Monday, May 21, 2007

Outside the wire, my first mission

"Tomorrow morning, you are going out on convoy," my sergeant told me.

A grin spread across my face. I had been working hard nearly nonstop on building and stocking the new Battalion Aid Station here on Mehtar Lam. While I found the work rewarding, I was dying to go outside the FOB on mission and see more of the country. The moment had come, and I couldn't hide my satisfaction.

"Sounds awesome Sergeant!" I said.

"Good, I want to see you there by 0800."

Yes! Finally! I returned to my hooch and started preparing my combat load for mission. I had a hard time falling asleep that night. The next morning I went to chow at about 0730,

"Davis! SP got moved up an hour! Move with a purpose!" said my sergeant.

I slammed my breakfast down my gullet and started helping with the preparation for the mission. I would be driving the medical Humvee on this mission. Our medical Humvee has the back seats taken out and a backboard for a patient added. We loaded our medical bags, water, and ammo. We tested our radios and headsets and mounted a machine gun on top of the Humvee. After a briefing we were loaded and ready to roll. I took all instruction from my sergeant,

"Okay this bitch weighs an extra 5,000 pounds from the armor plating. They put a turbo in the engine to compensate which helps some but the roads out here are brutal. Are you ready?"

"Yes," I lied. It's hard to be ready for something you have never done before but I banked on the fact that I am a quick learner.

"If you have ever gotten an aggressive driving or speeding ticket, today would be the time to use those skills," my sergeant added with a chuckle.

I eased us into motion in line with the other trucks. I hit the brake as the convoy slowed and my gunner slammed forward in his turret as the truck jerked to a stop. 'Sensitive brakes,' I made a mental note as I apologized to my gunner for checking him against his machine gun. We halted at the gate just inside the FOB walls. The order was given to "go red." I pulled back the charging handle on my rifle and released. The bolt neatly scooped and seated a round in the chamber with a satisfying clack. I drew my pistol and pulled the slide back, I saw a flash of brass as I released and chambered a bullet. I returned the pistol to my holster. This is the real deal, I thought. I felt tense but focused. I was nervous but it made me alert. The truck ahead of me started rolling, I hit the gas.

Once we left the gate there was no slowing down. We were the last truck in the convoy and my sergeant was hollering at me to keep up. I punched the gas and felt the turbo kick in. For weighing over 10,000 pounds it responded pretty well. I was careening down a dusty dirt road that wound it's way through the farms and huts outside the base. The road itself was atrocious, there were ridges and potholes everywhere, I told my gunner to hold on as I worked to maintain the right gap in the convoy. The closer I came to downtown Mehtar Lam the more crowded the road was. A small taxi started to ease it's way back into the road as I approached. Instinct moved my foot off of the gas,


I laid on the horn and put the pedal to the floor. Sure enough, the taxi moved right out of my way. If I had to put my money on a four-wheel-drive armored Humvee vs. Toyota sedan in a crash, I'd take the Humvee. I think the locals would too. When we roll we roll in the middle of the road, no matter what. People move for Americans, not the other way around, and as I said before we don't slow down for anyone. All of these measures are for security. If we stopped for every obstruction or slowed for every donkey cart it would be that much easier to target a truck with a roadside IED(improvised explosive device) or a rocket launcher. In Iraq, terrorists would intentionally place children in the street to stop a convoy for an attack or robbery.

We cruised through a crowded market and made a short halt. We headed about a mile down the road and took a sharp right. I saw as the lead truck drove up and over the curb and onto a dirt road that wound sharply up the side of a mountain. The Humvee swayed as I cleared the curb and began my ascent. I saw the road rise at a sharp angle in front of me.

"Hit the gas! Get a running start or we'll get stuck halfway up!"

I shifted down and hit the gas. Slowly but surely, we climbed. About halfway up I looked to my right and realized that I was on a one-lane dirt road, barely wide enough for a Humvee and there was no guardrail. This road was designed for donkey carts. A vision jumped in my head of the right tire accidentally getting to close to the edge. I visualized the dirt road giving way to a giant armor plated truck rolling down the mountainside. I snapped my attention to the task at hand.

