I was away for the past couple days, sent on a high priority mission to Forward Operating Base Shank. The mission on FOB Shank was simple, deliver a preconfigured laptop to a waiting, eager customer.
What I didn’t know before I got there was Shank is battle-scarred. It is unequivocally the most attacked base in Afghanistan. At my home station, I can scarcely find a bunker. At Shank they literally have bunkers every 15 feet. The day I arrived we got hit with mortar rounds around dinner time. I’m a little freaked out but not much, as I’ve been through several singular attacks. I go to the chow hall and I’m passing bunker after bunker filled with people huddled inside. The chow hall has several bunkers ringing it, and all of them were full to bursting with people inside eating from trays they had picked up and taken with them. That’s the mark of people who are used to more than one coming down; they were prepped for a rain of hellfire to rival the Apocalypse.
Now, I’m more than freaked out.
The next day we get hit with another attack, this time in the morning. The All Clear siren sounds shortly after lunch so I go with the customers I came out to support. Since the attack is fresh on everyone’s minds, one of the guys casually gets me up to speed on Ol’ FOB Shank. That’s when I find out about that little tidbit that it’s the most hit base in Afghanistan, like it’s some sort of practice range for the Taliban to get their aim right before traveling to more lucrative bases. Last year Shank got 211 documented attacks. These aren’t 211 individual mortars or rockets, but attacks of several mortars and rockets. And these are the documented ones… they don’t document certain attacks, like the mortars that don’t explode but land inertly to crush whatever it fell on or the attacks where the aim was bad and didn’t quite make the base. I don’t know how many of those kind they had, but I imagine they have the highest seeing that practice makes perfect and Shank is apparently the place to practice.
Then the guy talks about how that doesn’t faze him. No, what scares him is when the insurgents enlist the kids from the local villages to come to the fenceline and get the concertina wire. So the kids come, with little hands and little cutters and take away the base’s razor wire. Then industrious adults jump the fence. This happens there.
By this time I halfway expected a scene out of Apocalypse Now. “Why does this base get hit so much? Who’s in charge here?” I’ll ask. And they’ll look at me with that thousand yard stare and say “Ain’t you?”
A few hours later, we got hit with another attack. This time, I didn’t fuck around. There was a bunker right outside my tent, but then again there’s a bunker right outside everyone’s tent… and I hit that bunker quick. Hunkered under it’s concrete walls, the ghostly silhouettes of two dozen others lining either side of me, I looked past them all as the dying light of day cooled to blue and waited for the All Clear. That’s how I spent sunset at Shank.
I left as early as I could the next day. But at least I got the mission done, right? Turns out the customer out there in Shank didn’t need or want a laptop. No, there was a network problem, one the network team was already aware of and handling before I even left. The customer’s original system came online the second day I was there, without me laying a finger on it. I wound up bringing everything I took with me out there back with me.
If you need a poster boy to trumpet the wonders of communication in an organization, I’m your huckleberry.
NOTE: you can directly support an almost bombed out, starving artist by picking up my novelette, Dialogues with Talking Heads. Even if you check it out for free, you support a brother. Also be aware that the Kickstarter for the UFO 2 Anthology is getting close to an end and needs all the help we can give it. And if your dollars are stretched thin these days (who’s aren’t right?) then definitely kick in for UFO 2 before you check out my novelette… it’s only there for a limited time and the world NEEDS more funny. Trust me on that.