Six Months I spent living in that tent, growing accustomed to the infrequent mortar shells and RPG-7 rounds that found their way into camp. Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, was our staging point, my first taste of the Desert, getting my feet wet. Or bone dry, whichever you prefer. The airfield I arrived at was not, in fact, my destination, but merely a staging point for me to be shipped out with the rotational force as an augmentee for the Marines stationed in an FOB in Helmand Province.
You'll notice I said augmentee, because I am not in fact a Marine, nor am I a soldier, I am an Airman. I have been told all my career how I'm not a real "soldier", we only put on a uniform and play military, when this is the reality. Me, battle rattle, M4 Carbine, deployed in the Desert right alongside the fuckin' Marine Corps. I am a Tactical Air Control Party specialist, TACP, a USAF Augmentee for Army, Marine Corps, and SOG units used to direct the air support might of the US Air Force accurately onto target, right from the crosshairs of my prey. My prey, how ironic the terminology used by my instructors was in hindsight.
Hindsight is 20/20 they say, but looking back, I still recall my time spent as this horrible tan blur, intermittently sprinkled with the faces, the movements, the "uniforms" of the...opposition? The enemy? No, to call them an enemy implies a contest between the two forces, this was no contest, is...no contest. This is a game.
Patrols, PAR sweeps, UXO identification and removal, standard operating procedure. We continually pushed deeper through our patrol routes, Helmand Province being equal parts mountainous terrain and towns. We encountered opposition roughly 13 klicks from our FOB, small arms fire intermingled with unguided rocket fire, unremarkable marksmanship, we suppressed with a Squad Automatic Weapon, and moved in for a clean sweep of the area. My first close quarters engagement, it was overwhelmingly...plain.
The description escapes me, it was as if all emotion is stripped, you can only observe, calculate, execute, and fall back on your training and instincts to allow the engagement to evolve in your favor. The breach, the sweep, the "Clear" report, then after the reflexive synapses stop firing, the muscle memory runs its course, the cognitive functions return, and your mind begins to absorb what your eyes are telling it, what your nose is relaying it, and what your eardrums are sending it, and it recoils in shock, unsure of how to react even with months of training for every scenario feasible in a warzone. What laid before me was not feasible in a warzone, not feasible in any crevasse of a sane human mind.
The bodies piled there, no, bodies is not the correct term. The skins, the very faces, clothes, equipment, hair, and flesh of our hitherto known enemies, leaking bodily fluids, pieces of flesh, crudely and brutally vacated from the bodies of what were once Afghan males, dressed in the somewhat iconic garb of the guerilla force known as the Taliban. The...bodies? Sure, bodies, I guess, were all positioned around windows, doors, what would be vantage points for defending against my patrol just minutes ago. Despite what the post-op debriefings are supposed to tell me, I still firmly believe that we traded fire with these men, or what was left of these men, prior to finding them in this state.
Since then I have seen...I don't know, "them"? The opposition? Whatever the fuck was the perpetrator behind the remains we found on that first patrol. But I have seen the fuckers since then, I know it, the Marines I have been deployed with are some tough men, but I know they have seen it as well, they aren't nearly as dumb as portrayed in the media, those devildogs. We are all chilled to the core when we see that one face amongst the crowd of innocents roaming through the cities, the face that changes, leers at us, because they fucking know that we know. We see the body bags from decon crews that don't look quite...full enough. We hear of the Taliban prisoners cursing and crying in terror of us despite any hospitalities, screaming about how we stole the faces of their comrades, how our soldiers have done the demonic work, turning his comrades against him like puppets.
It was then we realized, whatever they are, they are manipulating us, toying with both sides. God damn it, it all makes sense now, the clean sweep of towns just to have them occupied again not even hours later? The legendary ability to disappear into a cave system? Here we were, thinking about the borderline superhuman ingenuity of our Taliban enemies, while all the while they were being absolutely decimated from within by a force that neither side understands. I have been in engagements, fired upon and hit my intended target, just to confirm a kill on a fucking fleshy blanket with a human face, looking like it was carved out with a God Damned Rusty Pumpkin Spoon!
This conflict will never fucking end!
We keep spending billions fighting an enemy that shouldn't fucking exist in this world!
We will never clear out every town, we will never establish democracy, we will never extinguish the Taliban as long as whatever the Fuck that keeps wearing their troops decides to let us go.
It is playing a fucking game with us all, with our government, our leaders, our people, the Afghanis, hell maybe the Iraqis? Who knows where their reach spreads? None of us are a reliable source anymore, we see the human yet such inhuman faces everywhere, on everyone, our families, our friends, loved ones, WHY ARE THEY FUCKING EVERYWHERE?!
I have lost all will to keep contact with anyone prior to deployment, I just don't want to see the faces anymore, I cannot stand to see those movements, those eyes, those Fucking Things in Everyone I loved.
Colonel, what do they want? You have to know, it's why I was sent to you.
Sir, you have to know what their goals are.
What the hell are they using this conflict for?
Sir...what the fuck is this war?
[20120923 \ SUBJECT: SrA W. CRISWELL \ E-4 \ POST-AEF DEPLOYMENT]
[ARMY MEDCOM \ BROOKHAVEN MEDICAL\ CENTER FOR POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER]
[20120923 \ REVIEWED BY: Col. M. MADIGAN \ 'O-6 \ 'MEDG\CC]
[POST-BRIEF REVIEW DEEMED FOUO \ PII]
Subject is suffering from a moderately severe case of Post-traumatic stress disorder, undoubtedly induced as a result of the prolonged high-stress/high-risk operations subject had integral part of while on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Recommend re-evalution within a period of one month, with possible mandatory incarceration should the condition escalate further.
[END POST-BRIEF REVIEW]
[ADDENDUM \ REVISION DEEMED CLASSIFIED \ EYES ONLY]
'The subject's movements and contacts from here forth shall be 'monitored, denoted, and any suspected relaying of the contained information to an external device shall be summarily disposed of IAW Applicable Orders, and any person(s) suspected of receiving information shall be immediately detained and debriefed of any incriminating information, and summarily displaced if necessary.
[20120924 \ END ADDENDUM \ DIGITALLY SIGNED Lt. Gen. R. MUNROE \ CONAF\CC]