KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - In Afghanistan, troops are spread throughout the desert, countryside and mountainous terrain in small, forward operating bases. The number of servicemembers at any location can be as small as 30 to 60 or vary in the hundreds.
At FOB Baylough, a platoon of infantrymen from the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment shoulders the responsibility to patrol the Hindu Kush mountains in the Deh Chopan district, Zabul province. That is their mission, but their jobs extend much more as they must maintain and operate a FOB on their own.
"We are pretty self-sustaining, so we have to do everything ourselves," said Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Carney, a 1-4 Inf. Regt. platoon sergeant from Norwood, Mass. "We got to make sure our own showers work. We got to make sure out toilets work. We pretty much got to do everything on our own."
Spreading the work and mission over a three-day cycle among the squads, the 1-4 Inf. Regt. has been able to maintain Baylough since 2006. No time is ever wasted as each squad rotates daily duties and patrol missions. Daily duties would include anything from cleaning common areas, burning the trash and filling the generators with fuel. In Baylough, a Soldier is more than an infantryman; he has to be a carpenter, mechanic and capable of doing several odd jobs.
Baylough could be its own village in these mountains, as they have their own supply of water, food and electricity to support the compound. They get most of their supplies, such as rations and ammunitions, via the Container Delivery System. The CDS is the most commonly used method for the aerial insertion of supplies quickly to FOBs such as Baylough.
"[Life is] Simple," said Staff Sgt. Jason Gaulke, a 1-4 Inf. Regt. indirect fire infantryman from Buffalo Lake, Minn. "You wake up and do your missions or chores."
Each squad has its chance to go out on patrols and talk to local villagers. As every squad goes out, there is always a squad on stand-by as the quick reaction force. As the QRF, it will be their job to come to the aid of the patrolling squad if needed. The Soldiers who are on the sidelines are responsible for being ready at a moment's notice. They will make sure all tactical vehicles and equipment are operational.
"The living conditions here are actually pretty nice considering the locations," said Private 1st Class Bryan E. Delashmit, a 1-4 Inf. Regt. infantryman from Lebanon, Indiana. "They definitely have improved [the FOB]," "You hear stories from what other people have said when they have been here before, and they have been like four or five dudes in a small room, a clay room at that."
The FOB grew from meager beginnings as nothing more than a mud hut to a perimeter extending out about 400 meters. Though Baylough is no bigger than the size of a small elementary school, it has barracks, a gym, dining facility, plus a morale, welfare and recreation facility. Many of these facilities, such as the barracks, are new additions to the FOB. The barracks was added in February.
"You are generally at the frontlines [when on guard duty]," said Delashmit. "Upon an attack, you are the first responder for the FOB."
With any FOB, security is top priority and this is no different for Baylough. Unlike other FOBs, which are setup with a circular or triangular perimeter, Baylough is set up with a square perimeter. U.S. Soldiers guard the most likely way of attack. The Soldiers call this post "Rock Guard" because of the large rocks around the area. Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police man all other posts. Security is provided for the base 24 hours. The Soldiers look for anything suspicious within the orchards and mountains around the area.
"It's like being at summer camp." said Spc. Christopher Spositi, a 1-4 Inf. Regt. indirect fire infantryman from Plano, Texas. "You have a bunch of guys in a small, confined area to do a job."
Confined in small areas and a stressful environment, Soldiers build close bonds. These bonds cannot be compared to any other relationship. It is unique in how it was created. Six-hour shootouts with insurgents created these bonds. Long patrols in the mountainous Deh Chopan district created these bonds. Two hour "Rock Guard," card games and watching movies created these bonds.
The 1-4 Inf. Regt., Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon Soldiers all have a story about the day they came close to a bullet. Yet, they shrug their shoulders and move on as they prepare to return back to Hohenfels, Germany in the coming months.