During our staff Christmas party the distant mortars sounded like a door of our B-Hut closing, or a heavy foot on our wooden deck, so we ignored the sounds. We were busy getting drinks and snacks, telling stories and listening to Blue Rodeo.
When the first rocket landed a few hundred metres away, however, the sharp crack of its impact shattered our party mood and, albeit a bit casually, we took evasive action—we stopped talking, we turned down the music, and I opened the door to poke my head outside just as the rapid whistling of the next rocket filled the sky. Before I could say something as obtuse as “Take Cover!” it hammered into the ground. It was 21:42 (9:42 pm).
All 14 of us made our way into the cement bunker located next to a huge canvas tent where transient soldiers bunked for the night, and we waited. But we all knew the attack was over. That’s the standard MO in Afghanistan. Send in a few mortars and rockets just to disrupt the routine. And then nothing.
Of course, the bunker gave us all a false sense of security. Although we were encased in concrete, the ends of the bunker were open. If a shell had landed in the right location the exploding shrapnel would have rattled around inside, shredding us apart. But we don’t think of those things. We did, however, ask to have the bunker properly completed the next day.
At 21:45 the loudspeakers crackled and announced “Attention on the FOB, Incoming. Take Cover. That is all.” I laugh every time I hear those last words because it reminds me of the absurdity depicted in the TV comedy “M*A*S*H*.” I’m waiting for it to announce the cancellation of the Sadie Hawkins Dance, or the results of the latest basketball game.
The rule, we’ve been told, is to wait for the “All Clear” signal before leaving the bunker, but it was our first Christmas in Afghanistan and we wanted to make it as normal as we could. We had scrounged used 2X6′s and plywood to expand our deck and build a roof; we brought lights from home, purchased an artificial Christmas tree in Dubai and had it sent over. We even brought “gag” gifts to exchange amongst ourselves — the most memorable being a DIY Christmas carol kit, a stylish blue burqa, a Dustbuster vacuum and a Vincent Van Gogh action figure, complete with interchangeable heads (one with two ears and one bandaged).
The “All Clear” signal came about twenty minutes later, after the Special Forces had located the POO (point of origin) of the rockets and were satisfied that the attack was over. Meanwhile, most of the guys had wandered back to their rooms. It was late — and we had to abide by the US Military’s “General Order One”, which prohibits alcohol, gambling, and caring for any domestic or wild animal — to name a few. So what’s the point of partying late into the night if you can’t befriend a wandering jackal or monitor lizard?
And you may well wonder what a group of Canadian civilians are doing in Afghanistan working on a US Military Base in the first place.
Well, join the crowd. I ask myself that almost every day.
“Our Fleet” © Allan Cram. All rights reserved.
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