Soldiers Describe Life in Paktika Province
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE TILLMAN, Afghanistan, May. 23, 2011 Where and how you live as a soldier deployed to Afghanistan depends on the mission of the unit to which you’re assigned.
Soldiers at Forward Operating Base Tillman in Afghanistan’s Paktika province sort through mail, their main means of receiving personal items. DOD photo by Karen Parrish
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Large bases housing strategic-level headquarters offer wireless Internet, post, coffee and souvenir shops, barber shops and beauty salons.
But here and on Combat Outpost Munoz, where most of the soldiers live who are assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s 4th “Currahee” Brigade Combat Team, ‘Dog” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, there’s not a shop to be found.
Army Sgt. Justin Payne, a team leader for 1st Platoon, said soldiers receive many of their needs through the mail, sent from family and friends at home. “Tobacco is a big thing,” he said. “Snacks, candy, … stuff like that. Magazines.”
Most soldiers at Tillman have personal computers they use to watch movies, Payne said, while seven public computers with Internet connections and two phones are available for the troops to keep in touch with their families and friends.
Barracks space is divided into small plywood cubicles, Payne said, so the soldiers who live at Tillman have some personal sleeping space.
“The living conditions here are pretty good,” he said. “Much better than I’ve had on previous deployments. You get a room and a shower and a chow hall, and that’s all you really need -- and the ability to call home now and then. It’s nice here.”
Army Staff Sgt. Harold B. Smith, Headquarters Platoon sergeant and mayor of Tillman, coordinates contracted services including trash removal and electrical, plumbing and carpentry support for the roughly 150 soldiers based here.
Life support at Tillman takes a combination of big contracting companies and local-national contracts, Smith said.
“We have one of the very few waste-water treatment plants here in Afghanistan,” he said. “That is a huge plus, because it allows us to have hot and cold running water, which many of the [forward operating bases] don’t.”
Contracts with Afghan companies provide heavy equipment to fill large barriers with rocks and dirt and to move supplies and equipment to and from the base’s helicopter landing zone, Smith said. Local workers also provide kitchen support, cleaning and trash removal services for Tillman, he added.
About 40 life-support contractors work at Tillman, with an additional 80 force-protection workers who man the entry control point, guard towers and one of the observation points in the hills overlooking the base, Smith said. Four new guard towers have improved security within and around the base, he added.
Soldiers at Tillman agree the base is in much better condition than it was when they arrived, but it’s the Munoz outpost, about five miles to the northwest, where Dog Company has created the most dramatic improvements.
Army Capt. Edwin Churchill, company commander, said Munoz was the unit’s base of operations for the first three months of their deployment, when the headquarters element moved to Tillman.
The previous unit at Munoz had only about 30 soldiers living there, Churchill said, and the force protection conditions were not good. Munoz sits in a bowl surrounded by hills, and the base regularly is attacked from those peaks by enemy rockets and machine-gun and small-arms fire.
Churchill manned the post with 75 to 90 soldiers at a time after his company moved in, and they set to work filling barriers and sandbags to protect against enemy fire. Soldiers also added fortified firing positions and mortar points to defend the outpost.
The labor was very physically demanding, with all of Munoz involved, Churchill said, noting that when the unit arrived, it had no heavy equipment to help with the work.
Churchill and his troops have added several large barriers throughout the Munoz compound to provide cover during attacks, and have built up the base defenses. “We added extra indirect systems. … The enemy can’t suppress all of them at once,” he said.
Churchill said through practice, the soldiers at Munoz have learned how to defend the outpost quickly and effectively.
“The nice thing about [the enemy] is they’re absolutely predictable; they use the same positions every time,” he said. “So we have a lot of the [targeting] information dialed in on them.”
Dog Company has suffered no serious injuries or deaths at Munoz, the commander said, though they’ve been attacked as many as four times in one week.
Churchill said the company has also worked to make the base more comfortable for soldiers.
“When we got here, … two soldiers lived in each 60-square-foot room. It was ridiculously tight -- very poor living conditions,” he said.
Dog Company added plywood buildings for storage, and built small cubicles inside brick-and-mortar structures to provide more privacy in soldier living space, Churchill said.
Dog Company is closing Munoz, as their year in Afghanistan comes to an end. Churchill said the outpost essentially is in a cul-de-sac in Paktika province’s Gayan district, and soldiers can be more effective in the counterinsurgency fight closer to more trafficked and populated areas.
Army Spc. Jonathan Lounds, a team leader for Dog Company’s 2nd Platoon, has lived at Munoz for eight months.
“You get used to it, and it becomes like home,” Lounds said. “We put up a shower the other day; that was nice.”
Munoz has no running water, so soldiers use bottled water for everything, Lounds said. Bathroom facilities consist of urinal tubes set into the ground, with small plastic “wag bags” provided for solid waste, which is burned.
Army Sgt. Brandon England is the signal support systems specialist for Dog Company, and has spent most of the deployment at Munoz. He said the company’s soldiers worked hard to make the outpost safer and more defensible.
“The guys, from sunup to sundown, just busted their butts,” England said. “The [company commander] put us to work.”
Dog Company added enough walls and barriers to make Munoz feel secure, England said.
“We’ve built it up quite a bit,” he said. “It’s not bad now – I actually like it more here [than at Tillman]. Something’s always going on, and it’s small, so you don’t have to go searching for people.
“We’ve had some pretty good fights out here,” he added. “It made time go by fast.”