Friday, July 2, 2010

Night Ops

M-ATV (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) MRAP
This post has nothing to do with any change in Afghanistan military command or policy. This is simply a series of images that I found compelling and wanted to share with you. I have no particular knowledge of any mission that happens around here, other than that of the FST.

Its often that I don't get to sleep until late in the night. By that point, the clouds have moved out and the winds have died down. The nights in Logar, Afghanistan can be downright magical. The edge of the Milky Way is readily seen on most nights, as are the soldiers that move out for night operations (Night Ops).
On this particular evening, I bumped into a number of soldiers that I know, or often see around the FOB. Although my traditional 18-135mm lens had broken, I did have my trusty 35mm prime lens at the ready. Fortunately it was the right lens for this job.
173d Airborne medic prepares for mission in his MRAP
The characteristic jovial and boisterous voice of one particular medic (now on his second deployment with the 173d) pierced the moonlit night and caught my attention. I struggled to find the right setting on the camera to catch him in action while he checked and prepared his medical supplies for the mission.
173d Airborne soldier relaxes before mission
Its an interesting time (at least for me who was simply sitting there and watching)... those moments before a mission. Us regular folk just can't really understand what truly goes through the mind of these soldiers right before a mission. They have checked and double checked their gear already. There's no coming back to the FOB because Bobby forgot to pack his wooby (AKA M-4).

So, in these few minutes before moving out they relax and have a smoke. They tell jokes (mostly at the expense of some poor unfortunate private) and deliver "your momma is soo...." jokes at a rate that sounds like a SAW going cyclic (for those non-military .. like only Vince Vaughn can do in movies like "Wedding Crashers".
Mission huddle
But now its time to move out. They huddle and the mission brief gets delivered in detail (there's nothing really that brief about it). I stand back.. I have no "need to know" anything about the mission. I begin to get a little funny feeling in my stomach.. This is the real deal.
Mission huddle
I move around a bit looking at different angles and working with different settings. I fiddled with different shutter times and apertures and ISOs.  I'm not a professional photographer but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night (I found it odd that it looked just like a tent).
173d Airborne medic (foreground) moves out as huddle breaks
Suddenly the huddle broke and everyone headed to their vehicles. I struggled for a few more shots, trying to get vehicle lights and stars and soldiers all together in one frame. Thank goodness for digital photography. :)
MRAPs depart
Finally, I looked for a place that I could put the camera down for stability. The T-barrier would have to do. I wanted to play with doing some time-lapse shots.
Last vehicle in convoy departs
As the final vehicle departed, I once again had time to think about something other than how long to expose the frame. These soldiers are going out, potentially for the sole purpose of getting into "contact" with the enemy. Its a very real and surreal experience all at once. I suddenly felt like a father who let his children go out at night for the first time. And although it was quite late, I was very awake. I walked back to the hooch thinking that I didn't want to see these guys until I went for my bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Fortunately, my wish was granted.