Location: Sperwan Ghar, Kandahar province, Afghanistan
I’m not sure why I agreed to let Mitch couchsurf with me. He was a little younger than my preferred age and, based on what he’d written, his cooking skills seemed questionable, despite having a mom who worked in the restaurant business. Mostly I was interested in the fact that he was Canadian, and since I’d planned to go maple syruping soon, thought that hosting a guy from Montreal around the same time might make for a funny post.
I hadn’t realized he was in the army and that he’d done two tours in Afghanistan. I was fascinated and asked him to tell me about his experience there.
He did. ___________________________________________________________________________________
From emails sent to Mitch’s friends and family back home:
where do I begin. Saturday December 8th my section wakes up at 01:30 we get all our gear on. frag vest, tactical vest, helmet, kneepads, rifle, night vision goggles, rucksack with jacket, 24 hour rations, 5 liters of water, ranger blanket, beef jerky, vise grip attached to 30feet of string, 8 electric detonators, 4 non electric detonators with time fuse, one wall breaching charge consisting of 6 blocks of c-4, 2 x one block c-4 charges, gunshot residue test kit and other various small pieces of kit. altogether it all probly weighed approximately 80-90lbs of kit.
our task was to go in 2-3 man teams of Breachers and be attached to a section of British royal Gurka regiment infantry soldiers. the Gurkas are actually Nepalese soldiers that join the British army to get good wages and British citizenship. every year approximately 30000 people from Nepal apply but they only take 250. these guys walk around with like 100+ lbs rucksacks for weeks at a time. so basically there some of the toughest troops in the world.
we stepped off the line of departure around 03:30 (we were supposed to leave at 03:00 but the Afghan national army always take their time getting ready. it was pretty cold probably around 1 degree. our objective was approximately 3-4 kilometers and we were going to take one of the most direct routes possible which meant thru grape and marijuana fields over walls and thru little villages. it was a brutally hard walk in the dark over very uneven terrain.
as sun rose we had to stop for about 15 minutes to wait for the ANA to do there morning prayers we stopped about 300 meters from our first objective.
when we arrived at the first of our objectives it was around 07:00 and we started hearing small arms and machine gun fire in the distance and then massive thumping sounds followed by the scream of an artillery shell flying overhead down range to its target. the battle had begun in the south with the Canadian Van-doo company.
as the Gurkas and ANA started searching we got the word we needed to breach some doors. the first lock we got to was too big to use the shotgun on plus it was a steel door(high risk of ricochet). we discussed it and decided to use a 1/4 block of c-4, I think it was a bit too much cause it bent the door in half fucked it up good style. then we started breaching the rest of the doors with the shotgun. one of the buildings we blew the locks off of was a medical facility which sucked but we reimburse people for the damage.
In one of the compounds they found some Constantina wire (razor wire) and on the other side of the compound the other engineer team found a pressure plate connected to Det cable, some empty jugs and what looks to be homemade explosives. we completed the search of the compound and area by around 11:00.
As we moved to our second objective the gunfire and explosions from artillery and close air support started sounding closer and closer. during one of our crossings of a wadi (water stream) it was pretty muddy on the opposite side of the bank and Kayla was slipping and sliding trying to get up the top so I figured I should just try and jump to the other side over the muddy bank. Well the second I hit the other side all the weight and momentum slammed my ass face first into the dirt which hurt quite exceptionally.
around 13:00 we reached police substation Hajji which was built by my troop earlier in the tour and is in the heart of the worst Taliban area in Kandahar province. It took them 8 hours under enemy contact to reach before they even got started construction. this place gets attacked by the Taliban on average twice a day. we call it the wild west because there have been a lot of running gun battles in that area one of the reasons for this operation.
We took lunch on the outside of the compound with the infantry in the towers doing over watch. at this point we got an opportunity to talk with the Gurkas who are quite funny and friendly guys. they told us about their trip to Wainwright in 2004 to do a training exercise and they thought it was the coldest place on earth, the funny thing is they were there in the spring. they all got a week of leave to do whatever they wanted and did some adventure tours everything from skydiving to river rafting. they really enjoyed the strip clubs and bars and all had a very high opinion of Canada. one of them it was their first exercise since joining the Gurkas and said he paid pretty badly.
