The Last Journey
Article #16 “Cinch Strap”
13 August 2010, Forward Operating Base Boris, Afghanistan
I had a good horse when I was
I grew up out in the desert of New Mexico and learned a bit about good horses. Putting a saddle on was a task that required
doing things a certain way. My horse was
very powerful. He was a phenomenal
quarter horse and was the best trained animal I’ve ever come across in my
entire life. For the record, I did not do
the training, but, by the time I
received this horse at age eleven, all I had to do was learn how to saddle him
up and ride like the wind. The most
important part of saddling him up was the “cinch strap” which went
underneath his belly and made sure the saddle did not fall off. Horses will bloat their bellies when being
saddled up. If a rider is not aware of
this, he tends to run the risk of the saddle looking like it’s on tight,
but as soon as the horse lets the air out of his lungs, and the ride is on, the
saddle has a good chance of slipping off.
In order to make sure that doesn’t happen, the rider when saddling
the horse up, must punch the horse a few times in the side so the horse lets
the air out before the saddle goes on.
It’s not mean to the horse, it’s just part of how it
works. My horse and I were an excellent
The weather here is now clear
and sunny, for the most part. It’s
still more humid than I am used to and the nights are a bit on the cool
side. I’ve noticed some mosquitoes
at night chowing down on my arms as I fall asleep. There are a few things I did not calculate
correctly on this journey. Malaria,
mosquitoes, rain and Ramadan. I did not
think about mosquitos in the high desert areas of Asia
and I had not heard that malaria was a problem.
I think I caught that miscalculation in time. The rain has been of course abnormal. But I did not bring a poncho. My son told me I needed one. I forgot to listen. Then there is Ramadan. Last time I was in this part of the world,
Ramadan was in October. I just figured
that it would be near about that time on this journey. Wrong!
It started a few days ago and is based on the moon calendar. That changes some things and also tends to
make the enemy more active for some reason.
I don’t understand the thinking on that one. We in the west usually like to take time off
from lots of things when holidays come around.
War never takes a break over here.
The past couple days I got to
know some more of the soldiers here on FOB Boris. It’s such a small place that everyone
knows everyone. While at lunch, a couple
of soldiers were talking to me. They
asked me exactly what it is I do because they had heard I’m a bit
different than a “reporter” type.
I explained that I’m an historian at heart. They immediately asked me if I knew Spc. Essing, who was
sitting right in front of me. I
immediately introduced myself to this gentle soldier who looked for sure not
25-years-old. One of the soldiers, SSGT
Watts, began telling me how this “old man” is the most valuable
soldier in his platoon. They made the
emphasis on “old man” and it was not in a derogatory manner. I asked Spc. Essing his age and he told me he
was coming up on 46-years-old. Doing the
math instantly, I realized he old enough to be their father. After Essing left the lunch table the other
soldiers began telling me his story.
Essing has a long history
with the military. He originally
enlisted back around 1984-85 and did an initial three year enlistment. Then he did some time on and off in the
National Guard and many other things. He
had several breaks in service and a couple years ago, due to some employment
and financial situations, he decided to give it one more go and join up as an
11-Bravo one more time. That’s the
infantry. I decided that I would speak
to his fellow soldiers who know him best, that being, SSGT Watts and Lt.
Boyd. These ones know him best and would
give me an honest account of this interesting soldier.
I invited Watts
first to come to my quarters and do an audio interview. He came and we discussed not just Spc.
Essing’s career, but his own as well.
This is the part of this journey that I enjoy a lot. Getting to know the soldiers one on one and
having them talk about something they want to talk about, not what some
reporter wants to talk about. Watts
especially wanted to talk about his admiration for Essing, being 46-years-old
and hanging with the younger Rakkasan’s in combat. He told me that in the beginning, before they
deployed, when he first saw Essing he was not excited about having this
“old man” in his group. But
little by little, he came to realize what a patriot this man is. In the audio, Watts
goes on to explain how valuable an asset Essing has become especially in the
rough combat outposts they were disptached to on 30-day rotations, where the
enemy constantly attacks them with IDF and where conditions are rough and
always in need of a man that can build something out of nothing. According to Watts,
Essing is a jack of all trades and made life in the outpost that much better
just by his amazing like skills with a hammer and nails. Watts goes into
further detail in the audio. It was fun
to listen to Watts talk about his fellow soldier, Spc. Bill Essing.
I decided I would ask Essing’s
immediate officer who is his superior. I
wanted to see if the officer cadre agreed with the enlisted soldiers’
perspective on Essing. Lt. Boyd came to
my quarters and also gave me an audio interview discussing Spc. Essing. Lt. Boyd’s accolades about Essing were
just as impressive and had a deeper impact on me. What Boyd pointed out was how Essing’s
stamina and attitude had such a positive effect on the rest of his soldiers. Seeing this guy, (Essing) do his job and with
all his heart, builds cohesiveness among
soldiers in the hardest of times.
Basically what was pointed out to me is that Essing loves what he does
and is thankful to be a part of his country’s efforts in this war on
terrorism currently here in eastern Afghanistan.
Both SSGT Watts and Lt. Boyd
told me about themselves and their own lives on the audio. Both are good men. Watts is quite a
character from North
has already 7-years in the Army at age 25.
Just talking with this soldier puts a smile on my face. We talked race cars and NASCAR stuff and I
told him about my 1969 Chevy Camaro.
During the conversation with Watts, I noticed on
his arm a tattoo that was kind of impressive.
Now, I’m not a fan of tatoos by any stretch, but, I have to admit,
I liked this one. He told me the story
and I just realized that this soldier is a perfect fit for the Rakkasans.
Lt. Boyd told me some of his
story and how he ended up here. In
speaking with men under his command, I found out that they all really like him
and have asked their higher ups to keep him with them. Boyd is on a good track and the Army has
plans for him. Lt.’s usually
don’t get to stay too long with their platoons as their own careers take
shape. But, if the men under him had
their way, they’d keep him for the duration. That’s the highest compliment any Lt.
can receive in the Army. That told me
Later I had Spc. Bill Essing
over to my quarters and we also did an audio interview. He is a simple man from
the Pacific Northwest area, Idaho to be exact. He has an agricultural background from the
farming area along the Snake
River where it winds around
southern Idaho. I’ve
been to that part of the country before and it is beautiful. Essing told me in simple terms that
he’s just a patriot. He had to do his
part by coming over here. He knows now
after encountering and IED recently that he’s not 25-years-old, but, he
can still keep up. He enjoys using his
talents to help out his fellow soldiers.
On the audio, he talks much about how he had one specific mentor in his
life that always is in his mind. His
Italian grandfather played the most significant role in shaping the life of
Bill Essing. It’s all on the audio
for those that want to hear it. I
completely understand Essing’s motivation for being here.
During this day, other events
took place. There was kind of a
“welcome to Ramadan” event that kept us on our toes today. I have a photo of some soldiers in a bunker
waiting for the all clear. I was also
able to talk with the soldiers that are responsible for keeping any eye out on
what’s coming “incoming”.
When they speak over the intercom, everyone, including me, listens and
takes cover. I liked meeting the guys
that are looking out for my best interest.
I’ve been going over
and over how to saddle things up these days.
Things you learn as a kid do tend to stay with you as an adult. My grandkids on the ranch in Oklahoma all know how to saddle horses quite well. They also know how to ride their horses and
take care of them. Saddling up always
precedes a good ride in the country.
Maybe I need to ask my granddaughter Gracie how to saddle a horse
properly these days. I surely
wouldn’t want to fall off my horse these days when going for a ride. She would probably say, “Pop, cinch up
the strap tightly”.
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