Molokai Soldier in Afghanistan: Part II
Jesse English, 1990 Molokai grad, tells his story.
Picking up where I left off, when Sept. 11 happened, my life was changed instantly and drastically forever. I knew when I saw the second plane hit the towers that I would be going to war somewhere for real.
Several days later I was notified that I would be deployed to Afghanistan soon. We intensified our training, but had to wait several months until our unit was called upon. This is a weird anomaly, but for those soldiers who train to go to war it is hard to wait when the real thing happens. You might have a little fear, but most of you wants to go, to get into the fight and put yourself to the test.
My buddies and I were infuriated by he attacks of Sept. 11 and we wanted retribution. I had friends in NY, who worked in the area, but more than that I was extremely upset by the terror and fear that was inflicted on so many innocent non-combatants. I understood that this was a bold move by an enemy that really had no other choice.
So I deployed for the first time and put boots on ground in early march of 2002. I was a part of many operations, but was also the first Air Guard Special Tactics Weatherman to go down-range with Army Special Forces teams in Afghanistan. I spent several months living in a very remote area in very austere conditions that most would have a hard time believing. I experienced rocket attacks, being shot at and going on patrols for the first time.
Afghanistan is an unbelievable place. It is both beautiful and disgusting. The mountains are an unreal site to behold. They are rugged, forbidding and breathtaking at the same time.
The culture is completely different and the people live in a time that is like going back to the Stone Age. The homes are made of mud and straw – the nicer ones are made of stone and maybe some crude mortar. There is trash and filth everywhere. There is no sewage system, so streams of animal and human waste flow all over. Food is cooked mostly indoors and with fuel cakes made of dried animal dung and straw.
It is so poor that if you are lucky enough to have a job that you might earn the equivalent of 100 American dollars in a month. Locals will fight to pick up any trash you may leave behind and you could start a riot in the street by throwing a bottle of water into the middle of a crowd of children.
The majority of the people do some kind of farming with donkeys and cows and water buffalo as their main source of power and work. It is not unusual to see heavily laden donkeys walking all over the place, or a family on a wooden cart being drawn by one.
The people of Afghanistan are mostly pleasant and hard-working and pose no threat to US or Coalition forces. They are simple, lack any or much education and have no idea what is going on in the worl around them. I once tried to explain through my interpreter what a convenience store or a mall was and i was totally unable to get them to even grasp the idea. The children are the most loved by troops as they will stand by the roads and wave and smile the biggest smiles you ahve ever seen. They are poorly clotheed and covered in dirt and filth, but will run across a field to get near you in the hopes you may throw them a piece of candy or a pen. They have learned that we are here to help them and now give us the only acceptable finger gesture that is not an insult by guving us the "thumbs-up" sign as we drive or walk by. Personally the people disgust me and I am constantly nauseated by the way they live in their own filth and stench, but the children make it all worth wile. Sometimes, when you have been shot at, or in a rocket attack you get very angry and it is hard not to hate everyone you see–because they ALL look the same and the bad guys do not wear any kind of uniform. The only way you know a bad guy is when he or she pulls an AK-47 rifle out or a rocket-propelled grenade and points it or shoots it at you. Sometimes it is too late before troopsfigure it out. In the end–the innocent and beautiful children are sometimes the ONLY thing that keeps you going, because they have no choice in the matter and someone has to look out for them.
I had always been poor growing up, and felt that i had a good appreciation for things, but five and a half months later upon my return from my first deployment all of life seemed even sweeter. To be able to walk outside and not have to wear body armor, a helmet, night-vision goggles and carry a rifle was nice. To be in a real house with clean running water and carpeting and not have to worry about and 82nn nortar, or a 107mm rocket land outside or on your house is pure heaven. After months of eating nothing but MRE's and drinking plain bottled water, the simple act of getting in your car and driving to the store–that has so much to choose from and being able to buy or eat anything you want any TIME you want is more than I can describe. Being able to watch REAL television and drink a beer is probably taken for granted by every person in America, but once you have been deployed to combat for any length of time it is pure heaven.