Wednesday, December 29, 2010

" Embracing the suck" - an excerpt from " Greetings From Afghanistan - Send More Ammo " by Capt. Benjamin Tupper

Like many others, I was able to pick up some new reading material for Christmas....and as I have a 1 hour train ride to and from the workplace in Bawston (Boston), I have time to scroll around on the IPad and/or read...

My newest read is an awesome book called, " Greetings from Afghanistan - Send more Ammo" by Captain Benjamin Tupper, NY Army National Guard. His writing is a tour de force of what he experienced as a member of a ETT or a Embedded Training Team (ETT), a small group of U.S. soldiers tasked with training and mentoring the ramshackle, newly formed Afghan National Army. Each two-man unit gets a company of about 100 Afghan soldiers, about whose language, history, and culture Tupper was—admittedly—entirely clueless. The result is a candid series of snapshots of the challenges he faced, both cultural and military.

Tupper and his machine-gunning partner Ski were in a dozen firefights with Taliban during their year in Afghanistan - a relatively high number - and in those vividly recounted life-and-death gun battles, they were not backed by a platoon of US soldiers with "high-tech commo, weapons, medical skills and evacuation assets." They were barreling along IED-laden roads with no engineer route-clearing teams. As just two US soldiers embedded with the ANA, they were very low on the pecking order for emergency air support or a quick reaction force, meaning Special Forces backup.

Yet Tupper and Ski were a priority target for Taliban fighters.

"The ETTs with their sole Humvee," Tupper says, "were understood to be the nerve center of the operation . . . and we were targeted accordingly."

The ETT program in Afghanistan began a half-decade before Tupper's 2006 arrival in country, its aim to speed up Afghan self-sufficiency in logistics, tactics and combined-arms fights against insurgencies. In short, it's "teach a man to fish" with assault rifles.

Part of what makes his write-up insightful is his NO-SHITE attitude and bravado. This shines through in the first chapter entitled, " Embrace The Suck "

" I first heard the phrase " embrace the suck" in Pittsburgh in 2001. I was in the living room of a college buddy, nursing a hangover, and flipping through a popular national magazine. inside was an unsanitized article about the field conditions of America's newest war: Afghanistan. The list of hardships that the soldiers were experiencing in the heat and dust was described in vivid detail. But the spirits of the American Infantrymen were undeterred. Their Zen-like approach was to "embrace the suck", a strategy of treating hardships as friends, not enemies, and driving on.

Less than two weeks after my arrival in Ghazni, I was baptized in sweat and filth into this brotherhood of suffering and misery. I had just returned from a week long mission in the field with our ANA infantry battalion when I found myself in awe over the degradation of my physical body in such a short time.

Operation desert Lion, as it was called, consisted of a series of sweeps deep into remote corners of Ghazni Province, with overnight bivouacs in various district centers. The operation, my first personal foray into real-world warfare, ended up being quite successful. We captured over a dozen suspected Taliban foot soldiers, and the Afghan National Police (ANP) captured a confirmed al-Qaeda regional commander. No friendly forces were killed or injured.

But Death and Injury are only two of the three facets of physical harm that confront a soldier. After this operation, we all suffered from the third facet of physical harm: the generalized internal and external human deterioration that occurs on long combat missions. This source of misery is perhaps best described simply as " the suck": the dozens of small, needling things that torment and plague the body when it is deprived of sanitation, sleep and proper nourishment..."

He goes into extreme detail regarding your body shutting off it's hunger drive due to heat and quality of food offered (i.e. MREs). The debilitating effect of heat as the temps in the area you are working is well up in to the lower 115-120 degree range when combined with a full combat outfit of kevlar, ballistic vest and all other gear, creates a oven effect similar to being suited up for winter weather. Sleep deprivation is an issue, as all on missions are running at a 20 hour+ tempo (or longer), at a state of total hyper awareness, and not having anywhere decent to sleep. Add into all this a lack of any kind of real sanitation for washing, going to the bathroom (there are NO BATHROOMS) and the overall pure crappiness of places you find yourself in, and you get a good sense of why they call it " The Suck" and " embracing the suck" was the only way of dealing with it.

The overall read of this insightful tome into what our guys are experiencing out there in the SHITEWILDS of AFGHN is awesome...I highly, highly recommend picking this up as while I had somewhat better living conditions most of the time while I was in AFGHN, I remember my time in IRAQ and during that excursion, it was just like he describes in his book.

Great stuff and well worth the cost of picking this up at your local bookseller.


Ben said...

Thanks for the kind words on the book! I was happy to see them, but even more happy to see they came from a Sox/Pats fan!

If you liked this book, check out my second and final Afghan book that just came out- Dudes of War.

Go Sox!

Ben Tupper

Middleboro Jones said...

Thanks Ben - I appreciate your kind words and thanks to you for writing such a great book....

GO PATRIOTS on to the Super Bowl....Red Sox look good for 2011.


Middleboro Jones