The Road Home
by Joe Kassabian
May 10th 2012
Our bags are packed. We’ve cleaned our weapons for the hundredth time. We are all gathered in this stinking, hot, overcrowded tent. It doesn’t seem real yet but the rumor is we are going home. It seems like a blur, the last twelve months. The firefights and explosions. The boredom and aggravation. The blood and the wounded.
Has this last year of my life really happened? I can tell from the nagging pain in my back and knees, the plastic zip lock baggy that hangs heavy with tiny pink pills I have to take to sleep. The last year has in fact happened, but did I really do anything? Does this year count? Or is it one giant minus in the column of my life, one year just struck from the record.
Some of the guys around me are obviously happy, some aren’t. Only half of us are going to the airfield tonight to fly to Kandahar Air Field, where our giant Air Force plane will cart us off to Manas Air Force Base in the former Soviet Republic of wherever.
We all gather at the ad hoc helipad around midnight even though our flight isn’t until sometime in the morning. Chinook helicopters swoop in overhead. Their chopping blades beating the air into submission, it bounces around on the air current. Its unsteady looks remind me of a bumble bee.
The down pressure of the blades knocks the unprepared on their backs. We experienced few kneel down and brace for it, one girl even gets blood drawn from bouncing across the landing zone. During her flight she loses her Iphone.
We pile into the cramped interior of the armed bumble bee copter. Our bags, everything we have owned for the last year, are piled up in the center with soldier smashed between the bags and the wall. My own rucksack has more room than I do.
The noise inside the helicopter is deafening. I have been in fire fights that were quieter. All around us the mechanics of the chopper are visible. The pistons and wires, the workings of flight were right in front of us. I kept wondering if all the fluid leaking out was normal.
The helicopter’s crew chief was standing in the back, the ramp lowered with a machine gun hanging off of it. The dull flickering lights of Kandahar City passed underneath us, maybe for the last time. The city that had taken so much from us passed harmlessly by.
From a few hundred feet up it almost looks like a normal city.
Before long we land at Kandahar Airfield, and the smell hits us immediately. KAF is home to a giant pond of human waste. Every toilet on the base of near a hundred thousand people is emptied into one giant open air pool of shit and piss.
Kandahar is also a naturally dusty place; fine grit dust gets into every nook and cranny. It carries the abundant waste through the air. So every breath you take, every time you sweat its shit dripping down your face. Finding a home in your lungs.
Every time someone smiles at you they are flashing teeth covered in a thousand people’s waste.
They pile us all on a bus and truck us off towards a place named without irony, ‘South Park’. We are spared the majority of the nauseating stench because of our distance from the shit pool but are all smashed into un-air conditioned tents stacked high with mattresses they probably stole from a half way house.
Odd stains cover the parts of the mattresses that don’t have springs shooting through them like they are trying to come up for air. No problem though, we are only suppose to be here a few days who cares where we live right?
May 10th-19th, 2012
Any false hope of leaving KAF anytime soon has been dashed when we learn we will be here for over a week. After twelve months of constant work, we are all unemployed. With so much free time on our hands we have no idea what to do.
Everyone seems to have a hard time understanding their war is over. People are hesitant to turn over ammunition; they preach false reasons on why they still need it. I take this opportunity to not put on a uniform for the whole week and not even bother to carry my weapon.
My weapon, like me, is unemployed.
Murph and myself wander around KAF with nothing to do. We walk uncountable miles, choking down shit dust and car exhaust fumes. KAF isn’t like a normal military base; it’s more like a self contained world.
It has its own power grid, cable, and internet. Many of the soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors living here won’t ever leave the safety of its walls. To them the Afghan War is an abstract thing, like the problems of the inner city to suburb dwellers.
Walking through the ‘boardwalk’ area is bizarre. It looks more like a strip mall in a bad part of town then something you would see in a deployed military base. Countless shipping containers were transformed into store fronts by people of various ethnicities and nationalities.
Coffee shops, smoothie shops, places to buy suits. None of it needed to fight a war. In the middle of the boardwalk a faux grass soccer field sprouts from the ground. It looks nicer than anything we even have at Fort Hood.
It’s a perfect setting for an explanation for how this war has lost its way. While out living with the Afghan Police we were without just about everything, while the people at KAF ate ice cream and had coffee dates.
This is what happens when the Ipod generation goes to war. No idea how to operate the weapon in their hands, but they could show you how to jail break your Iphone. I’m convinced most of these people don’t even have jobs on KAF. Deployed just to meet numerical goals. A waste of the cloth on their backs.
During this time our medic went to the hospital because his nut sack was causing him pain. A few days later it was revealed he had a condition known as ‘testicular torsion’, when your balls wrap around each other.
Apparently this horrible disorder requires surgery and he is put on a plane to Bagram Air Field where they will operate on him. He won’t be going home with us.
Finally after long days sitting in the dust, shit smelling hell of Kandahar Airfield we land in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, I comfortable Air Force base used as a transit hub for soldiers going to and from Afghanistan.
We also learn our Medic somehow talked the doctors into just sending him here to meet up with us, after everything we have been through obviously nothing as pedestrian as his nuts twisting around one another would keep him from us.
He is much more of a trooper then I, I would have been crying and praying to all major and minor deities for my sack to be healed.
Manas is a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. I take in deep lung full’s of untainted air for the first time in six months. The crisp mountain air and bright green foliage are a great cover for the crippling third world poverty suffered by the country’s people outside Manas’s walls.
At least the scenery is nice though.
We go through customs, throwing are heavy bags through scanners and piling them into a box for transport back home. The customs agents talk to us like we are retarded children, trying to drive the point home that, no we should not have brought explosives and bullets back with us from Kandahar.
Really? No shit.
Manas is also not in a war zone, meaning one critical thing for all soldiers passing through: Alcohol. While passing through Manas we are allowed to drink if our commander allows us too, which being a sane human being he does.
The catch is we are only allowed two beers. That’s fine with me, I am twenty-three years old and just spent a year patrolling Kandahar. While yes I would love to get wasted and pass out drunk, I will settle for relaxing with a friend and drinking a beer while we stare off into the pristine mountain scenery.
We are given a few threats by our platoon sergeant. We are allowed two beers, that means only two no matter what. You can’t buy someone else’s, or give them away. Two. Period. Don’t fuck this up.
The threats sound stupid, but are kind of important. The Army is not a box full of America’s brightest crayons, they need to be warned like that to get the point across sometimes when shit is serious. Who wants to get drunk here away? We are only hours from boarding our flight to the US at this point.
Then my squad leaders starts talking to us about how we shouldn’t drink just so we don’t do anything wrong. Only hours before we were in a war zone, weeks before that we were on combat patrols. I was trusted to carry a gun with a fucking grenade launcher strapped onto it.
I was not only trusted, but expected to fire my weapon and kill another human being. But drinking two goddamn bud lights is way beyond my responsibilities. This is only directed at us, lower enlisted. Not the leadership. Everyone seems to forget that in a few days time we soldiers will be released upon the USA A place well known for its copious amounts of booze.
Grenade and I decide to go to the Air Force bar area after dinner, since the military’s meal times are like that of a 70 year old’s that means around 5. The place is well put together, with a nice patio on the outside with places for pool and corn hole to be played. The inside looks like anything you would see in the US. A normal bar atmosphere if you could ignore the random Air Force related posters slapped on the wall.
