Blog 12E. Senjeray PID RPG…the busy day continues (Still Irish’s mission)
……“Shakedown this is the FOB (Forward Operating Base Senjeray), wait out.”
“Contact FAM (Fighting Aged male) with one times RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) and AK47 (assault rifle).” Prof called excitedly over the radio. His helicopter closed in from the higher orbit onto the potentially lethal target. Was is a single RPG shooter? Where was his support team. There could be others in the immediate area with AK47s to join into the attack against the Chinook as it departed. Those insurgents would be deeper into the green zone a few hundred meters; covertly hiding and ready to attack. They usually ambushed in multiple teams from different locations all focusing their fires onto the airborne target. Like a fly into the spider’s web, everywhere you turned there would be more havoc to get tangled into. Prof’s crew would make himself vulnerable in order to defend the chinook. As we teamed into battle formation, we became much more lethal, accepting certain risks to get our gunners into optimum position to defend – or attack.
The FAM was now partially hidden from the FOB under some trees in a cut-out in the wall. His RPG could be seen moving but he didn’t seemed to be aiming it. It went from over shoulder to under shoulder. Then held, then disappeared as he leered from behind the concrete hard, thick compound. The shape of the warhead on the tip occasionally emerging.
“I’m tracking him with my gun…if he pulls any shit, he’s done.” Snapshot called. “Can we get in lower?”
‘Roger that, coming in behind Prof! Cover his ass and watch that green zone for support shooters!” I yelled over the intercom. I was concerned about what we couldn’t see. I then pressed my radio foot switch to talk to Prof on the radio. “Professor you got him?”
“Roger, I got him.” Prof answered. His voice alert and focused. The target had bunker like walls all around him. It was an ideal place to shoot from and stay somewhat concealed.
“Standby, he is still not a legal target, I am coordinating through the FOB. It will be your shot, I’m on high cover dropping into your trail.” I further answered. I looked out to the Chinook on the ground in the FOB. The last passengers were loaded. He would be lifting right into that ambush. I had to warn him.
“Blowtorch, this is Shakedown. Stay on the ground. Possible RPG threat to your south east.” I called to Butch. “Man with RPG about 250 meters on your nose in a compound.”
Prof interrupted with a report. “I’m in position to fire….He seems to be hiding behind the wall – He looks suspicious – spying.”
“Check that, standby.” I answered. I had to get more intelligence. I hoped the FOB had a sniper also viewing. I may have to call him onto the target or smoke it to mark it. For identification – but time was fleeting.
“Shakedown 25, this is Blowtorch. We are ready to lift. Holding position. Holding position.” Butch’s voice answered.
He wanted out. He had to stay for the time being. It became a time crunch from his perspective. The longer he sat there, the more likely he would draw indirect enemy mortar fire into the FOB. But if he departed right now, he could be flying into an ambush. The Chinook had enough power to depart the opposite direction – it was an option but because of the semi-overt presentation of the RPG holder, it could be a decoy trying to encourage the Chinook to fly into another direction for a possible ambush. All these defensive options racing through Butch’s mind – yet inevitably, if he delayed much longer, the mortars would definitely come.
“Roger that Butch. Standby. We’re in firing position. FOB also investigating….standby!” I cautioned him. I could feel his impatience. Everyone’s vigilance was heightened. It could be felt and heard in the tone of voice. We reversed course, aggressively following Prof about 200 feet over the ground. The gunner’s both intently scanning the RPG man and the surrounding wadi and compounds for any other unusual activity or persons with weapons. I looked over to the higher terrain to the northside of the FOB. It seemed normal, I hoped.
Both of our griffons were now ready at any moment to release weapons onto the target should he shoulder the RPG. The man with the RPG moved behind the wall, then in front. Was he trying to avoid our griffons? He held his RPG but not in a firing posture; yet. Snapshot was ready within a second. If the man shouldered and aimed the weapons towards the chinook, Snapshot was ready to open fire. Target was in his sites. He was ready.
“Shakedowns, this is Senjeray. Do Nawt Fire! Do nawt fire! He’s an ANA soldier! He is friendly!” An American accent announced over the radio. “The son-of-a-bitch was layt for his guard duty that’s why he was running and not properly dressed. That’s his normal position.” He continued.
“Wholly shit! Check fire Snapshot.” I yelled over the intercom then replied on the radio: “Roger that –visual friendly – visual friendly.”
“Stand down Prof! Stand down gunners! ANA soldier – friendly. Resume normal orbit.” I advised.
