The last time I posted here I was in Afghanistan with a couple months to go. If I could go and talk to the bored version of me who was complaining about not seeing any action I would tell him to chill out. The last month or so of my deployment was pretty exciting. Myself and two other Marines ended up getting called out to replace a gun truck team that had been blown up. Not the most confidence inspiring thing in the world, but it was better than being stuck on base. We spent about a week going up and down a road posting up security while engineers built a road. The local farmers were very upset about it because the road was ruining their irrigation ditches. If you have watched anything on Afghanistan you know that if the locals are mad, they are far more likely to look the other way while the Taliban does their thing.
For the most part, that is just what happened. This “war on terror” is a popularity contest in that, if the locals like us, it’s good for us. Unfortunately, the Taliban is much more persuasive. If I was told “Let me plant this bomb in front of your field, and I won’t cut off your nose/ears/fingers/head.” or, “We will give you seeds to plant!” I would have to go with the first choice. If you put yourself in their shoes, it’s rather easy to see why they side with the Taliban. I can’t blame them one bit.
My job was machine gunner in a security truck. I sit in a movable turret with either a 240B (7.62mm), a M2 .50 cal, or MK19 40mm grenade launcher and look for “suspicious things”. Paranoid is my middle name. However, no matter how alert or paranoid you are, you can’t see everything. Especially when sometimes the IEDs are buried under 6 inches of dust. Luckily for our truck, we all had 9 lives. I’d say now we all have about 2 lives left. One night we posted up security for the night, and in the morning we pushed forward to another position. Our truck was parked on an IED and for whatever reason, it did not go off. Another day we were traveling back to the FOB (Forward Operating Base) we were staying on and were alerted by another unit of a possible IED. We stopped roughly 30 yards from it. If it hadnt been for them, I would have had a shorter deployment.
I also found out first hand what it feels like to be shot at. As well as how it feels when you can’t shoot back. Not to mention how it feels when you are the one who gets shot at, and people who were no where near you claim they got shot at also. The round fired from a AK-47 travels at about 2,300 feet per second. You’ll really know it when it hits something, to say the least.
One good thing about the deployment was I thought I knew what the being “terrified” meant. Turns out I had no idea what being terrified felt like. I will try and paint a picture. Three IEDs had went off in less than a mile and we set up security on the road for the night. Behind us one of the FOB’s was being hit with in-direct fire by the Taliban and we did not know what lay ahead down the road. We were unable to get out of our 7-ton because the condition of the road was in question. Two Marines would sleep in the cab of the truck, whilst the third stood watch in the turret for 4 hours. It was a very dark night, and in order for the fancy night vision goggles to work you need ambient light. On the right side of the truck, a group of trees and to the left a group of compounds. In these compounds were the same people who had sat and watched while our trucks drove over the previously mentioned IEDs. To say we were on edge would be putting it lightly. I’ve never been happier to see the sunrise as I was that morning.
Now that I think about it, no one in our platoon came back with nine lives. The relief I felt when I came back on base for the last time; knowing I had finished the last mission and all the Marines with me were done as well is indescribable.
The trip home took longer than expected thanks to the volcano in Iceland erupting. Eyjafjallajokull. (Yes, I had to look that up.)
As funny as it sounds, once we were on the buses the first thing I was struck by is the colors. Cars were shiny. Buildings were all the hues I hadn’t really seen in 7 months. It was strange. Afghanistan and the word “drab” work well together. It wasn’t too tough of a change to get the hang of, being back in the US. Although, for awhile large crowds made me very nervous.
I was one of the lucky Marines who had family and friends waiting when we got back to Camp Pendleton. You’d be surprised how many did not have one person waiting for them. Yes, supporting the troops is indeed a very trendy thing. It’s still better than how Korea and Vietnam era troops were treated, so we are lucky there I suppose.
I am out of the Marines now. I was discharged (honorably) at the end of my five year contract. I saw a lot of stuff, went some great and not so great places and made amazing friends.
Now, I have five years of catching up with my family and “civilian” friends. I’m not one of the over 11,000 in the “War on Terror” who aren’t able to play catch up.