© 2010 Albert A Rasch and
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Rockets! The Gifts that Keep On Giving...
“SON OF A BITCH!” I muttered vehemently at no one in particular as anger took hold of me.
Under the harsh glare of the sodium vapor spotlights in front of the Customs building, I watched as my Vietnamese green tea, (Alokozay, best damn green tea I have ever had the pleasure of drinking.) with the two teaspoons of rich and delicious honey I had carefully stirred in, seep into the grimy, dust coated Afghan gravel. It was the last of the honey I had from my Florida hives, and the Mrs couldn't find the Mason jars that I knew we had in the garage. Now what was I supposed to do? It is one of my few pleasures here in Afghanistan, green tea and honey. The damned rocket had almost knocked me off my feet, and cost me a cup of fresh brewed tea. Somebody was going to pay, someone had to pay for this travesty!
For the record, I have survived 17 rocket attacks that I know of. I've probably slept through as many if not more that I just didn't notice. The Taliban toss them over to us from Bagram Village on a regular basis. Most of the time they hit either outside the wire, or on some empty piece of real estate. The majority of them are duds anyway. The explosive charges are usually removed, or so small that the rocket charge does very little damage. They use the explosive material to make IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and suicide vests which they then put on an innocent fool, which are usually much more effective in sowing terror and creating mayhem.
The worst case of potential go-meet-your-maker I have experienced was during the third week of January. I was walking my way to the Customs office, a hot cup of green tea in my hand. It was as cold as usual, and the steam billowed off the top of the mug. This particular mug of green tea was one that I had brewed, (I make it a bit stronger than the locals do.) and with the last bit of the aforementioned honey from my hives. Tea with honey really does taste much better than tea and sugar. I needed clarification on yet another postal issue or regulation and Customs was the place to get the information I desired.
You are never really lost in your thoughts out here in A'stan, it is almost as dangerous inside the wire as outside. Thieves, cutthroats, and highwaymen prowl the streets of BAF, and that's just among my countrymen! The third country nationals are even worse.
I immediately heard the whistle of the rocket as it screamed down from the night sky. All around me the kids, their reactions far more finely tuned than mine, switched into high gear and ran, sprinted, and dove into the nearest bunkers. I, on the other hand, knowing better, or so I thought, stood my ground. If it hit near me, I was either a goner or nothing would happen. I didn't take into account that the rocket might have a full charge, and that it might land far enough that it would mess me up.
Sometimes I'm just a dumbass.
Calmly raising my cup to my lips, the anticipation simultaneously sublime and almost too great to even begin to describe, I awaited for what would be either another anti-climactic dud, or my demise at the hands of the Iranian trained Taliban Rocketeers. The hot ceramic rim had just touched my lips, the sweet, golden green liquid moments from cascading down my thirsty palate.
I'll be damned if it wasn't a fully loaded rocket that landed maybe seventy five meters away from me.
It slammed into the flight line, impacted, and blew itself up, a blast wall and small tin building standing between me and the blast.
The earth bucked under me, the shock wave heaving my body up and backwards. My cup stood momentarily in place, defying the laws of gravity as my hand slipped away from it, before beginning its decent onto the unforgiving gravel.
I managed to keep my feet underneath me and caught myself before I sprawled head over heels on the same gravel. All around me soldiers and airmen were still running wide eyed and breathless into the bunkers, a couple screaming, “Take cover!” at the top of their voices. Probably the Air Force pukes in their snazzy reflective exercise outfits.
I spun around, more concerned for my mug of honey laced tea than my own safety. The mug, miraculously undamaged, was still turning in a lazy spin as I helplessly watched my tea disappear before my very eyes.
White hot fury displaced what might have been the beginnings of fear. What I would have given to have my hands wrapped around some Taliban's scrawny neck at that moment. I would have throttled him into next year. We have honey at the DeFac (Dining Facility), but it's crappy processed honey. Think what Cheeze Whiz is to Lorraine or Brie, and you'll get the picture.
But reality took hold rather quickly, and as angry as I was at the Taliban, I still needed to check if anyone was injured.
Sprinting towards the flightline, I dodged the running kids, and rounded the blastwall. A smoking crater about four foot wide, maybe a foot deep greeted me. I quick survey yielded little or no property damage and thankfully no casualties. The concrete blast wall had taken the brunt of the shrapnel and blast. As an aside, I carry the Tac-Packs I got last year with me everywhere, and I hope that I never, ever have to use them to plug any holes in me, or more importantly, on any of these young men and women that serve alongside me.
A couple of Air Force Security types joined me in moments. I stayed back as they did their initial inspection, reported on their radio, and looked busy. Meanwhile several more response personnel showed up, sirens wailing, lights flashing. Two A10s hustled down the runway, their huge GE turbofans sucking up cold air and shoving those beautifully deadly platforms into the night air. Blackhawks gunships swept over the flight lines, their rotor's downdraft signaling their passing as the avengers went in search of prey out west and into the village. My fellow Americans were about to exact a terrible vengeance upon the fools that dare challenge us. Someone was going to pay for my spilled tea after all.
I wasn't needed, so I turned and walked back past the tin building and towards Customs. The tin shack was a little dinged up from the rocks blown out by the rocket, but pretty much none the worse for wear. As I passed the shack, there in the middle of the road, lay my empty mug, undamaged and unmolested. I walked up to it and bent over to pick it up.
It was still warm, even in the chill night air.
EPILOUGE: I know I make things appear fun and exciting, less serious than they really are. Believe you me, my heart was in my throat as I realized what could have happened. The rockets are no joke; they are a dangerous and deadly nuisance. Many soldiers have been wounded and some killed by an unfortunate strike. When the warning siren actually works in Bagram, you need to heed it immediately, either run for a bunker, or kiss the ground. If you're in a structure, get down as low as possible, get your arms tucked in tight and cover your ears. Only idiots and myself stand around to watch the fireworks.
Other Lessons Learned:
Body armor is cumbersome.
So is shrapnel lodged in your ass.
Wear your armor when you are told to do so. Our intelligence people occasionally get it right.
Always carry a Tac-Pack or its equivalent. Life's a crap-shoot; stack the odds in your favor.
Make sure you are accounted for after an attack. Make a call, or have a system in place that lets someone know you are ok. My guys know to come look for my snoring carcase in my hootch.
While vengeance is sweet, and the sound of a Mk-19 is sweeter still!
And finally, the odds actually are infinitely in your favor. Don't sweat it too much. Live life like you mean it, do the right thing, do your work like it matters to you personally. And remember that what you do may mean the difference between life and death for someone else.
Epilogue Pt II: The winter recess is almost over. Pretty soon the well rested and resupplied Taliban will be back from their mountain hide-a-ways, looking to get into mischief. We'll smoke a whole mess of them, but lots of them will get through to wreak havoc and mayhem. Give thanks to and pray for the Soldiers and Marines that fight, live, and die in the fields, hills, and mountains trying to contain the depraved and destructive monstrosity that is the Taliban. Because of their efforts and sacrifices, you're at home safe and reading this.
Livin' Large in Afghanistan!
Albert A Rasch
Member: Bagram Polo Club
Member: Hunting Sportsmen of the United States HSUS (Let 'em sue me.)
The Hunt Continues...