The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Sgt. Danger: Still Fighting the Fight… But Which One?

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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 has been a periodic contributor to The Seeker since last September as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Though I was walking over jagged rocks, it seemed as if I was gliding to my destination. Once I reached my goal, I burst through the door without even knocking and announced my presence: “Natersade! Khatar injast!”

My Afghan friends began celebrating with me, shaking hands and hugging, old friends reunited once again. We thought we would never see one another again,; but it turns out we have some time left together. Adding to the excitement, my friends told me that the Bibles they had acquired back in May had all safely made it into their respective homes. They put themselves in danger to the Scriptures into their homes, yet each succeeded by using the plan we devised before I left. Imagine that: a group of Muslims put their lives in jeopardy for a chance to know Jesus.

Yes, I am back in Gardez. During my stay in Kabul, it was decided that I would be one of five soldiers from the 33rd Brigade left in eastern Afghanistan, while everyone else moved out to Herat in western Afghanistan, or Kandahar or Helmand in southern Afghanistan. The decision to transfer has been unpopular, as every soldier I’ve talked to is frustrated that the 33rd Brigade has transferred them to a whole new area of Afghanistan when there is only but two months left on our tour. Many soldiers arrived in the west, only to find that there was literally no room for them: they had to set up their own tents when they arrived, and there were no missions for many of them. To make matters worse, some soldiers have even been extended as a result of this transfer, while many of the soldiers from our headquarters in Camp Phoenix have been getting sent home early. So, perhaps you can understand the frustration from the ground soldiers who have been in the east with me. Here these soldiers are, fulfilling their tours of duty, and their reward is an extension of their tour. Meanwhile, for the soldiers that found themselves in the safest of spots in all of Afghanistan (i.e., Camp Phoenix in Kabul), they are getting sent home early because there’s no room or reason to keep them here at this point. You see, the Georgia National Guard has already completely moved into Afghanistan to take over Task Force Phoenix. In fact, here in Gardez, besides CH Pace and SGT Bandee and myself, there are two other chaplains and two other chaplain assistants already here replacing us. Yet, we are still aren’t scheduled to come home until September, despite the fact that our mission is complete. I was even told the other day that I should anticipate being extended, a comment that I shrugged off, knowing that it was wrong information.

If this transfer sounds ridiculous to you, then you and I are on the same page. You know who else would agree? The family of SPC Christopher Talbert. He was a medic from my home unit in Illinois who was killed in western Afghanistan last week in a catastrophic explosion. SPC Talbert was one of the medics who conducted a physical on me because of my back problems. And as of last month, SPC Talbert’s mission was done: he had served his time in Salerno, Afghanistan, but was told that he would be a part of the transfer to head west. He arrived in western Afghanistan, probably thinking he had already survived the deployment, as western Afghanistan is remarkably safer than eastern Afghanistan.

As for me, I am not with those guys in Herat, though I, too, am sharing the experience of living in a tent in the middle of a warzone. FOB Lightning is so overcrowded that many soldiers do not have a hard roof over their heads, and because I was believed to never be coming back here, my room was occupied by someone else within an hour of my departure.

I don’t mind living in a tent all that much. After all, I lived in a tent for over two months while in Fort Bragg. But, that’s not to say it’s convenient. Bugs are constantly creeping over my personal space and over me as I sleep. The nights can get chilly. Though, I know things could definitely be worse… I mean, at least I have some kind of shelter! And though the tent is where I lay my head down at night, that’s really all it’s good for. It’s not a comfortable place to hang out, and it would be catastrophic if a rocket landed on such a soft “roof,” so I spend my free time now in the chapel if I’m not with the Terps. The chapel is also a place where I can charge my electronics. And because all of my gear is unsecured in the tent, and because someone already sifted through my belongings and took my wallet, I keep my valuables in a locker in the Terps’ hut. Yeah, it’s good to have friends here.

I don’t tell you this so you feel bad for me, but just to give you a picture of the situation that so many soldiers have found themselves in for unexplained reasons. Like I already said, I don’t mind living in a tent so much. If you want to feel sorry for someone, pity those soldiers who were in Afghanistan back when the war first was launched, those soldiers who had to sleep where they spit, had no bunkers to run to in the case of attack, and had no Internet to send email updates to their loved ones. Compared to those guys, I’m in a five-star hotel.

