In the Truck Commander’s Seat to Chemtal – Part 3

The room of Kwalee Khowsouddin that we walked into was probably only eight feet wide by sixteen feet long. The floor was covered with a worn, brown carpet that stretched half way across the long room and a deep red carpet to stretch the other half.  Like two jagged, half moons that met tail to tail, the bricked ceiling above us was dome-shaped and slightly beautiful in its own way. The room had two large arched holes on either side of the door that served as windows. The traditional American sense of a window… glass, plexiglass, or a window treatment… was nonexistent. Continue reading

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In the Truck Commander’s Seat to Chemtal – Part 2

My eyes, like those of the other Soldiers in my truck, frenziedly darted about as I quickly scanned the vehicles coming toward me and those approaching from the side streets. White Toyota Corollas and station wagons over-stuffed with Afghans zoomed past us. Motorcycles, ridden by one, two, and sometimes three people, zig-zagged in and out of traffic. Faded and dirty jingle trucks traveled slowly down the paved roadway, blocking cars from passing. Continue reading

In the Truck Commander’s Seat to Chemtal – Part 1

Public Affairs support had been requested for a mid-April mission to an area in the Chemtal District in central Regional Command North. As I had for many other missions before, I reported to the staging area in the morning and began my usual routine of double-checking my gear, packing extra water bottles, and using the Port-a-John, always returning to the front of the trucks to patiently wait for our convoy brief. The mission had been pre-briefed the night before with the team but the briefing immediately preceding the actual mission would reiterate the information and give us the latest intelligence.

Master Sergeant Mellohn, on his third deployment in five years to Afghanistan and our convoy commander (CC) that day, began by sounding off the roll call. Continue reading

Deployed Soldier: My Mind Was My Enemy – Part 2

Even back in my tent, for the first two weeks or so after starting out on missions, I would jump at the slightest of noises, a person’s touch on the shoulder, or even an unannounced figure standing beside me.

My stomach nervously churned  every time I climbed up in my truck to go out on those first few missions. Feeling conflicted, I would toss my assault pack into the truck, climb the metal stairs of the back gate of the uparmored vehicle, fasten my seatbelts, and wait helplessly to arrive at a destination. Unlike the hum of a car engine when I was a young child, the loud low hum of the vehicles engines did not comfort me. With every bump in the road, I bounced around, held only slightly in place by the harness that held me strapped me to my seat. I feared that one of the bumps in the road may hold an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and that a blast was imminent. I would create panic within myself to the point of a cold sweat. Continue reading

Deployed Soldier: My Mind Was My Enemy – Part 1

From day one, I was trained to defend myself and to kill if necessary. With underlying tones of staying physically fit and making the proper choices, I learned the Army values and the basic skills I needed to be an American Soldier. During my second week of Basic Training, I wandered around in thick woods and brush with three other Soldiers counting paces and looking at a compass in order to learn land navigation. During grenade training, I hid in bunkers, popping my head up like a groundhog long enough to assess my objective then quickly ducked back down. I chucked the spoon, pulled the pin and with an all-in-one standing and throwing motion, launched my grenade toward my target then quickly ducked back down. My combatives partner and I were the same height and weight, only I had twenty years on her. My first sergeant felt this would make for an interesting match so I took and dished out as many blows as I could. Spent, I awaited the match-ending whistle expectantly. During rifle marksmanship, all the practice of sighting and breathing techniques from the weeks before came into play. Laying prone on a cement bunker, with two eyes open and my dominant eye looking through my iron sights, I waited patiently and watched my lane for pop-up green silhouette targets to appear. I steadied my hand, slowed my breathing, and gently pulled the trigger sending my 5.56mm round down range in attempts to hit my target center mass.

As a Soldier preparing to become a non-commissioned officer, I attended the Warrior Leader Course (WLC). I learned concepts such as composite risk assessment and leadership skills needed in garrison and tactical situations.

As a Soldier getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, I endured hours of slide-show classes on Afghanistan… everything from cultural sensitivity to terrain. I practiced again with grenades and re-qualified with my rifle, even qualifying additionally on a 9mm hand gun. I practiced detainee operations, scouring over inches of my battle buddy’s body looking for pre-placed weapons. I practiced roll-over drills in up-armored vehicles and had my reactions to simulated Improvised Explosive Devices tested. Continue reading

That’s How They Played

“Wow! A Playstation!”

“Cool! This is the game I wanted!”

“An XBox!”

These phrases were heard from many American children over this past holiday as they excitedly unwrapped their gifts. Tearing through colorfully printed paper, children’s faces lit up and their eyes grew big at the sight of the high-dollar electronic games and game systems that they had hoped to receive.

A young Afghan boy plays with his kite near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, March 2012.

None of the children I met in Afghanistan had toys of this extravagance… no PlayStations, XBoxes, Call of Duty games or anything electronic, for that matter. Those Afghan children had toys that were much simpler: a homemade kite, a ball, or a doll. Kites were made of sticks and thin seed bags or plastic and dolls were hand-sewn with no plastic body parts or fancy accessories.

Hand-crafted Afghan dominoes

Continue reading