We were told before we got there to order the ‘Number Nine’. It being the beer with the most alcohol content. The massive brown bottle was the size of four or five normal beers, cyrillic script was plastered across the bottle it a bright red. I sipped it and it tasted terrible, like you would imagine a beer from behind the former Iron Curtain would taste like.
Before long the warmth of the alcohol flooded my body, my tolerance wasn’t just low, it was god damn nonexistent. Before long Grenade is drunk and calling all the women in the patio area whores and sluts. The rest of our company shows up over the course of the next few hours, they too start getting their asses handed to them by the massive bottle of Warsaw Pact beer.
In about four hours my unit has drank Manas out of Number Nine beer. We are also drunk.
The sun sets behind the mountains, and the party at Manas is going absolutely insane. A Army Major who walked into the patio area, which had now changed into a dance floor with several Airmen blaring rap music from their laptops, started swinging a cane she used to walk and dancing her handicapped ass off. Air Force girls are grind dancing all over Marines, soldiers from my unit are getting hammered an throwing beer bottles, kicking over people’s tables, and attempting to have sex with several Air Force girls on the dance floor.
Out of the corner of my eye a Marine has stripped off half his uniform and his vigorously humping a Air Force girl’s face, it doesn’t look like she’s trying to come up for air. The Marine is cheered on by about five friends who are standing near by. On the dance floor senior leadership from my unit start grind dancing on a few Army girls, clothes start to come off. The crippled Major is being sandwiched between two massive black Marines, they aren’t dancing in the traditional sense. They are air fucking her so hard I think they should be wearing protection.
I retreat inside, the shear amount of repressed sexual energy chasing me off. Seated at a table neat the giant TV which for some reason is show casing the WNBA sits Slim, Blue, Robot, and Murph so I join them. I explain to them whats going on outside, before long our company commander ‘The Captain’ joins us.
“The funny thing is, we are acting like this is some insane party. To them its just Monday” The Captain laughs, his lip protrudes under the strain of a huge amount of chewing tobacco.
“Yeah their war is different” I add, my words probably slurring slightly.
“What fucking war?” Slim says getting angry. “These faggots get the same paycheck as us, get to drink, and don’t even have to carry weapons.”
“I joined the wrong branch.” I slur.
“Do you have a dick?” The Captain spits dark brown spit into a bottle he has in his hand.
“Is this a trick question Sir?” I laugh nervously. The Captain is short but built like a solid mass of concrete. To have my manhood questioned by him generally meant something to me.
“Only bitches join the Air Force.” He spits again. With that bit of wisdom he turns and leaves, I later found out he went out to the patio and destroyed everyone in Corn Hole for about two hours.
Everyone is mad that we drank all the Number Nine on Manas, they are reduced to drinking Stella Artois, so everyone mocks their manhood. Everyone in the company is in rare form: Happy. Tomorrow we fly home, wy hether our flight is delayed or not, we will leave Manas at some point in the next 24 hours. Everyone is talking about all the beer they are going to drink and how many women they are going to disappoint in bed. I couldn’t help but be depressed at everything around me, it was just the little repressed children we all have inside us being vented out for the first time in a year.
We drank, we broke things, and we almost started fights. We screamed, yelled, and fantasized about being home. As happy as we all seemed, none of us wanted to be there. None of our heads were in that patio, they were in Fort Hood, Texas.
After sleeping for about thirty minutes my unit lines up in front of the customs office once again, The time before they searched only our checked baggage, this time they were going to ripped our carry-on apart. Some fat Sergeant from a National Guard unit makes it perfectly clear that we shouldn’t try to hide anything, because they will find it, they are seriously good at their jobs.
In my bag I have several bags of unlabeled sleeping pills, a knife, and other things he listed as being illegal. In order to look like I am complying with his rules I throw away my body wash and toothpaste as they are over ten fluid ounces. Yes I have a rifle, a pistol, and a grenade launcher on my person, but my Dove body wash crossing customs means the Taliban win. I toss it in the trash but keep my pills.
My bag passes through the scanners unmolested, my pills unfound, my knife not taken. I laugh at the customs guy as I escape out the back door with my loot. The guy behind me smiles and laughs about getting through with several rounds of ammunition. Before long we are put in buses and drove out to the airfield.
We are seated in a plane we are sharing with some National Guard people who are also going home, abet from a nine month deployment compared to our year-long one. I eat some sleeping pills and slip off into the darkness, when I wake up we are in Leipzig, Germany being herded into a closed terminal. The pills are still seriously effecting my thought process, it feels like my body is walking off without my head. I settle in in front of the TV to pass the two hours we are supposed to be stuck in Germany waiting for our plane to be refueled or re-catered.
Its not until someone points it out to me that I notice the TV I am watching is set to the German version of MTV. These pills that are supposed to put me to sleep are making me lose my fucking mind. Shortly afterward we board the plane again. I sit down and pass out again. I wake up in Bangor, Maine.
We get off the plane again, this time in American soil. Old people and war veterans one both sides of the hallway shaking our hands and hugging us. The amount of human interaction being forced on me makes me very uncomfortable so I get through it at something that resembles a jog, I break through the old people like a runner through the finish line tape.
We are suppose to be in Maine for two hours, and I spend this time sucking down Red Bulls to try to offset the punishment the sleeping pills are giving me. It doesn’t work, the amount of caffeine flooding my system just confuses it and I feel like I am dying. I use this time to call home with my now working cell phone. We all pile back onto the plane.
The four hour flight from Maine to Tecas may just be the longest of my life. To hyped up to pass out again, but to fucked up on a misguided dosage of sleeping pills to really talk to anyone, I stare at the seat in front of me and listen to the mechanic next to me talk about all the pussy he is going to get in Texas. Suddenly I wish the sleeping pills would have killed me.
Finally we land at Fort Hood. We gather all of our weapons which before now just layer on the ground. Over one hundred rifles and pistols laying on the floor of a commercial flight, but not a single pair of finger nail clippers. Those are too dangerous.
We file down the stairs to shake the hands of our Brigade’s Sergeant Major and Commander. Several other people who I have no idea who they are shake my hand and welcome me home. At the beginning of the line for some reason is a Canadian General. I shake all of their hands and thank them for doing whatever it is they do and file into warehouse to turn my weapons in.
This is around the time I was supposed to be issued a Barracks room, but they managed to fuck up all of the paper work and my name was not on the list. Preparing for us to come home was all these people’s jobs were and they fucked it all up. Not that I wanted to live in the barracks, I have a house off of Fort Hood, but they want me to have a barracks room. We get back on some buses, now with a police escort, and drive towards the parade field where people are waiting to welcome us home from Afghanistan.
The bus drivers manage to take the longest route possible and almost run into one another several times during the whole thirty minute ride. Survive Kandahar City and die as a smear on the road at Fort Hood. Makes sense.
Thankfully we survive long enough to make it to the field where a huge crowd of loved ones are waiting. We jump off the buses and pile into some half asses formation and start marching across the field. Our formation is so ugly looking the only thing stopping the First Sergeant from screaming at us is the hoard of loved ones.
They scream and scream, waving signs and placards. Cameras go off like the muzzle flash of a hundred machine guns. The Captain releases us and the family members charge us to hug and greet their son, husband, or father. Mother, daughter, or wife.
