Just a Tuesday night in Afghanistan

I’m not sure how to explain what I’m feeling anymore. The days are so long yet I looked down at my watch today and realized we are almost in May. The things I’m seeing and experiencing here are completely different from anything I have ever encountered before. I’m in the field a lot, heading out to places at the village level to work with guys who spend every day knowing someone could easily walk up to their forward operating base and blow it up.

I was down south last week in Kandahar when a rocket landed 10 meters behind my bunk. As I hit the floor I heard two more land and realized that fear has settled in me, and is constantly there.

I realized I’m no hero. I’m not like these Special Forces guys.

The fear is always there. You really don’t pay attention to it, you try to ignore it, but it’s there and it doesn’t leave. It keeps you sharp. It causes me to hit the floor faster than any drill I’ve ever done. I don’t even have time to reflect on it because it’s off to another mission the next day. I’m assuming that catches up to you eventually. You can only run away from things for so long.

The people here are amazing. They watch out for me, they care about me. It’s such a small, tight-knit group that I’m surprised they actually let me in, but they did. They watch out for me when I clumsily fumble through missions, time after time. I imagine they chuckle, shake their heads and think to themselves, “Darn female reservist.” But they don’t and I love them for that. They are all fantastic. They teach me along the way and I’m amazed as I watch them.

They are such a humble group of “quiet professionals.” Some are on their 9th deployment, some are on their second marriages, and some are on their first divorce. One of the guys left today; he went back to the states after his year long tour, and it was like a kick in the teeth. Though I have only known him for about a month or two, I realize that we’ve connected.  You become close out here working 16 hours a day, constantly together and depending on one another. He looked out for me. Hopefully the new guys are just as good as the guys who are leaving.

I was at a location two weeks ago, sitting by a fire one night, when a Sergeant Major sat down and started talking to me. He told me about his three marriages, his two kids that he loves more than life, and his constant deployments. I asked why he was still doing it, mostly wondering because of all the crap he had been through, so many of his friends being killed. He looked at me rather surprisingly and said, “I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.”

Saturday I met a soldier, who was amazingly both a medic and a sniper, who treated a three-year-old baby who “accidentally” fell into a pot of boiling water, burning 80% of his body. Later he told me it was his father who did it. “It’s how they punish their children,” he said.

What do you do with that?

As I watched this three-year-old drugged up on morphine, crying his eyes out as they tried to clean his wounds, I couldn’t help feeling a mix of anger and sadness.  After snapping numerous photos to document the treatment, I felt myself become a little despondent.  There is really nothing we can do about it. I’ve never seen a place like this. I often wonder if I’m making a difference and sometimes it dawns on me that I might not be.

This week I’ll be heading to a memorial service for one of our guys and as the fighting begins to pick up, I just hope and pray that God will watch over all of us and get us all home safely.