Best Defense

Freaking out the FOBBITs of Afghanistan

"FOB," or "Forward Operating Base," is a big base stuffed with amenities and rear-echelon individuals, who are derided by saltier troops as "FOBBITs." Here, from Doonesbury’s Sandbox, is one soldier’s account of arriving at the big American base at Bagram, Afghanistan, after serving in a small, remote outpost: Setting: Bagram, home to thousands of Fobbits. ...

"FOB," or "Forward Operating Base," is a big base stuffed with amenities and rear-echelon individuals, who are derided by saltier troops as "FOBBITs." Here, from Doonesbury’s Sandbox, is one soldier’s account of arriving at the big American base at Bagram, Afghanistan, after serving in a small, remote outpost:

Setting: Bagram, home to thousands of Fobbits. I’m walking to the chow hall — yes I still call it that — during darkness. I’m squeezing between several plywood B Huts on my way to the divine grounds of hot chow. I’m lost when suddenly Bob the MP Fobbit stops me.

"Hey, where’s your road guard belt?"  He confronts me in that arrogant, you stupid ass tone they use.

A road guard belt is a belt made of reflective material which you wear while running so you don’t get hit by a vehicle. From the look of Bob he hasn’t ever used his belt during PT hours but he can probably tell me where the chow hall is.

"What?"  I respond in an exasperated manner. I have limited time to get some chow and get back before the time my plane is rumored to leave. This rumor will later morph into a lie on the part of the terminal personnel.

"Your road guard belt. You’re required to wear one during hours of limited visibility regardless of uniform." He tells me this in a way that leads me to believe he thinks I’m an idiot.

Currently, my uniform consists of the same ACUs I’ve been wearing for the last seven days, my IBA and my ACH helmet.

"Where’s your belt"? Bob asks again.  I’m considering asking him if he has a brother —  a Chief named Retard working at another FOB.

"Obviously, I don’t have one or you wouldn’t be asking me where it is. I’m from a remote FOB and I didn’t bring one. Where I’m from we try really hard to have people not see us!" This seems like a darn fine answer to me and makes obvious sense. I start to move out smartly toward what I think is the Fobbit feeding grounds.

"Well, you’re going to have to get a ticket then." Bob informs me. Evidently, a violation of Supreme Fobbit Directive #1 results in a $35 ticket.

"You’re kidding, right?" My leave hasn’t even begun and I’m $35 bucks in the hole. Heck, I haven’t even made it out of Afghanistan. My wife is going to love this; I blew $35 dollars because I don’t have a reflective belt in a war zone.

"No, I’m going to issue you a citation for not being properly marked during hours of limited visibility." I keep wondering why Bob can’t just say "dark."  I guess the other sounds more dangerous.

I’m deeply perplexed at this point. I have no road guard belt which means I may get run over by a vehicle, but I’m standing between two buildings where Bob and I could barely pass each other. Mostly because of Bob’s refusal to use his road guard belt during PT hours.

"So, I have to be properly marked?"  I ask, as I take off my helmet and tuck it under my arm.  Visions of beating Bob with it are creeping in.

"Yes!"  Bob replies, self-satisfied.

He seems to be thinking, "Finally, this dumb-ass war fighter gets the sheer danger he’s placed himself in by moving about the FOB without a reflective belt. I should get a Silver Star just for saving this guy from himself."

"Oh, okay, cool." I say as I notice the infrared (IR) strobe I’ve attached to the back of my helmet. An IR strobe is used by us to mark our positions to aircraft at night (hours of limited visibility) preventing us from being torn to shreds by a JDAM or depleted uranium shells. Not as dangerous as Bagram. There’s a shield on it that you can slide back and it turns into a visible strobe. Something out of a disco! I slide the shield back and turn on the strobe.

"What the hell is that?"  Bob asks clearly fascinated by the now-bright flashing light.

"It’s my proper marking, can you tell me which way the chowhall is?"  I respond, overjoyed by my ingenious ability to scam the man.

"But you don’t have a belt," he pleads.

"True, but I’m marked; which is what you stated to me I needed." I’m now starting to wonder if maybe Bob is just trying to keep me from getting to the chowhall because he’s afraid they may run out.

"Later," I say as I move out smartly toward a chowhall I’ve got no idea about.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola