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Soldiers, when committed to a task, can’t compromise. It’s unrelenting devotion to the standards of duty and courage, absolute loyalty to others, not letting the task go until it’s been done.”

John Keegan

 

Geesh, another blog.  And yes more words from a former soldier, a career soldier.  But this is not for you, it’s for me.  These are words I’ve wanted to put down for years and finally have time and energy to do it.

So what is this about?  It is simply the experiences of a career soldier, the slow slide to war after 9-11 and the impact of 3 years of war on an individual, a family and those involved.  It has been an odd caserole of the need for intimacy, emotional and physical and the hesitation to be intimate because of the risk.  The need to embrace humanity’s most primal desires and the inability to find a similar spirit.  And it is likely a tale of gross selfishness, selflessness and a chronic feeling of  complete betrayal by those I’d hoped would be my most intimate partners.

After 9-11 I spent the next 4 years cleaning up after bad decisions by careerist officers, taking care of Uncle Sam’s dirty laundry.  I was not a fast burner..one of those officers identified for greatness but I did have the reputation of getting it done.  I was known to be a problem solver.  It might not be pretty but it will happen.

Who am I or perhaps more important who was I.  In 2001 I was a Field Grade officer in the Army in a position of relative authority serving in a premier combat division of the US Army.  I was married, had a son and a career that was at once reasonably successful and very enjoyable.  I loved what I did.

What follows is not a story of bravery, great battles, exciting events.  I am no hero.  Rather it is a story of how most soldiers go to war, at least in the last 15 years and what the outcomes are once that soldier returns.

My purpose is quite simple.  To lay down these memories, put some of them away and add context to others.  This series of posts is a living document and each chapter will evolve with additional detail and thought over time.

 

 

Cutting ties

And so, as time goes on and memories become sanctified I’ve come to realize my true role in the lives of Sunny Skies and Sunseeker.  Sadly that role was to provide an outlet for suppressed desires and relief from a meaningless marital relationship. I’m actually furious at both as I think about it and saddened since I thought I was smarter than that.

I was connected to Sunny Skies via social media but…I’ve cut those ties.  She has no right to know of my life and I have no desire to be one of the people in her sphere.  It’s obvious that although our time together brought me to think only of her.  Her thoughts were only of herself and no one needs that, even in memory.

As for Sunseeker she fell off the planet.  I hope to see her one more time before my life ends but..not counting on it. I’m mad as hell at her and likely she is mad as hell at me.

To be continued…..

Let’s go to war

 

War is too serious a matter to leave to soldiers.”

William Tecumseh Sherman

 

9-11 touched everyone’s life.  Some more than others.  In my case, at the installation I was stationed at we were consumed by preparation for war and securing the installation, Ft Campbell KY.  We guarded ourselves a lot.

I was in command of a battalion as a Major.  Not how this is supposed to work.  The Lieutenant Colonel who was actually the commander of the unit was off in Kosovo trying to be a hero.  In conversations with him before he left it was clear he saw Kosovo as an opportunity to shine.  He never anticipated we’d get into a real shooting war and after 9-11 I received a lot of e-mail guidance from him.  I would just read and delete as he was not in a position to make decisions.  He asked for deployment and he got it.  For the spin up to send troops to Afghanistan he was irrelevant.

As a commander I found myself in the position to send soldiers to Afghanistan in support of a combat brigade.  Not the easiest thing since the bulk of my unit was deployed to other contingencies.  The actual commander had taken all the really competent soldiers with him and I was left with the clerk, jerks, spoons and criminals.  The soldiers remaining at home station were not exactly the best and the brightest. On top of preparation for combat was the need to re assure the families of soldiers that they were safe and their world had not collapsed.  Perhaps it’s difficult to understand so many years later but there was a genuine fear that all the soldiers would leave, deploying into a hellish environment of death.  That is not hyperbole.

Imagine sending your child to school and there are soldiers on gun trucks with Caliber .50 machine guns guarding the school.  The kids loved it and they competed for the chance to take the soldiers lunch.  What the little one’s did not understand is those guns were locked and loaded and the threat was treated as very real.  The soldiers themselves were eager and ready but the idea of prolonged separation really played on the minds of spouses and families.

