Dispatch From Downrange
WHEN THE MUNDANE BECOMES VERY REAL
Itís all over the news. News you at home get bombarded with but we here in Afghanistan, here where it is happening, have to search for. Today I heard about the Afghan Army soldier that was supposed to be protecting the US base who turned his weapon on the US soldiers, killing two and wounding four more. These are the very same soldiers that provide security for me and my fellow dog handlers as we search and try to secure the entry control points and bases over here. When this sort of thing happens it brings home just how easy it is to have the situation go downhill in a hurry. The location I am stationed at hasnít erupted in protests other than a peaceful demonstration of several hundred people but the anger and hatred is just under the surface. We know it could go south at any time.
Now this may not be too politically correct but I and the folks I work with are not at ease with our security. We constantly keep a close eye on the surroundings. It is what the Army calls S.A. or Situational Awareness . Without it you are simply a news item waiting to happen. To counter this we have found we work very closely together regardless of what service the handler is in. The old days of one service not associating with the other are long gone. Iím glad those days are dead and gone.
In todayís world there is just no place (or time) for it. Yes, still some good natured ribbing but we are all working for the same goal. That goal is twofold. Accomplish the mission; come home when itís done.
Where I am located, I work with Army MP canine handlers and one Navy handler. What the Navy is doing in the middle of Afghanistan is anyoneís guess but he and I are friends and colleagues.
It is a plus that he is also a narcotics dog handler. We work together as a team pretty much all the time. Recently we have been searching the local national barracks and third country worker housing. These are laborers from all over the world but not the US and not Afghanistan, hence third country.
Those days go pretty much like this. He and I get ready at about 04:00. Thatís 4am for you nonmilitary people. That means getting the dogs up and ready. They get a break of course so we donít have an ďincidentĒ in somebodyís room, then we head out to the search area. We meet with the military authorities in charge of the search and show up at the search area unannounced about 05:00. The military with us spread out and man each entry and exit door on the building or tent. There is the sound of doors being banged on and the laser like beams of light from dozens of flashlights shining in all directions. All the occupants are ordered out of the building and patted down as they exit. Then itís our turn. In go the dogs. Room by room, door by door, bed by bed, everything is searched. Now our job is to search for drugs but we are not blind and contraband that we see gets confiscated by the military. Cell phones, wireless devices, computers, all are contraband. All can be used to trigger devices or to communicate Intel to the very people we are trying to stop. Also remember it is 05:00 in the morning in Afghanistan. There are now maybe seventy-five people standing outside after being waken and hurried outside. It is also 18 degrees and snowing.
My Navy partner and I go systematically through each room. If we make a find, it is like Christmas (for us) and a real long and bad day for someone else.
After the morning search, we head out to the ECP or Entry Control Point. This is the farthest forward point of protection and although we always have a US security team with us, our main protection is Afghan soldiers and police. We again are searching for drugs hidden by the workers that are walking onto the FOB (Forward Operating Base). They stash it in the wire, they hide it under rocks to retrieve later, and they attempt to bring it in the base either for personal use or to sell and trade to the workers. By The Way, we see very very little soldier involvement in the drug problem over here.
The Afghan workers do not like dogs, especially big snarling dogs controlled by U.S. personnel (us). They are afraid of the dogs and to tell the truth we do nothing to dispel that fear. It doesnít bother me a bit that they think we might let loose the dogs of war on them. The search completed we return to the kennel area to, if the search was successful, log in and photograph the finds we made. If we strike out that day we will spend several hours training in detection or patrol (attack and bite) work. At the end of the day we all meet back up at our camp and go over the dayís activities and resume the inter-service ribbing. There is always an unspoken sense of relaxation knowing we survived another day.
Oh, and for my partner, if he reads this. Go ArmyóBeat Navy!
From somewhere in the frigid hills of Afghanistan, I'm Jon Harris and this has been another
Dispatch From Downrange