Nuristan Province rests in the Hindu Kush mountains of Northeastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan Border. It borders with Badakshan Province to the north and sits a relatively short distance below the narrow strip of land that juts into Pakistan known as the Wakhan (Your Mom’s) Corridor. Kunar Province sits to its immediate south. Translated as “Land of Light,” Nuristan is inhabited by, wait for it...Nuristanis. They speak their own language (literally took us months to get a translator despite being the second maneuver unit to occupy the battle space) and do not observe many of the more well-known Islamic traditions such as women covering their faces or not entering one another’s homes without express permission. This is due largely to the fact that until about 100 years ago, Nuristanis largely practiced Buddhism until they were conquered by force and “encouraged” to convert to Islam. It was in this restive province with the Cavalrymen of the 1st Squadron (Airborne), 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team that this story took place.
It was sometime in midsummer 2007. I had recently been promoted to Sergeant First Class and therefore took my place amongst the poor, vanquished, and underappreciated staff monkeys in my Squadron’s Tactical Operations Center (TOC). My position was that of Battle Captain which encompassed a myriad of responsibilities; none more important than delivering assets to troops in contact or the request and coordination of MEDEVAC support for our wounded. For anyone that has never seen the inside of a Squadron or Battalion level TOC, picture those rooms with all the high tech equipment those government spooks are always occupying whenever they attempt to track down and kill Jason Bourne. Yes, picture exactly that but take away all of that high tech stuff and add lots of scotch tape and a coffee maker. Also, in the case of our TOC, add one high-speed hamster cage (thank you, Amazon).
The hamster cage was the dwelling of a feral mouse someone had caught on our FOB and immediately put into an empty fish aquarium. They then proceeded to catch things like scorpions and camel spiders which they would drop into the aquarium and place bets on how long the mouse would live. Looking back, I wish those “Coexist” stickers were trendy as that would have not only been funny, but would also have ironically demonstrated the pipe dream that is coexistence amongst creatures that just want to kill you. The mouse surprisingly beat all odds and killed everything that dared invade his homestead. In laymen’s terms, he was a bad motherfucker. He was shortly thereafter brought to the TOC and given to us as a pet. We promptly named him “Moose” to pay homage to all of his feats of strength and valor. We immediately ordered a very nice cage with a wheel and tunnels and all that shit. We even ordered him one of those balls so he could run around the TOC at will. On the plywood wall directly above and behind the cage, one of our more talented Paratroopers painted “Moose’s House of Pain” in blue with red “blood” dripping from the letters. The photos below are of the plywood wall along with his original aquarium; followed by one of Moose enjoying the spoils of war...
In August of 2008, after 15 months in that place, a few hours before we boarded helicopters out of there, we set Moose free and promptly destroyed his cage so that it could not fall into the hands of the enemy.
We set him free for two reasons:
- He had earned his freedom and it was the right thing to do.
- The unit that replaced us was full of pussies that complained about us breaking the rules about having pets. They were not worthy of being in his presence and I’m confident that eventually he would have killed all of them.
Moose was a shining example of the badassery displayed by both the critter and animal populations of Afghanistan. Sometimes late at night, I picture him attacking the jugular of a lone Taliban fighter under a full moon in the cold, dead mountains of the Hindu Kush. But I digress…
“No fucking way...is that a fucking Panda?! What the fuck?!”
is loosely what I remember everyone in the TOC exclaiming as we peered into the rover feed being broadcast to us from an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle circling our Area of Operations. The UAV was in our battle space due to a platoon of our troops coming into small arms contact with a small element of insurgents. We requested Close Air Support so Brigade unhesitatingly sent us a UAV. Not only a UAV, but the Army’s “Warrior Alpha” model. To anyone not familiar, the Warrior Alpha looks exactly like the Air Force Predator. There’s really only two differences:
- It’s completely unarmed making it useless in all but the most blissful of situations.
- Despite it being an Army platform, it doesn’t display the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) which is what the Army uses for land navigation. Nah...it displays Latitude/Longitude like it just got catapulted off a fucking aircraft carrier.
