The human side of soldiering

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 12, 2005

U. S. Army Captain T. J. Sullins is an embedded advisor with an Afghan army infantry company, in southeast Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.

He shares his dairy with me and has given permission to share parts of it with you.

The events in today’s column happened on October 1st.

The plan for today is visit two nearby villages, nestled on the bottom of the mountain range that runs behind our base camp.

The nearest place was depressing.

It’s a small village that houses only one family, three boys, the oldest about twelve, and an old man about 70, the grandfather.

It’s hard to tell age in this country.

Men in their thirties look much older, so this guy could be 50, but I don’t think so.

This place is even smaller than it shows on the map, and we found no evidence of anti-coalition militia forces in the area, contrary to what we’d been told.

The Afghan National Army (ANA) squad leader was able to practice his village assessment skills, and to his credit, he was asking all the right questions.

In a village assessment, we try to learn if there is a good water source, a school (if not, where do the kids attend school), who the village elders are, how the crops are producing, etc.

The ANA did a good job with this village.

We found it has a good water, but that was about it.

They were poorly prepared for winter.

The twelve year old is the main field tender, because the other two boys are far too young, about five and three.

The old man can barely get around.

We were told the father of these kids is in Pakistan, working, and is expected home before winter.

This isn’t unusual.

The Taliban aren’t the only ones going to Pakistan for income opportunities.

One of the ANA soldiers called me to where the old man was sitting and pointed to grandpa’s ear.


This old guy’s ear is about half rotted off.

Literally, it is rotting from the top down, with a white, mold like fuzz formed over the top, much like you’d see growing on leftovers, long forgotten in the back of the refrigerator.

I grabbed the interpreter and asked the old man what had happened.

He said he doesn’t know, that it just started one day and he is waiting for it to stop.

Then he asked me for medicine to treat it.

By now, all the U.S. guys were gathered around, checking out this old dude’s ear, like it was a train wreck or something, amid choruses of “Euwww, look at that!

Holy stuff, never seen anything like that before.”

Good thing the Afghans don’t speak English.

This is the part I hate:

We’re not medics.

Providing medical care isn’t our job and the few traveling medical teams are spread ridiculously thin .

It was obvious the rotting part of the ear needs to be cut off and stitched.

I told the old timer to get to the clinic in the provencial bazaar and have the “doctor” look at it.

I could have given him aspirin, but he would’ve believed it would make his ear grow back, so I decided against it.

Then the scanner started making noise.

When we hear Taliban chatter on the scanner, you know they’re close; but, I had no idea how close.

I asked what they were saying and the interpreter told me they were talking about us.


“What are they saying?”

“Sir, they’re saying the Americans are at Abdul Mudin’s house.”

I turned to the old man sitting at my feet and asked his name.

“Abdul Mudin” was the reply.

They were talking about the number of trucks and about how many people they saw.

I thought they were going to start describing the contents of my pockets.

Before we left the village, I told the oldest boy he needed to get his grandfather to the clinic, as soon as possible.

They had a donkey in one of the courtyards, so I told him to use it to go to the doctor.

I promised to bring some winter clothes and wheat seed in a few weeks, so I can check on the old man.

A sergeant pulled a case of MRE’s (Meals, Ready to Eat), and removed all the pork selections.

It’s cruel not to take out the pork, because most of the villagers can’t read and for Muslims, eating pork is a serious no no.

We left the MREs, with a bunch of candy for the kids.

I left that village depressed, feeling sad for that little family.

The old man isn’t able to take care of himself, a twelve year old kid to look after the house, fields and two little kids.

I wondered who did the cooking, because there was no sign of any women in the house and you don’t ask about women in this culture.