The reality has not set in. My war is over, my time in Afghanistan is done. My guns are silent from now until forever. I won’t get shot walking to the fridge or blown up walking through the mall. The smiling faces of loved ones and friends should tell me I am home. The Texas humidity embraces me in my first day of freedom as I walk into my house for the first time.
By Joseph Kassabian
Back when we were living at Camp Grizzly there was a senior NCO who everyone absolutely hated. I’ll call him Staff Sergeant ‘Old Yeller’. Anywhere soldiers are deployed, even though we are told not to due to dieses and risk of attack, we adapt local animals as our own. Old Yeller didn’t like this.
One day, swearing he was acting on our commander’s orders he rounded up all the dogs, took them to the rear of our small camp, and shot them. For no good reason, none of the dogs had ever attacked anyone and were all decently healthy looking. They even went on patrol with us and kept locals away. We were pissed.
Unfortunately there was really nothing we could do, he was a Staff Sergeant and of the group of pissed off soldiers the highest ranking one was me, a Corporal. The most we could do is ‘Declare war on the TOC’ (tactical operations center) where he worked.
Being the ‘battle NCO’ during the day time meant he lurked around and screamed at people for uniform violations, smoking in the wrong place, or whatever tickled him the wrong way at the time.
So Shot, Bugzy, and I just went around littering, smoking right outside of his office, and just be general annoyances for him. After a while that lost its fun and we stopped. One day Old Yeller decided it would be a good idea to go out and get some goats. We immediately started plotting their deaths.
His plan was to buy two goats and start fattening them up for slaughter. He wanted to eat them for Thanksgiving. I should point out that he paid for these out of his own pocket at about one hundred dollars apiece. Of course he wasn’t going to feed and take care of these stupid goats, he ordered soldiers to do it.
After a few weeks of caring for that idiot’s goats soldiers were already plotting their cold blooded murder. A soldier named ‘Special K’, a scout, stalked out to the field where Old Yeller had tied up his goats with a machete. Fully intent on slaughtering the under fed goats, but was seen by one of the guard towers and had to retreat.
Old Yeller knew he was hated and the goats would be a target. He kept a close eye on them. Bugzy and Shot started coming up with a plan. We had an operation coming up where we would move out to an Afghan Police check point for a few days, Shot and Bugzy decided they would bring along some ‘food’.
Bugzy is someone who continually makes you ask the question ‘What the fuck are you doing in the military?’ Overly intelligent and artistic he could have been a very successful graphic designer of some sort. His sarcasm is razor sharp and he tends to make the people around him feel stupid. While I wasn’t there for the plan to steal the goat, I can tell you it was probably Bugzy’s idea.
I wasn’t there for the launching of ‘Operation Goat-nap’, but I can tell you what happened. Bugzy and Shot snuck into the rear of the base which was walled off to keep the goats in. They moved the wall to make the exit with an angry goat in their arms a little bit easier.
A few things they didn’t count on were:
-The goat was pissed and fought them.
-Goats are stronger then you would think.
-They are also a whole lot faster than you would think.
After almost a half hour of attempting to wrangle a goat Shot grabbed it around the neck and picked it up. They unfortunately forgot about the other goat, which escaped and started running around Camp Grizzly. They cut their losses and ran toward the truck with their ill gotten goat.
Slim saw them run by with a very unhappy goat in their care and started running after them wondering what the fuck was going on. Slim, being himself, immediately saw how hilarious this was going to be and got in on the plan.
They stowed the goat in the back seat of Grandpa’s truck. The concealed it with a piece of camouflage netting they found nearby and of course did not tell Grandpa about the living animal in his back seat.
Meanwhile in the gym Big Mac and I were lifting weights and saw a goat run by with about four soldiers and an Afghan Policeman at its heels trying to capture it. We looked at each other shrugged our shoulders and kept lifting.
The trucks were all loaded up for a few days living out with the Afghans, and we drove out of the gate towards the check point. We didn’t make it very far until Grandpa realized something was up. He sniffed at the recycled air inside of his truck.
“Why does it smell like a goddamn farm in here?” He asked, Shot and Bugzy could barely contain their laughter. Shot stared straight ahead over the steering wheel trying not to betray the joke.
“baaaaa” came a muffled noise from underneath the pile of netting.
“What the fuck was that?” Grandpa obviously wouldn’t think we would have stashed a goat in his truck. At this Shot and Bugzy lost it, bursting with laughter and Shot could barely keep his truck on the road. Grandpa keyed his radio and screamed over the net “Where the fuck is it?”
At this point everyone in the convoy knew about the goat except Grandpa, and hearing him scream over the radio made everyone lose it. Slim was laughing so hard he made his driver pull the truck over. The whole convoy pulled over, the soldiers all laughing so hard they were crying.
Finally, the convoy pulled in to the check point and the still laughing soldiers got out and started moving in. The Afghans even found the goat-toting soldiers funny and started petting and feeding the still very angry goat. Bugzy decided to name the goat, cutting out a little piece of cardboard and writing ‘Radio’ in big block letters with a crooked smiley face underneath it. He attached a piece of string to it and hung it around the goat’s neck. He decided when calling the goat’s name you didn’t just say ‘Radio’, you yelled it out in the most mentally handicapped voice possible, like the Cuba Gooding Jr’ character.
Living in the cramped Afghan Police compound with a goat was admittedly odd. Even the Afghans who share their Toyota Corolla’s with sheep thought it wasn’t right. So the police started asking what we were going to do with it.
“Let’s eat the fucking thing” Pero laughed, threatening the goat with a huge tan knife he had on him. The goat didn’t seem to care.
“Fuck yeah” Slim cheered. Pero said he was going to kill it himself, not one to shy away from the dirty work. He is probably the hardest working Corporal in the US Army, always getting his hands dirty. He is another person people would think would never join the Army, making over a hundred thousand dollars a year as a contractor before he joined. He joined solely out of Patriotism and the want of adventure. He still never even looks at how much money he makes a month.
The Afghan Police had their own ideas though. They snatched the goat up by its legs and started dragging it off towards the rear of the Police station. Of course we quickly followed to watch what was going to happen. Pero gave the Afghan his tan knife.
A few soldiers pulled out their video cameras and started recording. The Afghan started slaughtering the goat in a fashion that would make most westerners sick. Sawing at the poor thing’s neck with the knife Pero gave him, it looked like the Afghan was trying to reenact his favorite Jihadist execution video.
The goat didn’t fight or make a noise. I guess even the goat knew his odds of a quick; clean death were relatively low being a farm animal in a third world country and just went with it. Blood pooled around the Afghan’s and soldier’s feet, the butcher quickly strung the still dying animal up by its feet to let the blood drain out of it. All the while Bugzy sat back screaming in his best Cuba Gooding voice
The Afghan then cut small slits by the thighs and did something I never saw coming. He put his lips to the skin and started blowing into the slits. The skin visibly ballooned up like some kind of nasty skin bag. I have no idea what purpose it served, but if it was to make everyone in attendance ill, he succeeded.
We all got bored with the slaughter and walked away. The Afghans kept working away with the goat; cooking it up with rice, potatoes, onions, and whatever else they could get their hands on. When the dish was complete it looked like something out of a delicious dysentery nightmare. We all knew eating this would tear our stomachs up, but we didn’t care.
