We got the word to move out, down to a little place called Doa China, somewhere close to the Pakistan border, where we will work with the Afghan Border Police (ABP). While we are there, we will replace a Military Police (MP) unit which has been there for the past month. We will assume responsibility for FOB security until another unit arrives to take control of the firebase.
Things have a way of happening quickly when they happen - two days ago, we were waiting around with little but time on our hands. Now we have embarked within a few hours, after having been given the word to move. Little preparation time, and no time to let families know we won’t be able to contact them for a couple weeks: Doa China has no Internet access at all, no phones, and no mail. It’s the middle of nowhere as far as modern communications is concerned. I gave my wife one of the shortest phone calls we have had yet to tell her, “No news is good news; if you don’t hear from me, don’t worry, I’ll call you again as soon as I can.” I have heard we should be back in Waza Khwa in two weeks, so I will be able to talk to her then. I tell her all of this as fast as I can before we head out.
Packing on short notice is a bit of an art. We each have four duffel bags full of stuff, half of which we don’t need but were issued anyway, so we have to drag it around Afghanistan with us. The other half is either essential or possibly useful, but may not be needed, but we’d better bring it along anyway, just in case. I cram this stuff into two backpacks: clean socks (most essential), a clean uniform, some underwear, shaving kit, medications, cold weather gear (it still gets cold in March, especially in the nighttime), sleeping bag, weapons, and all the ammunition I have. We will be our own security force, so each of us has to take a lot of ammo.
It’s hard to believe we have been given this mission of FOB security - this is the job of “big Army” to take care of their bases. We will be replacing an MP platoon of about 20 Soldiers with less than half their number. I raised my objections to this to our Officer in Charge, but was overruled. Fortunately for us, we will have a couple extra Soldiers coming with us - one is a medic who volunteered to come, knowing we don’t have any medical personnel on our team. The other is with Army Intelligence, and will gather information on the ABP police in Doa China, things like names, rank, assignments, etc. These two extras will help our total strength.
A note about “Doc” (in the military, it’s common to call enlisted medical personnel “Doc”): he’s been to Iraq twice, and volunteered to take this assignment in Afghanistan. He was asked to come with our original team from Illinois, so having him with us is like having family. Besides his medical knowledge, he’s very handy - he is a bit of an electrician and plumber, and also knows his way around auto engines. A very useful person to have!
I am concerned about how so few of us will be able to hold down a FOB if we are attacked. We don’t know anything about Doa China, whether it’s relatively quiet or if Taliban activity has been heating up. The Taliban have been promising a major offensive push this spring, and our small group will be hard pressed to fight off any large numbers if we are attacked. In addition, we don’t know anything about the area, the terrain, the population, or our support. I am assured by our OIC that we were promised air support for any emergencies we may have. This partially allays some of my concerns.
After a couple hours to load up our gear, we are off on our way. To help augment our number for FOB defense, we have gained the assistance of a few Afghan National Army Soldiers, who are traveling with us. They will help us watch for any enemy activity, and will fight with us if we are attacked. We have only recently met them, and yet they are ready to help us. Their readiness and willingness to go with us is both encouraging and a bit surprising. Unfortunately, I have met too many U.S. soldiers who do not share this attitude, who seem more preoccupied with their own comfort than with their mission.
Like Abraham, off we go to another strange place, unfamiliar with the route, not knowing what lies ahead. I tell my teammates, “Get ready for some real exciting adventure!” I hope it doesn’t get too exciting for us to handle!
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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.