We are continuing this article, from a Marine Sergeant, about lessons learned while living in a remote region of Afghanistan, Marjeh district, which seem similar to a possible TEOTWAWKI environment.
After two months of eating nothing but MREs, I began to get sick of them and started losing weight. Many of my fellow Marines experienced the same thing. We started to barter batteries for food that the ANA ate. They had a cook and bought bread every morning from the Bazaar. They had chickens for eggs and meat, and occasionally they had a goat. Eventually we bought 12 chickens for eggs and even began milking a goat. We would buy rice, beans, fruit, and veggies from the Bazaar and have my interpreter cook. It got to the point that the battalion was actually giving us money to buy food with. We found out later that some of the smaller units in remote locations had been doing this the whole time. Many Special Forces units will bring cash, as it is lighter than food, and just buy what they need along the way. This also cuts down on the trash you produce that, if left around, can let the enemy know vital details about your unit, such as size, location, country of origin, and how well supplied you are. In TETOWANKI, we might not have the luxury or being able to purchase food in a market, but if you are moving through an area and trying not to be noticed, you need to be careful to bury all trash. Another thing to consider is that if no one in the area is eating MRE’s and some trash is found, it will tell potential threats that you are a mobile and maybe para military force. If they discovered food the locals were consuming, there is a good chance it will go unnoticed or without concern.
Morale is another factor to consider, when deciding what kind of food to store. I noticed a considerable increase in morale among my guys, just from getting a few fresh eggs. We got so used to eating the local cuisine that I still have a taste for it today. Dates are one thing I picked up in Afghanistan that today I go to great lengths to find. Fresh bread became a staple, and I found myself hoping for an early morning post at the gate, so I could get some when the bread man arrived. Chow has such an impact on morale and is necessary to keep a force in the fight. Even the Taliban realized this.
The local bread maker had been selling bread to the Afghan soldiers ever since I arrived, and as more and more Marines developed a taste for it his orders increased. It was to the point that every morning around 0500, he would show up at the gate with his car loaded as full as possible with stacks of flat bread. I mean the truck was piled high– back seats to the roof, front seats, and even his lap. He even recruited another local with a car to help him with his deliveries. He was paid something like $50 U.S. each day, which must have been a fortune over there. Sadly, one day the bread delivery did not come. So we pushed a patrol into the Bazaar to find out what was the hold up. When the patrol entered the bread maker’s residence, they found him strung up on a rope with a meat hook in his back. The Taliban had tortured him by lighting a fire under his feet and smashed the century-old stone on which he made the dough. Despite the risk, another man seeking his bread fortune stepped up and even hired himself some guards. I heard he asked for $100 a delivery, but he got something like $60. The bread was never the same after that.
I have adapted my food storage, since that deployment, to include mostly rice, beans, canned fruits, and vegetables with protein supplemented by chickens and goats. My taste for goat’s milk and cheese was acquired in Afghanistan, and to this day I prefer it to other dairy. The MRE’s that I do stock will be used primarily for patrol rations, barter, and charity.
