Michael's Dispatches

Grapes

22 Comments

2011-07-18-053703cc1000

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

Many Americans have died in these vineyards.  Canadian blood has fertilized this ground, and we kill Taliban in these fields daily.  We watch them through UAVs, such as Predators, as they hide their weapons among the rows, or attack us, and often they move undetected.  When the Russians came through this area, the Afghans said they would hide under the vines until the enemy was very close, and shoot them point blank.  After all, many of the local kids grew up right here, picking grapes and playing in the vineyards.  They know every bump and divot.  The rows are not made of wire or wood as in the United States or Europe. The rows are mounds of packed mud that can stop 30mm cannon fire.  The enemy plants bombs along the rows and paths, and so our troops often cross perpendicular across the grape rows which sometimes are over chest high.  Even without the heavy gear, the obstacle course is grueling and sometimes we take fire, or someone gets blown to pieces.  The out-of-town enemies also don’t know where the bombs are hidden and so they often are killed.  Every day we hear detonations that remain unexplained.  Could have been anything.  Normally we know the causes, but many will never be known to us.  I’ve probably never written a full dispatch in this tent without hearing an explosion. Sometimes it’s a distant rumble and you only hear it.  Other times the shockwave pops the tent walls and your body feels it.  We usually hear many each day.  Fighter jets are roaring overhead as this sentence is formed.

This morning, my tentmates taped a photo of Chazray Clark to our door.  Chazray had just moved to our tent to be with his platoon.  His buddies are steps away as these words are put down.  They are sitting on their cots.  We just had a rocket strike on base and heard an explosion.  Sergeant Wooden asked me yesterday to read something he had written for Chazray.  It was very good and written by a man who was also wounded recently, and who nearly died with Chazray.  The men in this tent are moving forward, preparing for more combat but they have been noticeably saddened since the bomb took Chazray on Sunday.  Some nearly died with him.  One Soldier was so deaf that another Soldier had to grab him by the shoulder whenever he was needed.  I was farther away and could hear as the rocks rained down around us in the dark.  Chazray was terribly wounded and had been thrown and landed on his face.  The platoon was staggered yet kept their bearing.  There was no light, and the nightvision devices were useless in the thick dust.  Sergeant Wooden called out the names of his men in the darkness.  Near the detonation, nobody could see each other.  Sergeant Wooden called the names, and he called, “Clark!” Chazray was facedown.  One arm was gone and his legs were gone, and yet this man had the strength and presence to call out from the dust and darkness saying he was okay.  Chazray could still hear.  Chazray answered, “I’m okay,” and Sergeant Wooden said his voice sounded completely normal.  Just normal Chazray.  But everyone here knows that when someone calls out and says they are okay, the sound of their voice only means they are still alive.  They found Chazray and put on tourniquets and unfolded a stretcher.   I was not in the dust and could see brave men carrying him back over dangerous ground and Chazray said his arm tourniquet was too tight.  He was in great pain.  Through nightvision I could see an Afghan Soldier rush in to help carry Chazray.

Rest in Peace, Chazray Clark.  You faced death as a true warrior.  Your strength will be remembered and it will grow among the living.

Chazray was hit inside a deserted village.  When our people are wounded in the vineyards, it’s hard to get them out because it’s dangerous to walk down the rows – especially dangerous if you already hit a bomb there.  Our people take the litters perpendicular across the tops.  Some litters bow under the weight, some are more rigid, depending on the type, and the grape rows are just far enough apart to make it extremely difficult.  Evacuation is especially difficult with the litters that bow under the weight.  There are no straight answers about what is best because you can’t carry every sort of litter, and as soon as you leave the grape rows the terrain changes.

The building of mud and wood in the above image is called a kishmesh khana, which means raisin hut in Dari and Pashto languages.  The grapes are harvested and taken into the kishmesh khana and hung from poles to dry.  We often are attacked from the raisin huts.  There must be a thousand of these kishmesh khana within 20 miles of our tent, and though many Coalition forces and contractors will have seen them from the outside, few will ever step foot inside.

The mission in which these grape photos were made was days before the attack during which Chazray was lost.  This day, there had been plenty of gunshots, but only one bomb resulting in a slightly wounded Afghan Soldier.

We entered a kishmesh khana.

