16″ x 18″ • Oil on Aluminum
I like to observe, to peer into worlds unfamiliar, waiting for the moment when something is revealed and the unknown becomes known. Jason Kenny’s story does this. In response, my painting offers a shift in perspective, his face pressed gently into a mattress where, for a moment, there was relief.
Conjuring feelings of imprisonment and the otherworldly acceptance of circumstance, this becomes a portrait of brief peace found in the face of uncertainty.
by Shawn “Doc” Dickens
Day 1: We arrived at our new home for the next year and let me say, I am not impressed. The command has decided that we will set up shop inside an abandoned schoolhouse so we will have some protection from the coming Afghanistan winter elements. I use the term abandoned loosely. The walls are full of bullet holes. Trash and debris litter the ground. As far as I know the locals could have still been using the school in the state it is in prior to us setting up shop here. I found a Hello Kitty notebook in the corner that was never used. The thing was probably received by a local child in some sort of humanitarian aid package and abandoned here in a panic when the bullets started flying. Then again, maybe it had nothing to do with the bullet holes that pepper the chalkboard adjacent to the place I now find my bed. Either way I am going to use it to keep track of things that happen during the deployment. This is not my first combat deployment and if my time in both the Marine Corps and the Army has taught me anything, it is that deployments all have one thing in common… they are never the same.
Day 6: We are still working on setting up shop in the school. Some of the guys started making bunk-beds out of scraps of wood they found so we can comfortably fit more soldiers into the limited space we have to work with. The command is busy working out the logistics for setting up helicopter resupply drops so we can get more water and food. The terrain here and the fact that we are so far away from the main base make it impossible for a wheeled vehicle patrol to drive supplies in. A few of the guys have gotten some sort of dysentery, it is going to be a long deployment.
Day 10: Whatever bug those troops got when we first arrived has run rampant in the confined quarters of the school and it now effects everyone. What I am now referring to as Shit-mageddon, has ravaged the unit so badly we are now basically combat ineffective with the majority of the troops spending half their time pissing out of their asses, and the other half of their time vomiting. Until recently I had never witnessed a grown man run through the snow in PT shorts and a T-shirt, in an attempt to get to the bathroom in time, only to simultaneously begin shitting his pants and vomiting in waves within arms reach of his destination. Now, it seems like a daily occurrence. Some of the men have started betting on the success of each runner to make the bathroom prior to the catastrophic failure of his bodily functions. I am up $600!
Day 19: We received a delivery of foam mattresses thanks to the efforts of one of the interpreters who did some sort of backdoor “drug deal” with a shop in another town. It is nice to now have some padding to sleep on instead of the hard wood of the makeshift bunkbeds. Unfortunately, the universe frowns upon seeing us have even the slightest glimmer of joy in our lives. No sooner do I lay my foam gift from the gods into my bedframe than the senior leadership for some reason decides to give away our space heaters to the Afghan Army soldiers attached to us. What. The. Fuck? Did I mention it is winter here in lovely Afghanistan? We are at an elevation of 8500ft, there is a foot of snow on the ground outside and now we have no heaters! The madness begins.
Day 26: Our interpreter has set up a small shop where he can sell us all the goods he receives from his various “drug deals” as we call them. Everything from snacks and sodas to bootleg DVDs. The problem is all the DVDs he gets are like 10 years old and he wants to charge way too much because he knows he’s the only one we can get things from. I know out here in the middle of nowhere I am deep in “Desperate times/ desperate measures” territory, but I am not paying $10 for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil. Kiss my ass.
Day 37: The water resupply was dropped by the airship in the wrong area and we watched helplessly as it was carried by the wind into the side of the mountain, cases of precious liquid-life shattering against the snow covered rocks. We made our movement across the terrain to gather our scattered supplies only to be limited in what we could recover by our inability to carry it all back in one shot. We decided to make multiple trips tonight and then return for the rest in the morning.
Day 38: We reached the site of yesterday’s supply drop this morning to recover what was left only to be greeted by empty cardboard blowing in the wind. Apparently, in the middle of the night the locals came and picked the site clean. I hope they choke on it. This situation drives home the realization that out here deep in “Indian country” whatever you have is all you have. Everything is finite. Water is finite. Heat is finite. Food is finite. The only thing we have in surplus is insanity.
Day 42: A new resupply was delivered by Blackhawk Helicopter directly into the compound, like actually inside the wire! No rucking out over a mile to then have to carry it all back by hand, just unhook it and carry it inside. I have never cried tears of joy before.
