Please read the beginning of this story as shown within the “Afghanistan Story” tab above.
Afghanistan, June 2010, Camp Delaram
“Cannon, you and Virkler are going back to the AUP station.”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.”
I could barely contain my grin.
“They need Centrix installed. Bear will join you guys with the crypto.”
There are multiple networks that the Marine Corps uses in Afghanistan. NIPR is the unclassified network, where you can access Facebook and Gmail and other such sites. SIPR is the secret network, where secret communications are held. Centrix is the NATO network for secret communications between NATO countries. NIPR, SIPR, and CENTRIX all travel over the “Blackcore” network that is completely encrypted.
******Writer’s Note- I have removed an explanation of certain communications to keep as much secret as possible. When I publish, I will have to be cleared by the Department of Defense on what I can write exactly. Just understand that crypto is important and one person was dedicated to carrying it. That person was not Virkler or myself. *******
All NATO countries were supposed to support Centrix at their locations. It was almost pointless because no one was using Centrix to communicate but hey, the requirements were placed and we were supposed to support the requirements. I picked up the layer 3 switch and the encryption device. I could fit the encryption device in my backpack but I would have to carry the giant switch.
Boots, flak, Kevlar, ammo, camelback, backpack, FROG suit, dump pouch, IFAK, rifle, switch. Zero suckers.
Never giving suckers out ever again.
95 pounds this time.
As I left the compound, I practically skipped down the hill to the grunts’ vehicles. I had known that I was pregnant for a total of 17 hours. I had mentioned leaving the wire again to Will and he was angry at me for putting myself in danger. However, I was following orders. If I said no, I would be in trouble.
When I reached the vehicles, I went to find Sgt. P.
We grinned at each other. He looked tired but clean. They seemed to have a few hours before we met with them to grab showers and maybe some hot food. As everyone started loading up into the vehicles, I shifted the switch from one side of my body to the other side. My hips still hadn’t healed from the last time out. Sgt. P went to grab my backpack but I stopped him.
“It has to be in the vehicle. Comm stuff.”
He shifted the contents of the empty back left seat to provide some room for my pack. I threw the pack in and continued to hold the switch. It wouldn’t fit in the seat and I couldn’t simply toss it on top of my bag. If the bag shifted and the switch fell, it could be severely damaged and not work, which would be a waste of time and resources.
Hey, on second thought, maybe an excuse for another trip out to the station would be worth the ass-chewing.
As I climbed into my usual seat in the back behind P, I said hey to Owens and Dumaw. We waited for P to finish outside and I asked some questions to fill the time.
“Dumaw, is this thing hard to drive?”
“Nah, it’s just really hard to steer around the barriers at the ECPs.”
Sgt. P climbed up just in time to hear the exchange between us.
“Cannon, you wanna drive it?”
“You have a Humvee license, right?”
“Well, no. Never went to the course.”
“Eh, who gives a shit? You can drive a car, right?”
Owens poked his head down from the turret.
“P, did you just ask a girl if she could drive?”
I laughed and told Owens to suck my metaphorical dick.
“Yeah, I can drive.”
“Well, let’s go. Switch with Dumaw.”
I leapt down and walked around the MATV to the driver’s side. Dumaw swung out of the driver’s seat and jumped into the sand. I handed him the switch.
“Please be careful with this.”
“Please be careful with this!”
He motioned to the giant vehicle.
“I promise I’ll only run over a few IEDs.”
“Just make sure you hit them good so we can go home.”
Morbid humor. My favorite.
I climbed into the driver’s seat and sat down. I had to sit completely straight up to see over the steering wheel and I couldn’t reach the pedals. Sgt. P had to run around to my side to slam the seat as far forward as it could go. They had never adjusted the seat forward before and the seat adjustment tracks had been slightly eroded and filled with sand. Even with the seat forward, my tippy toes were barely touching the accelerator. The vehicle was already on and rumbling when I switched with Dumaw so I didn’t need to struggle to turn it on.
I looked back at Dumaw in my seat.
