Michael's Dispatches

Every Step is Your Last


21 September 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Task Force Spartan, 4-4 Cav

The moon in September was special and the war kept going.


Bombs are planted everywhere.  The dogs catch some, but the dogs will get blown up, too.


Task Force Spartan is slowly tightening its hold around the Taliban sanctuary in this area of Kandahar Province.  Soldiers from 4-4 Cav are charged with taking Zhari District.  This was a typical mission.


No matter where we walk, the enemy will plant bombs.  On the roads, in the grape rows, in the middle of open fields where nobody would ever plant a bomb, there will be a bomb and people get blown up.  The victims often are noncombatants, such as children.  And so we were walking in this dry canal.  When there is water, the enemy will stretch tripwires below the surface.  Nowhere is safe and there are only so many places we can walk.

The point man often misses the bomb and is not hit.  The casualty might be the fifth man, or the fifteenth.  One casualty in 4-4 Cav was the 35th troop in the sequence.  In this war, every man, or woman, is on point.  One step from the “cleared” path might as well be a hundred miles off.  During firefights you go for cover.  Before I was here, a Soldier fell off a path and was killed.  The person who triggers the bombs is not always the one who is hit.  The triggers are often at a distance from the charges.  Or, as happens many times on every mission, you are standing there and someone walks by going forward or back, and to pass by they step must off to the side and in that moment you both can go.

This sun was just rising.  The night before, Soldiers and the dog had slept on the ground and I slept on the roof of a house.  Now the sun was rising and birds were singing and we were walking in the canal when BOOM.


There was an explosion.  He was not the first in line.  We kept walking through the ditch, and behind me were some women that Americans seem to think are not in combat, and there they were, stepping on dangerous ground again.


We had first walked here some weeks ago after coming in by helicopter.  Three Soldiers from 4-4 Cav had been shot very close by.  One bullet was stopped by a protective vest, leaving only a sizable bruise on the ribs.  Two other Soldiers were shot in the face and one died.  Just around the corner in the image above, a Soldier was on the ground.  He had stepped on a bomb.


While the wounded man was down, others moved forward, carefully, to help.  The bombs often come in clusters and so you start off with one troop killed and end up with several dead or wounded.


# Travis 2011-09-21 14:24
Great pictures Michael! God bless and be safe!
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# Matt 2011-09-21 15:26
Thank you for your reporting. Very informative
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# joeamerica 2011-09-21 15:28
Mr. Yon:

This is quite simply some of the best wartime reporting I have ever seen. This archive will be the cornerstone of an American chapter. You are at the top of your art. Your recording of the simple brutality of war combined with reverence of honor and celebration of humanity, on the ground, and virtually real-time, leaves me flooded with the mixed emotions appropriate to each story, and as a result, the bigger story.
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# staghounds 2011-09-21 15:36
Thank you for showing a bit of it to us. And thank you for showing our allies prominently as fellow fighters and targets, rather than water carriers.
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# Donald Pratt 2011-09-21 16:18
Sgt Larson is carrying alot of items, from his helmet top to his torn britches. Can you please identify the various things he is carrying or wearing. He certainly is different than the infantry soldier of WWI, which is my history.
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# Jack Peek 2011-09-21 16:51
EARNIE PYLE....of our times. you sir.
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# Jeff Pace 2011-09-21 16:52
You deserve a Pulitzer for your reporting of Iraq and Afghanistan and for your book. Thank you.
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# Dennis 2011-09-21 17:07
Very good pictures, very good comment. Amazing ... Looking at these pictures makes you feel close to the scenario. I wish that the NEWS STATIONS would take your work as a example.... You guys be safe out there. God Speed
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# john b 2011-09-21 18:24
Our soldiers show more courage going for a morning walk than most people do in a lifetime. They make me humble and proud at the same time.
Great reporting. Thanks for doing the job the MSM won't.
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# Darcy 2011-09-21 18:26

Makes me worry about you and all of our finest over there. But that would kind of be part of the point of your writing.

Praying for you.
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# Simon 2011-09-21 18:45
That knucklehead ANA soldier with the dirt in the muzzle of his SAW is lucky he's in the south. If he were up, say, in Ghazni or somewhere that the dirt could freeze, he'd blow his face off the next time he pulled the trigger. Between that and the other guy 'accidentally' shooting SGT Larsen, sometimes it's more dangerous to work w/the ANA than the Taliban. The worst I ever saw was an ANA riding in a Ranger w/his RPG pointed up, his finger on the trigger, the safety pins out, and him scratching his nose with the point of the rocket. It makes you wonder if guys like that are even worth helping, or if you should just let Allah, or maybe Darwin, intercede.
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# Greg Arabian 2011-09-21 19:53
I wonder if there is some figures that would suggest that it may be not worth it. What is the frequency and amount of the resistance and attacks? Any other information that would support our presence over there? Does the resistance amount to a public opposition of our being there?
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# Kenny Komodo 2011-09-21 21:17
Someday when our country comes back to it's senses Michal Yon will be recognized and honored for the outstanding work he has been doing. In the meantime, stay safe. I don't know what or why our purpose is in Afghanistan but as long as we have American troops in a combat zone I'm in support. Thank you for great pics and comments.
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# PacRim Jim 2011-09-21 22:11
Where is the backpack Predator that monitors the third dimension?
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# Jim Growney 2011-09-22 00:11
Great article. I wonder how long before some remf gripes about Sgt Larsen's 5 pm shadow. I like the comment from above on the flash suppressor mud plug. WOW... Keep up the great work!! I hope Larsen carries his moxy on up the rank structure. This country will need men like him (and all of the Spartans) down the road.
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# David Shanklin 2011-09-22 00:54
Do you not have some helicopter "scouts" in the area
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# KEHammer 2011-09-22 02:35
Dear Mr. Yon,
Thank you for your continued reporting. I pray for you and all of our men over there, combatants and noncombatants alike. God Bless you.
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# Papa Ray 2011-09-22 03:23
Interesting and great pictorial story. Booby traps (IEDs) have been around for centuries. In my war they were commonly hand grenades with trip wires and punji sticks concealed in shallow holes covered with dirt and foliage. The latter didn't kill you but if you didn't get prompt medical attention and shots you could lost your foot or even your leg. And the other benefit to the enemy was that it usually took two other men out of action - to help him walk or be carried to an evac point which sometimes was miles away.

