Michael's Dispatches

Death in the Corn: Part I of III


Published: 15 September 2008
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

FOB Gibraltar: made from an abandoned farmer’s compound.

The soldiers are living like animals at a little rat’s nest called FOB Gibraltar. They call it “Gib.” Named after the lynchpin of British naval dominance in the Mediterranean, this cluster of mud huts in the middle of hostile territory is more like Fort Apache, Afghanistan. The British soldiers from C-Company 2 Para live in ugly conditions, fight just about every day, and morale is the best I have seen probably anywhere.

The few outside visitors arrive in helicopters that are sometimes spaced days apart, so that if a visitor stays overnight, he could be stuck for a week or more. The closest Afghan dwellings are a few hundred meters away, and each is surrounded by a mud wall. The Brits and Americans call these dwellings “compounds,” because in fact they are little forts. Most Afghans here are a primitive lot who live far outside of cities, and even villages. The Brits say that locals live as their ancestors dwelled in the fourteenth century. Iraq is by comparison extremely advanced and familiar. Local homes are made of mud, straw, and poor-quality bricks that were dried in the sun, not fired in a kiln. Farmers in this area of Afghanistan keep their animals within the compounds, and so the families live in private zoos, and the Brits are in the middle of clusters of zoos that I call Jurassic Park. Though most compounds immediately around Gib are abandoned, crops grow nearly up to the concertina, tripwires, claymore mines and fortifications that form the perimeter of the base.

In September, the corn around Gibraltar is 10-11 feet tall.

Crops grow close to the perimeter of the FOB, giving “Terry” Taliban plenty of concealment.

Earlier this year, the farmers were growing wheat and opium poppy.  Wheat is becoming more expensive than opium, so poppy production decreased this year for the first time since the war began. The brown stack amid the corn is poppy harvested earlier this season.  The poppy provides less concealment for the Taliban, but helps pay for their operations.  Whereas our supply chains originate from places like the U.S. and U.K., with convoys at the mercy of Taliban in Pakistan, the Taliban supply chain starts right outside the bases.  In addition to terrorist and criminal interdictions of convoys, the Pakistan government can, on a whim, shut down most of our logistics convoys.  The vast majority of US and NATO/ISAF forces and contractors conduct support/logistics functions, while a relatively small number actually fight.  Meanwhile, the Taliban support/logistics functions are organic.  The corn grows 20 yards from the place they eat it.  The farmers can double as informants, hoteliers, and fighters.

When the poppy is lanced, it weeps opium, leaving tear stains on the cheeks of the bulb of death.  The tears of opium are collected, processed, refined and finally infused into the bloodstreams of millions, whose suffering and human tears finance our enemies.

Jurassic Park

Helmand Province is the largest producer of opium in the world. During the poppy season, Gib is surrounded by beautiful flowers. From the guard towers, or out on patrols, the soldiers can see the full cycle. Farmers plant the poppy; it grows and blooms producing beautiful flowers like in the Wizard of Oz; the bulbs are lanced and the opium harvested. The final part of the opium cycle lasts all year, and can be seen almost every day, when the British soldiers at Gib take small-arms fire and RPG rounds paid for by the crop they watched growing just outside the wire.

View from one of the guard towers, which the Brits call “sangers.”

The soldiers at Gib have no internet, but can call home, and they receive mail and care packages by the sackful. (Note to folks at home in the UK: Packages to British soldiers are extremely welcome and true morale boosters. The cubbards are overflowing with dry foods that require hot water, but most other items get snapped up quickly.)

The soldiers at Gib have only a handful of major activities: exercise, clean weapons, eat, sleep, and fight.  That’s about it.  Except for the regular firefights, the place is boring.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    AmericanJarhead · 13 years ago
    You're dong great work and I shall pray you continue to be safe and unharmed.

    The Brits are super and I hope they don't leave.

    Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Deb Gray · 13 years ago
    God Bless, you are always in our prayers. The soldiers, you are all in our prayers. Thank you all for the job you do day in and day out. We sleep in peace at night because of you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Victoria Allen · 13 years ago
    Michael, thank you for being the unbiased witness of what unfolds, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Please convey my respect and gratitude to the troops for their tireless efforts.

    God Bless and Godspeed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Huntress · 13 years ago
    Last Nite, ( Sunday Sept 14) Mike Yon was Pat Dollard's guest for TWO hours, on The JihadiKiller Hour ( which is now two hours long) on Blog Talk Radio. JKH is one of the most popular shows on the Heading Right Channel on BTR. We attracted over 120 people in live chat and HUNDREDS more who were listening live but not participating in chat.

    For those of you who missed the LIVE event last nite, please check out the archive here.

    Michael Yon is a longtime friend, Pat and I are Hollywood buddies, and I was THRILLED to be able to bring them together to discuss Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, kicking jihadi butt and hot babes!!...okay hot babes never came up...but it might have :>)

    Pat Dollard embedded in Ramadi with Marines for several months while he filmed a documentary "Young Americans". For those who do not know Pat, check out his website
    at www.patdollard.com. He was twice nearly killed in IED explosions. Pat was a former Hollywood agent and manager who gave that up to serve our country in his unique way.

    This conversation between Mike and Pat was much anticipated, and people are still buzzing about it.

    Please remember to support Michael on his mission.

    God Bless.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Roamingdoc · 13 years ago
    the type of sacrifice being made on the part of "so few" for so many (once again). As Americans, Brits, Canadians, our allies battle in places that are so obscure to so many. Our prayers are with all. Thank you Michael for being present to report and I continually turn others on to your site and work. I don't know an American (those who don't are not Americans) who does not support our warriors wherever they are! "Thank you" is never enough for those who fight.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ernest Lane · 13 years ago
    I have heard that the rules of engagement for NATO forces in Afghanistan basically are self-defense only, only fire if fired upon. Can you address this?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barry Sheridan · 13 years ago
    Many thanks for your reports. Without them it would be difficult to know what are guys are doing in that far off place. My thoughts are with the para's. Take care one and all. Barry, Hampshire, England.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TSgt Allison F. Cade · 13 years ago
    Pun intended, btw. I really enjoy reading everything that you write, and I also wonder how we're going to figure out an end in this war. It's often been my frustration that our troops and our allies are forced to fight with so many ROE while our enemy can do anything and everything. Just wanted to show my support for you, Mr. Yon!
    "Some countries such as France are clamoring to leave already." Now THAT'S a big surprise! :-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Santo · 13 years ago
    Glad to see you back in the saddle.
    Stay safe.
    Keep up the excellent reporting.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SGM Chris Raines · 13 years ago

    As always, great job! Thanks for what you do. Good luck and Godspeed. And give my best to all the troops you meet over there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    An eagle · 13 years ago
    Thank you Michael for your commitment to reporting the truth wherever you are, no matter whether positive or negative. Your love for our (the collective our) forces is so obvious. May God keep his angels about you. Thank you for the awesome photographs. As soon as I am able, I will send financial support.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lorene · 13 years ago
    Be well M, it's great to read your reports again. Take good care, especially when you head off on your own. And tell the Brits we thank them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Da Goddess · 13 years ago
    Wishing you all safe passage and successful missions. You are in my prayers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    vincent dorsett · 13 years ago
    Thank you Michael for your service beyond the call of duty. I am new but will be sharing you to my friends. I tremble at your circumstance, but thank God for your truth and his safety for you. May God watch over you and our army of many nations.
    Vincent Dorsett, Tucson, AZ.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian H · 13 years ago
    The sense I get from your prose is that finally a forced march into modern times (out of Jurassic Park) is the main and only long-term prospect that will make A-stan more than a continuing firefight of varying intensity. That may be the underlying dynamic that the military is following, pushing to "break" the cycle of warlordism and pre-historic tribal zero-sum competition. Clearly the badly-made bricks that constitute much of the existing "civilization" are not up to the job, so they will need replacement, not just re-arrangement.

    About the dead stars: some of the visible ones may have blown, but the naked eye can't actually "see" all that far back in galactic time; you are only seeing a few of the "nearby" stars, a few thousand years ago at most. A few of the fuzzy patches are more distant galaxies, but big scopes are needed to pick out individual stars there. (Try scanning the sky using your biggest camera telephoto lenses, and you'll get a bit deeper back in time, of course.) But there's plenty going on in the local stellar arena; you don't need to look deep into the past to observe wonders.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Netfotoj · 13 years ago
    You're the Ernie Pyle of this generation, but don't be too much like Ernie. Keep your head down.

    I really wish I could join you, but I'm too old, fat and slow. I'll be praying for you instead.

    Vietnam USN 1969
  • This commment is unpublished.
    scott kohler · 13 years ago
    Thank you, sir, for your service. As a father of a 19 year old who will be serving in the stan shortly, I am very interested in your unbiased reporting. You will continue to receive my financial and studious support.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Retired 82nd O-3 · 13 years ago
    May God be in overwatch and Saint Michael be on point.
    Your reports are a blessing to those of us desiring an unvarnished look at Terryland.
    There are many here in Plant City who follow your travels and trevails.
    Be safe, and thank my fellow Para's for the job they are doing. Airborne!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jewel · 13 years ago
    Once again, you enthrall and inform. Who needs the press? It's clear to me that they need you, more. Thank you for your service.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob Devine · 13 years ago
    I just happened on your site through a link at Small Dead Animals while going through her archives. What a fantastic job you are doing!!!! I have been reading for a couple of hrs now and plan on spending the rest of my evening here. Your site is also going to the top of my favorites list. Besides a donation when I can swing it I will offer a prayer to St. Jude the patron saint of the impossible you will need all the help you can get.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    A Father · 13 years ago
    My Son was recently deployed to Afghanistan. I think and pray for him, you Michael, and all the troops in Iraq and Aghanistan every day. I wish more could understand the great work which is being done by you all. Your dispatches should be read by as many people as possible so they understand the sacrifice some pay for others to be free. God Bless and protect you and all who serve.

    Thank you
  • This commment is unpublished.
    scottiej · 13 years ago
    Michael ,as the father of a Marine grunt who spent the summer in the Garmsir district of Helmand, I really appreciate your report. I'm only sorry that you didn't get a chance to spend time with the 24th MEU as they have now pulled out and will be coming home soon. I devoured everything I could find on their time there but nothing compares to your reporting. I purchased your book several months ago. Keep up the good work and God protect you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rich. UK · 13 years ago
    One of the Paras killed the othe rmonth was a friend of mine, we served in Iraq together. Another has been injured serving with the Scots. I'll be out there too next year.

    A big thank you for getting the word out about what its really like, now we just need a few more of your type. You're a brave guy, far braver than me.

    Quick note to Ernest Lane. The lads went out and set an ambush to catch the bad guys moving around, this should dispel any myths you have about to ROE.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    A proud Marine mom · 13 years ago
    Thank you again for your willingness to be there and tell us how things are going, Michael. Our 19-yo son is deploying to stan soon and we are glued to your news. We are praying for you and your safety, and that of those who serve around you. Please tell the men "thank you" for us; I can think of no other words to say, and those are entirely insufficient.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Proud American · 13 years ago
    Your work really moved me today as I sit here in my construction project manager chair in Seattle trying to find something to fill my time with as the days are slow due to a stunned economy. I enjoyed your reporting and will be back for continual updates. Youƒ??re a man deserving of honor from all Americans. As much as Iƒ??ve learned about Jesus Christ and God the Father, Iƒ??m sure your creators are in human terms extremely proud of you for functioning in the gift of bravery that you were created for. God loves you Michael and can handle hearing any of your thoughts. May he bless you and keep you. Continue strong the unprecedented work out there..
  • This commment is unpublished.
    flyonthewall · 13 years ago
    Brilliant writing. Just found your site and am truly amazed. There is nothing and no one who can match the heroism of the warriors you're with. You truly honor them with your vivid report.
    Please tell them we love them and cannot find words to describe our debt of gratitude. Is there an APO address for care packages? My son is in luxurious Mosul and is growing fat on too many care packages. He'll share, gladly.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AMD · 13 years ago
    My husband is in Iraq. I read your site and I read your book, Moment of Truth in Iraq. Your work is invaluable to many of us and I officially want to thank you for the sacrifices you make to get the word out. The same goes for you that goes for my husband, "You give me hope that there are still good men in the world so do your best to stay in it; we need examples like you around".

