At the end of the most violent week of fighting that I've seen since arriving here, we lost a friend. In a week that provided me my most fulfilling day, a week that quantified my reasoning for being over here, and a week that garnered praise for my coworkers and I, I've also experienced the worst feeling to be had out here. The loss of life that, unfortunately, is sometimes required to "win".
Earlier this week, the unit that we are attached to had their most successful day so far this deployment in capturing several high ranking insurgent commanders. The mission went out without a hitch. Not a single insurgent got away, a ton of weapons were confiscated and/or destroyed, and not a single shot was fired. After all was said and done, my coworkers and I were praised and lauded. We tried our best to be selfless and to ensure that the soldiers were the ones getting 100% of the attention, but it still felt good to be recognized for our part in helping the soldiers accomlish their duties.
I told Margaret before coming out here that my number one reason for coming out here was because of the unrivaled job satisfaction. When I do my job right I see immediate, lasting, forceful results. Bad guys getting killed or captured. Having held jobs where doing my job right meant no changes would be made, no plans would be altered, no one would DO anything, I have grown addicted to the "cause, effect" that comes along with this type of work. I love being part of the "cause". But that is what makes losing soldiers tough on me. If we are praised and people try to give us (some) credit for when things go incredibily right, do I inherently claim some of the fault when things go so bad that a soldier loses his life?
After the first mission this week went so well, you could practically cut the self-esteem with a knife. Support personnel and the actioning arm alike puffed their chest out and smiled a hell of a lot more. Meetings that usually had 5 to 6 people sitting in a large conference room all of a sudden became standing room only. I personally whispered to a soldier next to me, "things go right, and they flock to it like flys on @#$%". That night, those same soldiers went out on the mission that claimed the life of one of their colleagues. What will the meetings look like now?
The soldiers were conducting an operation in Yahya Khel District or our province, Paktika. We've known that the district is a hotbed for the insurgency and the soldiers were expecting a fight. They got one. We were told that it started the moment they hit the ground. "We only had enough time to get down." The coalition forces were hit with AK-47 fire, RPG fire, grenades, heavy machine gun fire, and were being flanked by additional insurgents. They were taking fire from several buildings including a mosque. The air support overhead identified large groups of heavily armed men moving towards our forces. With the firefight on the ground lasting for two hours, the F-15 Falcons overhead deciding whether or not to drop bombs "danger close" to our forces in an attempt to protect them, and the Apache gunships doing run after run with their 30mm cannons, this was a fight made for the big screen. The soldier we lost was killed by small arms fire while clearing a building. Several of the soldiers accompanying him were severely injured as well.
All told, we killed 12 heavily armed insurgents yesterday. Among them was a high ranking leader that is part of the top 5 most wanted for this unit. Removing those men from the battlefield will make things quieter for the soldiers in and around Yahya Khel, potentially saving more lives. One of my coworkers asked me if the mission would be considered a success. I said yes, and have never felt worse about a thought like that. We lost a soldier, we had several wounded severely, and unforutunately, they were all from the same squad. The pschological effect of something like that will reverberate for years to come in the minds of their colleagues. Leave them in your prayers long after today. But we killed 12 of them and removed tools of war from their hands. Tools that would without a doubt be trained on our forces again in the future if left on the battlefield. So yes, it was a success.
During a speech to the soldiers from Task Force Currahee, an officer made a very good point. So often in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the soldiers find themselves fighting an invisible enemy. They are simply driving and an explosion happens and claims the lives of their friends and literally (and figuratively) scars the survivors for life. This was not that kind of instance. The soldiers knew exactly who they were fighting because they could see the whites of their eyes less than 20 meters away. That, that fact is something to be grateful for because their is a sense of closure when you see that man fall.
I'm doing fine everyone. I'm concentrating on the soldiers around me. As a contractor, I'm looked at as having "been there and done that." And in these cases, I have. I'm doing my best to ensure that I'm a role-model for the young soldiers around me. I let them know that it's ok to be down, but that in the end the best tactic is to swallow hard and work even harder. Please pray for the safety of the men whose job is to face the enemy down and to persevere.