Things had gotten a little out of hand out on the Reserve. Within three months, the soldiers living in that little slice of hell had gone completely native. I had not shaved or cut my hair during the entire time. Because of my Armenian genetics, it made me look like a crazed mountain person.

Soldiers started to disregard orders from our platoon sergeant, Bumpo. The soldiers and leadership of our platoon lost all respect for him after he openly admitted he didn’t want to go on patrol with us because he was scared after Walrus had almost gotten shot in the head.

It was unfortunate because Bumpo was generally a good guy. Out there, though, we didn’t need good guys. The squad leaders and team leaders held our platoon together, but not by much. It was hard to keep discipline and order instilled when it seemed as if every level of command had totally forgotten about us or, even worse, didn’t care.

Mail and supplies stopped coming for weeks at a time for no good reason. Our company commander never once came out to visit us, leaving us at the mercy of that bastard Scream.

Morale died around the same time the truck that emptied our portable toilets stopped showing up, leaving every single one of our toilets overflowing. We contracted the job out to a local trucking company, but they never came. Rumor was that someone had killed the truck driver.

Soon we were digging and squatting in the bushes with the locals.

We hit a new low when one of our team leaders, a young corporal from First Squad named Red, went on leave and never returned. To make matters worse, we were already running too many missions with not enough people. We had no extra hands, so a team leader from our squad would have to fill in for Red in addition to running his regular missions.

I think having a team leader go AWOL was the straw that broke the camel’s back for our company commander. Even though he never actually came out and saw how we were operating, he decided Second Platoon needed to be moved.

I was informed of this one day while in the smoking area. First Platoon would be taking our place at the Reserve so it was time to pack our bags. We would be moving to Grizzly Base with the company command and a platoon of Task Force Chimera. Chimera was the unit that finally took over for Dealer.

We were being pulled back under the watchful eyes of high command, and we weren’t very happy about it. Even though we hated our lives out on the godforsaken Reserve, it was better than being picked over with a fine-toothed comb by our company commander.

Our commander, a guy named Dweebly, was a tall, skinny, awkward dude and the exact opposite of who you would picture as a combat leader. He was a guy who cared more about how professional you looked than how well you could shoot a rifle.

Awkwardness aside, he wasn’t the guy you wanted looking too far into how you ran your squad. He was prim and proper and wouldn’t stand for anything we were doing as a platoon if he knew about it. Ginger informed us all of what would be expected of us at Camp Grizzly, which was pretty much the polar opposite of what we had been doing at the Reserve.

Unfortunately, moving on also meant saying goodbye to little Ares. He had gotten so big so fast, and Dweebly would never allow us to have a dog at Grizzly. We mournfully turned the little guy over to First Platoon when they showed up to move in. We made them promise they would take good care of him. I think Thad took it harder than I did.

We packed our bags and moved about thirty miles to Grizzly Base. Grizzly was much more built up than the Reserve. It was a large compound made up of only Hesco baskets. Hesco baskets were large burlap bags that could be filled with dirt, like a sandbag on steroids. The ones at Grizzly Base stood about fifteen feet tall and were filled with concrete.

Orderly tents were lined up inside. Formidable guard towers surrounded the compound. Unlike at the Reserve where the towers were held together by a few nails and mud and couldn’t withstand a slingshot, these looked as if they could actually survive some gunfire.

The area where we parked our trucks was surprisingly lacking in broken-down vehicles. They even had some replacement parts, and Chimera had a mechanic. Life at Grizzly was already starting to look up. And while they didn’t have internet in the sleeping tents, they did have a proper computer tent with reliable internet that wouldn’t go out at the slightest hint of wind. The tent’s air conditioners worked just as well as anything I had ever felt in the States.

We moved into the team leaders’ tent and discovered we had mattresses on top of our shitty green army cots. I selected a handmade wooden bunkbed to share with First Squad’s leader. His name was Olly, a bald staff sergeant in his mid-thirties who volunteered for the top bunk. I think it was because we both thought the bed was going to collapse and he just wanted to survive the outcome.

The worst part by far about Grizzly Base was the surveillance camera perched about fifty feet in the air. It was originally a boon for protecting the base. The camera could see anything for miles around. It could even see the heat signatures bombs gave off from underground. But once Dealer gave that camera over to our command cell—the guys who answer radios and handle logistics—it was horribly abused.

