A long day in Afghanistan

Published 6:35 pm Saturday, January 12, 2013

By SFC Ed Holland

As I wind down my shift for the night, I go to my room, take off my boots and shirt and sit in my chair to reflect.

What a long day….

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As I get ready to shower, there is a knock at the door. One of my soldiers informs me the commander wants all E-7 and above at the Base Defense Operating Center. This is a very rare thing. I scurry to get on my running shoes and leave.

Upon my arrival, everyone is huddled around the video screens, looking at live feeds.

“Hey, Smoke,” my commander says, using the nickname for a platoon sergeant in the field artillery community. “The threat level has just been raised.”

He explains the situation to us. Since I am the forward operating base’s security non-commissioned officer in charge, I pay especially close attention.

We have had insurgent activity before, but this is different. Vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers and dismounts are on the menu now. This type of reporting is an everyday thing, but this time is different. It is very close to our base, and we just may be the target.

So as I call my soldiers and NCO’s in for a meeting, all types of scenarios are running through my head. What if this, what if that. As our meeting starts, I describe the possibilities — point of attack, strong points, weak points and anything else my mind can think of. My NCO’s are also filling in blanks. This is a team effort.

One thing is certain. Lock it down! Getting clearance from the first sergeant and the commander, I instruct my soldiers to lock down the area to all personnel. My job is security and protection of all personnel on the base. After my instructions are written down, my soldiers leave to execute the plan.

I sit with the commander in his office and mull over the current situation. I have to answer any questions he may have.

“Sir, I got this!” I tell him.

“Smoke, I know you do,” he says and flashes a grin of approval.

I then brief the first sergeant on the plan for the next day or so. He wants me to ensure everyone is aware of the situation and that it’s done right.

As I leave to check the positions, the freezing night air is cutting through my sweatshirt and sweatpants. “I’ve got to put-on warmer clothes,” I think. “It’s 5 degrees out here.”

I visit the entry control point and ensure all measures we discussed have been implemented. As usual, my guys are all over it. They have everything in place, and they are ready.

I then go back to my room to try to get a few hours of sleep. It is 2 a.m., and I have to be up at 5 a.m. I get in the bed, and 20 minutes later the knock comes again.

“Smoke!” a voice yells out. “A BOLO vehicle is 2 kilometers away!”

I get up, get dressed in a rush and head to the BDOC. As I sit there and watch the feed, the most critical part of the day comes — first light. This is the most likely time for an attack. I watch the video feeds, yelling out orders to my soldiers, and they comply. Time is ticking. No reports yet. We are fully prepared for any type of attack, but we pray it doesn’t happen.

The phone rings, and on the other end a voice says, “Hey man, the threat level went down.”

This is a welcome call, but we understand that even though the level is down, the threat still remains. The job of the U.S. soldier on today’s battlefield is very different. We are no longer doing traditional warfare. The enemies are fighting in civilian clothes and using extraordinary means to inflict as many U.S. casualties as they can.

After we bring down our posture, we talk about the events of the last 18 hours. We call it an AAR, after-actions review. We did everything right. We were and remain prepared for anything that comes our way. Our commander is pleased with the measures we have put in place.

“Good job, Smoke,” he says. “You thought of everything.”

I tell him, “I am the brains, but the soldiers make it happen, sir.” He is pleased.

The soldiers and NCO’s here are great, and we are willing to put our life on the line for each other and for our freedom.

At Fort Campbell, we have a Division motto: “ We have a rendezvous with Destiny.”

It is our destiny that the soldiers of Lightning Battery are successful in our mission to protect the people we love home and abroad. But my personal mission is to bring home the brave men I have here. They are fuelers, chemical guys, truck drivers, medics and intel guys.

I am the only combat arms soldier here. It is my job to bring them home to their wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers and children. And this mission I will see until the day we all step our feet back to Fort Campbell, Ky.

Then and only then will I be able to drop to my knees and thank God that we are home, back in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

Sgt. First Class Ed Holland, a 1989 graduate of Suffolk High School, has been in the U.S. Army for 18 years. He is on his sixth deployment, including five to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.