It was a brisk early morning rising for me on September 21 at COP Turbett. This would be my last day here. It was also the first day of Autumn. Another season change. A day to leave. I took some photos of the COP, found a cup of coffee, said a few more farewells and coordinated with Ssgt. Ortega who is the convoy commander for this trip. He told me we would be leaving at 0830 and our convoy brief would be at 0815. I was ready. Everything was packed and consolidated as best I could manage and I carried my two bags plus computer bag as well as my flak and helmet to the staging point for the convoy towards the east gate exit area, near the school. That morning I talked a bit with Gunny Miller who was always up early and always had some coffee brewing in his room near the COC. He is for sure the most cordial gunny I have ever come across in the USMC and yet he still carries that gruffness about him to make sure his Marines stay in line. I really enjoyed getting to know this man, this Marine. He’s from New York and has been around a bit. He is not much older than my oldest daughter, maybe a couple years at most, but, he is someone I very much look up to. I was glad at the end to see him. He always had told me during my stay that I was part of the family of Fox Company. That is an honor.
After the convoy brief, we loaded up on the convoy, shut the doors and began rolling out towards FOB Marjah. I was leaving Fox Company. I was with some Marines from Dwyer whose job this trip was to come visit the grunts out here. As I rolled out the gate I looked back at the COP. I was quite thankful for the time I spent there. Immediately out the gate, it was done. I was no longer there.
Now I was with a group of Marines in the motor T section of the corps. They are Marines. But they are not 0311’s. I noticed this from the very beginning. It is not anything bad, it is just an observation that hit me hard the moment I left COP Turbett. The adjusting away from the life at COP Turbett had begun and hit me hard like a cold shower in January somewhere near the north pole.
We arrived at FOB Marjah about 30-minutes later and got into a long line of MRAPs at the FOB. I felt like I was in a Los Angeles traffic jam. Just 30-minutes down the ditch bank roads was COP Turbett and now here I was in the likes of a garrison type atmosphere. I almost jumped out the truck and told the guys I was going to stay here in Marjah and work my way back to Turbett. I think I panicked. I was not ready for what I knew was my short term destiny. I had to begin to function in the world I had left behind for the past month. I had to once again put on a face in a world that seems constantly confused. I realized at Turbett that life was simple. You go out on patrol, you hunt the enemy, the enemy hunts you and then you come back to the COP and bed down and prepare for the next day’s adventures. Eating MRE’s, defecating in a plastic bag, cleaning up under the flow of water out of well spicket and sleeping in a tent with Marines that make sure you don’t get killed during the day, seems much more attractive than any modern amenities that larger bases, COP’s, FOB’s and camps have to offer. Wow, all this in less than one hour and I have so much more of this to look forward to. I better calm down were my thoughts.
We stayed at FOB Marjah for less than an hour, then drove just a short ways to what is called the district center and stayed there for a little less than an hour. We had dropped off some supplies and now picked up an additional passenger. We were on our way after that heading to Camp Dwyer. The ride would be about two to three hours long going along some ditch bank roads for a while and then heading straight into the desert through a path that is kind of a road that is thick with what we all here call “moon dust”. The young Marine in the vehicle I was riding was a young Hispanic kid from Fresno, California. He helped me put my bags on board and wanted to strap my gear on the outside. I told him my one bag was more important than the other bag and that I did not want it strapped outside. He said it would be fine, yet I told him I did not want the one bag outside. He then took my backpack and strapped it to the outside. Thankfully, I kept the small suitcase with my electronic gear in it with me on the inside. There was room for both, but for some reason he wanted my bag strapped outside. The entire trip I was concerned that the bag would fall off. I kept an eye on the outside window in the back, which is very small, to see if my bag fell off.
This leg of the trip was unique for me and will go down in my memory as the most dusty and dirty ride I have ever taken in my life. In the back of the vehicle was me, the young Marine from Freson, CA, the gunner up top in the turret and a civilian next to me that was a safety officer hired by the USMC to make sure all the Camps, FOB’s, COP’s, and Patrol Bases are doing things up to more or less OSHA standards. Now this guy was plenty nice enough yet the more I listened to him the more I realized his job is pretty much kind of silly when you come right down and think about it. He was finishing up his one year contract and was breaking in the new guy replacing him. They hitched a ride on the meals on wheels convoy to satisfy having visited COP Turbett which happens to be in his area. He had only come here once. I can’t imagine what “unsafe” things he would be checking up on but in all honesty I feel it’s just a ridiculous measure and keeps some contractor and company employed at the tax payers expense.