In the midst of this I’d been selected to fill another duty position with a division that was largely deployed, both in Afghanistan and Kosovo.  In December of 2001 I left Ft Campbell for Ft Drum NY full in the belief that I would immediately deploy either to Kosovo or to Afghanistan.  As it turned out I would do both.

Christmas 2001 was a mixture of melancholy, anticipation and joy.  The family was afraid but at that time everyone was afraid.  Ft Drum was a ghost town, no soldiers as the entire division was deployed somewhere.  The division was engaged in Kosovo, Afghanistan (K2) and in Bosnia.  There was a joke that the sun never set on 10th Mountain Division and it was largely true.

We settled into quarters and I tried to assemble some sort of Christmas for my son.  A small tree and some gifts for him.  I spent the bulk of my days just trying to get a grip on where on the planet I was going and figure out my duties and responsibilities.  It was a mess and the only people with any authority left at home station were those that were not wanted in any of the deployed locations because of ineptitude.  Finally, as December turned to January I got the word that I would go to Kosovo.  The Commander of US Army Europe demanded a Lieutenant Colonel in my specialty  be in the 10th Mountain contingent at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.  Problem was I was not officially a Lieutenant Colonel yet.  I was “frocked” to LTC.  An administrative move whereby I would wear the rank of LTC, have the responsibility but just wouldn’t get compensation/pay for the rank.  The one drawback is most of the Majors who would be working for me knew it and it was a bit awkward being a Major and having Majors who knew I was a Major working for me.  It worked out it time.

In January of 2002 I left for Kosovo.  To be honest Kosovo was easy.  I lived well, ate well and the level of danger was minimal.  The biggest threat was in fact US officers looking for glory.  Constant and unsubstantiated threats of terrorist actions against US units or activities when in fact the people of Kosovo were very supportive.  It seems the US officers were disappointed they were not in the “big show” in Afghanistan so..gotta be a hero somehow.

For me Kosovo was a good learning experience.  I figured out how US national structures helped or hindered deployed military forces.  I also learned of the importance of political will, political agendas in any military operation.  It set me up for survival in Afghanistan, both personally and professionally.

The other lesson was on brutality.  In my time I learned about how utterly brutal people can be.  I toured a rape factory where young teen girls had been raped to death.  The evidence of the atrocity was still present.  I got to see how nations that wanted to show their support for the US in those days would murder alleged terrorists.  I’d seen violent death but not state sponsored murder to curry favor with the US.

I was unusually fortunate in that I had some of best talent assembled in one place working for me.  This is absolutely no exaggeration.  All my subordinate officers were talented and driven.  There was little physical danger in Kosovo but a lot of work to be done to improve conditions and return some semblance of normalcy to the lives of the Kosovars.  Of course I was proud of what we accomplished.  We reduced violence, we contributed to the body of knowledge on the importance of law enforcement intelligence and no one was hurt while deployed.

The final lesson of Kosovo was the fickle nature of General Officers and the hubris that drives their thoughts and decisions.  My boss was in retrospect a good officer but at the time he seemed like a maniac.  His self absorption seemed almost unbearable.  I had a recurring dream where during a meeting, when unhappy with my work, he would shoot me in the head.

All through my time in Kosovo I got constant e-mails from various senior officers asking when I would be headed to Afghanistan.  I was already slated to replace an officer serving in OEF and all his senior officer daddies wanted him out of harms way so he could attend an Army school stateside.  To a man the officers who wrote me stated…he needs to get out of there because he is a really good guy.  My form letter response came to include…and I am not a good guy?  All that aside the lessons from Kosovo would be a great help in the next adventure, OEF-I Afghanistan.

 

 

 

Operation Enduring Freedom

When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.”
Rudyard Kipling
In May 2002 I left Kosovo and returned to Fort Drum.  I would be there just long enough to pick up my desert issue of gear and then head off to Afghanistan.  My family met me at the airport in Syracuse and we headed back to Watertown.  It was a bit odd.  No big reception, kind of like a normal traveler.  Upon getting home I slept like I’d not slept in a long while.  My spouse was glad to see me and my son was really excited.  We had tried to have a video call while I was gone.  He cried when he saw me and we never did that again.  Instead he would send me pictures he’d drawn of various pieces of military equipment.  But I was home now and that is all that seemed to matter to him.

