Rules of War:

  1. Young warriors die
  2. You cannot change Rule #1
  3. Someone must walk point

I’m writing this post about a day I lived and should have died, in August 2010. It was nearing the end of my seven month deployment.

“Alamo” is the code-word used over the radio informing the chain of command that the base is being overrun by the Taliban. If we heard “Alamo“ over the radio, we dropped whatever we were doing and hauled ass to our assigned defensive position. My defensive position was on the roof of the White House, the building we resided at. More about the White House later…

afghan buildings

We lived in this building during my deployment in Musa Qala. We referred to it as “The White House”.

Making it to August left our team with just over six months in country. It felt like a lifetime. We had a tough deployment all around and Murphy’s Law was the norm. I was drained, physically and mentally. 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marine Regiment (1/2), the outfit I was attached to, was preparing to go home. They were being relieved by 1st Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment (1/8).

I had spoken to my Platoon Chief, Gunnery Sgt Misa, at the beginning of the month and he gave me some great news. The 2nd Intel Battalion had arrived in country with four Sensor Emplacement Teams who would relieve us.  Our replacements, hurrah! We’re going home, boys! Gunny told me our replacements would be en route to Musa Qala within the next couple of weeks, weather permitting. Two weeks and a wake-up, I could handle that. I was shocked we’d made it this far without a casualty. I could just make out a flickering light at the end of the tunnel. 

Two weeks and a wake-up and it was sayonara Middle East.

I tried my best not to get excited or let my mind dwell on how “glorious” life would be when I returned to the States. A lot of shit can happen in two weeks. It could be a wrong step, forgetting to check a door for wires, etc. I could write a novel on the number of ways to get fucked up over there. It was essential to keep my mind on what I was doing and shed the bullshit.

When my mind did wander, it always shot back to our first arrival at Musa Qala. It was May and the British (2 Scots) were still in control of the AO (Area of Operations). Our initial job was getting familiar with the area, the terrain, the locals, etc. While we were conducting route reconds north of the city, British SAS (Special Air Service) teams were conducting raids to the east.

The Brits were looking at two to three days until their deployment was officially done. After two days outside the wire, we returned to hear the devastating news that two Brits had been killed. Not far from us. Two days before they were supposed to rotate home. It was a brutal way for them to end such a long, strenuous deployment. Reality set in, this shit is for real. After that day, I knew this race would be a slog to the finish line. I had to keep myself in check and stay in the present moment. It was imperative for survival.

There was constant activity all around us, 2nd Marines on their way out of the shit. 8th Marines barreling their way in. The situation on the ground, the situation that we were passing on to 8th Marines, was lackluster. Months of working closely with the Afghan army and police led me to believe that all the Taliban had to do was ‘wait’ out the Americans. Just wait until the Americans left the area for good. 

I didn’t have confidence that the ANA (Afghan National Army) could hold their own against the Taliban…not without our help. That and the majority of the local population distrusted their own civil authorities, law enforcement, and armed forces. They weren’t alone in their suspicions. The corruption in Afghanistan was widespread and unsettling. Some of the locals expressed their want for everyone to leave, the Americans and the Afghan government.

It not like they liked or preferred the Taliban, they were just straight-up tired of war, conflict, and death. And I can’t blame them. They just wanted to be left alone to work their fields and raise their children without worrying that one of them might get shot, step on an IED, or have a bomb dropped on them. After maturing a little, I can understand their concerns. 2010 was the bloodiest year of our decade-long war there. The Afghans have literally been at war, in some shape or form, for decades. 

I believe the words “War and “Afghanistan should be paired together in the dictionary. You could say that war is almost intertwined in the language. For example, The Pashtu word for the time between May and September translates to the “campaign season.” The word doesn’t refer to the “summer” or “planting” or “harvesting” season, it refers to it’s warm now, time to pick a fight. 

marine corps vehicle

This was our war horse that kept us relatively safe from small arms fire and IEDs. MATV

We ran missions all over the Helmand. Our team traveled in our own, customized MATV, a scout vehicle with similar design features as the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle, but sexier.  The MATV was designed to carry five Marines, with a 50 cal. turret on top, equipped with all the toys you’d expect: armored v-hull, VHF/UHF radio comm, blue force tracker, FLIR cameras, chameleon counter IED system, etc.