    To you and our Brit brothers on Gib

    "...May thine Angel-guards defend us,
    Slumber sweet thy mercy send us,
    Holy dreams and hopes attend us,
    This livelong night."
    Bishop Reginald Heber
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James l. Owens · 13 years ago
    Michael you are a blessing to all of us who wish to know what's happening. Would that there wre more like you.

    We could have used someone in 'Nam to tell the truth.

    Checks in the mail.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ollie Right · 13 years ago
    That T-Shirt proves who the terrorists are. Micheal "Zionist" Yon and his cohorts.

    7 Years and no progress. Another 7 years and the USKKK will be bankrupt. LMAO at the US Scum.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tony Ward · 13 years ago
    Our great fighting men of the US and Britian fight for the freedom, so that cowards like the person in Comment 29, have freedom of speech. It is a shame that they have nothing better to do than lambast great men and women while they hide in the dark, behind their freedom.
    Great work Michael, keep it up, it is a pleasure to have individuals like you providing unbiased reporting. God Bless and Thank you
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Russell28 · 13 years ago

    My brother was with C Coy 2Para and was killed in an explosion near FOB Gib on July 29th 2008. My family is still in touch with a few of the guys out there, all close friends of my brother. Sadly we never really had the chance to talk with Pete about conditions out there, he died 10 days before he was due home for a well deserved r&r. Michael's work (which i stumbled across last night thanks to google) has really opened my eyes to what Pete and his brothers in arms went/go through on a daily basis. The reality is very different to what i imagined. Thank you for filling some of the blanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    James Cheetham · 13 years ago
    Thanks, Michael. I have been away for a while. Is that twerp Alastair Leithead of the BBC still about? Never has a decent word for our boys. BBC is trying to destroy the last of the decent institutions that made Britain great. I doubt that any of the squaddies even give him the time of day...

    I am an ex-serviceman... so I am biased :

    Keep up the great work - telling it like it is.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Eric Shirley · 13 years ago
    Mr. Yon,
    Great reporting, Great book. Please tell the Brits that many of us here in America know of and appreciate there help. God Bless America and England and let us all hope that we are victorious.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Greg Osti · 13 years ago
    Hi Michael,

    Those guns look like versions of British Martini-Henry rifles from the empire period.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 13 years ago
    Dear Michael,

    The old rifles are Martini-Henry. They were so accurate and powerful that individual British soldiers had them chained to them when on picket at night. The Pashtuns wanted them that bad. Please see link below for a great article on the Martini-Henry.

    Jack E. Hammond, USA

    Notes> Links are to scans in my photobucket account. They are way long so I used TinyURL.com to reduce the link characters.

    http://tinyurl.com/ laaef



  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack E. Hammond · 13 years ago
    Dear Michael,

    Sadly the JAVELIN is the best antitank weapon in the world. One Special Forces soldier in northern Iraq with the Kurds stopped an attack by an armored battalion using the JAVELIN. But it is way to expensive for the type of warfare in Afghanistan. A better bet would have been the Israeli GILL with the fiber-optic link back to the operator. GILL rounds are 1/ that of the JAVELIN. Also, I can not figure out why the British did not bring out their old MILAN wire guided launchers and rounds and send them to Afghanistan. They are dirt cheap.

