Today, we went out on a mission for the first time since we got here. Lieutenant Chad Christian, 24, from Alabama took us with him in his MRAP to see for ourselves what Captain Perkins and his two platoons had accomplished on a previous five day mission.
A convoy of MRAPs and some Afghan National Police vehicles drove down the asphalted street to Gulridin where a check point by the street and two observation posts high above up in the hills had been set up.
Half way we stopped.
Suddenly the gunner in the turret fired a volley of shots from his machine gun. Empty cartridges tumbled into the air conditioned armoured truck. Shots were going off in front and behind us. The Police had dismounted from their pickup trucks and shot their AKs.
It was a test firing exercise, shortly before we reached the end of the asphalted road. Perkins told me yesterday: “The insurgency starts where the asphalted road ends”. Todsay’s mission was to further fortify the check point to be manned by the ANP – to build a shelter for the police.
While some of the guys started unloading building materials from the cargo truck Axel and I followed Lieutenant Christian up the hill. On the way, we met Staff Sergeant Neal Nuñez, 33, from Los Angeles of 3rd platoon 2-28.
One Tree Hill
He had a whole case of energy drinks. We grabbed some cans, Nuñez explained where we could find the mortar team securing the area from one of the opposite hills. We started first down through a dry wadi and then up the hill to where the soldiers had set up their position to secure the works.
At this altitude (2500 metres) and carrying a vest and a helmed a minor hike turns into a major mountain climbing exercise. Completely out of breath and sweating we reached the mortar team who had trained their tube on an elevation dubbed “One Tree Hill” (no, not this one).
We stayed long enough to catch our breath and then made our way further up the hill, where we were greeted by Staff Sergeant Marciel Arias, 29, from California and Private First Class Carlos Gloria, 26, from Michigan.
The 360 degrees view from the top was breath taking. Axel and I stayed up there chatting to the soldiers for three hours. They explained to us the complex relation ship between a platoon Lieutenant and his non commissioned officers.
Basically all platoon sergeants by definition are more experienced than their officer counter part who never the less outrank them. A good platoon lieutenant will always heed his sergeants advice. Sergeants can make or break lieutenants.
At 4.00 p.m. we went back down the hill because we heard that down below they were now stopping cars together with the ANP and doing iris scans and taking finger prints with the HIDE-System. When we got there, they just stopped a red Mitsubishi pickup truck with four guys in it.
They seemed understandably less than elated to have to go through with the procedure, especially because the machine wasn’t working properly, not recognising the iris. Slowly a queue of lorries and cars was forming.
One pair of guys who had a the whole car full of loose grapes seemed outright scared by the soldiers and the police. At the end, the procedure seemed useless as the ANP, who were in charge, waved through many cars and lorries or just searched them sporadically.
Cars with women were a no go. Anybody smuggling goods or weapons would be well advised to take a female passenger with them.
The most interesting and intriguing people of all are the Kuchis, Pashtun nomads. They travel with colorful tractors pulling carts, full with elderly passengers, women and children, stuffed with goods of all kinds, dogs and goats.
All women hid their faces with scarves from us some of the very young children seemed frightened. At least five of such vehicles past the check point. The police stopped none of them, because of the women on the open trailers.
It was a truly astonishing and intriguing sight. I would like to know much more about these people, who seem like from another planet, whose rights are guaranteed by the central government in Kabul.
I had first heard about the Kuchis from an analyst from Human Terrain System I interviewed two days ago in the COP. The nomads stand accused of smuggling weapons for the Taliban, which they apparently hide among their herds of camels and goats.
We saw one of those flocks from the peak where we had stayed. Some of the Kuchis, who live in tents, must shepherd the herds and others then follow in their tractors and carts.
Combat Medic Badge
In the evening we witnessed how the platoon’s medic was awarded the Combat Medic Badge for saving three Afghan police’s lives at the end of Juli, after their pick-up truck was shredded by a roadside bomb.
We passed the truck on the ANP’s compound on our way into the base twice today, where it sits as a reminder that this still is a war, in which people are killed and maimed. I was totally knackered after nine hours outside in the mountains.