Home > War Journalism > How to Play Catch in Kandahar

How to Play Catch in Kandahar

By Joseph Kassabian

Some names, locations, times, and dates have been changed for operational security and to protect those involved.

Kandahar, Afghanistan. On a cold, dusty night like any other, second squad was kicked out of the warmth of their beds to get their vehicles ready. Our platoon’s first squad had found a mortar round laying in a ditch, discovered while attempting to pet a puppy they saw, and just in case it was wired up to explode by the Taliban, second squad was called up to escort Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) to the scene to blow up the possible booby trap. We yawned, climbed inside out towering armored trucks and rolled out.

We picked up EOD from another base and started to make our way to one of our Afghan National Police (ANP) stations, where just down the road first squad found the mortar shell. We pulled our trucks off the side of the road, I was left in the gunner’s position of the third truck in the convoy. My Squad Leader ‘Two’ linked up our Platoon Sergeant ‘Seven’, and they brought the EOD soldiers to the scene, leaving the gunner’s keeping security over our vehicles.

Traffic zipped between our trucks, shop keepers carried on like there wasn’t a platoon sized element of Americans wandering around their village. The gunners settled down for a long boring wait, staring off into our sectors of fire, scanning random cars and people that drove and strolled by for anything unusual. After about a half hour EOD radioed “Fire in the hole!” A small thump of explosives was heard in the distance by the gunners at the trucks. A few minutes later things went totally to hell.

A motorcycle, carrying two passengers sped past the last truck in the convoy, the gunner in that truck remembers “I heard something bounce off the turret shield and fall into the back of the truck, but I thought it was just a rock, but those fuckers threw a grenade at my head” The grenade fell out of the back of the truck and exploded next to the back left tire, shredding the tire and peppering the doors and gunner’s shield with shrapnel. Two trucks away my vehicle shook with the force of the blast.

The gunner in the attacked truck screamed something incoherent over the radio; I couldn’t understand anything he said. “Someone threw something at my truck!” he screamed his voice full of anger, confusion, or panic, I’m not really sure which, “It exploded!” I immediately unbuckled my seat belt, grabbed my rifle and started opening my door, I figured he was hurt, which would have explained the screaming. “A grenade exploded outside my truck! I’m okay!” First squad’s medic rushed back to the damaged truck, he climbed in the truck and did a quick once over, finding no bleeding he left, leaving the confused, angry gunner scanning his sector for more threats. The rest of second squad mounted back up, EOD truck in tow, and we took off towards another camp, to make sure the gunner was okay.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a serious threat to all soldiers in the modern war zone. TBI is normally inflicted via explosions and soldiers suffer from undiagnosed concussions, leading to serious long term health problems, and is a leading enabler of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the ‘Agent Orange’ of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Once regarded as something as something soldiers had to just ‘walk off’ or that they just ‘got their bell rung’ now whenever soldiers are the victims of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), grenades, or other explosive attacks, the army keeps them under close observation from several hours up to a few days. During this time soldiers have to pass various mental and physical exams and are screened by mental health specialists. Not that this screening is always effective in rooting out TBI and getting soldiers treated, it’s often joked about by soldiers but it is better than the old method of diagnosing soldiers and telling them to ‘stop being a pussy’ and ‘man the fuck up’.

Once we arrived at the other camp, ‘Bravo’ and myself started working on the truck, changing out the shredded tires by using a fork lift as a jack, and covering up the shrapnel scars that ripped across the armored back door with several camouflage pattern band-aids we found. Eventually we found out we would have to leave our possibly brain damaged squad mate at the camp for further medical screening, so the rest of us got back in our trucks and drove back to our small dusty compound, counting our blessings that apparently the Taliban couldn’t throw for shit, and thanking the overinflated defense budget that gives us such effective armored trucks, we climbed back into our beds to finish up what we tried to start at the beginning of the night.

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