The “Ant Hill” getting tore up by fast movers. The white square building is a school and obscured by the dust cloud is the wood line we took contact from.
So no shit there I was, a young SGT Stevens assigned to act as TC of a MAXPRO providing over watch for two dismounted squads from my platoon as they patrolled near a hostile area in the Chak Valley of eastern Afghanistan. Our four squad platoon was more or less broken up into a weapons gun team of four on the closest hill to the village along with myself and three other gun trucks along the hills leading up to the village. We were arranged so that wherever the dismounted elements ended up potentially taking contact they would be supported by at least two heavy machine guns.
My truck was a floater truck, I had one of the better drivers in the company and one of the best gunners. As an NCO I was given the latitude to control where my truck was along the planned route. The idea being that it would give us just a little bit more fire power where needed, and I’d be able to assist if another gun truck or the weapons team had issues. I ended up establishing myself on the top of the hill our Weapons team was set up on, this gave me a field of fire over the Chaki-Wardak Dam which was something of a DMZ for us in that valley.
For the majority of the deployment that Dam marked the end of our white space or safe(ish) area of operations, anytime we set foot on the Dam we got shot at and past the Dam was a well established Taliban stronghold that to this day was never removed so far as I know. North of the Dam on the Taliban side was a large forested area near a school and what we called the Ant Hill. The Ant Hill was this small hill that was a massive bunker system the Taliban used to launch their attacks on us. We had our small Hilltop OP forward of main Outpost if they came on our side of the Dam, they had the Ant Hill if we came on their side.
Knowing any attack they launched would likely come from that area I established my truck so I would have the best fields of fire I could get over the Ant Hill, and it also helped out the Weapons team because they only had an M240 while my truck was armed with John Moses Browning's greatest gift to mankind the M2 .50 cal.
The Patrol was completely uneventful for about an hour or so. I’m talking nothing, all our normal spots to find IEDs were empty, the normal places to get ambushed at were safe, just a boring patrol. My first deployment to Iraq some dude told me that combat was 99% boredom and 1% shear screaming terror. In my experience he was mostly correct, and this patrol was one of those 99% kind of days. Sitting in a truck wearing a bunch of armor, uncomfortable and trying not to fall asleep while still remaining alert because Jumping Johnny Jihad was always waiting for us to get complacent.
Right before the patrol hit the Dam my PL called me up on the radio and asked me to move my truck forward about 20 feet because he thought it would give me a better field of fire. I hate being micromanaged, absolutely detest it, micromanagement has and will always be the one thing I hated the most about military life. The PL could have been right about the field of fire but to my sleep deprived brain running on nothing but a steady diet of nicotine and rip-its I didn’t care and my truck wasn’t moving. I recall making up something about being actually on the hill and having an ideal sector of fire from where my truck was that would have been disrupted if I moved. I think he just didn’t want to deal with an argument mid patrol so he let me win. I smugly leaned back in my chair, next to micromanagement officers are another thing I hated about the military so winning an argument with one was always a good day.
Sometime during the patrol an ANA rocket team had moved up to my hill, I ended up having them stand about 20 feet or so in front of my truck behind a small rock formation. ANA have a bad habit of shooting towards everything but the enemy in a fight and I didn’t feel like catching an RPG round to my truck so I made sure to be behind them. For the majority of the patrol they just sat behind the rocks digging in the dirt and goofing off. By the time my PL called me on the radio they’d dug a good sized hole maybe 2-3 feet deep and 4 feet or so across, I just figured they were digging a fighting position or something which I thought was kind of cool. It’s always nice to work with ANA that have some degree of motivation and self preservation.
Right around the time our patrol hit the Dam one of the ANA came over and started trying to knock on my door and get it open while gesturing at me emphatically. ANA are the biggest mooches in the world, completely shameless. Particularly with food, water, or cigarettes. I remember one time a dude begged me for a smoke, I’m taking big ol puppy dog eyes his hands clasped together begging over and over. Finally I gave him one from my almost empty pack and lit one up expecting him to smoke with me. Nope, the dude took my cigarette and stuffed it into an almost full pack he had in his pocket and walked off. After that I only gave out smokes when I wasn’t in a mood to get green on blue attacked, if I was cool with the dude, or I was negotiating shenanigans in a KLE.
Back to the present, I’m hate fucking this dude with my eyes who yanking on my combat locked door acting all crazy while I’m more or less convinced he’s trying to get a free smoke. The thing about armored vehicles is that you really can’t hear what’s going on outside of them. I mean I’ve been shot at inside of them before and thought it was gravel hitting the side only to walk out and find gear that was strapped to the sides all shot up. Needless to say I can’t hear what this dude is going on about and he can’t hear me telling him to get back to his dirt hole and pull security.
