Meaningless Medals: Infantry in Afghanistan

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2019 

By Heath B. Hansen

Circa January 2006, during a mission on the way back to Gardez, Afghanistan. An IED was planted in the road on the K-G Pass (Khost-Gardez). The author, SPC Heath B. Hansen, is in the turret of the humvee, behind an M-240B machine gun. In the background, 1st Platoon, C company, 2/504 PIR, 82nd Airborne inspects the site of the IED explosion from moments prior.

March 2006. My tour was over. I had survived. No more fire-fights. No more IED’s. No more raids. No more rocket-attacks. I was going home. Many servicemen spend time in-country without ever leaving “the wire” (the safety of the walls, fortifications  and/or razor-wire of their base). As an infantryman, I basically lived outside the wire. Being shot at, getting hit by roadside bombs, capturing Taliban fighters, etc., was just part of the job. There was no special recognition, accolades or atta-boys conferred upon me. Infantrymen just do what is expected of them.

We had flown out of Bagram Air Base and landed a little over an hour later at Manas Air Base located in Northern Kyrgyzstan. Our plane touched down and we were escorted to large, white, “clamshell” tents, designed for units in transit. My squad found cots immediately next to each other and dropped our gear. It was official, we were no longer in Afghanistan. We had completed the first leg of our journey back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I woke up to a dark tent the following morning. Small, ambient lights pierced the darkness from laptop computers on soldier’s cots randomly distributed throughout the clamshell. “Hansen, grab your weapon, we’re gonna get chow,” my team leader loudly whispered. “Roger that,” I replied. Even though we were no longer in a combat zone, we had to have our sensitive items (weapons, night-vision goggles, optics, etc.) with us at all times. I grabbed my gear and headed to the chow hall with my fire-team. I was hungry.

Continue reading