It was our last big mission. We dubbed it Grizzly Gang Bang Two because we knew it was going to be as big a cluster fuck as the first one. Unlike the first operation, we weren’t hunting down any Taliban warlords or capturing anyone important. We weren’t even going to try to go out and get in a fight.

Instead of sitting on our asses and counting the days until we flew out of that godforsaken hellhole, we were going to take out the National Guardsmen for a big, useless operation. We were supposed to go into one of the biggest villages in our area, door to door, and collect biometric data from everyone there.

The village in question was a hotbed for IED construction. Even though everyone knew the second we stepped foot in that village every Taliban member would haul ass, we were going anyway. What it was really about was showing the National Guard unit how to conduct a large-scale operation. It was nothing but a huge dog and pony show, but with real terrorists involved.

“This is fucking stupid,” Nan said, loading gear into his vest.

“Yep,” I agreed.

“We are going to stroll into an IED factory four fucking weeks before we go home and get blown to shit for what fucking reason?” Cali snarled.

“Hearts and minds?” I suggested.

“We are putting those fucking guardsmen up front,” Guapo smiled. “Let them find all the tripwires and become heroes and shit.”

“Fuck yeah,” I agreed.

The door to the tent swung open, and Slim was standing there wearing his gear. With him were three short and incredibly overweight women. Their uniforms were stretched to the max, and they didn’t have a neck between them.

“Listen up, fuckers,” Slim barked. “These are the Female Engagement Team.” He motioned to the fat girls standing behind him. “Their job is to interact with the women in the village…and do some shit.” Slim looked confused and turned to the fat girls. “What do you do again?”

“We tell them about the inclusive Afghan government and how women are part of the system now,” one of the fat girls piped up.

“I’m sure in between forced marriages and ass whoopings, they will care very much about the government system,” I said.

The three fat girls sneered at me.

“More like the Female Eating Team,” Nan whispered as he nudged my arm. We both fought back laughs.

Slim smiled. “They’ll be joining in a few of the advance teams going into the village during the operation.”

“So while we are looking for IED makers, they are going to be trying to talk to the women? I’m sure the men are going to love that.” Nan shook his head. Afghanistan was, and probably still is, an incredibly conservative country. Women weren’t allowed outside of the house without a male escort and even then they wore full body cover.

At no time were we ever allowed to search them or talk to them. Just looking at an Afghan woman was enough to invite the jeers and insults of the local men. It didn’t matter if the American soldier involved was a man or a woman; they saw us all the same.

I assumed that collection of fat chicks had never actually gone out and done the job they said they did or they would have known that already.

“Chimera will be joining us on this operation so we can sweep the whole village at once,” Slim droned on. Chimera was the unit that lived down the road and took over for the Dealer soldiers that had shown us the ropes when we first got to Afghanistan. It was the unit Sal got sent back to.

Chimera had dealt with worse luck than we had during our deployment. They’d been blown up on more than one occasion. They were on the way home, as we were, and no doubt just as pissed about taking part in the operation.

“Do we really have to do this shit now?” I complained to no one in particular.

“I know it’s stupid. But someone higher than Rocky wants this dumb shit to happen, so here we are,” Slim said, shaking his head. “We aren’t going to be running out there trying to start anything. We all go home, boys.”

“Right,” I nodded.

Slim turned around and left the tent, the fat girls at his heels.

“You really believe him?” Nan asked.

“About not starting shit or all going home?”


“Nope,” I answered. “Starting shit is what we do, and we have been way too lucky so far.”

“In the movies, someone always dies right before they are supposed to go home,” Cali whined.

“If you’re lucky, you might just be that hero,” I said, and laughed.

“Man, fuck that, I don’t need any buildings named after me,” Cali said. On every military base, every building, no matter how unimportant, was always named for a dead soldier. Walton was named after some long-dead soldier who did something heroic on his way out.

“Just think, someone could be taking a shit or jerking off in the Cali Latrines.” Nan giggled.

“I’d be so fucking honored.” Cali spat a fat wad of dip spit into a bottle.

We loaded into the trucks and slipped on our headsets. Slim’s iPod clicked on, and the entirely overplayed “Dirt Road Anthem” started playing. Oldies’ legs popped through the turret and his ass sank into its seat right next to my head.

“I swear, if we die on our last mission, I’m going to haunt the fuck out of you, man,” I swore over the headset.

“Count me in on that,” Memphis added.

“What if I die?” Slim laughed.

“You have no right to haunt me. You can only haunt people who outrank you. You’d have to haunt Gunny or Rocky,” I answered.