“Seriously, please be careful with that switch.”
“Whoa, man, how dumb do you think we are? Think I can’t hold onto a box for a drive?”
“Look, all I know is that grunts eat crayons and glue and talk about how badass they are while they scratch their balls.”
We grinned at each other.
“You sure got lippy since last time I saw you. Guess you’re turning into a real Marine, thinking you can talk shit to grunts.”
“We all know you’re a bunch of soft pansies anyway, whining about your sleep and food and how you never get any of either.”
“Hey, did you enjoy your shower last night? And the night before that? And your AC? Yeah? Yeah? Yeah?”
I kept trying to interrupt and fight back before laughing and giving up.
“Haha, alright, alright. Don’t get angry at me because you were too stupid to get a good job. Plus, you’re not even a grunt. You’re an MP. I bet you give out traffic tickets in America.”
“Fuck no. There are two types of MPs. We call those guys buddy fuckers. They strut around and screw their buddies over by arresting them and shit. I’m a field military police officer.”
“Whop, whop, whop, whop.”
I motioned my hands opening and closing as I mocked him, rolling my eyes.
“Haha, shut up and drive, boot.”
“Boot?! How dare you! Your mom is a boot.”
My mock anger made everyone laugh as I turned ahead. Sgt. P joined in the conversation sarcastically.
“His mother is a nice lady. How dare you insult her? Just drive, boot.”
Fuck. I’m definitely a boot.
I accelerated the vehicle once the radio checks were conducted. I was the lead vehicle. When we got to the exit of the base, the same stuff happened as last time. The machine guns were rotated around to various positions. The weapons were loaded. The seriousness washed over the convoy.
Dumaw was right about navigating through the barriers. The vehicle was huge.
“Think you can handle this?”
“Yeah, I’ve been known to handle large things well.”
I winked at P and laughed. His face was one of amusement and slight shock. I was feeling untouchable and a little feisty.
I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Hey now, keep it PG, you two.”
Dumaw was smiling at us from the backseat. I felt giddy. That behavior was definitely not acceptable. But what were they going to do? Shave my head and send me to the desert? An ex of mine used to say that phrase constantly when faced with adversity. “What’s the worst they can do? Shave my head and send me to Iraq?” He would say it with conviction. I didn’t understand until I was in a combat zone. What’s the worst that could happen?
Passing through the barriers, I took to the road. P told me to turn off the road and hit the wadi, the dried up riverbed that was relatively flat.
“We wanna avoid the roads. Too many IEDs.”
The thought that every motion of my hands and feet could steer us directly onto a bomb at any second was thrilling. As I turned off the road, the stability beneath the wheels of the MATV disappeared. I had to accelerate a little more and grip the steering wheel a little harder as I leaned over it and drove through the sand.
“It’s safer out here? Seriously?”
“What are they going to do? Plant random bombs in the middle of the desert? Then what happens when they walk over them later because they forgot they were there? Their kids play out here. Speaking of, watch for kids.”
My brain was already scanning the horizon for every possible sign of an IED. All four of us were keeping an eye out.
As I climbed the side of the wadi, the front wheel caught on something and the vehicle jerked. Owens was tossed around in the turret.
“SEE?! TOLD YA SHE COULDN’T DRIVE!”
“Shut UP, OWENS!”
Sgt. P looked over at me yelling at Owens.
I slammed the gas pedal to the floor with my tippy toes. The MATV launched up the wall of the wadi and into the air over onto the other side. When we landed roughly, Owens was tossed back and forth in his seat, his sides smashing into the rounded edge of the circular turret. Dumaw, P, and I cracked up while Owens cursed our names and our mother’s names and our first born children’s grade school teachers’ names.
I wiggled the steering wheel back and forth for good measure, the MATV swinging around.
“Alright, alright, that’s enough.”
Feeling chastised by Sgt. P, I stopped and became serious. The radio beeped and Vehicle 2 checked to see if we were okay.
“We’re good. Just teaching someone a lesson.”
We entered the town of Delaram and the compound with ease.