Soldiers watch another day end in Afghanistan. Most will see 330 sunsets, give or take a few, before heading home.
A year ago, when our company commander told us that we’d be deploying to Afghanistan, one skeptic said: “I’ll believe we’re going to Afghanistan as soon as we start rolling down the runway.” I had reason to hope that the whole thing would be called off, as it wouldn’t have been the first time the Army had cancelled something on me.
Army leadership gets fired up sometimes, and it can formulate some wonderful ideas for things the soldiers can do. Like, “We’re going to do a company ruck march on Thursday,” an officer might declare on Monday. As the plan percolates down to the platoons and the teams, the complications begin piling up to the officer.
For instance, getting all the soldiers to participate poses a problem. A soldier can abuse the Army’s health care system, feign an injury and obtain a physical profile that absolves him or her from certain physical tasks that he or she may not feel like doing. And, so, as soon as news of the ruck march spreads, many soldiers will pull up lame, go over to the health clinic, complain of lower back pain and return with a “no ruck marching” profile. And then there are guys who, though issued a ruck sack, suddenly don’t have a ruck sack, and you can’t ruck march without a ruck sack. Within a day or two, it becomes clear that only a fraction of the company will be going on the ruck march.
And then the officer will learn he has a meeting on Thursday. Plus he has the 30 or 40 “injured” or ill-equipped soldiers to deal with and a stack of paperwork to complete detailing the entire plan — route, emergency medical services, water supply and on and on — for the ruck march, which starts to seem like more trouble than it’s worth, and he winds up canceling it.
Thus far in my military career, the Army’s threats of action and activity have turned out to be hollow about 60 percent of the time. With that in mind, I prayed that the deployment would become ensnared in some hideous FUBAR SNAFU that would keep us in the States. My prayers were for naught, and late last July, we were inside a 767 as it started its takeoff roll on the way to Afghanistan.
Once we arrived, however, the hollow threats began anew. We were threatened with going up to Bagram. That didn’t come to pass. We got threatened with some training on the range that would help prepare us for combat, which we didn’t do. We got threatened with a mission on the worst Forward Operating Base in the country, and we wound up on one of the best. It gets to the point where I can’t take any plan too seriously unless, of course, I happen to like the plan.
We’ve been threatened with an early trip home. The company was ordered to spend a year as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, but it’s looking as if the deployment could be cut short by a couple of months. Not too long ago, the commander sent out his Warning Order telling us to be “off the battlefield” by the end of a month, which I am unable to disclose lest some bad person use the information to attack us. The order was fantastic news, and we began speculating when we’d be back in the States.
I was so optimistic that I had already been in touch with a friend and made some plans to drift size-10 Drakes — that’s what ought to be hatching when I’m planning to be on the river — over trout somewhere in the Rio Grande drainage. I haven’t booked any tee times yet, but I’m thinking about some of the courses I’d like to play. I checked the minor league baseball schedule to see when the Round Rock Express would be at home.
Beneath my optimism lies a dense layer of military reality. My mood soured when word spread that we’d likely wind up staying for the full year and my plans started going down the drain. I got hacked off at the Army before accepting the fact that I should have known better than to make any plans at all.
“It’s all good,” I had to tell myself. “Be patient.” I can handle fishing more gently and casting smaller dry flies on a finer tippet. The golf courses will still be open, and the baseball season will still be underway. Living in shipping containers and tents and having to hike to the bathroom has become routine.
I can’t suppress a sense of urgency, though. The more time we spend here gives some officer more time to cook up a great plan for us to take part in next phase of the war against the Axis of Evil. I just want to get out of here before we get threatened with loading our trucks and heading west where I can start writing a column called Dateline: Iran.
Sgt. Mike is an ex-Rocky Mountain newspaper editor. Dateline: Afghanistan appears monthly in MG.