Michael's Dispatches


Under Cover of the Night


1-17th Infantry

Night photo looks like broad daylight.

11 April 2010

During a mission there is no “pause” button.  It’s on until it’s over.  Recently, Charlie Company 1-17th Infantry conducted a mission that included visiting villages in the Shah Wali Kot district of northern Kandahar Province.

The main threats in this area are bombs and mines.  Many vehicles have “mine rollers” on the front that are designed to detonate the bomb before it gets under the vehicle.  The bombs often are big enough to completely obliterate any tank or armored vehicle ever built.  During the mission, a mine roller on a Stryker broke, causing Charlie Company to overnight in the desert.

After finding a suitable RON (rest overnight) location, the task was security and making a plan for the night.  With a full moon rising the Taliban could easily slip silently through the folds and creases of the land and strike.  The Taliban likely already knew our strength.  Tracks from the heavy Strykers would show our direction of travel, as would villagers along the way.  Of course, if the enemy followed the tracks they would eventually lead to a hail of devastating fire.  Most of the enemies are too smart for such mistakes.  More likely, the enemy would try to anticipate our next move and get bombs in front of our most probable routes.  They had all night.  Our people up that game by pushing out snipers and observers who might be watching the Taliban—even from miles away—ready to kill them on our routes.  Winning and losing deadly little skirmishes depends heavily on expertise, and luck.  We and the enemy have great advantages and disadvantages.

It was dark when the above photo was taken at 9:19PM local.  The moon was bright but the camera lens seemed to vacuum in the light and brightened to look like nearly daylight.  (Image data: 1649Z/2119Lima 50mm f4.5 30s ISO 800.)

With security out, SFC Olaf Munch made a schedule for the sentries while the soldiers dined on MREs and unpacked sleeping bags.  Lights were hardly needed.  Red filters were used because red lights are more difficult to see from a distance and they preserve night vision.

Actual data for the above image includes: 1650Z/2120L 50mm f4.5 30s ISO 800.  The “Z” or “Zulu” suffix denotes GMT or Greenwich Mean Time.  GMT is the time at the Prime Meridian—which runs through Greenwich —and so the image was made at 4:50PM on the 24-hour clock used by the military and others.  The U.S. military deals with every time zone in the world every minute of the day.  I adopted the military’s good idea by setting my cameras to Zulu.  Leaving the cameras on Zulu, it’s not important to remember to change the camera time or wonder if you did.  The  “L” or “Lima” means local time.  Troops might say that “so and so” will happen at “0200 Zulu,” or maybe “0200 Lima.”  Our military has myriad moving parts in different time zones and cannot have everyone operating on local clocks.  The Navy would show up early, the Air Force would show up late, and the Army and Marines would crash into each other.  Imagine the Air Force flying through multiple time zones to parachute supplies to a remote base.  The aircraft might have come in from a thousand miles away, while Air Force HQ might be in a different time zone, and the Marine HQ in another, and the target drop zone in a different zone.  So our people work off Zulu time, and everyone shows up on time.  Usually.

Photo from back of a Stryker with orienting starts.  (North is off to the right.)

Soldiers who had guard duty crashed quickly.  Some wear boots while sleeping; others dry their feet.  The military sleeping bags have enough footroom to allow for boots.  The sleeping bag zippers are designed to easily rip open.  Soldiers can go from sound asleep to fighting in seconds.
(1657Z/2127L 15mm f6.3 30s ISO 800)

Stryker ramps still open but will soon close.

The soldiers don’t walk much in case of land mines or IEDs.  We stay within a small area, dispersed enough for safety, yet close enough to communicate.

No flash is needed.  Only moonshine.

The mortar crew quietly telling jokes after the long day.

With no clouds, the earth radiates heat to outer space and the desert chills quickly, causing the mortar team to pull into sleeping bags.

The M4 rifles must deal with this dust night and day yet the rifles function well.

Brightness on the upper left is from the moon.  The machine gun on the Stryker is scanning while the orange in the distance is from an artillery illumination mission.   Lower right are my bare feet at 11:15PM.

The Stryker could be heard as the electrically operated .50 caliber scanned for targets.  The only way the enemy could attack us while maintaining a pittance of survivability was with rockets or mortars, but the moment those came in, we’d call aircraft that could arrive in minutes scanning the folds with their thermals.  We also had another Stryker platoon out there in the darkness and they had a 120mm mortar—a devastating weapon with uncanny first-round accuracy.  Whatever the enemy might do, they would need to do without being seen.  We camped in the middle of pure battlefield without the complications of city or village fighting.  If the enemy attacks tonight, their life expectancy plummets to seconds.  Long before we are within range of their weapons, they are within range of sudden precision fire from ours.  The enemy might be able to slip into one of the terrain folds, but there was no easy approach and the thermals on the Strykers and the night vision carried by the men made a successful, direct attack improbable.  And besides, most Taliban are poor shots even in broad daylight.  At nighttime they’d be lucky not to shoot each other.  The enemy is good at some things, but many of us were better shots when we were 14 years old.  If the enemy fired, our men would turn on the invisible lasers on their rifles, peer through night vision that made the lasers appear, and shoot them.  The enemy would need Harry Potter invisibility cloaks to sneak in on us.

