The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Afghanistan

FOB Blessing

Rain falls into the paper coffee cup. Small drops but a drizzle of days. I meet Doc Sigmon in front of the medics’ quarters and he tells me our plan for leaving. He’s got a seat on the convoy, but I got bumped. Says I’m not a priority on account of my broken hand; I can only pull tower guard. That’s fine by me, I’ll wait.  They have trees here, and coffee in their huge chow hall. It feels closer to normal, I don’t want to go back to COP Michigan.

The night before last, I was in the chow hall when I ran into Baggenstoss. It drives me crazy, sometimes, how nice they have it here at Blessing. The food is so good, and there’s so much of it. A coffee machine that’s always full, a man working at an ice cream station.  The rest of Charlie Company is here at Blessing, only second platoon got stuck out in the boondocks of COP Michigan, and me the only Forward Observer among them.  When we get back, we will have had a completely different deployment.

I met Baggenstoss in line and we sat down together; he said I probably had questions about him, I said he probably had some too. “No. Why would I have any questions?” I waved the cast in front of him more dramatically this time. “Dude, what happened?”

“Michelle dumped me and I punched a wall.  Your turn.”  We shared our stories.  When he told his fiancé that he didn’t think he was ready to get married, she told him that she had already been seeing someone else. So now he wonders if it was ever his kid in the first place.  I tell him about the girl I’ve loved for years and finally gotten together with, falling in love with the married man whose kids she looks after.  It hurt so much I didn’t know what to do. I still don’t.

I tell him that I caught a ride up to Blessing to take a short class, some kind of resiliency training. It was supposed to be all non-commissioned officers, but my platoon couldn’t spare anyone useful so they sent me. We chat a lot, and I follow him back to the TOC, where he works the night shift.  He shows me around all the computers and screens, where they track intelligence and combat and artillery all over the battalion, and then we go out back for a smoke.  I never used to until now. I guess I just felt like making some bad decisions.

We can’t even help it, we chat for hours. On a later smoke break we sit in the dark, in the rain, and he says that all of religion is based on fear. I said, “No. If that were true then religion would only be induced by fear. If you ask anyone when they got all up in the religion, it’s at the moment when they are most in love with the universe. Me? I am perpetually in love with the universe.”

“But I’m not at all.”

“And that’s why you have no religion. You have fear, but you’re not in love with the universe.” And then I thought back to the day I got “all up in the religion.” It was ten years ago, in a church men’s room, crying my eyes out, with Michelle. People say I can just find someone else, but no one else would have been there so long.

So on the morning I was supposed to leave I stopped by Baggenstoss’s room (he gets his own room, with a mini-fridge and microwave! I live in a room with twelve other guys, and our chow hall doesn’t even have a microwave.) to borrow his camera. I’m going to miss the trees, and the brick buildings and alleys here.

The First Sergeant was adamant about getting me out of there that day, I’m not sure why.  We went down to the flight line- a four-square of flat concrete landing pads for helicopters, surrounded by gravel- to talk to some of the trucks in the convoy and find an open seat.  Sgt Shriver, who runs a platoon at Michigan and gave me lift here, says he’s full. Some people were supposed to leave on the Rhode Island Resupply helicopters last night, but the weather was too bad for them to fly. He tells us this through the open door of his truck, headset on, ready to go.  Standing in the increasing rain, the moment is ripped apart by a 155mm Howitzer firing away down the valley, towards the direction of COP Michigan.  While we were hanging out in the TOC last night, Baggenstoss showed me the reports coming in from Michigan while I was gone. They were getting it, hard, every day.

I ended up finding a spot on the five-ton truck. I had to ride shotgun up in the truck-commander’s seat and manage the radio, and Timmers, some armorer that worked at Michigan for a while, crawled up into the gunner’s hatch.  Is this what he’s up to now, running with the CLiP? People we know, they’re spread out everywhere. I had this perfect little path set up, and she threw me off it. Now I’m a broken soldier, hitching between Blessing and Asadabad by myself. They say they might send me up to Jalalabad. I hope they do. I need a change of scenery.

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