So not only is it incapable of killing the enemy, you can’t even tell where the fuck the enemy is located. Thanks a pantload, Rumsfeld. All you can do is watch them engage your fellow meat eaters all the while wishing you could do something aside from throwing another bag of popcorn in the microwave. It’s damn near impossible to open one of those with your fingers crossed, too. Don’t believe me; give it a try...I’ll wait.
We made repeated requests up the chain for Apache Helicopter Gunship support but at the time, they were all based out of Bagram and grounded due to weather. However, this skeptic suspects that it was double coupon day at Burger King which means wall to wall “quiff” in there. No fucking way an aviator is going to miss that opportunity. But while it may have pissed me off at that moment, damn do I respect the hell out of them for taking a break from the war effort to enjoy the company of some young, hot, 9.
Note: a “Hot 9” in Afghanistan is about a Stateside 2.5 - 3. Tops.
We continued to watch this small group of fighters rain down plunging fire on our troops and we literally couldn’t do a thing about it. Fucking Burger King, man. The only good thing was that there didn’t appear to be any enemy elements attempting to maneuver on their flanks. Within the next few minutes, Brigade called me and said they’d coordinated for “Dude” to come up and lend us a hand. Dude was the callsign used by the Squadron of F-15 fighter/bombers stationed in Afghanistan. They’d be coming all the way up from Kandahar due to the “weather issue” in Bagram so it would take them an extra 10-15 minutes to arrive on station. Apparently, double coupon day at Kandahar is on Wednesdays.
About 10 minutes later, Dude 2-1 and Dude 2-2 checked in with our Air Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller. A J-TAC is an Air Force NCO assigned to ground elements and his job is to conduct air/ground integration with fixed-wing aircraft in order to select the best possible way to fill people’s living rooms with shrapnel that says “Lockheed-Martin.” Despite the fact that they’re in the Air Force, they are awesome dudes and great to have in your corner when the chips are down. You want to know how cool they are? They wear Army uniforms and no one gives a fuck. They know that Air Force uniform looks totally gay so they just wear whatever the hell they want. I love those dudes. So the J-TAC read them on and they headed north to unleash some pain. They planned to drop one GBU-31 J-DAM (Guided Bomb Unit-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition) and follow it up with one MK-82 Airburst. A J-DAM is literally an old “dumb” bomb retro-fitted with a guidance system (reduce, recycle, reuse) and the 31 version contains 1,000 pounds of High Explosives. The MK-82 is also guided and contains 500 pounds of HE. However, it uses a proximity fuze which allows it to detonate while it’s still in the air. Total show-stopper. Needless to say, those insurgents were about to get their teeth turned into Chicklets.
As Dude made his way north, we began to use that worthless UAV to conduct a Collateral Damage Estimate. A CDE must be conducted prior to an aircraft being cleared “hot” onto a target. Basically, you make sure there are no civilians or occupied structures within the radius of the blast. If there are, you have to decide if “the juice is worth the squeeze” should you clear the aircraft to drop ordinance. The presence of a lone civilian will prevent a call of “weapon away” (and rightfully so in my humble opinion) but you can play a little fast and loose with structures. The UAV was observing the area with FLIR which detects heat signatures. In addition, the FLIR was set to White Hot meaning that any heat signature would show as white with a contrasting black background. Can you guess what Black Hot does? As the operator conducted an ever-widening “racetrack” around the target area, we saw it.
It was about 50-75 meters away from the little group of douchebags who were arrayed to the left and right of a PKM machine gunner; well within the blast radius. It was just an indistinguishable white blob as far as we could tell but it was moving. It also appeared to be quite large. The feed wasn’t the best and as the operator (who by the way was in a trailer in Vegas, getting combat pay and no doubt later complaining about PTSD) tried to adjust the contrast, Dude 2-1 checked in and confirmed that he had positively identified our troops as well as the enemy fighters and that he was computing a solution. I don’t know what “computing a solution” entails but it sounds way cooler than “This is Dude 2-1...friendly and enemy positions confirmed...doing math. Over.” Meanwhile, we were all peering and squinting at the monitor trying to identify that giant moving blob. Someone suggested (seriously) that we should look at the monitor through binoculars theorizing that we’d get more “magnification” that way. This was quickly dismissed by both blank stares and less than encouraging words. Suddenly, the blob got taller as Dude 2-1 radioed “Weapon Ready,” meaning that the pilots were ready to administer some hot, smoking, freedom. This thing was now twice the size it was before and it was repeatedly moving up and down like a big white blob doing squats. The J-TAC advised Dude 2-1 that we were still conducting CDE and unable to identify this white blob we were seeing. He advised that he would try to find it and identify it as well. He never found it which was a bit disconcerting since he was a “pickle switch” away from dropping 1,500 pounds of explosives in proximity of friendly troops. Obviously we didn’t want to drop ordinance on any of our guys; except for maybe Tim...that guy was a dick. The UAV operator (did I mention he was in Vegas?) relayed that he was going to switch to Daysight which might help us identify it. Daysight is like looking through binoculars that have been taking steroids and won’t shut the fuck up about Crossfit. If daysight was a guy, he’d be named Brett and smell of Axe body spray.
