This one hot afternoon on Firebase Phoenix, somebody somehow (down in Headquarters I think), spotted this donkey up on the mountainside, way the hell out there. I happened to be on guard at the time, sittin' at the top of the firebase behind a machinegun, got the ole radio right there. And that was the gig: for 2 hours, you sat there, answered the radio if anyone called, and if somebody shot at you, you shot back.
Well, our Platoon Sergeant, Sern't Hunt, called me up and told me to holler at Battle Base (the KOP), apprise them of the situation, and get permission to assassinate (Get it?) this southbound burro. SO got on the ole ASIP (which is this heavy clunky looking green rectangle of steel, that I guess scrambles your message a million times a second or something). Beep, "Battle Base, Phoenix."
Beep, "Battle Base, go ahead."
Beep, "Yeah roger, we got this fuckin' donkey up north of Donga, like way up high on the Talazar, looks all weighted down, and uh, Three-Five wants to, wants to fuckin' take it out. Over." (You can't use to many "fuckin's" when you're talking on the radio in a combat zone.
Beep, "Wait one, over." Maybe a minute and a half goes by, beep, "Firebase Phoenix, Battle Base."
Beep, "Battle Base, Phoenix."
Beep, "Roger, you are cleared to engage target, over."
Beep, "Rodge." (Rodge as in rhymes with doge, as in, I'm too lazy to say roger.)
We had little walkie-talkies (only the Army calls a walkie-talkie an I-Com) that we used on the firebase just to like, if you were on guard you could call down to the Headquarters hooch and be like, "Hey. Battle Base needs so-and-so on the radio." Or, "Hey. Where the fuck's my relief?" was a common one. Anyway.
"Headquarters this is top."
"Battle Base says you are cleared to engage ass, over."
"Roger. Engaging ass, time now."
None of us had been to sniper school and this donkey was a good thousand meters away, maybe more. Hitting something with an M4 at just 500 meters is somewhat of a feat. A SAW can suppress up to 1,000 meters, but suppressing and hitting a point target are two entirely different things.
I don't really know why, but nobody at Phoenix at that time had a properly sighted M14, which would've been the ideal weapon with which to eliminate our evil ass problem. All the heavy weapons on Phoenix faced south, southeast or southwest. 'Cause that's where we took fire from. And since the perpetrator was to the northeast, there was no hitting it with heavies. Which was unfortunate 'cause a Mark-19 (automatic grenade launcher) would've worked well in said situation. That brought us to everybody's favorite machine gun, the M240 Bravo.
It has a greater range than the SAW does, and also fires a larger round. Weapons Squad started going to town tryin' to wipe out this mule. They even got one guy workin' as a spotter to try and adjust rounds. "Oh you're hitting too high. Oh now too low. A little to the left. Now right just, just a tad," and so on. They fired I don't know how many rounds at the damned thing, and I'm totally confident they'd've gotten it except, at that point in time, the whole Korengal Valley was low on seven-six-two (the type of bullet the 240 fired). So they had to stop. We couldn't waste ammunition 'case we were in this "economy of force operation", which essentially means you can't get the resources you need to win, but you have to stay out there and make do with what they give you. We'd only been out there a couple of months, but I guess we'd already gone over budget.
However, one thing we did have plenty of then was mortars. So Sergeant Coffee, one of our F.O.s (Forward Operator, the guy that adjusts mortar rounds and calls in bombs and shit) radioed up to the KOP, and told 'em he wanted to drop some mortars on our little donkey dilemma. So, here came all these mortars, blowin' up all over this mountain, and I guess they were gettin' close, but all of a sudden, a TIC broke out at Vegas.
Beep, "Phoenix, Battle Base. How're you guys coming with that donkey thing?"
Beep, "Negative. Ass is not neutralized. I repeat," (mostly because I knew I'd never get a chance to seriously say that as long as I lived), "Ass is not neutralized."
Beep, "Alright. Battle 6 says he wants you to cease fire, over. (Battle 6 being Captain Kearney's call sign.)
So I called this down to Headquarters, but Sergeant Hunt said he thought he could take it out for sure now and to call Battle Base back and tell them we wanted to take another shot at it. Beep, "Battle Base, Phoenix. Three-Five says he has a clear shot at the donkey. Request permission to fire, over."
And then Six got on the horn. You could hear the sheer annoyance and frustration in his voice. Operation Die Donkey was clearly getting to him. It was actually taking its toll on us all. Beep, "Okay, leave the damned donkey alone!"
I found this pretty fucking amusing. I mean, here's the most powerful military the world has ever known, versus a jackass. A literal jackass. And this whole time, the burro continued plodding along. Still goin' south. Bullets and mortars impacting all around him. The guy who was leading it had long since vanished, but if that donkey ever sped up while he was under fire, I never noticed it. If that mule had been an American Soldier taking that kind of a barrage, he'd be either hauling ass, or crouched down behind the best cover he could find.
But this ass refused to waver. It just kept coming. Either astoundingly brave, or completely oblivious that it was on the business end of a direct and indirect fire engagement--that the world's greatest superpower was hot on its heels. I mean I didn't think we necessarily needed another donkey full of R.P.G.s and seven-six-two in the valley but, towards the end there I kinda started to root for the donkey. You had to hand it to 'im--that was one resilient ass. It oh-so-slowly hoofed its way south, and finally out of view.
The only thing our Company had that could've made quick work of this situation was, the Scouts had a Barrett (a .50 caliber sniper rifle capable of tearing guys in two from well over a thousand meters). One round from that and the beast of burden would've been done. Except, then you have a dead donkey on the side of the mountain supposedly laden with ammunition. It was already mid to late afternoon, and nobody could get up to that particular location before dark--not without taking a couple of W.I.A.s and maybe K.I.A.s. And once night fell, Hajj would most assuredly pour out of the mountains and strip everything off its carcass. So really, killing the thing would've done us exactly no good whatsoever. As it was, that donkey lazily lumbered off into the sunset. Probably delivered some weapons, maybe that jack used the money to meet some jenny and raise a couple of foals. I mean, goddamn, surely somebody deserved some slice of happiness in this shithole valley.
We had fired enough munitions at it to obliterate a small village. But hitting a target that tiny from so far away with the weapons we had, was simply not an easy thing to do. Thus, Operation Ass Be-Gone was not such a success. And if there was ever a metaphor for why America will never win in Afghanistan, it was the mighty U.S. Army trying to kill that ass.
Darren Shadix, To Quell the Korengal