11:17 PM

During times when there is a good possibility of being attacked, it’s best to not take off more than one boot at a time to let feet dry.  But with such a low probability of being surprised and being surrounded by combat soldiers, it’s fine to take off both boots and keep them close.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken2 · 11 years ago
    Over the years, you've managed to make the best out of every obstacle put in your way. You have the support of some very high ranking people. I wouldn't be at all surprised should you find yourself in another embed. In any case, you will have an opportunity to share yet another perspective on this conflict with this situation. Please keep up the good work and don't let your detractors get you down.
    You may count on my continued support and I urge all reading this to give something, no matter how little.
    All: Michael’s expenses are going to go up not being assigned to a unit, so it is up to us to help him stay financially viable. Sometimes it feels as though he is the only source for the truth wherever he is. It is imperative we help him stay close to the action, reasonably equipped and fed.
    God speed Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jeff Stanley · 11 years ago
    As an American citizen who tries to stay informed, I'm sad to see TPTB hinder the truth that you report. As a human being however, I am glad to see the odds of your survival into dotage go up by this turn of events.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tommy Barrios · 11 years ago
    As I have said before, we need more Michael Yon's in the field! I don't trust anything coming from the administration of the Obomination! They are fallacious liars of the highest order and cannot be trusted.

    Our precious military is currently in the hands of an incompetent moron who is not qualified to be a dog catcher much less Commander-In Chief. We cannot rely on the lamestream media to tell the truth either as they have proven to be obfuscating agenda driven liars also!

    I wish I had enough money to fund Michael fully and thereby make him a force to be reckoned with instead of the other way round:-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sandy · 11 years ago
    Michael....I can't tell you the sadness I feel that you're going to cover from outside now. :sad: We've relied on you for the real scoop for so long...and will miss the first-hand accounts. Thank you for all you've done--and we'll be following whatever reporting you continue with.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jbadgph04 · 11 years ago
    Michael: Thanks again for for a great sory and wonderful pictures. Your pictures aiways seem to transport me back to when I was there. Always nice to be able to see a fine craftsman present his product like you do. That's the good news.

    Bad news is I'm starting to believe that your thoughts on McCrystal are correct. I had hope in the beginning. That is now starting to slip away.

    The uneasy feeling is that my son is due to deploy there any day now. What happened to you doesn't give me the warm fuzzies. He will be in the north, which not as bad as the south or east but Afghanistan is always unpredictable.

    Thanks for your efforts and I hope you can keep it up. You always seem to pretty good at doing that. Stay safe and check 6.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter T. Bepler II · 11 years ago
    Michael: What I have learned about Michael Yon is that he will keep up his work as long as it's funded. So I will be doing my part. I hope Michael will be able to keep doing his. This reminds me of the distinction taught me by a mentor yesars ago betweeen a problem and a situation. If you incautiously pull on your boots at dawn and a scorpion stings you, that's a problem. If you pick up a boot and discover something hostile inside, that's a situation. The essence of situations is that they change. So I view this as a situation, not a problem. Michael, please keep doing what you do, it is of immense value; and we will keep on trying to do what we can to support you. All the best,
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Drew · 11 years ago
    Thank you Michael, for being more than just our eyes and ears in a war that is often very difficult to understand. I don't know how you do it. Stay safe, and keep on keeping on.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Victoria · 11 years ago
    No! There's nothing I enjoyed more than reading your stories & seeing your outstanding photography. You bring the reality and humaneness of our soldiers to everyday citizens and it is so appreciated. To see the people, the land, the conditions and still there are smiles and kindness. Be safe and please let the soldiers know we believe in them. Thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Derek · 11 years ago
    I'm sure Gen. Petreus and Sec. Def. Gates read Mike's work when they can. I hope they do something to reverse the decision to yank Mike from our soldiers on the battlefield. They need to know how important it is for the truth to be told (good, bad, ugly).

    Thank you so very much for what you do, Michael. You really are a national treasure.

    Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Anita · 11 years ago
    Thank you so much for your coverage of the afg war. I've learned so much from your stories and photos. I'm so sorry to hear that you will not be able to cover the war as an embedded journalist. It's disturbing to me (a mother of a soldier in Afg), however, to hear you speculate that the reason you're being pulled is because the coalition forces are losing the war. It seems to me there could be many other explanations, but I'm certainly naive in these matters...just more hopeful.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Maddy · 11 years ago
    How do I love thee, let me count the ways:

    Best damned embedded reporter I have ever had the benefit of reading!
    Best damned war photographer I ever had the benefit of viewing!
    Best damned PATRIOT these middle east wars will ever see!
    Best damned ability to recount the human side of these wars!
    Best damned connected reporter of these wars, i.e. Gates, Petreaus, et al!
    Most honest war reporter we've all had the PRIVELEGE to read!
    Come on folks, let's pony up, so Michael can figure out another way to get our news from the front lines! I think he already has it figured out, so let's help him keep on doing what he was destined to do!! This is just a stepping stone to the next chapter in the Michael Yon saga! May the lpord Bless you and Keep you and make his face shine upon you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Duquette · 11 years ago
    Michael! wonderful to hear that the decision to end the embed has been reversed! (could it be that "skip" from the earlier post titled "CIV" actually WAS able to stir things up for you?)

    I wish all the Military leaders could understand the effect you have single handedly had on support for the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I was one of those Americans who doubted the wisdom of the whole idea of the occupation, until I found your blog early on in the Iraq embed.
    You showed me that the U.S. and Coalition were not merely killing bad guys, but also building schools, sanitation, power, bringing good to the people in those places.
    In effect, your truthful and candid reporting was the sole reason that I now support, and stand behind our military.
    And I tell everyone I come across who DOESN'T support the war to read Michael Yon.
    And to all you Government Higher ups who may be reading this: How many more of me might there be out there?

    Carry on my friend.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Rodney · 11 years ago
    Michael, great job. you have done your part for god, country, and your concious. Maybe its time you stay in the "rear with the gear" and let the younger pups earn their wings. Don't tempt fate. Start enjoying life, drinking a beer in the backyard with friends and family while you burn that steak on the grill. You have earned it.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bent222 · 11 years ago
    I have been reading and enjoying your blog for A LONG time now andI will continue to but I'm starting to think that you act like a spoiled brat especially when things don't go your way.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pattie Matheson · 11 years ago
    LOL the poisonous creatures in boots!! Have experienced same in desert treks in AZ. As long as you're blogging we'll be reading - embed or no embed. I trust your perspective above all. As a young military wife I was incensed by the stories I heard from my husband during the Vietnam mess. And learned then that the face the military likes to present isn't necessarily accurate. One wonders why they feel the public can't be trusted with the truth. Even as I wrote the last sentence I could hear the rationale in my head. Never did like it. Never will.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    verymildbill · 11 years ago
    You comment that the M4 does well in sand. In an earlier post with British troops you commented that no matter how much they cleaned them they would malfunction. How would you compare the M4 with and M1A for reliability in dust?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan · 11 years ago
    Good job - keep it up. I appreciate your views, both written and photos, of life where you are. Very authentic!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Parry · 11 years ago

    This is. as you say, not a good sign to get the boot. How will you continue to cover the war? Can you join Canadain Forces?

    best Regards,

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Greg · 11 years ago
    "Michael, great job. you have done your part for god, country, and your concious. Maybe its time you stay in the "rear with the gear" and let the younger pups earn their " - Agreeing with Rodney on this one Mike !

    Mike ... come back and run for Congress ! Or President ! Hell I would vote for you in a second ! Patreaus and Yonn ticket ? Bingo

    Its a great post Mike ... I can not thank you enough for taking me on trips to the front lines to see the Warrior Class of young Americans . God bless you and please take care sir.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kathy · 11 years ago
    Michael, we so appreciate all you have done for our soldiers,their families, and all of us at home. Your posts and photos have brought a reality that just doesn't happen on MSM. Today, I paused for a long time over the photo with Orion in the distance. It has always been my favorite constellation. From now on, I will see it differently.

    We have known you to be a faithful warrior. That won't change. May God protect you and give you wisdom for the days ahead.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tim · 11 years ago
    Michael, sorry to hear you got cut off. I was just out in Afghanistan last month and can echo your comment about not seeing many reporters... I hope this isn't something stupid. I agree that you can report and comment on the war from outside the wire, but you have a gift at communicating what it is like INSIDE the wire. People need that, and don't get the pictures and perspective from much of anywhere else.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Eddy · 11 years ago
    Man, so sick of bureaucratic buffoons who keep arbitrarily killing your ability to work. I'm sorry you keep getting put through this, Michael. Your work is so very important.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 11 years ago
    http://www.amazon.com/Up-Front-Bill-Mauldin/dp/0 9 050 19