The Daysight feed came up and after a few seconds of contrast and focus adjustments by Vegas Boy, it was as clear as could be. It was a fucking Panda Bear. In fact, it was a Panda Bear standing upright against a tree, moving up and down using it to scratch its back. I know what you’re thinking: “There aren’t Pandas in Afghanistan!” I know you’re thinking that because that day, observing that feed, and despite the fact that we were looking at it, we were all thinking (and many of us even voiced it) the same thing. We then conducted a level of CDE that I never in a million years would have anticipated. We checked Google to see if Pandas were on the endangered species list.
Needless to say, Dude 2-1 never got to announce “Weapon Away.” Instead, both aircraft conducted a Show of Force over the enemy position. This is an extremely low pass coupled with the dropping of flares on the enemy for intimidation purposes. It is nowhere near as effective as a bomb the size of a Volkswagen but it does make the enemy shit kittens and break contact; which is exactly what they did that day. The Panda on the other hand just continued to scratch his back like he didn’t give a shit about anything in the world. It truly looked like bliss.
People can say whatever they like about the “insensitive, baby-killing” military. But there isn’t a fighting force in the world that takes more care to avoid collateral damage (even if it means quadrupling our own risk) than the Armed Forces of the United States. Sure, the enemy lived to fight another day but so did our guys. In addition, that fearless Panda got his back scratched which I think we can all agree probably felt pretty good.
In closing, Pandas were removed from the endangered list in 2016 so...you’re cleared hot.
You enter a dark hallway that reeks of discount smokes, burnt shrimp flavored Ramen, and broken dreams. In your hand you grasp a crumpled piece of paper inscribed with 'Johnny. 187.' You were told this guy was the absolute best- knowledgeable, gifted, some even referring to him as 'The Oracle'. Stepping over a rogue crusty green sock on the floor, you begin to make your way into the haze, your future hanging in the wings, desperate for a way out. As you walk down the dingy hall a naked guy on a skateboard clutching a fifth suddenly rounds the corner behind you. Startled, you move up against the wall as he zips past. 'Watch it, Bergdahl' he mumbles as he takes a pull off the bottle and disappears into the hazy darkness ahead. This place is shady. You'd been warned as much, but you had to be inside to truly understand what they meant. The light in the candy machine by the leaky drinking fountain flickers, a closer look revealing someone has carved 'Beware the Weenie' in the glass. Somebody screams. You walk past 162 and notice the heavy smell of Febreeze and corner of a towel sticking out from beneath the door. 174 is blaring someone's war-inspired demo tape, and whatever is going on in 178 may, or may not, involve a Parakeet. This place has health and welfare written all over it. Finally, you arrive at room 187 and raise your hand to knock, but before you can the door seems to open on its own. 'I've been expecting you' a deep gravelly voice says from the darkness, 'come in'.
Inside, the small room is lit only by a tiny beam of sunlight penetrating from between the drawn fire-retardant curtains. 'Have a seat' the mysterious figure says as he motions to the lumpy green duffel bag laying in front of his desk. 'My name's Johnny, Johnny Cochran. How can I be of service today?' Seeing no other option, you take an uncomfortable seat on what feels like a pro mask that has been stuffed inside the bag. 'Johnny...Cochran?' you ask, 'seriously?'. 'You want to see my enlistment papers?' he replies. Glancing up at the uniform hanging from the open door of the disheveled wall locker next to you, you notice his nametape reads 'Cochran', and further below it you can make out the edge of some mosquito wings protruding from the folds. 'Nah, that won't be necessary' you tell him, suddenly regretting you came.
