I accepted the invitation to go to the range with the Task Force and I must say; it was a range like no other. TFC (remember him) gave a convoy brief.
I rode with Greg, one of the few contractors I’m comfortable leaving the wire with. He’s a reservist, SOF (special operations forces) guy who is always armed, drives like he’s Mafia and has a family in Florida he’s determined to see again. All of that to say, I’m safe when Greg’s driving.
So we left for the range at 0730. It was out past Ghar Mountain. Once we were aboard Kabul Military Training Center we left the paved road (paved is a subjective term) and headed deep into the training area. I was again struck by how much the place resembled the Combat Center.
In addition to these we saw actual occupied dwellings, some tents, some mud like these, along the road. Seems KMTC was placed in a less populated area, not an uninhabited area. The packs of feral dogs were a nice touch. We didn’t stop for pictures but part of our safety brief included instructions to shoot any dog that was close enough to pose a threat. Um…
Once we got to the ‘range area’ I understood a bit more. We actually brought wood and paper targets… and commenced to building our own.
As we unloaded the gear for the targets SSG K asked where the ammo was. That set off the TFC with a string of things I won’t repeat here. It was quickly determined no one packed the actual rounds. You know I laughed out loud as I helped unload everything we needed for building targets.
Someone went back to get the ammo (which meant two vehicles and four people made a 70 minute round trip back to where we’d started. I turned to taking photos once the gear was unloaded.
Our safety brief’d included the requirement for Soldiers to stand guard the entire time we were on the range for the sole purpose of keeping children from interfering with the training and or getting hurt. Specifically we needed to keep hem away from the vehicles (they’d steal anything they could carry away) and the firing line (they collect the spent brass casings and sell them.
Before you ask why children were on a range let me remind you of the homes we passed on the way in. In addition to the scattered dwellings there was a village ‘just over that hill and kids’ll come up out of the ground like spiders.’ Sounds bad but it’s an apt description. I didn’t photograph any of the kids because, as SSG K said ‘once they see we have a white woman here with us they won’t go away.’
Remember, it was a live fire range; not a meet and greet with the locals. Sure enough, the soldiers on the perimeter had to stay alert and constantly shoo the kids away. They pushed the limits and I noticed a group of kids standing within reach of one of the younger Soldiers.
They were actually touching the equipment he was wearing… so SSG K approached and told them, in Pashto, to go away. One of the braver boys responded, in Pashto, and told SSG K to go away. (I laughed again but on the inside this time) SSG K used a few strategically placed three round bursts to make his point and, for the rest of the day all he had to do was look in the direction of a crowd who’d moved too close and they immediately dispersed. (We brought a native Pashto speaker with us to help keep the kids at bay but he was less than effective–I realize it’s hard. They’re kids, they’re curious and they wanted the brass.
The ANA Range Control guys drove out to our site several times to ensure we were in compliance of the regulations. (Does ANYONE else see the irony here?) The second visit included them telling us what time they’d be back to police the brass. Seems they wanted to recycle it for profit instead of letting the kids do it.
Do I want to shoot the M240? Duh. Actually, I was hesitant because I didn’t want to take rounds from any of the Soldiers. SSG K told me to stop being a girl so of course I rogered up.
Have to love the fact someone else will take MY photo. It was awkward to ask at first (different when it’s a stranger; I have to see these guys every day) but now I realize, without the pics, there is no blog. (that sounds like a me monster I know.) At this point one of the guys just grabs my camera if I’m doing something and not holding/wearing it.
Here I am getting ready to jump into the prone. Had to load and ride the bolt forward from the kneeling; my arms weren’t long enough nor was I incredibly agile with the gear and frozen fingers.
After I fired I stayed there and wouldn’t you know it. 8 out of 10 of the guys who came to fire the M240 asked if I’d take their picture. I felt like the camera girl at Disneyland except I didn’t try to sell the anything. It was a good chance to get to know some of the people who don’t work in my section and who DOESN’T want a shot of them firing a machine gun?
SSG N decided he wanted to “go native” and fire from the hip. After wrapping his head in his scarf, away he went.
In between shooters I took the chance to fire the M4. Must saw, nothing I had issued to me had red laser ‘target finders’ on it.
Once we were done with the shoot the ANA Range Control guys showed up to collect the brass. I’d have preferred to let the kids have it but we were on their range and needed to ‘comply’ if you will. We didn’t stand guard on piles of expended shell casings though so the kids managed to score some of it.
I approached one of the ANA about taking his picture and he gestured wildly and spoke loudly enough to make it clear he did not want to be photographed. The guys all laughed at me for trying and then I handed my camera to one of them and then walked over and made it clear I wanted to be photographed WITH the ANA Soldier. He changed his mind.
Funniest thing was this guy, almost RUNNING up to have HIS photo taken too. After that several of the Soldiers posed for pictures with the ANA guys. (laugh at ME, huh?)
And so, as my first month in Kabul comes to a close, I’ll leave you with this. I look around at the hardscrabble existence they lead, the oft barbaric customs and the wildly oppressive beliefs and I can say with absolute certainty I’m blessed to be an American.