Between missions, we stayed in the Musa Qala District Center. The city’s name, Musa Qala, means the “Fort of Moses”. The District Center was a cluster of buildings located at the western entrance to the city. Further to the east was the brown moonscape of the high desert plateau. To the north, Mount Doom towered above Musa Qala. To the west stretched the gray and brown plateau of the open desert, broken up by the incisions of the deep canyons or wadis that cut through it like the veins of a leaf.

We occupied an empty room in the “White House,” the largest building within the District Center grounds overlooking the city. The White House became our castle. It was positioned between two smaller buildings, the Governor’s compound on the east side and the Afghan National Police compound to the west. It was our home away from home.  From the White House, I had a 360-degree view of the entire valley. Not too shabby.

Our room was a beat-up, decrepit living space large enough for the four marines of SET Delta. We lived on the second floor, the closest room to the Afghan police compound. Outside of our door, there was a balcony of sorts that wrapped around the second floor of the building.  Directly to the right, there were stairs leading down to the ground floor and another side stairway, poorly built, leading to the rooftop. It’s challenging to describe the layout of buildings in Afghanistan, they don’t exactly go by American building codes.

Two British contractors lived on the ground floor in the room directly below us. Every other week I’d drop by and have a cup of tea with Ken McGonigle, one of the contractors. A very noble fellow. 

afghani police compound

Afghan Police compound, a stones throw away from my room in the White House. The White House is a mirror version of this building, just a little bigger.

The Afghan National Police operated out of the building across the way from our room in the White House. Not much out of the ordinary except the normal Afghan craziness. They sure enjoyed smoking reefer. I’m pretty sure the cops, not to mention the army, were high more times than not.  At that time, unbeknownst to me, there was a jail that held suspected Taliban.  When I found out, it was a surprise.

Because of the extreme heat in the summer, I’d sleep outside on the balcony. Each evening I’d drag my cot around the corner of our building where I had a perfect view of the stars, and it didn’t smell like sweaty ass Marines. I also had a full, top-down view of the Afghani Police building across the way. There’s something to be said about the Afghan sky at night. It’s a beautiful thing to see.

Because of the lack of ambient light, it gets really dark at night. It was eerie to hear movement directly under me while trying to sleep and not knowing what it was.  Or you’d think you heard something. It could be the wind or farm animals or some Marine sneaking off to the wooden shutters to go rub one out. There were so many things that made noise out there.

The day before I had sent Cory and Shiloh east to Now Zad to look for a SatCom system that needed to be extracted. The sensor had been deployed some four months before we’d even arrived. We’d had real suspicions that the emplacement site was booby-trapped, probably with pressure plate IEDs. In my head, I had already chalked the sensor up as a combat loss. My command wanted me to go ahead and see if it could be pulled.

Now Zad was in Alpha Company’s AO. With the rest of 1/2, Alpha was preparing to go home as well. After speaking with the company commander I knew that retrieving the system was a no-go. He was not willing to risk his Marines lives for the retrieval of a piece of equipment, and neither was I. Sure, it was an expensive piece of gear… but under no circumstance worth life or limb.

Cory and Shiloh flew to Now Zad anyway to touch base with the company commander, have a meeting about not retrieving the system, eat a lot, sleep a lot, and generally stay out of sight and out of mind. Cory sharpened his skates for this mission.

afghan stairs

Photo taken from the door opening to our room, looking down the stairway. Whoever designed these stairs deserves a gold star.

The following day, I woke up at 0715 on the dot. Not because of an alarm. Well, not exactly. There was typically a firefight or at least an exchange of fire in or around the city at 0715 – 0730 damn near every morning. Every…day. Sometimes, it would last two minutes, sometimes five, maybe ten minutes. I’ll give it to the Taliban; they were consistent.

 In the morning, as soon as I heard machine guns go off, I would slide off my cot, low crawl back around the corner and into our room, get dressed, squat back down, waddle down the stairs, take a leak, and then eat a breakfast of champions…oven-sized trays of powdered eggs and ground meat, heated by chemical tabs. Delicious.

