What a Soldier in Afghanistan Needs: Chow, Bullets, Mail

What a Grunt in Afghanistan Needs: Chow, Bullets, MailNick Schifrin/ABC
The men -- and they are all men, all 40 or so of them? of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, will live on this base for nine months, following three months of training.

On this lonely little outpost, where the soldiers urinate into tubes stuck into the ground and there is only enough water to shower every couple of days, men call themselves "grunts" with pride.

The men -- and they are all men, all 40 or so of them– of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, will live on this base for nine months, following three months of training.

There are no women, save an occasional visitor. There are pictures of half naked girls on the walls. There is a homemade basketball court, there are video games, there are guitars, there is poker (though they've tired of that of late), and there is lots of cracking up over YouTube clips on computers in the dining hall.

This story is part of an ABCNews.com series THE FIGHT FOR AFGHANISTAN, WHERE WE STAND. The complete series so far can be found on this site's NEWS page.

But mostly there is talk of war, of "destroying" the enemy. These men are trained to kill, and while the battle is much more complex than that, in most of their minds, killing is the mission.

"I love stinking. I love climbing mountains. It's sad that I can say it, but I love getting shot at. It's better than any drug, any alcohol, any fast car, anything. It's the adrenalin rush from heaven," says 30-year-old Specialst John Tuerck, looking up toward the sky which, at this particular moment, is blocked by the sandbag-covered roof just a few feet above his bed.

Click here for a map of Zabul province

"Some people say it's kind of like a God-lite persona. But for me, it's just -- and I can probably say for a lot of guys -- it's just something we're good at. You know, seek and destroy the enemy. That's what we were trained to do. That's what we came here to do. It's what we love to do. Can't beat it."

On and off the base, life is a mix of adrenalin and patience. And while the soldiers are inspired by the former, they need heavy doses of the latter. Platoons will usually conduct patrols three or four times a week, and so soldiers spend entire days inside the wire, trying to keep busy.

Home Away from Home

In Tuerck's room, 19-year-old Private Josh Rouse gives a tour of what the men who live here call "the submarine." From front to back the room is only 20 feet long and sleeps five men. The walkway from the front door to the back of the room, flanked on either side by bunks, is no more than a foot or two wide.

A series of shelves in the middle of the room is the closest thing they have to a communal storage facility: ammunition on the bottom, remote control cars and planes on top, hygiene products in the middle.

"But it's about to get knocked out because we're getting an X-Box," Rouse says with a smile. Video games over hygiene? "An X-Box is well needed."

Until the X-Box arrives, these men spend their nights playing what they spend their days doing for real: a war game called Battlefield.

"When we're not working on trucks, when we have down time, that's what we do," Rouse says. "Or we'll sit here and make fun of each other."

They call Rouse "the kid" because of his age. Another member of the bunk is compared to an "out of shape action figure" because, well, he looks like an out of shape action figure. Another is simply "giggles."

In the chow hall, about 20 feet away, the Afghan interpreter everyone calls "Skeletor" laughs as he stares into a communal computer screen. Yahoo Messenger chirps away in the corner but most of his attention is on a YouTube clip. He is gawking at "Car Crashes 4," having watched the first three iterations over the last hour.

"This is the f'ing s#%t," he says to no one in particular, using the English diction he often resorts to. He calls a couple of the other translators over and they sit mesmerized as a criminal, now on foot after crashing his car, is tackled by police.

Nearby, five not-so-hot hotplates hold the night's meal: fried chicken, which seems to be included in every meal, regardless of the time of day; some pasta; and the evening's entrée, lobster. The men do not seem to be worried that the closest sea is hundreds of miles away, on the other side of Iran. Nor do they seem to be concerned that the only vegetables they consume come from cans of V8.

"Chow, bullets, and mail. It's all they need," quips the lead enlisted officer on the base. He grabs the tongs and fishes out a lobster tail. "Red Lobster right here! Mizan's finest!"

In a quieter moment a few feet away, the man the soldiers call "Doc" (he's the chief medic on base) logs on to Skype. There are about 10 computers in the dining hall, all of which are attached to the Internet and have messenger programs connected to video cameras. The military calls this part of the base "MWR" – morale, welfare, and recreation.

A Message from Home

On screen, Doc's young son runs across the living room of his house, back in Hoensfeld, Germany, where these men are based. His wife walks onto the screen and bounces a beach ball against their son's head. All three laugh.

"It's what keeps me going," he says after disconnecting from his conversation. "I know I got to get back to my son and back to my wife. It keeps me pushing through the days and through all the rough stuff that they throw at me here."

His deputy, Specialist Ryan Cuehlo, prefers the electric guitar. After returning from a firefight in the valley immediately behind the base, he sits next to his bed and plugs into the amp. Out comes Metallica, some blues, and an original song (no name, though, since he says he doesn't write lyrics.)

"It's the best stress reliever I got out here, especially if it's a long day," says Cuehlo, who is from New Jersey. "Kills the time."

The Americans share the base with four Romanian troops, about 75 Afghan police and soldiers, and a mascot: FOB Dog, or Forward Operating Base Dog. The soldiers have raised her, and she meanders out with them on mission, seemingly unafraid during the firefights.

There are a dozen or so buildings here, surrounded by barbed wire, Hesco barriers, and tall mountain peaks. The Mizan valley is a mostly completed bowl. A crumbling and almost empty district center is attached to the base, and both are nestled into the side of a valley that is closed with mountains on three sides.

It is a beautiful corner of the country and one of the most austere. Around the base there is nothing but the moon to obscure the stars. There is no electricity, few roads, and the tallest structure is their 15-foot-tall safe house.

The hills are rocky and jagged, but the stuff of postcards. Small Afghan security outposts sit on the tops of most of the surrounding peaks; desert and occasional orchards extend for hundreds of miles in each direction.

"This world is completely untouched, but it's just absolutely beautiful," says Lt. Patrick Higgins, the sole officer on this base. Two years ago the 24-year-old graduated from ROTC at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Today he is virtually in charge of this district, where there is no national government representative or any American mentor for the Afghan troops, as there is in larger bases.

Mail for Morale

In his spartan bedroom, he shows off his bed, a map of the district on the wall (so he can "dream up missions"), and a personal phone line. "Other than that, just a few things I brought from home. Keep myself entertained. I got my guitar," he says. "It's fairly simple living. But infantrymen don't require much."

One amenity they cannot live without is mail call.

On one recent delivery day, among the Amazon.com boxes, the UPS packages and the Victoria's Secret catalogues, an unmarked box was quickly opened by Specialist Gines. His smile was immediate as he pulled out three cases of what may not seem too useful in a war zone: brand new, glittery Dolce & Gabanna sunglasses.

"Let me see them!" yelled one of his friends. "Put them on one more time!" The soldiers were practically bouncing with excitement. "There it is! Platinum status! Peter Pan. Timbaland! Never Never Land!"

"Dolce and Gabanna. Finest," smiles Gines. Apparently worried someone might think he had ordered fakes, he pulls out the monogrammed cleaning cloth that came with each set of glasses. "Originals," he smiles, carefully polishing the perfectly clear lenses.

"Mail brings up morale a lot. A lot," he says, carefully placing each pair of sunglasses back into their cases. "If we not on a mission or something like that, mail comes in, everybody's happy. Chow may suck, but as long as we get mail, we good."