“They would probably still kick my ass,” Slim said.

Our trucks rolled out of the gate and onto the crowded highways of Kandahar. After thousands of missions, I had stopped looking out my window as we navigated our way through traffic. That time was different. My heart raced; my eyes darted out of my tiny sliver of a window. I was scared again.

I hadn’t felt scared since the night everyone got shredded by those grenades. After months of not giving a shit about what happened to me, wandering through the days totally numb to the danger that surrounded me, I was suddenly terrified. I could tell I wasn’t the only one. Slim’s eyes were all over the place. Oldies’ turret flew back and forth as he scanned everything with his heavy weapon.

We all knew we just had to make it through this cluster fuck that had been slapped together at the last second, thought up by some asshole who didn’t care that we were supposed to be going home in a few weeks. All the survival instincts we had ignored over the last year had suddenly snapped back into our minds. We just wanted to live.

Our trucks left the crowded city and we ambled on into the countryside. Tall brown mountains flanked us as we kicked up dust on the crater-pocked dirt road. Every time we bounced across a crater, the fact that each one was once an IED blast or a rocket impact wasn’t lost on me. In the past, I had never thought about it.

“There it is.” Memphis pointed through the windshield at the mountain ahead of us. The village looked like any other Afghan village: mud shacks slapped onto the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Scout helicopters buzzed down low over us, sending up blinding clouds of dirt and dust. They crested up over the mountain and did low passes back and forth.

“When was the last time we had air support?” Oldies asked.

“Never?” I joked.

“Nah, that one time we got fucked up over by Camp Grizzly,” Slim corrected us.

“Still, makes me a little nervous,” Oldies’ voice crackled over the headset.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because some asshole up top thinks this is going to go so bad we are going to need helicopters,” he said.

“Oh, shit.” It suddenly struck me. “First Chimera and now helicopters.”

“All Grizzly elements,” Rocky’s voice came over the radio. “Long Knife reports possible fighters in the vicinity of the village. Keep your eyes open.” Long Knife was the call sign of the helicopters.

“God dammit!” I cursed. “I fucking told you, Slim!”

“Calm down, they’re probably going to run off now that they heard the choppers,” Slim said.

I’m not sure if he was trying to reassure me or himself.

The order to dismount off our trucks and march into the village came over the radio. I grabbed my rifle, double-checked my grenade launcher, and climbed out of the truck. Its heavily armored door slammed behind me. I walked around the truck where Slim was kneeling.

“Remember, I’m going to haunt the living fuck out of you.” I squatted next to him and heard a distinctive rip. I glanced down at my pants and saw they had torn wide open from my crotch to my knee. I wasn’t wearing any underwear.

“That might fucking haunt me,” Slim laughed.

“Off to a great goddamn start aren’t we?” I shook my head. Though the breeze felt amazing, the last thing I wanted to do was go running into a massive operation with my dick hanging out.

In squad-sized elements, we advanced across the rocky trails and into the village. Chimera soldiers fanned out along the outer edges of the village to make sure no one got in or out. Our trucks were positioned with heavy weapons to support us should anything happen. Scout helicopters zoomed back and forth over our heads. The amount of military power brought to the tiny, nondescript village was impressive.

Our forward squads started knocking on people’s doors and forcing their way into houses to start the biometric process. The people were furious about what we were doing, and angry shouts started coming from the doorways.

“Hearts and minds,” I laughed to myself. I leaned against the cracked mud-brick façade of a house. The small street we were on didn’t leave a lot of room for any space between us. Thad and Dirty from First Squad were opening the door of the house across the street from me and we were nearly touching shoulders.

The only thing that kept racing through my mind was how easily one burst of machine gun fire would have torn us to shreds. One IED would have turned us into little more than dust and gore. My hands shook, and my eyes darted as I attempted to light a cigarette.

“Get your fucking spacing!” Slim screamed. He saw the same thing I did and was scared. Soldiers ducked into tiny alleyways and doors trying their hardest to get out of the possible lines of fire.

We went uninvited into the houses and shook the places down looking for weapons. I ducked into a small doorway and started throwing things around. The man of the house came forward and screamed at me in Pashtu, so I cross-checked him against the wall with my rifle. I noticed his eyes darting between my face and my exposed dick. A normal person probably would have worried about being in such a vulnerable position, but the rifle I had pushed into his chest evened the playing field.

“See anything?” Machete asked me, coming in behind me carrying his M249 machine gun.

“Nope. Let’s move on.”

