Karl has served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician in the Navy. During the war he deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and twice to the Philippines. He discusses EOD training, what it was like working with unexploded ordnance and some of the challenges he has faced throughout his career in the Navy.
Interview conducted on October 10, 2015 in San Diego, California
Present: Richard Hayden and Karl Krahn
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Karl Krahn: Karl David Krahn.
RH: What branch of the military are you in and from what years have you served?
KK: United States Navy, enlisted in March of 1998 until current.
RH: Alright. What is your rank?
KK: I’m a Senior Chief Petty Officer.
RH: OK. What’s your rate?
KK: EOD, Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
RH: What are some of the units that you’ve been in?
KK: Since the war?
KK: Well, after EOD school it was Mobile Unit 11 in Washington state. I went to Mobile Unit 5 in Guam and then I came here to San Diego to the training unit.
RH: OK. What motivated you to join the military?
KK: Well, in ’98 it was just like a, “why not?” I didn’t really have that much else going on. Most of the people in my family enlist so it’s either you go to college or you enlist. That’s pretty much what we do so I enlisted out of high school.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Why did you pick the Navy?
KK: My brother was a Marine and he told me to get a real job. He didn’t think I’d like being a Marine. He was in for the first Gulf War and he was involuntarily extended. He didn’t enjoy the Marine Corps so he steered me away from it.
RH: Why did you pick the rate that you did?
KK: Originally I was an Electronics Technician and then after 9/11 I actually screened for BUD/S. After an unsuccessful screening I went to an NSW team – I went to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2. And after a couple of years and my mandatory eighteen month waiting list, my waiting period, I screened and I put in another package but I decided to go with EOD because I met some guys and it just seemed like a better fit for my background and my temperament and my attitude. So I screened for EOD and everything was pretty straightforward from there. I was the honor grad in my class so it worked out pretty good for me.
RH: OK. How did your family feel about your decision?
KK: I don’t know. I never really asked them how they felt about it but I know they were concerned. One thing, my parents came to my graduation and were like, “for the first time in your life you’re an honor student in this profession.” So they were glad that it was a good fit for me, I guess. They were glad that I was good at it.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where were you on September 11th?
KK: I was onboard the USS Gonzalez in Portsmouth, England. I actually was nursing a hangover that morning so we were about six hours ahead of New York, I think. Six or seven hours ahead of New York. I had been out steaming pretty hard the night before in England and then I came to the ship, we did our duty muster in the morning, and I happened to just be walking around with my Coca Cola and Snickers bar when they said over the 1MC that we were getting emergency underway and we were sorting out. They said America is under attack and we’d be receiving further orders.
So we just did what we did. It was kind of surreal at the moment, getting underway and leaving people behind because there were still people there on liberty in port. It took a week to get everyone back and some people even had to fly all the way to Spain because we went underway. Some people came by helicopter when we were underway. We went straight to Spain, onloaded Tomahawk missiles, waited for the Enterprise carrier and went over to start the war. We were extended on our deployment a couple of months as part of the Enterprise battle group and we were the first bombs launched in Afghanistan.
RH: What was the mood on the ship in those first days and weeks after September 11th?
KK: Just confused. We didn’t have any news, we didn’t have any TV. We just had the BBC so they were kind of talking about airline attacks. Nothing was really coming down from leadership as far as what was going on besides what was our mission was. I guess it was pretty clear that America was under attack so we figured we were at war with somebody. We would sit down there in the radio room because I was an Electronics Technician and we would tune into the BBC just to listen, just try and get some kind of perspective on what was going on. You get to hear shit because it was the BBC, British radio so it was pretty liberal, so they were talking. The worst thing I remember hearing was, “what did America do to provoke this?” You kind of go into history. There’s a rich history there so there’s a long history between America and the Middle East as far as why this happened but hearing it as a twenty-one year-old E4 on the ship it didn’t settle well, you know?
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where did you go to boot camp?
KK: Great Lakes, Illinois.
RH: What was boot camp like?
KK: You know, what I remember was it was in the Spring time so we had that crazy weather where it would be hot one second then it would be pouring rain the next. We had tornado warnings and stuff so we ended up going into the basements of the buildings. I don’t know. Boot camp I don’t remember being really much. I just remember the classes. PT wasn’t really much of anything. We wore dungarees then. I remember how good it felt to put on my dungaree uniform. I remember those. I guess I was happy. I was pretty proud to be in the Navy, I guess. It was such a goofy – it was like the military but it wasn’t, you know? That’s what the Navy felt like. The Navy is very unique.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was the training for EOD like?
KK: Well, I’d been in pretty good shape and I did a lot of training when I went to BUD/S and when I was out at Naval Special Warfare unit I was pretty good about being up to speed with PT and I went to EOD Mobile Unit 2 as a wannabee for about three months and they really put the screws on us. So physical training was just back breaking. It was insane and by the time I got to dive school, dive school was a breeze because I had been broke in by that point. So physically, it was good. It was good PT. It’s a very physical job.
Once you get through with dive school, which is dive intensive and physical training intensive, you go to EOD school and they rely on you to stay in shape through the PT. So they do some but it wasn’t like four hour beat down sessions like dive school. It was, literally, you walk into this room the first day and you’re looking at about two hundred pieces of ordnance of different types – everything from small munitions and grenades to big projectiles and rockets and things like that. Pretty much anything that was man portable in one room. They said, “this is your identification test tomorrow.” So the introduction was just like the ability to ingest massive amounts of information and put it to use.
I guess EOD school is all about being a fast learner. You learn fast, you do it right once or you’re done. You get two chances to pass a test and if you fail it the second time, you’re done. So luckily I only failed two tests, two separate tests one time each, and never had any problems. I had pretty good grades but back then they used to roll guys. You could get what they call a double tap which is you go through school and some guys would be there pending injuries or double taps for two years – just in EOD school. EOD school is just a pipeline so you have dive school, and then the nav school EOD and then the underwater portion of EOD which is for Navy only doing underwater ordnance. Then we would go to Fort Benning for jump school and then we’d come here to San Diego for weapons and navigation and air operations and then we’d go to our units. So from start to finish it was sixteen months and that was the fastest. The fastest you can do it was sixteen months. For most guys it takes two years plus just because of what happens.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where in the US were you stationed when you deployed?
