I find it impossible to read stories of what it is like to serve in the military in Afghanistan and to *not* think of every Vietnam movie or book I have ever read.
America's Last Prisoner of War | Politics News | Rolling Stone
The prolonged aspect of the war was also forcing the Pentagon to send more and more recruits who were unprepared and undisciplined, like Bowe's unit. To meet its recruiting goals, the Army had lowered its standards for intellectual aptitude, and allowed more waivers for recruits with felony convictions and drug problems. "One of every five recruits required a waiver to join the service, leading military analysts to conclude that the Army has lowered its standards," Col. Jeffrey McClain wrote in a definitive study for the Army War College in 2008, the year many in Bowe's unit joined up.
Bowe's platoon of some 25 men – under-manned by more than a third – was sent to a small combat outpost called Mest-Malak, near the village of Yaya Kheyl, where they were supposed to conduct counterinsurgency operations, attempting to win the local population over to the side of the Americans. Bowe had a serious staph infection in his leg, so he arrived at the outpost late. With his customary zeal, he'd been preparing for the deployment by learning how to speak Pashto and reading Russian military manuals. Almost as soon as he joined his fellow soldiers, he began to gravitate away from his unit. "He spent more time with the Afghans than he did with his platoon," Fry says. His father, recalling that time, would later describe his son to military investigators as "psychologically isolated."
The discipline problems that had plagued Bowe's unit back home only got worse when immersed in the fog of war. From the start, everything seemed to go wrong. In April, Lt. Fancey was removed from his post for clashing with a superior officer. He was replaced by Sgt. 1st Class Larry Hein, who had never held such a command – a move that left the remote outpost with no officers. According to four soldiers in the battalion, the removal of Fancey was quickly followed by a collapse in unit morale and an almost complete breakdown of authority.
The unruly situation was captured by Sean Smith, a British documentary filmmaker with The Guardian who spent a month embedded with Bowe's unit. His footage shows a bunch of soldiers who no longer give a shit: breaking even the most basic rules of combat, like wearing baseball caps on patrol instead of helmets. In footage from a raid on a family compound, an old Afghan woman screams at the unit, "Look at these cruel people!" One soldier bitches about what he sees as the cowardice of the Afghan villagers he is supposed to be protecting: "They say like, the Taliban comes down and aggravated� their town and harasses them... Why don't you kill those motherfuckers? All of you have AKs. If someone is going into my hometown, I know my town wouldn't stand for that shit. I'd be like, 'Fuck you, you're dead.'" Another soldier laments, "These people just want to be left alone." A third agrees: "They got dicked with by the Russians for 17 years, and now we're here."
During the middle of May, Bowe went out on one of his first major missions. He described it in a detailed e-mail to his family dated May 23rd, 2009. What started as an eight-hour mission, Bowe recounted, ended up taking five days.
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