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Moving from the hot, dusty outside into the raisin hut is like stepping from dusty Arizona into Oregon.  In two steps your senses are transported a thousand miles.  The temperature drop was probably twenty degrees.  Outside the air was hot and gritty, and unremarkable to the nose.  You might catch a bullet any second.  Inside, the air was cool, fragrant, nearly sweet-tasting, and in all ways pleasing.  If your eyes were closed and there was no shooting outside, it would be easy to imagine being in a remarkable restaurant.

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Men and boys were busy with their work.

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They offered us tea and kept smiling and shoving grapes at us.  The kids liked the camera but seemed more interested in making sure I tried a bunch of grapes.

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The kishmesh khana can make nice ambush positions, and the enemy will even fire RPGs from inside, which must be rough on Taliban ears.  At night, using thermals, we can sometimes see Afghans sleeping atop the huts.  You cannot walk on the weak branches in the middle of a roof of a kishmesh khana, but you can walk on the edges, and so they will sleep on the edges.

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Connie the bomb dog knows she’s a star because everyone likes her and says hello to her.  Later in the day, Connie’s handler actually gave her an IV, which she seemed to enjoy.  It seems inevitable that someone will opine that we are being rude to bring dogs around Afghans, but then many of the Afghans here have dogs.  The compound where we slept the night before had a kuchi dog far larger than Connie.

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The Afghan sergeant major is kneeling closest to the camera on the right, with his back against the wall.  He’s been a beam of light during these missions.  His English is okay, but through his broken English and his actions you can sense this is a smart man, and when things get tense he’s on his job.  Some hours before this photo, there had been a small IED strike and later a short ambush with small arms.  Both those times, and others, he’s shown leadership.  During the mission we lost Chazray, he also lost a Soldier in the same way but on the next day.  It was a horrible scene.

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I’ve traveled to about sixty countries and 48 states, and eaten a ton of grapes along the way.  Not a single grape from Sonoma to France to Italy can match the grapes in this area.  These are, by far, without comparison, the best grapes I’ve had in the world.  The texture of the skins and the fruit of the grape are just right and perfect.  The sweetness is harmonic and no seeds spoil the moment.  These are not just great grapes but fine fruit.  The experience of eating grapes has never been memorable other than in Afghanistan and the imminent combat makes a perplexing juxtaposition of complimentary bitterness that can rarely be found in normal supermarkets.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    bob hankinson · 7 years ago
    good to see that there is some agriculture other than drugs
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TheOldMan · 7 years ago
    I'll never be able to understand the courage of our soldiers. My nerves would be shot through and through before the first minute. You wrote that the dog gets an IV. Do you mean hooked up to an IV bag? Why?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sean · 7 years ago
    The dog isn't technically getting an IV, it's getting a subcutaneous fluid injection (called "sub-q", for short). It's like an IV, but instead of being injected directly into the bloodstream, it goes into the subcutaneous (under the skin) tissues, typically under the scruff, where it gets absorbed more gradually. Vets do this all the time for animals that can't drink enough to stay properly hydrated.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gretchen · 7 years ago
    I'm guessing dehydration...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Not Tony · 7 years ago
    Yeah, we used to give sub-Q fluids to my 19-year-old cat. Most cats, if nothing else goes wrong, eventually die of kidney failure.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Eugene · 7 years ago
    Thanks Michael, for everything. You have shown the world the other side of war and the men and women caught up in it and how they cope. Thank you for reminding us we have to work for a better way but until then, we do what we have to do and try to remember our humanity. Sometimes and in some situations, that isn't always clear. I'll be starting my recurring donation next week. As long as someone such as yourself is putting an unbiased and un-opinionated view on these wars, I'll continue to contribute.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Roger Strohmeyer · 7 years ago
    [quote name="bob hankinson"]good to see that there is some agriculture other than drugs[/quote]

    I hear you but even though alcohol is forbidden I wonder if that doesn't stop some people from taking some of what Michael says are "the best grapes" and making a batch of wine.(?) :P
  • This commment is unpublished.
    masaryk · 7 years ago
    It's grape harvesting season here in Czech Republic, and a special time. Czechs start the winemaking process a couple weeks ago (different kinds of grapes are ready at different times), and they stop some of the process early, creating a half-fermented fizzy opaque cider that's sweet and strange. It always reminds me of the change of the seasons, but the next grapes I have, I will think of the grapes in Afghanistan, and the fighters there, and that they will enjoy the fruits of victory, and the sweetness of home. God bless you, Mr. Yon.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mary · 7 years ago
    Hi Michael, please let all of our troops who depend on their dogs that grapes in large quantities are deadly for them.