KK: My first deployment to Iraq I was in Oak Harbor, Washington on Whidbey Island. We flew through Spain into Iraq and then we flew out via Germany to South Carolina and back in.
RH: Alright. Perfect. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
RH: OK. How many times did you deploy altogether?
KK: In the Navy total?
RH: To Iraq and Afghanistan.
KK: Once time each. Then two times to the southern Philippines which was still considered OEF.
RH: Alright. What were the dates of the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments?
KK: Iraq was September ’07 to April of ’08. Afghanistan was March of 2010 to November of 2010. And the southern Philippines was July 2009 to January 2010 and then September 2011 to March 2012.
RH: Alright. Perfect. Let’s go ahead and let’s start with the Iraq deployment. Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
KK: We were with CSC Scania. We were in the Babel province which was Multinational Division Central-South – MDCS. So Babel province and then we had two FOBs that our team was split up on – Diwaniyah and Scania. We rotated around between those two so I probably spent about half the time in each one.
RH: OK. What was the mission of your unit?
KK: We were combat element support. We were basically the 373 Cav’s EOD response for the QRF. So 373 Cav had three combat units – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie. You could call it Troop Alpha, Troop Bravo and Troop Charlie. So those three troops rotate between who’s on mission, who’s on QRF and who was on BDOC. Whoever was on QRF, we were their EOD. So we were on QRF the entire time.
RH: What was your unit in Iraq exactly?
KK: EOD Mobile Unit 11, Detachment 17.
RH: Perfect. So what, specifically, was your job?
KK: I was the number two, I guess. So we had a team leader who was the Senior Chief. We had our robot driver who was John Kramer. He was probably one of the best robot drivers in the Navy. Sometimes I did robots with John and we rotated. I was the secondary robot guy, secondary vehicle guy, but I was the primary guy outside of the truck if that makes sense. If the team leader was out of the truck, I was out of the truck. If someone had to be in a bomb suit it was me. If someone was building explosive charges it was me. I was the guy in the back of the truck.
I don’t know if you know how the EOD tours work. You have the TC, our team leader, driver, robot driver and then the free guy. So I was the dude that was just doing everything else.
RH: OK. Walk me through a typical day when you got a call for some ordnance, maybe an IED or something.
KK: Every time we came back from a mission we would restock the truck and make sure we had plenty of explosives, ready built tools. Make sure our robot batteries were charged. Make sure all the gear was clean, that the truck was fueled, the air and everything, weapons were good to go and clean. To get ready we would get jocked up. We would get in the truck as soon as we could. We’d go run through the talk and get our 9-line. The troop would call in the 9-line IED, UXO response. So we’d go pick up our 9-line. We’d go drive over to the QRF tent and make sure the troop was ready because we had a few more trucks that would come with us – it was always a four truck convoy. We’d get our grid and load it up in the BFT – Blue Force Tracker – and then head out after making all those typical checks – weapons check, ECM check, comm checks. All that shit.
We’d do missions until it was complete. Sometimes we would get follow on calls. We would get 9-lines over the radio when we were on a call. That happened several times. I think the longest we were out was about twenty hours to three different calls, three different areas, and we did an ammunition reload at the same time. Since we were in the area we actually called and were like, “hey, we’re already up here,” because we had to go up to Tallil to get C4. So if we had an order in, we usually leave it flexible so we’d send the order up and if we were in the area, we would just go because otherwise it was about a forty-five minute transit and we wouldn’t want to be in transit or something and then get a call. Does that make sense? So usually if we were in the area, we’d hit it up after mission complete and then come back.
So we’ve done some pretty long days. Sometimes we got route clearance calls where they would want to clear a certain portion. We never got MSR. We always got alternative routes because MSRs were always done by a route clearance package. So if the cav scout commander wanted an ASR to their observation post cleared, sometimes we’d go do that. So it was just waiting for a phone call. We were a typical response unit.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What kind of ordnance were you disarming in Iraq?
KK: The majority of what we saw in our province was called Explosively Formed Penetrators – EFPs. These were armor defeating, vehicle destroying type IEDs. Pretty much the worst ones you can get in Iraq. Multi-array, cell phone armed, passive infrared initiated – sometimes with vehicle counters most often aimed to counter our counter-measures like the Rhino. Like I said, it’s PIR initiated so ECM didn’t protect you from it. They were pretty nasty.
RH: When you got a call, were the IEDs identified by soldiers on the ground or did you guys have to identify them?
KK: Sometimes ISR would see people emplacing or our observation post sniper team could see people emplacing or convoys would stop and call in suspect areas, if something looks suspect. So I’d say roughly twenty percent of the calls were either suspect or hooks. Another twenty percent were either UXO or more conventional IED with man wires or the big projo-type – what people think of a projo wires. That type of IED. Hurt Locker type of bullshit. So we probably saw that every so often. I would say sixty-five percent of the time it was either EFP live or post-blast where EFP had struck a vehicle.
RH: Could you please walk me through what it was like disarming an IED?
KK: So you do everything remotely. We’d start out you’d confirm the location. You’d check your area that you’re parked in to make sure that you’re not sitting next to a secondary. You would set the security so the trucks that would come with us usually set forward on to keep other vehicles out. We would do initial investigation with the robot. You’d typically place a disruptive charge which would consist of C4 and water bags. We’d do a secondary check with the robot to make sure that works and if not we’d keep hitting it. There was times when we actually lost an IED because the first blast buried it more, it was actually in the hillside. So we spent half the night just dropping C4 on this hill until something confirmed that it went off and it was just a big explosion. So we just started cherry picking at that point. Sometimes it’s like that.
