It was late Fall of 2002. Snow was already visible on the distant mountain peaks surrounding our base in Bagram. We’d taken a team of six into town on what was to be a short-dismounted patrol and shopping excursion.
This was just a couple of days after a 12-year-old kid tossed a hand grenade into a Humvee that killed a couple of soldiers in Kabul – about 30 miles away.
We’d been in country for several months already, but hadn’t really “gone shopping” yet. So, we had some downtime and decided to check out the rugs and other Afghani memorabilia.
We weren’t in uniform. Instead we were in civilian clothes. I was wearing Levi jeans, an undershirt, a thick cotton sweater to break the chill in the air, a ball cap and leather hiking boots.
I had my M4 carbine on a 2-point sling slung across my right chest and my M9 Beretta 92F holstered in my kydex holster. I had a Benchmade pocketknife clipped to my right rear pocket. I was loosely wearing an Afghani shooters vest with enough external pockets to carry several 30-round mags.
We were all on edge because of what had just happened in Kabul, but appeared relaxed. We considered this a fairly safe area and we were going to be relatively quick.
The six of us were divided between two Toyota Tacoma pickup trucks – our vehicles of choice. You just couldn’t kill them. They were amazing vehicles and they served us well.
Once we reached the market in Bagram, we parked our vehicles in a way where we could make a relatively quick exit if needed. We dismounted and slowly made our way into the marketplace surveying the landscape for any potential threats.
We smiled, made warm and open hand gestures and we talked to and even played with the children.
We weren’t in any type of formation, just “tactically” scattered yet close enough to keep an eye on each other and respond appropriately should anything happen.
As some shopped, others maintained a lookout, although all of us were on point constantly, even though it didn’t seem like it to the casual observer.
We negotiated and then walked away from most purchases, but we did buy a few things. I bought a rug. As we reached the end of the row of shops and were circling back on the opposite side of the market, a rug shop caught my eye and the owner beckoned me in.
My buddy and I entered, I saw a rug I really liked and we began to negotiate. I wasn’t a rug expert, but I knew my stuff pretty well. This rug would’ve cost several thousand dollars in the States.
The shopkeeper wanted $450 for it. The price I had in my head was $200. I wasn’t budging. I got him down to $300 but I couldn’t get him to go lower so I walked out.
He chased us out of the shop and we settled at $250. I was elated. I was so pleased with myself and delighted with my new purchase. He offered to carry it for me, so I let him so I could keep both of my hands free.
As we made our way back to our vehicles, we maintained a relaxed linear formation. I had the rear. The market was noisy and crowded and the children were getting used to us. The crowd of children between me and the guy ahead of me thickened.
The distance between us grew. The children ranged from probably 8 to 14 years of age. I was surrounded with what seemed to be around 40 kids pulling at me, pawing at my sidearm and pushing me further back and towards the left side of the market.
I remembered what had just happened in Kabul 2-days earlier when that 12-year-old child tossed that hand grenade.
I began to shout out at my buddy ahead of me, but he couldn’t hear me. I was shouting at the kids while commanding them to move away and let me go. I was having a lot of trouble breaking free of the crowd and began to realize that I was about to get separated from my team.
I started praying to God, “Lord, I don’t want to shoot a kid. Please don’t make me have to shoot a kid.” My sidearm was secure in my holster.
I took my primary weapon off safe, brought both hands to it and held it out slightly elevated pointing towards the sky in front of me. I had been yelling at the kids to move away, but they kept getting in closer.
Our language differences didn’t help. We couldn’t understand what the other was saying, but the situation was clear. Everyone was watching and knew what was happening.
I could see the shopkeepers at the doors of their shops. All eyes were on me. I knew that each had a weapon and if anything started the marketplace would turn into a bloodbath.
Finally, three or four shopkeepers came running towards me swinging large sticks back and forth as they screamed at the children dispersing them.
I made eye contact with each one of them and nodded a silent “Thank you”, broke into a trot and caught up with my team who were still clueless about what had just almost happened.
Sometimes unexpected things take us by surprise and we must remember to constantly practice vigilance and preparedness. I was grateful that day that I didn’t have to use any of my guns and that the shopkeepers got rid of the children for me.