A staff sergeant by the name of Walt was given control of the camera as his only job. He quickly turned the camera inward on Grizzly Base to spy on soldiers going about their daily lives. If he spotted someone wearing their uniform incorrectly, he would run out and tell that soldier’s platoon sergeant to get them in trouble.

Walt wasn’t done there. When Second Squad started going on dismounted patrols out of Grizzly Base, he would keep the camera on us the whole time. The moment one of our soldiers rolled up his sleeves because of the searing heat, my radio crackled to life with Walt’s voice.

“Spartan two-two, tell your soldiers to wear their uniforms correctly.”

Slim glared at the radio as if he was attempting to send the stink eye through the waves. “Hey, Grizzly Base, how about you use that camera and look for the goddamn Taliban?” Slim snarled.

Walt didn’t say anything back.

“I wonder what it’s like to be unemployed in a war zone,” Grandpa laughed. Walt had been deployed with us even though they had no task or purpose for him. He decided to give himself the job of being an asshole, and he excelled at it.

“You think he can still see us?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m sure,” Slim said. “That camera can look out for about ten miles.”

“Good.” I stuck a cigarette in my mouth, climbed on top of a nearby wall, pulled my dick out, and pissed in the general direction of the camera. To put some icing on the cake, I stuck my hand in the air and gave them the one-fingered salute.

The squad all laughed, and a few other guys climbed on top of the wall and followed suit. The radio stayed silent that time. Though I’m sure Walt ran out and told Bumpo.

Surprisingly, that wasn’t what got me demoted.

Dweebly devised a plan for my squad to move out to an Afghan police checkpoint in the middle of Kandahar City. The checkpoint was roughly half the size of the Reserve with no guard towers and built directly on the road. It had no standoff distance from any possible attackers. The checkpoint also had a history of being car bombed.

Dweebly’s plan involved us showing up there late at night with shovels and empty Hesco baskets. We were going to divert traffic with the baskets and, we hoped, create a barrier between the station and the main road to give us a chance at survival there. The plan was terrible, and we all knew it. We tried to raise our objections, but they were ignored. Gong had other ideas, though. Other really dreadful ideas.

Using our internet connection, Gong took to Facebook and made a long post about how dumb the plan was. He didn’t give up any operational security details, but he did insult every single person in a command position for having such a terrible battle plan. I thought the post was hilarious and clicked that stupid little “like” button at the bottom.

That was all it took to get me demoted.

Within a few hours, I was dragged into the command tent and told what a piece of shit I was for not punishing Gong. I was unprofessional and a terrible leader for agreeing with him. I laughed the whole thing off until Ginger told me I was to be demoted from corporal to specialist, and that I was losing my team leader position.

Bumpo was also being fired as our platoon sergeant. I was going to be placed in Grandpa’s team, and Bugsy, a guy from First Squad, was going to take over my team. Gong was moved to a different platoon altogether, and we would operate without a platoon sergeant for the time being. It was like being hit in the head with a brick.

Still kind of stunned, I packed my bags and moved into the Second Squad soldiers’ tent. I plopped all my crap down and sat on my cot trying to take in everything that had just happened. That was when I heard the constant chug of the air conditioner sputter and die out, smoke rising into the air. Everyone in the tent exchanged a panicked look and ran outside.

The air conditioner had literally melted from the inside out. The temperature within our tent shot through the roof, and soon it felt as if we were living in an oven. We rolled up all the windows and lay around on our cots in varying stages of nakedness, but it didn’t make anything better.

We got a new medic to replace Gong. His name was Sal. He wasn’t from our unit but was lent to us from a medical brigade stationed at Kandahar Air Field. Sal was a body builder from Texas who’d worked as a paramedic before he joined the army. He quickly fit in with the rest of us by stripping down to his underwear and passing out on his cot. When we woke up, we were disoriented from dehydration.

I started pulling guard shifts with the soldiers and falling in line with my new duties. Cali and Grandpa were incredibly welcoming. Grandpa was one of the best leaders I’d ever met, and it was an honor to be on his team. I just tried to accept my lot in life and prepare for the incredibly stupid mission that Dweebly had laid out for us.