14 Sep 2004
This morning I had the great privilege of sleeping in until 0830. Little did I know that this would be the longest day yet. Not in that it was boring or undesirable, on the contrary, it was just a fun day that kept going.
The plan as we were informed of the night before was: 0930 get the vehicles signed out, top off the fuel, and ready for the challenging terrain. 1330 was departure time, and we were expecting to return at 1600. Our mission was target practice.
Those of us with hummer licenses ran PMCS (preventive maintenance checks and services) on each of our vehicles. This consists of checking any kind of fluid that is used to run this rolling machine and looking for any malfunctions. We topped off the fuel and dispatched each vehicle. After lunch, it was time to grab our gear and roll out. We had a total of four hummers with about twelve personnel in each and we were packed in (uncomfortably so). The seats in the back faced inward, however, when we got outside the gate everyone faced out to “pull security.”
“Why did we have seats facing in if we have to face out?” I asked one of the other guys as we left.
He replied with “that’s the army for you, backwards and upside down.”
On our way, we were hailed again by the kids and some adults, as they waved and gave the thumbs up. Some of us waved back and gave the thumbs up sign. One kid obviously learned a few commonly spoken army words, which he yelled out as he used his middle finger instead of his thumb. The guys couldn’t believe what they heard and saw, and asked each other “did he just say what I thought he said!?!”
Our destination wasn’t far and it didn’t take long to arrive. We entered the Afghan training camp and received permission to use one of the ranges. While we sat there waiting for the “paperwork” to be taken care of, some of the men pulled out some cameras and took pictures. I thought to myself whether or not I should have brought my camera with me. Having pictures is nice but taking the time to observe and absorb the event, rather than fumble with a camera, is even better. Besides, I could paint a visual picture from my memory with descriptive words anyway. (Pictures in this post were compiled from other times and added for reliance) At this very point I started to write this part of the story in my head, finding the best words to describe the surrounding events.
As we continued to proceed to our objective, the environment transformed from a primitive class civilization to a large scale terrain; containing a variety of forms and shapes of rocks and dirt all of which lacked vegetation. Other than a few scattered chunks of metal that use to be Russian tanks, abandond decades ago, there wasn’t anything around. The road arched and twisted as it seemingly attempted to add to the short length of the journey. The terrain consisted of mountains, dunes, valleys, rocks, and places where water eroded car size crevasses out of the dirt. The ground was solid, made up of fine dust and a few scattered plants.
The range faced toward a mountain about half the size of the Sears Tower in height or so it seemed. A small mountain perhaps but being at the foot of it attracted a certain respect for its size. One squad pulled security to the rear while the rest expended a few magazines of ammunition. The thought that an enemy dumb enough to attack a group of soldiers while they were target practicing was a comical idea, however, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
As the shots were fired a returning roar from the mountain was heard. One shot would return an echo that sounded like flowing water falling from a thousand feet. Its cry lasted about seven seconds after the shot had been fired. We had no ear plugs but I stuffed pieces of a tissue in my ears to try to deaden the series of loud popping. It worked fairly well. My weapon was severely dry and kept sticking almost every shot. This would definitely be a horrible nightmare if we were actually in a firefight. After I was finished oil was available, so it was ready for the next time.
When our platoon was done firing, we picked up the remaining brass shells. A few shells were still hot and you could see some of us playing hot potato from one hand to the other while briskly walking to the ammo box. We all loaded back onto the hummers and returned a different way.
Our next stop was a man made cave in one of the mountains. We were about fifty meters from the cave when the lead hummer ran over a bundle of fine metal wire and had to stop the small convoy. Everyone jumped out and created a security perimeter by forming a circle facing out around the vehicles. A group of kids were seen approaching with a small herd of sheep. When they came about 30 meters a few of us started shouting out to stop and get back in one of the two Afghan languages, at that they stopped but didn’t go away. Eventually a vehicle from the ANA (Afghan National Army) came and told them to leave.
After about twenty minutes we were told to round up. We returned to our vehicles and continued to approach the cave. It was huge, about thirty feet high and the same in width. As we entered the temperature became cool, and our eyes had to adjust to the absence of light. The main part of the cave went about forty yards and to the left there were three large offshoots to the cave which were pitch black. The cave was large enough to fit a whole company of about 150 soldiers with all their vehicles comfortably inside. After we discovered the limited mysteries of the cave, we returned once again to our vehicles and drove back to Camp Phoenix.