The moral of this story is that stolen goat is fucking delicious. No, that wasn’t it. The moral is don’t overstep your bounds when dealing with the desperate. If you beat a dog long enough, if will bite back. Sometimes with actually teeth, sometimes with metaphorical teeth in the form of stealing, killing, and eating your pet.
By Joseph Kassabian
Everyone while deployed gets to take two weeks of leave and go home. The best part of all of this is the Army pays for it all. I guess in order for the Army to give something back to you, you just have to get sent to a shithole warzone. Being from Michigan I was in for a shitty vacation. Rain, snow, bad weather, and pretty much zero fun awaited me in the land of the great unemployed mitten.
Being that I’d been in the Army for five and a half years at this point I’d never been on a real vacation. The Army just kept sending me places I wouldn’t visit on my own (I’m looking at you Texas and Kentucky!) so I really wanted to go somewhere nice. My good friend Bugzy was going on leave at the same time as me, and is from Florida. The idea was fun in the sun, beaches, and drunkenness and it sounded amazing. We decided we were going to Florida together.
This isn’t my first deployment, so I’ve traveled the Army way before. Last deployment I was stuck in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan near Bagram Air Field, the main conduit of travel for soldiers in and out of the country. So the experience wasn’t horrible, a pain in the ass yes but not terrible. This time around the experience wasn’t going to be so tolerable.
First confusion racked our platoon. We were due to conduct a CONOP (a large company wide operation with one goal in mind) and were already short on personnel. And the only people going on leave from our platoon were all team leaders. That and they would not be able to drop us off closer to our leave date, meaning if they were going to drop us off it would have to be a week early. A week stuck at a huge base with working showers, shopping, and good food before going on leave. This sounded awesome at the time.
So after finally coming to the conclusion that they would have to send us to Kandahar Air Field (KAF) a week early they told us at midnight that we were going to be leaving in four hours and we needed to pack. So Kitty, Bugzy, and I rolled out of bed and started rushing to pack. We were so excited that I think we got done packing in a few minutes and walked outside and chain smoked until the convoy taking us to KAF was reading to leave.
The ride to KAF was uneventful, and the convoy dropped us off at a random bus stop on a street corner (KAF is so big it has its own bus system operated by Nepalese contractors). Our company had one person stationed on KAF, a Staff Sergeant named ‘Goggles’, whose sole job was to usher the soldiers going on leave through the transit process. He is also a total useless sack of shit. Kitty tried calling him several times on his government issued cell phone to no avail. Thankfully Bugzy knew his way around KAF and knew where to go.
We arrived at a place Bugzy nicknamed ‘the Section Eight of KAF’. Once upon a time it was a British Army compound within the walls of the air field; once they moved out and when it was given back to the US it fell into disrepair. A haggard looking Specialist issued us out a place to sleep in the equally haggard looking green, Vietnam-era tents.
Bugzy, another soldier from our company named ‘Cyst’, and I all signed into the same tent. When we went inside it looked like something straight out of a FEMA camp. Torn, stained, fifty year old green cots were lined up against the walls, trash littered the floor, and everything looked like it would be sticky if we touched it.
Finally Goggles called Kitty back asking where we were. She kindly told him we were already in Section Eight, no thanks to him. He told us we weren’t supposed to get on a plane to Kuwait until Friday. This was on Sunday; we were trapped in the tent ghetto for a whole damn week. Goggles insisted he was going to try to get us on an earlier flight, but we all knew he was just going to forget.
Another soldier from our company named ‘Irish’ who Bugzy knew from when he was stationed in Korea joined us in the squalor of our tent. We all got on a bus and headed to the ‘Postal Exchange’ which is Army speak for an off brand Wal-Mart on a military base. We aren’t use to such luxury, and quickly spent way too much money buying shit we didn’t need. We returned back to our FEMA camp and slept like the dead.
Sometime during the night we were attacked with rockets, Bugzy, Cyst, and Irish all slept right through it. A loud siren screamed
“Rocket attack! Rocket Attack!” In a British accent, followed by the wailing of klaxons. It went on and on for about twenty minutes. Goggles ran into the tent, having driven all the way to our tent ghetto from his barracks in an all-terrain golf cart. He was freaking out, for him; this is as rough as the war got.
“Are you guys okay?” He screamed at us, obviously stressed out.
“Will you shut the fuck up?” Irish screamed, throwing a boot at him.
“Who’s yelling?” Bugzy yelled through his half asleep haze. Finally we harassed him enough that he waddled his fat ass out of our tent. We all walked outside to smoke and make fun of Goggles. At this point all three of us had been shot at, found explosives, or been blown up. The thought of being stressed out by some badly aimed rockets fired from the back of some camel made us laugh. We all rolled over and went back to sleep.
After two days of wandering around KAF we learned a valuable lesson: KAF is a toxic hell hole. Scattered throughout KAF there are tall black metal towers that spew noxious black smoke, those are the ‘burn pits’. The area where all the trash from KAF is brought and burned. Chemicals, metal, whatever, and it’s all burned with no thought of the horrible repercussions of such polluting to the inhabitants.
The choking smoke is nothing compared to the horrible stench of hundreds of thousands of peoples shit and piss that is gathered into a massive open air pool in the middle of the air field. For some reason the collective thought process of the engineers who built this place decided the best place for all of the human effluence of the populous was right among the people who created it. You have to drive past this pool to get to anywhere on the base, and the smell is not of this world during the summer. The dust mixes with the shit pool covering everything in the area in a fine layer of shit powder. Thousands of people live on KAF around this sort of thing, we live in the middle of Kandahar City and it was cleaner.
KAF is obviously the domain of the pretend warrior. People who join the Army to serve as jobs people in the Army didn’t even know existed. They still walk around with a weapon, but they have no ammo in which to put in it. Finance Clerks, Paper Work Jockeys, and Chairborne Rangers. The type of soldier who goes home and talks about how rough the war was, yes it may have been rough one day in the chow hall when they ran out of ice cream the same night the third world contractor cook burned their steak. Just looking at them pisses me off.
Dealing with these people wouldn’t have pissed me off nearly as much if I didn’t have to be here for a week before I got to go home. We would go to the ‘board walk’ as it’s called, an area built around a god damn soccer field and running track. The board walk housed countless shops ran by locals and some Europeans who found their way over here. The pretend warriors and imported civilians sat around picnic tables and sipped coffee, some people were obviously on dates. These Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors could actually go on dates to a coffee shop, but still call themselves veterans. The thought made me sick.
Finally it happened: I was harassed by an NCO for my appearance. Worn out uniform, stained boots, and out of regulation hair, I probably looked like everything this person hated in the Army. She was a short fat black Sergeant First Class who looked like the closest she ever got to combat was when she had to fight to get a second helping at the chow hall.
“Excuse me Specialist!” She shrieked at me, her fat jowls shook with her anger.
“Yes Sergeant?” I reluctantly went to ‘Parade Rest’, a position in which you put your hands behind your back when a senior NCO is talking to you. I knew I wasn’t going to win this fight, so I didn’t even try being my smartass self.
“What the hell are you doing walking around here without a PT belt? It’s dark out!” She was obviously shocked I would do such a thing. A PT belt is a reflective belt the Army loves to make soldiers wear like kids with mittens pinned to their jackets year round. Mind you I am on the ‘board walk’ a place not accessible to vehicles.