Sometimes there was a time where we disrupted it. The robot’s gone down, I would put on the bomb suit to go down there and grab the robot or finish the secondary sweep. We almost always did a drive-by, jump out of the truck, clean up everything and have a secondary sweep out of the truck with just us being on the truck and people calling everything clear. So it was a pretty standard process for each one. The only thing that would change was, like I said, if the vehicle had been hit or sometimes we would just detonate the IED intentionally or not intentionally depending on your AO or the situation. But almost always we’d try to do everything remote. Sometimes you have to get in the bomb suit. Sometimes you have to get out of the truck and do things. Like I said, it’s all situation depending.
Then there was times when we’d do UXO calls. We’d be out in the bush or out in these swampy kind of areas – these wetlands. We did UXO stuff on foot. A couple of times with mortars. You put a pull line on them and pull them out so we could get to them and blow them up. Just things like that. We’d do all that kind of stuff.
RH: Were there any IEDs that were particularly memorable?
KK: One time we hit one so hard. So these things were packed with PE4 which is a foreign version of our C4. It’s typically made in Britain but also made in Europe and Iran makes it. Most of these were actually made from components from Iran. So one time we hit one so hard with this water charge that it sent plastic explosives all across the roadway and we don’t want to leave it out there just because it could be reused. It was kind of a public safety thing but also it was explosives that needed to be cleaned up. So we were out there for a while literally just picking up little pieces of C4 out of the roadway. [laughs] And the troop was getting nervous because it was taking a long time and it was dark out and we were backlit so it was a hazardous situation to be in. That was a pretty funny one.
The other memorable ones aren’t very fun memories. There were several vehicle responses where there were multiple kills. You do an investigation, you find out what happened, you find out how things could be done better but you have dead bodies and a huge mess. Pretty bad.
RH: What was the most complicated piece of UXO that you disarmed?
KK: Oh, OK. Hmm. Are you talking IEDs or UXOs?
KK: Because UXO is just military munitions. UXO would be like a dud.
RH: OK. So let me ask you this. What is the most complex thing you disarmed in Iraq? And that could include anything, UXO or IED.
KK: Probably this EFP. We hit it so hard because it was in a cement barrier. It looked like a typical Jersey barrier. That’s why we hit it real hard trying to crack the cement. They had built the cement barrier and it had a little window in it. That’s how the convoy saw it. It looked like a Jersey barrier but it almost had a cell phone camera sitting inside the cement. That shit a’int right. So this thing was pretty sophisticated. It was built into a Jersey barrier and it was four arrays plus an extra forty pounds of a bigger charge so in total, the thing was probably about sixty pounds. It was encased in cement and a cellphone was in there, PIR, batteries. Everything. It was a very high end IED made inside of a cement block. That was probably the craziest one I ever saw. It wasn’t the only one like that. We did see ones, they actually covered them in insulating foam and covered it in dirt so it looked like it was a piece of rock or a mound of dirt or something. Those are just as advanced but not as well encased.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What else do you remember about deploying to Iraq for the first time?
KK: We took a lot of indirect fire, like rocket attacks. To counter that they put a pallet in on our camp. Scania is pretty small so this pallet was close to us. We were in the back corner with the baja and all those coasters. So we had this pallet in and every time they would do counter battery and, because of the IDF, it felt like our building was going to collapse. We just had this wood structure that we lived in and everything would fall off the walls and it was kind of comical. We took a lot of IDF and we had some casualties from it. That was pretty horrible shit to think about.
I would say the best feeling from that deployment was we were part of a raid with an ODA out of Diwaniyah. We took down a compound that was manufacturing EFPs, improvised rocket launchers – these bed rails – and destroyed over fifty 9.122 rockets, several 240 rockets, dozens of 107s – smaller rockets – confiscated and destroyed hundreds of pounds of plastic explosives and mortars and land mines. It was the biggest cache in Babel province of the war. That was right about six weeks before we left. It was the quietest six weeks in the country after that. So we had a really long lull before we got home. I remember that. It was actually pretty chill. We did volunteer work and we did a lot of other stuff.
RH: Alright. What were the Iraqis like?
KK: [laughs] Shady. I’ll just say shady.
RH: How so?
KK: You didn’t know which ones to trust. We dealt with a lot of police and military and you have a lot of these IED calls which would be within sight of a police checkpoint or a military post. So we trusted our terps but that was pretty much the limit of our trust with the locals. We had several times where Iraqis would bring UXO to the gate and you would be worried about a Trojan horse type of situation. So there were plenty of those types of incidents but we didn’t give them trust because once you did, it could bite you in the ass. That’s what got people killed – trusting the wrong person.
RH: What was the enemy like?
KK: Never really met them, not directly. At least I didn’t know I met them if I did. Like I said, the one guy with the cache that took down, we didn’t really see him. He was cuffed and stuffed and in the back of the truck before we were doing our thing. The enemy was everywhere. He was anonymous and you were always looking because you didn’t know who it was. You were always on guard because you were looking for that guy with the cell phone. You were looking for that dude that looked like he was getting paid so the guys with the fancy watches or shoes, cell phones, people acting suspicious on scene, people that were kind of going against the grain as far as if you were in a crowd you were looking for that guy that wasn’t doing the same thing that the crowd was doing. Maybe he was waiting for troops to show up or whatever. You just had this constant vigilance you had to have to look out because you didn’t know who the enemy was.
RH: Are there any Iraqis in particular that stuck out?
KK: You know, we once had this call where a dud fired 107[mm rocket]. So some of these farmers, I guess, had a turf war. So these farmers were launching rockets at each other. We were way out in the sticks and this UXO call that the troop got and it was really funny. This big, fat Iraqi lady in her whole black burqa is taking to our terp – he’s telling us this story afterwards – she’s talking about how these people are stealing her land or whatever. They’re animals or something. They’re in kind of a redneck turf war. You just see these people and they have nothing. They’re living in dirt, their sewage is literally running out of their house in a river in a downstream type of channel. It was very much like Afghanistan at that point. Those are the two things that I can compare – the rural areas were very, very similar. Different looking people, different language obviously, but you just see these people. Literally, these people would collect salt or they would have livestock or they would farm whatever crops they would have. They just had nothing.
