So, on a serious note, I did have an interesting conversation while in Bagram. One that left me introspective for a bit. I was talking with some of my other team members about our reasoning for taking our jobs. One of the other guys is single, just out of the Marine Corps, and a bit of an adrenaline addict. Well he mentioned that he doesn't like saying that he enjoys the thrill that can come with being in a war zone because it seems ignorant and even disrespectful to those who have and continue to struggle with what they've seen of war. While trying to convey to him that it's a difficult phenomenon to explain but one that does certainly exist, to enjoy the adrenaline, I told him about my worst day in Afghanistan during my last deployment. I'd like to share the story with all of you before I get to the point of this piece of the blog.
Zerok is a COP (Combat OutPost) in eastern Paktika province and it is where I found myself in 2008. The outpost was built by the 10th Mountain and they didn't do a great job of thinking the COPs location through. While it is located on some heavily trafficked roads, it is also placed at the bottom of a geographical bowl. There are elevation changes, read: mountains, of thousands of feet within just several hundred yards of the walls of the outpost. What this means is that unless heavily patrolled, the hills that look directly down into the COP belong to the enemy. In 2008, it was the most frequently attacked outpost in the entire country. This was the situation we were dealing with. We were attacked daily for over a month. The enemy would shoot mortars, Chinese and Russian rockets, RPGs, recoilless rifles, and small arms fire directly into the walls of our base with extreme accuracy.
There was a bazaar adjacent to our base. The commanders would often interact with the village elders in an attempt to both keep them safe and ensure that they were not working for or with the enemy, thus keeping ourselves safe. During an attack, access to the base for anyone and everyone outside of the walls is prohibited. This is vital to the safety of the men on the base. Opening a door to the outside is simply inviting the enemy in. One day we were attacked with several rounds from a recoilless rifle, think bazooka, and the rounds were off target, supposedly. They landed in the bazaar that was adjacent to our base. Several minutes later, word spread around the base that there were civilians wounded and at least 3 killed. Because the attack and counterattack were ongoing, the gates were left shut and no medical attention could be administered. Our medic simply threw some bandages over the wall for the people to pick up.
This part might be difficult to read for some, so feel free to skip the next paragraph.
Once the immediate threat was over, the gate was opened and the wounded were brought in to see our medics. The medics worked out of a hut near where my team was posted. I happened to walk by as one of the wounded was laid upon the table. The medic had one other person in the room with him, and upon seeing me asked me to step in and help. Once inside, I realized that the victim was a small child no more than 3 or 4 years old. He was wounded badly. I did what I could to help, keeping him awake, trying to convey in a language that he couldn't understand that he would be ok, that we were trying to help, trying to make him smile or laugh, and all the while keeping pressure on the wounds that were bleeding him out while the medic did what he could. I helped load the boy onto the medevac helicopter in the middle of the night. I do not know if he survived. The final scar was that the 3 individuals killed were the boys mother, father, and older sister. This was my worst day.
What I realized after telling the story was that it didn't feel the same as when I used to think of it. It didn't feel better or worse, just different. I didn't get down thinking of it. I didn't know what to make of that. I honestly think that I've subconsciously learned how to deal with it. I don't think of it anymore, whereas I used to think of it almost weekly. This makes me proud of myself. I don't feel guilt for thinking about it or talking about it anymore. This makes me proud of myself.
This may seem odd to you all, but I have a request regarding this post. Please don't comment on it. I know that some will want to console me or offer me their ear and I appreciate the offer immensely, I truly do, but I don't need it. I'm ok. For those that want to congratulate me on overcoming something that has been a burden on me, thank you for the thoughts. Your thoughts and prayers are enough. Thank you for understanding.