Friday, October 30, 2015


I don't know if anyone out there was anxiously awaiting and bitterly disappointed at the absence of Cthluhu Month here on Illini6.

The past few years I've tried to post a daily Lovecraftian picture or photograph.  I realized that was almost entirely derivative.  Since others were doing better, or at least more original work I decided not to do that this year,

I thought about trying to write a scary fiction story to post each day, or maybe spread out one story over several days, but sadly my production is not up to speed, at least not at a "live" pace.  I should have started months ago.

Finally I thought about how I intended to mix in my Afghan stories on this blog.  I could tell scary Afghan stories, but really nothing got me as frightened as I had expected to be.  I had been attacked, many times actually.  We heard and felt explosions intending to do us harm, and we did take causalities on our base which was only about one and a half miles East to West and no more than half a mile North to South.

I've decided to tell you the story of the first time we got attacked.  It was our very first night at FOB Salerno, Afghanistan.  You can decide for yourself how scary it is, and how scared we should have been.

I was sent to Salerno to be the Base Operations Commander.  That's similar to a hotel manager, except you are supposed to make sure the hotel perimeter is safe as well.   The base had been the home of an Infantry Battalion and a regional hospital, with about 800 soldiers and contractors stationed there.  They had plans to expand.  They expected to get to 1500 - 2000 occupants during our tenure there.  So they sent me (the most junior Major in the unit) with a staff of six others to oversee, coordinate, and control the buildup.

Normally a Base Operations staff is Company sized, and in Afghanistan all the other Base Ops were 25 soldiers or more (Kandahar, Kabul, Bagram and one in Uzbekistan) all run by Lieutenant Colonels (LTC or O5).  They had all been culled from our Area Support Group (ASG) Headquarters Company.

Our staff was so small that we couldn't "charter" a separate flight for just us and out gear.  We had to wait until there were enough slots available.  Finally after waiting a week we flew out on the first week of April.

The day we arrived at FOB Salerno they were having a USO show.  The camp was very bare bones, with no PX, a ratty tent for a gym, and another for a chapel.  For mail and banking service all the smaller bases (of which Salerno was one) had to wait until once a month the Finance and Postal people to fly in and set up a table to take care of these things for them.

There were 4 computers available on the camp for soldiers to connect to the web.  There were only 6 more that were for official business.  They were all located at one end of the base.

There was only one real building the Army was using on the base.  Worst of all, there were only enough bunkers for less than 400 soldiers.  There were about 800 people living on the base, and Base Ops and the civilian contractors were on the opposite end of the base from all the bunkers.

The whole camp was surrounded by fencing and concertina wire.  There were six guard towers build out of three steel connexes each.  Within the wire was a ring road and within that were about half dozen large square sections surrounded and divided by Hesco walls.

Hesco is a metal mesh, lined with burlap that folds flat.  When you fold it out they come in blocks 8' x 8' x 8'.  These get filled with dirt and rocks to form walls.  There was at least one layer of these walls around most of the camp.

Our staff was replacing a one man show, Major O'Boyle.  O'Boyle had done a great job in the six months he had been assigned there, finding replacements for almost all the tents, getting a new Dining Facility, (DFac), he got two new latrines and contracting for four more.

Major O'Boyle showed us around the base and got us settled in our two tents.  One was an office and directly adjacent was our sleeping tent.  These were GP mediums, enough to sleep a dozen so we weren't cramped, but having us all in one tent was a bit, conservative.

We noticed there was a large open area filled with concrete barriers and preformed bunker sections.  We asked about that and they had been arriving for a couple of weeks, but there weren't enough forklift drivers to emplace them around the tents and set up the bunker sections to form bunkers.

We had two forklift drivers so that was priority number one the next morning.  For the time being we were told that at our end of the base when we got attacked the procedure was to get our gear on and stand next to a Hesco wall.  This would provide protection from at least one side.

That first night we all went to bed in our sleeping bags, on our cots.  We had our body armor and helmets hanging off the end of our cots.

The night was full of strange, new noises.  There were explosions; helicopters taking off and flying overhead, testing their weapons as they went; aircraft flying off in the distance; intermittent fire missions from the mortars and the 105 mm howitzers; and sporadic gunfire off in the distance.

It probably wasn't quite as noisy as my description indicates.  It was quiet enough to sleep, but those noises were there, sometimes louder and sometimes there was a break with silence.

Then a particularly loud sound made us all sit up in our cots, in the dark.

"Was that incoming?"  Someone asked.  We had been told that you can hear the difference between incoming and outgoing, but we hadn't been sure of any of the noises that night.

"I don't think so," I think I said, and we agreed to lay back down.

There was another similar noise a few moments later.

"I think that may have actually been incoming," someone said in the dark.

"You may be right," someone agreed.

"How will we know for sure?"  another person asked.

Suddenly someone stuck their head in the front flap of the tent.  They had a headlight on their helmet.

"What are you guys still doing in here?  We're getting attacked!"

We scrambled into our gear and got out of the tent.  The Hesco wall was only about twenty or thirty yards from the tent.  It was a clear night with a full moon.  We ran over to the wall and stood with our backs up against it.

The civilian contractors were there against the wall as well.  We stood there, looking up into the night and wondering about the continuing noises.

The attack was several 105 mm rockets launched from the hills surrounding the base.  They called for helicopter support and the attack helicopters flew off in the direction the rockets seemed to be coming from.

I called the combat headquarters and told them we were all accounted for and fine.  After a while the noises died down and we got an all clear.

I don't know if it was just our ignorance, but it didn't seem all that scary.  I think some of the rockets did land inside the base, but they didn't hit any of the tents, equipment or people.

This was our first night of the better part of a year we spent in FOB Salerno.  In the end our first night and last day we got attacked, as well as many other attacks throughout the year.  They would get more scary as we went along.

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