Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Doing the Math

Today began like every other day in this vacation spot known as Afghanistan. My alarm went off, like normal. I hit snooze, like normal. It screamed at me again, like normal. I turned it off, like normal. And like normal, I rolled over to take a few well earned moments as I slowly made the transition from hating my alarm clock to laying there a little too long and on into actually being awake. It was just about this point in my day, roughly 2 minutes old at the time, that "normal" took a detour.

As I lay there, almost waking up, with the morning light breaking into my window, something exploded. If "freaking" was a measurement of explosive force, then this was a "freaking" huge explosion. I've been told from my childhood that you can't think two things at once. That's not true and if Mr. Crawford, my 8th grade science teacher were here, I'd tell him so. Because no sooner had whatever it was blown up, I had two simultaneous thoughts. The first was, "I should probably go outside and see what that was." The second was, "I think I'll wait a few moments and see what happens." I didn't even have time to ponder the pros and cons of either of those thoughts. The die was cast and the decision made for me. As I prepared to think about it the siren sounded.

The siren on our FOB is designed to wake the dead. It is, without a doubt, the most annoying sound in the known universe and indicates that everyone on the FOB should find a hardened facility or bunker in which to take cover and wait for the "ALL CLEAR" as something else will probably blow up soon. This is where all of creation smiled on me. As it happens, my quarters are IN just such a building so I decided the best course of action would be to attempt to regain the moments of sleep lost since the "freaking" explosion. That's when the "Big Giant Voice" cut into my pending slumber. It spoke very loud and very clear and in code indicated that in very short order there would be a large number of casualties arriving at the Combat Surgical Hospital on our FOB. Siren or no siren, that's my cue and I knew where I needed to be.

The explosion I had heard moments before was what is commonly known as a VBIED (we pronounce it vee-bid) or Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device. It is essentially a guided missile on wheels. A car or truck laden with copious amounts of some kind of explosive material and driven by nothing short of a mad-man drove up to the Vehicle Control Point (VCP) and detonated happily taking the driver with it. The set up of the control point is to ensure people like those don't get through while others do. In fact, there are two such points to pass through to make it even harder. The first is manned by the KPF or Khowst Provincial Force. They are the local security guys and they do a very good job. So Mr. Maniac drove as far as he could and was quickly introduced to his maker. The down side is that the point at which he decided to do that was not deserted.

There are many local Afghani workers that come to our FOB to work each day providing all manner of services and in return they are paid a living wage and provide for their families. To ensure nut jobs like our driver friend don't slip in unnoticed each worker is checked each day as they walk through the gate. At peak hours that can mean a bunch of people standing in line waiting to get checked. Enter Brother Bomber. Naturally, he wanted to cause as many problems as he could and it just didn't matter who was around and when he did what he came to do, he did it in the area the locals were standing.

Back to the Big Giant Voice. As soon as I heard it, I knew I needed to be at the CSH. So I got dressed and headed over there to provide religious support for whomever might need it. Once there I saw a nightmarish carnival of mayhem. Most of the victims were ambulatory and being treated outside, some were inside on gurneys and operating tables, all of them were Afghani. That changed things a bit. Not because I don't have compassion for the hurting but because I had to change the way I approach ministry so as not to appear to be proselytizing. So I followed a particularly harried doctor into a side room to see if I could help.

Inside I saw a nurse and the doctor standing over a man lying unconscious on a stretcher. The man was on his back with one foot resting between his knees. It had been blown off of his leg about midway between the ankle and the knee. The doctor took out a tourniquet and was going to apply it while trying to do a thousand other things. So I helped put it on. The odd thing was that despite having no foot there was almost no bleeding and didn't appear to be a need for a tourniquet. Also, the leg was not just cool, it was almost cold. If I didn't see the man was alive I'd assume he was dead because of the temperature of his severed leg. Still, I'm not a doctor so I just did what I needed to do while trying to stay out of the way. Wouldn't you know it, the Voice cut in again.

This time the Voice told us that bad people were trying to breach the perimeter of our FOB. When that happens we are supposed to don our body armor, get accountability of your people, and seek shelter. Well it just so happens that the CSH is not located anywhere near where I store my body armor so I decided I should make haste and retrieve it. Eventually, I made it to the TOC where I could monitor, in safety, all that was going on outside. As I sat and watched, reports began to roll in as to the details of the attack and its aftermath. In the end, 7 civilians were killed, 19 were wounded, and an additional 2 KPF soldiers were also wounded. So let's do the math. Out of 28 people killed or wounded, 26 of them were unarmed civilians waiting in line to provide for their families.

Three lessons come out of this that I truly hope my readers will take away and share with others.
  • First, the KPF checkpoint did exactly what they had designed it to do. They stopped a suicidal jerkwad from reaching into the heart of our FOB and harming American men and women. Because they planned and executed that plan properly, I don't have to do a memorial service later this week. It was a victory for the Government of Afghanistan and it's security forces and a defeat for the impish Taliban.
  • Second, the people attacked by the quality folks that make up the Taliban were UNARMED CIVILIANS. They posed no threat to anyone. They had families and dreams and feet. But not any more. Because cowardice can drive.
  • Third, the medical personnel of the US Armed Forces are amazing. They did everything they could to assist hurting people regardless of race, religion, or nationality.
Today I was a witness and not much of a player. And what I witnessed could curdle milk. Still, I know I'm in the right place doing what I was called to do. It can be very satisfying.

Still, I can't wait to go home.


Carolyn said...

Thank you for being there and supporting our troops...and all those with whom you come in contact. Reading your account makes the war real, as opposed to just something that I see on the news or read in the paper. Prayers are continuing for you and for our troops.

Anonymous said...

May God bless you and keep you safe. Thank you for your service to our country and to the people of the world, regardless of color, nationality, or religion. You may be the only bible they ever encounter. Well done, good and faithful servant.

Cape Cod

Beth Pritchard said...

So, do you think you'd ever get a chance to go out to Justin's COP and preach....maybe even on this? I'm sure the guys there would love to have you (as it sort of seems that Justin is not only the commander but bible study leader as well).
Thanks for this post!

Lisa said...

Thank you for being a true American hero and telling this story! Maybe those who need to hear the truth will do so by these words. Stay safe please <3

We love you,
Lisa Lewis & Family

Cami said...

So great to hear details regarding what I pray over every day...thanks for sharing, Brad. God bless you and all our troops. I'm glad to know the American spirit is still at work, too, especially now.

Faith Imagined said...

I am speechless! What an amazing work you are doing!!! I can't wait to read more!