Just when we were starting to feel at home…

FOB Salerno, Afghanistan

… (or, we’re not in Kansas anymore)

Sitting at the picnic tables outside the chaplains’ offices at “our” FOB is pleasant. The area is sheltered by a shade net and is cool even under the naked sun. A couple of evenings ago, while waiting for Lee to unload after her rough, two-day trip with a chaplain to several outlying FOBs, I saw two nurses from the trauma team dining al fresco at one of the tables, watching the setting sun and finishing their fruit during a laughter-filled conversation. Other men and women soldiers were playing volleyball on the courts next to the chapel. Everyone was enjoying a beautiful evening much like those in our American Southwest. I was sitting on the end of one of the tables watching the volleyball fly high, then head down and up again.  A leaping soldier spiked the ball; another equally athletic soldier on the other side tapped it up again.

All of us heard the explosion in the same instant. And I think we all wondered if we had missed the warning over the base speaker system about an impending detonation. Just as suddenly we realized there had been no warning. Men and women in various forms of military dress began running. They ran in different directions, to be sure, but with purpose. I remembered from the in-brief that the best place to be during a rocket attack was our quarters, so that’s where I ran. The two chaplains I share the space with were already there, as was the Rabbi, a chaplain down from Bagram, and his chaplain assistant. There were other explosions, some too close for comfort, but not in quick succession. Sometimes minutes would pass before the next high pitched hsssss, immediately punctuated by a shocking burst.

After a lengthy silence came the call for sweepers, designated personnel who are responsible for accounting for the troops or civilians in their area. Chaplain Bishop headed for the hospital, along with the med response team, to prepare for casualties, but everyone else has orders to stay put inside until the all clear was announced.

I grabbed my camera to hurry to the hospital, stopping by Lee’s quarters to tell her what I was doing.  But, alarmingly, her roommate didn’t know where Lee was. I found Chaplain Bishop, who was talking with Sergeant Bone, a nurse from Vancouver, Washington, at one of the triage tables. No casualties had been reported yet, but the sweepers were still doing their work. The chaplain had seen Lee, though; she had run from the showers to shelter in a nearby bunker, then moved to another bunker when the rockets got uncomfortably close. He assured me she was safe.

Twenty minutes later, we heard the “all clear;” this time, there were no casualties.  — Terry

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