Day 50: The senior leaders decided that the best way to prevent another resupply failure as well as to help facilitate longer foot patrols was to procure pack mules… like actual donkeys! Unfortunately, no one in the chain of command has experience with farm animals because they purchased the dumbest/ laziest donkeys in all of Afghanistan. On the first day we tried to use them, they were loaded up with supplies, walked out the gate a little way, and then decided to become overgrown fucking lawn ornaments. Not kidding they outright decided to lay down and refuse to budge. We ended up having to carry all the shit back into the compound ourselves, only we had to wrangle these fucking donkeys while we did it.
Day 53: Some of the troops have found an actual use for the previously useless donkeys. They have taken to mounting them like steeds and riding them around the compound in makeshift armor and Viking helmets. I fear for the Taliban against our new mounted cavalry. One of the donkeys ate a whole can of Skoal out of a troops hand, if it doesn’t die maybe we can get it addicted to the point that it will actually carry shit for us like it was originally intended to do! In an un-donkey-related side note: The newest novelty we have received are Shirts with fantasy designs like unicorns running on rainbows and cats floating through solar systems printed on them. These shirts have replaced our issued uniforms at night while we sleep. We are starting to resemble a government funded version of the children from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Despite our best efforts, every day we stray further from god.
Day 61: The weather is beginning to warm up. The snow giving way to create thick mud out of the also thawing ground below. Soon we will get into fighting season and the Taliban will come out of hibernation to start attacking us more frequently than they already do. All we can do is be ready, bolster our defenses and identify areas of friction we may be attacked from. We WILL be ready.
Day 80: The enemy attacks at random. We find ourselves being engaged from the hillsides mostly in the later hours of the day. This timeframe happens to coincide with when we are doing duty changeover. What does this mean? It means that the guys who are starting to relax are pulled back out into a gunfight as they are. For most of them “as they are” means they are fighting in PT shorts and the fantasy shirts they bought covered in unicorns pooping rainbows or wizard cats floating among the stars. The sight of a 20 something year old PFC unloading a belt-fed machinegun into the hills at Taliban fighters while wearing a shirt that looks like the cover of an 80’s Trapper Keeper should be on every major news network covering the Afghan war. Rainbow unicorn troops are this generations Iwo Jima flag raising… War is Hell.
Day 95: We were attacked again today. It was a typical firefight until a rocket from the Taliban landed directly on the interpreter’s makeshift shop. The force of the blast scattering Monster energy drinks and bootleg DVDs across the ground. The damndest thing happened next.
In the middle of the battle, a group of troops descended on the supplies, dodging incoming rounds as they ran. Despite the danger at hand, they began ravaging the scattered goods like a pack of hyenas on a sick antelope. Unicorn-shirt clad jackals gathering their fill of energy drink and DVD spoils as fast as they could.
Each man rapidly filling dump pouches and then scattering into the night, whooping and hollering as they ran, enemy rounds zipping overhead. Anarchy reigns.
Day 126: The cook assigned to us has finally had a mental breakdown and was shipped out to the rear after we found cats and dogs living in the building where we store the food supplies. He has been leaving food unsecured and it resulted in it being covered in flies. Eventually he just stopped doing his job. The new cook should arrive in the next few days. Hopes are high that he will get things in order quickly and we can get a decent meal for once instead of a vacuum sealed Meal Ready to Eat. If I have to eat another cold “Cheese Tortellini and Sauce” I will defect to the other side.
Day 130: The new cook arrived. He seems like a decent guy.
Day 140: The new cook is over rationing food. Not only that, it appears that he seems to be hoarding all the good stuff for himself. One small hunk of ham and a half scoop of green beans doesn’t cut it after I just hiked all over these fucking mountains on a show of force patrol. If I don’t get a decent meal soon I will burn this fucking place to the ground.
Day 200: One of the other guys swears he caught the fucking cook washing his clothes in the same pots he makes our meals in. So as if not getting a decent portion of food since this guy showed up wasn’t enough, now I have to eat a meager ration made in the residue of this fucking guys dirty PT shorts. I now know why there were so many cases of friendly fire in Vietnam. If I thought I would get away with it I would roll a grenade through the chow hall door. Better yet, maybe next time the Taliban attack us I will dance on the roof of the kitchen with Chem-lights like I am in a rave and give them a target they can’t resist. Two birds one stone and whatnot, take out the useless cook and finally get a hot meal. Speaking of Taliban rockets I am almost out of Monster.