You have hears war is hell, I'm sure. But it is also very, very tiresome, messy and nerve racking. I watched where I walked after I came home, for years, keeping an eye out for trip wires.

Stay safe as you can Mike.

Papa Ray
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# mary zink 2011-09-22 12:23
My son is there and I often wonder if we'll ever get out of there..the afghan police and soliders are extremely stupid..it's as though they really don't want to get trained..maybe because the Americans are still fighting for them..I've never read about such cowardly men as the afghanis..if they don't want to protect THEIR country so be it..go back to your caveman ways..you seem to like living like that anyway
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# Leyla Najma 2011-09-22 14:08
It's amazing how everyone is able to go each day knowing that the unknown is just around the corner. Great men.....great part of the story that as you say is never ending.
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# sinanju 2011-09-23 03:08
I've read plenty about the brave, effective, Afghan fighters of earlier eras, like the Mujahedeen of twenty-odd years ago that I read about as a kid in the pages of SOF, for instance. Or the men who so fiercely fought the Brits (and later served under them) in the nineteenth-cent ury (who were legendary shots with their muzzle-loading jezails). Or the men who carved out the Durrani empire of a century before that...

Obviously they're capable of better. So what's missing here? Are they all just in it for the paycheck? Are their officers and NCO's all a bunch of corrupt, incompetent pricks chosen for their loyalty to the local governor? (shades of Viet Nam again). Is it simply too humiliating to be bossed around by foreigners?
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# sinanju 2011-09-23 03:33
Of course it's obvious that the people in places like these are fence-sitting. As is usually the problem in Gorilla warfare, the civilians would prefer--if they could have their druthers--to be left alone by both sides, failing that, they'll wait til one side or another can show it can protect them. Of course your friends can only stroll through occasionally, or mount sudden raids, leaving them to the tender mercies of the Taliban the rest of the time.

Has anyone in theater tried a program of arming and training up local militias to defend their own villages and valleys? Like the Rural Forces/Popular Forces and the Combined Action Platoons of USMC yore? They can't possibly want the Taliban back.

Obviously a big fat smelly part of this is the utter incompetence and corruption of Pashmina Boy and his appointed warlord/governo rs. But our side has also been accused of ignoring the decentralized nature of Afghanistan and allowing all power to be centered in Kabul.
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# VS 2011-09-23 09:42
The war not so ,unfortunately.

So soon my paycheck in my pocket,i'll tip silently,perman ently giving up my fav choco.
Good luck Michael Yon and great folks out there in this rough unwelcoming country !
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# Rhonda 2011-09-23 11:10
Thank you for the walk- along with you and the soldiers. I teach on a military base overseas. Just this week, one of my students PCS'd to Maryland only 4 weeks into the school year because her father stepped on an explosive in Afghanistan. This war, as most before it, impacts so many. Thank God, her father and this soldier will live to see another day. Thank you for your constant reminder of what our boys face. My heart swells as I witness the sacrifice of the families I work with, the soldiers I am friends with, and the nameless and tireless faces you show me along with the ones who I will never see. God bless...
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# John - Capt in ANG 2011-09-24 07:36
On the one hand, it's easy to say they're stupid. However, we've entered the 21st Century at the front. Afghanistan is pulling up the rear. If you want a point of comparison, watch again the images of Syria. Guy runs to the middle of the street, shoots randomly, and then runs back to cover. THAT is stupid.

Afghans are pretty much 3rd world, undeveloped farmers. The fact they volunteer to die for their country, which itself is a foreign notion to them, is impressive to me, especially when they die in droves compared to ISAF forces. Give them time. We may not win, or they may not stand on their own, but at least they are trying.

A great American once said something to the effect I'd rather die trying than be the sorry sort who just sit and watch. These men are trying.
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# Tim 2011-09-25 14:49
Thank you again for going into harms way to provide us with a view of life on patrol.
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# Adam Neira 2011-09-26 12:12
Excellent photo journalism.

Bleesings to all the good people at ISAF.
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+2 # Proud Mom 2011-09-29 14:13
Thank you for the pictures of my son. It is great to see his face! I am proud of you and love you! I miss you and am anxious to see you soon!
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# Mary Lou 2011-10-12 12:05
My great niece's husband is with the 4x4 cavalry and this particular unit you have walked with. This makes me cry and brings home the horror they deal with each day. Incredibly brave and stoic they are but I worry for how they will cope upon returning to the States. Most are so young and it is incomprehensibl e to think of living through this and not being changed by it somehow. I hope and pray our country will learn how to treat and deal with PTSD for these young men and women so they can live life to fullest and show everyone what amazing strong spirit they have. Thank you and God bless each and everyone of you.
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