Tuesday, August 7, 2012

One Last Time into the Breach

I beleived that I have whined exhaustively on various prior occasions about how complicated it is to get a single person (me) from point A to point B because of the need for a fleet of armored vehicles, soldiers to drive and man them, requirements to seek and obtain approval, work out timelines, etc. etc. etc.  Suffice to say then that when the bosses in Kabul call up and want to move over a dozen people to multiple locations for a battery of meetings (including the press, which then raises "opsec" issues), life can get a bit complicated.

Logistics aside, I was glad to have a sizable operation and challenge to keep me busy up to the end and to make my last mission "outside the wire" a memorable one. After a year, I can now look at a "CONOP" (concept of operation) and not only actually understand it, but point out the flaws it might have. For example I caught one submission that planned a helo landing in a space that could probably accomodate the machine, but would result in a huge rotorwash (the high winds generated by the air the helicopter blades are pushing down to generate lift) which could have easily damaged nearby facilities, and at a minimum would redistribute a good bit of the nearby volleyball pit as it got hit with hurricane force winds.

Anyhow, we had developed a very solid CONOP, and the commander took the further precaution of adding extra assets just to have additional help available, just in case. A wise man.

My only beef with the plan was that it required me to meet up at 0500 even though we didn't actually leave the base until closer to the much more civilized hour of 0700.  I knew there were reasons for this, but even if my greensuiter pals were just trying to ruin my beauty sleep, complaining about an "SP" is on the list of cardinal sins for civilians in a war zone, so I stifled my groan and tried to give my snappiest "Roger That!".  For the record - I think that SP means Start Patrol though I'm not entirely sure. It means the time when you and your stuff best be at the appointed place or you instantly become "that guy". Like many military expressions, I'm pretty confident I'm not the only guy who couldn't give the exact translation but uses it anyhow, including as a verb, as in we are "SPing" in 5, meaning "rolling out".

My Wheels at the SP point
the most expensive and uncomfortable ride around, but they got the job done

I wasn't going to be "that guy" on my last mission, so I was there early (thank you for feeling my pain) - and kept my solid (if not flawless) track record intact. My escort service showed up with their customary punctuality and good spirits and we headed off, enjoying the novelty of using an "NTV" for my final trip. That would be a Non-Tactical Vehicle - in other words, not the ones you see here, but something you'd see a soccer mom/dad driving around. Now most of those SUVs aren't "up armored" but it's the same car, just some extra baggage. We needed them because of how many passengers we had, and I wasn't complaining as it meant both that it would be a comfortable ride, and that for a change I'd get to actually see much more of the country out of the regular sized windows than I typically do from the slit windows in the MRAPs.

The nice thing about our ungodly SP time was that we had time to case the scene at the Air Force DFAC on the far side of the base - and found out what we'd been missing all these months. The differences weren't huge, but the cuisine was definitely a step up, the seating was more generous, the ceiling higher, the decor newer. I was indoctrinated in Army prejudices against their flying brethren even as I ate food from their table (literally). On the other hand, they were very friendly and seemed happy to share their freshly imported pork products and encouraged us to try the "waffle bar".

Soon enough it was time to roll out (I mean SP), and we were sandwiched in between two MRAPs cruising down the highway having a laugh about which vehicle in the convoy you'd shoot at "if I were a Talib". It wasn't the rolling bank vault...

Anyhow, I was enjoying the scenery when I noticed we were starting to lose the MRAP in front of us, and the driver picked up the radio to report that we had a "little problem" - namely that for no apparent reason the engine cut off and wouldn't restart. Without missing a beat the team regrouped, moved people into other vehicles and started to "work the problem". We had stopped in a busy area, and soon the locals were out to check us out and offer assistance - proffering jumper cables and mechanical advice.

Meanwhile we were working on options if the car didn't start, since we were the first and lesser of two groups involved in the mission, and part of our job was to help secure the LZ for the helicopter bringing in the rest of the visitors. More trucks were dispatched as backup, but in the meantime the stalled NTV had been brought back to life by the other NTV we had.  We all hopped back into our original vehicles and were about to pull out when the report came in that the second NTV had also flatlined...  Now it was their turn to pop the hood and find new seats.

Luckily, the cavalry pulled up a few minutes later and then we had enough vehicles to press ahead while the first team "recovered" the newly non-functioning NTV.  We took off, and to the obvious delight of the drivers got the order to abandon the usally sedate pace and "push". We were pushing along very nicely which was good, since we got word that despite us having informed our colleagues of our delay, they had already taken off twenty minutes ahead of schedule...

Our push came to an end soon after as our NTV again decided it didn't like the SP time, or the heat, or the extra armor it was being asked to carry around, or something.  Anyhow, I don't think we had drifted to a full stop before the team was out and scrambling around to find the next fix. I never found out (or asked as I'm not positive that all pertinent rules and regulations were strictly observed) just who ended up where, but within five minutes I was in an MRAP and booking along again with a grin from ear to ear listening to the "chatter" as the team sped onward and offered their unflattering views on the NTVs.

View of a Farm Behind PRT

The mission itself went fine - though the press conference was far less entertaining than the ride to it, and I found myself having to politely but firmly hasten my (far more senior) visitors along in order to avoid a more serious problem if they missed their helicopter flight (yes it happens). They didn't and I enjoyed the short, windy and scenic ride to the PRT, where they enjoyed the customary Korean hospitality and sushi. After a few final crises - involving VIP guests showing up an hour later than promised - the mission was complete and declared a success, and my visitors were "wheels up" and fading into the distance, leaving me to pack my bags and close up shop.

The Welcome Sight of Responsibility Flying Away

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a really entertaing blog Bill and for your service. Seems like it was a truly fascinating year.