This is an essential skill for survival in any situation. In Afghanistan we started to discover that the locals would wear light colors in the warmer months, with the exception of the women who mostly dressed in all black. If you saw a male in July in a black or grey “manjama” outfit, you knew something was out of place. Another telltale sign of the enemy was a male of fighting age 15-50 who wore boots instead of sandals or had lots of jewelry or an overly nice AK-47. The locals were mostly poor farmers, and a watch meant that you were well off. So to see a man with a gold chain, rings, and bracelets meant something was not right. He was either selling large quantities of opium or bomb-making materials to support the Taliban, or he was a foreign fighter here to partake in jihad. Every home had either an AK or a Mosin– mostly old rusty stuff the Russians left there in the 80’s, and carrying a rifle slung across your back was common practice. However, carrying five extra mags in a chest rig was not. Seeing a few guys in a field with AK’s didn’t mean that they were Taliban. What you looked for was how they moved. If they were just casually walking, chances are they were just locals out for a stroll and armed to protect themselves and their livelihood. Now, if they were hunched down or creeping through the brush, that was means for concern. One other sign was the beards. If it looked too clean cut, it was probably Taliban. Contrary to what movies show, a lot of the Taliban are “pretty boys” by Afghan standards; others, like Syrians and Iranians, also adopt a more western look, trimming and even combing their beards and wearing cologne. It, at least, told you they were not from the area, and unless you were buying opium or selling guns there was not much business to be had in Marjeh. The main thing is to look for all the signs. Were they wearing boots and carrying AKs with extra mags and nice sunglasses egressing through the canals, or were they just wearing local dish dash walking calmly through their fields. After careful observation and months of living among them, I could tell a foreigner from a local and a fighter from a farmer a click out. I even began to recognize the local accent. They spoke Pashtun there, and the Taliban did not. There are really three languages spoken in Afghanistan– Dari, Farsi, and Pashtun, and a little Arabic in the cities. My interpreter could tell within minutes of talking to someone where they were from. He would even say whether this guy is Taliban or whether he is just a local or from Kabul or Jalalabad. Another technique we used was to monitor the activity in the Bazaar. We would count the number or vehicles and pedestrians that entered and exited every day, what kind they were (i.e cars, trucks, and bikes), and which way they exited. We used this info to develop patterns of movement among the enemy and to determine where the Taliban had set up road blocks. If the Bazaar was empty mid-week, that meant the people knew something was up and were staying home. You had to be extra vigilant during those times.
I am sure you can think of a few scenarios where hiding from thermal imaging devices and NVG would come in handy, so I won’t get into that. Many preppers consider NVGs and, especially, thermals a luxury, due to their rather high price points. That being said, the ability to see at night has changed the way we fight and the way our enemies fight us. The Taliban routinely equips its fighters with heavy wool blankets. They are carried rolled and slung across their shoulders or across the chest. The blanket is used to hide one’s heat signature from drones and birds in the sky. The procedure is simple; lying prone covered in a heavy wool blanket will mask your heat signature. We even encountered fighters wrapped in those cheap aluminum foil space blankets under their clothes. While I never saw this technique actually work, the fact that the enemy has adopted it gives it some merit. NVGs are not perfect and work best on a clear night, where the stars’ light can be gathered. On foggy or hazy nights, they are next to worthless, unless there is some ambient light. They also do not work well in areas with external light sources, such as buildings or roads with traffic. The car’s lights will cause the NVGs to flare, and you will be temporarily blind. They also don’t work well at dusk and dawn. The Taliban exploits this and routinely plans their attacks accordingly. At one point we were pretty much expecting to be attacked, like clockwork, around 0500-0600. That being said, they know that we have superior night fighting capabilities and rarely would engage us after dark.
Thermals, as discussed earlier, are an awesome tool to detect the body heat of an enemy, but like NVGs they also have their limitations. I have seen fog that is warmer than the surrounding air appear to be a wall through thermals, and in the summer months rocks get so hot that they glow and everything looks like a person. Thermals work best where there is extreme differences in temperature, something like 30 degrees or greater to function properly. In the winter months you could see the heat left in the cold sand or snow from just a person’s tracks. In snowy conditions you would stand out like a sore thumb, but those conditions can also be used to your advantage. Hiding in a snow cave or just covering oneself in snow is enough to hide one’s heat signature. Cigarettes appear to be glowing basketballs under thermals and can just as easily confuse an enemy as alert them. Lighting fires to mask thermal signatures is common practice among the Taliban. The point here is that no piece of gear is perfect and should not be relied on solely. I used both thermals and NVG regularly, using one when the other was not ideal and even using the plane old naked eye. We trained our guys to take breaks from the NVGs and use their eyes so as to limit our reliance on gear. If two Marines were on post, one would have NVGs on and the other would scan with just his eyes and ears.
