KABUL, Afghanistan Oct. 8, 2010 -- A 107 millimeter rocket has a kill radius of 50 yards. You learn things like this in a war zone. It contains more than 1.3 kilograms of TNT.
It's a devastating weapon and very common in Afghanistan. It was used with impunity during the civil war here after the Russian's pulled out. Thousands of rockets rained down on Kabul and claimed the lives of just as many hapless Afghans.
The first time I heard a "1-0-7" streak over head I immediately thought of the cliché term used by so many of my fellow Americans who are interviewed by television crews after a disaster that featured a loud noise: "It sounded like a freight train went over my head." Well, a 107mm rocket DOES sound like a freight train over head.
The wickedness of the weapon is a long way from the tranquil and magical Venice, Italy. Venice, if you haven't had to fortune to visit, is better than Disneyland. The worst that can happen there is you'll get charged extra for a cappuccino if you drink it outside, rather than inside the café.
The two worlds collided in a far off, some say desolate, place in western Afghanistan called Bala Boluk. The Forward Operating Base is the home of the "Serenissima" Regiment -- Italian Marines from Venice. Last week the Marines, led by Sgt. Giuseppe D'Arco, heard some tiny voices announcing "rocket, rocket, rocket." When the sergeant went to investigate he found a group of five Afghan children carrying the 50 pound 1-0-7 toward the base.
"Rocket, rocket, rocket," they sang. The oldest, Faramarz, was 10 years old and the youngest was 6.
"When I saw what they were carrying at first I was surprised," said D'Arco. Like any good Marine he is conditioned to publicly understate his real reaction. "We hurried to check the weapon and take it from the kids."
The incident was reported in the daily press releases from headquarters in Kabul. Equally adjective deprived they announced, "A group of Afghan children found an unexploded ordinance and took it to an International Assistance Force operating base in western Afghanistan." After a few more acronyms the release continued, "An ISAF ordnance disposal team destroyed the rocket with a controlled detonation in a secure area."
Afghan Boys Rewarded With Candy For Carrying Lethal Rocket
D'Arco told Faramarz and his crew, "These are dangerous objects and you should call your parents or elders when you see anything like that."
The kids had more than civic duty in mind. They were rewarded with fruit, candy, water and some roast chicken. Not a bad bargain — a 1-0-7 for candy and a meal.
According to D'Arco, "It was a happy end."
I'd like to think that 40 years from now the retired Italian Marine will be sipping his cappuccino and telling the story of how a small group of children struggled to carry a rocket up to his base in Afghanistan and departed with candy and a smile.
I can only hope that Faramarz and his pack of friends live to tell their story too.