The reason I am in Gardez at all is because the chaplain felt I would be better used here than in western Afghanistan, though I certainly disagree with that disposition. Unfortunately for me, there is not much of a job that I’m needed for. In fact, I only have two job responsibilities at this point: 1) escort CH Pace to meetings with the mullahs, and then do my best not to fall asleep during the meeting, and 2) report to our administrative office whenever one of our teams leaves the wire to visit troops. I am essentially doing work that could be accomplished by a child, not the kind of work you’d expect to see from a seasoned non-commissioned officer in the Army.

Bandee is enduring his share of frustrations, too. As you know about Bandee, he enjoys going out and traveling the east, but now that’s stopped for him, too. Because there are two new chaplain assistants here, Bandee is no longer allowed to go out and travel like he loves because he is told that his mission is complete, and he shouldn’t be taking any chances at this point. When Bandee found out that one of the chaplain teams was going on a convoy over the KG Pass, he begged them to let him tag along, but they told him that he wasn’t wanted. I can understand Bandee’s sadness: it’s bad enough for a guy like him to be denied some adventure, but it makes it ten times worse to be denied some adventure and instead have to sit on his butt all day, twiddling his thumbs, waiting to be told he can go home.

Bandee did get one more adventure before he was told he wouldn’t be travelling anymore, though.

“The chaplain and I went off to visit COP Herrera, a place I hadn’t seen since April. And, our arrival seemed to be perfect timing: just two days before we landed in Herrera, a soldier from the small COP had been killed in an ambush on a convoy. And though that’s a quite tragic event, when all things are considered, the outcome of it almost seems to be more of a blessing. You see, the ambush wasn’t just your ordinary ambush where a few Taliban get together and attack a convoy; no, this ambush was massive! Dozens of RPG’s were shot at the vehicles, at least 11 Taliban were involved, and the vehicles’ bullet-proof windows were shattering during the attack. To make things worse, the unit had run out of ammo during the firefight. Literally, the soldiers in the attack braced themselves in their vehicles, expecting death. At one point, the Platoon Leader just started laughing out loud, believing that he and his whole team was about to die. The laughing was his natural reaction, and fortunately, it broke the tension a little.

Not too long after, though, air support came in and saved the troops from certain death or capture. Two Taliban were killed, and nine were detained. As for the American forces, they lost one soldier, and several others were injured.As for the nine detainees, they were all released the following day because it was deemed that there wasn’t enough evidence that they had been involved in the ambush… despite the soldier witnesses and the detainees’ hands being covered in gun powder. And where were those detainees released? Right where they came from… just outside the wire of COP Herrera in Jaji.In the midst of our slumber one night, the chaplain and I were woken up very abruptly to the shouting of soldiers running around outside our hut we were staying in. I hadn’t heard an explosion or alarm, so I shrugged it off and rolled over to get more comfortable in my sleeping bag. But, I certainly didn’t get any shuteye then. Instead, an officer came into our hut to casually tell us that the COP had been hit by indirect fire, accompanied by some small arms fire.

I jumped out of bed and threw my body armor on over my skivvies, grabbed my rifle, and went outside to see how I could help. The QRF (quick reaction force) had already made it into their fighting positions. So much of me doubted that we had actually been under attack because I hadn’t heard or felt anything that remotely resembled a rocket attack, nor did I hear gunshots. Within minutes, it was announced over the COP that the situation had been dealt with, and that we could all go to bed.

The next morning, it was found that a rocket had, indeed, been shot at us from the small village in Jaji where the detainees were dumped back into. But, the reason I didn’t hear an explosion was because there was none: the rocket was a dud, and didn’t explode as planned. Though, I spent the rest of the previous night believing that we hadn’t gotten attacked; I went to sleep very annoyed, grumbling to myself that if the Taliban was going to attack us, the least they could do is improve their aim and shoot their rockets over by my hut so I at least knew we were really under attack.”

Bandee seemed to have brought his sour luck back with him, because on the same night he returned to Gardez, FOB Lightning had some significant activity in the area.The chaplain and I were in the chapel late talking when we heard large explosions within the FOB. I opened the door and saw a mortar come flying down onto the FOB, just a few hundred meters away.The chaplain and I hesitated, taking a moment to glance at each other, sharing thoughts that maybe the mortars were just our own soldiers at the range firing mortars. But, the explosions continued to rattle the FOB and sounded like they were coming closer, so the chaplain and I began sprinting to safety. I had just come from the shower, and so I was wearing flip-flops, which made it very difficult to run in the darkness. But, the chaplain and I made it to safety.

