I spent yesterday arguing to you that things were fairly safe where I was, and that I actually left behind most of the significant risks to life and limb. That said, there are all sorts of bizarre dangers I had not previously anticipated. Anyone can foresee the obvious ways to become injured: bombs, bullets, vehicle or helicopter crashes. Thankfully, as I addressed before, this is not a common occurrence where I am. Instead I thought I’d highlight some of the dangers we do face here.
1) Negligent discharges – My chances of being shot by the enemy are relatively low. However, sometimes I wonder about my fellow Soldiers. People outside the Army have the conception that we walk around with guns all the time. To tell the truth, in a non-infantry unit like mine, there are Soldiers (including myself) who go months and months without touching a weapon. As a result, switching from that to immediately having a weapon on you at all times can have an awkward transition period. For instance, properly clearing your weapon every step of the way except for dropping the magazine at the very beginning will result in shooting a round off when you pull the trigger. Many larger units have at least a couple over the course of a deployment, though the vast majority of these go straight into the ground or a clearing barrel.
2) Camel Spiders – These are not technically spiders, though I doubt that fact will comfort anyone afraid of spiders. They grow large in size (for spiders), and can bite. They have a long history with Soldiers, as troops serving in Libya and Egypt during the World Wars would actually pit these things against scorpions and bet on the outcome. As for their danger to us, their bites are painful, but not overly dangerous. Your primary worry is probably having a heart attack. I haven’t seen one yet, but I have seen other bugs (grasshoppers and beetles) several inches larger than they should be.
3) Snakes – There are a couple of venomous snakes in Afghanistan. The first is the saw scaled viper. It is venomous enough to kill people, though that has more to do with the fact that it is typically found far from modern medical facilities and usually is active at night. The second is the cobra, which I think everyone has a decent picture in their mind of. Its venom causes paralysis, necrosis, and can be fatal to humans, but also can be treated. Thankfully, the snakes on the base tend to hang out in the contractors’ living area. And before anyone makes a snakes on a plane joke, last deployment, one did crawl in a helicopter to escape the cold.
4) Water – Apparently there is a difference between clean and potable. While declaring the water here non-potable may just have been a gambit to justify buying a near infinite amount of bottled water, when they start warning you about not brushing your teeth with it, maybe it’s time to pay attention. Thankfully, bottled water is easy to come by on post (and obviously free).
5) Muscular-Skeletal injuries – Apparently the most common injuries we are seeing are simply from Soldiers working out more often, go figure. All I know is I did Yoga for the first time in two months, and can barely move several parts of my body.
6) Dust Storms – Not being in Iraq, there aren’t any more sandstorms. That said, I cannot emphasize how much dust there is in this place. Which means when a storm comes along and whips up the ground, you can definitely get caught in a very unpleasant dust cloud.
7) Kittens and puppies – I’m not kidding. A Soldier died last year from rabies after getting bit by a dog, and now the whole Army brass is up in arms about the danger feral animals being adopted as unit mascots. Here are a few of the posters I’ve seen hanging around.
8) Helicopter Blades – Always be mindful of walking to a helicopter while the blades are spinning. You’d think this would be intuitive, but helicopter blades can be heavy and dip pretty low to the ground. There have been documented incidents of someone getting clipped, Indiana Jones-style. That same helmet that can stop a rifle round won’t do a thing to stop that blade. And as an added bonus, you’ll have ruined a six-figure piece of the helicopter in the process.
9) Cheap knockoff power converters – The bazaar here on post where the Afghans sell random stuff carries cheap Chinese power converters for a third of the cost of a reasonable one. Lo and behold, China is not exactly making the BMWs of power converters (or anything else for that matter), so electrical fires are a very real possibility.
10) Heat stroke – The average temperature in June is 98. In July, it’s 108. While I’m not going to detract from all the other Soldiers who boast about how hot it was in Iraq and Kuwait, that’s still really hot. Add in the fact we wear essentially a jacket, long pants, and combat boots, and hydration becomes really key. Of course, for Soldiers leaving the base, add a 30 pound bulletproof vest, a helmet, and thick gloves.
None of this is exactly the glory of war we’ve all been told about, but for me, it’s far more likely to ruin my day than a bullet.