    Mr. Yon, if you are not yet familiar with Bill Mauldin's memorable "Up Front," a volume of WWII cartoons and accompanying essay on life at the front (mostly Italy), I think you would enjoy it. Moreover, I think you would be able to compare notes.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Kennedy · 11 years ago
    Great job as usual. The clueless PAO is our second worst enemy. After the NY Times.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    madtom · 11 years ago
    I'm not sure why, but pictures of boots are a bit off putting, if that's a word. Not sure if I like them or not.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SethJ · 11 years ago
    Michael i have been reading your blog now for several weeks now and your work is just amazing the pictures in this entry are awesome especially how it looks like is so bright outside. :-) keep up the good work!! thanks so much!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    http://www2.centcom.mil/sites/foia/rr/CENTCOM Regulation CCR 25210/Death of Reuters Journalists/6--2nd Brigade Combat Team 15-6 Investigation.pdf
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 11 years ago
    copy and paste link. Includes photos, partially redacted.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mwilhite · 11 years ago
    Just wanted to thank you for the great work and we're shocked to see you go!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mellisa · 11 years ago
    My 19 year old son is a Soldier in the 5/2 SBCT. I have depended upon your dispatches in order to get a glimpse into the war that he is fighting. Shame on the people that have made the obtuse decision to end your embedment with these fine American Heroes. Thank you for your contributions, sincerley Mellisa.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sgt. Dave · 11 years ago
    Semper Fi, my friend!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sgt. Dave · 11 years ago
    Semper Fi, my Friend
  • This commment is unpublished.
    colagirl · 11 years ago
    Michael, I saw your Facebook update, indicating that you no longer trust McChrystal. I've been following your excellent reporting since 2005. I just wanted to ask if you're planning a post to discuss why you no longer trust him at greater length in the future. If, in your opinion, he is dangerous, I would be very interested in hearing what swayed your mind at last--is it just the disembed, or is there something larger? You've earned a great deal of credibility, and when you talk, I think the nation would be well-advised to listen carefully.

    I hope you continue your excellent reporting, and please stay safe out there. We need you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gene · 11 years ago
    My old son is in C company and tells me you sleep next to him from time to time. Thats a good place to be. I trust him with my life. you have many fans from here in Texas! Keep up the great reporting from where ever you can.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ken · 11 years ago
    Michael, those photos are some serious works of art...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SFC Cheryl McElroy U · 11 years ago
    Allowing you to get kicked to the curb is a big mistake on McCrystal's part. The troops need more dedicated, loyal journalists like you to continue reporting the news that the leftwing MSM either slants or refuses to publish. I've read about "Karzai's 12 rules" and quickly came to the conclusion that the ROE situation, since THE ONE took office, has become an absolute Charlie Foxtrot. But Obama insists that "winning isn't necessarily a goal".
    His idiotic campaign to fight “negative stereotypes of Islam” totally ignores the realities of the violent, ideological religion. I feel so sorry for the military troops still serving under this assclown. He is so f***ing disconnected from reality.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dona L. Griffin · 11 years ago
    Thanks for your skill, dedication, and courage. You played an integral part in our lives as a family as we dealt with the early days after losing Sgt. Dale R. Griffin 27 Oct 2009 KIA in the Arghandab Valley along with seven of his friends. The pictures you took of the memorial tee pee erected in their honor at the FOB in Afghanistan touched our hearts and gave us tangible evidence of the brotherhood that exists among these soldiers. As I shared with my young friends recently: Earth life leaves us with many unanswered questions and much confusion. That's why our cores need to be grounded in principles of "The 'universal morality'...[of] honesty,duty, responsibility, unselfishness, loyalty, honor, compassion and courage." (Clare Booth Luce) Stay true to your core so that you can continue to carry the torch where God will grant you the opportunity at the appropriate times to make a difference. Holding you in our hearts.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jill · 11 years ago
    As soon as I saw the story regarding our military burning Bibles (I wonder if they had the guts to burn some unsolicited korans):
    and reading McCrystal's Rules of Engagement, I knew this war is lost. McCrystal now spends more time shutting down fast food joints then he does prosecuting the war. Michael, come home and bring our sons and daughters home with you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    tjg · 11 years ago
    So, I believe in you Yon, go outside the wire and mix with the natives, write what you feel and open your camara to what you see, the next Avitar....

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tom · 11 years ago
    Michael, has it ever appeared to you that what you are doing is against ever concept of OPSEC? You give full desciptions on how Stryker brigades work and operate. You inform the enemy on how HIS tactics worked on our fellow soldiers, rather or not the taliban succeded on his last mission. And for anyone else who thinks this man is doing a great job, think about how many tricks of the trade he gives away in his reports.
  • This commment is unpublished.
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