War Journal 54: Shank

A whole new meaning to blowing up the spot.

A whole new meaning to blowing up the spot.

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.



Filed under War Journals

25 responses to “War Journal 54: Shank

  1. I somehow feel clicking the “LIke” button is inappropriate so I’ll just second PetrePan’s statement. ‘Wow. Just wow.’

  2. One day I hope to leave all this for the pleasant monotony of suburbia, where I’ll only be able to wow you guys with the stuff I make up instead of the stuff that really happens! Until then, thanks for hanging out with me 🙂

  3. Gunny

    James I got to spend last summer at “Rocket City”, was there for the VBID and yes it is the most hit base in Afghanistan, I am now at FOB Sharana which after Shank is downright boring LOL

  4. Lori Davis

    My husband is stationed at Fob Shank right now.

    • I hope my post didn’t worry you too much Lori. While I can’t say it’s the safest place in theater, they really have done a lot in comparison to other bases to ensure the personnel are prepared to handle incoming fire.

  5. Mark

    No offense man, but I really could’ve done without this article. I’m at Shank, and will be for quite a while longer. My family back home found this article and now think I’m getting hit with multiple rockets every day and that I’m living in some horrible place where I’m likely to get killed at any minute. They weren’t worried before, but now they are quite worried.. Thanks.

    I’ll take Shank over BAF any day.

    • You know the same thing I told Lori; the base has taken preparedness to the next level. Ensure your family knows that. But I’m not exactly making my experience up about the attacks that happened in the two days I was there. Or the bunkers every 15 feet. Or the stats that make Shank one of the most attacked bases in Afghanistan.

      I certainly didn’t mean to cause your family or any other family out there more stress. I hope they visit this page again (and all the other fams out there) so they can read down to this and know that a good many people stationed there take the in-place safety procedures seriously. That’s why my bunker was full of folks. Just following those minimizes injuries.

      Outside of that, it’s fortune, God, and fate… may all three smile upon you.

  6. cdwldr

    Hey slick, I have relative at FOB Shank and he says you’re full of shit. The base is not attacked multiple times every day, they don’t have to grab a DFAC tray and scuttle into a bunker, etc. Where do you get this pure bullshit?

    • Ajinu

      I don’t know what clown car you got out of, but now I’m offended. I suggest you put on a uniform and volunteer for Shank yourself before you make any comments on a situation that you obviously didn’t read thoroughly. I was on Skype both times with James when mortars were dropping and I want to let you know it was very unsettling for me as his wife. And since you thought it so appropriate to tell James that he is full of shit, I’d like to tell you to eat a bag of shit, because these guys are not at the day spa and sometimes they don’t tell us every little thing because they don’t want us to worry. By the way, his name is James Beamon not Slick.

    • Rich

      Your relative is full of shit. I recently returned from Shank and this blog/article/whatever is spot on. I wouldn’t tell my relatives about the madness at Shank if it didn’t have to, either. Ignorance is bliss.

    • Slick

      I am at FOB Shank now and this is really what its like. Maybe your relative doesn’t want you to worry so they tell you its not bad. Make sure you know your facts before you try to call someone else out “slick”.

  7. Well, Vowelless Commenter, apparently I have a relative who says your relative is the one that’s full of shit. Perhaps your relative, this unnamed brother, sister, spouse, third cousin… doesn’t want you to worry. For you to come to my site, name yourself by smooshing down on your keyboard with ragey hands, and pretty much libel me because my assessment isn’t in keeping with your limited view gives a fairly sound picture of your coolheadedness. Way to keep calm and chive on.

    Understand this: People pay me to make things up. I’m not going to sit here and fabricate what’s really happening in my life. Anyone who’s followed this blog can tell you there are ups and downs, highs and lows all documented. It may not be all sunshine here, but it’s all honest.

    I never said Shank gets bombarded minutely, hourly, or daily. I chronicled my two days spent at the scene. I reported what the people stationed there told me. I provided an assessment of how the people reacted to the attacks. What you choose to believe is up to you, but don’t come here belligerently assuming I’m making this up. Get some couth and some vowels, friend.

    • cdwldr

      You have done the Taliban a great service. Until you ran your mouth(keyboard) they weren’t sure how effective their mortar attacks were. Now you’ve acted well as their forward observer. I’m proud of you.

      • Last time I checked, this post wasn’t talking about the best times to attack, body counts, or how the general populace of Shank is running around unprepared for attack. It was talking something the Taliban already know… Shank gets hit. If they didn’t know that then they have more problems in their command hierarchy then we know about out here.

        Are you trying to win the Internetz? Cause you can win it if you want it that bad.

        Seriously… vowelless dude (lady?) and anyone else… I’d MUCH rather you have a problem with the stuff I make up versus the stuff I don’t. If you want to believe Shank is some unmarred, unblemished paradise in the midst of war torn Afghanistan, that’s your right. Just don’t come at me like my experience was fabricated or worse, that my musings are putting lives at risk. I’m retired Air Force and been in the defense industry for close to fifteen years. I know OPSEC.

        It’s a bitch in the trenches without these stupid sidebars.

      • Slick

        His post doesn’t say one think about “how effective their mortar attacks were”. People like you is what is wrong with America.

  8. Apache

    James, Thanks for the blog on Shank. I have a family member in Shank now. The ROE for Shank and the rest of Stan is an overwhelming amount of stupidity. They watch the enemy setup their mortar tubes with the Apaches overhead asking for permission to fire. Never once were they given permission and the mortars were launched into the base. Just a week ago a CPT was killed for this same reason. These so called ROE rules created by careerist army bureaucrats who have no idea about fighting to win are getting soldiers killed. Why do you think the amount of embedded reporters in Stan is so incredibly low? Accurate reporting from there would show the American public the truth of what is happening in this so called war.. Thanks for the update on Rocket City. Prayers they all return alive.

    • I don’t pretend to know why the Rules of Engagement are so lopsided, but I agree they could use some overall. I appreciate you stopping by and adding to the discussion!

  9. Nora Helman

    You have to be kidding me!!!! Really??? Now I will never be able to rest with my child there!!!

    • Apache

      Please talk to your person in Shank and ask about the IDF. Email does not work often there too, so be patient for an answer. The truth about Afghanistan and the closing war is all politics. God bless the soldiers.

  10. My son’s helicopter that he was working on at the time got hit this morning. I read your page…two days ago. Crazy!! My son is alive. I want him to come home immediately. He say’s he can’t. I have to accept that.

  11. Joker

    We’ve been in Shank as the new FST since mid-April, we’ve taken IDF rounds on an average of one per day. We’ve had several people killed by these attacks and many more wounded in our four months so far. If the klaxon sounds, and you hit the ground, you greatly increase your chance of survival…and most of us do just that. Things were very hot during Ramadan, and we are now “glad” to be back to our daily treats!

  12. Anonymous

    Headed to Fob Shank towards the end of the year. Any heads up on the current situation and what the weather is like I have heard cold and snow but I was hoping for a little better explanation.

    • Admittedly, I haven’t been in Shank for winter, but I have been in Bagram which is only a fifteen minute flight away. It is very cold during the winter, exacerbated by the altitude. Both Shank and Bagram are in mountain valleys. There’s going to be a lot of snow, hard ice, and relentless wind. Expect some days to dip below zero. Winters are not pleasant here.

      Good luck to you. Stay safe out there.

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