“Sergeant I just got here from the city. I don’t have a PT belt, and I seriously doubt I’ll be hit by a car on the board walk.” I can’t control what I say, I generally lack a filter. This is why I’m always in trouble.
“You might get hit by a fat bitch.” Laughed Irish, obviously he has less of a filter then I do. Thankfully the fat cow in front of us didn’t hear him.
“Where are you from in the city? I’m pretty sure PT belts are an Army wide thing. And what’s that on your face?” She of course was talking about the three days of beard growth I had. At this point Camp Spartan had no running water, so shaving was kind of an optional thing.
“We came from a place with no running water, and if we wore PT belts where we are at in the city, the Taliban would shoot us.” Bugzy chimed in. Bugzy is one of my best friends, not just in the Army, but in my life. But he generally shuts up when senior ranking people get on his back, not because he has no balls, but because he is smart enough to know you always lose and it’s better to save your breath. Our united front finally scared off the fat NCO, I think anything further would have devolved into personal insults against her; it’s not like she knew who we were anyway.
Our stay at KAF slowly turned into seeing how long we could sleep a day. Up until now we had been operating on two or three hours a sleep a night working out of Camp Spartan, so we obviously had a lot of time to make up for. Even then I couldn’t sleep more than a few hours here and there. Bugzy and Irish slept like they were a damn corpse and were dead to all of us for twelve hours at a time. Cyst slept with no real schedule, he would randomly wake up to play on his cell phone at 2am, but sleep throughout the day, leaving me with the only person with anything resembling a normal sleep cycle.
The week dragged on, all we could think about was going home. There was one more step before we could get on the plane to the US. Sometime around midnight we all packed into a C130 cargo plane. It shot straight up into the air, a tactical maneuver that makes it hard to target and shoot out of the air with a missile. Sitting inside shooting into the sky like you’re in a space ship is an intense and scary feeling, after a few minutes the g-forces subsided and we had a normal flight.
We landed in Ali-Al-Salem, Kuwait at some horrible time in the morning. We stumbled off the plane and into a formation so that the Air Force paper jockeys could gather up our ID cards to check us into the transit area.
The people stationed in Kuwait were worse than the people on KAF. They were in a totally peaceful country yet got paid as much as we did in Afghanistan, and I’m pretty sure the last time a US soldier took fire in Kuwait was 1991. I was actually asked what country I was from because the uniform I was wearing.
Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan don’t wear the normal Army Combat Uniform; we are issued ‘Multi Cam’. A green, tan, and brown pattern that resembles the British Army uniform, and much better at concealing us from the Taliban then the normal uniform. I guess the American flag on my right sleeve wasn’t enough to show these idiots I’m from the same country.
After several hours of classes given to us by the brave intrepid war fighters of Ali Al Salem that covered such wonderful things as:
-Why not to kill yourself while you’re at home.
-How not to beat your wife and kids while at home.
-How not to drink yourself into prison while at home.
Obviously the military thinks its ranks are full of total retards. We waited inside the classroom for hours before we finally filled out the paper work that would allow the paper jockeys to manifest us on a flight back to the US.
A few hours later we were stuffed onto a bus and driven at insanely high speeds through the Kuwaiti desert to the air port with a police escort. For the first time I was nervous about the whole thing, whenever we went through a place in Afghanistan that was considered dangerous we had our own weapons in which to defend ourselves, here in Kuwait we were at the mercy of whatever passed as a police officer in this middle eastern shit hole.
Thankfully we arrived at the airport without incident. Without being given any reason we were stuck on the bus for three hours before being allowed on the chartered plane.
So after nearly a week and a half of travel time in order to take two weeks of vacation, we were homeward bound. Bugzy to his wife and two year old baby, me to my bottle of whiskey and two weeks of bad decision making; before long we would do the entire process in reverse to go back to Kandahar and back to Camp Spartan.
The Dealer Death March
By Joseph Kassabian
We had only been in Afghanistan for a few weeks; we were still learning the area, the populace, and how to shower with a water bottle. We were trying to make PR our home, building beds and shelves out of whatever we could get our hands on, and trying to choke down the horrible food our cook was conjuring together in that sad excuse for a kitchen. Our Area of Operations commander was an infantry Captain named Captain ‘Radio’, a commander that was way too high on the power he had, he regularly left his camp that was forty five minutes away to our tiny outpost just to fuck with us, coming up with random operations in the middle of the night, and just make our lives miserable. This time around he sent out a squad of his soldiers out to us to pick up some of our soldiers and show them our area of operations, an area we already knew decently well, we just saw it as another way for him to fuck with our lives. Thankfully he didn’t come with them, but the ‘Dealer’ soldiers, Dealer being their radio call sign, were still coming, and they were still going to take at least four of us with them for the next two days.
Slim, Kitty, Grandpa, Big Mac, and I were sitting in our tent, soaking in the air conditioning after a long hot patrol when Six came into our tent. He was giving us the wonderful news that we were to give Dealer three soldiers, while first squad was going to give two. Big Mac, Shot, and I were going to go with them from second squad, not that I volunteered for this, it was either me or Kitty, and she out ranks me, so I was well and truly fucked. ‘Tooth’ and ‘Blue’ from first squad were going to join us. We walked out to the gate where the Dealer soldiers were already waiting; they looked haggard, tired, and beaten. They eyed us with a certain amount of hate; this was not their normal patrolling area and it had taken them hours to get out here. A few minutes later we were stomping through the fields out into the country side.
The Dealer squad leader was a young guy named Sergeant ‘Will’, who had just gotten back into Afghanistan after getting blown up a few months back and taking some shrapnel in the leg. I hung back in the patrol and talked to him for the first few miles, we became fast friends after finding out that we were both Tank Crewman at one point. I also found out his soldiers and him were due to be home in about a week, they weren’t even suppose to be out patrolling anymore, he was actually suppose to be awarded his Purple Heart in a few days.
We wandered through the country side; the heat beating on us, the heat was intense. We had learned from our first few weeks out on patrol to bring a whole backpack of water, since what we carried in our camel backs was not nearly enough for a full days drinking out here. Unfortunately I was carrying that bag, and a case of water is a lot heavier than you would think when you’re carrying it over the rest of the gear you have to where outside the wire. Thankful the Dealer guys were lazy, well I wouldn’t call it laziness, I would say it was extreme fatigue. They had been patrolling this rugged, mountainous expanse for almost a year now, and they really didn’t care about it anymore. We stopped and rested often, taking off our gear and downing water. It was a nice change of pace from the twelve hour marathon patrols our squad normally set out on.
Will brought the patrol into a cramped, dusty village named ‘Malajat’. It was once a hotbed for Taliban activity, but Will’s unit had cleared it, blowing most of it up along the way. Most of the village was still in ruins, and we were obviously not liked around here. No one came outside to greet us that part didn’t worry us, but no one came out to beg and try to steal shit from us, that part was weird. To this day that was the only time we’ve walked through a village in broad daylight and it is totally empty. We walked slowly, weapons ready, we scanned everything, after about two hours we safely exited the village.
