Jeremiah Smith June 04, 2013 TWEET COMMENTS 15

Trail Running in a War Zone - Page 3

It’s not like the kids can storm the wire and bum-rush the guard tower with a couple rocks flung from a bolo. The Romanian guards realize the limited threat, and know they have to disperse the kids but seem in no hurry. I am surprised to learn that the Romanians have a sense of humor; they wait until the moment that Seth and I are between them, the wire and the Afghan kids with the bolos to let loose a 10-round burst from their machine gun. Bap! Bap! Bap! Bap! ...

They don’t shoot to kill, but to scare the man-dresses off the Afghan kids and the piss out of Seth and me. The kids scatter, well rehearsed by now, as this game with the guards has been going on for months. Seth and I, on the other hand, nearly jump out of our skin.

Our lungs burning from the toxic pit and ears ringing from the gun fire, we ramble down a loose gravel hill.

When flying, we often take off from the FOB in this direction, jockeying for position with Russian Mi-17 helicopters and others stopping in for fuel. A small mud-hut village full of chickens, goats and children lies just outside the wire. I try to fly friendly, gaining altitude quickly or at least not flying directly over their homes, but, like the quaint village near the shooting range, we haven’t made friends with everyone here either. I don’t see it during the day, but at night I occasionally catch the sight of tracer fire coming from somewhere below as a disgruntled villager takes a shot at the helicopters. To avoid collateral damage, we don’t shoot back. They aren’t very accurate anyhow, so there is no need to push the issue—as long as they keep missing.

The stretch between the FOB and this village is my favorite, because of the pack of wild dogs that often joins us here.

They greet us with the unyielding enthusiasm only cast-off, feral Afghan mutts desperate to display their loyalty can muster. They squeeze through gaps under the fence, ripping fur off on the concertina wire in an effort to join us. Some of them have names like Mary and Star Fox; others are anonymous, shaggy waifs of skin and bone. They run with us, side by side, pushing us along a series of winding, hilly turns. We are part of the pack, wild canine brothers, as if we’ve all done this a thousand times before. The dogs know their place though, even here with us. They aren’t welcome everywhere on the FOB and, one by one, they begin to peel off. They’re smart enough to avoid the main gate just past the next steep descent. The Jordanians at the gate, fearful of the raged dogs, are quick to offer a boot or worse, if they stray too close.

With the dogs gone, we watch our step on the steepest descent of the loop. Loose, grapefruit-sized rocks threaten us to hyper-extend a knee or roll an ankle. We shorten our pace, pick up our feet and plant them firmly on the trip down. At the base of the hill lies the main entrance with guard towers on both sides. A mixed convoy of Romanian and U.S. vehicles is returning, clearing their mounted weapons as they enter the base.

The front gate, with its winding entrance, barricades and checkpoints was the focal point of a recent coordinated attack on the FOB. The assailants simultaneously fired two RPGs at the front guard towers. Fortunately for the Romanian guards, they missed. Unfortunately for those of us asleep on the other side of the FOB, the RPGs flew past the towers, over the majority of the FOB and exploded upon contact, one with a Romanian tent, the other with my housing unit, sending shrapnel through the window and wall of one of our guy’s rooms. The concussion rocked us all out of sleep.

“Jerry?” was Seth’s quiet response to the attack, as machine gun fire was exchanged by the guard towers and the assailants trying to storm the gate.

“Yeah, I’m alright,” I replied. Truth was, getting excited and running to a bunker wasn’t going to make a difference. No one was injured on our side, just a little shaken up, and it was, after all, the middle of the night. With another long day ahead of me, I had to get some sleep. So I did.


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