A very GWOT Christmas deployed to Afghanistan

Jack Murphy
December 18, 2019 - 12:31 pm
Jack Murphy with Afghan para-military soldiers

Courtesy of the author

Christmas in Afghanistan in 2004 feels like a surreal experience looking back on it. I was 21 years old at the time, deployed as a sniper with 3rd Ranger Battalion. We were part of a special operations task force stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno in Khowst. The war was still young, and so were many of us. The Taliban and Al Qaeda had been beaten back in the 2001 invasion so by 2004 things were relatively quiet in the Afghan countryside. No one knew we would still be there all these years later.

The base had an airfield on it and was surrounded by triple-strand concertina wire and guard towers every five hundred meters or so. There was a dirt road winding around the inside of the perimeter that my sniper partner and I would run on for PT, there was a gym, a chow hall, showers, even a laundry service, and we were inside a little compound within the base itself. Attached to two platoons from Charlie Company, we had executed a dozen or so direct action raids thus far and our battalion's new recce section had been conducting reconnaissance missions. In between missions, we kept ourselves busy doing PT, shooting at the range, doing maintenance on our vehicles, and other practical training exercises. 

As Christmas approached, I remember talking to my sniper partner about the battle of Fallujah which had just happened in Iraq. We both agreed that the Marines had done a hell of a good job cleaning the place out. The other event we were all talking about was the suicide bomber who clacked himself off in the chow hall at the FOB in Mosul, Iraq killing 14 soldiers. The word we got was that it was an inside job, which later turned out to be true. The terrorist had been working on the base for months. For us, it felt like the war was in Iraq not Afghanistan.

When Christmas Eve rolled around a few days later, we didn't do anything terribly special. We rolled out of our cots in the GP Medium tent we slept in and went about our day. One thing that had really shocked us on Thanksgiving was that our KBR run chow halls actually featured ice sculptures. When we went to Christmas dinner, they had them again. Large swans and animals made out of ice. We were all kind of floored by that. Afghanistan is an austere, remote country in Central Asia. Khowst is an austere remote province within Afghanistan. How did KBR get ice sculptures to our chow hall? The mystery endures. The folks who worked at the chow hall did have a very nice dinner prepared for all of us which we really appreciated.

Afterward, we made phone calls home and I'm 110% sure that the recce guys I bunked with watched their bootleg copy of "Team America: World Police" which they had unironically bought in the Afghan market close to our base.

This Christmas, I can't help but think of all the soldiers we currently have deployed around the world, especially the ones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and perhaps a few other uncomfortable places. Recently I was having a conversation with a veteran who had been injured in Afghanistan and he mentioned that he had left the country in 2014. Upon informing him that I was there ten years prior he just laughed, acknowledging that I was a bit older than him. And yet, he may one day have the same experience in conversations with veterans coming home from Afghanistan in 2029. Think we won't still be in Afghanistan then? Well, none of us seriously thought we'd still be there in 2020.

By then, I bet they'll have even cooler ice sculptures for Christmas. 

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.