The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger; "Ernest Goes To War"

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Nathan Geist is currently serving as a Chaplain Assistant in the Army. He is a 2005 graduate of Zion-Benton Township High School, has studied for 3 years at Southern Illinois University, and recently appeared in the film The Promotion. Sgt. Geist will appear as a periodic contributor to The Seeker throughout the next year as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

11 December 2008

Hello my America-dwelling friends,

Before I begin, I just want to reiterate the sensitivity of everything I say. I will refer to the location I am at as my “final destination,” not by its actual name. The fact of the matter is that every email is sent through the Iranian satellite network, and emails from American soldiers are then sold to the Taliban / Al-Qaeda from Iran. I guarantee that a terrorist is reading this email right along with you, but they’ll be very disappointed when they find out that I spill no secrets for them in this email.

I arrived into the combat zone on December 6th, St. Nick’s Day. After a flight that approximately took a day, I arrived in an undisclosed country in the Middle East (no, it was not Kuwait). From there, we got on a C-17 military plane and flew to the outskirts of Kabul, which is the capital of Afghanistan. The C-17 flight was very nerve-racking… in the plane, you have no windows at all, so you kind of feel like you’re on a ride at Six Flags or Disney World or something, except you know it’s extremely real because you’re wearing body armor and holding a weapon the whole time. The G-force was very extreme in the plane, and it was a lot fiercer than any roller coaster I’ve been on, which made it all the more real.

We landed outside Kabul, and we were told that we had to jump on a convoy into Kabul. Before we got into the convoy though, we were briefed about the route we would be traveling. In the military, they rate routes on a scale of 1 to 4, 1 meaning that there is virtually no danger at all, and 4 meaning that you will certainly be blown up if you try to travel that route. On that particular day, the route was classified as a 3. (Yeah, when we heard that, it got really real, really fast.) Even though it was just a 15 minute ride, there was a lot to beware of. They told us that there were 3 known VBIED’s in the area (VBIED = vehicle-borne improvised explosive device = car bomb), and they gave us the license plates of the cars to look out for. Beyond that, regular IED’s were possible, and there’s always a possibility of small arms fire (automatic weapons being shot at you) and BBIED’s (bicycle-borne improvised explosive devices). So, we all got into the convoy, and were on our way.

As we were traveling, we passed the “downtown” of Kabul and got into the fields just outside Kabul. You can imagine the pace of my heart when I looked out the window and saw three Afghans on bicycles heading towards the side of our vehicle. I gripped my hands and just tried to continue breathing normally. Fortunately, they were just riding their bikes in our general direction, but hopefully you’re starting to understand the fear that a soldier feels out here.

We arrived in Kabul safely, only to experience the worst air quality you can ever imagine. It constantly tasted like carbon and smelled like car fumes. The reason for that is because the Afghans have to burn tires in Kabul just to stay warm, and with the way the air circulates in Kabul, the fumes from the burnt tires are like a cloud hovering over the city. If that wasn’t enough, there is dust everywhere, and rooms that haven’t been occupied in a week have so much dust that you’d think it’s been a century since the last time someone was in there.

While I was at Kabul, we learned news that 160 military vehicles were torched to a crisp in Pakistan. Some of you read that in the news, I’m sure. Well, what you may also have read is that those vehicles were torched because they were carrying gear for new troops coming into Afghanistan. Well, back in October, we each packed a large black box (called a Tuff Box) with any gear that we wanted in Afghanistan that we didn’t want to lug around in Fort Bragg, and were told that it would go through Pakistan in December and arrive to us then. You probably put two and two together, those boxes may be ours. It hasn’t been confirmed yet that it was our stuff, but if it was, a lot of soldiers are going to be without gear that the military issued us, not to mention any personal items we put in there. But, like I said, that hasn’t been confirmed yet, so we have yet to see.

Anyway, Kabul was an interesting place to be, but as I already said, it was not the final destination for my chaplain and me. So after we finished our business there, we had to find a way to get to our final destination. There were 4 others (besides me and my chaplain) that had to get to where our final destination was, and we all banded together as a group and called ourselves the Sexy Six until we arrived. However, getting to the final destination is very tricky, and let me explain why: in Afghanistan, there are only 3 paved roads, one of which we rode on to get into Kabul. The only paved road from Kabul to my final destination is extremely dangerous. It also is usually a level 3 road, and is surrounded by level 4 unpaved/unimproved roads. Me and my chaplain have been in communication with those already stationed at our final destination, and we have always been told that we would fly into our final destination on a helicopter because the roads are beyond dangerous. Anyone traveling those roads are just asking for trouble.

