Friday, October 28, 2005

The Lost AA Blogs: Special Reconnaissance

The last time I was in Afghanistan the Americas Army game team asked for soldiers to submit blogs about life in the Army. I answered this call and submitted some articles. It appears that their blog project had a low priority since it took a couple of months for each article to get posted and my last three articles were never posted. So, now that they have had 18 months to post them, I will make them available here.

If you havn't seen my previous AA blogs you can scroll to the bottom of my sidebar to read them.

Special Reconnaissance

Even after our failed attempt at a helicopter infiltration to our area, we still needed to conduct the mission. As a result, we spent 18 hours bouncing around in the back of vehicles while driving the distance that only took an hour to fly. I do not expect to spend much time in Moab, Utah or any other 4x4 territory since I managed to get most of that out of my system driving the nonexistent roads here. There are very few paved roads outside of the few major cities and those are usually very pot-holed. As a result, people here drive in dry or nearly dry river beds and any route they think their vehicle can traverse.

For us, the trails only got us so far and we ended up being dropped off on the edge of a small village and had to walk with our heavy packs up into the mountains under cover of darkness hoping that we would not be seen. It’s not that being seen would necessarily increase our danger but how can we observe certain behavior or activities if those who would conduct them know that we are looking for them.

After several hours of mountain hiking and some rock climbing, we finally reached what we thought was a secluded location just after first light. We set up our observation location and security positions and settled in for a long wait.

The police get coffee and donuts for their stakeouts but there’s no Krispy-Kreme here so we had to settle for what we carried up with us. In an environment like the Afghan mountains we have to make a number of trade-offs and judgment calls. We are required to carry our mission critical equipment like radios and weapons then we must add food and water and that becomes very heavy especially when you have to carry enough to sustain yourself for a week. After that we can take any comfort items like spare socks and sleeping bags. Many consider a sleeping bag a luxury and live by the adage “travel light, freeze at night.”

Our wait did not last long, a couple of boys herding their family’s sheep and goats were soon walking right through our perimeter. We stayed put the rest of the day and observed what we could but moved again once darkness settled. We moved further up the mountain and a few ridges over but soon learned that if we could walk there, so could the local goats and shepherds. We ended up doing the best we could to complete our objectives while entertaining or doing the best we could to ignore the locals who would occasionally walk up the mountainside to pay us a visit or check us out.

Regardless of how good the mission is, we always look forward to the exfil, especially after a week without a shower and eating only MRE’s. During our week we did manage to locate a semi flat spot large enough to land a helicopter but still had to clear if of large rocks and a couple small trees. On our final night we gathered near the clearing then for a few long seconds fought both the steep mountain and the rotor wash with our heavy packs on our backs while desperately trying to get onto the helicopter. A very long hour later we were back on the ground in Bagram looking for fresh food and showers.

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