We pulled into another village; it looked the same as all the others. Dusty, dull, covered in trash and human shit, when you’ve seen one Afghan village you’ve seen them all. This time we set up a traffic control point, meaning we just sat on the street corners and searched whoever was unfortunate enough to come our way, and if you were the Dealer soldiers, harass the locals. I guess us new arrivals hadn’t gotten to the point yet where we overtly hated the Afghans, we treated them with how most people in the US treat homeless people –we just ignored their existence. The Dealer soldiers stopped people, searched them, questioned their sexuality, and sometimes rode their bicycles around. A soldier near me named ‘NYC’ was a lanky older guy who looked incredibly awkward in all of his combat gear; he also was a complete dick. Every local he stopped he searched like he should have, but then went a bit more thorough, the Afghans in his hands were obviously way out of their comfort zone. NYC giggled at their discomfort
These Hajjis hate it when guys feel on ‘em” He laughed, “Then they go home and butt fuck each other, faggots.”
“Wait, you’re the one whose grabbing their dicks, doesn’t that make you gay?” I asked.
“Nah, dude I’m not making eye contact. That means it’s not gay.”
After our control point was taken down, we patrolled on into more villages, stopping and taking our gear off by a river. Will decided it would be a good time to take a dump. On a man’s house. While his entire family watched. It was one of the more surreal moments of the deployment thus far. Will, pants around his ankles, propping his upper body on the aforementioned house and spraying some horrible color of diarrhea all over the damn place, all while an old man and his two kids watched in horror. Will giggled, cleaned himself up and strolled away like nothing happened. I lit a cigarette, watching the whole ordeal unfold. The rest of the soldiers laughed and took pictures; I think the little girl started crying. After Will had finished we put our gear back on and left. We marched past the huge shit stain on the wall, it was enormous.
We had gone for miles now I was starving, tired, and produced enough sweat to fill up all the empty water bottles that I’d discarded along the way. We walked through a marijuana field, easily damn near a football field across, the smell was intoxicating. Soldiers picked at the leaves, putting them in their helmets, don’t worry the plants weren’t budding, so no one was getting high. Almost everyone in the army these days use to be a pot head, so it was a giant tease. We stopped in the field to rest again, the sun was high above us and scorching hot, it was insanely humid in the field, but it offered shade and cover, or at least that was the excuse. Will shit all over the place again, this time into the small stream that fed the pot field, disgusted, we started patrolling again forgoing the break.
Finally the sun set, giving us some reprieve from the heat. Will brought the patrol into an old Buddhist shrine that was now used as a bathroom by the locals, we put some soldiers on the roof to secure the area, and the rest of us, acting like professional soldiers, fell asleep on the ground. The night past without incident, Shot later told me they just slept on the roof too, we had been on patrol for over fifteen hours at this point and had no food or water anymore, who could blame them?
We woke up some time past midnight; Will told us we were going back to their base, which was a good hour away. We put our night vision on our helmets, well some of us did, I tried too and the mount that holds it on your helmet snapped off, thanks a lot US Army, and set off across the fields. I stumbled through the darkness, I couldn’t see shit, thanks to the faulty mount the army gave me I was as combat effective as a newborn giraffe, and I almost fell into a sewage ditch on a few occasions. I followed the black figure of Will through the darkness towards his base, I lost him a few times in the bushes and plants of the fields, so I picked a direction and just walked towards it, thankfully it worked out in the end and in about an hour we arrived at his base.
When we arrived at the base all the food was gone, but I don’t think any of us cared anymore, we just wanted to find a cot and go to sleep. But there was none of those either. There was no room for us here, so they cleared out some room in the medical tent which was thankfully empty at the time and gave us stretchers to sleep on. Blue, Shot, and I slept in the tent, and froze our asses off. Soaked in sweat, without blankets, and in air conditioning for the first time in a long time we barely slept at all. Meanwhile Big Mac and Tooth slept outside and slept like babies. After about three hours of fitful, freezing sleep, we rolled out of our temporary home in search of food. We found some and ate about four helpings a piece, pissing off everyone who really lived at the camp, we didn’t care, they were never going to see us again anyway.
We found out we were going on another patrol today, not with Will and his guys, with another squad we already didn’t like. Five minutes after meeting us they insisted we needed to listen to a class they were going to give us on how to patrol, never mind we just did that very thing for an entire day, but we had also been in country for almost a month patrolling our area. So I fell asleep in the rocks as they attempted to teach me something, I think Big Mac may have paid attention though. After loading up on more water and some stolen food we set out on patrol yet again.
If I thought the day before was hot, then this patrol was out to secure the god damn sun. It was easily the hottest day of my entire life, and my gear was soon soaked through with sweat once again. The new Dealer squad leader named ‘Poncho’ was way too high on himself, trying to teach us how to climb walls that were over ten feet high, even though there was a door or a easy way around it, and trying to teach us some horribly ineffective way to clear orchards. I ignored him and let him tire himself out, my tactic worked, because after about two hours of running around and acting like an action figure Poncho calmed down. I guess the heat finally got to him.
It wasn’t long before the heat got to everyone. No one could patrol anymore, we were out of water and our skin felt like it was blistering with the heat of the seventh layer of hell. Poncho brought the patrol into a shaded area near a deep stream. We all looked at the nice cool water; we all had the same idea. Poncho stripped his gear off and jumped into the water, the rest of the Dealer soldiers quickly followed. I ripped my gear off and jumped in, the water was so cold I felt like I was going into shock, the water I was swimming in was no doubt used as a landfill and a bathroom by the locals, by I honestly didn’t care anymore. I was either going to die from heat stroke or from some horrible illness I was going to catch by jumping into that water, at least this way I was going to die relaxed.
We kept our boots on, swimming through the cool, refreshing stream, we didn’t know what as at the bottom, last thing we wanted to do was rip our feet open swimming and having to explain what happened to our senior leadership. When we were done swimming it was only about an hour before we were bone dry and steaming hot again. The walk back was worse than the walk there, my socks didn’t dry since there wasn’t a lot of sun light getting through my damn boots, so I sloshed all the way back to their base.
We thought it was all over, we had finally walked back to their base, after another fifteen hour patrol, two days in a row, surviving mostly off of bottled water and a few cucumbers we found in fields along the way, we were still at the mercy of these Dealer assholes. I just wanted to go back to PR, curl up in a ball and sleep. The level of hunger I was now at still did not make it acceptable to eat the Cook’s food at PR. On the bright side, they weren’t going to make us walk back to PR again. Will and his squad drove us back, I wasn’t exactly sad to see Poncho and his guys go away.
We finally got back to PR, Kitty mad some smart ass remark about me smelling like shit and I wanted to punch her in the face until I realized I did smell terrible from that stream I was swimming in earlier.
Poncho, Will, and their guys ended up going back to the US a few weeks later. I did get very sick from swimming in the stream, and couldn’t get out of bed for damn near a week, puking and shitting my brains out, I ended up losing about fifteen pounds by the time I was healthy again. Thanks to Will shitting on that poor person’s wall, I have one of the funniest pictures ever and a great story to tell people. Or a horrible story, I guess that part is kind of relative.