    And the cheapest option for a long range missile sniper would be what the Iranians trained the Lebanese Hezbollah to use: The old wire guided SAGGER. The Sagger is extremely inacccurate at ranges below 500 meters but beyond that a trained gunner can put one through a window. And the SAGGER missile is available on the world market dirt-dirt cheap. Like less than 5000 dollars a missile.

    Jack E. Hammond, USA

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kirby Ducayet V · 13 years ago

    Mr. Yon, I'm 12 years old and have studied military weapons and vehicles since I was about 5. My mother saw these rifles on your website and asked me to identify them for you. I looked them up in one my books and found out it was a Martini-Henry and probably is a MK4 because of the year but could of been modified. I found this website with more information for you.

    Keep up the good writing my mom is obsessed with you,lol.
    Kirby Smith Ducayet V
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brian H · 13 years ago
    Russell, fly, and Bob:
    The title is what I feel for you...imagine having all of Yon to read for the first time!

    For a real treat, go back through his Dispatches series to the earliest, and read each series as a sequence before going on to the next.

    It will take you more than a few hours. Which is very good!


    After you've thoroughly read Yon-land, check out the other Saint Michael, MichaelTotten.com . Totten is somewhat less Iraq-centred in his coverage, but very pertinent to the entire Near and Middle East topic. Some beautiful photo-essays from the Balkans.

    You might start off with his latest, in Commentary magazine ( commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/ 4001 ), and then start at the start on his site. Very honest, and lets his viewpoint grow and change according to what he sees.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rob Spring Ex AAC · 13 years ago
    It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
    It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
    It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
    It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
    It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves under the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag....

    By Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Bob · 5 years ago
      So True: 1st time I saw this poem was on a wall in the 'Gas Lamp' bar in Med Hat, Alberta, Canada.(about 2000 ish) It got me then , and still all these years later , having being one of those at Gib that Summer. It bangs home even more so. Never forgotten gents, never forgotten. RIP .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jamie · 12 years ago
    The plural of Sergeant Major is Sergeants Major, not Sergeant Majors.

    This blog, your reporting, the photos, and your writing are great. I spent a year in Ramadi, and I find so many things you write about to be so accurate. Keep up the great work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    chaz · 12 years ago
    Michael, thank you for your honest and compelling reporting. My thanks to the brave and unselfish soldiers willing to live in those conditions to make our world a safer place from terrorism. I pray daily for them. Also, my deepest sympathies to Russell28 and his family. You will also be in my prayers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    chaz · 12 years ago
    Also, my sympathies to Rich from the uk. I didn't see his comment until after I posted. The brotherhood of armed forces between all the allied countries is strong. God Bless you all and thanks for fighting the good fight.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Buck · 12 years ago
    If it wasn;t for the star spangled war stories - RPG's in the loo and shooting the bastiges in the teeth, what else would be interesting about holing up in a fort while trying to pacify a people who've done you no harm until you showed up to start bombing and shooting them. Oh yeah, I know it's all about a better life for the littl.e girls you didn't mention in the story - except for the dead 'un.

    Can you spell 'criminal. waste'?
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Roxyzulu8326 · 10 years ago
      How dare you, you toilet. I hate to use the old cliche of 'you were not there' but jesus, have some respect.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Roxyzulu8326 · 10 years ago
      You prick, have you been there? i hate to use the cliche of 'you werfent there man' but jesus, wind your neck in. I had Locals at Gib tell me that they wanted us to flatten the place so they could start over. You ignorant toilet. How dare you, how [removed by webmaster due to profanity] dare you. Get yourself to the Hammers handle and come back with your wannabe blogger hero crap then. Prick.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Graham Smith · 11 years ago
    Missed you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rob Dowdle · 11 years ago
    Hello Michael
    just a quick note to say that ssm Ste Mcmenamy is now a yeoman warder at the tower of london so if you are ever in the uk why dont you go and see him. take care Michael
    Best Wishes
    Rob Dowdle
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Darren · 9 years ago
    You're not there Michael, but the brits are still there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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