The time had finally come to pack up our Camp Spartan home away from home. A new National Guard unit that had just gotten to Afghanistan was going to replace all the platoons of our company at all the far-flung bases we were scattered to. We would be moving into Walton with the logistic and supply units. Not everyone was happy about that.

“How the fuck are some weekend warriors going to keep a lid on Kandahar?” Cali wondered aloud. National Guard soldiers were known throughout the active duty army as being subpar at best. Politely called “citizen soldiers,” the National Guard only trained for a few days out of the month. Their gear was made up of hand-me-downs from the older shit the active duty didn’t want, and almost every single soldier I had ever seen looked as if they had either been pulled from some shitty ghetto or the buffet line.

“To be fair, we haven’t exactly done a great job at that either,” Nan said with a laugh. He was telling the truth. Almost daily attacks around the city were normal. The Afghan police were losing nearly one guy a day to shootings, bombings, and grenade attacks. Most of them had stopped showing up to work months ago.

“They’re going to get massacred,” I said, kicking little rocks around while we sat out on the smoking bench. “We’ve spent the last couple months pissing everyone and their mother off in this slum. Summer is just around the corner…doesn’t sound promising for them.”

“They’re going to take one look at those pudgy Nasty Girls and know they can take them,” Cali said. Nasty Girls was the loving nickname active duty gave the National Guard. We weren’t very creative.

“Do we have to train them when they get here?” I asked.

Nan took a drag from his cigarette and blew smoke through his nose. “I heard Perro and Slim talking about it. Only a few of us are going to stay back here and train them. The rest of us are going to Walton,” Nan answered.

“Great,” I puffed smoke out of my mouth. “So only a few of us will get killed because of their stupidity rather than all of us.”

“See? And you said you were a pessimist,” Nan joked.

We started packing our bags and various loose ends a short time later. It was unbelievable how much bullshit a soldier managed to accumulate when they only had living space equal to a hallway closet. I stuffed pile after pile of bootleg DVDs into my duffle bags.

A bunch of my clothes had gone missing over the course of the past few months, which freed up a bunch of space. It happened almost every time a group of soldiers lived together. Everyone wore exactly the same thing and eventually your shit would get mixed together. No matter how hard you tried, eventually you would find yourself wearing someone else’s shirt or pants.

Of course, some of the people in my squad were just no-good, thieving dickheads. There was a saying, “There is only one thief in the army; everyone else is just trying to get their shit back.” You could catch someone red-handed wearing something of yours and when confronted, they would just shrug and say they thought it was theirs. You could never really tell whether someone was lying or not.

I had stacked my duffle bags neatly outside my shower stall and thrown away probably two dozen bottles filled with dip spit. I swept out piles of cigarette butts and empty Rip-It cans. I looked down the bay; everyone seemed to be doing the same thing.

We heard a rumble at the gates, stopped working, and meandered our way outside. Half-dressed and unshaven, we lumbered to the front gate to see the newcomers. Their trucks were all uniform, neat, and clean. Their windows had stickers on them as if they’d just come off the factory floor.

The trucks came to a stop, and the doors kicked open. Fresh-faced soldiers climbed down from their trucks and landed on the rocks. Their gear was crisp and brand new. There were probably a few tags still attached somewhere. They saw the huddle of humanity that had gathered by the shower bays and looked shocked.

We were gaunt and sunburned. We stared at them with hollow eyes and sunken faces. Most of us had dust caked on our faces and weren’t even wearing shoes. We looked like extras from a George Romero movie.

“Welcome to the thunder dome, bitches.” Cali smiled. He spat out a wad of dip spit for effect.

“Oh, Cali, be nice to our new guests,” I said, laughing.

“Should I show them to the shower stalls they will be living in or the bathroom facilities that don’t function?” Nan asked.

“Maybe the guard towers we’ve spent the last five months furiously masturbating in,” Guapo offered.

“Those are my favorite.” Cali guffawed.

An overweight sergeant with unblemished gear walked up to the group of us. It may have just been because he was wearing an ill-fitting helmet, but he gave the impression of looking down his nose at us. “Can you point me to the TOC?” he asked. Without a word in response, I pointed to the Afghan bathhouse where our dark, dank, TOC resided. “Is that how you talk to an NCO?” the fat sergeant snorted at me.

“To be fair, I didn’t even say anything to you.” I shrugged and walked back to the shower stalls.