I can’t tell you how many times we were on patrol and compromised by a barking dog. I even heard of times that raids were fouled by dogs giving away the raiding party’s movements. The Taliban was known to put dogs around their perimeter. We would routinely find an old mutt chained to a tree with a small shelter hundreds of meters from any house or village. They were used like an early warning device to keep anyone away from the perimeter and give the enemy the ability to slip away undetected into the night. Recently I even saw an article claiming that one of the Taliban top commanders escaped a raid by U.S. Navy Seals because of dogs on the perimeter. Dogs that are well trained make an excellent deterrent as well as early warning system for any prepper’s location. I have hounds and can tell the distinct bark of each of my dogs aiding in detection. They are also trained to track and are savage killers. My female Walker Daisy is so protective of my wife that she will growl at me if I talk to her in too loud a tone. She even chases bears away from the house during the summer months that come to investigate after barbecuing. As far as breed, any dog that will alert will do. I choose hounds for their multipurpose role as guard dogs and hunters as well as intelligence. The only down side is that they are not good with livestock and cats, and they will sometimes kill both. Also hounds need to be on a leash at all times; otherwise, they will run off and go hunting. For protection of livestock, a good Shepherd or sheep dog is best.
Practicing religion can greatly increase a unit’s ability to fight by increasing morale and comradery. On deployment, I noticed guys that were not regularly religious or church-goers finding peace during services. I observed groups of men saying grace that did not normally do so. I guess war is truly hell and the only counter to hell is Christ. I personally read the bible cover to cover more times, if not the only times in my life, while deployed, and I found new meaning being in harm’s way. The military knows the importance of religion in boosting morale and sends chaplains with every deploying unit.
In the middle of my Afghanistan tour I became sick with dysentery-like symptoms. It probably came from eating local watermelons that were watered with gray water, but the source cannot be known for sure. I had it so bad that I could barely walk after several days of vomiting and diarrhea. I was taken to the Battalion Aid Station and spent a day getting hooked to IVs and being monitored by a corpsman. While there, I overheard the Battalion Surgeon say that all of the children he had treated in the villages were suffering from iodine deficiency as well as a lack of vitamins in their diets. He was attempting to get a supply of potassium iodine to administer to the children. Potassium iodine is used by the military to prevent and treat radiation sickness. Iodine was added to the salt in America to help solve the problem at home, but it seemed the Afghans weren’t getting the iodine they needed. This conversation sparked my interest, and I have since been taking supplemental iodine as well as stocking iodized salt. Iodine plays a crucial role in development in children. Deficiency can lead to mental retardation and slow development. Iodine deficiency is common in inland areas that do not have access to food sources from the sea. We began giving the Afghan children multivitamins, but as for the iodine I am not sure. I also stock vitamin C as well as other conventional and non-conventional or western herbs.
In 2011 I was honorably discharged from the USMC. I used my GI Bill to attend school for mechanics as well as gunsmithing, all in the name of becoming a better prepper and acquiring needed skills. I am now pursuing a career in law enforcement. I have suffered with PTSD and IBS since getting out, and I have treated both without prescription medication. It’s another way toward becoming self sufficient. I find exercise and mental stimulation works well for PTSD. For the IBS and intestinal issues, I use a variety or herbs grown locally and organic as well as a change in diet. I cut out red meat except on occasion. I find a Mediterranean-style diet is easier on the stomach. The herbs I use are a combination of mint and ginger with pineapple and papaya and a dash of garlic in the blender. Intestinal problems are common among returning veterans, and I link it directly to the quality of food served in the Service. It’s so common that I receive a small disability check every month that I use solely for prepping and self-treatment. If you are a returning Veteran suffering from any condition, go to the VA and seek the treatment and compensation you deserve. You have a right to determine what kind of treatment you get, even if it is a natural approach, as I do. Many vets tell me that they don’t want to take a government hand out and medication. I would counter that with “get the compensation and use it for a natural treatment path. Grow an organic garden to help with stress and to produce healthy food for your body, exercise to stay in shape, and seek knowledge to stimulate your brain and better yourself as a prepper.” -Semper Fidelis