Like Good Soldiers Do

This is a guest post by my friend, former soldier, current barbell coach, and all around good man, Nicholas Koldewey. It’s important. Read it.

It was December 6th, 2014.  I was a young second lieutenant in the infantry with a brand-new infantry platoon on his first deployment to Afghanistan.  I had been in command of this platoon for less than three months, so saying that I was “cherry fucking lieutenant” is an understatement.  I was first platoon’s platoon leader (PL) with Charlie Company of the 3-187th Infantry Battalion in the 3rd Brigade – also known as the “Rakkasans.”  Ask anyone in the Army, and you will either hear love or hate for the Rakkasans.  Hate us or love us, but we were the most deployed infantry unit out of Fort Campbell and the entire United States Army.  I liked being a part of that.  I liked the fact that we were considered “the best,” but I am sure every unit in whatever organization feels that way.  But shit happens when you are in any unit that causes any person with any kind of ethical standards to raise an eyebrow.  And, not even a month and a half into my first combat deployment, I had mine.

My platoon was stationed at Kandahar Air Field, also know as KAF.  KAF is fucking huge – like, small city huge.  It should be that big, anyways, as the war had been going on for over a decade now.  This day we were assigned to be the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for the entire thing.  Meaning, if any shit went down, my platoon would be called up to handle it.  KAF is so big and had so many personal on it that it almost never got attacked by small arms fire.  We did get a few mortar rounds here and there, but that bull-shit usually never hit anything.  It was pretty easy being QRF.  You just had to maintain a state of “readiness,” but could still go eat chow, or workout, or whatever else you do on a military base in Afghanistan (basically just eat and workout).  My platoon sergeant (PSG) and I choose the latter.

In the middle of my training session, my small Nokia old-as-shit Afghani phone started to ring.  It was my company commander (CO), and he needed me and my PSG to get to the tactical operations center (TOC).  Frist Platoon was being spun-up.  My PSG and I grabbed our workout shit and started walking toward the TOC, which was about three football fields away from the gym.  I remember feeling like I looked pretty stupid when I walked into the TOC in my physical training (PT) uniform, my weight lifting belt, chalk, a composition notebook that I wrote my workouts in, and some other weightlifting gear.  I could tell my CO was a little pissed that we just showed up to the TOC for a briefing looking like a bag of ass, but what was I supposed to be doing – laying on my bunk with my rifle and kit on waiting for “the call?”

The briefing we received stated that a vehicle approached the East Gate of KAF and failed to stop at warning signals.  Naturally, you can’t just drive up to the gate.  That’s not how this shit works.  And, after a decade of war – and war equals vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBID) – or something worse.  There was some kind of escalation of force issue between US forces and whoever the fuck was in the vehicle.  My platoon was being sent out to the East side of KAF to get an assessment of what happened.  My PSG and I hurried back to our barracks, geared up, briefly briefed the platoon, moved to the motor pool and off we went in our MaxxPro armored vehicles. 

Upon arriving on-scene, there was a small yellow four door car shot to shit.  The Afghan National Police where there, too.  In the back of their green Ford Ranger where to bodies of adult men.  There was blood everywhere.  Blood on the car.  Blood on the ground.  Blood in the back of the truck.  Blood all over a young man who looked like a child that disobeyed his parents.  And also, thick bloody chunks of shit – which later I realized was one of those poor bastards in the back of the truck’s brains.

The story is three gentlemen, a father in the passenger’s seat, his son who was driving, and his cousin who was sitting behind the gentlemen driving.  The father was very ill, according to his son.  He was seeking medical treatment.  The son got lost, and made a wrong turn headed toward KAF.

Now, like any story, this one the son was telling could be complete bullshit.  They could be bad dudes doing bad shit for other bad dudes.  The expression on his face said otherwise, however.  And besides, I am 23 years old at the time, so what the fuck do I know.  I have never seen dead bodies before, or lead a platoon into combat, or seen another mans brains on the ground.  Let alone how to talk to a guy who just got his family members killed through another guy who speaks the language.  But something told me that this guy was not lying, and maybe that made it worse.

