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Jeff's Afghan Diary: A Day I'd Rather Forget
July 14 , 2007

      Friday the 13th.  Movies have been made about this superstition.  Yesterday almost seemed like the superstition is true – it certainly was a day that seemed to be cursed.

      The day started out bad, and got progressively worse.  First, our HMMWV had engine problems.  We had worked on the engine until late in the night, and were told the truck should make it back to Do China, but the mechanic in Do China would have some work cut out for him later with our truck.  We rolled with it anyway – I could have decided to keep the truck in Waza Khwa for repair, but then I wouldn’t have the truck in Do China, and we really needed it down there, so I decided to drive the truck from Waza Khwa to Do China, despite the problems.

      We were told the day before that a convoy was heading to Do China from Waza Khwa, and we wanted to join it (we don’t go anywhere by ourselves unless we have to – too great a risk; there is strength in numbers).  Our interpreter had quit the day before, so we already had a problem with our mission; I didn’t want to have even more problems.  Still, it would be at least two weeks before another convoy was heading that way, so I said we were going.  We would fix the truck engine after we got there.

      When we rolled out of the front gate, one of my Soldiers accidentally fired off a couple rounds from our machine gun (a very big no-no).  A bad start for our trip!  Fortunately, it didn’t appear he hit anything (machine gun rounds can travel several thousand yards, and still have enough force to kill somebody), so we kept rolling.  I decided I would deal with this later in Do China.

      We rolled along the pitiful roads, making what seemed to be good time.  Our truck engine got worse, though – one time, going uphill, it stalled and took what seemed to be forever to restart.  We kept moving.

      This was not to last long.  The trailer we were hauling behind on of the trucks twisted off and broke the tongue (the part that attaches to the truck mount).  We spent an hour jury-rigging a tow bar to the trailer to pull it the rest of the way to Do China.  More bad luck!  But more was still to come.

      That afternoon, most of the way back to Do China, we hit a mine.  “I just hit a f---ing IED!”  came over the radio from the first truck in the convoy.  Immediately I wondered if anyone was hurt.  “Nobody hurt,” came the reply to my thoughts from the radio.  We started looking at the mountain ridge lines around us for someone to start shooting at us or for someone running away from the scene (usually there is a “spotter” – a person who watches the road to tell the triggerman to detonate the explosives, or the triggerman himself).  Someone saw a motorcycle race away, but it was too far away and too late to take any action.

      We sat there in the desert with the blown-up vehicle, waiting for the EOD (explosive ordinance team) to arrive.  The mine appeared to be an old Soviet-made one, to be used against tanks.  The mine didn’t have much force, so all it did was disable the drive train, rending the vehicle inoperable.  The driver was rather unnerved: he had just returned from being home on leave a couple days ago.  Everyone else was more mad than shaken.

      A couple hours later, the ABP came up in two of their trucks, offering assistance.  I tried communicating with them in my terrible Pashto, and they tried to communicate to me, sometimes in pantomime, sometimes in the little Pashto I understood.  Under other circumstances, it might have appeared comical.  As it was, we were in a stressful situation, and not having an interpreter was a serious liability.  However, I was able to make out enough to understand they thought they knew where the ACM were that buried the mine for us, and were going to investigate.  They took off for a hilltop 12km away.

      Four hour later, they returned with a prisoner.  It was just past sundown, and we took digital photos of their captured enemy.  In one of the ironies of this country, since it was prayer time, the ABP unshackled the prisoner and let him go off to pray at a little distance.  When he was done praying, they handcuffed him and put him back in the truck.  Then they left, asking for us to return to the village with them.  I had to explain as best I could that we could not go; we had to wait in place for our help, which was still enroute.

      After another hour of waiting, we found out that the wrecker that was coming our way with EOD got stuck.  Another group was heading out from Waza Khwa to rescue our rescue team.  Meanwhile, we were to remain in place until assistance arrived, which looked like it was going to be the next morning.  Another night sleeping in a truck, which was something I hated – it’s hard to sleep with your protective armor on, sitting up in uncomfortable HMMWV seats, waiting until you are so exhausted you finally fall asleep in whatever contorted position you happened to fall asleep in.  We sat in our truck, and I tried to grab a few winks.

      A couple hours later we were given permission to move out and go on to Do China.  Although sleepy at this point, I was relieved to think I would be able to sleep in my cot in Do China, instead of our truck.  Soon, we were on our way again, driving in the dark.

      The Army has headlights which can only be seen with night vision glasses, and the 508th had them and used them.  Of course, not being with an infantry unit, we did not.  So we had to use our “white lights” (normal everyday headlights) while everyone else complained about having to drive “black-out” (with IR headlights).

      There was a truck that had gotten stuck in the dirt, which we had to pull out with our truck.  When we pulled them out, we all discovered that the transmission on the other truck had gone out.  So we had to pull them behind us all the way to Do China.  It made for a bumpy ride, for both of us!

      Part way back to Do China, the trailer we had jury-rigged became unstable, and kept dragging behind the truck pulling it.  The 508th’s lieutenant came out of the truck and tried to right the trailer.  I was in the truck just behind them, and saw he needed help, so I left our truck to help him with the trailer.  We pulled on the trailer, pulling down on the tongue (which now was on the rear end of the trailer) to balance the load.  The truck moved slowly ahead to pull the trailer upright.

      Suddenly the trailer swung down backwards, and the tongue we were pulling on came down on my hand.  As the truck slowly moved forward, my hand dragged over a large rock, and a half ton of trailer weight tore into my pinky finger.  I screamed in pain, and was able to pull my hand free, but not before it left a deep gash in the finger and tore off the fingernail.

      I went back to the last truck, bleeding, and found the medic.  He wrapped my finger up with a gause bandage until we could get to Do China and he would look at it further.  In the darkness, even using a headlight, it was hard to see.  Not that I wanted to look at it – it was a big mess, and hurt like hell.

      We finally got to Do China well after midnight, a trip that would normally last six hours.  We limped in towing two of our five HMMWV’s, and my mangled pinky.

      All things considered, it could have been worse.  Nobody was injured in the mine blast, and even the truck itself is salvageable.  We made it to Do China, even if late.  And my finger will heal – I could have lost it entirely, or even lost my whole hand in the accident with the trailer.  And bringing our lame truck proved to be a big help, for without it the 508th wouldn’t have been able to tow their broken-down vehicle.

      Still, it’s a day I’d rather forget.

-- Jeff Courter

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Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of
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, 2005).
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.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.