The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Guest Blogger: SGT. Danger tells some stories

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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.

Note: this posting is over a month old; I’ve been wrapped up in thesis work… my apologies for old information… Jeff

March 21, 2009

Hello my friends,I hope you all are doing well. Things are going alright over here, and it’s getting better each day, as each day I endure is one day closer to being home.

In the past couple weeks, all Task Force Phoenix Unit Ministry Teams (i.e., chaplains and assistants) have been tasked with conducting suicide prevention briefs for each FOB in our ARSIC, and so we have been very busy taking care of that. (Hopefully what I’m saying isn’t gibberish so far.) So, the three of us (that is, SGT Bandee, CH Pace, and myself) have each been taking care of as much of that as possible. That being said, I hope you aren’t frustrated that the majority of this email is going to be about Bandee’s experiences, not necessarily mine.

Before I get into Bandee’s portion of this email, I want to iterate something that I strongly believe the media and politicians have skewed. In the past month, a multitude of reports have come out saying that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, and that we are losing the war. Believe what you may, but from this soldier’s perspective, that information is false. For the people who are saying that we are struggling to maintain stability here, I don’t know where they’re getting their information, but they’re certainly not sitting in on the same meetings I have been, nor are they seeing the progress that is developing here. The Afghan National Army has been successfully conducting military operations and defeating the Taliban, though you’d have to flip to page 12 to see that, as opposed to the front page headlines indicating that the war is becoming a lost cause. Perhaps the media feels there is a decline because of the amount of sacrifices that have been made already, but if that’s the logic, then World War II was certainly a failure as well. But, like I said, I encourage you to not necessarily take my word for it. But for what it’s worth, from what I have seen firsthand and from what I hear in daily reports on the situation in Afghanistan, there is no current threat that we are losing here.

The other day, I was talking to my interpreter, and he stressed to me how much progress he feels has come to Afghanistan ever since America was asked to help eradicate the Taliban. He told me that it used to be, quite frequently, that Afghan children and adults alike would go and pray at the mosque, and then on their way back home, the Taliban would accuse them of not praying, and threaten to beat them if they didn’t return to the mosque and give Allah his due respect. Just five years ago, my interpreter was living in Pakistan, as his family felt it was much too dangerous to live in Afghanistan under the Talib regime. But, after the American forces drove away the Taliban from Afghanistan, his family finally felt it was safe enough to live there again, and has since moved back to their beloved land. Though Afghanistan is far from becoming a land of Utopia, the locals take much more pleasure in the condition it is in now. Furthermore, the educational difference between generations is astounding: the Afghan National Army soldiers lived in a generation where the Taliban ruled the country, and many of them consequently still can’t write their own name today. Yet, for the generation that has lived in Afghanistan since the Taliban fled, they are becoming so educated to the point that many of them not only have high school educations, but most of them aspire for college educations, many of them dreaming of getting an education at an American university.

But, as you already know, getting to this point wasn’t easy, and sacrifice is inevitable. Soldiers are continuously put in danger, and SGT Bandee knows this all too well now. SGT Bandee recently treaded the KG Pass for a second time. The first time was in December when there was little danger, but this recent return to the mountainside was just five days after three soldiers were casualties of an IED explosion: one of them died, one of them barely survived but is much more stable now, and one is still comatose and unrecognizable because of his burns.I attended the convoy brief before the crew set off on their mission, and it had the most serious tone I’ve ever seen in a convoy brief. An Army Captain who has endured several deployments already and never has shown fear as long as I’ve known him admitted very bluntly that the KG Pass scares him. After he spoke, one of our intel analysts told the soldiers that they needed to be prepared to “bite the bullet” on this convoy.

On the morning of the convoy (which was Friday the 13th), SGT Bandee told me that he recognized this was the most dangerous day of his life. Three hours into the convoy, they were flagged down by an American contractor who wanted to tell them that he and some other contractors were shot at by insurgents earlier that morning and that they would surely be fired upon.

