PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Imagine driving a tractor-trailer up the roughest jeep trail in the Rocky Mountains ... that’s the challenge facing soldiers when navigating the rocky terrain in eastern Afghanistan.
The dirt road from Forward Operating Base Orgun-E to Combat Outpost Zerok is 20 rough, rocky, rutted miles that would be a challenge for any four-wheel drive enthusiast back in the states, but for the mounted Soldiers of the 172nd Infantry Brigade, Task Force 2-28, it’s just another obstacle to pilot with their huge armored vehicles which include tractor-trailers, bulldozers and dump trucks.
The convoy, led by a long line of Afghan National Army Humvees, rumbles out the gates of FOB Orgun-E like a heavy metal dragon that’s all heads and no tail. A dust cloud that can be seen for miles precedes it, so crowds of children greet them in the small villages they pass through, waving and giving the “thumbs up” like it’s a parade.
The road gets seriously rough as the convoy powers up into the mountains. Drivers maneuver their tons of steel around hair-pin curves, through river crossings, and along ruts and holes three feet deep.
Inside one of the mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, U.S. Army Spc. Chris Walkowiak of Dayton, Tenn., an MRAP weapons system operator, admires the road.
“Man I’d love to go mud-boggin’ up some of these streambeds,” he said while glancing out at the terrain. He takes the rolling, bumpy ride in stride. Tucked into his position in the MRAP, electronics buzz and blink all around him, like he was sitting in a spaceship.
Outside, the beefy wheels of his MRAP churn away one pitted mile after another.
Six hours into the drive the interpreter riding with Walkowiak can not contain his motion sickness any longer and throws up. Walkowiak pats the man reassuringly on the back.
“You’ll be alright,” he says. “It’s been a pretty rough ride.”
An hour later the convoy rolls through the gates of COP Zerok like a wagon train rolling into a fort back in the old West.
They will spend the night, unload their cargo, take possession of several more vehicles – including two bulldozers and a dump truck – and then make the return trip in the morning.
This time Walkowiak might bring a bucket.