Now I was getting into that mode of having been out there where it is all really happening and now falling into the atmosphere of all the folks making a serious living off of the war. Once again I began to think to myself not to really mention how I felt. Save it for another time. Right now, getting to Dwyer in this bumpy, dusty vehicle is what is at hand at the moment.
About an hour and half into the journey, we stopped in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. All of us got out and took a piss break and then got right back in the vehicles and proceeded on with our trip. The dust was crazy. I took a look at my back pack which amazingly enough was still strapped to the outside of the vehicle but was absolutely completely covered in a light brown colored dust. It would never again get clean. I was mad that it was outside but nothing I could do about it now. I was very glad that I insisted on keeping my one bag with all my electronic gear in it. That would never have survived. The young Marine did not understand. I decided I would not say anything because after all, I was a hitch hiker of sorts. I was thankful for the ride. But I have never seen a dirtier back pack in all my life than mine strapped on the outside of the vehicle I was riding in.
We arrived at Camp Dwyer in the early afternoon. I was dropped off right at the front door to the offices of my public affairs officer, Lt. Joseph Reney, who is my point of contact. He did not know I was in route, but he was about to find out in short order. I like camp Dwyer, it’s a good place to stage out of when going in or coming out of the area I had just been in.
I left my gear outside the gate enterance area and asked to see the public affairs officer. One of the Marines at the gate escorted me to the office and there I saw Lt. Reney. I was glad to see him and he was smiling when he saw me. We talked for a short while and I told him what was up and that I would be working my way back towards home and that I needed to bed down here at Dwyer for a short while. He arranged me a place right where I was staying before in a tent on a cot next to the MWR tent. He asked me where I was headed to and I told him I was back tracking my way the same way I came into country. That was, back to Dwyer, back to Kandahar where I arrived on a flight from Ramstein. I was trying my hardest to avoid Leatherneck and the Navy reservists who would not be helpful to me. He said he would arrange an ASR for me to get to Kandahar on the 24th and from there I could get back into Germany from there. It sounded good to me and that is the course of action we laid for my exit from Afghanistan at that time. He walked me over to my tent and helped me carry one of my bags. I got into the tent, took my gear off and began to consolidate my gear.
Now that I was in Dwyer, I would put together a box of excess things I did not need with me in hopes of traveling a bit lighter. I also put together some clothes and walked them up to the laundry place about one and half miles away. There I asked the folks if they could put a rush on my clothes so I could exit quickly from Dwyer in the event something came up unexpectedly. They were nice enough to arrange for them to cleaned up by 8:00 PM that night. At that, I turned them in and walked back the mile and a half to my tent. It was not around 4:00 PM in the afternoon and the temperature was still quite warm. On the way back to my tent, I picked up an empty priority mail box and saved it for putting my excess stuff in. Once back in the tent, I got all the things I did not need with me and put them in the box. This took me a while and I soon realized I was getting all my stuff all over the place and I was rapidly getting tired. I did my best to finish it up, took a breather and then waited for the chow hall to open up which would not be long. I would have good meal soon. All I was thinking of was how the guys back at Turbett were doing.
I unrolled my sleeping bag which had been attached to the outside of my back pack and spent the next 30-minutes shaking it to get it somewhat ready for sleeping in. Along the way in my travels I had obtained a light blanket. I had it rolled up into the sleeping bag. It too was filthy but I managed to get it shook out a bit. My $3 pillow was also on the outside and it now looks brown instead of Army green. I got the bag, the blanket and the pillow as clean as they were going to get and then decided to lay them out on a cot and take a rest.
I slept for the next hour with my shoes on. I was fried. My body knew it. It forced me to stop and rest for a while.
End of part 2.
Jim Spiri firstname.lastname@example.org