“Roger it’s a friendly. Check that.” Prof answered to me. He was pissed off. He continued onto the other radio. “FOB Senjeray this is 26, you tell that son of a bitch he almost got his ass shot off – 26 Out!”
“Rawger that Shakedown 26.” The American accent answered, “We gawt this.” There would be a debrief to the ANA security team.
“Check it’s friendly.” Snapshot stated and raised his gun level.
“Okay, We are outta here! Lifting in 15 seconds eastbound.” Butch’s voice announced in relief from his Chinook. He had had enough time sitting on the ground being a potential mortar magnet. The dust began to erupt around him as the Chinook started lifting. Our two griffons aggressively split apart and circled around to the flanks and rear of the departing heavy helicopter; protecting his flight path.
“Well that would have been a bit of paper work sir?” Zorg added sarcastically. He was proud of his calm, yet cheeky retort.
I looked at Irish and shook my head in disbelief. He looked relieved as he sank into his pillow seat about an inch. He let out a nervous chuckle towards me; laughing at me as my eyes were bigger than my head.
Our crew continued to laugh at the ridiculous intensity and bantered about the possible comical outcomes while finishing our morning escort missions.
“…Achmed has 50 holes in him. Why? He was late! The rest of you guards take note.”
“…Guards, how many times do I have to say, don’t take your RPG home at night after work!”
It had been a long day. Six continuous flying hours since first starting, we finally walked into operations for our debriefing with Scrappy.
He looked at our frazzled team of Shakedown 25 Flight. It had been a few weeks since first arriving. In his opinion, we needed to maintain vigilance but also except the realities that existed here. Scrappy needed to put some perspective on it.
“So in summary, you flew in a war zone, had the potential to get shot in a mortar attack, saw a medieval stoning that we were all briefed could be part of our experience here; and almost perforated an ANA soldier?” Scrappy sternly lectured our physically and emotionally drained crowd.
“Yup, pretty much!” Professor stated matter of factly as he looked at me then spit chew tobacco in his cup.
“This is my second time here. This is normal. And you did a good job…you didn’t get killed and you didn’t kill a good-guy.” Scrappy summed, paused, then curtly and left the room.
There was no discussion. No sympathy. Just an acceptance of the way life was in Afghanistan. All these events affected everyone. We can accept shooting, being shot at, mortars and rockets landing around us…but the stoning? It affected everyone. Those people weren’t even the threat but the act of stoning a young girl was deplorable. Or is it deplorable for me to judge the judgers? Some things just never sit right.
“Why the fuck are we here if we can’t help the innocent?” I heard Zorg quietly mention to Hawk. “And these are the people we are liberating from the Taliban?”
I looked over and saw Hawk shrug as he glanced at me. I was stoic. I got up to leave the room. I paused and looked back at the other seven.
“Irish! Your mission was well planned and the timings worked out flawlessly! Well, for awhile anyway.” I smiled. “Good job!” I stated in front of the team and departed. He was happy to be acknowledged but there were more significant things being processed in his mind than the exactness of a complex planning sheet.
In operations, Grumpy’s team had just come back from their mission towards Helmand Province. Helmand was one of the most brutal areas in Southern Afghanistan. The Brits were losing soldiers weekly just like the Canadians and Americans were losing people here in Panjwai. We had similar grim expressions on our faces.
“How’d it go?” I asked recognizing a look of exhaustion on his face.
“Let’s see.” He looked up reflecting on his day. “Craters, TICS, burning vehicles, arguing with copilot, suicide bombers, TICS, medevacs, IEDs.”
“Huh. Pretty standard day I guess.” I said.
“I heard you saw a stoning. It’s medieval times! I guess that’s pretty normal for this place.” He summarized twisting his face. He held his arm up at a vertical angle about the elbow. He had enough bullshit for the day – not from his colleagues, but from the mission.
I nodded. “I heard you got called to a TIC?” I enquired.
“Yup, but the Taliban put down their RPGs and picked up shovels by the time we got there.” Grumpy shook his head. “Can’t kill a sand farmer can I?”
“SNAFU?” I asked.
“Yup.” Grumpy smirked, turned and walked away. “SNAFU.”
(Situation Normal – All Fucked Up!)
So much shit happens in a day here, that it takes a long time to reflect, contemplate and try to organize it into something that makes sense; even if it isn’t acceptable or understandable from a western cultural perspective. Some will never make sense of it and it will linger. Even as I write and edit this a dozen times over the past 4 years, new revelations still come to me.