Staff Sergeant Drammer pushes the door open and yells, “Gear up boys, another mission, be ready in 20 minutes.” With the enormous white mountains towering behind Drammer in the doorway, he along with the mountains wait for a response. I, along with 7 other soldiers neatly place our cards on the wooden round table and yell in unison, “Yes sergeant!” Drammer and the mountains disappear and chaos soon erupts in the small plywood hut. With the eight of us dressed for battle and ready to leave, we all peer one last time at the unfinished Euchre game waiting on the table for our return.
Walking swiftly in a line, the eight of us quickly make it to our 4 tan Army trucks parked just outside the plywood hut. Our radio man who started the trucks a few minutes earlier, continues commo checks while the rest of us congregate in a circle and start sucking on cheap Afghan cigarettes. Still standing in a circle with the smell of diesel fuel and cigarettes filling the air, Staff Sergeant Drammer along with his 2 superiors quickly break our circle.
“Our mission today 2nd platoon will be to provide security for 1st platoon while they clear a small village up in the mountains. We will spread out in two man teams and provide security on all 4 sides of the village. It is essential we get to the highest points outside the village to deter any attacks on 1st platoon, any questions?” With a cigarette in my mouth I confidently ask, “With an odd number of people, who is the lucky guy who gets to roam around by himself?” Without hesitation Staff Sergeant Drammer suggests, “How about you take the north side of the village and you can bring 15 of your friends, the Afghan Police with you. Now you won’t have to worry about being by yourself.” With confidence lost, I eye roll and nod in agreement.
Walking up the south mountain along the village in a single file line, I suddenly see Sgt. Web, who is leading the line, put his fist in the air, stopping the eight of us in our tracks. Walking back a few feet, Sgt. Web leans forward and whispers to the line, “Take a break.” With grown men panting like dogs, the lines breaks without hesitation and forms a large circle, all looking outwards toward the landscape. Laying on the rocky surface looking up the mountain, I suddenly see the 15 Afghan Police Officers pass me and continue their voyage up the mountain. Walking another 50 yards, the gray uniformed police look back and notice the operation has been halted. Trying to recreate the same circle with little effort, the Afghan Police easily give up and congregate around a large rock, transforming it into a table made for social hour. With guns laying on the ground and lunch just served, the Afghan Police start echoing their native language through the mountains. Sgt. Web, irritated and wanting to get back at the undisciplined Police, signals us to move forward. With the eight of us rising from the rocks, Sgt. Web immediately creates chaos around the table. With police chugging their tea and stuffing bread in their pockets, we continue up the mountain where we finally reach the peak.
Finally on a flat surface, I walk over to the edge and see the village below. The bowl, housing about 1,500 brown huts, sits like a ghost town with no person in sight. Suddenly, a line of 15 U.S. Army trucks creates a dust line in the horizon and heads right for the village.
Sgt. Web, with excitement in his voice says, “Let’s get into position, we don’t have a lot of time.” Hurrying back to the group from the edge, I force myself through the group of police and give them the universal hand signal of “follow me”. With 15 police in line behind me, we start our mile trot to the north side of the bowl. Out of breath and exhausted once again, we finally reach our position. The north side, full of green pine trees and thick brown vegetation, makes it impossible to see any threats behind us. Stuck between a jungle and cliff, we hunker down and disappear in the vegetation so thick, it even camouflages the gray uniformed police. One hour passes and the police stay disciplined, knowing any sound or movement could send enemy forces our way. Going into hour two, my mind starts wandering as I watch my fellow Army brothers the size of ants walk through the village. I wonder if the rut has started back home in Iowa? I wonder when the rut is in Afghanistan? Do they even have deer? Out of all the driving I have done in Afghanistan, I have never watched a deer grazing with his head down on a hill side. With the millions of landmines on the ground in Afghanistan, did all the deer die from stepping on them? Knowing I’m losing my mind because of the boredom setting in, I blink my eyes over and over again and focus on the village in front of me, still listening to the silent jungle behind me. Coming back to reality, I hear a violent scream in the jungle, breaking the discipline and forcing the gray uniforms out of position.
The police gather in a group and start yelling at one another. Not knowing what they’re saying and with no interpreter on hand, I give them another universal signal, the finger on the mouth going, “Shhhh”. Being ignored, the police continue yelling and pointing at the jungle. After about 30 seconds they appear to agree on something and walk into the jungle, disappearing out of sight. Staying disciplined in my position, I realize I’m sitting in the country of Afghanistan by myself, no trusted comrad next to me and no radio to call for help. With the police running and yelling in the jungle, I prepare for battle. Still laying in the vegetation, I lay my 5 drums of ammo out in front of me, each holding 250 rounds. I check my weapon the M249 S.A.W., confirming a round is ready in the chamber. Rolling on my right hip, I unbutton 3 pouches attached to my bullet proof vest, 2 of the pouches each containing a grenade and one a flash bang. Rolling back on my stomach, I notice the jungle fell quiet. After only a few seconds of waiting, gun fires erupts and breaks the silence.
Bang, bang, crack! The sound of bullets leaving AK-47s fills the north side of the bowl.
Men continue to yell in the jungle and I turn my head like an owl, looking forward, left, right, behind me waiting for anything to show itself. Suddenly, silence once again fills the air. Knowing silence is just as bad as chaos, I force myself to lay in the prone so not to give my position away. Waiting for the next round of gun fire, laughter fills the jungle with the occasional man clapping. 15 smiling men dressed in gray walk out of the jungle in a perfect line, the last man carrying a dead monkey over his shoulder.
Let the celebration begin. The monkey is held in the air by the same man who was carrying it and the men start dancing around him, singing and clapping their hands. One man dancing in circles spots me still laying in the vegetation. He runs over to me and grabs the top of my bullet proof vest, forcing me to my feet. Helping me gather up my bag, ammunition and weapon, the man brings me to the group to join the celebration. Standing with the group, I clap and smile while watching the men dance, viewing the monkey occasionally being passed from person to person. The celebration lasts for another ten minutes and is abruptly interrupted by Sgt. Web yelling, “What the hell?” Sgt. Web gets on the chaotic radio and says, “Stand down, they were just monkey hunting.”
After losing the game of Euchre that night, I laid in bed and let my mind wander one last time. 15 men, barely trained in the art of discipline, laid in the sharp rocks for over two hours, silent and not moving because of the dangers they sensed around them. Hearing the monkey suddenly put them in hunting mode, forcing them to disregard and forget everything around them. Even after the kill the 15 Afghan Police continued to disregard the dangers and celebrated with singing and dancing. Were they that hungry? Were they trying to provide for their families at home? Why did this happen? I realized I too forgot about the dangers while clapping and celebrating with them? Am I really disciplined? It finally clicked that every hunter hunts for different reasons. All hunters while pursuing their game, will temporarily forget the negative things happening around them or in their life. Many pursue not game but this feeling and many pursue game simply to survive. Regardless of what side you are on, a respectable kill will always draw hunters together for a celebration, even in the worst circumstances.
Justin J. Lind
White Buffalo Outdoors