after relaxing after lunch, we were waiting for the word to continue advancing. on our path to our last objective which was the market area we had to pass over some trip flares (trip wire attached to a flare) we were all told not to set it off so the Gurkas and us all took care to step over it but once the ANA started to pass it one of them set it off. the ANA are pretty interesting guys they will fight like bastards but a lot of them are clueless with a lot of things they like to smoke pot before they go on operation.
as we were walking we encountered a pot farmer who was telling us he hates the Taliban and stuff because they come to his home and take whatever they want. he was hoping that we would bring more security to the area. as we were walking thru the fields we started to hear a lot of machine gun fire probably no farther than 300 meters from our position. we got into location and over the net came word that there was 5 Taliban seen in the area with rocket propelled grenades.
the Gurkas set up a fire base which also had a sniper and there mortar team. at this point bullets were flying all over the place and the firebase let loose on the Taliban at this point I was laying against a wall and fell asleep for about 5 minutes or so I think I was pretty exhausted I was awoken by an A-10 thunderbolt flying overhead and raining hell down on the Taliban’s position followed by a lot of rounds from the tankers.
during all this the Gurkas caught a man in the area that was identified as Taliban. they brought him over to the ANA soldiers and the man was visibly shaking. the Gurka officer requested that we go over and do a gunshot residue test on him. the results were negative but it doesn’t test to show if he has shot a rocket. so the ANA detained him we went back to our positions in the line and waited for further orders. during the time we went to go sit down the ANA started whacking the guy with a tree branch and pulling his beard and stuff until one of the Gurkas went over to them and told them to cut it out. later on I was talking to that Gurka and he told me they would probably have killed the guy if we were not there.
after the fighting died down we got the go to clear the rest of the market. we showed the Gurkas how to use the shotgun and let them breach a few doors. the guy doing it was having a lot of fun but then the shotgun jammed so we took over again and between Kayla me and the chief we went thru about 30 shells and a half block of c-4 to get thru the market.
over the net we got word that one of the tanks had shot to close to a group of friendly soldiers lightly injuring a Canadian and two afghan soldiers. at this point it came down that we were finished advancing, and we were to re-muster and make our way back to the fob we were to leave at last light.
at this point I was really, really tired I had only taken my back pack off maybe 3 or 4 times thru the whole day and my whole body was really feeling it. while marching out we linked up with the rest of the Gurka company and our engineers. the walk out was somewhere around 4 kilometers but I was running low on water (at this point I had drank about 5 liters of water and was sweating quite heavily). the Gurkas gave me two more bottles of water and we were on our way.
at about 18:30 our company came across some a group of young Afghan males. my Det got called up to go do the explosive residue test and gunshot residue test on them. we tested one of them and the interpreter told us that they had just come back from there evening prayer at the mosque, the tests came up negative, so at that point we let them go and were back on our way. moving at night with approximately 250 people in a line is not as easy as it look in pitch black darkness we had to stop every 10 minutes to make sure everyone was still in the line not to mention everyone was getting really tired.
by the time we seen the silhouette of Sperwan Ghar I had completely ran out of water but knew we were close so I just said fuck it and kept moving. well let me tell you that was probably the longest hour of my life all I could taste was the dust that the line was kicking up as they walked towards the mountain. I was praying to god that we didn’t come into contact because I was so physically exhausted. as we got to the road and started to walk thru the front gate and pass the guard tower I have never felt more relief in my life. I moved as fast as I still could towards our living quarters. I was dropping my gear once I was within 15 feet of the door got to the fridge and grabbed the first drink I seen and consumed it quite furiously.
In all we walked for approximately 18 hours while breaching and clearing buildings with a full load of kit. it was the most physically and mentally demanding day of my life. I don’t think I will ever forget this day and just thought I would write this note so you all would have a better idea of what I’m doing over here. I have to get going to bed it’s like 11:00 and I have another long ass day tomorrow.
Sperwan Ghar, Kandahar province
This has been a hard month for me physically and mentally. Our troop was tasked to build a strongpoint in the middle of really bad Taliban country, I can’t say where or exactly what or why because of operational security. anyways we left for the strongpoint’s location at about 0200 on January 4th. it was a long trip on a route that is quite rough but we never travel so a lot safer.
At approximately 0500 it started to rain which it hasn’t done much since I been here, maybe 2 days since I arrived here October first. We were to dismount and walk to the site where they wanted the strongpoint built, criss-crossing thru farmers fields in about a foot of mud we arrived at our destination just at first light around 0630.
