Friday, October 3, 2008

Staff Sgt. Daniel Krause, calling in adjustments to practice mortat fire, is one of four soldiers in the reconnaissance platoon who has served previous dedeployments.
Michael Gisick

Friday, October 3, 2008

Recon soldiers carve out life at Hatchet

By Michael Gisick, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, October 4, 2008

NURISTAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — A few of the soldiers in the reconnaissance platoon say they can see the image of a wolf in the rocks on the mountainside across the ravine. But Pfc. Byron Norris isn’t one of them.

"I don’t know," the 19-year-old says. "Sergeant Leach says he can see it."

"I can’t see it," Pfc. Jonathan Wilson, a baby-faced, cigar smoking Californian, chimes in from his vantage point a few feet away. "I cannot see that wolf rock."

Over the past three months, Wilson and Norris estimate that they’ve spent an average of about eight hours a day staring out from a fortified position on their mountainside, watching the other mountainside. They look for movement, change, anything that hasn’t always been part of a landscape they’ve all but memorized, wolf rocks or not.

And inevitably, in all those hours, they daydream about seeing something else on the mountainside: their enemy.

"I just want the experience, to know what it’s like," Norris says. Wilson adds that maybe it would be good to get attacked, but preferably only once.

It’s one of the great cliches of a war zone — the young soldiers hoping to see action, while the troops who have tell them it’s nothing to hope for, but say it in such a way that it sounds like they’re keeping a secret.

"Being still a wet-behind-the-ears lieutenant, I’m anxious like a lot of these guys to see what it’s all about," says 2nd Lt. Damien Kuhn, a 23-year-old West Point grad.

"I’m not," says Staff Sgt. Daniel Krause, the platoon sergeant, sitting nearby as he and Kuhn share the overlapping hours of their respective day and night shifts in the outpost’s command shack. If this were one of his two prior tours in Iraq, Krause adds, he "probably would have gotten blown up like 10 times by now."

The reconnaissance platoon, part of 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, arrived at Combat Outpost Hatchet in July. Another U.S. outpost a few miles away was attacked several times in early September. But despite Hatchet’s location a few miles from the Pakistani border, all has been quiet. With the other outpost set to close, and a nearby U.S. checkpoint turning over to the Afghans, Krause says that could change, though he thinks Hatchet would be a tough place to attack.

And it’s not going to get any easier. Besides their guard shifts, the soldiers spend hours a day improving the base, which was set up just a few months before they arrived.

They’ve filled hundreds of sandbags and dozens of Hesco barriers, sometimes using duffel bags. They’ve cleared brush, leveled ground and dug paths out of the mountain. Helicopters are their only source of supply, bringing everything from food and water to lumber and generators. Helicopter day tends to be an especially long one.

"We don’t get a lot of sleep, but I guess that’s the usual side effect of a deployment," says Spc. Brandon Koellecker, 22, of Hiawatha, Kan.

All the work has led the soldiers to jokingly refer to their outpost as "the slave camp," though some say they aren’t really joking.

At any rate, it’s certainly no Club Med. Though an engineer unit that arrived recently has built a few latrines and the beginnings of some barracks huts, most of the soldiers are still living not so much on the mountain, as in it. Dwellings go by such descriptions as "the small cave over there," "the larger cave next to the small cave" and "the cave with the blue tarp."

There is a sort of shower, but they have to hike down to the river to bring water, so most stick to baby wipes. There’s no television and little electricity, though a satellite phone allows them to call home every week or so.

"It’s an extra challenge to motivate them to do all the work when we don’t have the looming prospect of getting attacked," Kuhn says. "I mean, we know it’s there, but that sense of reality hasn’t really sunk in."

And Krause, for one, says he hopes it doesn’t have to.

"They don’t know what it’s like to get hit," he says. "They all wish for it, but they don’t really know. And they don’t really want to."

© 2008 Stars and Stripes. All Rights Reserved

Photo Gallery:


Hutto Haole Wahine said...

re: Photo Gallery --- care package containing ONLY hundreds of Old Bay Seasoning.

So, what happened to the volleyball, plastic cups, and hats?

Bah Hum bug. Send it all back to Sgt Dominguez. He swears it's great on MRE's.

Oh well, maybe it will help keep them warm this winter.

Haole out

Chaotic Mom said...

These guys seem so young, but seem to have such a good attitude, too. ;)