RH: Aside from what we discussed so far, what are some of the other notable events that occurred during your deployment?
KK: I volunteered. Our base Scania had a burn clinic so instead of doing a MEDCAP every quarter or whatever, they would just use all the MEDCAP funds to keep a small clinic open at the south gate. So you would have burn bandages and silver sulfadiazine, bacitracin. We’d do these cream mixes. A lot of donated materials – toys, candies, vitamins. All that stuff donated from the States. Bandages and stuff like that either purchased through MEDCAP or donated. Kids with burn injuries. Because Iraqis cooked with a lot of kerosene, kerosene fire accidents were fairly common but also child abuse and spousal abuse using fire was common as well. So sometimes women, their husbands would burn their hands or burn their faces. It’s crazy. These people were fucking nasty.
So basically it was a clinic that treated women and children. Occasionally we’d have these gunshot wound victims come in. Memorable for me was the first kid I treated over the course of four months. I got to take his last bandage off and he was fine. Other kids weren’t so lucky.
There was one family that really stuck out to me was this man and his two daughters. One daughter was burnt very badly on her legs. She had spilled kerosene and it caught on fire and it burned her dress and legs really, really badly. So it was almost like eighty percent of her legs were third degree burns or worse. It was really bad. She would come in twice a week, change her bandages, wash them up, give him some supplies and stuff to keep them comfortable. We didn’t have painkillers or anything so we had to deal with that.
He got shot for bringing his daughters to us. We treated his gunshot wounds and tried to get him some kind of help but there really wasn’t anything that the military could do because it was such a horrible situation on such a large scale that people just had nothing. They had very little help. From my perspective it looked like they had to support both sides. That’s how they stayed alive. That was their survival – they had to support both sides of the war. It’s unfortunate and I saw the same thing in Afghanistan, too.
RH: What do you remember most about the sailors and some of the soldiers that you served with in Iraq?
KK: Our team was pretty tight. I stay in contact with most of them. Navy EOD guys are all personalities. Everyone has a very unique personality. Everyone has a very alpha type of mentality. It’s either my way or it’s wrong kind of mentality but we end up working together fairly well most of the time. But, yeah. The biggest group of characters just as far as who I worked with.
I could talk for a long time about the different guys. One guy on my team was a self-taught engineer. He actually constructed a robot deployment device. So we had the robot on the outside of the vehicle. We were one of the first teams to have this and he constructed it himself. Another guy, like I said, crazy robot driver. The things this guy could do with a robot was blowing the manufacturers away when they could see what he could do. John Kramer. He ended up losing both of his legs in Afghanistan and he’s retired now. He’s still a big advocate with Wounded Warrior and EOD Warrior Foundation though so you’ll see him around in these veteran-type fundraisers. Rob McCormick our Senior Chief. He’s a gunsmith, self-taught, reloader and rifle collector. Everyone has these real classic type-A personalities. It was really cool being around these guys.
The soldiers that we were with, some of the funniest most patriotic, just some fun-loving country types. I mean, they could tell a joke. We’d be on response to a horrible mission and they’re joking with each other. I know that’s kind of how they kept things lively. They wouldn’t let the war get them down. Some of the best people I’ve ever known, for sure.
RH: What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
KK: The middle.
RH: Why is that?
KK: We were taking a lot of IDF and we lost our Bravo 2 commander to an IDF attack. We tried to save him but we couldn’t save him from the fire. After that morale was really fucking low. We lost another contractor to an IDF attack. We lost six more members of the troop to EFP vehicle attacks and all of this is within about four weeks of each other. So January, February was a really, really hard time. Pretty low morale and it was cold. It had actually snowed in Baghdad that year and it was just a really rough winter.
RH: What was the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
KK: My girlfriend broke up with me before Christmas so that sucked. Whatever though. I wasn’t really that upset. I was upset at the time personally but not because I was in love or anything but more, “why would you do that to me?,” kind of thing. It was sort of pride. So I guess a personal life or the lack of personal life. I’d been away from family so much. By the point I was I Iraq, I had already been in the Navy for ten years. I was an E6. I was a basic tech but I was an E6. So I had more responsibility on an administrative Navy side and less responsibility but more hands on type of work as a unit guy because I was trying to build up my experience. Does that make sense?
So from a non-combat standpoint, spending Christmas in Iraq, watching football in the middle of the night, all that type of shit that you do on deployment that kind of makes you sad but whatever.
RH: Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment?
KK: I think volunteering and helping those kids really just kind of made me more sympathetic to the issue because, before you go to Iraq, you just see it’s a terrible place and Iraqis are pieces of shit. It’s just, “kill ‘em all and be done with it.” But when you see the human aspects – that these are people with families and they are just trying to get by, they want to have the best life for their families just like we do – once you understand that, you can see how much of a struggle they’re actually going through and how fucking terrible that place really is. You really feel for them. So to be transformative it would be more me going from hating them because I had lost six teammates by this point.
In the months leading up to my deployment I have lost five teammates and then on my deployment we lost one of our teammates up in northern Iraq. So we lost six guys and we tattooed it on our wrists. This is our drinking hand so it’s to the six from the eleven in ’07. It was the summer of ’07 we lost six guys.
So you go from this hatred of, “fuck these people. I’m just going to fucking do what I gotta do survive this place,” and all this kind of shit mentality to, for me, feeling very sympathetic to the cause and wanting to be more proactive and wishing things could be better for them and wishing the policies there were working to their benefit which they weren’t.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before we move on, is there anything that I left out about the Iraq deployment that you would like to address?