    Thanks for the great photos and supporting the troops. Prayers for them and their families.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ironargonaut · 7 years ago
    Rest in peace Chazray, I think you and your family for your sacrifice in protecting my family.

    May you fly with the angels.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sara Johnson · 7 years ago
    Damn. . . Damn. . . Damn. . . Clearly Chazray gave his all. To the end. A tent mate whose absence will be felt by you and his team. Tragedy and death in a place you show having redemption. If only . . .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    VS · 7 years ago
    look at grapes and enjoying eating those the same way before...even drinking a glass of white wine !
    War is the terminator ...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mary · 7 years ago
    question mike, if i read the article correctly talis and ied's are all through the vineyards..my question is where are the men and boys, who you pointed out, when the talis are running through the vineyards and planting ied's..do they see them doing this, i mean since they pretty much stay clear of the area..if they are witnessing this why don't they tell the soliders , how do they get away from the talis on foot, and if they do not want to help us, why do they offer grapes..is it a cover or do they switch sides, depending on who they are speaking to at the time..just a question...thanks
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rydén · 7 years ago
    I'd say that (provided they actually see the Talibans from inside those huts) they are just tired of all the wars they've been through, and have since long resorted to just trying to keep out of it as much as possible by minding their own business. I guess many of them were active in resisting the Soviets, but since the Coalition doesn't harass them they don't have anything against them. But of course, if they were to keep up a neighbourhood watch and report all they saw to the Coalition, well, how do reckon the Talibans would feel about that?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    cynshep · 7 years ago
    I feel so sad after reading this. I grieve for the loss of your comrade(s). Beautiful piece, Michael Yon. I'm glad you found a pleasant place to rest for awhile.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    KP · 7 years ago
    ""imminent combat makes a perplexing juxtaposition of complimentary bitterness that can rarely be found in normal supermarkets.""

    lol! You have both a strange eye and a lovely way with words Mr Yon!

    Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Philpot · 7 years ago
    Mr. Yon, I'm glad that you are able to notice the "nuggets" as usual. The good things of Afghanistan are probably few and far between, so it's good to see you and the men you are serving with get a few minutes in a pleasant place. I've missed several of your latest articles, but the nuggets I'm referring to are the ladder shortage, the britches, water filters, and now the latest good nugget - Afghan grapes are awesome... Great writing sir. Keep your head down.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ldb · 7 years ago
    as a viet nam vet I am sickened by your reporting of Chazray's wounds which caused his death on the internet

    "Chazray was facedown. One arm was gone and his legs were gone, and yet this man had the strength and presence to call out from the dust and darkness saying he was okay."

    No wife, child, parent, brother, sister or grandparent should have to read about their loved one's wounds on a friggin internet blog!!!!

    you claimed to have loved, cared for and respected this man???? where is your common decency and respect for his family I must ask

    no wonder you are being threatened and possibly will lose your embedded status with your classless reporting!!!

    you should never have used the troopers name, his family will be haunted for years for the sake of your pathetic ego.

    you'll get no more support from me
  • This commment is unpublished.
    STB CSM · 7 years ago
    Mr Yon,
    Thank you for giving me some insight into what happened to Chazary and allowing the world to see the heart of a Warrior. I often wonder what it is like for my Soldiers in Afghanistan. We are worlds apart in the two wars we fight, but the threat and danger on each front is real. Thank you again for your insight and eloquent words.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      esoen · 7 years ago
      survivors struggle



      http://www.a2media.org/
  • This commment is unpublished.
    hjgf · 7 years ago
    Why not just comendeer and bulldoze the vineyards, with isreali bulldozers from mossad double agent commanding officers, if it
    is so tactically compentent for the miseravim to move around in, and kill expendable infantry?
    It ain't rocket science. It it true that mossad double agent commanding officers, give intel on infantry troop positions
    to misteravim field operatives posing as some sort of taliban?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    serkio · 5 years ago
    I glad to read pure Geography.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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