Well, the day before we left to get to our final destination, we found out that there were no flights going into our final destination, and the only way in was by convoy. So, us Sexy Six were slated for a convoy to our final destination.

So, the next day, we got all our gear and headed out of Kabul and down the only road that could take us to our final destination. We loaded all of our bags onto a couple trucks… one that was named the “Mary Ann,” and one that was named the “Shannon.” (Those of you from Grigoni descent… yeah, kinda weird, huh?)

The route at first was great… again, we got to see the “city life” of Afghanistan, and as we drove by, kids would stop and give us thumbs-up or wave to us. They were so excited to see soldiers going by in their town, and it was great to know that even if it came to the point where nobody in our own country supported us, at least these little kids felt we had value. It was very comforting and very emotional. But, as we treaded on, there were less and less Afghans, and more and more dirt fields. It was encouraging to know that everything was in God’s control, so I can’t really say I got overly nervous during the trip, except for moments when you see something that you perceive as a potential threat, like the Afghans on the bikes into town.

We continued traveling down the road (this time, the route was a lot longer than 15 minutes… it took us about a half a day to trek across), but then there was a point where all the vehicles in the convoy stopped. We were told that up ahead, there was a wire in the middle of the road, which if you know anything about tactical movements, a wire in the middle of the road screams “I-E-D!” We sat there a few minutes, and then were told to dismount the vehicle. We got out, and with loaded weapons, we patrolled the nearby area to make sure there were no terrorists, IED’s, or snipers in the mountains as the guys up ahead investigated the wire. After about 15 to 20 minutes, we were told to get back in the vehicle, and so we all mounted back up. Apparently, the wire was just a cut wire from an appliance, and was not a threat.

We continued down, and had to dismount one more time during our trip. This time, we were in-between two large mountains, and so we got out and scanned the sides of the mountains for snipers with our scopes, ready to fire when needed. Eventually, we got back into our vehicles and continued down.It was an interesting sensation as we drove along: as we climbed higher and higher in the mountains, I became more and more tired. It got to the point where I literally couldn’t even keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds because of how thin the air was. The Army knew that us “newbies” weren’t acclimated for the altitude, and so that’s why we were riding down with those who had already been in those mountains for quite some time as we struggled to stay awake.

When I woke up, it was over an hour later, and we were extremely high in the mountains, just under 9,000 feet up in the air. At this point, it was starting to get dark, but the view was gorgeous as I looked down into the valley below. We made it to our final destination, safe and sound, no casualties reported.

I imagine that some of you are gasping to yourself, “Oh my gosh… poor little Nathan / Danger is in such a dangerous place, he could have been killed!” Yes, little Nathan / Danger had an experience that was intense for him, but now little Nathan / Danger is safe at his FOB, and doesn’t have to make that trip again. A year from now, when I go home, I should be flying back by helicopter. The trip is done. Don’t worry now. In fact, the chaplain assistant that is here that I am replacing told me that the FOB I’m at is extremely safe, and I’ve heard that from several others. Besides that, with the way the FOB was built, I have to agree: we are at a very safe place. I can’t go into detail obviously, but trust me when I say that we may, in fact, have the safest FOB in all of Afghanistan. If you visited this FOB and could see what I mean, you would agree.

So far, the FOB seems pretty nice. We have porcelain toilets here, and warm bathrooms. I think I will have a nice and tolerable year here. It gets difficult at night, because we have a “blackout FOB,” where the lights go off at night completely. We do this because American forces are the most elite nighttime-ready forces in the world. It’s been said that we “own the night” because we are so efficient at nighttime operations. Not to mention, we have all different branches of the military here, as well as soldiers from other foreign countries, so we are very well-rounded. But for the moment, it’s a little bit difficult remembering where everything is in the dark, but in a couple days, I will know the whole layout by heart in the dark. Because we have had full moons the past couple nights, the visibility hasn’t been bad at all. But come next new moon, I’ll know the FOB layout by heart anyway, so it won’t be a problem.

