Sergeant ‘X’ Part 2: The Soccer Field Ambush
Posted on August 5, 2014
The Second Bullet: The Soccer Field Ambush
Let me be honest, and not try and pull some kind of a lip service John Wayne act, or a shallow and unrealistic Dirty Harry. This isn’t a movie. A screen flick. Bang-bang, and afterwards we all get up and walk away. This is real. Don’t ever confuse the Hollywood make-believe with the Real.
I have many memories I still, deep down, silently, struggle with. I am not the only one. There are thousands like me.
It is also for them I feel the need to speak.
It is late at night. My fellow pilgrim listens silently, and makes notes. I find my voice rising in intensity. The anger is coming out. I try and control it. I fail. As I pour out my words, almost uncontrollably, he listens without judgment, surprise, or disapproval. And I feel it is good to vent. To let it all out. I feel, intensely, the burning need to go on, and explain, and talk, and rush from one subject to another. He says very little, but in his eyes, when he does speak, I sense understanding, born from pain.
Some memories are intensely more searing than others, but there is one I remember mostly in terms of bitter disappointment. In terms of some kind of stunning, eye opening disillusionment.
I still shake my head when I think of those events. I feel helpless to explain to anybody, my wonderful girlfriend or my own mother even, how much this one event transformed me. It is the second story I wish to tell you. That maybe tells you something right there. Something in me died.
I mourn that passing.
* * * * *
It all started with a charming old Afghan gentleman coming to visit us. A delightful, avuncular fellow. He smiled easily, and his bright eyes radiated amusement at the world. He reminded me so much of the actor in the hit movie “The Karate Kid”. I mean the wise old Chinese looking instructor, with the long beard, the quiet wisdom, and the thoughtful, quiet, but nonetheless towering strength. Who guides the young Karate Kid, not just in the ways of Karate fighting, but also in the ways of Patience and Wisdom. Compassion and Kindness.
He came with a special, humble request. He was the head teacher of a poor provincial school, and he was wondering if we would help them. “Sure”, we said eagerly, all well meaning young American males. “What can we do for you?” He explained that they would love it if we would build their school a soccer field. For the children. So they could play better.
“Certainly”, we said. “We can do that…”
In our own simple way, we were kind of excited. I smile at the memory. You see, this was the Peshwar Valley in Eastern Afghanistan. Site of some of the bitterest fighting in all of Afghanistan. Many of my fellow Americans lost their lives there. American forces dropped more explosive ordnance there than in the rest of Afghanistan put together. 70,000 pounds of ordinance was dropped there in five days in August 2010. The fighting was fierce.
And here was a heaven sent opportunity for some…
The common, instinctive, fraternal bond between men?
The shared joy of football… We couldn’t wait. Our hopes soared. The idea of building a bridge between them and us. Maybe playing football against the local boys. Like we did against the Afghan Army. Many of the guys spent the rest of the day excitedly discussing how to make and erect goal posts, and measure the field, and some even wanted to run white lines around it. Complete with corner flags. The enthusiasm was contagious.
A few days later, on the appointed day, we started the Long Patrol. The school was high up on a ridge, overlooking and surrounded by several remote valleys. We decided – for security reasons- to carry out our initial platoon movement over the mountainside, as opposed to simply driving in along the rutted road. This road showed plenty of scars from previous I.E.D. blasts. The school soccer field mission was combined with a “Movement to Contact Mission” to sweep out Enemy combatants. Find the Enemy. We spent four days making the grueling hike. It was rough. On the second day we encountered Taliban, and a brief but intense fire fight ensued. By the end of the fourth day, as we approached the school, we were low on water, ammo and MRE’s. But we knew an Infantry Supply Convoy was scheduled to re-supply us, and our morale was high. Until a sudden, buzzing, viciously snapping sound, like angry bees, alerted us to incoming fire. We hit the ground, and returned fire. The snapping of the barrage of bullets was followed by the dull thunder of recoilless rifles and mortar rounds. Then a continuous, blundering WHOOOMPPPP! roared through the mountains. This alerted us to the sobering fact that the Supply Convoy, traveling up the road to re-supply us, had fallen victim to several simultaneous I.E.D.’s. A coordinated attack. Alarmed (and hungry) we made our way at a fast trot down to the road. Luckily, although several vehicles were disabled, nobody was seriously injured. We re-supplied, gratefully, and the decision was made to continue our expedition to the school on foot.
It was another long hike. We decided to rest for a while, and I had just taken my helmet off. I was the last man standing, and then all hell broke loose.
PA-TZJING! PA-TZJING…! Ack-ack-ack!