On Slim’s orders, it didn’t take long before all our bags were piled outside near our trucks. Even he looked excited to get out of that place. It was one step closer to going home. I saw Slim stuff handfuls of grenades and ammo into his bags from our ammunition point—the same point that had the badly repaired grenade that Nan had threatened us with a few months back. I asked Slim why he was pilfering the ammo point.

“Fuck these guys,” Slim cursed. “We still have a few more months in this shithole, and I don’t want to find myself lacking a grenade at a bad time.”

“Fair enough,” I nodded. “You might want to leave that one, though.” I pointed to a grenade that was wrapped in tape and placed away from everything else.


“Just trust me.” I slapped him on the back and walked out.

We stuffed our bags into our trucks. It was a tight fit because the MATV wasn’t designed for a cargo load. Our rucksacks and bags were haphazardly lashed down with bungee cords and rope anywhere we could fit them. Normally, when units switch out, the outgoing unit is supposed to give the incoming unit a tour of the area. Like what the Dealer soldiers did for us.

This time was a little different. We weren’t leaving Afghanistan yet, and we were taking over a different area around Walton, so we didn’t really have time to dick around and teach these guys how to survive in Kandahar. The majority of us were getting sent to Walton as soon as possible while Slim, Perro, and Cali were going to stay behind and half-ass their way through the tour of the area.

The same National Guard unit was taking over all the outlying bases we had been running over the course of the last several months. That included taking over training the Afghan police, dealing with the locals, and most important, living in those horrible stalls we had called home.

A lot of the guys acted as if they were pissed that we were being moved out. They were being forced out of a place that no one had any business living in, but it was a place we had turned into a kind of dysfunctional home and now someone was taking it away.

Not me. We were moving to the closest thing there was to a paradise in the middle of Kandahar. I was excited. Our missions would be entirely mounted, and we wouldn’t have to live with the Afghan police anymore. I tried to hide my excitement while everyone bitched and complained about losing our beloved Spartan to a unit of weekend warriors.

The looks of disgust and revulsion on the faces of the guardsmen as they surveyed where they were going to be living were priceless. “Where are the bathrooms?” a guardsmen asked no one in particular.

“Over there, champ,” Memphis said in his thick southern drawl. He pointed to the line of dingy port-o-johns. Most of them were overflowing with shit, piss, and discarded Maxim magazines.

“In case you were wondering what that smell was,” Guapo cackled. The guardsman didn’t say anything in response. His face sank.

Our little unscheduled tour brought us into the shower bay next. Ammunition sat discarded all over the tile floor. In front of the massive fighting position we had to build as punishment, C-4 explosive was still stuck to the walls and a Claymore mine was pointed toward the doors. The whole bay smelled like fermented dip spit and cigarette smoke with a slight tinge of sweaty balls. That was home.

“You know, I thought you guys were idiots for saying you were going to miss this place. But now that these assholes are moving in…I don’t even know how I feel,” I struggled with the words.

“You know it’s okay to hate something and still miss it,” Nan said. “This place is miserable, but we made it our own little world. Shit, Walrus’s kid was conceived here.” He gave a small smile. “Whether we like it or not, this pile of shit shower bay is a part of us now.”

“Goddamn, that’s depressing.” I shook my head.

“Isn’t it, though?” Nan laughed.

Some of the Guardsmen started bringing in their bags and plopping them down in front of certain shower stalls. I saw a guy set his rucksack down in front of the stall I had called home just an hour before. He peeked his head inside and looked around in disgust.

“It could be worse,” I mumbled to him.

He gave me a nasty look. “How, exactly?”

“You know those tents outside? That’s where our Third Platoon lives.” I gestured outside. “You live in the middle of one of the worst parts of Kandahar City now, the possibility that someone fires some rockets at you in the next few months is pretty high. Would you rather have some tent fabric or an Afghan bathhouse between you and that explosion?”

The guy didn’t say anything. He still had the same look on his face. He slowly turned back to his bags and started pushing them into my former stall.

With our bags packed and our home being desecrated by National Guardsmen, it was time to say goodbye. We climbed into our trucks and pulled out of Spartan. You would have thought we would have been happy or excited to be one step closer to going home. We weren’t. We all sat in silence staring out the windows of the truck. We rolled out of our tiny world and into Kandahar City.