KK: I don’t know, man. You got a lot of people going to mental health now because of Iraq or Afghanistan. I’ve had a lot of discussions with these people. I go to support groups at the VBSD. I go to AA. I went to residential treatment. I’ve been to after care groups and I think the worst thing for all of us is just the fact that this government and this country allowed us to lose the war. I think that’s what makes it so hard for people. They keep telling us to be proud of what you did and know that you were serving a greater purpose and bla bla bla but when you see the actual outcome of the wars and how fucked up it is now and how much worse off they are than before we were there, you just feel like all that sacrifice was for nothing. I think that’s the hardest thing about doing these combat deployments that’s why you’re going to see so many more people with these issues. It’s because there is no self-sense of gratification. I have no pride in what happened over there. I have a really hard time not being bitter. That’s the best I can possibly be, I think, is to just not be so bitter that I can’t live my life. For me it’s just a struggle. I try to be normal but I don’t know if I’ll ever be normal. It’s just a struggle to see the world for what it is and accept it because it’s unacceptable to me.
RH: Can you talk about your immediate post-deployment experiences from the Iraq deployment?
KK: I came home to Whidbey Island. I had a little BMW Z3, a little sports car, and I had a project truck. The first thing I did when I got home was I got in my car and drove it as fast as I could because you get tired. You drive these huge war machines, you’ve got those response vehicles topping off at forty miles an hour and just being able to drive fast on the road not looking for shit. I guess I just wanted to let loose on the roads, you know? I had a motorcycle too – a Harley, a ‘92 FXR, at the time. I just spent a lot of time with my vehicles. I took a couple months off. You’re only supposed to take one month but I took two because they were sending me over to Guam so I had to put my house up for sale and it didn’t work so I had to get renters. I wanted to fix my truck. So I took a lot of time off from work – official and unofficial.
That was the immediate time. I stayed with my buddy, one of my teammates that I was in Iraq with, at his house for about a month before I went to Guam. From the time I got back to Washington to the time I was in Guam was about four and a half months. So I was pretty busy doing that, moving to Guam, selling my vehicles, stuff like that.
RH: Cool. Let’s go ahead and talk about your Afghanistan deployment. Actually, we’ll talk about Afghanistan and then we’ll get into the Philippines deployments. Because it was Iraq, Philippines, Afghanistan, Philippines, right?
RH: OK. Let’s go ahead and let’s talk about Afghanistan. What was your unit in Afghanistan?
KK: I was part of Task Force Paladin which was a Mobile Unit 5 battalion. So when I got there I was part of the Task Force Paladin South headquarters in Kandahar. What we did was because I had just worked with First Group, First Special Forces, I was going to work with Third Special Forces and they had teams looking to train Afghans. So my job was to put together training teams and train Afghans for Army Special Forces. So that was my primary mission upon getting in country.
RH: What, specifically, was your job?
KK: What I would do is I would basically write the requirements, plan the training, obtain all of the explosives and tools for outfitting Afghan combat engineers. We ran training courses in Kandahar and then I travelled to Anaconda in Uruzgan, Cobra – I think that’s also in Kandahar province – and then Sweeny in Zabul. I would train these sixteen man teams that were working with Army Special Forces. We do a two to three week training course and then we start running missions so I would spend about two months in each location and then we ended up doing some missions with the guys making sure they could do basic EOD type work. We’re talking about identification, remote destruction and destruction and disposal of IEDs in Afghanistan which were far, far simpler than the ones in Iraq.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What were some of the differences between some of the things you were disarming in Afghanistan versus some of the things you were disarming in Iraq?
KK: So in Afghanistan I didn’t have a truck, we did everything by air so we call it backpack EOD. I had a metal detector, I had some rope, knife, explosives, food, water and ammunition. That was the only thing I took with me. So a lot more hands-on. We call it manual approaches to do remote destruction. I’d have to get up close and personal with an IED to take a good look at it. I would do attachment points for a pull to do a remote disruption or I would just use explosives to do a counter charge and destroy it. That’s what I was training Afghans to do because that was real, real basic EOD stuff. That’s what combat engineers are actually meant to do – identify and destroy.
So the EOD portion, I didn’t really have a very EOD technical portion of my job because we were meant to identify, disseminate types of IEDs, IED trends and give those reports out to commanders so they can make the best types of adjustments to their TTPs to counter those IED threats. That’s how we ended up with ECM on vehicles. That’s how we ended up with Rhinos in front of vehicles. That’s how we ended up with these huge up armored vehicles because EOD across the force – Army, Navy, everybody – IED intelligence is driven from EOD work and that was really just not an issue in Afghanistan because it was all very, very simple victim op. We called them victim operated IEDs. So booby trap type stuff – tripwires, pressure plates, I’ve never seen a timing device but there were timing devices. I never saw a remote controlled device but there are. And then the worst ones that there were were command wire which would be, basically, a hardwired IED and someone waiting to set it off. Lots of sniper fire, lots of gunfire, lots of gunfights. That’s what the difference was. So I actually saw the enemy in Afghanistan. It was easy to pick them out and they fought. Afghans are pretty gnarly. Four or five Afghans were not afraid to take on fifty people, do you know what I mean? They would see a big troop of us and they didn’t give a fuck. They’d start shooting.
RH: So generally when you were on these calls and clearing things, you would generally get attacked?
KK: Yeah because our missions would be about three days. So we would go out at night and stay for a day or two and then come back in another night. We were self-contained, we were out there clearing villages, interacting with people. Some missions we were with DEA FAST teams doing the drug interdiction. I destroyed opium on some missions. We cleared caches, confiscated weapons, destroyed them. Just a whole myriad of mostly just that typical occupational policing and patrol, looking for the enemy type of missions. It was totally different than Iraq. Iraq was all responsive and very much more vehicle reliant. Afghanistan was more inhabited, imbedded and very personal.
RH: Alright. You said you would analyze some of the trends. What were some of the trends that you noticed?
KK: You always see very similar construction, maybe just different construction materials. You talk about pressure plates. It could be wire in-between wood to sandwich saw blades in a bicycle tire to protect it. Christmas tree lights. They would cut out the wire to make contact – anything that you could think of to make metal contact to a point where they were even using carbon rods out of AA batteries. You can’t detect it with a detector so they were using things like that to make contact. At that point you’re just looking for batteries because if you can find the battery, you find the IED. The detector is really good at finding batteries. Just really relying on the locals. If you show up in a village like, “hey. Has the Taliban been here? What did they do? What did they tell you? Did they hide anything? Did they take anybody? Did they put any IEDs anywhere?” That kind of stuff. The Taliban would roll through, pick up young boys and force them into the Taliban. They threatened to kill people if they worked with us. Pretty much a nightmare situation for the Afghans.