By Joseph Kassabian
I rolled out of bed this morning at 3:30am, starting work before the goddamn sun. Punching my alarm into silence, I pulled my pants on half asleep, fumbling with my boots in the pitch darkness, my fingers not working in the frigid cold. I stumbled out of my corner of our sleeping area, tripped over some kind of metal fucking ridge, and fell head first into the damn tile floor. I screamed something that no one heard, you see, they were still asleep. I stomped through the mud and rocks; I climbed my way into our shower trailer, which is now at about chest height as some asshole stole the stairs. Shaved at brushed my teeth with water I’m pretty sure came from a polar bear’s urethra, it was so cold it caused me physical pain. I saw steam coming from the cooking area, finally the cooks were working, a rare thing around here. People don’t feel happiness around this shit hole, but at seeing this I may have at least smiled. I retreated back to my icebox of a room and grabbed my coffee cup, the only good part of my morning has about to unfold.
I walked into the food area, the cook was still working on food, but coffee was out. Army coffee is unlike any other coffee on earth. It’s not really coffee, it kind of tastes like it, but watered down, not really enjoyable for a normal person. Most importantly there was still caffeine in it. It comes in a giant teabag like device you add hot water too, you wait and boom mother, fucking coffee. Things are never this easy. I put my cup under the little facet, and out came the steam and amazing smell of semi fresh coffee. It smelled normal, it even looked normal. I took a drink.
This coffee threw a haymaker at me; its fist was made of some god-awful taste that was not of this world. Whatever this brown liquid was, it was not coffee. Bile, dip spit, or human waste but not coffee. I took another drink, I guess because I’m a masochist, the taste brought tears to my eyes, either from shear bitterness, or my taste buds died and my body was mourning the loss. The cook stared at me like I was insane. Fuck him. Fuck him for bringing this beast onto this earth. In this, the savage year of our lord 2012, this culinary school dropout brewed Satan, Beelzebub, The Dark Prince, and Lucifer into our realm. The taste of this coffee made me question the existence of God, if he was a caring God he would have not allowed this Folgers’s abortion to grace my mouth, killing my taste buds, and raping its corpse. The book of Revelations came true and I fucking swallowed it.
I spit out a solid chunk of something, god damn coffee grounds, I retched brown spit into the mud. My friend ‘Robot’ was asking me what was wrong, I handed him my cup and pointed at it franticly, my wild eyes glaring at him. He took a drink and spit it out. “What the fuck man? Why would you give me that?” He was obviously mad, I told him because I wanted someone else to feel my pain. He looked at me like I was crazy, fuck him too.
Why has such a beverage been brewed? Why are humans so inherently evil that they would feed this horrible substance to one another? This lone cup of coffee, this devilish liquid, destroyed my faith in the human race and made me hope the Mayans really are right about the upcoming apocalypse. I’m now off to crawl into a dark corner and mourn the loss of my hopes, dreams, and ability to taste.
The Facebook Incident
By Joseph Kassabian
Once upon a time I was a Corporal, also known as a E-4, A ‘non-commissioned officer’ (NCO)in name only, still getting regular soldier pay, but shit on by everyone over you. It’s not really a promotion so much as a ‘check the block’ for leadership over you. The way the promotion system works in the U.S. Army these days makes absolutely no sense. To get promoted, you need to get ‘points’, you get various amounts of points from various different things, like classes, training courses, medals, and deployments, and how many points you need to get promoted to Sergeant varies from job to job. Now if you’re stuck in a leadership role, like I was, but don’t have enough points to get promoted because your lazy, don’t care, or just have shitty luck, they stick you with Corporal stripes and say you’ve been ‘promoted’. Mostly so the sergeants who got off of their ass and made points can relax and pawn off some of their work on you. Me? I don’t care. I stopped caring about the military sometime around 2008 when I re-classed from being a Tank Crewman to my current shit job, in the hope I would have to do less work, which did not end up being the case, I was lied too.
Finding garrison work so mind numbing back on Fort Hood, I volunteered for another deployment. Sitting stateside it was only a matter of time before I got drunk and ran my car into a wall, or ran through the company area naked with a head full of acid and got demoted. Deployed I am a decent soldier believe it or not. So I volunteered, and the new company seeing I deployed before gave me a fire team assuming I knew what the fuck I was doing. After some sad excuses for pre-deployment training they stuck me with Corporal stripes and we got sent to Kandahar.
Generally I always got along better with everyday soldiers than with the other NCOs, so I ended up making friends with our new medic named ‘Gong’, he was as sarcastic, jaded, and as bitter about being stuck in the Army as I was at the time so we got along great. This was a problem to the Army see, as he was a Private First Class and I was obviously on my NCO fucking mountain top, therefore above his friendship. It didn’t bother me, and he ended up being in our squad anyway, so no one cared, least of all Two, the squad leader. We lived at a place called ‘PR’ at the time, and everything was grand. Mostly because we were away from the company’s higher powers, meaning the Commander and First Sergeant, as far as they were concerned, we didn’t even exist. Then our paradise was taken from us, and we were moved into a shithole called ‘Camp Grizzly’.
Things went south pretty quickly at Grizzly, under the microscope by the company, we looked like shitbags. And before long we all started taking it out on each other. First and second squads, once pretty close comrades started getting at each other’s throats. I generally didn’t give a shit, and kept hanging out with my friends from both squads, I liked being in second squad, so I was happy. Then a soldier named ‘AWOL’ ruined everything for everyone.
The Army is crazy about accountability of everything. From soldiers and equipment, down to the smallest piece of bullshit. Only problem was, what AWOL lost, was not one of these small pieces of bullshit, he lost a pair of night vision goggles (NVGs). Normally if this happens we tear everything apart and do nothing else but look for it until it’s found. Losing a pair of NVGs is a pretty big deal, being able to see at night is a major advantage we have when fighting the Taliban, now put a pair of those in the enemies hands, and you put the lives of everyone you work with in danger. Now, while AWOL was a big enough fuck up for things to end this way, what really happened was the idiot just misplaced his soldier’s NVGs he was in charge of, and we found them a few hours later. But our Platoon Leader ‘Six’ chalked this whole incident up to shitty leadership, so AWOL, being a team leader in first squad, was switched with me, a team leader in second squad, thinking that sending AWOL over to the iron fisted leadership of Two would do him some good. What really happened is I got stuck in fucking first squad, and AWOL…well he earned his nickname. About two months after being given to Two, AWOL went on leave and never came back, forever being labeled a coward and a bitch by all those still in Afghanistan. But on the bright side, Gong was also switched to first squad with me.
Working with first squad was a lot different then what I was use too, almost like totally switching companies or something, the only good part was that I already knew everyone, so at least it wasn’t awkward. I was constantly chided and yelled at for being too mean to locals, other soldiers, and other units, I was continually told by ‘One’ the first squad leader, “that I was no longer in second squad”. And to “calm the fuck down”.
It was about a month after I switched squads when ‘the incident’ occurred. Somewhere up the army chain of command someone decided that the reason the ANP were so useless was because no Americans lived at their checkpoints. Makes sense right? Yeah didn’t think so. Anyway, they came up with this great plan to have us move into a checkpoint that was about the same size as a one car garage, near the city. You know the city teeming with Taliban? Just making sure we were on the same page. We were too move in, and build defenses up, rather than call in contractors like every other god damn base in the area, we would get no giant cement walls or dirt embankments, the ANP didn’t even have a damn guard tower from which to fight from. What did we get? Waist high burlap bags called ‘HESCO baskets’, only problem is we needed dirt to fill these, and we were in the middle of the damn city. You’re probably wondering how this has anything to do with me being demoted, or Facebook. Well, unlike many of us who had been in the army for a long time, when Gong heard something stupid he didn’t just ‘grin and bear it’, he openly complained. He just so happened to openly complain on Facebook. Normally this isn’t a problem, as whenever you type something on Facebook only your friends see it, that is assuming your smart enough to turn your profile’s privacy settings on, which Gong was not.