The Task Force had largely returned to Fort Drum so there was a ceremony on our return.  A nice traditional pass in review for the command group and the units that had deployed.  This was also time for my annual evaluation.  Earlier I’d spoken about the hubris of General Officers.  My report was good but not stellar and the rationale was that I was a staff officer and staff officers do not get good reports.  I think the words from my General Officer boss in Kosovo were something like “perhaps since a General Officer touched this report it will carry more weight and show more merit”.  Amazing.

I had my son help me pack for the next adventure.  I needed to pack and he needed my time so this seemed to be a happy medium.  My spouse was busy fretting about what she would do while I was gone.  I did my best to mollify her concerns but…deployment it seemed has started the process of her becoming a self servile individual.  She was not so much concerned about me as she was about how inconvenient the going to war thing was for her.  This also started her transformation into what I called a church lady.  Her focus became her church and thus her church became a major expense.

While I’m on the topic if the truth be told I’d thought about leaving the marriage for about 3 years.  I had changed I guess in that time and I know she had.  Never a petite girl she was no longer attentive to her appearance.  She lost the desire or perhaps the drive to be attractive for me.  I guess that is understandable but it did not change the fact that she’d become obese and didn’t seem to care.  Yes I know that sounds terrible but one of the lesson’s I learned from that relationship is never assume your partner.  You have to earn your partner each day, or at least have that in mind.

In May of 2002 I departed from Fort Drum for Afghanistan via Rhein Main Air Base Germany and Incirlik Turkey. I overnighted in Incirlik and walked to the airfield to board a C17 for Bagram Afghanistan.  There were two of us waiting for transport and the primary cargo was saddles and equipment for Special Operations Forces in OEF.  I spoke to an Air Force Master Sergeant in charge of acquiring the saddles and he stated quite bluntly that he was told to go get saddles for the SOF  and the only ones he could find were these beautiful hand tooled saddles he’d purchased just outside the main gate at Incirlik.  And he said they were quite expensive.

Our first stop was K2 Airfield then we’d hit Bagram sometime around midnight local time.  So let’s talk about time and Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is about the only place on the planet that I can think of that is on the half hour different from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  Most time zones are whole number of hours different that GMT but Afghanistan is GMT + 4.5.  That half hour can make you crazy.

As the aircraft approached Bagram we were given a light show.  Seems the folks in Afghanistan liked to shoot in the direction of airplane noises.  Peering out one of the small door windows I was able to see beautiful green tracer rounds arch up into the sky.  And I’m not being sarcastic when I call it beautiful.  It is a spectacular light show.  No risk to the Airplane but..kind of a warning that this was serious business.  In this situation, where there is the potential for ground fire aircraft do what I believe is called an assault landing.  Rather than the long slow approach the airplane does a corkscrew descent over the airstrip, minimizing its exposure to ground fire.  Also all interior lighting is dimmed and in this case the flight crew put on body armor.  We landed without incident at Bagram in total darkness.  US forces were observing noise and light discipline so no lights on the airfield.  We deplaned and followed an air force ground crewman to the reception point.  This was my first exposure to the omnipresent odor of urine and feces in Afghanistan.  The whole place smelled like a dirty latrine.  And I became friends with the talcum powder like sand/soil.  I remember I dropped my hat and a guy offered me his flashlight to help find it on the ground as there was no light whatsoever.  Turns out the guy that helped me was the guy I was to replace..the really good guy who everyone wanted out of there because he was a really good guy.  Welcome to Afghanistan.

So this is what it’s like.

I am so high. I can hear heaven
Oh but heaven, no heaven don’t hear me.

And they say that a hero can save us
I’m not gonna stand here and wait
I’ll hold on to the wings of the eagles
Watch as we all fly away

Someone told me love would all save us
But how can that be, look what love gave us
A world full of killing, and blood-spilling
that world never came 

“Hero” Nickelback

 

My arrival in Bagram was confusing at best.  The darkness, getting “arrived” into the unit and a Marine Corps C130 had crashed so the headquarters was in the spin cycle to try to figure out what happened and the status of the crew.  Turns out the good guy who I was there to replace was only going to give me one day of overlap.  He was in a hurry to leave because he had a school to attend and his career progression was obviously more important than combat.