There’s only two things that’s really been problems so far here: one of them is the water supply. All of our water is not potable, meaning if we drink it, we’ll get extremely sick. If you’ve ever had a boil order before, you know how annoying that is. Imagine having to deal with a year-long boil order. Instead of tap water here, they constantly supply water bottles around the FOB almost everywhere. It sucks a lot to have to brush teeth using a water bottle, but I imagine I’ll get used to it. Apparently, the tap water here was found to have something like 40% fecal matter in it, so we don’t drink that crap (literally). It sucks taking a shower, knowing you’re washing your body with Afghan poo, but when I think about what soldiers had to do during the OIF and OEF campaigns in 2003, I really can’t complain.

The other thing that sucks is the altitude. The air is very thin up here, and so it screws with our bodies in ways we didn’t expect. Of course you frequently get your standard shortness of breath, but it goes beyond that. For one, my sinuses are going nuts. My nose is constantly either running like a waterslide or clogged up like a mud pit, which then turns into a sore throat at night. Also, all of us have been having bladder problems. Because the pressure is so high here, it’s like someone is constantly pushing on our bladders, and so we have to pee all the time. The bags of chips we have here are completely puffed up to the point where they feel like a blown-up balloon when you touch it; imagine what our bladders must be going through. Last night, I had to pee three times during the night, and I have a young bladder. I can’t imagine what some of these other older guys are experiencing. Not to mention, your body will tell you that you gotta pee all of a sudden without warning, and when it tells you to go, you better get going. I also get tired a lot earlier, but when I finally go to sleep at night, I can’t sleep for very long because I’m either trying to breathe too hard or my mouth is too dry (there is 0% humidity in the mountains here). Also, we have to take pills everyday to prevent malaria, which makes our skin drier, and with us being so high up in the air and close to the sun, it’s like a double whammy of dermatology issues. So, whoever came up with the phrase “your attitude determines your altitude” obviously never took a trip to Afghanistan.

On the bright side, at least the local nationals that serve the food around here put on little beard covers, so our food doesn’t get beard in it. On the downside, between the nasty air, the altitude affecting my body, and the body armor tearing down my back, I think I may have some long-term damages after I get back. In fact, I heard that those stationed at Kabul for a year can file for a 10% disability paycheck because of the air there. Overall though, I think I’m very fortunate to be here, and I know God has me where He wants me.

CH Pace and I are still getting into the groove of things here. Today we met an interpreter that we will be working with, and he seems very nice and very knowledgeable. He is an older man with gray hair, which makes him very respected among the Afghan people (if only I could grow my hair out and show them my white hairs that are popping up already). The ‘Terp educated us very much about the country and the people here. For one, he explained to us that he, as well as the other Afghans, want us here. He said that, of the Afghan people, probably 98% of them want us here. We were invited to the country, and have truly liberated them from a lot of the tyranny and fear they were living under when the Taliban ruled their country. He respects us very much, as do more than most of the Afghans. The Taliban is becoming less and less successful here because of American efforts, and the Afghans are becoming less and less fearful as a result. In fact, most of the suicide bombers these days aren’t even Afghans… he said that they’re Pakistani terrorists who found a way across the border. It’s gotten to the point where the terrorists are running out of volunteers for suicide missions, and those that did it once before don’t answer their phones for a second round… go figure. But, after hearing this man’s appreciation for America gave me a newfound hate for the media, as they really never show that side of the story. It’s a huge encouragement to know that the Afghans support us.

So, the prognosis is good. I’m here safe in Afghanistan, and things are going well. It’s a laid-back atmosphere, and much more pleasant than Fort Bragg. Not to mention, it’s a beautiful country. I am completely surrounded by mountains, some of them snow-capped. If only this were a safe country, it’d be a tourist attraction that would rival Ireland or Italy.

This week, those who need the prayers the most are my parents and Joanna. It’s a big lifestyle change (especially for Joanna) not to be able to talk to me every day, and while I have the luxury of being occupied all the time, they don’t. So, please pray for them, not that they learn to live without me, per se, but that God comforts them in their loneliness and worry. As for me, don’t worry so much about me. I believe God is on high-alert for my sake, and though I always appreciate prayers, I am actually at a point where I am exactly where God needs me and could not be comforted more by Him at this moment.

I have attached some pictures of the Afghanistan countryside… enjoy them.

Thank you, and God bless!

love Nate


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Written by seeker70

December 20, 2008 at 3:21 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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