'What brings you in today?' he asks as you struggle to get the filter canister out from beneath your crack. 'I messed up' you reply. Smiling, he says 'Take a look around you, we all 'messed up', Son. What exactly did you do?'. 'I reenlisted' you tell him as the smile quickly dissolves from his face. 'Retention got me an hour after my girl called to say she was leaving me for man-bun down at 'Whole Latte Love' back home. I was weak. I wasn't thinking straight! You gotta help me'. Leaning back in his chair, Johnny clasps his hands behind his head, exhales, looks up at the ceiling and asks 'how many'd he get you for?'. 'Three' you reply. Taking a dramatic pause, he lets the situation marinate in his head, finally stating: ‘It’s worse than I thought, but I think I can help you out'. Intrigued, you lean forward on your pro-mask.
'There's a little-known stipulation in Army Regulation 601-280 covering retention regarding the validity of signatures made under duress should the signee be able to prove such conditions were present at the time of his or her signing'. 'I'm listening' you say. Continuing, he states: 'you are in a race against the clock here, that paperwork is already on its way up to personnel for processing, so time is of the essence. What you need to do is call your First Sergeant at home as soon as you leave here and tell him that you made a mistake and would like to cancel your contract'. 'On a Saturday?' you ask. 'Heck yeah on a Saturday! Do you want to do 3 more years? You know they're short personnel down at Polk, right? Have you ever been to Polk? Mosquito is the state bird down there!'. Sitting back on the bag and ignoring the popping sound you hear from whatever just gave way inside you ponder what The Oracle has just told you. 'I hate mosquitos.' you say. Rising to his feet, Johnny reaches out and puts his hand on your shoulder, looks into your eyes with the type of concern reserved for sitcom dads and says gently 'Call Top, he'll understand'. 'You're right!' you exclaim as you jump to your feet, reenergized with the power of a thousand Ripits, 'First Sergeant IS cool! You're a freakin' genius Cochran! How do you know all this stuff anyways? You in legal or something??'. 'Nah, I'm supply' he replies with a toothy grin as he leads you to the door, 'but I am also a graduate the Barracks School of Law, and you are going to be alllllright'.
Somewhere beyond the rolling hills you hear the rumble of thunder as a storm approaches the training area. 'If it ain't rainin', we ain't trainin! Hoooooaaaah?!' McNeil yells from his turret. ‘Shut the f up, Donnie!' someone echoes back. You look up at SPC McNeil, his Ranger Beads, and his cheesy little in-regs 'stache and think to yourself 'this jabrone has SMA written all over him'.Shaking your head in amazement you return your focus to the task at hand, chow. Using your blade, you carefully slice open your MRE and eagerly thrust your hand deep inside. Using nothing more than your sense of touch, your fingers navigate their way around the crackers, past the refried beans, and down to the Holy Grail of all MRE goodness.Clutching the small tube of squishy processed gold in your hand, your rip your arm out of the bag and thrust your fist to the air like an Ancient Greek presenting his infant son to the Heavens. 'Yaaaaaassssssssss' you bellow proudly as the now-falling rain begins to ricochet off of your raised pouch of Jalapeño Cheese Spread. In the distance a bolt of lightning snaps to the ground, the thunderous boom surely a nod of approval from the Gods. All around you the eyes of the less-fortunate and their sad, sad pouches of plain cheese spread glass over as they seethe with envy, knowing they are not the chosen ones. As you lower your arm and begin to map out your plans for the gourmet feast that will surely follow, the first of many desperate souls approaches, trade offering in hand.Hamrick from 2nd platoon kneels at your feet, eyes down, and raises his offering: Chocolate Peanut Butter. 'Do push-ups my Son' you reply, flicking your wrist to motion the next man forward. Jones from HQ approaches, kneels, and raises 2 Rip-Its, a Ranger Bar, and $38 in AAFES POGs. 'Time for a 100%...cause you're obviously on the rock, Jones' you reply as he scurries back to the commo truck. Next, Anderson from first approaches, looks you dead in the eyes and says 'I'll su-' 'Silence!' you raise your hand to his face, turning to address the rest of the crowd assembling: 'there will be NO trades for my Jalapeño Cheese Spread, not today, not tomorrow, not ever! For Jalapeño Cheese Spread is not something to be cast aside, sold down the river for promises of finer goods or special favors....no, my friends.....Jalapeño Cheese Spread is Life.
