Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, May 2010, Camp Delaram
After the mortar attack, I was extremely jumpy. The Afghan National Army would glare at the Marines when we would walk by. We were encouraged to walk with a “battle buddy” when reports came in of a member of the ANA stabbing a Marine in the neck on Camp Leatherneck.
The ANA was a complicated unit of men. The majority of the soldiers were known affiliates of the Taliban, who we were fighting. They made no attempt to hide their meetings with the Taliban before casually walking onto our base, going to our tiny chow hall, and sitting down at the tables next to us as we ate the same food. However, American policy was to train them and teach them to build up their own forces, knowing that they were passing information to our enemy.
I don’t believe these men were bad. They needed a job and the ANA provided the means for them to earn a living. And we, Americans, were in their country and trying to kill their family members. War is not black and white, especially when the war has twisted politics and purpose over hundreds of years.
I had known nothing of the war when I was sent to fight it. Like most Marines, my job was to support the few Marines who would kill the enemy. These men were called “grunts” and I was a POG (derogatory term for ‘personnel other than grunt’). Not only was I a POG, I was a girl…
I called home after the attack, trying to gain reassurance from my husband. It was extremely difficult to place a phone call in a combat zone, even as a communications Marine. I was lamenting to Ski about the lack of contact with my husband, who hadn’t emailed or sent me anything yet during the entire deployment. He led me to a tent filled with communications gear stacked high in green tactical boxes. On one of the boxes, there was a single phone going into the equipment.
“Don’t tell anyone about this phone. We don’t have it registered to be taken down during River City.”
River City is a state of communications. When an American dies in combat, all communication with the outside world is stopped. No email, no Internet, no phone, whatsoever, no exceptions. This term “River City” is to protect American families from receiving news that their family member in the armed forces has died from anyone but the two members of the death detail who knock on the next of kin’s front door. This dreaded knock on the door is how families are notified and not by some shell shocked Lance Corporal who was a family friend.
So this phone was “off the grid.” It was a fantastic secret.
“Make it quick.”
I reached for the piece of paper in my pocket that had the 14 digit phone number to a call center in Germany. I dialed, and then waited with static in my ear for the operator to pick up.
“I’d like to connect to an American phone center.”
I had been told to ask specifically for a center in Ohio that allowed calls from a combat zone and didn’t charge international fees.
Five minutes went by as my call was connected to another operator.
“I would like to call area code ‘760.’”
When I heard the dial tone, I dialed my husband’s number.
He picked up on the fifth ring, and I heard sounds of a party in the background.
“Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a while.”
There was a horrible ten second lag before I heard him respond.
“Yeah, I’ve just been relaxing after my deployment.”
He had gotten back from his eight month long deployment two days before I left for mine.
“Well, things have been pretty rough here.”
Giggles from a girl came through the phone.
“Eric, I thought we said we weren’t going to swing anymore.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure I want to not swing.”
“Well, I’m going to go jump in the hot tub. Talk to you later.”
I had a horrible hot and heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I set down the phone and got up from the uncomfortable position that I had been in on the floor.
When Ski asked if everything was okay, I just shook my head as hot tears collected dust down my face. I walked past him and out of that tent.
Later that day, mail was delivered. Everyone’s names were called out by the mailman Lance Corporal and they were tossed their letters and packages.
“Here’s one for William.”
My ears perked up. I waited for him to show up.
He came from the back of the room, grabbed his package, and grinned at me as he passed. I turned beet red and looked at my boots. His smile made my heart skip.
When my 12 hour shift was over, I went to leave the compound. William was sitting on the porch of the operations center, smoking. He waved at me.
“Hey! Hope you got some cool stuff from home!”
You know what? Fuck Eric. Fuck him and that bitch he’s fucking.
“Yeah, come here. I’ll show you!”
I walked towards him.