A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little about “fobbits.” I won’t rehash the term since I just linked it, but I want to talk about the “fobbit mentality.”
There is a distinctive difference between the fobbit who has been outside the wire and experienced the realities of war and a fobbit who will earn their combat patch having never left the wire. Among the former group, there are two additional sub-groups – those that still recognize that even though they will never leave the wire they are still in a combat zone and those that think they live in a bubble and that nothing can touch them on the FOB (forward operating base). I’m going to talk about an exchange I had with a member of the latter sub-group I just described.
Last night, Kandahar Airfield came under rocket attack at approximately 20:21. I know because I write every rocket attack and “all clear” in my journal. There are processes and procedures that are supposed to take place when an attack happens. I won’t go into the details, but the obvious response is to seek shelter in a nearby bunker. That’s exactly what I did last night, but apparently it’s a novel concept where I work since there was only one other person in the bunker with me.
As we waiting out the attack, a few of my Soldiers drove up to our nearby building and joined me in the bunker. Every now and then, I’d spot someone walking lackadaisically towards the latrine. That’s fine. I have no problem with someone risking their lives to cleanse their bowels and bladders before facing potential underwear altering events! Sometimes it’s better to just be a mangled, bloody mess than a mangled, bloody mess and have a mess in your pants.
However, when the Soldiers left the porta-potty, they would begin walking back to their buildings. Keep in mind that KAF is a large base. Just because the entire base is under a rocket attack doesn’t mean it’s anywhere nearby. It’s possible to be under a rocket attack and never even hear the explosion of the impacts. Then again, the rounds lobbed over the perimeter could be duds and we just got lucky. But, it doesn’t matter. When the siren sounds, Soldiers are to take particular steps to protect themselves and their troops.
As these troops would begin walking back to their workplace I would inquire as to whether they were looking for the bunker, knowing full well they knew where it was and they weren’t headed towards it. I then explained that we were under a rocket attack and that the “all clear” hadn’t been given and would require them to enter the bunker. Some did so without waivering. It’s easy inside some of these building to legitimately not hear the siren and loud British woman monotonously repeat “Rocket…attack…rocket…attack.” So, I consider it my duty to inform them such is the case. Yet, others want to play little Soldier games until I am close enough to them that they identify my rank and decide against arguing with me. It’s dark out so I have no idea at whom I’m yelling. Some of the unsuspecting targets of incoming rounds last night were officers and one was even a Sergeant Major. But, it doesn’t matter. Typically when a Master Sergeant tells you to get in a bunker, you get in a bunker without questioning it, officer or enlisted.
At one point, a Soldier in the PT uniform drove up in a Gator and began to head towards the door to his building.
“EXCUSE ME!” Nothing.
“Hey, Soldier!” Nothing.
To his credit there are a lot of generators running nearby making it difficult to hear. So, I bring out my 1SG voice.
“HEY, YOU. SOLDIER!!” The Soldier looks my way and then walks into the building. Not a good move…
I make haste towards the same door before it can close and track the Soldier into an office and begin to rip him a new one.
“Didn’t you hear me calling you?” I ask.
“Don’t lie to me, you turned around.”
“I don’t answer to ‘hey'” was the reply.
The veins in my neck began to surface as if to want to dislodge themselves and strangle the Soldier at will. I notice that there are three other Soldiers in the room and I hear others in a conference room across the hall. One of these Soldiers is a Sergeant First Class. I redirect my anger to the one that should know better.
“Is there a reason you’re not in the bunker during a rocket attack?” I shout.
“We thought they had called the ‘all clear’,” he replied.
“No, they called the all clear for Sectors [I won’t name them]. Ours is still unclear. Get your asses out to the bunker.”
Now, these aren’t my Soldiers. They’re not even in my unit. Doesn’t matter either. They fall under RC(S) and KAF rules and rules are lawful orders. As a senior NCO, I enforce lawful orders.
I then walk into the conference room and explain to the five individuals in the room that we are not yet clear. I ask them if what they are doing is a mission essential task related at this moment. A female Soldier approaches me obviously frustrated that I’m there and moves to a position where I can clearly see that I’m now speaking to a Major.
“Ma’am, is there something you’re doing here that supercedes a general officer order to seek shelter during a rocket attack?”