Naturally, around KAF there are manned guard towers usually manned by US Infantry men.  If vehicle approaches the gate, they have escalation of force procedures they have to follow.  One of the procedures was to shoot off a signal flare as an early warning.  There was a small issue with this, however… As it was fucking daylight – so maybe the flares were not as visible as they had planned.  Next, if the vehicle gets within 250 meters of KAF, they have the justification to use deadly force.  So, if you are a young grunt with a 240B machine gun, and you have been told that VBIEDs are a real fucking thing, and they really fucking kill people – our people – and you see this yellow car not stopping… what then?  Do you wait, and see what happens?  Do you see if the dude is really lost, or he is gunning for your life, and the guy next to you’s life?  No.  You shoot the fucker.  What else is there to do?  I didn’t know those soldiers in the guard tower that day.  But I did know that they were responsible for the death of a young man’s father, with several rounds to the head, and the cousin, with several rounds to the torso.

As my PSG and I continued to gather information, more locals showed up.  These locals turned out to be the rest of the family.  How more fucked up can this get?  Now I am a little freaked out.  Afterall, Americans just killed two of their family members.  There I stood; a leader armed to the fucking teeth with an infantry platoon standing behind me.  A big, badass, very afraid American soldier.  Luckily for me, they were not angry at me, or my guys, or America from what I could tell.  They actually scolded the son for being so stupid.  They said he should have known better.  Maybe it is true.  Maybe that guy is just a fucking idiot.  Have I stated that American forces have been in this country, and located at KAF, for over a decade at this point?

Now the situation has become clear – this fucked up situation that the US Government thrust me into.  On the one hand, we have US Soldiers flowing orders, and killing innocent men.  And on the other, we have an honest mistake, that cost the lives of family.  So, do we scold for the act of murder, or give them an award for a job well done?  It seems there is a thin line of those that should be punished and those that should be praised. Maybe it just depends on which side of the line you are standing on.  Luckily the whole family was there to witness it.

Where was my training for this?

I don’t know what happened to those soldiers who opened fire on those innocent men.  Maybe they were not given to many details.  That way they don’t have to live with the fact that they smoked an innocent guy’s father and cousin.  Maybe they did get an award.  I know the son is fucked for life – as his family will most likely exile him.  Maybe worse.  Or maybe we just made another terrorist who will end up fighting battles and killing my fellow countrymen.

Maybe it’s best that God does not allow us to know everything.

My radio squelched: “Choppin’ 1-6…”

It’s the TOC.  They are looking for answers as they watch me in this fuckery on the cameras that are stationed all around KAF.

“…Can you as the son if it’s okay to take pictures of the bodies?”

I looked at my PSG, “they want me to take pictures of the bodies.”  He scrunched up his face in a surprised and yet disgusted way.  This was a hardened veteran.  A man that as seen combat on multiple soils.  “Good,” I thought, “then he feels the same way I do.”  Why in the fuck do they need pictures of the bodies?  What purpose did that serve?  I didn’t ask the son, nor did I take any pictures.  And I did not give a shit how much shit I would have gotten for it.

The family put the son in another car and took him away – God rest his soul.  And the Afghan National Army took the bodies.  They even got another truck to tow the beyond-fucked-with-bullet-holes yellow car.  Now it was just my platoon just outside the airfield.  My PSG loaded up the guys.  And now it was my PSG and I standing on the scene. 

“Choppin’ 1-6…”

My PSG and I looked at each other again, both expressing, “What the fuck now,” on our faces.

“Make sure you kick dirt over the blood before you pull off.”

So, we did… like good soldiers do.

You can contact Nic at nkoldewey@barbell-logic.com.

3 thoughts on “Like Good Soldiers Do”

  1. Thanks, Nic for writing this piece. Being confronted by words on a screen that relay a first hand experience of war is not comfortable, but it is necessary. Faced with your experience I wrestle with questions that are easy to avoid for most of my life. Specifically, to what end? To what end are we waging this war? Are there ethics in war? Is war ever justified or defensible?

    Scott, thanks for posting.

  2. Its a hard thing for a lot of guys to talk about this, let alone write about it. Its especially hard when it shows things in a less than flattering light and calls into question any kind of noble purpose regarding being involved in a situation like this. Thank you both putting the time to put this up. It’s an important, if ugly truth.

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