This particular morning went off without a hitch. After breakfast, I went to the COC and sent out my reports. I headed back up the hill to make some coffee, British army style. The Brits had a nice boiling kit in their MREs. Around 11ish, Thumper took off down the hill to the chow hall.  I stayed back in the White House sipping coffee, procrastinating the inventory work that needed to be done.

A burst of gunfire ripped through the quiet of the late morning somewhere outside. Somewhere close.  Real close. I stood up slowly and crept towards the door. I looked right, down the single-flight stairway leading to the ground floor, but saw nothing. I looked to my left, down at the dirt path that separated the White House and the Afghan National Police building, and saw an Afghan with an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) on his shoulder running towards our LZ (Landing Zone), located right behind my building. I froze. He was maybe fifteen feet away from me but hauling ass. Lucky for me, he didn’t look up. If he would have, I would have been fucking toast. 

It’s hard to express how awful I felt at that moment. What I processed at the time was that we were being overrun, and I was all by myself, and that was not good. Everyone was down the hill at the chow hall or COC. Panic grabbed me by the throat and squeezed.

I remembered the machine gun nest on the roof of our building, and I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t returning fire… ‘unless they’re dead of course’- flashed through my mind. ‘Shit! They’re already in the building,’- I thought. 

I darted to our rifle rack in the back of the room, clearing the line of cots like a hurdler. I thought I heard someone running up the stairs. I grabbed a magazine from the plate carrier nearest me. My hands were shaking uncontrollably, so it took a couple of tries before I got the magazine loaded.

The gunfire outside erupted into a full-fledged battle. I gritted my teeth, attempting not to bite off my tongue, and stacked (back to the wall, weapon at the deck, getting ready to pivot through the door frame and commence firing on whoever I encountered) on the door. My immediate concern was the stairs to the right. The stairs led right up to our enclave, which was completely open to the enemy. It would be in their best interest to take the highest point on the base as a firing position where they could lay down accurate fire on the LZ and District Center building. The White House had to be defended at all costs.

I heard yelling from the roof but couldn’t understand it between the gun bursts. I finally caught “LAMO”. My nightmare was confirmed. “ALAMO”.


Danette · August 24, 2018 at 14:53

Thank God that He watched (watches) over you!

Excellent reading, I hate though, that you and ou4 troops go through this kind of crap.

    VogelMike · August 27, 2018 at 03:55

    Thank you Aunt Danette!

OldSarg · August 24, 2018 at 23:34

Really? You stopped telling the tail? Honestly, what are you doing to me? I sit here and wait several weeks for another post and you post this which is, by far, your best yet, and you left me hanging. If you don’t post the next post ASAP I will be taking a trip to someplace to do some consulting work.

    VogelMike · August 27, 2018 at 03:53

    Roger that OldSarg, I’m on it stat.

Inja · August 25, 2018 at 02:47

Wow…well done Vogz. Your definitely an inspirational man.

Melissa · April 11, 2019 at 05:08

Sweet Vogel…I have prayed daily for healing/resolve/relief from mental torture y’all have been in since the 2010 deployments. There is healing in telling your story, please keep writing—“it’s been 9 years, time to finally come home!”
I will never forgive/forget the torment that war unleashes. It stole my future as well! Just know that you can always recreate a new future & I know you are on the right path to doing just that.
—much love—Melissa

kevine freeman · January 18, 2021 at 13:42

Thanks guys

JJ · July 12, 2023 at 03:14

Not sure if you still look on here or if it notifies you. Not sure how I even found my way here ha, just googling old places and memories. I remember this day very well, but my perspective was a mile or 2 west on opposite side of wadi. We’d been going out at sundown every night and set in all night trying to catch the 2am landscaping enthusiasts. Few nights before this day, we’d spotted and got one. One killed and one captured. Was one of those situations where 2 killed 0 captured would have been completely justified. I had reassured myself we did the right thing. I remember first seeing black smoke coming from DC, which happened all the time, but something was different with the smoke trail and where it seemed to be coming from. We slowly pieced everything together throughout the day and later heard it was a prisoner who got ahold of the AK. Instantly I wondered if it was the guy we’d just sent in. I still wonder today, but it took me over 10 years to realize maybe it just doesn’t matter.

    VogelMike · July 27, 2023 at 16:49

    I agree, brother; at this point, it matters not. Glad you made it home, and I hope all is well.

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