It was summertime in Afghanistan, although where I was, in the high elevation of Kabul still very comfortable. Comfortable that is if you are comfortable with people blowing themselves up outside the gate to your house, carrying a weapon everywhere you go and that means to bed or dinner and not seeing those you love for what seems like forever.
Driving around Afghanistan in the convoys your mind is thinking a lot of things. You are first and foremost on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary asking yourself, “Is that parked car suspicious? Could there be an IED in it? That pot hole in the road…is it a natural pot hole or an IED trap? Those men in robes..are there AK47’s under their garments? This is where the convoy got hit last week. An American lost his life. Be extra vigilant here.”
My first convoy was from Bagram Airfield to Kabul where I would spend my deployment. As we sped by a parked motorcycle on the side of the road being repaired by an Afghani. He was on my side of the vehicle as we passed and I remember leaning to my left away from him as we passed. Petty Officer Nicholas who had been with me through my training at Fort Jackson and then Kuwait was sitting next to me and started to laugh. He said, ‘Look at White! He’s leaning like that will protect him from an IED. Haha’ I laughed back too. Nichols was a good guy and good friend and although he wouldn’t admit it just as nervous as me. We had only been in country, BOG (Boots on Ground), for about six hours at this point. Over the next couple of months we could become very relaxed on convoys. As for me, I became so relaxed on two separate occasions it could have cost the life of myself and the men in my vehicle but I am getting ahead of myself…
Once I arrived in Afghanistan I met MA2 Bebout and to describe him would take an entire book. To say he was a character would be an understatement and he became such a great friend. He was from Ohio and liked to talk Cleveland Indians baseball and I would talk baseball with anyone, especially on deployment. What a great escape. Bebout became my standard driver for convoys and I became ‘The Shooter’ when we road together. To be candid, ‘Shooter’ is a slang term and we eventually had to change that expression when the Colonel got wind of it. We called the guy in the passenger seat ‘The Shooter’ because, well…if the shit hit the fan…you are the shooter. It seemed like a name that fit to me but the Colonel insisted we change the name for that role. I don’t think it was politically correct in his mind so it was changed to something like ‘Security Detail’ or heck, to be honest I don’t remember because frankly it was still ‘The Shooter’ to the rest of us.
As Bebout and I road the streets of Kabul looking at the primitive buildings, homes built of sheets of wood leaning against another for the walls, trash and streets of mud and dirt, I couldn’t help thinking and verbalizing, ‘Bebout, this city has a 3500 year head start on us and this is the best they could come up with?’ Imagine the poorest third world country you could think of combined with bullet holes in every building.
In true Bebout form he replied without hesitation or even a glance my way, ‘These people say Allah loves them. Fuck that! Come to Ohio on a spring day and I’ll take you fishin’ and I’ll show you who Allah loves!’ Leave it to Bebout to break the routine with humor.
I had been in Afghanistan a few weeks now and my tooth was killing me. The problem was we didn’t have a dentist on our base and that meant a convoy just to go to the dentist. The question I asked myself was, ‘Do I really want to request a convoy just so can get my tooth fixed. By requesting a convoy to a base that there were no scheduled convoys to this would mean at least 3 other men would be involved in my dentist visit. That means three lives at risk to fix my tooth. Because of that I put it off as long as I could and when my tooth shattered at dinner – that was as long as I could.
I walked to my ‘office’ to tell them instead of reporting at 7am for my shift I would need a convoy to go to the dentist. I made my way through the security for the building I worked in and then opened the door. It was 23:30, I asked myself, ‘Why were there so many people here? It’s almost midnight. I normally don’t see this many people here during the day.’ Then I didn’t just see, I observed. These weren’t just people. These were the big shots. The officers and they were here late at night. It was a fast moving pace. Phone calls being made, papers being handed from one to the next and others sitting at the computer typing away. Something was up, I knew that for sure and I also knew now wasn’t the time to talk about my tooth.
I grabbed a chair at the back of the room and just sat down. As an enlisted guy walked by I had to ask, ‘Dude, what is going on?’ He motioned to the tv screen and said, ‘Someones about to get schwaked….’ We had television screens all around our ‘office’. There were at least 8 of them and one would normally have a news channel and the other 7 were reserved for live video feeds from unmanned aircraft aka Predators. We referred to this affectionately as ‘Pred Porn’. The ‘Pred Porn’ on all 7 screens that night was a single house somewhere in Afghanistan. I saw a car pull up in real time and two men get out and walk into the house. Whatever reason caused them to stop by that house that day cost them their life. Then I saw two others walk out of the house. I don’t know why. Maybe they had to smoke a cigarette or just wanted fresh air. Whatever the reason it saved their life. People were coming and going from this house.
It was perhaps the most surreal experience of my life. As I watched the screen I became very conscious of my breathing because I knew in a very short time these men would not be breathing.
‘3 minutes out’ was shooted by an officer holding a phone. He was giving us the real time update until the missiles hit this house
I was thinking, ‘These men are in the last 3 minutes of their life and they have absolutely no idea. In 3 minutes they will be dead and I will then turn in my report for the dentist, still alive’
’90 seconds out’
Now I was becoming conscious of my heart and the nervous laughter in my room. I wondered if there was laughter in that house right now…
’30 seconds out’
A guy walks in our room and was greeted, I wondered if someone was being greeted in that house right now….
The missile strikes began and the next few minutes are ones I will never forget if I live to be 100…