ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

February Tried To Knock Me Off

AFGHANISTAN VOL_5-2018. February Tried to Knock Me Off. (Disclaimer: Because of of the safety and sensitivities during this deployment, I will not be divulging my exact location or my mission. Nothing spooky, but because there are fewer American's deployed into the Afghan Theater than in 2013, the threat to life and limb is greater. Please do not ask me questions in relation to those issues I require to keep to myself. What I can tell you is that I am safe behind thousands of pounds of concrete somewhere on Bagram Air Force Base.)

February has been a beast and shows no signs of letting up. We’ve gone twenty two rounds so far and I’ve been pummeled and kicked and head-butted crotch-smacked. For some reason she doesn’t want me around. I’m not sure if it is here in Afghanistan or life in general. Whatever her reason, I will not go down without a fight. Still, as I sit here and write this I am punch drunk with trying to defend myself. I’ve been close several times to being medivaced out of the war zone and I won’t have it. As I told one supervisor, “you’re going to have to strap me down to a pallet to get me out of here because I will not go willingly.”

I arrived at Bagram, Air Force Base at the end of January. Bagram has been a base in Afghanistan since the Soviets (for you Millennials- those were all the countries that used to have been banded together by Russia who wanted to kick the Western World’s ass). They left behind tons of broken junk, not to mention the usual cauldron of toxic metals associated with air bases worldwide. Now Bagram is a U.S. and NATO base and we've brought our own brands of toxicity. 

And it’s winter. Why does that mean anything? Because in winter the weather is cold. Afghans do not have a great electrical grid. Families find it continually challenging to heat their homes. So what do they do? They burn anything that doesn’t move—feces, tires, garbage, dead animals, did I say feces, etc. This adds to the crazy toxic hydrocarbons in the air creating a lovely aromatic cocktail for your lungs. So what did I get? Some type of rare Venetian Bronchitis exacerbated by the horrendous quality of the air. I coughed and hacked my way through my first ten days in country. Some call it The Crud, but by the way I got looks, I had The Exponential Crud

This is from an article in Wired Magazine called Leaked Memo: Afghan 'Burn Pit' Could Wreck Troops' Hearts, Lungs: Any visitor to the sprawling Bagram airfield knows the burn pit – if not by sight, then by smell. It's an acrid, smoldering barbecue of trash, from busted furniture to human waste, usually manned by Afghan employees who cover their noses and mouths with medical breathing masks. Plumes of aerosolized refuse emerge from what troops refer to as "The Shit Pit," mingle with Parwan Province's already dust-heavy air, and sweep over the base.

With my lungs already compromised, I resorted to wearing the mask the government assigned to me and the affects were immediate. I’ve sat in traffic on the 405 in L.A. with a marine layer and 90 degrees in the shade and know what pollution is. I’ve driven New York, Chicago, Phoenix, and any number of U.S. cities and know what the smell of pollution is. I’ve been to Beijing in the winter where you can see the black specks of coal dust in the air and can’t help but breathe them. I’ve even been to Kabul, having deployed there in 2013. Here’s a missive from Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon) to then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2012 describing what a scabrous shit hole Kabul really is:

For all of you who think you know what this is like based on something you've experienced in the States, let me just say that no matter how bad it has been for you, this is worse in spades. Not trying to one up anyone. Just stating fact.

So what else did February do to me, you ask.

I had a dark bloody night of the soul. I'm not going to get into it, but by the end of the night, I was all but packed and ready to go, knowing that my evacuation would be swift and efficient. It was a terrible twenty hours, but in the end, everything corrected itself.

Then I sprained my knee. I've tweaked my knee and wrenched my knee, but never really sprained it. I suppose this is what happened. I'd worked out in the gym a couple of times. Once my cough went away, I knew it was time to get down to business, so I began to hit the treadmill. I wasn't running. I was walking. Impact was virtually zero. To crank my heart rate up I increased the elevation to five. In front of me young military studs were running on setting eleven and I was barely walking at setting four. It seemed like something I could do.

I felt a twinge on the side of my left knee. Think more a quick slice from a back alley switchblade that was there one moment, then gone the other. I finished working out. I went back to work. Afterwards, I went to bed. Then I woke up and could barely walk. Okay, this was something new.

My base is long and narrow. It's roughly two football fields from my hooch to my work. It's another football field from my work to where we generally eat. And my left knee? I could barely put any weight on it. The first thing I did was hobble to the med clinic. They gave me an elastic brace, which I wore religiously. Then I began to hobble around.

I knew enough about my body that I needed crutches, or at the least, a cane. But this is a war zone. Such things draw attention and if I need crutches, then maybe I shouldn't be here. So I perfected the art of the hobble. Bless those who went to chow with me because they walked at my speed. I could only take the stairs one step at a time and distances seemed to take forever. I began to chew great gobs of 800 mg Motrin. A senior civilian came by and asked if I needed medivaced. He's the one I told would have to chain me down to get me out of here.

For nine days I hobbled, then on the tenth my knee began to get better. After roughly four more days, my knee was mostly fine.

Then I got part two of the bronchitis. This one starred a crusty cough that loved to bring up bits of
multi-colored phlegm. What began as the plague, leveled out and became a morning and evening cough. I still can't shake it. Just when I think it's gone, I cough up a few crusty molecules. The boss made me go back to my hooch for eighteen hours, during which, they sanitized my work area. Still, it lingers.

But it's March now and I truly feel like I've survived something.

I still have a crusty cough, but that's bound to eventually go away.

My knee only hurts a bit and that's a dull pain. In fact, I'm almost ready to get back to working out.

And me... what about me? I've lost 20 pounds so far and have a very healthy appreciation of my own mortality. I'm aching to get back to where I can run and do yoga, but I know it's one step at a time. Just as I know that February tried to kill me, I also know that March could be a sleeping assassin. I want to keep it that way. Quiet. Sleeping. Looking the other way. Until, finally, I can sneak away and start doing what I came here to do.

Live well.

So I can live more.

~ ~ ~

To read the rest of my Afghanistan Posts:


  1. Yowza! February was no fun. Hope you recover fully on all counts and we get to read more of your works in the near future.

  2. My S.O. lived right next to burn pits when deployed to Iraq in 2004, I can't believe they still use them over therr. Please stay safe Weston and congratulations on kicking February's ass.