Rob Curtis and I just returned from a two-day, two-night patrol. We left late Friday night and stopped at a small Marine outpost called Sofla. For lots of good reasons I won't tell you how small. Just small.
The Marines rode in a variety of mine-resistant vehicles. My ride was a M-ATV. Let me say that for a 6-foot-2 guy tipping in at 210 in full body armor, well, there is not enough room. Couldn't move my legs, couldn't really shift my position. The ride just beat the hell out of my ass. But the M-ATV does have its charms. We had visited the unit's vehicle bone yard and looked a M-ATVs that had been blown into twisted messes by the huge mines the enemy uses here. And yet everyone walked away from those vehicles. So what's a little stiff legs and sore ass?
At Sofla we threw our sleeping gear on the ground and slept. Now I had planned this trip thinking it would be 110 degrees. I have a small fleece blanket. It was probably 55 or 60 that night. Remember my beat to hell ass? Well that night I froze it off.
The next morning I was standing next to a Marine and admired the sensational sunrise over the jagged peaks that surround this valley. All tourist like I said I thought the sunsets would also probably be pretty spectactular. In that deadpan voice common to all grunts, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Pierre said, "If you're lucky, you get to see both."
Our destination was a vallage named Kenjak-e Olya. On the main road at the entrance to town somone had stacked up three rocks. They marked the position of a mine. The folks from Explosive Ordnance Disposal came and blew it up. They estimated it was made up of 80-120 pounds of high-grade explosive.
We walked into town along a path lined on both sides by eight-foot tall mud walls. While we were in the center of town a mine planted inside the wall blew up. It was filled with old nuts and bolts and rusty .50-caliber bullets. Had the mine gone off while we walked past, Marines would have died. No one knows why it went off late. A faulty detonator of some sort.
Capt. Jeremy Wilkinson and platoon leader Staff Sgt. Keith Kesterson spent nearly three hours chatting with the village elders. All was smiles as we left. We slept on the ground that night near the village (and yes, I froze again). A patrol made one last sweep in the village before we left. And again, as we were leaving we heard an explosion in town. We're all hoping whoever did that doesn't get any better at building detonators.
Back at Naw Zad I had my first shower in a week. Accomplished using two, two-liter bottles of water. Clean is, as they say, a relative thing.