The time difference always screws with your head.  I don’t think I slept that night or for several days.  I didn’t want to be late or miss any of the meetings scheduled for the next day.  Military headquarters run on meetings.  A headquarters staff that is in a meeting is a staff at work.  It is the only way to integrate the actions all the various arms and units.  Meetings are terrible but it’s how things actually get done.

On top of the meetings were the required meet and greet sessions.  I had to go see who all the relevant players were.  Much of the military is based on personal relationships and so you need to build those quickly.  The rub was the really good guy I was replacing only had about 24 hours and the nature of my job meant I had to do drive by introductions with folks just to try to make connections.

And so the grind started.  The really dirty secret is that counter insurgency is based on patience and because of that time can drag.  The boredom is punctuated by those moments of intense activity.  At a headquarters it is about making sure assets are in place to react to those exciting moments.  You plan, resource and a good deal of the time is spent waiting for the call “troops in contact” or TIC.  Once a TIC starts it’s all about moving people, stuff, aircraft, reconnaissance to support the soldiers in a fight.

Personally, I had some opportunities to be part of the excitement.  Based on my duty position it was not really my role to have adventures but..to do my job I had to leave the wire and leaving the wire (going off the base) meant you open yourself up to all kinds of things.  I had experienced hostile fire during a coup attempt while on an exercise in Thailand so I knew the sounds, smells.  And I’d seen enough violent death over the years so some parts were familiar.  What I had not experienced is someone actually shooting at me personally.  As I think back my first reaction was surprise, then a moment of fear and then unmitigated anger and the desire to shoot the mother f#@ker that was shooting at me.  After came an intense sense of relief and a touch of melancholy.  I have to laugh at all the tough talk from folks about war, killing.  Pulling the trigger on a human being is a life changing event and few folks have that sense of it.

During the months in Afghanistan I spent much of my time trying to make sense of what we were doing and in my position trying to mitigate the war mongers.  In 2002 lots of folks saw this as a revenge mission and to be honest it was.  Capture or kill was the mantra.  But…launching young soldiers into the dark on a mission that was ill-conceived or based on really sketchy intelligence is always a bad idea.  There were those who grasped at straws to find an opportunity to go get into a fight.  I watched one of the Lieutenant Colonels from the 82nd Airborne whose legs would just twitch in anticipation of getting into a fight.  I tried to explain those were real bullets and they will be aimed at you and your soldiers.  I think my last words to him on the subject were “calm down sweetpea, your chance is coming and you might not like it”.  Some were there only for personal glory.  I remember a couple of senior officers who received Bronze Stars for 45 days in theater.  One was a name that most folks know these days, Mike Flynn who was a Colonel at the time.  He and the XVIII Airborne Corps G3 got Bronze Stars and their only contribution was planning one bad operation that netted nothing…a waste of time.

Exacerbating the jingoistic ideas of senior officers was the approach taken by the United States government.  Washington was intent on doing this on the cheap, small footprint, low-cost.  If a soldier arrived in Afghanistan one had to leave, the maximum force numbers were strictly enforced.  The level of absurdity was mind-boggling.  The Chief of Staff of 10th Mtn Division, at least the guy who was there when I arrived spent most of his time plotting ways to get out of Afghanistan.  The Commander of 10th Mountain was paralyzed by his responsibility and largely incapable of decisions.  It was the newly arrived Chief of Staff that helped turn things around and the later months of the deployment were somewhat better than the early months.  We continued to suffer from Washington’s desire to use business and corporate logic to run a war.  Wars are expensive, and if you do it on the cheap you get what you pay for and…16 years later we are still in Afghanistan.

As I tried to do my duty, focus on being in a combat zone and mission success my spouse (who I will now refer to as Church Lady) was busy reminding me of her difficulty at home.  During phone calls I did not hear supportive words rather she dumped all of her challenges at my door.  In particular her increasingly strained relationship with my son.  He was starting to grow up and have his own ideas which played against her parenting style which was all about compliance.  So, in addition to my military duties I was solving problems that I did not fully understand from thousands of miles away.  Her idea of supporting her soldier was demanding that I “get my ass out of there and get home so I could take care of family”.  That was helpful.