The site was along one of the main road arteries for movement of the population, and cuts right thru Taliban country. the road is so littered with IEDs no one travels this road without a lot of engineers to clear it of mines and IEDs. Probably the last time it was traveled down this far was when the last rotation from Gagetown was here last year.
we formed an all around defense with the vehicles and waited for word to start building at this time it was raining quite hard and the ground was absolute shit mud everywhere, it looked more like Wainwright then Afghanistan. while we were waiting on the final go ahead to build we went and did some patrols with the infantry searching for weapons and explosives. we didn’t find much and the population of the village did not seem to threatening to us so those went smoothly as a patrol does.
on the January sixth we were given the go ahead to start building which was going to be a lot more difficult due to the muddy terrain. as we assembled the observation points and the Hesco bastion walls the time passed really fast but because of the shitty ground the nights were quite uncomfortable on the night of the sixth it started snowing and it was an absolutely freezing wet cold. when we finished construction we moved our troop into the two sea cans that the observation posts were constructed on. that didn’t last long though because the sea cans got repossessed by the infantry officers. It only took us two days to build the strongpoint but we had a lot of help from the infantry.
on the night of the 8th we had to move from sea cans just outside the walls of the strong point, we got the badger to flatten some ground for us for us to put our tarps between our two vehicles. the badger parked next to us but about 3 meters from our tent. at around 0750 I went out and took a piss behind the badger walked back into the tent and laid on my cot about 3 minutes later an large scream flash and massive explosion happened right beside our tent filling it with dust. I jumped from my bed put on my Frag vest and helmet grabbed my bag with my clothes and jumped into our T-LAV. at this point we checked for everyone was ok then I looked up and noticed that the tarp on the top of the badger that the badger crew sleep under was all fucked up.
I exclaimed something like “OH FUCK THE BADGER!” jumped up and ran to see if anyone was on top of it that’s when is seen the sleeping bag of one of the crew I grabbed it and felt a hot piece of shrapnel on top of it and then I grabbed his foot (I’m not going to say his name because some of you might know him but you probably already know about it if you do know him.) my master corporal jumped on top and told me to go call a medic. I yelled at the top of my lungs “MEDIC, MEDIC!!) at this point the two Tactical combat casualty course (TCCC) qualified guys from my section Sap. Clark and Cpl Rochon grabbed there TCCC medic pouches and jumped on top of the vehicle. I then seen a warrant officer and a guy with a medic bag running towards our location and I grabbed the medic and brought him the badger at this time Sap. Pittman and another TCCC guy were on top giving first aid. he was breathing on his own but he had a massive wound to his face and was missing part of his jaw. the crew of the badgers sleep on stretchers so he was already on one when they took him off the top of the vehicle and got him to the medical tent to await an air medi-vac. afterward our whole section got into our tracked light armored video (T-LAV) and no one really said anything to anyone everyone’s face was grim and sad and the mood was very sullen.
when we finally returned to one of our forward operating bases for a much needed shower and hot meal. we were all terribly dirty and didn’t have much in the way of clean cloths. I went and used the internet for a bit and sent a few messages letting people know I was still kicking it. went in the mess and made myself a soup and an improvised grilled cheese sandwich using some stale bread and some cheeze whiz not exactly like home but better than nothing.
we departed back for the strongpoint the next morning at first light with some warm food in our bellies and a good shower we were ready to take on anything. our convoy was large and was big enough to supply 3 police sub stations and the strongpoint we had just built. at approximately 1000 hours the 3rd vehicle in the order of march exploded with one of the largest IEDs I have seen yet. our driver immediately dropped our ramp and my section ran to the scene to secure the location. sapper Clark and myself were instructed to jump on the vehicles and treat the wounded. I had a sick feeling in my stomach before Clark opened the door praying that the guys inside would be ok. to my relief they all escaped with minor injuries, but the vehicle was a mobility kill which means that it couldn’t drive on its own power.
it was decided that we would spend the night at the closest checkpoint and continue on in the morning. this time though we would have more soldiers dismounted to visually check the route our section was picked and we got on our way. its kind of hard to explain the feeling of walking on a road that you know is most likely mined or booby trapped but it’s a little unnerving to say the least. you feel exposed and basically at the mercy of the bomb makers and hope they skipped a step and made a dud that won’t function or that we find the bomb before it has a chance to hurt anyone.
well we missed one and next thing we know a vehicle about a kilometer behind us exploded, as one of the people checking the road I felt absolutely terrible because we missed something and someone could be dead because of that, but once again the vehicle that the soldiers were traveling in survived the blast but was once again a mobility kill. I have to hand it to those Germans they build sturdy tanks it barely had a scratch.
