The Afghan Experience: The courage of a lion

By and

We stood under the canopy of a twilight moon. “I’ve been through some s*** that Ajax won’t take off,” he said, blowing a puff of smoke into the autumn air.

Sgt. 1st Class “X” and half a dozen other Americans were ambushed by 40 Taliban members in the Panjwai area. He came up to Kandahar Airfield to treat his wounds before getting back into the fight.

Sgt. 1st Class “X” is a good friend of mine, and I wished he hadn’t seen those things; yet here I stood in awe as he related the grim details of his experiences.

They were on a convoy, providing security for the Afghan army, when suddenly a rocket-propelled grenade collided with the side of one of the Afghan Ford Rangers. Flames licked the heavens as fire shot into the sky. The convoy came to a grounding halt.

Such a scene is not unusual-ambushes are not uncommon-but what happened next was startling. No fewer than 40 Taliban members appeared in an L-shaped ambush. Ahead stood a wall of Taliban soldiers, and the convoy behind them blocked retreat to the rear. They were trapped.

Opposing rifle fire rang in the air. My friend was the gunner in his Humvee and fired numerous rounds at the opposing forces. An Afghan soldier crawled out of the burning Ranger and, with total disregard for his own welfare, fired fiercely into enemy lines. The Americans, with the help of the Afghans, began to suppress their enemies.

It looked as if the fight was over when, abruptly, an RPG smashed into the side of the American Humvee. Shrapnel exploded in the vehicle, a storm of steel-piercing my friend’s legs.

Their vehicle was disabled, and they sat in the kill zone with little hope left. My friend fired his .50 caliber with tremendous force, blasting into the lines of the opposing ambush. They were able to pierce a hole in Taliban lines, allowing the Afghans to flank the enemy and cut them down. Like the cavalry of old, the Romanians came and rescued the wounded.

The real hero of the fight was the Afghan soldier who almost single-handedly suppressed the enemy. Without cover, having numerous wounds, he provided suppressive fires that allowed the Americans to pierce enemy lines, a maneuver that led to the defeat of the enemy.

We are in Afghanistan to teach the Afghans to be able to defend themselves. Some believe that the people we are here to support are lazy, but they possess a courage few will ever see. They will charge into the fray, often with wanton disregard, without orders, whenever it is needed. They have the courage of lions.

Meanwhile, their support structure is competent and able to sustain their infantry. We are making hospitals for the sick and schools so people can learn how to read and know for themselves what the Quran really says. We are giving little girls Beanie Babies, and they are weeping, holding the dolls close to their chests all hours of the day because these are the only toys they have. We are building an infrastructure and simultaneously building an army so they can protect themselves from the Taliban.

This is a mission that is going well, and the prospect of success is near. All we need is more recognition and more funding so that Operation Phoenix does not become the Forgotten War.

Certainly this war isn’t as atrociously violent as World War II or Vietnam, but people are still dying-only in ones and twos.

It is strange to be in a place where death is the norm. Before I came here, I had only been to one funeral: my great grandmother’s, a woman I rarely spoke to. Now, each week that passes without the brigade losing anyone is a good week.

After just a month, I came to the realization that there are worse things that could happen than my own death. The universe barely even recognizes my existence. I am a mere speck-not even a speck-in a position so obscure that I go unnoticed.

Good people are doing good things here, and their altruism should get media recognition. I know that I shouldn’t complain. There are so many people who have it worse than I do, but these are my feelings. I cannot hide them.

Editor’s note: 2nd Lt. Jeff Fullmer is an infantry officer for Operation Phoenix in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Jeff Fullmer