I made it to the top where the land flattened out to reveal a small village with several rock huts. We were high enough to see the lush green valley stretch below us. The convoy halted. Several villagers came out to speak with us and the local children came for the handouts which American soldiers always have. A young boy and girl approached our vehicle. My sergeant got out to say hello and, as a driver, I was required to stay inside. Now my sergeant has a real soft spot for kids. He melted when he saw their smiling faces. He started giving them everything he could, gum, change, all of his pens. I was worried he was going to give them his gun. I asked the little girl for a piece of the gum and traded her a bottle of water. As I popped the gum in my mouth I realized it had touched her grubby hands.

"I hope I don't get dysentery,"

The call was given and we headed back down the tiny dirt road on the mountainside. We traveled through Mehtar Lam and I couldn't ignore how absolutely gorgeous the country was. There were lush green fields, palm trees, and colorful bazaars. Many of the women were adorned with beautiful ice blue burqas. So beautiful in fact, my sergeant would make a comment every time he saw one. After the 27th time I heard,

"Man that is such a beautiful blue burqa! I am gonna get one for my wife."
"Will you shut up about the burqas already?" I replied.
"No! They are beautiful!"
"Yeah, and blue, I know."

We left the village and entered what became my favorite part of the drive. We cruised into a valley full of tall green grass. Several seemingly random roads interlaced as and cut through the grass fields. The convoy picked up speed and we were careening from road to road trying to keep up with the vehicle in front of us. I could see the wind rippling through the tall grass and the trail of dust we were kicking up. It was a beautiful day, and I was having a blast.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bullets and Country Stars.

Names have been changed because of security rules.

It was our fifth night of tower guard. So far the week had been pretty quiet. A few nights before an Afghan National Army soldier had accidentally fired off a burst of rounds inside the FOB. We usually don't expect gunfire from inside the wire but once we found out it was an accident we relaxed. Night fell.

2400 hours

My guard buddy Gurd and I sat, taking turns scanning the village in front of us with our night vision goggles. Everything is dark green through night vision. Then as soon as you take them off it is pitch black. The radio cackled,

"S.O.G.(Sergeant of Guard) this is tower five, over."

"Tower five this is S.O.G, go ahead."

"S.O.G. we just saw a three round burst of tracer fire in the sky."

Gunfire wasn't common at night, but it wasn't uncommon either. We didn't think much of it.

0112 hours

Gurd and I were watching and laughing about something when we heard two distant bursts of machine gun fire. I grabbed the radio.

"S.O.G. this is tower one, we just heard several rounds fired over a mile away at our 10 o' clock over."

"Tower one this is S.O.G. roger that keep me informed. S.O.G. out."

0153 hours

I sat on the bench with my night vision as Gurd rested on the stained, beat up cot behind me. After midnight we had to take turns so we wouldn't both fall alseep around 3AM.


The radio battery was starting to go. It would beep incessantly the worse it got. I should call the S.O.G. for a new one I thought to myself. My train of thought continued until it was derailed by a gunshot that rang out very close,


In a split second I visualized a rifle round coming into my tower and hitting me in my gigantic melon. I dropped out of my chair and got below the tower window.

KRACK! A second shot, yes that is definitely nearby.

"That was close, very close!" I heard Gerd say behind me. He scrambled to put all of his body armor back on while remaining kneeling on the floor. I had dropped my night vision in my rush to remove my head from the view of the tower window. I was trying to find the radio and my night vision at the same time. I found the radio first, I pressed the big black button on the side,

"S.O.G.! S.O.G.! We just hear-"


"STUPID PIECE OF SHIT!" I screamed, "Gurd help me find my nods!" Oh man where are my nods, where are my fucking nods?!

I found my nods and put them back on, we chambered a round in our rifles. I joined Gurd in peeking over the window ledge towards where the shots came from.

"Why are you on my window?!" he asked.




On my crawl to the other window I stopped to report to the S.O.G. I hit the button to call,

"S.O.G. this is tower on-"


"GOD DAMN STUPID PIECE OF SHIT RADIO!" Gurd started laughing. I started laughing. Gerd added,

"Why did I pick this window? This window is where the shots came from! Hahahaha! Why am I on this window?"