That’s when we realized we were the only ones reacting to the situation. No alarm; no soldiers running to bunkers. It wasn’t but a few moments later that we realized that our initial suspicions were correct: the ones firing the mortars were our own soldiers.I breathed a sigh of relief since the explosions weren’t directed towards us. But I was also annoyed that my one moment of bodyguarding had been a fraudulent experience.

I went to bed in my humble little tent not too long after, but the sleep didn’t last very long. An hour into my rest, the FOB emergency alarms began to blare. I woke up, annoyed with the series of training events that were interrupting my night. I wasn’t overly worried about the seriousness of the situation because I had never been attacked while in Gardez and because I hadn’t heard an explosion.

As I threw on my body armor, I asked aloud if my tent mates had heard an explosion, expecting them to not have either. To my surprise, they had heard an explosion.I double-timed to the bunker where my chaplain was supposed to be. I couldn’t see anything because my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the black of night, and so I asked if CH Pace had made it to the bunker. He was in there, so I joined him.It turned out that while we sat in the bunker, just a few miles down the road closer to inner-city Gardez, another base was being engaged with multiple rockets. My FOB had been christened with one single rocket that exploded near my tent, yet I somehow slept through it.

A couple hours later, an announcement was made that we were clear to go back to bed and get whatever sleep we could. And so, just as if everyone had been called in from recess, we emerged from the bunkers half-awake, dragging our feet to wherever we each laid down our heads.

I’ll close out this update with one more short narrative from Bandee. “It seems for me, the only battle I’m going to face the rest of this tour is getting up each morning. And right now, that battle has been the hardest combat I’ve faced yet. I feel like I have no purpose right now, and it has crushed my spirits completely.”

I have to agree. Getting up in the morning, knowing that the only thing I have to look forward to is lying back down and counting one more day off the calendar, is a mini-war itself.

For my faithful, I have a prayer request that may come off as selfish. Today, I’m not going to ask that you pray for our protection. I don’t ask that you pray for the success of our mission. I don’t even ask for your prayers for the future of Afghanistan. Because, in all honesty, I’m too exhausted to even pray those prayers myself at this point, and I’m not going to ask you to pray for something that I’m not committed to praying about with you. What I ask you to pray is the same prayer I’ve been shouting to God for the past weeks: that we are given deliverance from this country. Right now, most of the 33rd Brigade soldiers no longer have a real mission: sure, there may be busy work that’s being done, but for all intents and purposes, our mission is complete. Our tour is done. And instead of being able to celebrate that reality back at home, we’re still here for reasons that are way beyond my comprehension. And, I don’t relent on my promise to you that I’ll be home before September. I can only make such a bold promise because I have a bold God who promised it to me. And though I still believe I am going home early, despite the rumors (and for some soldiers, realities) of extensions, I would really appreciate your help in getting me home early, too. And I don’t ask for your prayers because I am afraid it won’t happen, I ask for your prayers because I want you to be invested in me coming home, early, too. Pray this prayer with me, and you will not only be joining me in this prayer, but you will be joining several brothers and sisters who all receive my emails, not to mention the other Illinois soldiers around Afghanistan who are praying this prayer. So, that’s my request to you: pray that the Lord changes the hearts of the 33rd Brigade leaders, so they understand that we soldiers are too tired to start new missions in different places in Afghanistan. We’ve done our time, our mission is complete, and now it’s time to go home. The Georgia National Guard has things under control. We are just in their way at this point… and Georgia agrees. So, I repeat again, I am asking you to please pray that God softens and changes the leaders’ hearts so that they may understand the unnecessary strain they are putting upon soldiers and their families. With your prayers to God, these hearts can be changed. After all, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like watercourse wherever He pleases” (Proverbs 21:1).

Be a part of this prayer with me, please. Even if you’re unsure of the power of prayer. Take a small leap of faith with me. Together, you and I can be amazed by the results. But I sincerely need your help. God may hear my prayers alone, but how much more will He hear ours together!

Thank you and God bless!

love, Nate

Written by seeker70

August 4, 2009 at 4:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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