Home > War Journalism > The Dealer Death March

The Dealer Death March

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.

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  1. Sandi
    February 3, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Once again Joe you take us into thought provoking detail of your daily lives. I thought from the beginning the story, it was going to end ‘ tragically’ for “Will”. Just as sure my mind knew you would take us on another PG ride, of Aftganistans’ own, “Wild Wild Creepy West”!

    Your blog, which you know I anxiously await my inbox to find, also makes my time go a little faster until you boys come home! Much love not only to my son, but to all serving! Thank you again FOR YOUR SERVICE TO OUR COUNTY AND THOSE YOU SERVE AT HOME WITH YOUR BLOG!

  2. Penny Eskew
    February 4, 2012 at 12:34 am

    Hey Joe this is grandma Penny, I’m Brendens grandmother. Your story was so funny, I could just see it the way you described it. It was also sad to make you young men do all that walking just for the hell of it. Life in the “stan” sounds absolutely horrible. I wish I could fix you all a hot meal every day. I pray for your safety and can’t wait till you all get out of that living hell. Thank you all for your service to God and Country. God Bless you All

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