Viper Simply Does the Job
by Dave Tobin / The Post-Standard
I left Viper team Sunday morning after a convoy to Kandahar. I am forever in their debt for their kindness, patience, humor and vigilant security.
On a midnight Taliban search mission in a small village, Capt. Odelle Means told me, “Stay close to me. If shooting starts, just stay close to me.”
Viper team’s home is a tiny Hesco-walled compound, roughly the size of a football field. That includes parking for five Humvees. The 13 soldiers rotate night guard duty at their one tower, below which three interpreters live. A guard tower on an opposite wall is manned by Afghan National Police. A big dog helps.
There is no cooking staff. Food and supplies are stored in two connexes – metal shipping containers. The soldiers microwave their own soup or pizza. When time allows they’ll barbecue something from their chest freezer – breaded chicken or blackened trout, heat up a big can of corn, eat wherever they can sit – there’s no dining hall.
Fresh fruit or vegetables – in abundance at big base dining facilities – are rare, except for what they pick up at local markets — pomagranates, tomatoes, cucumbers and grapes.
Their exercise room is a canopied patio with a bench press and dumbbells. Their recreation area has a small TV with satellite service. It also serves as Means’ office and briefing room.
Mission days – most days, Means has the team out the gate by 7 a.m. Their workdays are potentially endless. When a regrouping day comes they shower, do laundry, clean weapons and trucks, stock deliveries of food or equipment that jingle trucks deliver. Besides scheduled missions, they head out day or night when Taliban strike nearby.
Just outside the gate a unit of Afghan National Police lives in very spare quarters. Thirty yards away sits a burnt husk of a pickup truck, a former police vehicle that hit an IED a month ago, killing two police and a local government official — a deputy district chief. Viper team dragged the wreck 8 miles down the highway to bring it back.
The stars are brilliant. The air is clean. The mountains are beautiful. Goat herds wander just outside the walls.
Until September, most all of the team was from New York State. Some had come to Afghanistan last November, and they left in August. They were replaced by Illinois National Guard soldiers from the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which will replace the 27th Brigade Combat Team as the command of Task Force Phoenix.
Spc. John Sparr, 22, from Decatur, Ill., shows visitors around Viper’s base proudly.
“It’s not much,” he said. “But it’s our home. We like it.”