Spring a Season of Dread for Troops in Afghanistan

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Capt. Benjamin Tupper is in Paktika, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. He's a member of the Army National Guard, embedded as a trainer with the Afghan National Army.

Lately, the mercury has crawled up into the 40s, turning hard-packed ice into an endless brown sea of mud. This warmth has also begun to defrost the war on both sides.

Our "situational awareness" is returning to game-day form. The winter evenings are now focused on when our base will get attacked. Guns are cleaned more frequently. Some guys sleep in their uniforms, ready for whatever comes in the night.

Recently I was awakened after midnight by a distant rumble. An Apache Attack Helicopter was hunting for Taliban who've come out of hibernation. All across our base, soldiers sat in their rooms, listening for signs of escalation. But the Apache just kept circling, and eventually its throbbing noise faded away.

A few days later, a mild winter storm passed through, dropping just enough snow to cover the mud. I stood in this expanse of snow and stared at a mysterious pink and red object at my feet. Thin, pink, fibrous strands splayed like peacock feathers across its top. Its base looked like a white corn stalk, segmented with bright, red rings.

It was the neck stem of a human spine, blasted 150 meters in the air from the site of a suicide bombing minutes earlier.

The events were fairly easy to reconstruct. A lone suicide bomber had walked up to a group of our Afghan National Army soldiers and detonated his explosive vest. He killed a soldier and a civilian.

His own remains were scattered in a truly random pattern. His heart landed 50 meters away. An ANA soldier kicked it like a small soccer ball down the road — a gesture of disgust at this suicide attack.

We were organizing a cordon around the blast site. There were seven unoccupied vehicles scattered in the intersection. Any one of them could hold a secondary explosive device to kill the first responders. We were all were within the lethal blast radius of even a small car bomb.

During these confusing and tense moments, I was gripped by fearful anticipation of a fiery white light that would instantly wash me away.

Bang! Torn car metal. Flame.

Luckily for me, there was no secondary vehicle explosion that day. No Technicolor finish.

I'm still here.

And the days keep getting warmer.



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