by Michael Golembesky
The unforgiving Afghan winter has settled upon the twenty-two men of Marine Special Operations Team 8222, call sign Dagger 22, in the remote and hostile river valley of Bala Murghab, Afghanistan. The Taliban fighters in the region would have liked nothing more than to once again go dormant and rest until the new spring fighting season began. No chance of that—this winter would be different…
JANUARY 20, 2010
Dull bronze shell casings were laid out across a sheet of plywood on top of a sturdy cardboard box we saved from one of our airdrops. It made for the only real clean surface for us to work on. Before heading out on patrol, the team would spend time together in silence. Cleaning, performing function checks on weapons, lubricating them, and counting grenades and extra ammunition magazines, an hour before we were scheduled to step off. We were in the preparation portion of our CONOPS to take our Afghan soldiers on a foot patrol through Khasadar.
Click . . . click.
One by one, I pressed the 5.56mm rounds into the magazine. This was one of those moments when I would think about my girls back home in New York. This would have been another instance that Sabrina would disapprove of. It was not really something you wanted to share with your wife in an email or over the satellite phone when she asked how things were going in Afghanistan.
“The team is getting really bored sitting on the FOB, so we have decided to go walk around and see if we can get the Taliban to start shooting at us,” just wouldn’t translate well when speaking to people who love you.
The less she knows, the less she has to worry about. Sabrina would have to wait until I got home to tell me what a stupid idea it was. Until then, everything is going “good” here.
Billy racked the charging handle back on his MK48 light machine gun, tilting it to the side as he applied a generous amount of lubricant to the inner metal workings. Pulling the trigger and releasing the handle, the bolt slammed forward, making a loud click sound.
Paddy was loading 7.62mm cartridges into magazines for his M39 enhanced marksman rifle (EMR), a precision weapon that comes in handy when fighting against an elusive enemy. Elvis, Mark’s .50 caliber special application scoped rifle (SASR), would be staying home for this mission; it was not the most user- friendly weapon to carry on a foot patrol at around thirty pounds, not including ammunition. But he always kept it packed, ready, and on standby to be brought out to him on the battlefield if needed; just as he had done during Operation Buongiorno. Elvis was still in the building, but for this patrol Mark was going with something a little lighter, a M110 sniper rifle.
Mark’s SASR was temporarily out of commission following our fight against the Taliban on Pathfinder Hill when it was struck by a bullet in the magazine well a few inches from his face. Our company asked if we wanted them to send up a replacement for it. Mark turned down the offer to replace the weapon that possibly saved his life. It still functioned perfectly. All it needed was a little tender loving care. He spent a few hours at the armory work table that Pat had built inside the shipping container and was able to remove the magazine with the bullet lodged in it. With a mini grinding tool, Mark filed away the damaged and bent portion of metal in the magazine well, leaving a quarter- size hole in it.
Removing this small portion of metal had no effect on the functionality of the weapon. A loaded magazine was able to slide in and lock, bringing Elvis back into action. Mark had already grown comfortable with this lethal piece of precision metal, and was looking forward to getting it back out into the valley to unleash its terrifying boom sound on anyone who wanted to test his abilities.
Jay and Jamie, our other team radio operator, worked together to ensure everyone’s comms (military slang for radios) would be ready to go by the time we kicked off the patrol. Jay was going around to everyone to make sure we were all using the right crypto fi ll— a program loaded into every radio that prevents the enemy from listening in— for that par tic u lar day. If someone was still using an old fi ll, they would be unable to talk to anyone. Their radio would be useless.
I had asked Jay months early to give me a refresher class on loading crypto fills so I could do it myself. The last thing I wanted was to burden the comm guys with loading crypto into my radio. After all, it was my radio. Jamie worked on making sure we had good communications with the SOTF via satellite radio, referred to as SATCOM (satellite communications). This required a different antenna and radio, and was one of our most important pieces of gear when operating in hostile territory. This was our primary means of communicating outside the team. If the team was ambushed, got into a firefight, or needed a medevac helicopter for our wounded, this is how Andy would contact the SOTF to get us assets like DUSTOFF (medevac aircraft call sign). Our backup plan, should that radio go down or get damaged, was to use a personal one to contact Danny (82nd Airborne COC) back at the FOB and they could relay our message to the SOTF.
Always have a backup plan in case something goes wrong, because shit will always go wrong. It’s the only guarantee in Afghanistan.
STAFF SERGEANT MICHAEL GOLEMBESKY served 8 years with the United States Marine Corps and is a combat veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. Golembesky served as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller with Marine Special Operation Team 8222 (MARSOC). His previous book, Level Zero Heroes, was a New York Times bestseller. He lives in Colorado Springs, CO.