The KOP isn't a very big place, not much more than a scrape on the side of a mountain. The troops that call the KOP ‘home’ live under harsh and extreme conditions ... so it doesn't take long before you start recognizing faces and putting names to those faces. In a brief time, they become your friends.
The troops that man this remote outpost are few: an undermanned squad of grunts, mortar crew and those filling the ranks of HQ platoon.
-- The Grunts --
The Joes of Attack Company are in the stuff day after day, night after night. These are the guys who ruck-up and do the patrols. They are the men, who set ambushes, who are on the receiving end of enemy ambushes and who, when they aren't patrolling the Kornegal Valley day and night with little or no sleep between missions also face incoming rocket, mortar, RPG or automatic weapons attack.
I would call these men fearless, but that would be a lie. I'm not going to insult them by applying such easy rhetoric to them.
They deserve better than that.
These men are on intimate terms with fear because they experience it every day. An upcoming mission is at first complained and bitched about in a way only infantrymen can do. But as the time draws closer to leave the wire of the KOP, the troops grow quiet. Fear is something that is real ... it has a tangible, palpable presence. It's a dry-mouthed, chain-smoking, loose-bowel-and-bladder sort of thing. Some of the grunts speak in hushed tones and whispers; some of them don't speak at all. A corporal pipes up with a joke, gallows humor that draws a few nervous laughs. One or two soldiers are lying down, heads resting on their assault packs … one of them quietly snoring.
And this is what makes them great ... what makes them magnificent.
Yes, they are afraid, because they know the odds are that they will have some sort of contact with the enemy. They know the bad guys are out there, determined and wily.
But in spite of the constant danger regardless of intel that tells them Taliban or al Qaeda fighters are out there waiting for them beyond the wire they manage their fear. They suck it up … beat it back … and do their job. Yes, the enemy is tough, but our guys are tougher. They are smarter and more determined than the enemy.
I would call the grunts of Attack Company, 1-32 Infantry, fearless ... but that would be a lie.