A Soldier’s Life
Sometimes, you just get this feeling. Nothing too magical about it. The sub-conscious mind processes information faster than the conscious mind can be aware.
Previous briefings about areas of historical direct fire contact with the enemy (yours or other unit got shot at there before), normal patterns of life are not visible (it is quiet… too quiet), or you just found something that is usually over-watched by the enemy, like a command wire IED.
And you just have this feeling, we are about to be shot at.
A few seconds later the air starts to pop and snap. It is like someone is setting off little fire crackers all around your head. They are the bullets pushing their way through the air. The biggest frustration is that they arrive before the sound of the rifle that is shooting at you. It is disorienting. They could be shooting at us from any direction by the sound, but I know that they are shooting at us from a house to our North West. They have shot from there before.
I call up a hurried “Troops in Contact” and when I let off the receiver, I hear my radio crackle with a desperate sounding voice. “This is (call sign) WE ARE PINNED DOWN!” That is my other team on the far side of the road. They are outside of eyesight and behind trees and bushes. There is no way they are in the same contact we are. It is a complex ambush. Both of our elements are being hit at the same time. It is confusing and that is exactly how ambushes are suppose to be. Both of our elements will be completely on our own for the next few minutes.
I hear the trucks asking for a direction for the contact. They are heavily armored vehicles with large caliber guns in the turrets. It would be nice to have them but the “roads” in afghanistan are often only passible to walking or a motorcycle. Our vehicles can be lumbering beasts that can rarely navigate the slender and harrowing roads, but they are hoping they will be able to get to us. There is little to no chance.
Talking on the radio under fire goes one of two ways. Either you sound like a raving lunatic, or you sound like a man calmly ordering the same pizza he has ordered the last six nights in a row. It takes practice and training to
sound like the latter, and it is very important. I talk painfully slow, like the words are molasses on a winter day. Although that is how I am trying to talk, I know that the words are coming out fast. It is the adrenaline you both have to fight and that you have to use as a tool.
“This is (my Call Sign), I am taking fire from Vicinitym, the Kalot (house) 200 meters to my North West, attempting to make P.I.D. (positive identification) time now.” Unlike the two ANA that I have already stopped from firing into the air or randomly shooting, American soldiers MUST know and be accountable for every round they fire. We have to know exactly where it hit. But like today, it can be hard to see where the heck the guy that is trying to kill you is. And that guy is only going to stop if you shoot back.
A few moments before we took contact, my Grenadier was having the same feeling that I was. He carries an M320 40mm grenade launcher with High Explosive Rounds. He always has one at the ready. He stopped me and told me, “Sergeant, if we take fire from that direction does that field look clear?”
Afghanistan is a deceptive country filled with all kinds of nooks and crannies that a civilian could be hiding in. Even though the soldier is talking about what his actions will be when someone starts trying to kill us, his other top priority is Civilian Casualties. I check it out, it looks good to me. I don’t see any roads or culverts. It looks like a safe place to fire.
I never told that soldier to fire, I told him 18 months ago when we were training for this deployment. We talked about it a few times since. And even though this is the first time he has ever actually been shot at, he has played this situation out in his head a hundred times. I saw the dust kick up in that field after the first three snaps of automatic gun fire came at our location. And a very pleasant ‘boom’ that helped to keep those, who wished to do us harm, heads down.
The Forward Observer with me says he is working on a Grid (Map Location) for the Kalot and will call it up as soon as he has it. He will have it in a few seconds. With that simple 8 digit number and a radio we could completely level that Kalot. We could hit it with Mortars, we could hit it with Hellfire Missiles, and we could hit it with 600 pound bombs dropped from aircraft. It is something we have the power to do, but it is not something that we have the power to UNDO the consequences of. We still have not determined where exactly inside the building the fire is coming from.
My SAW gunner has let out two belches from his M249. He is the Squad Automatic Weapons Gunner and he shoot a machine gun that is belt feed. His weapon system could let loose all 1000 rounds he carries in minutes. So he has to be disciplined or he could find himself carrying around a 24 pound paper weight that has no ammo.
“What do you got?!” I scream at him very calmly. He points at the Kalot and tries to calmly give directions. “I don’t see any shooters but it is definitely that Kalot, I am shooting at the large burm on the south end of that Kalot.”
I got it. He has picked a safe target. His rounds won’t go through. He just wants to make sure that he has returned fire. That we have told those that are shooting at us that we desperately want to shoot them back. It is important to gain fire superiority in the first few seconds.
And that is all that has passed so far. Five or Ten seconds. Both the team that I am with, the team on the other side of the road, and even the vehicles will be in contact for almost twenty minutes. This is only the first five or ten seconds. I am just telling the beginning… and the end.
In the end, no U.S. soldiers or the ANA are injured. The trucks did find a way to get there. The enemy was well hidden in that Kalot, and also hiding were the elderly owner, two women and three children. None of whom were injured thanks to the discipline of American Troops. Bloody rags were found, and an intelligence report that one of the enemy team leaders had been killed.
We could have killed more, but at what cost? I can’t tell them now, but I hope to tell them later. I am so proud of the boys in my squad. Not for the skill they have to kill, which they do and I am pretty proud of that too, but the control they have to PROTECT LIFE with a gun. It is a hard job we ask of young men, and it is very difficult to do well.
We here at SteveDeace.com typically do not publish content from anonymous authors, but given the subject matter we thought it best for the author of this series to remain concealed.