My gunner was the typical 240 gunner, big ol burly kid from Texas who permanently had a dip in his mouth, we called him Carp which was a shortened version of his last name. Good guy for the most but didn’t care much for Afghans or people in general. My idea of a perfect gunner is someone that you have to stop from shooting up the whole countryside and Carp was the perfect gunner. I lean back and ask him if he can hear what the ANA dude wants. Carp spits out a long arc of brown tobacco towards the ANA guy and says; “Nah bubba, you know I don’t speak durka. Want me to shoot him? We could just throw his body in the hole he dug, I don’t even think anyone would hear if I use my M9.”
Rolling my eyes in resignation while shaking my head no, I slowly crack my door open enough to tell the dude fuck off I don’t have any cigarettes. The other thing about Afghans is that they are intensely persistent. You can catch a dude in a bold faced “you didn’t even try” lie and he’ll just double down on it and keep repeating himself louder. Which is exactly what my cigarette mooch did. We go back and forth for a minute or two with me trying to shoo him away and him gesturing wildly towards me and back towards himself. Finally exasperated I grab an empty pack of Pines (A horrible local cigarette that we were all reduced to smoking due to how remote we were) and jumped out of the truck.
“Look dude no fucking smokes, all gone. Cigarette. Finished.” I explained as my boots hit the ground.
He just keeps going on and now it looks like he’s gesturing towards my calf pocket on my right leg where I actually kept my smokes. I’d been caught in my own lie.
“Alright look mother fucker, those shits are mine, they’re all I’ve got for the rest of this mission you can’t have any. Go rob a shop keeper for some of your own, you can’t have any of mine!”
It was like a light bulb went off behind his eyes and the ANA soldier started smiling while saying; “Yes, yes. Mine, mine!”
“No fuck face they’re mine, I pay you guys good American money to buy these for me, and I know you're just stealing them anyway and keeping my cash.”
“Mine! Mine! Mine!” He says while backing away from me towards his buddy in the hasty fighting position.
I walk around the truck repeating that they’re mine and figuring maybe I can hand gesture them both back into their little hole. If I walk over to it with both of them. By this time the other soldier is now also excitedly chanting “Mine! Mine! Mine!” I feel like I’m trapped on a beach with the seagulls from Finding Nemo. Halfway through another futile profanity laden speech about the merits of being a paying customer and how capitalism works I now standing at the edge of the “fighting position” when I realize the second ANA soldier is thunking away at this big round black pizza shaped object with the barrel of his M16 grinning.
Realization hits me like a ton of bricks as it dawns on me that my trusting and loyal ANA soldier is poking away at a massive Russian Anti-Tank mine. A fucking mine. Right where the PL wanted me to park, that these two bored soldiers dug up for some reason. I hear “thunk thunk thunk,” as I return back to the present and realize my brave but uneducated ANA counterpart is hammering away at this land mine that’s bigger than my chest with his M16 barrel. The noble ANA rocketeer that had so kindly asked me to exit my truck slowly pointed towards the hole and softly said “mine?”
I nodded yes, and repeated his words well gesturing for them to both come with me and stop hitting the mine. As soon as the words mine left my lips they both started cheering “ho, ho, ho.” Which is pronounced with a lot of phlegm in the back of your throat and means yes in Afghani. Realizing they’re now jumping up and down cheering on top of a land mine I think quickly and tell them to join me back behind the truck for a smoke. Lighting one of for myself I divided the rest my pack up with the two courageous ANA soldiers while repeatedly congratulating them on a job well done and shaking their hands enthusiastically.
I radio back to the TOC and explain that I just found a “big fucking anti-tank mine” and I selflessly volunteered to throw grenades at it, to BIP (Blow in place) the mine which was my favorite solution to mostly anything. Unfortunately they decided to have me mark the mine take down a grid and EOD would clear it next time they ended up in the area. By doctrine marking a UXO or IED means you cut a fluorescent triangle out of signal panels we use and write the grid and device on the triangle while pointing it in a visible area towards the device. Of course right around the time I get the triangle all set up and ready to go the Taliban decides to hit our guys from the woodline near the Ant Hill. So there I am laying on my belly with Carp rocking the .50 over my head stacking rocks on this triangle with a shitty Afghani cigarette hanging from my lips covered in moon dust exposed on the side of hill overlooking a beautiful Dam in the middle of a war.