RH: What were the Afghans like?
KK: The bad ones you knew were bad because they’d shoot at you but for the most part, the Afghans like the Iraqis, they were just trying to raise families and live their lives, you know? From what I saw, most were cooperative. A lot of times obviously they were very apprehensive to us because we would show up in the middle of the night. A bunch of dudes with guns would knock on their door. At some point, some missions we were doing direct assaults so we were blowing holes in walls and arresting everybody and looking for certain people. Some missions were more like, “we’re here to clear out the Taliban. Tell us where they’re at.” We’re here to work with you type missions. Those were a little better well received.
There were a lot of times where we’d just have to police up every military aged male. They basically detain them and question them and you do biometric data. So we’d collect fingerprints and stuff like that on people to see if it bounces off any evidence we have of these IEDs that were turned in. We’d arrest them and take them with us. There was times where we got into firefights and we would capture the enemy. Some would be killed and some would be captured. We’d have to police those guys around.
Each mission was different. You’d either have what they call a Village Stability Operation now – VSO. So we had those missions and then we had direct assault missions where you were going for bad people. Or the FAST teams, the DEA missions, where we were going here looking for drugs. That kind of thing.
RH: Very briefly, what is a VSO?
KK: It’s a Village Stability Operation.
RH: What is it exactly?
KK: That’s when you’re going in and you’re telling them, “we’re going to support you. We’re going to help you get rid of the Taliban. We want to help you keep them away.” You’re doing MEDCAPs, you’re doing whatever support they need. We’re doing IED clearance of their area. They would identify IEDs so we would have these kind of, not life-threatening situations, not IEDs on movement but IEDs just identified to us for us to get rid of. Really, just anything that you could do to make the village more pro-effort, pro-NATO.
RH: Are there any Afghans in particular that stick out?
KK: I can’t remember his name but one of our interpreters got shot in the ass in front of me. In formation I watched him get shot in the ass. That kind of stood out because he was really pissed off that he had to stay behind in Kandahar and work with the Army guys. Like I said, I set up training teams so I had Army engineers, Marine Corps EOD engineers, Navy EOD guys, A-T Solutions contractors. We put up, really, just kind of a body full. I went out and I found all these people to help with these mobile training teams. He was pissed off because he had to stay around and work with the regular Army because the regular Afghan Army, we would call them cavemen. We had all these funny posters because they were retarded. [RH laughs] You have to remember, in Afghanistan the literacy rate for males is like eighty percent illiterate – a very, very highly uneducated population. So you’re dealing with that. The Kandaks, which was the Afghan Army Special Forces who worked with our Special Forces, were a little bit better but still fucking retarded.
RH: Good to go. You talked about it briefly but what was the enemy like in Afghanistan?
KK: Balls out, man. Those guys, I mean, they gave zero fucks. They shot at whatever they could see. Anybody they could see, they didn’t care how many there were. They weren’t very tactical, I’ll say that. They were very brave and they knew how to use terrain to their advantage. They knew how to use villages to their advantage because they knew about our restrictions. We couldn’t just bomb buildings at this point, 2010. We weren’t just carpet bombing villages just to get rid of snipers anymore so they used that to their advantage. They used the local populace to their advantage. I’ve seen them use human shields, putting women at doorways of buildings they were hiding in after we had located them down to a certain building. You know, using distance to their advantage because they would engage with sniper rifles twelve hundred plus yards out knowing that we had a limited response to that and having air support in this window. So it was complicated, you know? They definitely knew how to fight in their backyard.
RH: What were the sailors that you served with like in Afghanistan?
KK: Motley like normal. Because it was a battalion it wasn’t like a regular platoon. I was there with one guy I spent six months in the Philippines with before. Afghanistan was like a back to back deployment for us. We had about two months between deployments, between southern Philippines and Afghanistan so we had been really close together. He was the lead of the other mobile training teams so we knew each other very well. We worked together very well but we were the different heads of different training teams. The other guys I didn’t know that well but, that said, just a bunch of personalities. A bunch of crazy motherfuckers, you know? Guys that are willing to do anything to get the job done.
RH: Good to go. What was the most challenging period of this deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
KK: Probably the end.
RH: Why is that?
KK: I had a bad call. One of my students was killed and I was forced to go back to Kandahar for Chief’s initiation training. When I told them that I needed to stay and finish this up, they said, “no. Your three weeks are up. You gotta come here and do this.” My leadership thought it was more important for me to do Chief’s training than to stay behind and make sure that my last – this was the last team I was training in Zabul – instead of me staying longer to make sure that they were good to go after losing one of their guys, they made me leave and come back. That was kind of the beginning of the end for me. I really just started hating everything about the Navy at that point.
RH: This piggybacks on that. Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed this deployment other that one which is pretty big?
KK: You know, being on my own I had a lot more confidence in my abilities. I felt pretty good doing what I was doing because I kind of felt like very, very, very few people in the military get to have that experience where, as an E6, you need to put together teams to train Afghans to fill in critical combat roles in areas that NATO forces cannot get to. You had ODAs in very remote regions working with Afghans in a co-located, they all live together type of situation and you’re there to improve their ability to fight the war. It felt really good to do that up to a point.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Anything else about this deployment before we move on?
KK: No. It was as unique of an experience, I think, as anybody could have there. Like I said, it was completely unconventional. It was a one hundred percent Special Forces type mission and it was a good learning experience for me.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Let’s go ahead and let’s move onto the Philippines and maybe we’ll cover both of them at once.
KK: Yeah. It’s pretty simple.
RH: You said it was part of OEF. Is that correct?
