My tour is about up in this war that most Americans now say is unwinnable or not worth continuing. I agree and have no desire at all to continue making my personal contribution to this military effort. As a good soldier, using the list of seven Army values as a guide, I have done my part to bring security and happiness to the people of Afghanistan, although I don’t really feel like I’ve done much of anything beyond passing the time.
When I asked how things were going this morning, a soldier told me it was slow, since his main task was finding something to do. He did not relish the thought of another day to kill, and my mentioning that we had less than 60 days to go didn’t do much to cheer him. What we’re suffering here is shipping-container fever. The time we have left, combined with the heat and dust and smell of the sewage lagoons, becomes oppressive. Being inside our containers is as dreadful
as being outside them. I’m surprised more of us aren’t going crazier.
Perhaps as a way to mitigate my disappointment in being sent over here, my brother mentioned to me that wars have spawned a lot of good writing. Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway and James Jones are three guys who realized significant success in writing about wars. “Apocalypse Now,” “Full Metal Jacket” and “Saving Private Ryan” strike me as worthy works of art set during wars. I guess it’s all the tragedy, pointlessness, violence, bravery, glory and heroism that make war conducive to storytelling, but when I think about this war, the story that pops into my head is “The Shining.”
Specialist Thompson would be the guy to go insane in my little story, and everyone would know he’d be coming unhinged because his Facebook posts would become stranger and stranger. Maybe he’d take a picture of his lunch each day and post it.
“I had a hamburger today,” he’d write. “But my fries were soggy. Flaccid fries make Specialist Thompson a sad soldier.”
He’d be sent down to the mental health folks, who would give him some happy pills and recommend to his chain of command that the firing pin be removed from his rifle. Thompson would start washing down his happy pills with Listerine. One day he’d finally decide that he’d eaten his last soggy fry, and, in a happy pill haze, he’d take off across Kandahar Airfield and die of thirst. He’d be found propped up in a bunker with an expression of profound boredom on his face.
There may be an American soldier out there on the border with Pakistan fighting hard and living life as if his next breath could be his last, but I don’t think so. If Americans were dying in fierce, savage battles, I’m pretty sure we’d be hearing about it. Deaths on either side always get a story on the Associated Press site. Plus, a friend of mine went up to some remote fort one ridge this side of Pakistan and said the few days he spent up there were the best of the deployment.
The food was good, he said. The cook put seasoning in it and it had flavor. The thin air was clean and clear, and it got chilly as soon as the sun set behind the mountains. There was mild threat of possible violence, but nothing real. To me, it sounded like he hung out on a military dude ranch where the guests get to wear body armor and were issued pistols and M16s with loaded magazines. Now, the place my friend visited is supposedly the most dangerous part of Afghanistan, yet it doesn’t sound too dangerous, does it?
I have a feeling that the truly savage battles are being waged among the American commanders in the conference rooms, on the telephones and over Outlook Express. Don’t get me wrong — Afghanistan is a hostile place, but on the scale of human conflict, this is a silly little exercise costing a mere $500 billion or so and, as of May 16, only 1,959 American lives. The stakes are low here, and so I’m sure the political fights inside the military are especially bitter, which makes Operation Enduring Freedom more of a “Catch-22” kind of war.
Whatever it is, I’m tired of it. Each of us will get an award for serving in Afghanistan, but I will not feel any pride that might come from having done hard work and great things for my country. My satisfaction will come from having been here as ordered and from having made the best of it. And when people ask me what I did during the war, I’m afraid I won’t have much of an answer.
Sgt. Mike used to live in the Colorado Rockies and hopes he will never, ever see Afghanistan again. This marks the final episode in Dateline: Afghanistan.