Speaking of helpful things, let’s talk malaria pills.  When I participated in exercises in the Pacific we would take Primoquine.  It was a pill you took daily to prevent malaria and you would start taking it about two weeks before deployment.  The magic of Primoquine is that if you didn’t eat something when you took the pill you could absolutely count on vomiting for volume and distance.  One of the side benefits I guess.  For OEF there was an upgrade.  We started taking a once a week pill called Mefloquine.  It was easier to take it once a week on Malaria Monday.  But, this drug had more interesting effects than just puking.  It gave you insomnia for about three days and when you did sleep you’d have really vivid and sometimes violent dreams.  So, take the pill Monday, lack of sleep and crazy dreams till Thursday then it would start all over again the following Monday.  The tough part is one of my soldiers did not take the pill and he got Malaria…can’t win.  Later we would find out that along with crazy dreams while taking the drug…those dreams can occur after prolonged use of it.  Thank you Uncle Sam.

So..after months of struggling for success in a combat zone, trying to mitigate the parenting debacle of Church Lady, we returned home in September 2002.  Just before re deployment the Chaplain gathered us all together to explain how our deployment would change things at home.  Finally he came right out and said “don’t count on getting laid when you walk in the door”.   A secret of soldiering.  Coming home from something like this generally soldiers want to defecate in a real commode, take a really long hot shower, eat a good meal sitting down at a table, drink a good beer or whisky and have really intense, nasty sex.   This is not how my homecoming went.

We were greeted with a band, the local city fathers were there and a business passed out t-shirts.  This allows me to say been there, done that, got the t shirt.  And Church Lady had her parents show up.   In my case I had to entertain my in-laws, try to figure out the dysfunctional relationship between Church Lady and my son and go on a train ride to a family christening…magic….welcome home soldier.

 

Home but not really

Home.  The word takes on epic meaning to anyone who has deployed.  Soldiers do all kinds of things to count the days until they can catch a ride home.  The real truth about anticipation of getting home is the idea feeds the most primal desires and needs of anyone having spent time in a combat zone.  My reality was very much different from what I’d hoped for or anticipated.

My first task was to be the returning hero and to impress her parents with stories of valor and daring.  What I really wanted to do was take a nap then park myself on the back porch with a bottle of Gentleman Jack and contemplate the last year of my life.  So much had happened and so much to process.  And of course I wanted to top the evening off with monkey sex.  What I got was a long conversation with Church Lady’s parents around the dinner table, a little time to re connect with my son and little sleep.

We went to Chicago for the event.  Church Lady had assumed she would go alone but our redeployment schedule allowed me to go along.  There is a picture of me on the train.  I look fried.  When we got to Chicago there were the inevitable questions of “what’s it like?” or “are we winning?”.  Well of course I answered that we were doing well and the Taliban was on the run.  The truth was that our operations had done nothing more than anger the Pashtun population.  Just prior to leaving the Mountain staff agreed that what we had created was a nascent insurgency.  Cheers.

As for my relations with my spouse she had become distant and cold.  I don’t know the cause or if it was my efforts to process the previous year.  What I do know is that neither I nor my son were a priority.  Her focus was on her religion, her church and a family requirement to become leaders in her church community.  And, being a good husband I complied.  The church was in Syracuse and so dutifully every Sunday we drove 80 miles to Syracuse and spent the entire day there.  It snows a good bit in upstate NY and we spent more than a few Sundays hoping to survive the trip.  At home however, life was empty except for my boy who was trying to grow up on me.

At this point the U.S. Army was spooling up for the big fight in Iraq.  Afghanistan was becoming a lesser conflict and 10th Mountain was politicking to get into that deployment.  As a requirement of the Chief of Staff or the Army the division had to undergo a rotation at the Battle Command Training Program.  This is essentially a large command post exercise in a field environment driven by a computer simulation.  We would put the division headquarters in the field in upstate NY in the winter.  By the way it’s cold in upstate NY in the winter.  The focus of the exercise would be large-scale combat operations all in an effort to sell the unit to CENTCOM to be part of Iraqi Freedom.

Most of my time was devoted to preparing for this.  We had to attend various seminars and do some traveling to visit organizations that would contribute to our exercise.  I always found it interesting that coming out of combat we would be forced to simulate combat to demonstrate our preparedness for combat.