KK: Yes. So in the southern Philippines you have the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. You have the Jemahh Islamiyah extremists. You have other communist factions in the Philippine populace and they all kind of dwell in southern Mindanao and the islands south of that which is called the Sulu Archipelago. So I was out on an island called Jolo which is like two islands away from Indonesia. This was the Muslim region of the Philippines. These Muslims, for the most part, are trying to have their own country. They want to have an autonomous region and they’ve wanted one for a very, very long time. Basically, once we went to war with extremists, that picked up. So the Philippines is kind of tertiary. Everyone knows about Iraq and Afghanistan, few people know about Africa especially now with the captain whatever story with the pirates.
RH: Captain Phillips?
KK: Yeah, with the pirates and stuff. So there’s a lot more. People know more about the horn of African but there’s four combat zones. Everyone focuses on two, Iraq and Afghanistan. Most people don’t know about horn of Africa and southern Philippines. Those are the other two active combat zones. Being in Guam, the Philippines was our domain. We were so close. Literally, we were a two hour flight away from this area and doing the same thing I did in Afghanistan. We’d go there and collocate with Army Special Forces. That’s who was running the show there and we’d do our EOD thing with their Filipinos and make sure that they can do the EOD thing on their own. That’s the whole point for Special Forces. They go in, they show people how to fight for themselves, and hopefully they’ll win and have a better country for themselves. That’s the whole point. Obviously that shit doesn’t work out that well because we trained people in Libya, we trained people in Syria and now we’re eating a shit sandwich on that one, you know what I mean? Anyways, I don’t want to get too off topic.
There’s a really unique relationship between Army Special Forces and Navy EOD because we do the same thing for Navy SEALs but Navy SEALs aren’t so involved with local populations and FID. So FID is Foreign Internal Defense. That is the Green Beret mission from their inception. That was their entire purpose. They go in, they force multiply. So to enhance their force multiplication they bring us along because we also jump, we also dive, we’re also typically in better shape mentally and physically like they are. Navy EOD is considered the Special Forces of EOD.
RH: What unit were you with this deployment?
KK: So this was platoon 502 but it was Mobile Unit 5. Platoon 502. And then I was with Army Special Forces 1333 was the ODA.
RH: What, specifically, was your job?
KK: In the Philippines?
KK: Heavily on training Phils and we would do partner missions where we would do responses. So we had IED responses in the Philippines as well and we’d run it kind of like we did in Iraq. We had heavy vehicles, we had robots, we had explosives. We did everything remotely and we would either show the Phils how to do techniques because they didn’t have robots so we would let them use our robots. Sometimes we would drive the robots for them. They didn’t have their own explosives so we either would let them use ours or we would help them make their own out of confiscated explosives that they would get. We took TNT out of mortars and reconstitute it. Things like that. So it was another dynamic but kind of a make your own worth – you only get as much work as you can make for yourself kind of deployment.
RH: What were some of the IEDs like in the Philippines? Were they similar to Iraq and Afghanistan?
KK: Yes, similar. More towing devices. Several duds. Several very unique victim operated devices. There was a green radio. I don’t know if you know what a 152 is – 152 UHF radios. So one of them got lost and probably the Filipinos sold or whatever and it was an IED fully internal. So someone looking at the radio and trying to turn it on, it would have gone off.
There were assassination attempts where this particular IED was left in front of a mayor’s house. In the Philippines they have barangays in the villages and each barangay has a mayor. Their rivals sometimes resort to assassination. So you’ll see these mayors rolling around with Colt .45s on their hips. To be shot and assassinated in the Philippines for political reasons is actually fairly common and has been since the ‘60s. The Philippines is pretty Wild West and most people don’t know that.
RH: What were the Filipinos like?
KK: They were awesome. They were great. The ones that we worked with, they were super fun, always wanted to just cook and hang out and drink beer – obviously when not on duty. We were allowed to drink on Saturdays. Sometimes we’d bend that rule. Lots of shared meals. We helped them expand their housing area. We’d use bamboo and different types of lashing material. We built these outdoor type of barracks when they expanded their manpower for EOD stuff. They showed us how to de-mil mortars and take the explosives out of them. We’d help them do that. That’s how they would get their explosives because they don’t have any money. The Philippines is a very poor country. The military is very poor as well. They do get help from the US military but we can’t just give them explosives. It’s an accountability thing. So if they were going to do anything without me, they had to have their own explosives. If they took me with them, they could use my explosives because I was there. Does that make sense?
RH: Ah! OK. Got it. Are there any Filipinos that stick out in particular?
KK: Their Sergeant, their top – what do they call him? A Master Sergeant of EDO? He gave me a basketball uniform. He played basketball and we were really buddy buddy because I was an EOD team leader and he was their EOD team leader. Just super awesome guys. He was a little bit older, he was probably like fifty years old, so he kind of had this Filipino grandpa mentality, you know? A little heavyset, super positive guy, super smart guy. English and Tagalog were national languages. So, for the most part, Filipinos speak English. It’s just if you can understand them or not based on their accent or if they practice a lot or learn it. It was super easy to communicate with these guys because they mostly spoke English. They tried to teach us Tagalog but it was a far easier integration because the Philippines is, as far as Asian countries go, they’re probably the westernest Asian country. Does that make sense?
KK: They’ve been American allies since before World War II and ever since World War II we’ve been very, very tight with the Filipinos.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What were some of the significant events that happened during this deployment? Or both the deployments, I should say.
KK: Well, the second time around we really didn’t do much. There was just training. No missions, just training so I was in the combat zone but it was a different type of training. It was a different type of team. These weren’t even Army, these were like police Special Forces guys that we were training the second time around. The first time around it was Marine EOD ground forces. We would do resupplies with them. We had mass casualties, we lost Americans, we had post-blast response, we had IED calls.