when we finally got the strongpoint everyone was a little shaken up but moral was high. we stayed for a few nights at the strong point and then the orders came down to use the exact same road that had claimed two of our vehicles in the two previous days and that we were to be extremely vigilant in our searching for IEDs. the day started off slow and we had to stop for about an hour and a half because one of the vehicles got stuck and when they went to pull it out they didn’t hook up the lift points or used to much power and ripped the front end off the vehicle so we had to wait for them to put it on a flatbed truck for transport to a mechanic. the day was extremely cold sitting around waiting, then it started to snow and seeing that it had been raining for the better part of 10 days there was huge puddles on the road. my feet were soaking wet and really uncomfortable but the rest of me was dry because of the awesome gortex rain suit we were issued here.
we were about 700 meters away from our second checkpoint when an explosion happened about 60 meters behind me this time they hit another large vehicle and again no serious injuries at this point we were all like what the fuck is going on we made it to our checkpoint and were told to halt for the day. all the dismounted guys from my section jumped in the back of our T-LAV and got the driver to crank the heat and we started to dry off our socks and gloves as best we could. all of a sudden people started jumping in the vehicles and getting ready to leave in the same direction we had just came I was totally confused then we got word that another vehicle had hit an IED and that the rest of the convoy had to turn around and head back the way they came. this was getting to be too much I had just walked down this road twice and seen fuck all it was very frustrating. the worst part of it all is that one of the people in my section was in the convoy that had to turn around and all her kit was on our truck so she was stuck out at the strong point with nothing no toiletries, no sleeping bag, no change of clothes and worst of all she isn’t with us and we were still going to push towards the FOB.
Waking up the next morning I realized we were not getting in a rush to move anywhere and we were told we could sleep late because there was no timings for the day. I laid in my sleeping bag and watch as it snowed outside our tent.
when I finally got the courage up to brave the cold and get out of my warm sleeping bag it must have been like 1000 hours January 17th we started to work on our tent and we went and got some firewood and a guy in my section went across the street and bought a barrel off the locals to use as a burn barrel to heat up our tent we made some air holes and cut a hole in the top. We then dug a hole about a foot and a half in the ground and put the barrel in it got the wood and started it up. Everyone took off their wet boots and put it beside the barrel to try and dry them up and it was mighty hot so it started to work quite quickly. So quickly in fact it melted a plastic on the side of my master corporals boot where the lace holes are it was pretty funny.
around 1400 word came down that we were to move on a route that was most likely IED’ed but the plan was a lot different from our normal course of action and it was on a different route I can’t say the details but as we were pushing away from the checkpoint we didn’t even go a kilometer before we found an IED. because we were pressed for time they blew it in place rather quickly and we moved on. when they figured it was safe we mounted our vehicles and pushed towards the FOBs. we made it back without incident but I felt just terrible knowing that Kayla was all alone out at the strongpoint with some people that she doesn’t know with no kit and we were destined to be
eating hot dinner and having a shower I felt so bad I couldn’t stop thinking about it. she’s a tough gal but she was really looking forward to having a shower and cleaning her cloths and stuff. I decided that I would do all her laundry and clean all her kit so when she does get back here she can just relax without having to do any work I know she’s going to be in a bad mood I would feel like shit to be in her position.
anyways shit happens and I got to go eat some supper.
Ingredients: Your imagination
1. Imagine that you are without a sink and faucet and have no spigots neatly labelled hot and cold.
2. Pretend you have to fetch water from a well that is miles from your home.
3. Visualize walking that distance as a daily activity and the time it takes to travel those miles in all kinds of weather, sometimes with shoes whose soles are worn so that you can feel the earth beneath your feet.
4. Picture that, as you walk, you need to pay close attention to landmines, gunfire, and dangerous people lurking in shadows who could harm you.
5. Feel what it’s like to finally arrive at the well and begin hauling up water from the earth’s depths.
6. Hear the sound the water makes sloshing in the bucket, as you lift it towards the sky.
7. Notice how your arms feel as you pull hard on the now-heavy rope.
8. Begin to carry the water back home, walking as slowly and carefully as you can so as not to spill a drop.
9. Upon arriving safely at home, take a metal cup and dip it into the bucket to fill it with water.
10. Quench your thirst, and taste water, as if for the first time.