After hours of driving on the jarring mountain roads, when they could have slid off the side and dropped thousands of feet, they were at the bridge where the previously mentioned soldiers had been killed. They were relieved to see a lot of activity in a nearby village, because if the villagers had all stayed inside that day, it would mean that they knew something dangerous was going to happen. Nonetheless, they all knew the story of what happened on the bridge (we all did). A humvee traveling over the bridge was met with a large explosion. The vehicle started on fire. A medic named SGT Sleaford ran from his vehicle and carried one soldier to safety, and then returned to the burning vehicle. There were two more soldiers inside: one was burnt to a crisp and very much dead, the other was close to that. Had it not been for the medic he would have been KIA. The medic treated the soldier on the spot, ignoring the shrapnel that had penetrated his very own leg. That burnt soldier is alive today because of SGT Sleaford, though still in a coma at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

Three days later, Bandee had a mission in Bermel, less than 30 miles south of where NFL star Pat Tillman was killed, and only 4 miles from the Pakistan border. Taliban activity is a daily event on the border. If that wasn’t bad enough, Bandee ended up going on two dismounted combat patrols along the Pakistan border in downtown Bermel. They watched the rooftops as they went around asking the locals if they knew anything about the Taliban activity in the area, specifically about caches of weapons being hidden under woodpiles just outside the town. Bandee said he could see their lips said no, but their eyes said they knew all about the caches. Unfortunately, the locals in that location don’t trust Americans, so they didn’t help. They were talking to a local who claimed the Americans had left a bullet hole in his truck (they hadn’t; it was too big for a 5.56mm round and too small for larger weapons) when radio transmissions were intercepted and they heard the phrase “Allah is great, Allah is great!” in Arabic, which is often an indication that terrorists are getting ready to attack Americans. Everybody headed back towards the FOB. Suddenly, two large explosions were heard (and felt) throughout the town. After they took cover, there were two more large booms.

After they got a “clear” signal, they continued towards the FOB, stopping along the way to investigate various wood piles. Unfortunately, there were so many (hundreds), that it was useless to investigate every one of them. After the woodpiles, a car quickly approached them. Bandee described that an Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier quickly told the car to stop, and an American soldier pointed his weapon at the car. He couldn’t raise his own weapon as there were 5 friendly forces in front of him and he didn’t want to risk flagging any of them if he had to shoot. Fortunately, the car jerked to an immediate stop, and the driver got out of the car and was searched, as was his car. He was clean. Shortly thereafter, they arrived at the FOB gates, and the mission was complete. Later that day, the recorded transmissions that we had intercepted were translated. It was a conversation among Taliban members. Bandee’s translation of the translation was rough:
“The truck is going right now with wood. Take the rockets and hide it under the wood.” “Bring it to the mountain. After you set everything, contact me.”

“We are ready to attack. I am the enemy of your enemy. God willing, you will kill a lot of Americans. Amen.”

“Allah is great! Allah is great!” At this point in the conversation, rockets were being fired.

“Oh, you missed. Look in the binoculars.”

Gunshots were then accompanied with the recurring phrase, “Allah is great! Allah is great!”

The translated report also indicated that at least one of the members of this excursion was a corrupt member of either the ANA or ANP. At the same time that these transmissions were going on, a location to the northeast, Command Outpost (COP) Margah, had been attacked. It’s very obvious that the transmissions came from the offenders of that COP.

To give you an idea of how vigilant we have to be, I’ll tell you the following, which Bandee saw happen on another dismounted combat patrol in Bermel. He saw a local walk out of the Mosque in the center of town, and then lay down right beside it, hiding himself under a blanket. Had Bandee not seen the man exit the mosque, he never would have seen him because the blanket camouflaged him. An ANA soldier approached the man as a dozen other soldiers stood by, waiting to react if anything went down. The man under the blanket revealed himself when the ANA soldier approached, and claimed that he had a nightshift that he just got done from, and was just trying to catch some sleep while he could. They felt bad about disturbing him and surrounding him, but at the same time, a soldier’s gotta survive, right?

For my faithful, I ask a prayer of you this week that I’ve asked before. Weapons and IED’s have increasingly been discovered outside my home FOB, indicating that the war has finally moved in around here, right on schedule. After all, it certainly has gotten much warmer around here. So, my prayer request is again that you pray for the soldiers as things begin to heat up – both literally and figuratively – around Afghanistan. Along with that, I can’t help but also ask that you pray for the Taliban. Christ charged us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and I can’t think of any human enemy that I hate more than the Taliban.And, with that, I think it’s time I sign-off and let you get back to whatever you were planning on doing today. That being said, I have one great wish to extend to you on this day: HAPPY NEW YEAR! Starting today, the year is now 1388 in Muslim culture, and when I think about the unpaved roads, the state of technology, the standard of education, and the principles of hygiene, it truly does feel like I’m living over 600 years in the past.

Thank you, and God bless!

love Nate

Written by seeker70

May 4, 2009 at 1:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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