My experiences as a Sergeant in a Marine Infantry battalion have ultimately changed my philosophy towards prepping. Living in a remote region of Afghanistan, Marjeh district, was very much like living in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. There were no roads, other than small cart paths, used by civilian and Taliban alike. There was no running water and no electricity. Locals pumped water from wells, if lucky, or drank from the canals. Electricity was a luxury and power came from a generator. Many of the locals were so poor they had never owned a single piece of any currency; barter was a way of life. Those lucky enough grew their own food, and villages took care of their own. There was no law other than their god’s law and no one to enforce it, no medical facilities, and no antibiotics; yet people survived.
The most popular method of travel was small motor bike, as they could handle the rough terrain and were relatively easy to fix. Most were Honda copies, which were made in Korea, along with the occasional Kawasaki. The locals chose the small variants– 200cc and under– for their superior fuel economy and light weight, which made it easy to maneuver. They could be picked up by two adult males and moved over terrain that is impossible to pass or loaded into the bed of one of the few Toyota pickups that combed the area. Parts for the Japanese variant of motorcycle, under 250cc, are virtually interchangeable among all the bikes. It was not uncommon to see a bike that was clearly built from the scrap of several other bikes. I even encountered a local that had built a small still. I found this unusual, as Muslim people do not consume alcohol. When asked what he was doing, and being a bit suspicious due to the IEDs manufactured in the area, the man replied it was to power his bike. He was distilling alcohol from fruit and plant scraps; then he mixed it 50/50 with gasoline, even selling the mixture or using it as barter.
Another time, at a road side check point, I came across two males on a bike with strange red wiring hanging out the side. Again my first thought was VBIED (vehicle born IED), but it turned out that they had rigged a battery charger to the stator output and were charging batteries as they rode, instead of powering the head lamp during day light hours. The man showed me a crude toggle switch he used to switch from the charger to the lamp. I am pretty sure it was a wall switch he had cut down and electrical taped together, but it appeared to be working. They used these bikes to transport goods as well as themselves, and it was not uncommon to see three adult males all riding on a 250cc. I once saw a family– Mom and Dad with a newborn baby– and a goat all go by. The man was driving with the goat across his lap with the woman on the back holding the baby in a blanket. A good motorcycle will provide transportation in TEOTWAWKI, both on and off road. I am in the process of saving for a Zero all-electric bike with solar charger, similar to the ones our Special Forces used in Afghanistan.
Another time while on post and observing an EOD team clearing a nearby road for IEDs, I witnessed a man on a bicycle get shot by a 9mm Beretta. The EOD guys had set up a serpentine or “S” shaped barricade to slow down approaching vehicles and prevent VBIEDs from killing them while they cleared the road of IEDs. I watched through my binoculars and was in contact via radio with the unit assigned to protect the EOD guys. I radioed them that they had a man on a bicycle approaching from the west. He entered the serpentine and was immediately told to stop, via interpreter, at the first curve. When he ignored the hand and arm signals by the Marines at the check point, they stepped up the EOF (escalation of force) and fired a pen flare over his head. He kept coming, and at the third curve one of the Marines– a Staff Sergeant I knew– fired a warning shot at the man with his M9. The round hit the ground right in front of him, but it seemed as though he started to pedal harder. I noticed now that he had something on his back wrapped in a blanket. When he did not stop after the warning shot was fired, that same Staff Sergeant began unloading the entire magazine of standard 9mm ball ammunition carried by NATO forces. I remember thinking, “Wow, this guy can’t hit shit” because it appeared that the man on the bike wasn’t getting hit. I expected him to be thrown from the bike with the first shot.
After the first few shots were fired, the man changed directions and went around a large dirt mound to his right and out of view from the Marines at the checkpoint. I watched as the Staff Sergeant changed mags in his pistol and rounded up two other marines armed with rifles to go and check on the man. Fifteen minutes later, the Marines brought the guy who had been riding the bike on a stretcher to the FOB where I was on post. I immediately searched the man, as was SOP, and noticed his torso covered in blood. I counted at least nine bullet wounds and radioed the corpsman to come to the gate. When the corpsman arrived, the man was pronounced dead; I was later told it was from blood loss. The point here is that a man on a bike was shot at least nine times at close range by 9mm ball and still managed to pedal a bike 75 meters. Where is the stopping power in that? It is incidents like this that have prompted the Corps to adopt the 1911 Colt as their primary side arm, going back to a gun it used 70 years ago.
