Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, May 2010, Camp Delaram
Everyone had shit going on. Everyone had family issues in the States. Everyone was rounded up onto planes in the middle of all of these issues and sent to the middle of nowhere with no cell phones, no readily-available Internet, no TVs or cable. Lines to the Internet cafe were long and not worth the speeds. River City would occur at random and all outside communication would cease for weeks. We were the sum of the people around us. The States could wait.
Because of the nature of war, you do what you are told no matter what you thought you were there to do. For a lot of people in communications, our skills were so needed throughout the land that we were constantly sent around to fix broken things, regardless of whether we were ever trained on the equipment.
For me, I was taken from the unit I had bonded and trained with in America and sent to a base “far away” to live and work with a bunch of strangers. I had been stationed in California and every member of RCT-2 was from a base in North Carolina. I had spent a year training on satellite equipment and the RCT-2 Communications Marines were trained on the equipment they were using. I was sent to Delaram to help the Georgians with their satellite equipment and, because I was a girl, I was forced down a different path with RCT-2. I had to roll with the punches and adjust rapidly. Because I was a data Marine, it was understood that I was smart and could figure it out. I had no fucking idea what I was doing with this unit, which was not okay for a Corporal.
Ski was the only vaguely familiar face. When he dropped me as a friend, I was relegated to being very alone until Virkler and I bonded. 12 hour shifts and shitty situations will do that to people. Plus, Virkler is a really awesome person. He didn’t trust me at first because of what he had heard about me. He was told that I had fucked Ski and that the shitty Sergeant who everyone hated had decided to favor me.
The situation that brought Virkler and I together is a story of stubbornness and two Marines who wanted to get shit done. Sometime in May, almost immediately after Virkler got back from his R&R (rest and relaxation) leave, Staff Sergeant Rambo threw him on nights with me. Everyone was pissed, Virkler most of all. But it was known that I couldn’t be left on night shift by myself. There was a lot of work that needed to be done and it was physically impossible for me to do it alone. Enter Virkler onto night shift.
Delaram was being built up in 2010. Everything was mainly in tents and the construction battalions (Navy CBs aka Seabees) were rapidly trying to build enough buildings for the different units. Wire Marines would run fiber lines to the new buildings and the networkers (Staff Sergeant Rambo’s team, aka Ski, Virkler, myself and a few others) would scramble to get Internet into the buildings. However, construction was going on everywhere on base and the units weren’t talking to each other to pass along construction plans. Our wire guys would lay fiber and two days later, the Seabees would cut through it accidentally, severing the newly installed connections. This happened SO OFTEN that we devised an emergency wireless point to point link (WPPL) to throw up within an hour to allow services to the severed building while the wire guys would try to splice, or fix, the fiber.
One particular evening, something had taken out the fiber between the compound and the airfield. Virkler and I were coming onto shift and were told to take the emergency WPPL and get the airfield back up. A WPPL is split into six cases weighing over 1000 pounds. A set of three of the cases made one end of the WPPL, and the other set of three made the other end. Each end has a radio, radio tower, a huge power supply, a switch and a router and a few other items. So for us to get these services up at the airfield, we would need to transport these cases approximately a quarter of a mile. Simple job, right? Well, all of the vehicles were in use. Every truck, Humvee…everything was being used. And these services needed to get up. We were at a loss of what to do.
I would be the first to say the unthinkable.
“Let’s just carry it.”
Virkler, who despised me, would cock his head to the side and think that maybe I wasn’t so bad. He agreed. We could do this. The job had to be done.
We gathered all of the cases together, each of us grabbing one case by ourselves and holding the last one between our bodies and began walking. We drug the cases through sand, stopping every few feet to readjust or rest. Neither one of us wanted to be the first to admit defeat and we were suffering. About ten minutes into the walk of death, the wind began to pick up. The previously clear sky full of stars began to be filled with sand.
The sandstorm came quickly and fiercely. We were too far out and much too stubborn to turn around so we kept going. We pulled our shirts over our mouths and noses, closed our eyes, and walked blindly forward, dragging hundreds of pounds of that stupid piece of equipment. I certainly wasn’t about to admit that I was exhausted and miserable to a Marine that already viewed me as a weak link. I would proceed to swallow a beach’s worth of sand on the remainder of the walk.
I swore in my head that this was on par with the Trail of Tears as the case I was dragging rammed into my legs. If I walked faster, it would bang harder into my legs, and Virkler would have to match my speed or else the case held between us would yank our shoulders out of socket. Virkler and I had to watch each other’s bodies to see how the other was moving so we could equally match the steps and speed. Every muscle in my body was screaming.
The worst part? The sandstorm meant we couldn’t see where we were going. We would constantly stop and see if we could gain a sense of direction. We could see nothing for a solid 30 minutes. At one point, I was afraid we had walked off the base and were just wandering around in a sandstorm because we hadn’t seen a building for such a long time. I was starting to become scared. I didn’t think Delaram had walls all of the way around the base; there was an elevated berm of sand but it wasn’t a far shot to think we could’ve climbed it in this storm and walked off into the night.
Virkler began running ahead to see if he could see where we were going and to ensure we weren’t walking off into the great yonder. Every time he left me with the equipment, I was scared he wouldn’t be able to find me again. Whenever I would see his body coming back through the sandstorm, I would breathe a sigh of relief.
After what felt like seven hours but was probably an hour or so, Virkler ran back, excitedly saying he could see a light. We had been walking about two degrees too far to the right and were walking straight past the airfield. We picked up the cases and turned in the direction of the lights, finally reaching the shack that represented the airfield.
We got the WPPL up quickly, building the radio tower in the dark, in the middle of a fucking sandstorm. Virkler and I were cursing and more frustrated than angry, arguing with each other a little as we worked as a stubborn team. We entered the building to set up the other equipment and functioned better as a team with the sand no longer scraping our eyeballs.
The storm had died down as we were working so the night sky was again clear when we began the trek back to the compound. He and I were laughing and joking around, wiping sand boogers from our eyes and blowing sand out of our noses and flinging the brown snot to the ground. We were covered from head to toe in moon dust, our cammies completely blending in with the desert.
Through miserable circumstances, a friendship was born.
Virkler would become my rock.