It felt like an oven. The air was dry and unbearably hot. It had an Earthy taste. As I stepped off the back of the C-17, I had to turn with the wind, to spare my eyes more dust. I hated it already.
The first day was spent getting the lay of the airfield, my unit compound and the social area within the secure zone. I was assigned a room, which was just a plywood hut with a cot and window AC unit.
I was having a bad day by the time I made it to the DFAC (dining). I had arrived on a Friday, so it was “surf n’ turf” night. I had a steak, half a plate of shrimp and a lobster tail. Not bad for my first night in a hostile environment.
I settled down in my room after dinner and was just dozing off when the klaxon and sirens started wailing. I jumped up, gearing up with weapons and armor and was out the door with a minute – only to gather and get a headcount of the troops. We had been attacked by hostile mortar fire. No injuries, minimal damage.
This was my first day in Afghanistan.
Mortar and rocket fire continued regularly throughout my tour. On average, we would be attacked 5 times a week by random fire ranging from small arms to rockets.
One evening, while I was working security at the gate to our compound, a mortar struck 20 meters from my position. I hit the ground hard as the shockwave burst the glass behind me, sending a shard down into my leg. That… was a close one. The dental assistant ended up stiching me up.
Not all Bad
Our camp was highly secure. Being a Special Operations Task Force or SOTF, security played a huge part of EVERYONE’S day. It did have benefits, however. We had the best DFAC, Fitness facilities and Medical care.
We would also get special visits by celebrities. USO tours in 2007-08 were amazing. I watched Kid Rock perform and then Robin Williams did stand up. I shook his hand afterwards and he replied to each person “Thank you, you’re a bad ass!”.
Other visits included Toby Keith (had a beer with him), David Blaine (His magic trick still has me guessing) and Jon Stewart (We spoke about scorpions, the desert, women and the Afghan people).
The most notable “celebrity” meeting for me in Afghanistan however, was from a different military. Prince Harry had been coming through and we all had a chance to shake his hand.
The first trip to Afghanistan was a dynamic one for me. It had some very hard times, but also many joyous moments. Loading up into the plane home was still a major relief. I knew I would be home soon.
Leigh was waiting for me at the hangar when I got home. It was an emotional reunion. We quickly started making up for lost time. Within a month, Leigh was pregnant.
Leigh went into labor on Valentine’s Day at 3 am. Krash was born 28 hours later. That experience was scarier than any moment in Afghanistan. We made it home 6 weeks later and I was on my way to Fort Knox for pre-mission training.
Fort Knox was a different kind of training for me. I would be learning a brand new system, outside my core MOS. I was excited and anxious. The vetting process was in depth. They even contacted my friends and family. Five weeks later, I was back on the plane.
This time, I was based out of a larger secure position. My tasks however, would have me flying to multiple forward positions, regularly. One such FOB, had only 2 rolls of razor wire keeping the hostile forces out. Those were some sleepless nights when I stayed there.
Just as my first trip, rocket and mortar attacks were routine. In the time I spent in Afghanistan, 5 people I knew personally, were killed in action. Many more humans were killed directly or indirectly because of my actions, all while following orders.
When you sign a contract with the government, for military service, you can pick for how long. My original contract was 5 years, plus training. The end would have fallen halfway through a deployment. So, for a small bonus, I signed a year long extension. I owed one more year.
By the time I made it home, six months later, Leigh and I had grown apart. We tried for a time, but things were not going to work. We decided to go to court and get a divorce. It was long, and fairly ugly. In the end, we did what was best for Krash.
All in all, my time in the military is one I remember with pride or at least without guilt. There are a handful of moments I wish I could change, and even more moments I wish that I could take back. I received my honorable discharge in 2012, a decorated combat veteran.
I would never wear a uniform again. With no home to return to, I decided to head west. West to my parents, west to the valley…