The Last Journey
September 21-24, 2010 COP Turbett
In a Jam
Part 1

On September 20, at COP Turbett, after being out on patrol once again and getting shot at toward the end of the patrol as usual, I came back into the COP with Langaloz’s squad. It was later in the afternoon around 5:30 PM. The patrol was pretty much boring except for the fact that I broke my camera and got shot at. The on off switch had become sticky lately due to all the dust and at one point it just broke and twisted in circles. Sure enough it was stuck in the off position. I managed to use my leatherman and poke around a bit and get it stuck back to the on position. However, the auto focus did not work anymore at this time and I was forced to try and use manual focus. In the old days, that would not have been a problem, but these days, my eyes are not what they used to be and I knew some shots would be blurry. I was mad and disgusted with the equipment failure, which was now twice in two days. One a camera, the other the audio recorder. It just happens. I managed to get them both working but it is very frustrating when it goes down that way. It takes away the motivation instantly and it always takes a bit of time to regroup.

After playing with the camera upon my return back to the COP, I managed to get it to where the auto focus would work and the adjustments and settings would work for now, but now I could not turn it off. I decided to figure out how to turn it off and put it away and bring out the second of three cameras that I had brought to this trip. I was planning to start my exit on the 24th so I was now using one of two spares. Must be time to move on. I knew that trying to exit Afghanistan in the same manner that I entered it was going to be another one of those challenges. Just the way it is for me functioning in the logistic world of the big system.

At the COP this day there was a special treat for the Marines going on which boosted morale through the roof. For the past two days the 1st Sgt had been going around telling everyone that their tents needed to be completely cleaned up and ready for his inspection. That kind of set a few folks off but when the 1st Sgt says to do something, it gets done and without any hesitation. My area had been pretty much very cleaned up and the rest of the tent was more or less a real mess. Same was the case for the other tents around me. But for two days, they all got cleaned up.

When we left on patrol, several big vehicles had arrived and began setting up a giant BBQ place right in front of our tents. Turns out they had come all the way from Dwyer and specifically had come to Turbett to cook out for the Marines of Fox Company as a special treat. This was extremely looked upon as very, very welcomed. The Marines at Turbett had been roughing it since day one here and I joined them at the end of August. It does not take very long in this type of environment to begin to miss some of the simple pleasures in life like a real BBQ’s hamburger or hot dog with ample supply of cold sodas. The Marines were stoked to put it mildly. When the patrol was going on, we all were talking about the cookout and there was the thought to speed up the patrol as much as possible. Then, out of nowhere, shots rang out. The honest first reaction among the Marines was, “oh great, there goes our cookout. We’re going to miss it being stuck out here getting shot at”.

We were very close to the end of the mission when the shots rang out. Is a matter of fact, everyone at the COP could hear what was happening and knew we were out there as they were already beginning to chow down on their hamburgers and hot dogs. Anyway, the firing stopped, we pushed a bit towards the direction that the firing had come from, but as that was about all the enemy wanted on this patrol was to harass us. Seems like they had known that we were headed to the BBQ and just wanted to piss us off. That they did, but in the end, we came straight into the gate and everyone took off their gear and headed directly to where our tents are and began joining in the festivities of the BBQ.

Many of the Marines already were stuffed to the brim and were telling us to eat as much as you can, there’s a ton of food. I watched as the guys put hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks and potato chips on their plates and smothered all of it in A-1 sauce and ketchup and just ate until they could not eat anymore. The guys that brought the food are called, “The Meals on Wheels” guys. They had come from Dwyer at the request of somebody higher up to reward the men who had been living the rough life since the beginning of the deployment. When I heard they had come from Dwyer, I began to think about my exit strategy.

I was planning to go to Marja on the 24th with mobile and then space A from there on helicopter to Dwyer and then from Dwyer head to Kandahar and points beyond, trying to end up back in Germany where I have the second half of my ticket waiting for me back to the states. I figured that catching a ride back to Dwyer and eliminating about 5-days of extra logistic traveling and complicated coordinating would be a good idea. I began to inquire with the SSGT named, Ortega, from Dwyer and he said I could hop a ride. I then went to Lt. Boyle and Capt. Zepeda and told them of my plans. They agreed to let me go but were sorry to see me leave. I had originally planned to stay close to a week longer but I knew getting out of country was going to be difficult. It’s just that way in everything when it comes to moving from point A to point B. Taking the ride to Dwyer on the convoy was effectively eliminating extra work on everybody’s part and freed up the Marines I was staying with to attend to other important things like fighting the war instead of making travel arrangements for me. I wanted to make it easy for them.

It was set then. I would leave in the morning. I joined in the BBQ festivities and assisted all the Marines in carrying cases and cases of sodas, Gatorade and rip-it drinks into the cooler at Turbett. I never saw so many Marines so happy to be carrying things. They knew that this supply was for them and that they would be enjoying the fruits of this labor for a while to come. Simple things like cold sodas make big bad ass Marines really happy in the war zone. Just the way it is.

That evening I talked with many of the Marines that asked me why I was leaving so early. Now, the fact is I had been there longer than most people ever stay but they realized what I had already known. I was a part of them and they had become a part of me. Basically, we were all on the same page. I began receiving farewells from all kinds of folks that night. I realized I pretty much knew everyone on the camp that were Marines. Even some of the ANA guys heard I was leaving and came to say good bye. I did not want to go, but, I figured better to leave now while at the top of my game. There was a part of me that just wanted to stay but the practical side of me just said go now. I had been afforded an opportunity that not many get to have and yet, I still felt I wanted more. I had to let go. There is always more to experience but this part of the journey had come to a close for me. I knew it. I didn’t like that it had come upon me so fast. Seems like I was just getting it all figured out and then it’s time to leave.

I talked that evening to Sgt. Jimmy Bernard and told him I was leaving in the morning. I told him I had to take the ride to Dwyer and he understood right away about the logistics of it all. I thanked him for having helped me out and told him I would see him on the flip side somewhere down the line. We shook hands, gave each other a bear hug and that was the last I saw of Jimmy Bernard.

I then went back to my tent area and talked at length with Cpl. Sam Dillon. We had become very good friends on this journey. Sam pretty much took it upon himself to look out for me on every aspect of my time spent at COP Turbett. I had only known Sam briefly in Fallujah, but somewhere along the line he had been struck by what it is that I do. On this journey, I must say that Sam Dillon and I became extremely good friends as well as comrades. We talked a long time that night and I really thanked him in all sincerity for helping me out. I assured him that I would come to a baseball game in Boston with him sometime in the late spring around Memorial Day next year. We shook hands, hugged each other and he went to bed to rest up for his morning patrol.

That evening I talked with my roommate in the tent Sgt. Dan Mather. I told him to come outside and I did an audio on him. Dan and I had many long discussions about things concerning the war here in Afghanistan. His audio is one of my favorite ones for he is a very matter of fact person and at the same time very aware of where he is and what is going on in the big picture of things concerning Afghanistan. I treasured his comments for historical purposes. Dan Mather also became a very good friend to me. I will miss him as well.

I went to bed that evening late, after I had packed up all my things and got completely organized for the trip down to Dwyer in the morning. I didn’t want to go, but it was time to leave. I hate how difficult it is to move around this country and how it bites into my quality time with the guys I want to be with the most. The logistical crap really irritates me and I want to just scream it to some idiot in Washington DC and explain to them where the problems are that I witness from my end of things. That will all have to wait till another day. For now, I will sleep trying to mentally gear up for the journey out of COP Turbett.

This is how the night ended on September 20, 2010 at COP Turbett in Helmund province, Afghanistan.

Jim Spiri