68. Screams

Screams

And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew 8:20 / Luke 9:58

Our eventful November came and went, only to usher in an even busier December. We received a new mission to create a base of operations to the south, which could soon be transferred over to the ANA.1 Joker 1,2 Joker 3, Warwick platoon3 and Engagement Training Team (ETT), which was a mix of Marines and ANA fighters, banded together to accomplish the task.

We arrived at Mishmash Carez on December 4th. The straight-line distance between our new outpost and Nowzad was less than thirty kilometers. However, due to the lack of paved, multi-lane speedways in Afghanistan, this 18 mile trek became a two to three hour journey, wandering in snakelike, zigzag patterns to avoid risks of IED’s on the barely distinguished, slightly less rocky, sad excuse for a road.

The compound looked promising from the outside. The outer mud walls rose up about twenty feet, the highest ones I’d ever seen. One small enclave at the west side of the enclosure would become the COC4 and the other to the southeast corner would be a haven for the ANA. Three lookouts spanned the the walls. One attached to the COC facing the road to the north and the town to the west, one along the southern wall near the ANA’s hut oriented to the farmland to the east and Mama Carez to the south, and one connecting the two in the southwest corner, interlocking the viewpoint of the other two sectors. 

Rumors circulated that Alexander the Great erected Mishmash Carez during his conquest through Afghanistan. How this speculation arose and who propagated it I have no clue, but the probability that one of the most prolific conquerors in recorded history utilized this space in his operations nearly 2400 years ago was impossible to verify and almost certainly untrue. Regardless, the thought that we were now connected to a lineage of warriors that occupied this space made us feel like badasses. 

With the COC and ANA inhabiting the sheltered areas, the rest of us were left with what remained, an open rectangular courtyard that stretched fifty by sixty yards. The only distinguishing feature in this space was a collapsed construction jutting out from the north wall. This was once the third and biggest sheltered portion of the compound. Now its former glory could only be inferred by what remained: collapsed dirt, several holes, and a few small nooks that took all of two minutes to explore. Without this structure, our only option was to do what grunts do best: sleep in the dirt under the stars.

If not on post or on patrol we were free to do as we pleased, but with such primitive accommodations, that didn’t leave many options. I was rarely up for journaling or reading my Bible while in Mishmash Carez, which left at least four hours of blank space in the day. As the type of person who would rather walk on a treadmill than sit and do nothing, I scoured the scene to find something to occupy my restless body. Fishing through my rucksack, I paused when I looked at my E-Tool. I greeted it with a disdainful look. One of my favorite childhood hobbies used to be digging holes in the backyard, that is, until the Marine Corps ruined it.

E-Tool is short for “military issued tri-fold entrenching tool.” Grunts have spent dozens of hours dominated by these tiny instruments. This not so friendly, neatly folded spade spans barely more than six inches wide and is slightly less than two feet when fully extended. So naturally it is the perfect spoon to dig a chest-high fighting hole capable of comfortably fitting two Marines. If training didn’t call for a trench, we used them to fill sandbags. If all else failed, they were an easily foldable 2.7 pounds of additional weight to add to our burden on the many ruck marches we endured.

I shivered as the most recent abuse I’d suffered with this thing flashed before my eyes.5 Despite this and many other haunting memories with my E-Tool, my boredom and restless energy grew intolerable. So, I resolved to let bygones be bygones and started digging a hole in the open courtyard. There was no initial plan, though ideas materialized as my work progressed. I figured at the very least this could be something to sleep in. 

Mishmash Carez was one of three points in the region forming a triangle. The shape was made by Mishmash Carez, our stand-alone compound which formed the northeastern point, Mama Carez one kilometer to the southwest, and an unnamed abandoned village about a kilometer west. Farmland and scattered mud huts were sprinkled further east and slightly south as well.

And so, we found ourselves nested at the tip of the hauntingly dubbed “Triangle of Guilt.” I don’t know who came up with this, but it sounded like a curse. With a name like that, bad things were bound to happen.

Sure enough, during their first patrol to Mama Carez, third squad, ETT and a CAAT team got hit. At around 0900 I heard sporadic shots while on radio watch. The blasts must have only been a call to arms because nothing else happened until about three hours later. Once the explosions started, my blood pressure dropped. I started praying.

Gunfire erupted. Small arms bursts crackled. Heavy machine guns pulsed with deep beats, my racing heart nearly matching the rhythm.

BOOM!

Chaos.

I ran to a flock of Marines gathering at the southern entrance to view the battle. All I could see were two plumes of dust, one nearly dissipated and the other freshly geysering up. Without anything else that could be seen, I returned to my gear, ensuring I was ready if our squad needed to help out. 

I heard helicopter rotors chopping closer. Eager to see a Black Hawk lay waste, I looked up only to find a small troop carrier speeding overhead. Someone got hit. My head dipped. 

Monday, December 5, 2011 | Time: 1636

When they came back, I heard reports of a bullet impacting between Shepherd’s legs, a near miss of Debritto, and a .50 cal round that impacted in front of Villalobos, who still has the round. 3rd squad reported lots of close calls, including a dog that Davis shot who almost attacked him. 1 Marine… hit a toe popper who was in front of 3rd squad & will probably lose his foot. 

Later that evening we gathered around a dumpster fire to ward off the encroaching desert chill.

While staring into the flames, Kath spoke about the Marine who got hit. “He wasn’t that far in front of me.” The orange glow washed up and down his face, casting shadows across tensed jaw.

 “Who was it?” I asked. 

“I don’t remember his name. One of the new guys from CAAT.” He paused, shook his head slightly, and let out a light, bewildered chuckle. “But I’ll never forget the sound of his screams.”6

  1. Afghan National Army
  2. 1st platoon. Our company, Golf Company was also called Joker Company
  3. A mobile attachment comprised of MRAPs and a CAAT (Combined Anti Armor Team) element
  4. Center of Command
  5. See posts 49 and 50
  6. Though I’m not one hundred percent certain, I believe his last name was Bailey

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