In between our patrols out into the middle of nowhere, there was almost nothing to do. Just absolute, maddening boredom. There weren’t a lot of different ways to kill time on the Reserve. We had a small gym packed into one corner that Thad and I had been attempting to improve on. I filled a duffle bag with sand to create a ghetto punching bag. I didn’t notice until after we had filled it up that it said “Davidson” in black marker down the side. Davidson was one of the Dealer soldiers who had been killed a few months back.

The gym was outside in the elements because we had no other tents to spare. Everything was covered in a fine layer of dust, and every metal surface would scorch your skin if you attempted to exercise without wearing gloves. All of the equipment rested on a floor of gray powder, which was once concrete. Afghan concrete is nine parts dirt, one part concrete mix. It tended to atomize the second you dropped something heavy on it.

To make matters worse, the Afghan police would pack into the small corner we worked out in, not to exercise, but to stare at us. They would totally surround us, leer, and chain smoke. It was probably one of the weirdest feelings I’ve ever felt in my life. I was being objectified.

I wasn’t sure how to react to it, but Thad did. He chucked small weights at them as hard as he could and sent them scattering. They would always come back, though. When one of them tried squeezing my bicep, I punched him as hard as I could in the chest. I think his shoulders may have touched. They kept their distance after that.

Another cherished activity was collecting porn. Even though we didn’t have the internet on our laptops, that didn’t stop us. Everyone had an external hard drive full to the brim with every kind of porn imaginable. The funny part was that it was totally illegal.

For whatever reason,when we first invaded Afghanistan back in 2001, someone in high command made possession of pornographic material illegal for U.S. military. But I never heard of the ban being enforced by anyone.

We would hook our laptops up and have screening parties in our tents. Dozens of soldiers would watch some guy with a penis roughly the size of my rifle plow some nameless porn star and then critique the whole thing as if we were Siskel and Ebert.

There was nothing erotic gained by anyone from any of this. By that point, porn transcended sex for us. We would make fun of the story, the performers’ reactions, and whatever else we could glean from the material.

Cali even sent an email to one of the porn stars to ask if it was really “her first time” in one of the clips that we watched. He insisted he got an email back from her, but we all pointed out that those email accounts are probably controlled by some PR group.

We stopped making fun of him when she sent him a Facebook message confirming that it was really her. Cali tried to impress her by naming his truck after her. I’m not really sure if it worked. All our other attempts to contact porn stars through the internet were unsuccessful.

Outside of binge-watching porn, there was our community entertainment tent, which also served as our chow hall and internet café. Lining the walls inside the tent were a few poorly made benches and tables with donated desktop computers on them.

We were connected to some over-censored version of the internet that ran through a massive satellite propped up behind the tent. If the wind blew just a little too hard, it would shift and cut off our connection, and because we were in a mountain valley, this happened about every five to ten seconds.

We also managed to get a PlayStation working. Its wires were frayed and held together with electrical tape, and the copious amounts of dust in the air caused it to make a horrible groaning noise. We had two games: NHL 2010 and Mortal Kombat.

Gong and I played endless hours of NHL to the point we would only play with the worst teams to see how much they sucked. We eventually talked several other people into playing with us.

Almost everyone bought webcams so they could use our incredibly slow internet to see their loved ones. It almost always turned into several minutes of people yelling, “Can you hear me?” before they would just get pissed and walk away.

People tried to say there was some unwritten rule about not screwing with each other while they were trying to talk to their loved ones on camera. No one listened.

One time Grandpa was talking to several of his kids, and Slim licked the old man’s face before tackling him off his bench, sending his headset flying. Grandpa got Slim back by waving his heavily pierced penis behind Slim’s head in a rotating motion known as “the helicopter” while Slim was talking to his wife.

One night while pulling Sergeant of the Guard duty, I stumbled half asleep into the tent to get coffee only to find a soldier at the computer furiously masturbating with his webcam pointed at him. I saw his overweight wife on the other side doing the same thing. I slowly backed out of the tent as if I had just seen a murder take place. I never told the kid what I saw, but I did share it with just about everyone else.

I think the best of all the pranks was when Bugsy and Thad climbed on top of the shower building with two bottles full of baby powder. They were waiting for one of First Squad’s NCOs to walk out. When he did, clad only in a towel, they unleashed hell with tons of baby powder. The guy looked like a ghost. He coughed out a cloud of baby powder and backed slowly inside the shower building.

The boredom even crept into how we punished people for fucking up. Kitty found Creep asleep while on guard in the middle of the day and told Slim. Slim called the whole squad into the tent and announced that because Creep was always so tired and couldn’t be trusted to use a weapon, we would be acting as his personal bodyguards.

The squad would suit up in full gear and follow him around the Reserve everywhere he went. It went exactly as well as Slim thought it would. Every soldier immediately started screaming and throwing things around the tent. I think the only reason they didn’t beat him to death was because we would have been short a soldier on patrol.

I found out through Gong that all the soldiers had gone into detail about how they were going to kill Creep. He was due to go home for two weeks very shortly, and they threatened that he shouldn’t come back from leave if he wanted to live.

I felt uneasy that we were effectively hazing the living shit out of a young and clearly troubled soldier. But I also understood why the soldiers had all turned against him. They saw him as the weak link and one that could very easily get someone killed. Even though you would never know it, the squad deeply loved and cared for one another. We were a family and Creep was threatening that.

We also took to the poorly conceived sport of combatives. Combatives is what the army calls its unarmed self-defense system and consists of a few chokeholds, arm bars, and takedowns. In the hands of a skilled fighter these can be pretty useful, but in the hands of a few bored soldiers, they were just tools we used to hurt each other.

We had no real floor on which to do combatives, so we did it on the same large rocks that covered the entire Reserve. We rolled around and smashed each other’s heads on the sharp gravel for fun.

Dirty managed to pound my face into the wall of our smoking area in a failed attempt to lock me in an arm bar. Another time, Nan got knocked out cold when he was slammed to the ground.

Grabbing someone’s neck in a hold became a sport. When someone wanted no part in our stupid games, we would ambush them. We would spear them into the rocks and try to choke them out while they fought for their life. Memphis discovered that if you did this to Afghan policemen, they would just scream and try to crawl away from you.

Another excellent pastime was playing with our puppy. Even though it was strictly against the rules to adopt local animals, it takes a real asshole to turn down a puppy. Ginger and Bumpo, our platoon sergeant, turned a blind eye to it because they saw how much the little dog raised morale. It was honestly the best command decision Bumpo had ever made.

Thad had half-adopted, half-stolen the pup. He found the little mongrel while on patrol through one of the surrounding farms and stuck it in his pocket. Thad dubbed the puppy Ares, the Dog of War.

Ares lived in the tent with the team leaders, and we treated him like he was our child. Even though Thad saved him from his bleak existence on that farm, Ares did not show any appreciation. He was never broken of shitting under Thad’s bed or pissing on his boots.

We didn’t have dog food, so we fed him the same things we ate. The dog grew surprisingly fast. He also learned to attack anyone who didn’t wear a U.S. Army uniform and he followed us on patrols.

Unfortunately, Ginger and Bumpo’s hands-off leadership style didn’t win them any points with our company command. Our platoon quickly became known as being undisciplined, unprofessional, and disrespectful. I won’t argue; all those things were true, but we ran more patrols for a longer period of time than anyone else in our company. We were also the first to engage the enemy, even if Walrus and I had slept through it.

As the old adage goes, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”

We later found out that the hammer was coming for us.