After Machete and I left the house, more soldiers carrying biometric gear went in after us to take the angry old man’s fingerprints. We moved through the town slowly but methodically, making sure we didn’t miss a single house or resident. I tore through countless houses and compounds, never finding a thing.

“You know, for this being an IED-making hotbed, there seems to be a serious lack of bomb-making shit,” I said, sweating profusely. Even with my new draft hole, the heat was stifling. No matter where you went in the village, the heat assaulted you as if it was on the Taliban’s side. The inside of each house felt like a brick oven, though the Afghans never seemed to mind.

“Faulty intelligence? That would never happen,” Bugsy said dryly.

“Looks like we’re creating a healthy recruiting base for the Taliban now, though.” I smiled, taking another long pull from my camelback. The water tasted like hot plastic.

“What, from all the raiding or you running around showing everyone your dick?” Bugsy laughed.

“Little bit from Column A, a little bit from Column B,” I replied.

“Hold where you are!” came an anxious voice over the radio. I didn’t recognize it. “Possible HVT.”

An HVT was a high-value target, meaning all the biometric crap had paid off. We all took a knee, some of us behind a defensive area, but most of us just on the side of the small village road. I felt the warm breeze on my still-exposed junk. I looked up to see three small children giggling and pointing at my partial nakedness.

“Let me guess…some random dude who stole shit off an army base,” Bugsy said. Any Afghan who worked on one of the many military bases had their biometric data archived. If they got booted off base for whatever reason, they would pop up in our biometric system as being a possible member of the Taliban.

“That’s giving them too much credit.” I shook my head. Just then, with no warning, the ground shook so violently it nearly knocked me on my ass. A deafening explosion ripped through the air, and a massive dirt plume shot up into the air.

“What the fuck was that?” Bugsy screamed.

“Fuck.” I pulled myself back to my feet and looked down the village street to the rest of the soldiers. “Is everyone okay?” I yelled.

“Yeah,” Machete called back.

“I’m good,” came Cali’s voice.

“All Spartan elements, status report,” Slim’s voice boomed over the radio. Everyone mercifully answered back they were okay. I looked around, and all the Afghans had vanished from the streets.

“Keep your fucking eyes open,” I yelled. My eyes darted to all the open doors, windows, and rooftops that surrounded us. It was coming. My heart slammed in my chest and I gripped my rifle so hard my knuckles turned white. Seconds turned to hours as I waited for the Taliban to commence shooting us to pieces trapped in that shitty little village.

But it never came. Up the road a few hundred meters where the Chimera troops were, an IED had gone off. It wasn’t even close to them when it blew. Someone, somewhere must have been spooked and set it off way too early.

“All Grizzly elements prepare to exfiltrate,” Rocky’s voice said over the radio. I breathed a sigh of relief and motioned for the soldiers around me to get the hell out. We didn’t manage to hit every house as we’d planned, but I think we managed to scare off the IED maker. Even if it was by accident.

Even though we wanted to rush out of that village as fast as possible, we didn’t. We moved out as slowly and as deliberately as we’d moved in. I was even more nervous on the way out. The only thing I could think of was that the bomb was nothing but a sign for waiting fighters in the mountains somewhere. My rifle followed my eyes as I checked, double-checked, and re-checked every nook, cranny, and rock as we made our way down the crowded village roads.

Every electrical connection to a generator was a possible tripwire. Every loose pile of dirt was an IED. Every window was concealing the barrel of a rifle. Every single step on the way back to the trucks was going to be my last. I was certain of it. I was so nervous that I suddenly noticed I wasn’t breathing. When I reached the trucks, I gasped for breath.

I struggled with the heavy door and climbed inside. The air conditioning was a blast of freezing cold and immediately turned all my sweat icy. I took my helmet off and dropped it next to Oldies’ feet. Sweat poured down from my unkempt hair and stung my eyes.

“What the hell was that?” Oldies asked, peering down from his turret.

“Not really sure,” I yelled over the truck’s loud diesel engine. “Shit just kind of exploded for no reason.”

“Afghanistan problems,” Oldies laughed. Slim and Memphis’s doors both swung open and they climbed inside. I leaned over and put my headset back on, and they did the same. “Guess you won’t be haunting me,” Slim joked.

“Not from a lack of you trying.” I shook my head.

“Like that was the first time we almost died.”

“We really have to stop making this a thing.” I laughed. It felt like I had decompressed a million times over once we started laughing together. The truck slowly crept into line with the others, and the convoy started back toward the Kandahar City skyline.