Public Affairs support had been requested for a mid-April mission to an area in the Chemtal District in central Regional Command North. As I had for many other missions before, I reported to the staging area in the morning and began my usual routine of double-checking my gear, packing extra water bottles, and using the Port-a-John, always returning to the front of the trucks to patiently wait for our convoy brief. The mission had been pre-briefed the night before with the team but the briefing immediately preceding the actual mission would reiterate the information and give us the latest intelligence.
Master Sergeant Mellohn, on his third deployment in five years to Afghanistan and our convoy commander (CC) that day, began by sounding off the roll call. Continue reading
Even back in my tent, for the first two weeks or so after starting out on missions, I would jump at the slightest of noises, a person’s touch on the shoulder, or even an unannounced figure standing beside me.
My stomach nervously churned every time I climbed up in my truck to go out on those first few missions. Feeling conflicted, I would toss my assault pack into the truck, climb the metal stairs of the back gate of the uparmored vehicle, fasten my seatbelts, and wait helplessly to arrive at a destination. Unlike the hum of a car engine when I was a young child, the loud low hum of the vehicles engines did not comfort me. With every bump in the road, I bounced around, held only slightly in place by the harness that held me strapped me to my seat. I feared that one of the bumps in the road may hold an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and that a blast was imminent. I would create panic within myself to the point of a cold sweat. Continue reading
From day one, I was trained to defend myself and to kill if necessary. With underlying tones of staying physically fit and making the proper choices, I learned the Army values and the basic skills I needed to be an American Soldier. During my second week of Basic Training, I wandered around in thick woods and brush with three other Soldiers counting paces and looking at a compass in order to learn land navigation. During grenade training, I hid in bunkers, popping my head up like a groundhog long enough to assess my objective then quickly ducked back down. I chucked the spoon, pulled the pin and with an all-in-one standing and throwing motion, launched my grenade toward my target then quickly ducked back down. My combatives partner and I were the same height and weight, only I had twenty years on her. My first sergeant felt this would make for an interesting match so I took and dished out as many blows as I could. Spent, I awaited the match-ending whistle expectantly. During rifle marksmanship, all the practice of sighting and breathing techniques from the weeks before came into play. Laying prone on a cement bunker, with two eyes open and my dominant eye looking through my iron sights, I waited patiently and watched my lane for pop-up green silhouette targets to appear. I steadied my hand, slowed my breathing, and gently pulled the trigger sending my 5.56mm round down range in attempts to hit my target center mass.
As a Soldier preparing to become a non-commissioned officer, I attended the Warrior Leader Course (WLC). I learned concepts such as composite risk assessment and leadership skills needed in garrison and tactical situations.
As a Soldier getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan, I endured hours of slide-show classes on Afghanistan… everything from cultural sensitivity to terrain. I practiced again with grenades and re-qualified with my rifle, even qualifying additionally on a 9mm hand gun. I practiced detainee operations, scouring over inches of my battle buddy’s body looking for pre-placed weapons. I practiced roll-over drills in up-armored vehicles and had my reactions to simulated Improvised Explosive Devices tested. Continue reading
“Wow! A Playstation!”
“Cool! This is the game I wanted!”
These phrases were heard from many American children over this past holiday as they excitedly unwrapped their gifts. Tearing through colorfully printed paper, children’s faces lit up and their eyes grew big at the sight of the high-dollar electronic games and game systems that they had hoped to receive.
A young Afghan boy plays with his kite near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, March 2012.
None of the children I met in Afghanistan had toys of this extravagance… no PlayStations, XBoxes, Call of Duty games or anything electronic, for that matter. Those Afghan children had toys that were much simpler: a homemade kite, a ball, or a doll. Kites were made of sticks and thin seed bags or plastic and dolls were hand-sewn with no plastic body parts or fancy accessories.
Hand-crafted Afghan dominoes
Although there were no clouds in the sky and the sun was bright, the air was crisp and cold in Mazar-e-Sharif, early March 2012. I was standing next to an Afghan Border Police’s green Ford Ranger in the middle of a slightly frozen, muddy street. The building beside me cast a shadow on the alley way so the blocked sunlight provided no additional comfort of heat. I had just finished attending an event in the city and we were getting ready to load our trucks to head back to post.
I had worn a layer of thermal clothing under my uniform and a cold-weather jacket was my outer-most layer. I removed the purple shamaugh I had worn for the event, rolled in a ball, and slid it into my cargo pocket. I could feel a subtle chilled breeze blowing across my exposed neck. I threw my heavy body armor over my shoulder and slid it over my head then fastened the Velcro flaps into place. The snugness of the vest helped to keep my layers close to my body adding another layer of warmth. I pulled my thin, flame-retardant hood up over my head and ears and then put on my hard, camouflaged helmet. My gloved fingers fidgeted to find the clasps and I snapped the helmet in place as I moved the hood to a comfortable position around my face, covering most of my exposed skin. Continue reading
Our green Ford Ranger stopped quickly in the middle of the muddy, half-frozen street and three female American Soldiers in full gear exited the vehicle. I scurried to the back of the truck and reached blindly for my assault pack as I quickly glanced up and down the street and at the tops of the buildings around me. I had never been this deep into the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif (MES) and my training taught me to be cognizant of my surroundings. My heart was beating quickly with anticipation of the day’s events, the thrill of the Ranger ride I had just taken, and my heightened sense of awareness. I could feel that several eyes were on us. Female Soldiers in the heart of MES with Afghan Border Police (ABP) escorts… this wasn’t something Afghans saw everyday.
Walking away from the truck bed, I quickly removed my hard, camouflaged helmet and wrapped a long purple scarf up over my hair and around my neck. The light breeze blew little bellows in the draped scarf like the wind in the sails of a boat thus causing it to slide off the top of my head and rest across my shoulders. The camera I had in-hand was passed off to another female Soldier so I could get myself situated. I fidgeted one-handed to re-drape the scarf while attempting to throw my bag up over my shoulder with my other hand all the while hurriedly walking toward the entrance gate with the rest of my female engagement team (FET). I retrieved my camera just as our paces slowed as we approached the iron gate.
In early March 2012, I was invited to attend the International Women’s Day celebration in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. Our team had plotted a route through the city to get to the event but, because of a last-minute change in venue, the planned route was no longer an option. Our up-armored vehicles were too wide to navigate through some of the smaller side streets in the city. Our female engagement team (FET), not wanting to decline the invitation of our counterpart females of the Afghan Border Police (ABP), worked with our convoy commander and the ABP to find alternative means of transportation into the city. The solution was for our FET to ride in the ABP’s Ford Rangers to the event. These photos are a quick view of the streets we traveled on March 8, 2012. I rode in the bed of the pickup truck and I captured these photos one-handed. My other hand was firmly gripping the side of the truck as my driver sped through town at high rates of speed. The normalcy for the ABP to drive fast, coupled with the fact that their vehicles were not up-armored, soon caused my command to deem riding in the Ford Rangers to be unsafe and, therefore, unallowed. These street photos are the only ones I have that are free from obstruction. For the remainder of my deployment, I rode in our up-armored vehicles and my view was always blocked by dirty windows, moisture, or rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) netting.