on a sunday afternoon the past fall, 22-year-old Private First Class Brian Thomas pulled guard duty, which sucks, as he’ll have you know. Two- or three- or four-hour shifts, staring at the same mountains and the same piles of rock. Maybe you sneak a cigarette, maybe take your helmet off, maybe lean forward and close your eyes for a few minutes, trying to remain conscious enough to wonder if that white Toyota Corolla snaking its way along the road in the distance is just another beat-up Corolla or if it’s on the BOLO (be on the lookout) list, and if that dirty-bearded goat-herding motherfreaker sitting like a gargoyle up there on the ridge is working with the driver and scoping you out and getting ready to run a car bomb up your ass. Probably not today, but who knows? You have to try and stay alert, have to pick up the binoculars every fifteen minutes or so, because one day they just might.
It’s Private Thomas’s turn on ECP, or entry-control point, which is military-speak for the entrance to the outpost, known as District Center Terezayi. Located in Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan, Terezayi is eight miles from the Pakistan border, which is an absolute nowhere land—beautiful, in its way, but nowhere, with muddy wadis and rubble-strewn valleys and distant mountain peaks and strange mud huts that bring to mind terms like prebiblical and Stone Age. It’s also the new front in America’s continuing “war on terror,” and the soldiers who are currently stationed here—and at outp...
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