With Afghanistan fading into the background the Headquarters for US forces was transitioning and shrinking a bit.  The division was receiving requests for individuals to go fill an ad hoc headquarters at Bagram.  What I later learned is that upon receiving these requests for individual fills for positions the division G3 went into the Division Commander and volunteered the entire division staff to go and take the mission.  We got back in September, we would go back the following April.

The division CPX went well.  It was brutally cold but we achieved, at least on paper, all of our training objectives.  The temperatures plummeted and we started requiring soldiers to make sure they were never out in the cold alone, always with a buddy.  We found more than one passed out in a snow drift and they very well could have frozen to death.  Toward the end of the exercise we started packing up gear to go to Afghanistan.  Some items went straight from the field to rail load for deployment.  Some items had to be dug out of ice and snow to get packed away.  We would have a couple of weeks to recover from the exercise and the air flow to Afghanistan would start.

As deployment approached I knew this one would be more painful than the last.  I really did not mind going back but the anger from Church Lady made this one more difficult.  She took it personally that I was leaving again.  She was not supportive, offered no warm words of re assurance.  Rather her attitude was selfish.  Going back to war my priority, in her mind, was to make sure that her life was as structured and painless as possible.  I know this sounds bitter but it’s how I saw it.

Again I had my son help me pack.  We packed and repacked about a dozen times.  First because I was a bit paranoid and second Church Lady did not participate and this gave us valuable alone time.

They came with me to the airfield to see me off.  He cried, she scowled.

 

Groundhog Day

 

I live my life like there’s no tomorrow
And all I’ve got, I had to steal
Least I don’t need to beg or borrow
Yes I’m livin’ at a pace that kills

Runnin’ with the Devil

I found the simple life ain’t so simple
When I jumped out on that road
I got no love, no love you’d call real
Ain’t got nobody waiting at home

“Runnin with the Devil” Van Halen

In April of 2003 I walked off the aircraft at Bagram Airfield.  I was met with the same omnipresent odor of feces and urine that I remembered from September 2002.  Nothing much had changed.  It was Groundhog Day.

This time around the 10th Mountain Division Staff formed the basis of JTF 180, the Joint Task Force that provided command and control for all military operations in Afghanistan.  The XVIII Airborne Corps commander would be the JTF Commander but for all intense purposes it was a 10th Mountain Division show.  We still only had 1 Brigade of combat troop in theater and there was a Task Force that had the purpose of assisting with rebuilding Afghanistan…or more accurately re building Afghanistan in our image, the Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force or more simply stated CJCMOTF.

I felt better this time due to the simple fact that I deployed with people I knew.  I did not need to build relationships with subordinates, I knew who they were.  More complicated was my level of responsibility.  I found myself doing a job normally given to a full Colonel and I was a Lieutenant Colonel.  Some of the people I needed to work with were a little put off by my rank; that I was not a full Colonel.  I learned that being obnoxious is often a valuable skill and one that I honed in the next months.

The stress I felt from the work was compounded by the communications from home.  Again, focused more on herself, the daily “get your ass out of there” message started soon after I arrived in theater.  It became a thing of dread.  E-mail is a blessing and a curse and the e-mails I received did nothing to reduce my stress.  I was always glad to talk to my boy and once again his mail with pictures he drew for me became a highlight.  He also sent a couple of action figures to keep me company.

As for the work, this time was more lethal than before.  We did not have the combat forces to really take offensive action beyond small-scale raid.  What we did have was air support.  The JTF owned its own half squadron of A10’s and a half squadron of AV8’s (Harriers).  We had our own air force.  In addition we had AC130’s at our disposal which quickly became my favorite airplane.  The A10’s and AV8’s were awesome but at night, striking individual targets, the tool of choice was AC130.  In fact it became an evening ritual.  After dinner I would get the JTF Commander and we’d go get the days target folder and strike a target.  The targets had all been researched and vetted through the lawyers so they met intelligence and legal standards.  The fascinating thing about AC130 is you could talk to the pilot during the engagement and get essentially a narrative of the strike.  The people on the list as targets were the most fanatical Taliban leaders.

