The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

SGT. Danger: Go West, Young Man

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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 September, 2008 as he fulfills a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Hello friends! We’ve arrived in August, and as I’ve said all along, I’ll be home before this month fizzles out, despite the Army still telling me otherwise.

Gardez has been quiet for the most part since my last email, probably because of the upcoming elections this month. Right now, the Taliban are planning their attacks, not executing them. Elections are a dangerous time in any Muslim country, and this country is no different. Come August 21st, Afghanistan will make international headlines because of the elections. It is most likely, too, that 2009 will surpass 2008 as the deadliest year on record here since the turn of the millennium.

There has been one day that was the exception to Gardez’s quietness: July 21st. I imagine some of you were reading about Gardez in the news when you woke up that morning because the city was riddled with suicide bombings throughout the day. The American forces responded by launching bombers to watch the city for any kind of terrorist action. By the end of the day, several terrorists had been killed (as well as some of our friends from the Afghan National Army), but there still were about 7 suicide bombers at large. You can imagine that it was not a good day to be in Gardez. In fact, in the early evening, I was advised to be ready for a potential large-scale attack, as several intel reports indicated that the FOB was going to be a target for terrorists that night. The threat was so serious that the soldiers on the Quick Reaction Force were all staged and ready to react.

I didn’t want to get caught in an attack while being incapacitated like I was a couple weeks ago, so instead of going to bed, I stayed up in the chapel with my body armor and weapon, trying to stay vigilant as late as I could. Fortunately, Mother Nature was on our side, forcing a ceasefire on all potential Taliban activity by threatening a thunderstorm throughout the night. There were constant flashes of lighting nearby, and though it was pitch black outside, you could still tell the sky was overcast. It was around 1:30am that it began to pour rain as a thunderstorm pulled through the city. I figured that was Mother Nature’s way of telling me I could go to bed, so I retired to my tent as the storm raged.

Meanwhile, our brother Bandee finally got to go on one final mission he’d been itching for. We found out that while all the 33rd Brigade soldiers may be out of the east, there was still a company of soldiers from another brigade from Illinois, the 333rd Military Police. They were in Salerno, and so Bandee hopped on a bird and immediately was put on a mission with the MP’s.

“The mission was straightforward: the MP’s were going to patrol around Salerno, drive up to a small ANA outpost to drop someone off, swing over and stop at an Afghan National Police (ANP) compound to train the Afghans how to do a military vehicle search, and then head on back to the FOB. We wanted to complete this mission as quickly as possible, because it was a Thursday afternoon, and the Afghan “weekend” starts on Thursday afternoons and their “Monday” starts Saturday morning. Therefore, because their “weekend” just began, there would be more Afghans present than usual, not to mention Khowst province is a historically volatile region for Americans.

“Everything went smoothly for the first ten minutes of the mission. We were about five minutes away from the ANA outpost when we found ourselves on a bridge in Salerno. It was a vulnerable spot in which attacks could come from a several areas: rooftops, under the bridge, or even our flanks. The bridge spanned a 30-foot deep ravine. Though that may not seem overly dangerous, when you consider you’re in a vehicle that weighs 14 tons, that dropoff can be quite deadly.

“We turned the vehicle onto a road perpendicular to the bridge, all except the rear passenger wheel, the one that I was seated directly above. It was hanging in mid-air. We had missed part of the turn. The vehicle started rolling on its side, and we braced ourselves to roll into the ravine. We were taught at Fort Bragg that after a vehicle is at a 45 degree angle, a rollover is imminent. Though we couldn’t be sure that we had surpassed the 45 degree mark, we grabbed onto whatever we could to minimize the impact. We knew that we would probably have injuries from what was about to happen, but it would be unlikely that any of us were about to die. The gunner probably wouldn’t be as lucky, but we were too far away to help him at this point.

“We continued to tip sideways. The only sound we heard was the vehicle’s engine struggling to push forward… 15 degree angle… VROOM… 20 degree angle… VROOM!… 30 degrees… VROOM!… 37 degrees… VROOM!… 40…. VROOM! VROOM!… 41…. VROOOOOOOOM!… And just before our freefall, with our teeth clenched and eyes shut, we stopped moving. We weren’t moving forward, but we weren’t rolling down, either. We remained there motionless, on the brink. The three of us in the back began looking around at each other, anxiously remaining steady so as not to cause the vehicle to tip.

“First, a moment of tense silence was shared between us, and immediately after, laughter flooded the vehicle. The medic cried out, “THIS ISN’T FUNNY!” I couldn’t help but agree, yet the laughter continued. The medic finally chuckled, and one of the passengers said, “This ain’t funny, I thought we were rolling.”

“I agreed, “Yeah, I thought it was a rollover.”

