Grizzly Base was being shut down, and the rest of our company was being moved into the cramped confines of Spartan Base. We were leaving Grizzly Base to the ANCOP guys. Which really meant we were abandoning the area to the Taliban.

We knew the drawdown in that area would get the Taliban’s attention. They were always watching us and could clearly see that troop numbers inside the base were shrinking. That made Grizzly Base a huge, poorly defended target.

Our convoy was rumbling through the gates of Spartan Base after one of our incredibly dull mounted patrols when a voice crackled to life over the radio.

“Spartan Base, this is Grizzly Base. We have troops in contact at our location, requesting QRF (Quick Reaction Force).” The voice was cool, calm, and collected.

What he meant was someone was attacking them, and they wouldn’t be able to stand on their own. Before we could respond over the radio, he said: “Send Second Squad.” In the middle of a fight for their lives, they explicitly requested us, and only us, to come save them.

Our trucks spun around and hauled ass out of the gate. Blasting through Kandahar City traffic, we sideswiped a few unfortunate cars and made Afghan police dive out of our way. No one was stopping for anything. Cali did all this to the smooth stylings of Avril Lavigne’s 2002 hit “Sk8ter Boi” playing on Grandpa’s iPod.

We expected to see some massive battle when we rolled up to Grizzly Base, but instead we saw absolutely nothing. But we could clearly hear gunfire coming from down the road around the local Afghan police checkpoint. It seemed like Grizzly was perfectly fine.

“Grizzly Base this is Spartan two-two,” Slim called over the radio. “What’s your situation?”

“The attack moved down the street,” they said. “Toward the Afghan police checkpoint. Move in that direction and give them support.”

“Roger,” Slim said with an unmistakable tinge of happiness in his voice. The idea of a firefight always got Slim going.

Our convoy continued down the road past Grizzly Base toward the small Afghan police checkpoint. The road leading to the checkpoint was a single-track dirt path that was just big enough to fit our trucks on with steep drop-offs on either side.

We slowly pulled onto the road, moving at a crawl so we could keep our trucks on the road. We came to the checkpoint, which was really nothing more than a pink lawn chair and some traffic cones. The Afghan police were nowhere to be found. “What the hell?” Grandpa said. “Where did they go?”

“They didn’t have time for this whole war business,” Cali said, laughing and making finger quotation marks.

Machine guns roared to life from the village on our left. Their bright green and yellow tracer rounds cut through the air like laser beams. The checkpoint’s lawn chair was disintegrated by the burst of gunfire, turning into a spray of splintered pink plastic.

“Back the fucking trucks up!” Slim yelled over the radio.

“We can’t! We don’t have enough room!” Grandpa radioed back. We were stuck. We were also handicapped. The Taliban were shooting at us from inside a village. They knew we couldn’t bring our heavy mounted weapons to them because of our restrictive Rules of Engagement.

Rules of Engagement are the rules put forth by our commanders that outline how we can fight the enemy. One major rule was absolutely no heavy weapons in heavily populated areas without permission. Permission that was practically impossible to get.

“Dismount!” Slim ordered. Drivers and team leaders were to get out and fight on foot while we tried to get permission to use the big guns.

When Cali and Grandpa climbed out of the truck, another group of Taliban that was hiding in the fields behind them opened fire. Immediately Grandpa’s team was pinned down around the truck.

“Shit! Contact rear!” Cali called out. Grandpa and Cali turned and engaged them. The dirt road exploded all around them with the impact of enemy gunfire.

“Contact front!” Slim called out over the radio. Walrus, Slim, and Perro were pinned down at the front of the convoy. They took cover behind an old concrete road barrier. It cracked and broke away with every bullet impact. When the barrier exploded next to Walrus’s head, he dropped. His helmet fell off and rolled away.

“Fuck! Medic!” Slim called out and dragged Walrus behind the wall. Sal rushed from the back of the truck and grabbed him.

“Shit! Let go, man, I’m good!” Walrus pushed him away and picked his rifle back up. The tone of his voice was equal parts anger and shock. Once again, lackluster Taliban marksmanship had saved Walrus from being shot in the face.

“Grizzly Base this is Spartan two-two! Troops in contact! Requesting air support!” Slim called over the radio but got nothing. A bright red light cut through the air, everyone hit the dirt.

“RPG!” Grandpa screamed. Everyone waited for the inevitable impact of a rocket-propelled grenade, but it didn’t come. We sat up and saw the red light fizzle into nothingness. It was a flare.

“It was just a fucking flare!” Cali screamed between gunshots. Empty brass casings gathered in little piles by his feet. Bullets slammed off his beloved Lexi’s armor next to his head.

“Grandpa! How are you guys doing back there?” Slim asked from behind the ever-shrinking barrier at the front of the convoy.

“We’re hanging in there,” Grandpa responded. “You guys alright?”

“Oh, just fucking great,” came the sarcastic answer. You could hear the snaps and cracks of incoming gunfire in the background of Slim’s transmission.

Green, yellow, and red lights kept firing up into the night sky. The soldiers in Grizzly Base’s guard towers were shooting off flares into the sky in a failed attempt to illuminate the Taliban hidden in the fields. It didn’t work, though it did light up the stranded squad on the road perfectly.

“God dammit! Stop shooting off fucking flares!” Slim screamed into his radio. “You’re illuminating our fucking position!” He yelled so loud that the microphone transmitted mostly static. “Where is our fucking air support?” The concrete barrier the guys at the front were hiding behind was getting precariously small. Everyone’s ammo was getting dangerously low. “What’s the air support’s ETA?” Slim asked Grizzly Base.

The air was suddenly full of the angry chopping sound of helicopter blades. The helicopters weren’t in sight yet, but their mere sound made the Taliban’s fire die away faster than it had started.

“Spartan two-two this is Long Knife,” came the voice flying overhead. “We are on site, how are you guys doing down there?”

“I think we’ve been better, sir!” Slim answered. “We had contacts to the west from the village and the south in those fields. You see ‘em?”

“Roger Spartan two-two. I have eyes on six armed adult-aged males making their way through the village. I am not cleared to engage. Sorry, guys.” Even the pilot was handcuffed by the Rules of Engagement. He could clearly see who had just attacked us, but because they were hiding in the village, he couldn’t do anything about it and the Taliban knew it. He just hovered overhead harmlessly.

“God dammit!” Slim cursed. “Grizzly Base, this is Spartan two-two requesting permission to assault the Taliban position that Long Knife spotted.”

“Negative, Spartan two-two. Return to base.”

Slim was speechless for a second. “But…” Slim started. He wasn’t even talking into his radio or to anyone in particular. He was just venting the confusion and aggravation we were all feeling. “I…”

“It’s over, man,” Grandpa said, shaking his head.

“Roger,” Slim finally answered. “Returning to base.”

Everyone felt a mixture of relief and anger. Relief that we were all still alive and in one piece. Pissed because Grizzly Base wouldn’t let us chase down those assholes and kill them. They were only a hundred feet away hiding out in a village, and no one could touch them.

We had two helicopters full of rockets and machine guns hovering overhead, four heavily armored trucks loaded out with heavy weapons and grenade launchers, and a squad of incredibly angry soldiers and we couldn’t touch them. It was maddening.

That was our war.

We slowly backed our trucks out of the death trap we had gotten ourselves into a few minutes before. The process required two people standing on either end of the truck and slowly guiding the driver back down the road, one truck at a time, until they were all back on the main road. The whole process took half an hour.

We swore up and down we would never use that piece of shit road ever again. A promise the Afghan police apparently kept as well. They never manned that checkpoint again.