Home > War Journalism > The Day the Hooligans Saved a Life

The Day the Hooligans Saved a Life

November 18, 2011

By Joseph Kassabian

Note: All people, Places, times, and route names have been changed to protect operational security and to protect the people in the story from any liability.

Kandahar, Afghanistan. Every day the soldiers of second squad, the ‘Hooligans’, roll out of the relative safety of their outpost and into the wild west that is Kandahar, the birth place of the Taliban. The trucks bristling with heavy weapons, the soldiers loaded down with body armor, rifles, machine guns, and grenades, this is not the place to get comfortable. It’s also not the place anyone expected to do anything resembling a good deed to the populous, but that’s exactly what happened one scorching day in this war torn wasteland.

The day began like any other, soldiers mounting weapons and checking their vehicles in early morning, still drunk from sleep. They all gathered around a ‘sand table’, a big planning table with toy cars to represent the trucks, toy soldiers representing the Taliban, and we go over our plans of actions in case of ambush or the occasional road side bomb. After last second checks of radios and gear we mount up in our trucks and drive off, leaving our temporary home in the dust for a few hours.

The trucks tore down the middle of the road, pushing all local traffic out of the way. Some kids waved and some threw rocks, most people just stood and stared. Up ahead the road ‘Two’ saw something, which at first seemed comical. “Damn!” The radio crackled. “You see that car hit that sheep?” He laughed. Up head of his truck, the lead, what looked like a sheep got slammed by a white Toyota Corolla, sending it flying into a ditch on the side of the road. The Corolla drove past our convoy on the shoulder of the road, his windshield smashed in and blood splattered on the hood. Surprisingly this sort of thing happened a lot, so we kept driving. When we got closer to the ditch, Two saw something. It wasn’t a sheep.

“Stop!” he screamed over the radio, the convoy screeched to a halt. “Get the fucking medic over here!” Two leaped out of his truck and ran towards the ditch; ‘Mike’ the medic was at his heels, his aid bag strapped to his back. He jumped down into the ditch, the man, clad in a white robe which was now stained red by his blood, lay pinned underneath a twisted body of a motorcycle, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and twitching. Mike remembers, “His head was all cut up, and he was completely out of it, by the looks of it he broke the car’s windshield with only his head. I’m pretty sure he had brain damage.” Mike went to work doing what he could with what he had in his bag. The locals started gathering around the man, screaming at us, we didn’t understand a word of what they were yelling but we started to get the point when they tried picking the dying man and dragging him into one of their cars. Mike stopped them, trying to get our interpreter to tell them we were trying to save the man’s life, after about five minutes of arguing we resorted to the old standby of dealing with people in Kandahar: we physically removed them from the scene. Two started calling for a helicopter to transport the man to a U.S. hospital, which was immediately turned down by our higher command, so we started finding another way

We waved down a passing Afghan National Police (ANP) truck. Two ran to the driver’s side window and through our interpreter ‘Hamid’ asked if they could bring the man to the hospital. After waiting for the slow moving cogs of the ANP command system, the policeman said he could bring the dying man to a local hospital, but only if we would give him fuel. Two flew into a rage at the man, who even though it was his job, wouldn’t help one of his own people without a bribe from the U.S. Army. After several curses and a kick to his truck the ANP drove away, leaving us with a dying local, still in Mikes care. Hamid, using his cell phone called a local ANP commander he knew and asked for help, the commander said he was on his way. Several minutes later two ANP trucks roared on scene, several police jumped out of the back of the truck and grabbed the dying man, while in their haste of helping they broke ‘C-spine’ a medical practice which in case of suspected spine, neck, or head trauma means the medic on scene immobilizes the neck from moving, preventing further harm. The ANP have little to no real first aid knowledge, so they threw the man roughly into the back of their truck and sped off without any further word.

We never found out if the man lived or died, or truly if the ANP really brought him to a hospital, or lied to us to get on our good side. The situation showed several things about the operational climate of things in Afghanistan: U.S. Soldiers, while the overwhelming opinion is that they are heartless, trained killers, actually have the ability to show compassion in the middle of war. By stopping the convoy and helping the man we did not complete our mission that day, but no one cared. It shows that even in the worst possible place on earth, human kindness and caring can, and probably will, shine through. It also showed one glaring problem with the ANP: Most simply don’t care, for the one commander that went out of his way to come to the aid of one dying man, there were three trucks that past us without stopping, and one who wouldn’t help us without a bribe. Obviously the people who saw the accident happen had such little faith in their police that they didn’t bother calling them. So really the dying man is a symbol for Afghanistan as a whole, without U.S. help will it survive?