"I DON'T KNOW!" I couldn't help laughing, "WHY ARE WE LAUGHING GERD?"

"I DON'T KNOW I'M SO SCARED!" yet we continued to laugh.

I finally got a hold of the S.O.G.on the radio.

"S.O.G. this is tower one we heard two shots fired very close at 2 o' clock in relation to our position!" The S.O.G. replied,

"I know I heard them inside my hooch."

"FUCK!" Gurd yelled from behind me.


"No more sleep tonight, I guess," he said. Once again I couldn't help laughing. We both sat quiet for a few minutes, one on each side of the tower with our eyes barely over the edge of the windows. The rest of the night was quiet. Dawn came and revealed our bloodshot eyes. I stumbled to my hooch and laid in bed.

"Two more nights of tower," I thought.

The next day we sat down in good ol' tower one to begin our shift.

"You ready for another night Gurd?" I asked.

"Yeah let's just hope tonight is a lot slower than last night."

30 seconds later...

BOOM! We heard a distant blast.

"S.O.G. this is tower one..."

And now, ladies and gentleman, Toby Keith!

I don't even like country music...

Friday, May 11, 2007

21 was the longest year of my life

Usually when someone describes a year or years as "the longest of their life" it kind of has a negative connection. Example: "The year I spent in prsion was the longest year of my life." I, however, mean it in a very good way.

I turn 22 today and when I look back at my 21st birthday it feels like it was three years ago. I attribute this to the many many experiences I went through over the last twelve months. 21 marked the end of my six-month solderization process. It also marked the end to a very long, very serious relationship I was in. As I had been previously living with her, now I needed to find somewhere else to go. After separating with someone I had been close to for three years, emotionally I was crushed, I had just removed myself from the military environment, and I felt I had nowhere to go. I went home to get some time to collect myself.

I moved in with my parents in Prescott. I had almost no social network to speak of, I was reeling from a break-up, and after spending six months surrounded by my fellow comrades in training I found myself up late at night in a dark, quiet house and I was lonely, extremely lonely. During the day I was extremely restless, in training it was common to work 40-60 hours a week along with physical training five days per week. To occupy myself I threw myself into everything I could. I found two jobs, registered for a full schedule at school, got a gym membership, workout schedule, and unfortunately, threw myself headlong into a new, exciting relationship.

I was crossed and the relationship completely fell apart. Once again, I felt alone. I was so used to having a girl in my life to boost my confidence and self-esteem. Once that was gone again I began to compensate. My insecurity grew. Without a girlfriend I felt I had to prove I was attractive. I became a big asshole for awhile. I would brag, talk constantly about myself and the things I had accomplished. I would always take credit rather than let people give it to me. I would rub it in when I outperformed someone. And the worst thing I did, if I felt someone had some sort of dominance over me, I would harshly criticize them to soothe my own insecurity. Also, without a girlfriend to be considerate of, I focused all that consideration inward. I was completely selfish and impatient. I remember telling my Dad I wanted to go golfing with him and never did. I remember him asking me several times and I turned him down because I thought I had something more important to do socially. Looking back now, I remember Dad asking me and I can't remember a single thing I did when I told him no.

I was a damn jerk.

Then I started to question why I was driving all these people I cared about away from me. I began to become a little more self aware. A very good friend pointed me to the author Robert Greene. Much of his work deals with being self aware and controlling your emotions. I saw myself for what I was. I began the long process of eradicating all those horrible habits and over-compensations I had picked up. I remember talking to a good friend one day,

"I really haven't felt like my usual self lately," i said.

"Like, how haven't you felt like yourself?" she asked.

"Well there hasn't been anything usual about myself since before I went to basic training."

Changing as a person is great, I have gone through huge personal changes in the last year. The only problem is I lost my sense of identity sometimes. It really frightened me, and at times I would feel completely lost. But as I examined myself and read about some different perspectives, I found a goal and it wasn't until my friend Hager put a name on it that I realized what it was that I was working towards.


-a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquillity

I feel like I have learned more in this last year about life than I did in the 21 years before.