Best Defense

Hiking in Geronimo Country brings back some memories of an Afghan battlefield

Over the last couple of days I’ve been knocking around Apache Country in southwestern New Mexico. Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, Gen. Jack Pershing and Gen. George Crook also spent time in the vicinity. What percentage of American soldiers fighting the Apaches were black? I don’t know. It is good to be reminded of how ...

nmex

Over the last couple of days I’ve been knocking around Apache Country in southwestern New Mexico. Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, Gen. Jack Pershing and Gen. George Crook also spent time in the vicinity. What percentage of American soldiers fighting the Apaches were black? I don’t know.

It is good to be reminded of how different the intermountain west is from the rest of the country. I like constantly being able to see 40 miles in all directions. But the air is so dry you can feel the moisture just being pulled out of you.

I hiked a ridgeline trail in the Mogollon Mountains southeast of Glenwood, New Mexico. Judging by the registry at the trailhead, I was the only hiker on it that day. Conditions were perfect—bright blue sky and 55 degrees. As I began hiking up the trail, I had a sudden memory of disembarking from a CH-47 on top of “Roberts Ridge” on the eastern side of the Shah-i-Kot Valley during Operation Anaconda in March 2002. I think it was the combination of the beautiful, high, dry light and the dry, cedar-scented air. And, as I began walking uphill, my lungs saying, Hold on, Sparky, while we try to pull together some oxygen.

The terrain also was similar to the battle site—high mountains, maybe topping out at 10,000, looking down on a wide valley floor that was drier. The vegetation was somewhat similar—a lot of small pines and cedars. There also was a surprising variety of cactus plants. But this trail, though pretty dry, was better watered than the battle site—at one point I saw some ferns in a shady corner near the top of the ridge, and I can’t remember ever seeing ferns in Afghanistan, even in cool gorges. Of course the biggest difference is that, unlike Tommy R. Franks, I wasn’t pushing Al Qaeda into Pakistan for the second time in four months.

Anyways, Geronimo had some beautiful territory, and I think he was right to try to hold onto it.

Peter Potrowl/Wikimedia Commons

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

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