When I came down on orders to PCS to Schweinfurt, Germany I was pretty stoked. I had never been to Europe before, and all of the guys in my unit that had spent time overseas were quick to tell me how awesome it was. The food. The travel. 'You will love it' they said, and they were right. But there was one thing that they forgot to mention, AFN Europe.
Ah, the Armed Forces Network, the only cable television service available for those unfortunate souls stuck in the barracks overseas. On the one hand it's free, but nothing in life is really ever 'free', so it does come with a cost: AFN commercials.
If you've never seen an AFN produced commercial I would best describe them as a cross between 70's porn (don't lie, you know you've seen it) and a middle school play. None of them are actually selling any products, they are mostly PSA's for things you should and should not do while stationed overseas, for example:
Do: make sure the dishwasher is full before running it. Do not: leave your spit bottles laying around at a party for someone to accidentally drink (yes, this is an actual AFN spot, they spent real money on it).
So without wasting anymore time passing judgement on the production quality (or lack thereof) of the fine folks at the Armed Forces Network I'll let you be the judge. Whether you are a first timer or about to go on a nostalgic walk down memory lane I hope you enjoy this selection of my top-5 best AFN commercials....
5. Hercules Power of Attorney
4. Chicken Knows Best
3. Bird Flu
2. Baaaaam, I'm a styrofoam cup, yo!
1. Squeakers the OPSEC Hamster
You rip at the warm pouch of Chili Mac with your teeth like the King of the Jungle tearing into an out-of-shape, fat-body gazelle. Blood streams from the corner of your mouth as the industrial grade packaging finally gives way to the goodness inside. You plop down on the ground and lean up against a tire to enjoy your kill, wishing you were anywhere but here. But hey it could be worse, MRE scars fade, you have half a pack of Pines in your pocket, and you didn't end up with the Veggie Omelette like Steinhaus. Nope, this deployment is coming to an end, and in a few short weeks you will be back home, rocking your new criminally-soft, made in the USA 'Rock or Something' tee from Inkfidel while enjoying an ice-cold soda pop. Things could be a whole lot worse.
You open the door and a fly immediately lands on your left cheek. You don't even bother swatting, it's been 9 months now and you could care less. You inhale one last gulp of clean air and step into the 105 degree box.
You set your baby wipes and magazine on the tiny shelf and look down at the muddy sandal prints framing either side of the seat. Squatters. You do your best to sanitize the area, clear the cliffhangers, and settle in for your morning glory. Beads of sweat roll down your face as you thumb through the tattered and abused pages of the platoon Maxim. 'No, no, maybe, no, hellllooooo beautiful' you mumble as you start to make your move.
You are barely 20 seconds into 'reading' when somewhere off in the distance you hear a muffled boom. Perking up, you conduct a short halt, listening carefully, and then it happens. The round impacts just outside the motor pool, not 80 meters from your pleasure palace. Your first instinct is make a dash for the bunker, but you don't. This is your chance. The coveted Combat Jack, it's what separates the men from the boys, and by God, you are getting yours today.
As the shells rain down it's hard to tell what's beating faster, your heart or your fist. Even the flies take cover as you race towards the finish, you've never felt so alive. As quickly as it began, the barrage comes to an end as both you and the insurgents are mission complete.
Proudly, you step out of into the bright sun, puffing your chest as you strut back to the B-Hut, Maxim tucked neatly under your arm. Yes, you are now a card carrying member of Combat Jack's Gentleman's Club. We meet on Tuesdays for punch and pie....
You wipe a spot of mustard from your chin as you choke down another bite of your soggy FRG hot dog. A few feet away a gaggle of Privates are engaged in an epic battle of cornhole, and just like at the range, none of them can hit the broad side of an MRAP. 'Jesus, they're wearing their issued boots.'To your left the wives are smiling and making sure the Joe's know that everybody gets one of Becky's chocolate chip cookies, but only one. As you look at your watch for the 7th time, you notice the ketchup that has soiled the front of your impossibly-soft Inkfidel MandoFun tee. You conduct a quick check of your five's and twenty-fives, use your finger to lift the offending condiment from your shirt and lick the tomatoey goodness off.Publicly, 1SG scolded you for wearing this shirt. Privately, he asked where he could buy one. You and he both know the same thing: Funishment happens in and out of the military, but as long as you have your trusty Mandatory Fun Shirt from Inkfidel, you will be alright.
Inkfidel, which offers military lifestyle apparel, was recently selected to join the Google Trusted Stores program. To help shoppers identify online merchants that offer a great shopping experience, the Google Trusted Store badge is awarded to e-commerce sites that demonstrate a track record of on-time shipping and excellent customer service. When visiting the Inkfidel.com website, shoppers will see a Google Trusted Store badge and can click on it for more information.
As an added benefit, when a shopper makes a purchase at a Google Trusted Store, they have the option to select free purchase protection from Google. Then in the unlikely event of an issue with their purchase, they can request Google’s help, and Google will work with Inkfidel and the customer to address the issue. As part of this, Google offers up to $1,000 lifetime purchase protection for eligible purchases.
Google Trusted Stores is entirely free, both for shoppers and for online stores. The program helps online stores like Inkfidel attract new customers, increase sales and differentiate themselves by showing off their excellent service via the badge on their websites.
"Mr. E" (mystery), "Meals Rejected by Everyone", "Meals, Rarely Edible", "Meals Rejected by the Enemy", and of course, the world-famous 'Four Fingers of Death"
No matter what you called MREs, we all had our favorites (Chili-Mac) and the ones we wouldn't feed to a mangy Iraqi dog (Veggie Omelette). I decided that it was high-time I dove into the history of the chow we all loved to hate to find out a little more about these fine delicacies.
I hope you enjoy this collection of useless information while waiting for final formation or during an extended trip to the head (that's a 'bathroom' for all of you that have been out a long time....like me)
MREs are designed to withstand parachute drops from 1,250 feet and non-parachute drops of 100 feet. (Especially the least popular ones)
The FRH will heat the entree of an MRE by raising the temperature of the 8-ounce entree by 100 F in 12 minutes.
Your Tabasco sauce may be used as a gargle for sore throats.
Use a pinch of instant tea from your MRE and apply it to your gums to help eliminate canker sores. (Note: instant tea is ineffective against whatever you caught from Misty at the club last Friday)
During Operation Desert Storm many U.S. Forces ate MREs for 60+ days straight. (That sucks.)
(via Survival Gear Source)
Pot Luck Pie
1 pouch Beef Stew
½ packet Cheese Spread
4 dashes Hot Sauce (optional)
½ pack Crackers (crumbled)
Heat Beef Stew and Cheese Spread in heater
Combine Stew, Cheese Spread, Hot Sauce and top with crumpled crackers to taste.
1 pouch heated Beef Enchiladas
1 packet Cheese Spread (heated)
4 ounces heated water (1/6 canteen cup)
Hot Sauce to taste
Slice Beef Enchiladas into small pieces
Add cheese spread, water and hot sauce. Mix well while humming the Hat Dance.
MRE Pound Cake
1 Package of MRE Crackers
1 Pack of dairy creamer
1 Pack of cocoa mix
1 Pack of MRE Sugar
1 Water and a canteen cup with a spoon to mix
1 Book of matches
In the canteen cup mix cocoa powder, dairy creamer, pack of sugar, and some water. Adjust thickness of the icing by adding more or less of the cocoa mix. Mix them all together.
Add icing to the top of the poundcake and enjoy the hell out of it.
You will need to cut some deals to acquire all of the ingredients needed:
With the package unopened, pulverize the crackers. Peel open the package of crackers about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from edge and tear straight across; this will become the top of the preparation. Pull open the sides of the crackers package such that with the opening on top you have a makeshift cup. Now add the peanut butter then a little water. Stir the crackers in to give it a crunchy pudding consistency. Add the sugar, hot cocoa, and coffee to give it the taste. Add more water if needed, my personal preference was to fill it about 3/4 of the way up with water after adding the entire peanut butter package.
For more delicious MRE recipes please visit: http://www.survivalgearsource.com/mre_recipes.html