I saw his post, and thought it was hilarious. A well thought out, two solid pages of bitching. He used his words like a whip, lashing out at the people he thought had wronged him, and whether he was wrong or right, soldier or not, he had the right to voice his opinions. Now the Army trusts their soldiers as much as the U.S. trusts Russia, therefore they always spy on us. Somewhere in our company someone was looking at those few unsecured Facebook pages, Gong’s was among them, and next to Gong’s two page long bitch was my ‘like’, that stupid little button you press when your too lazy to comment on someone’s status. When they saw this they totally lost their shit.
The Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Leader cornered me and showed me a print out of Gong’s writing and asked if I read it before, I laughed a little bit and said I did. There was no point in trying to lie to cover my ass, because they had my stupid ‘like’ right there on the paper. They started throwing around words like ‘disappointed’, ‘unprofessional’, and ‘retarded’ about my conduct. They said what Gong wrote was not only incredibly disrespectful to senior leadership, it violated ‘Operational Security’, meaning he put things on the internet that could have given the enemy information they could have used against us. They had some valid points, generally calling your Platoon Sergeant a ‘useless fat ass’ is considered pretty disrespectful, but the second part totally blew my mind. Nowhere in his post did Gong even mention he was in Kandahar; let alone what district we were living in. He just said there was an ANP checkpoint we would be living at. Whatever, take the ass chewing and move on right? Not so fast.
Before I could even crack a joke at the whole thing we learned Gong would be switched platoons, One was getting relieved of command, as was I, and I was getting busted back down to Specialist. Gong was going to be investigated, and possibly was going to get busted all the way back down to Private, forty-five days loss of pay, and forty-five days hard labor. What started as a joke, exploded into a cluster fuck of epic proportions. Then as the final little bit of punishment I was switched back to second squad, the same squad I was a leader in, but now I was going to be a soldier with the people I use to be in charge of. Wonderful.
One bright side to the whole thing was I did get to go back to second squad, whether I was a soldier or an NCO, It was good to be back with them, there is no one else I would rather serve with.
Another thing I should point out, about four months later I was made a Team Leader again. No stripes this time though.
By Joseph Kassabian
After six years in the military and multiple deployments, you start to think you’ve seen everything, and then Kandahar swoops in and surprises you again. This story needs a disclaimer, if your easily disturbed, or squeamish I recommend you don’t read it. Everything in this story is true.
Kandahar, Afghanistan. Second squad set on another every day, routine patrol out to our Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoints that are scattered out in villages and on the sides of dusty, badly maintained roads, the idea is putting ANP in this checkpoints would mean they intermingle with the locals and foster pro-government attitudes, instead they are just huge targets and everyone hates them. It was a short walk to our first checkpoint that day, ‘the cell phone checkpoint’, a position that is built with a handful of sandbags and a plastic lawn chair perched on a dirt road framed on both sides by open air sewage canals. The ANP relax and do nothing sitting in the shade on their flamboyantly colored lawn chairs while we, laden with forty-plus pounds of gear, do all their work for them.
It was at this Cell Phone Checkpoint that ‘Alpha’, ‘Shot’, a medic named ‘Sal’, and I were pulling security to the east, watching the road for incoming cars, and like always once cars saw we were there, they stopped coming, and kids gathered around us. The kids laughed and giggled, screaming the few English words they knew at us, ‘Pen!’ ‘What is your name?’ ‘Fuck you!’, over and over again. A kid with a bleeding foot ran up, bare foot, to where Sal was and started begging. Sal, being a generally good person, took his medical bag off his back and started rummaging through it; he pulled out some anti-bacterial cream and gauze, applied the cream and wrapped up the bloody foot, the kid smiled and ran off back down the dirt road. We all patted each other on the back for helping the locals and went back to searching the few cars that came down the road.
About an hour later a young girl walked up to us, a baby in her arms wrapped in a blanket. We could see the baby’s head was oddly shaved bald. The young girl walked right up to Sal, after seeing him take care of the other kid, and unwrapped the baby in her arms. The young girl pointed at a horrible sore on the baby’s head. We all recoiled in horror at what we saw. An open, infected red patch of skin, oozed with white puss, we couldn’t figure out what it was, but there were small brown dots in the open sore. Sal and I, trying to maintain our composure, took a closer look. The small brown dots wiggled. “Holy fucking shit!” Alpha cursed. “What the fuck is that!” I found myself screaming. Sal and Shot stared in silent horror.
“there’s maggots in her fucking head” Sal quietly said to the three of us, he was elbow deep in his medical bag, looking for something. “What can we do for her?” I asked, my eyes locked on the sore like in a staring contest. Sal rifled through the gauze, looking for something else, I reached in his bag and pulled out a alcohol preparation pad. Sal knew what I was suggesting just by seeing me grab it. “Dude she’s got to be one, maybe two years old. That’s going to hurt like a bitch.” I shrugged, grabbing more pads. “She has fucking maggots in her head, how much more pain can we inflict on her?” Alpha, a father of three, looked at the girl like it was his own “We have to do something man.” Sal and I put rubber gloves on, and the young girl handed Shot the baby to hold during the procedure. Sal spread the sore out, to get a better look, the maggots, fat and squirming, made him recoil again, I opened a alcohol pad and handed it to Sal, he started gently rubbing the sore with the pad. The baby’s screams made us flitch, the maggots weren’t dislodging as easy as we hoped they would.
Sal started gouging at the sore, puss was forced out, and finally he start pulling the maggots from their disgusting new home. The girl trashed, screamed, and cried, Shot held on tightly, Sal kept digging away. He threw away a pad, it was stained red, white, and yellow with infection, I gave him another one, he kept digging. Finally after about twenty minutes, Sal leaned back, exhaled, and threw the last pad away “I think that’s the last of them” he rubbed some anti-bacterial cream into the newly cleaned sore, which now resembled a bloody hole and wrapped gauze around it to keep the ever buzzing flies out. The little girl who brought us the baby glared at us like we were the devil and ran away with the baby, once again wrapped up in her arms.
Sal later explained to us what he thought happened. The baby at one point had a common skin rash known as ‘cradle cap’ but the horrible unsanitary conditions in Afghanistan, the total lack of medical care in most of the country, and the neglect of the parents that is exceedingly common, led to what we saw that day. Sal also said the chance of the sore getting infected once again was almost a certainty give the conditions of the village the girl was from. Almost every patrol we see horrible medical conditions, broken bones that have healed horribly out of place and at sickening angles, open clefs of various types, and in one case a child who was a burn victim over a year ago who’s skin still weeps with infection. Unfortunately, as much as we would like to help everyone in need, it’s impossible. The sheer lack of caring and compassion the government of Afghanistan has for their own people is sickening. The Afghan government gets fat and rich off uncounted billions in aid while little girls like the one we took care of are so neglected maggots live in her fucking head.