Opinion

Marshall: 'A bed, a bunker and a dishka. What more can a man want?'

Third in a series.

U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Macon was embedded with a Special Forces A Team, the weekend of July 20. This is his log of the experiences.

Sunday, July 22, 2007: Besides those finishing their night shift, Scrappy and Dog were the only two coalition members up and about this morning as I wandered around Fire Base Chamkani at daybreak. Dog feigned an attack on some of the Afghan help. Maybe the A Team is right about the usefulness of these two Afghan mutts. In many third world countries, barking dogs inform strangers when they get too close to their owner's property. Scrappy and Dog do not bark at Americans within the perimeter, only Afghans.

Breakfast was scheduled from six to eight with a team briefing to follow. That left plenty of time for some exercise. So I walked to the highest bunker on the outer perimeter, joined by my Special Operations military escort, Special Forces Col. Ray Helton with his sidearm hidden under his shirt. At the top, I found Afghan security guard Sher Agha who is a member of the Stanakzai tribe, according to his U.S.-issued identification card.

He was sitting outside his bunker on a plywood bed eating breakfast and drinking tea, a Russian dishka machine gun wrapped in blue plastic behind him. We arm the ASG force with Russian weapons and munitions scarfed from caches. When you have little, you waste little.

I took a picture and showed it to Sher Agha. He was pleased and offered us tea. We accepted despite worries about Montezuma's Revenge, although in this part of the world it probably has a different name. Later, seeing the picture, one of the A team members commented "A bed, a bunker and a dishka. What more can a man want?"

We returned to this topmost bunker later in the day so the A team could show me the lay of the land and give me a formal meeting with the commander of this ASG force. Team members call him Gun Doctor or GD. He has been a mujhadin since the age of 13. I'm told he is now 33, which seems far too young for his striking features. But the average life expectancy in Afghanistan is one of the lowest in the world. Afghanistan's poverty, wars and harsh environment are utterly unforgiving.

During the meeting and later, through an interpreter, I spent a fair amount of time talking with GD and recalled Gen. Abizaid's quip that "Afghanistan is moving rapidly into the 15th century." Actually its social fabric and mores seem a mixture of many centuries. The culture clash is quite pronounced.

Individuals can't survive in these Afghan and Pakistani mountains conquered only by Alexander the Great. Individuals must ally themselves with a tribe. Tribe is everything. The system is feudal, France and England circa 1200 A.D.

Like knights and yeomen, young tribal men are expected to serve the security needs of the tribe as determined by tribal leaders. It's a matter of meeting a social obligation in order to continue to enjoy esteem in the tribal society. GD knows combat. But even more so, he knows survival. His allegiance can change with the tribe's.

We can't get out today. When the weather is good, no helicopters are available. They are called to more important duty - reinforcements in a firefight, medical evacuations, critical resupply. This part of Afghanistan is hot. One A team member says "Chamkani is actually in the Bermuda Triangle. When you come here, you can't get out."

I will miss votes. But I insist no one whines about it on my behalf. My business pales in comparison, and I don't want Special Operation Command (SOCOM) or Department of Defense (DoD) to have another reason to be reluctant about front line embeds.

One of our outposts, an Afghan Border Patrol checkpoint some three miles toward Pakistan, was hit that night with RPGs (Soviet shoulder-fired rocket propelled grenade) and small arms fire. We watched the fight from the op center roof and I was heartened when listening to the A team members discussing what to do.

The outpost called for help. GD came by with an additional request. But team members were reluctant to do so. One said "We need to let them take care of this piss-ant little stuff or they will never build capacity." The others agreed. GD asked for at least some illumination rounds. The A team fired three, reluctantly, from their 120 mm mortar.

Spec. Dan Love, a young photographer with 7th Special Forces Group, got a great picture of one of the mortar illumination rounds being launched. I was watching the fight, not the mortar crew.

Jim Marshall represents the 8th Congressional District in Georgia.

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