I learned an important lesson in 2003.  Don’t go where you are not supposed to go.  In my job direct combat was not part of my job description.  But in order to do my job effectively I had to be on the road, between camps or bases or Kabul pretty regularly.  It was on one of these trips where I got to feel the fear, uncertainly and anger of an ambush.  I survived the experience but it brought home to me the idea that life is uncertain, sometimes short and in the whoosh of an RPG7 it can all go away.

In my duties one of my recurring tasks was to visit with the UN in Kabul.  The drive to Kabul could be a little nerve-wracking but the UN compound was pretty comfortable and they always had good coffee.  In war or a combat zone people often talk of sex as a weapon.  Well the UN understood this idea so the UN representative that the JTF had to work through was an absolutely beautiful blonde from the UK. When we would meet up with her she always made sure to be backlit and she wore linen sundresses which when backlit revealed a lot, like she never wore underwear.  It was hard to tell her no if the UN folks wanted something from the JTF.  Somehow we were able to. I always wondered how far she would go to achieve UN requests?

On the subject of sex as a weapon the Taliban and Afghans in general were not shy about using rape as a weapon.  If a village cooperated with the coalition the Taliban would go in and rape every female in the village.  If any western female was found alone she would be raped in order to impregnate her with a jihadist.  On one occasion a young female working for an NGO was raped while out scouting for a good place to put in wells to provide water for a village.  The Taliban went too far and she died in the act.  Small justice for this young woman is we found them and they died like cowards…all caught on video.

Violent death was not uncommon.  A blinding flash of the obvious but to experience it..or at least watch it is life changing.  On a hilltop in Zabol province I held the hand of a young soldier as he breathed his last.  There is no way to express the impotence I felt as this young man of 19 at first struggled, then resigned himself to his fate.  His wounds were too severe to dress adequately.  He told me his regrets and so many had direct connections to mine.  In that short time he talked of relationships, of wrongs he’d done and how he’d been wronged and in the last moments I held him to keep him warm.  Enough of that.

By November I’d had enough.  An officer had volunteered to take my position.  The constant calls from home to get home, the stress of the job and experiences led me to tap out.  I let that guy take over and to this day it is a decision I regret.  I should have stayed.  I let Church Lady brow beat me into abdicating my responsibility.

This trip home was almost comical.  On the day the JTF released me I walked over to the airfield and spoke to an Air Force Loadmaster.  I asked if any aircraft were scheduled to leave for the east coast of the US.  He said yes so I walked into the admin building and got my name on the manifest.  I was hitchhiking home.

My destination was Fort Bragg North Carolina.  I had a brother stationed there and he was going to meet me at the airfield.  A night on the plane, a night at Ft Bragg and I would be home.

Arriving in Syracuse I was met by my family.  My son had hints of facial hair and he was eager to see me.  Church Lady greeted me warmly but..it was another homecoming that was just a series of tasks that I had not completed because I was deployed.  We went to dinner in Syracuse.  After my experiences in the previous years I had an aversion to sitting with my back to people.  Church Lady chaffed at my request for a seat by a wall but she gave in.  As I sat in the restaurant an intense melancholy kept building.  Two days prior I had been in Afghanistan, the most foul place I can think of and here I was in a restaurant and people were laughing, clean, and clueless.  Thousands of miles away Americans were eating a meal out of a brown plastic bag in a perpetual sandstorm.  In Syracuse people complained because a vent was blowing air on them.  At the end of the meal the melancholy and guilt got the best of me.  Church Lady wanted to leave but I needed to sit still and quiet for a moment.  She kept tugging on me saying “let’s go” and my only response was..give me a minute..just a minute.  Then we drove home.

For the next several months I did garrison type duties at Fort Drum.  Nothing stirring.  I was involved in security for a visit from the junior Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton.  All I can say is she is an evil self servile human.

One day out of the blue I was offered battalion command.  The General in Command of INSCOM called and offered me command of 201st MI Bn.  I was elated at the opportunity.  When I told Church Lady she was less than enthused.  I had to convince her this was that last job, the last duty and I’d be satisfied to retire from the Army.  Eventually she gave in, on the condition that this would be the last move.  So, in June 2004 it was goodbye upstate New York and hello to Fort Gordon GA and The Little Task Force that could.