Even I was not prepared for the answer I was about to receive from the “slick sleeve” major. I’m not going to paraphrase a bit here. This is a quote, word for word.
“Yes. We have to update the slides for a briefing tomorrow.”
The veins in my neck pulsate and beg to be released in an angry stranglehold of the woman I’m now staring at blankly with my mouth wide open. I grab onto the door frame to steady myself. My right hands begins to tremble and I recognize that my blood pressure has just shot sky high! I recognize instantly that I have two choices: lose it and completely get unprofessional on this Major or walk away.
I looked around the room at the other Soldiers obviously trying to avoid eye contact. How could anyone, even a Major, so readily ignore an order meant to protect the lives of our troops? I couldn’t care less if the Major wanted to pretend she’s so out of touch with the reality of our location on the FOB and proximity to POO (points of origin) sites. But, she wasn’t just willing to risk her own life. She was risking the lives of every Soldier in there. Granted, two of them were Lieutenants, but there were younger enlisted Soldiers in there too.
I made the decision to simply keep my shut, but my face obviously showed my contempt towards such a reckless decision. I know the Battalion Commander and Command Sergeant Major and will simply bring it up with them tomorrow…if a round doesn’t hit them first.
It’s easy to feel cocky and get complacent about rocket attacks, especially since they don’t always hit where we can see, hear, or feel them land. It’s a natural desire to resist spending hours in a dusty, concrete bunker in 100 degree heat. I get that. You begin to feel numb to the sirens and warnings. But, this is where the two fobbits part ways in ideology. The fobbit that recognizes we are still in a combat zone will take measures to potentially save their own life even if the chances are so small that they will be affected as to be virtually non-existent. The absolute Fobbit, the one that everyone makes fun of because they think they’re untouchable and safe within the impenetrable fortress of FOBitude, is more worried about their powerpoint presentation the following day than protecting the lives of their own troops.
A few days ago, a rocket attack hit one of the buildings nearby. I was only a few blocks away during this attack and when I heard the sirens I knew this wasn’t an attack like any other. Normally, you don’t hear sirens during an attack because no one is really affected. Either the launch was inaccurate, it landed in a vacant location, or it was dud. The area is checked and cleared and then the “all clear” is sounded.
On this day though, the rocket went through roof of a building used by ManTech. The building is used to rebuild MATVs that have been destroyed. Thankfully, no one was killed in the attack, but there were several injuries. A large hole was left in the building where the round pierced through the outer shell, continued through some skylights, and landed in the back of an MATV. The impact and explosion sent shrapnel throughout the shop. This shop is located about 300-400 meters from me.
I can’t help but wonder how that Major would feel had that rocket landed through the roof of her conference room that day and she survived only to realize that her slide clicker’s lifeless body was now hunched over the laptop, his bloodied hand unconsciously adding more blank slides. I wonder if those slides could have waited another hour – when the “all clear” was sounded – to complete before a briefing being held about 12 hours later.
The reality of combat in Afghanistan is that no one is safe. Not even the most fobitious of the Fobbits. A contractor or TCN (third country national) can sneak in a bomb and detonate it near a populated area. An insurgent can penetrate the perimeter and kill or injure a few troops before being gunned to his death in a blaze of glory. Or a particularly advanced rocket can be launched into the perfect conference room and destroy all the slides quicker than the click of a mouse. And our offices aren’t necessarily out of range of even the cheapest, homemade rockets.
Fobbits kill. Unfortunately, the consequences of this fobbit mentality will inevitably lead to the death of a fellow Soldier.
Postscript: As I was finalizing this post, we came under another rocket attack. The day began at 0600 with three rocket attacks and at 2005 we had two more to end the day with. These were close tonight and only serves to further punctuate what I’m saying here. Because of the proximity of the blast, I saw more people in the bunkers than ever before. They should be there during EVERY rocket attack!
I’ve also removed a few details related to BDA from my initial post. Unlike some “independent war correspondents,” I’d rather put the safety of my fellow troops and contractors over the need to tell a good story. I would rather the enemy NOT know how much success or failure they enjoy in an attack, even if that information could be easily seen from the fenceline or read in a newspaper. They’ll get no satisfaction from me.