The Road That Dare Not Speak Its Name

On Route _____, in the KG Pass.

Some things about the war you don’t want to tell.  Some things people just don’t want to hear.  And other things you can’t speak of for reasons you don’t control.  For example, a history of my eight months in Khowst should mention the name of the road that ran east-west, west-east through the province, bisecting it in half, with Camp Clark located at the midpoint, and connecting Khowst to the outside world.  But by security rules, soldiers can’t state publicly the code names of specific Major Supply Routes, or MSRs.  The names are always innocuous enough—they’re meant to be easy to remember—but the idea is that if the enemy got wind of them, they could use them against us.  Locals might hear soldiers mention a route name in regard to an upcoming mission, say, and pass it on to the wrong people.

Prudent, but too bad for the story I am telling, for the name given the MSR that ran through Khowst resonated deeply with me for its biographical association.  Think old girlfriend.  The name of a place I used to live.  Maybe a favorite sports team.  Like that.

Even worse for the story I want to tell, a lot happened on that road.

Camp Clark sat about a mile north of it, so imagine a convoy departing Clark and trundling south down the access road on yet another mission.

To the left, going east, lay Khowst city and FOB Salerno.  Khowst was usually OK, and Salerno was home to a big PX, a Green Bean coffee shop, real barbers, and the airstrip for flights home.  To get there, though, you had to go through Mondozayi,  where a car bomb killed 14 children.  Mondozayi, where, later, two American advisors died in separate attacks.  To the right, or to the west, the road headed into the mountains of the Khowst-Gardez Pass.  It went through Doramunda, at the foot of the mountains, where another car bomb leveled a police station.  Then Sayed Kheyl bridge, where four ETTs lost their lives about a year before I arrived.  Past FOB Wilderness and on toward Gerde Serai, where an IED killed two more Americans.  Past FOB Dicey and over the “switchbacks”–a 12,000 foot high mountain pass that was the sight of an epic battle between Soviet paratroopers and Afghan mujadeen–and into Gardez.

So yea, that’s a road whose name means something to me.  It did before, anyway, but now it really does.  But if you ever meet me, you don’t need to be overly concerned about it.  As our conversation ranges over our interests and memories, you probably won’t even notice when a casual reference carries a little bit extra charge for me, because I can’t tell you about it.

NOTE:  Video footage of the car bomb attack in Mondozayi is here:

Not for the faint-hearted.

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