“As our nervous laughter continued and our vehicle teetered, we recognized that we were as stable as we were going to get. We took off our harnesses and busted the door open , crawling out the back of the vehicle and swiftly into the streets of Salerno, like a pack of ants whose sanctuary in the sand had been disrupted. We knew we weren’t in a good situation. Here we were in the middle of Khowst province, surrounded by Afghan onlookers, and a million-dollar vehicle was inches away from rolling down a steep ravine.

“The vehicle’s commander announced that he needed a volunteer to pull security on the far street, and within seconds, I was at the edge of said street with a weapon, eyeing the crowds for potential threats. There was a large metal box close to me. It would be my sole cover in case we got ambushed.

“An ANP officer pulled security with me at the edge of the street, and in an attempt to win over any nearby guerillas that might be in the area, I began a dialogue with the locals using the simple Dari and Pashtu words I had learned from the interpreters. I called out to the children, asking “What’s up?” I conversed with the elders, “How are you?” and “I am also fine, thank you.”

“As I maintained my sector, reinforcements rolled up to our location and began working on pulling the vehicle’s wheel back on solid ground. I continued scanning for danger, seeking out hateful eyes amidst the children, adults, and oxen walking around us.

“After about an hour of frying under the Khowst sun, I looked over to our vehicle to see it getting pulled forward. The wheel that had missed the road was now back on the road. We had successfully recovered. I shook hands with the ANP officer, thanking him for his assistance, “Tashakur, sir. Tashakur, tashakur very much.” I hopped in the back of our vehicle, and within minutes, we were driving off to continue the rest of our mission, which went fine after that.”

For Bandee, that will certainly be the last mission he goes on here in eastern Afghanistan. The reason for this is because of something you may have heard about in the news: A few days ago, another Marion-based soldier was killed in Herat, which is on the west side of the country. But SPC Gerrick Smith wasn’t killed by an IED or a rocket or a rollover . He was killed by a bullet from another American soldier’s weapon. If you think it’s unbearable when a soldier is killed by an enemy, imagine how it must feel when you find out it was friendly fire. The details of the situation are sketchy, but an investigation is currently being done to figure out how this accident happened. As a result, the soldiers in Herat that were formerly in the east are having a very difficult time coping with the tragedy, and so the religious support team has been requested to move west to support the soldiers out there. And so tomorrow, CH Pace, Bandee, and I are scheduled to get on a bird to get to Kabul so we can catch a flight over to the west.

I personally am excited about this transfer because I believe that I will be much more useful in the west than I have been here in the east since most of the 33rd Brigade has transferred out of here. And so, for the rest of my tour, I will be in Herat, Afghanistan. But exactly how long is the rest of my tour? Well, I asked the same exact question to the higher-ups at Camp Phoenix, and none of them have any idea. But either way you look at it, we know that it’s soon. Even if it turns out I’m a madman who claims to be able to hear God’s voice but in fact is absolutely insane, then I’m coming home fairly soon. And if it turns out that what I believe is right and I get sent home earlier than anticipated, then I’m coming home extremely soon. Hence, it’s only natural for me to mull over my time spent here in Afghanistan.

When I leave this war-torn country, there are three things that I’m going to miss. And it’s not that I can’t get these things in America, it’s that I can’t get these things to the same degree. First of all, I’ll miss the night skies here. Folks, I’m 8,000 feet in the sky in a spot where bright lights are forbidden at night, so you can imagine what the heavens look like after the sun goes down. The moon is beautiful, and when she’s absent, then you have the countless stars in the sky. Watching a shooting star fly over your head is not uncommon, and the clarity of the constellations would blow your mind. In America, I look at the stars and force myself to wonder about their creation, but in Afghanistan, I look at the stars and they force me to wonder about their creation.

The second thing that I’m going to miss is the mountains. Going from a flat state like Illinois and traveling to a mountainous region like Gardez was a real culture shock. From the snow-capped mountains of the winter to the misty mountains of the spring to the bare rocky giants of the summer, the beauty of the mountains here is something that I never expect to see for the rest of my life.

The last and greatest thing I’ll miss from Afghanistan is the hospitality, and specifically the hospitable people. These people weren’t interested in treating me as if I was their brother, they were interested in doing all they could for me because I am their brother. There’s a huge difference between the two philosophies. If America ever sees poverty the likes of which this country has seen for thousands of years, then maybe her people will understand what I mean.

Until then, folks… our wagons are heading west, and only God knows what’s in store for the rest of this journey, or when it’s going to end. I’ll keep serving my time until I’m told that my time is up.

For my faithful, I ask that you please continue praying for us troops. Many have become exhausted and are more than ready to go home, but each day we needlessly stay here is one more chance of going home in a cargo box instead of on a plane seat. May God grant us deliverance, but only when the time is right according to His will.

Thank you, and God bless!

love, Nate

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Written by seeker70

August 16, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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