Generally, when our squad went on patrol for hours at a time, we would set up Observation Points, or OPs. OPs were areas that were slightly defensible and allowed us to watch a large area while remaining concealed. That’s what the manual says about OPs, anyway.

What we really used them for was to duck away in the night for a few hours and take turns napping. A few soldiers stood watch while the others removed their overbearing gear and laid down in the dirt to catch a few minutes of much-needed sleep.

The official mission was to watch over a Taliban “rat line,” or trail used for smuggling weapons into the area. We had watched the ratline and raided various houses in the last few months and found nothing. We were all pretty sure that the ratline didn’t actually exist anywhere outside of Scream’s head.

Because Scream was adamant that something was going to happen in that village, he kept ordering us to sit in the darkness and stare at nothing.

We established a primary OP on an elevated ridge that overlooked the trail that Scream was certain was a pathway for whatever nefarious deeds the Taliban did at night. During our first ten-hour watch of the area, Walrus—one of the laziest people I’ve ever met—found a couch in one of the cornfields. He dragged the furniture up the ridge and into the OP, giving the position its name.

It was at that OP that some of us older soldiers had to teach the other guys the art of soldiering in the pitch darkness. Smoking without being seen became a skill. You could easily see a cigarette’s lit cherry over a mile away. If you weren’t careful, you could give away your position while feeding your terrible vice.

You could stick your cigarette and lighter into your ration bag to light it. Then you’d cup your hand around your mouth and cigarette when you needed a hit to conceal yourself from whomever wanted to blow your face off in the middle of the night. A few of us switched from smoking to chewing tobacco for night patrols. The first few times I tried it I puked on myself.

Only one guy in our squad didn’t smoke or dip—Slim—but he made up for it in the states with a drinking habit that would make Hemmingway suggest rehab.

We had to teach our soldiers real skills to survive at night as well. You would be surprised how much noise a soldier can make shambling through the darkness with all the gear we carry. We had to duct tape down anything that would rattle or clang off another piece of equipment and spray paint any little piece of metal that would catch the moonlight.

I knew a few guys who went above and beyond by not cleaning themselves for weeks in order to smell like the natives. As if the Taliban were out in the mountains trying to sniff us out of our hiding spots or something.

Of course, all of these night survival skills went out of the window after a few weeks of mindlessly patrolling the same ratline. Once, Slim thought we found something, but it was just a group of farmers working their land at night.

Scream thought it was suspicious that these guys were out working late. But we all knew it was understandable because the temperature would climb into the mid-one hundreds during the day. We let them go after searching their belongings with what was probably a little too much excitement.

After our run-in with the midnight farmers, things slowed to nothing out on the OP. We occasionally fired a flare out over the village from our grenade launchers. The flare was about the size of my palm. We would launch it into the air, and it would explode in a bright plume of whatever color we happened to have on us at the time. Just one would light up the whole valley. Boredom quickly set in.

One night while Walrus and I were taking our turn napping on that tattered couch, we were shocked awake by a thunderous bang. We were both covered in dust and rocks. The squad around us started firing into the night. The pressure from the exploding rounds popped my ears. My eyes shook in their sockets. I rolled over and grabbed my rifle, but before I could find a target, it was all over.

“You mother fuckers almost got killed!” Slim screamed changing out the magazine in his rifle.

“What the hell just happened?” I yelled, totally deafened by the quick exchange of gunfire.

“Sniper, man,” Slim pointed out into the village. “Hit right next to Walrus’s fucking head.” That explained why we were covered in rocks and dust. The bullet slammed into the boulder he was resting his head on next to the couch.

“Well shit,” Walrus sighed. He reached into his pocket and put a fat pinch of dip in his mouth. He spat out some brown liquid.

“I think they know where we are, Slim,” Grandpa said calmly.

“Right, we should get moving. Pack it up boys,” Slim said peering off into the darkness through his night vision goggles. “Don’t think we’ll be coming back here again.”

“You guys hit that bitch?” Walrus asked, brushing dirt and dust from his face, talking about the sniper.

“I fired off two magazines, bro. I think so,” Cali responded. “Didn’t see shit, though.” It turns out that everyone just wildly fired into the night. The only one with a good shot was the guy who tried to kill Walrus.

Walrus and I slowly put our gear on and our squad made its way down the mountain path away from OP Couch. The man who had tried to murder Walrus was probably still out there watching us. The worst part about us moving out of the OP was that the Taliban were destined to swoop in and steal our sweet couch. The war was truly lost.