: Blackout FOB, a FOB that as soon as it gets dark all lights are turned out and the only authorized lights are either the red or blue lens lights that are exceedingly difficult to see with, or moonlight. The purpose of this is, and I’m guessing here, to not allow the enemy to see moving lights from the mountains at night. Apparently, its really hard for them to see the FOB during the day and then decide where to fire their little rockets and mortars!
So anyway, we have been spending the entirety of this day laying around doing absolutely nothing. Which is fine with me. As of that TOA formation I have no responsibilities here whatsoever.
The latest on our little stay in BAF is that we are going to be locked in the terminal until we fly out to Manas, Kyrgyzstan sometime tomorrow afternoon. We’ll have to see how that goes. If the trip thus far has been any indication, we’ll probably be locked in the terminal for upwards of three days.
Then we got notified that we are exchanging our FRACU uniforms for brand new ACU uniforms when we get to BAF. Basically, FRACU’s and ACU’s are the exact same uniform except for the fact that the FRACU’s have a little patch sewn onto the left cargo pocket of the pants and the left cuff of the shirt so that you can tell the difference. FRACU’s are Fire Retardant ACU’s.
Now since we are coming in so damn late, we can’t do this the way that this is supposed to be done. Here’s how its supposed to go. You stand in a line with one set of FRACU’s, when you get to the front of the line they take the uniform, and you tell them what size you want to get back. They send some haji into the back room and he comes back with the size you asked for. Then you sign the little paper and on your way you go. That’s what should happen.
But since we can’t leave the terminal (customs issues) we have to take our uniforms that we are turning in and tape them together and write on the outside our names, social security numbers, and the size we want. Then when we get there three guys from the company that are already there will take all our uniforms to the supply warehouse and exchange them for the new ones.
52 soldiers have placed their uniforms into the hands of 3. Three guys will be taking these over there and getting them exchanged. Oh, I can’t see anything going wrong here. But time will tell.
So now all I have to do tomorrow is load a truck with all my shit, take the long walk to the flight line, sit there for three hours, load a plane, get on the plane, sit there while it takes off, fall asleep, and be rudely awakened by the rather rough landing that Air Force pilots are prone to, unload all my shit, and sit in the terminal until another plane comes. The rest of my day is shaping up beautifully! Everybody loves doing the ole’ Army Bag Drag!
So I’m done for now, will continue this either from the terminal in BAF, or if I’m really lucky my cot in Kyrgyzstan.
Now it's 2220 on August 19, 2009 and we made it into Manas, Kyrgyzstan. Nothing really to tell except for the fact that low and behold the entire operation today went...
EXACTLY AS FUCKING PLANNED.
I am waiting for the sky to fall right about now.
About the only thing I can tell you about Manas is we got in a little late and went to midnight chow and at this meal they had something that I haven't had in over a year. Something I didn't even know that I missed until it crossed my lips. Something that my family had better make sure there is a fridge full of when I get home!
THEY HAD REAL MILK!!!! I drank real milk for the first time in a year. And I have never tasted something so sweet.
So anyway, we are supposed to sit here for 3 days then fly back to the states. We'll see how that goes.
Alright, I'm done for now, but this one is a work in progress.
I love you Mom...