SHIT! TAKE COVER! FUK! FUK! FUK!
Bullets licked hungrily past my ears, kicking up mud and dirt just paces away from us. It wasn’t my first fire fight, but many of the men under me were now receiving their Baptism of Fire. There was much surprised stumbling, and grabbing for weapons, and hasty re-donning of helmets. Our Afghan Army companions were firing upslope, at the mountain tops, but I quickly realized the fire, accurate and pre-planned, was actually coming from down slope. No sooner had I re-directed our fire downhill, than a second offensive fire started to pour at us. It originated from a different point, a Madrasa (which means ‘Religious School’) on an overlook on the opposite mountain side, and I realized we were caught in a dangerous pincer. This was no casual encounter. It was clear they had been expecting us, and had carefully orchestrated the attack. The accuracy of their fire was such that I surmised they had already achieved range expertise – through some practice shots – long before we even showed up.
Amazingly, nobody got hit, despite some very close rounds. You know they are close and meant for you when they “sing to you” on the way past your favorite head. They kind of go ZINGGGGG, and the spurts of dirt around you remove any doubt you might have nursed. You know what it is, and why it’s coming. It’s personal. It kind of concentrates your mind. Put it this way, hungry though we were, nobody finished their barely started MRE’s. Dropped in haste, pouches and wrappers littered the ground.
I am a trained sniper, and I am cool under fire. You can call it what you like, Cool Hand Luke or simply lack of intelligence, I don’t know. But I tell you I was pretty mad. Once I had sighted in with my M203 Grenade Launcher, and dialed in the range, I started inflicting some heavy damage. You see them spin around in the scope. If you nail ’em right, you will see body parts flying. A fifty cal round screaming in at 3,300 feet per second packs an unbelievable amount of Kinetic Energy. If you get in the way of that round, it will pick you up and the shock waves will shake your internal organs to a bloody pulp. I think the Taliban had seen the results of our handiwork before, and once they recognized accurate and sustained return fire coming their way, they were quick to jump on their motorcycles, and bug out.
Soon it was all over, with the Taliban in full retreat, leaving several dead and dying comrades for the ever circling, well fed buzzards. They never bothered too much with their wounded. They were often left to die. Tough luck, Akbar. Allah wills it. You are toast.
Say hi to the virgins for us…
Something obviously wasn’t right. At all. They had been expecting both the convoy and us. We sensibly and seriously discussed a cautious retreat. But overwhelmingly… hell, it makes me smile grimly and sadly when I think of it… damn, it sounds so stupid:
We wanted to build the children their soccer pitch. We had plans. Grand plans.
This was important stuff…
We decided to continue. Press on. Regardless.
Once finally there, hours later, tired, sweating, filthy, smelly, and foot sore, we were once again effusively greeted by the bearded, infinitely charming school teacher. Even just getting there was a minor victory for us, and we marched into the school feeling tall and proud. We were coming in peace, to build the children a soccer field, and maybe build by our actions a bridge between the local Afghans and the US Military. What mission could be more noble? The teacher showed us into a class room crammed full of Aghan boys, who welcomed us with that seemingly honest, open mouthed curiosity that only children are capable of. We made ourselves comfortable amongst them, smiling and making friends. Somebody took a photo to record the happy and cordial scene: the cultural exchange between the local Afghan school children of the Peshwar valley, and the intensely well meaning, idealistic American service men of the 10th mountain division.
Happy. Achievement. Harmony. Peace amongst men. The hand, held out in Friendship. And gratefully accepted.
We looked over their plans, and decided we could do it. After a lengthy site visit, we said goodbye, departed the school, and then, within a few miles… we took more incoming rounds. And fought yet another brief, but insanely furious encounter with the Taliban on the way back to our Patrol Base. Another ambush. Maybe just the stragglers from before. Sending us a message.
Were we set up? Oh, yeah.
I smile, grimly. I am back there. Back up in those awful mountains.
Well, weeks later in a different fire fight, half a dozen Taliban were killed by us. Amongst the dead? Surprise, surprise. The avuncular, kind, ever smiling, smoothly charming Head Teacher. He was trying to escape, wearing a woman’s Burkha. We knew it was an enemy combatant , because we had seen the ‘lady’ throw away an AK47 ‘she’ had been firing at us. By doing that, she definitely waved goodbye to any chance of male chivalry from us.
Ironically, it was during BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) that another team member observed -drily- that “Madam seemed to have awfully big feet.” Sticking out from under her Burkha.
On closer examination, we found our former genial host…
as recounted to A.F.P.
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on August 5, 2014, 9:56 pm