Like any military veteran during their military career has events they remember more than others and some events they try to forget, but no matter how hard they try you can’t get rid of that memory. Today it hit me that ten years ago, around this time of the summer, I was stationed in Uzbekistan, which for some of you that don’t know was an old Soviet state before the fall of the regime in the early 1990’s. Before I was stationed in Uzbekistan, I was yanked out of the police academy one week prior to graduation, which of course was devastating. The thing that made it worse for me at that time was that police graduation was supposed to be on my mother’s birthday, July 11, 2003. She knew my career goal of becoming a police officer was something I strived for, but we were not expecting this to happen so suddenly. When 9/11 happened, my unit was called to the Pentagon the day after it was attacked and we saw all of the destruction and chaos that most people around the world and country didn’t see. The confusion of who would take over the crime scene and the investigation was a huge mess, but two weeks later or so it was finally handed over to the F.B.I. Even at that point we had two fellow MP’s in the Baltimore County Police Academy and they were yanked out of the academy seven weeks early for that call up.
I remember getting the call from my team leader one evening after my class had just finished a class at the EVOC (Emergency Vehicle Operations Course) course for the day. I got to my car and saw that I had a voice message and once I listened to the voice message of my team leader telling me to call him right away or come to the armory as soon as possible, I knew right then and there that we might have gotten orders to be shipped out. Well, instead of trying to figure out what the issue was I went to the armory immediately after we all left the EVOC site for the day. Once I got to the armory and saw one of my fellow soldiers cleaning and mopping the entrance hallway, the first thing he said was something to the affect of “Sup son! We got orders to overseas, but don’t know where yet.” After he told me that I was confused because you wonder how a military unit can be sent orders, but have no idea of where they are going. Sure enough I walked over to a small desk, which you would see in an elementary school, and saw a pile of papers and read it. It was our orders, which was not in the official format that I was used to seeing when we had gotten our previous orders for Germany, Panama, and Ft. Stewart, Georgia. I had to confirm the orders with another member of the unit and he basically told me that the piece of paper I had in my hand was absolutely correct.
Of course, when I saw the date of report and time I made my case that I was still in the police academy and that I am due to graduate on that day. The first sergeant at that time basically explained to me that you will just have to deal with not finishing and report here at the armory at the allotted time. Oh, you can imagine that I was not happy about this order at all, but not for the fact of being shipped out, but for the sake of not allowing me to finish the final week of the police academy. The following day I went to the training unit of my agency and told them what was happening and that I am being shipped overseas for a military mission. They were shocked at first to hear that, but more shocked to know that I only had, literally less than a week to get things in order. I went back and forth with the military and my police agency to work something out for me to stay until the 11th of July when I graduate and meet up with them immediately after. The deal fell through and I was ordered to finally leave the police academy and join my military unit on that day at about 0700hrs.
The only thing I remember on that morning of our departure was that many families were obviously upset and tears being shed between husbands and wives. That morning as we were on the coach bus for our two hour drive to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, some of us see a vehicle traveling beside our bus on the highway. As we kept looking at the vehicle we noticed it was a wife of one of the soldiers on the bus driving next to us still crying her eyes out and mouthing “I love you” to him until she took an exit. He kept motioning to her to leave and go home, but that wasn’t easy for him and that made him nearly break down, but he was able to hold it together. If my memory serves me right I think I told my father and mother after they dropped me off to just leave afterwards. It was already hard enough to leave them on a sudden notice and having them hang around longer just to prolong the inevitable was not right in my eyes.
Once we got to Ft. Dix, New Jersey, which I remembered well from one of our annual training sessions there, we had to unload our bus and go to our assigned rooms. I don’t remember if we had any days to adjust or not, but I remember we almost immediately dove into our training. The training we were to receive while stationed at that base was Combat Validation Training, where a unit is put to the test through simulated combat scenarios for 30 days prior to being shipped out to a combat zone. Since our MP unit was not necessarily a combat unit, we had to learn and pick up the trade real quick on how to become a combat MP unit so we could finish our tour on time.
I have to tell you those 30 days was probably one of the worse 30 days in my life. The training, for the most part was cruel and hideous! Certain parts was exciting and fun, but it was almost like being in basic training again, except without drill sergeants yelling in your face constantly. The bad thing about that training was that it didn’t count towards your combat tour. So for that whole month you are crawling through the sand, bushes, trees, and sweating your ass off accounts for nothing towards your tour. The only thing it does is to get you ready for your combat mission upcoming in the sandbox. During my stay at the base I had to go through a hearing test, which afterwards I was labeled on the border of H2/H3. It was at this time I was told of my hearing lost in my right ear and low tone deafness. Out of that my nickname became “DEAF CHILD”, which in some occasions it still sticks today. If I was labeled as an H3 completely, that would have made me undeployable and stuck at Ft. Dix for the entire time of our tour, which was at that time six months. For nearly a week I pleaded my case to not send me as I gave the explanation of not wanting my career to end before it starts if my hearing goes completely.
I was actually told that one good loud boom from a bomb, if I am close enough, will completely damage my right ear drum and make me completely deaf in that ear. I had several opinions, from other hearing technicians, and some said I was an H2 and others said H3. Finally the company commander and the first sergeant made a decision to ship me with the rest of the unit regardless of what the hearing doctor stated. So it was definitely at that time that my presence overseas was going to be there, but we still didn’t know exactly where. Days later we found out, just before we were to be shipped out, that we were heading to Kabul, Afghanistan for our six month tour. Any veteran of that unit, including myself, knew that our tour over there was going to be more than six months. During our mobilization at our home station, in Baltimore, Maryland, a lot of our ending dates in the National Guard were extended. For example, I was supposed to get out of the active duty portion of the National Guard in March 2004. I was specifically told that my tour of duty will take me way beyond that.