I am still not sure what prompted the man to run through the checkpoint on that bicycle. It turned out he only had two small melons and a bag of rice on his back. It’s just another example of the collateral damages caused by war. I heard a rumor that he had a Syrian ID card, but that was never confirmed and above my pay grade. My gun of choice has always been a 1911. I carry a Kimber Custom Covert II with tritium night sights and a crimson trace laser. I bought it shortly after that deployment with this incident in mind.
Let me start by explaining that the conditions we lived in were primitive. It was only a few months after the 6th Marines had landed in helos in the fields of Marjeh and set up a FOB and scattered patrol bases. We lived in tents surrounded by walls of dirt, moved by a bull dozer, with razor wire strung across the top. The inner perimeter and our outer posts were made from HESCO barriers. All of our food and ammo was dropped by air and often delayed. We used bottled water and had a crude water filtration unit that pumped water from a nearby canal. However, Intel had suggested that the Taliban were actively poisoning the water, and we were advised to use it only for hygiene. We were limited to the amount of water we could use, so most just washed with baby wipes and a wet t-shirt, at least for the first few months. Some of the guys had begun washing their cammies in an MRE box lined with a trash bag. They used small river rocks smoothed by the current to rub the dirt out of their clothes and gear. Before we discovered the local bazaar to be selling soap, some would pour a few tablespoons of JP8 or diesel fuel into the water. Apparently this was a common practice by GI’s in the Second World War, as the JP8 acted as a disinfectant. It did, however, make you smell like fuel. We now know all petroleum fuels to be carcinogens, so I refrained from this practice, opting only to use water and a small supply of dish soap I bartered from the mess hall. This brings me to my next topic.
Before leaving the States, I was talking to an old family friend that had served in Vietnam. He advised me to bring cartons of cigarettes for barter, even though I was not a smoker. At first thought, I discarded the idea as out-dated from an era where we didn’t have the technologies of today, but later I decided to give it a try. At very least, the smokers would get desperate, and I could double my money. I bought four cartons of American Spirits, as I am against the large cigarette companies that poison the tobacco they use, causing millions of dollars of health issues in the United States annually. A month into the deployment, we hadn’t had an opportunity to resupply from a PX. Most of the smokers were running low or completely out. Some had turned to the ANA (Afghan National Army) that lived with us. They were smoking awful cigarettes that smelled like talcum powder and ass. One day, while in the chow line, I ran into a cook from my first deployment in Iraq. We got to talking, and he mentioned the cigarette situation. I still hadn’t torn into my stash and had even forgot about it, amidst the chaos and sleep deprivation we all were experiencing. The Mess Hall was a tent that served platoon-sized MRE’s one meal a day, for dinner. Occasionally, they had Gatorade and Otis Spunkmeyer muffins or Poptarts. I worked a deal for a bottle of dish soap for two packs of Spirits and that night met my friend and made the exchange. Needless to say, my squad and I had the cleanest cammies on the FOB for the time being.
The 40mm grenades for our M203s became scarce, as they were the best weapon to repel an enemy assault, and patrols that came under fire used the grenade launchers to repel much larger enemy forces until air supports could arrive. The success of the 40mm made it scarce, as we sent much of our supply to patrol bases of squad-sized units that more regularly came under attack and needed the ammo more than we did on the FOB. One day before a patrol, my 203 gunner came to me saying he only had two rounds of HE for the patrol and that the ASP (ammo supply point) guys were being jerks and wouldn’t give him any. It cost me six packs of Spirits, but I managed to get 12 rounds of HE and HE/DP assorted. I did the same thing for hand grenades on a later patrol.
On one patrol we came across an outpost manned by five Marines and four ANA soldiers. It was little more than a liberated house with sand bag bunkers on the roof and some razor wire on the perimeter. It looked in rough shape; you could see the impacts from the RPG fire, and the walls were littered with holes. The senior Marine– a Corporal– inside asked my LT if we had any claymores they could have. He explained that the Hajis liked to sneak up at night and attack them with RPGs and recoilless rifles. They used the claymores to cover some avenues of approach they couldn’t, due to the terrain. Initially my LT said no, even though I knew he had several in his pack that we would most likely not need. However, when the ANA inside offered some goat kabobs fresh off the BBQ, the LT complied. This is proof that, when food is scarce, people will trade next to anything for a good meal, even of superior value. A hungry man will trade a beautiful firearm to feed his family for a night.
Tomorrow, we’ll continue this article with topics that include food, determining friend or foe, using animals for detection and security, and more.