That statement right there was enough to inform me that we were going to be extended beyond six months. Our six month tour was to end somewhere in November or December 2003, but some of us knew that wasn’t happening. Once we received our overseas orders that we were officially being sent to Afghanistan, we all were told that we were going to be shipped to Uzbekistan first. Our shipping order was amongst three to four military cargo planes, with each platoon getting their own cargo plane and one for our gear. I have to tell you that the flight from New Jersey all the way to Uzbekistan was the longest uncomfortable flight I have ever had. We eventually refueled in the air on the way there, but it was also cold in that plane. The heat was on, but it is not enough to warm the entire cargo portion of the plane. First when we got on the plane we had to sit in these cargo netted seats and they are not comfortable at all! Several minutes after we got in the air we were finally able to undue our seatbelts, that actually reached from the ceiling of the plane, and can walk around and sleep if we wanted too.
We couldn’t sleep on top of the hummvee’s we had with us and inside of them. Prior to us getting the okay to come out of our seats, I had searched around for sleeping spots and spotted at least three of them. Unfortunately, all three spots were taken and of course I was assed out of what to do and where to go sleep at. The only spot that I could find to sleep was the damn CARGO DOOR!! That’s right the CARGO DOOR was my sleeping spot, which made me even colder and unable to get good rest. I knew if that cargo door flew open for any reason that was going to be the final session of my life. I died trying to sleep on the cold, uncomfortable cargo door and ended up in some mountain region frozen!
I may have lain over that cargo door for only a few hours, but I kept sliding because of the slant in the design. It was kind of cool to be able to refuel mid air, but after that I couldn’t sleep anymore. Maybe 15 hours later after we left New Jersey, we landed in Uzbekistan where we were supposed to only be there for a week. Unfortunately, we ended up there for at least a month before being shipped down range to Kabul, Afghanistan for our main mission. While in Uzbekistan we faced temperatures as hot as 130 degrees, but with no humidity made it bearable, but we were not allowed to do any exercise outside or risk getting into trouble. It was constantly a black flag day on base during the day, but at night it felt like it was under the freezing mark because of the massive temperature drop.
It would only be between 65-70 degrees, but you felt like you was freezing and started wearing sweats, knitted caps, and gloves. After a while you got used to it, but that was not a fun time for many of us but we made it the best way we knew how. While there I met an Uzbekistani, a beautiful woman, in the mess hall or cafeteria, who was one of the cleaning staff. I would have to say that if I had a picture of her, she would put majority of the American women to shame! I tried to get with her at some point, but with our schedule in trying to do things and her not always working we never got that opportunity to actually sit down and talk. She knew enough English to get by and to hold somewhat of a decent conversation, but you can tell it wasn’t her primary language.
During my Uzbekistan tour, which did count towards our six month tour, is where I received the biggest and nastiest injury I could ever remember. We were all playing basketball and as the ball got loose on the other side of the court, I went running for it and as reached out for it got pushed in the back hard. I went flying towards the ground and landed on my left knee first, which I thought was broken. I couldn’t bend it straight for a while as blood was just dripping from my knee and on the court. I ended up limping to either my tent or somewhere where I got some ice to stop the bleeding. Needless to say that was my last time playing basketball for a long while as I felt like I was pushed on purpose, but of course no one admitted to it. I have my suspicions of who it was, but I couldn’t say for sure, but from that night on I kept him in my sights for later revenge if I ever did find out. Till this day I still have the scar where my knee hit the pebble, blacktop court although now most of the scar has been grown over.
The shower and bathroom stalls were not attached to the tent at all. Depending on where you were stationed on the base, you had to walk over rocks and gravel in shower shoes to get to the shower facility. Many of the days I hurt my feet walking over certain portions of the gravely road just to take a shower and to return to our tent. During the day it was approximately 70 degrees in our tent, but with dirty, concrete floors. Once you opened the flap to the outside you would immediately bust out into a sweat since you went from a 50-60 degree temp jump within in a matter of seconds. However, with all the amenities limited to the main basics, you was able to go to the base store or PX as some of us knew it, and buy movies, candy, drinks, and other things that 7-11 sells. However, you were definitely not allowed to leave base for any reason as we had terrorist cells and protests just outside the gate. On one side of the base was a white tall concrete wall that separated us from the regular citizens, who often played soccer on a daily basis with the threat of running over landmines that were placed there during the German invasion of the Soviet’s in WWII.
Majority of the staff workers and cleaners were Uzbekistani and they seemed like real nice people and just fortunate to have a job. As you lived on base you got to know certain ones who could hook you up with certain things and some were just all around good people and it seemed like you could do no wrong. I often think about my tour there and wish I had more pictures of my time there, but I do have some. Once I find them I will share them with you on here. However, later on during our month stay in this old war torn country, we found out that our unit was going to be split up into three locations.
Our second platoon was going to be stationed on the base in Uzbekistan and do force protection missions, my platoon, first platoon, and third platoon was being shipped to Kabul, Afghanistan, and one squad from second platoon was going to guard a secret plane somewhere in Pakistan. This sucked for a lot of us because we had grown closer together across the ranks and so many friendships were altered because of this move, but many others were made. As our deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan was underway our mission was just getting off the ground and new challenges would soon come. Just none of us thought that the challenges would come so soon before we landed in country.
TO BE CONTINUED…PART II