When I’m thinking right now that stands out the most is we were doing resupply at a port where we would take on food for our base and we actually had a grenade thrown at our truck that went off and it started a firefight in this downtown port-type setting. So that was nuts. The Filipinos went crazy. They started shooting their weapons in all directions and we’re like, “what the fuck are you guys doing?” They were like, “we’re trying to scare them off.” [RH laughs] So it was just that dealing with these crazy guys. I was in the truck but it was a Humvee, and it didn’t really take much damage. The tire was leaking but it wasn’t a big deal when we got back. The guy in the turret was freaking out. The Filipinos were shooting all over the place saying, “contact, contact!” They had never been in contact and were like, “where is it hitting the truck? Where is it hitting?” He was like, “contact right, contact rear,” just calling out all this shit. I’m like, “don’t fucking shoot your gun. Just get down in the truck and tell me. I don’t hear anything being hit right now. It’s all outgoing.” He’s like, “oh.” He just heard gunfire and said, “contact,” but didn’t understand the difference between outgoing and incoming. So it was his first deployment. That was just a crazy ass night and after that we had to set up these rotating night watches because we were under threat of attack for about a month or so. They figured out it wasn’t that big of a threat.
A very interesting deployment though. You know, you go to the Philippines thinking you’ll be wearing boat shorts and drinking banana smoothies all day but it was just like a jungle version of Iraq. It’s pretty crazy.
RH: Anything else about those two deployments that you left out before we move on?
KK: No. It was just hard because Americans weren’t allowed to do much there so when we lost two Americans to an IED strike, they made it like it was our fault. The SOFA agreement, you know, the standing…
RH: Status Of Forces Agreement.
KK: The Status Of Forces Agreement, that came into question. The entire US military almost got kicked out of the country because of that and I was there for that response. Jack Martin and Chris Shaw were killed. It was just a shitty thing to see two Americans killed and then the response is to kick us out of the country because we’re not supposed to be there in the first place when all we’re trying to do is make that shithole better, you know? Typical, political game bullshit that’s really cost us the war on all three fronts. Four fronts, really. It’s a challenging situation.
RH: Let’s talk about Iraq’s current state a little bit. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
KK: Oh yeah. It’s shitty, man. I mean, It should never have happened. Obviously, you could see it from the mistakes made in Syria – just how that blew up and cost us the gains made in Iraq. So yeah, you can blame it on Obama but he’s just an idiot. He doesn’t know anything about this. The administration’s allowance of just really bad policies over there. Pulling out too early, sure. Would we have to stay there forever to make that place safe? Yes. It would be permanent bases like Germany, like Korea. Obviously Germany and Korea are far better off than Iraq is but it would have been a permanent military situation to make that place safe. So, honestly, we probably should have never been there in the first place but it’s six of one, half dozen of the other. You can’t take that shit back. It’s a fucking horrible situation and I’ve actually talked with guys who want to go mercenary and go over there and be a part of that. So who knows what’s going to happen?
RH: How do you feel about the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan?
KK: You know, another huge mistake was us trying to fix that country. It’s been the failure of every major empire on this Earth that has tried to fix Afghanistan. It’s never worked. Nobody’s ever been able to fix it so I don’t know what the fuck we were thinking thinking we could. 2001 we were all about bombing it and finding Osama bin Laden. Yes. Staying there and building a country on that shithole? It didn’t work. Afghanistan isn’t really a country. If you break it down, you have seven different ethnicities and dialects in these different regions that are so various that there’s no way even for an established government to have a solid control over, you know? So you have the most violent, craziest assholes out of one province managed to take over the whole fucking country because all of the Taliban came from Helmand. That’s the history of it. Helmand, Kandahar – that’s where all those assholes came from. Now you’ve got Jalalabad and the bleed over into Pakistan. It’s just such a fluid region there’s no way that you can build something. Everybody thinks it’s going to be like Phoenix, Arizona. You go over and build a bunch of houses and people are going to move in and be happy. If you’re lucky they’ll put up some gated communities and some fucking water fountains and you’re good to go, right? It’s just a stupid ass policy.
We don’t take war for what it is. We try to go there and the whole “you break it, you buy it” mentality is fucking stupid. The only reason we have that is, I think, is because we bombed Japan twice and we decided to rebuild Japan. But you’ve got to remember, Japan signed a surrender treaty. I don’t know. We just keep making the same fucking mistakes. Vietnam, the Gulf War, now this. It’s failed policies and it’s failed, really, type of experiments and it has to stop. So I’m all for getting out of Afghanistan but, at the same time, you’ve got to think of how many lives and how much everything was wasted to build that place up and it’s just not going to stick. No matter how much we want it to, whenever we leave, it’s not going to stick.
RH: Alright. I have a couple of spiritual questions. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
KK: Yes. Deploying, I think, made me atheist for a long time and I just didn’t see. You talk about – I grew up Christian – a loving God who wants peace and love in your life and all this other shit but then you see these regions that are completely – everything that I was taught growing up, they just do it wrong. From my point of view, everything they do is wrong. From a societal, culturally, just how their cultural standards are just so wrong to most American standards, if that makes sense.
RH: You mean the cultural standards like in Afghanistan?
KK: Yes. Afghanistan and also some in Iraq. Just the way women were treated, the way families were treated, the way tribes come before anything. Just the whole might makes right. They live by that. They live by the biggest kid on the block owns the block kind of mentality. They think it’s OK to molest little boys. They think it’s OK to beat and kill women for nothing. They think it’s OK to kill each other for nothing. Honestly, to me, they seem Godless and lawless.
RH: Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
KK: I’ve become more accepting of death, for instance. Americans, when you look around, I just see spoiled little kids, do you know what I mean? People have no idea what the fuck’s going on outside of America. It’s really sad.
RH: So it’s starting to get loud now so I have a couple of questions left. To switch it up a little bit, what’s your happiest memory of the entire time you deployed? Or maybe memories.
KK: Besides coming home?
KK: Well, in Iraq we were in Baghdad, Camp Liberty for like three weeks and we had turned in our weapons so we were just wearing PT gear and working out and eating. They had dance clubs and Pizza Hut. They had all that crazy shit in Baghdad back then. The Brits had booze. We were able to get a bottle of booze from them. We just had a really good time with no work required – just enjoying our tent and our team. And there was another team from South Carolina, from EOD Mobile Unit 6, from South Carolina that was there and half of them we had all gone to school with so we all knew each other. It went from like an eight man to sixteen man party in the tent. It just was a really good time waiting to go home.
Same thing, kind of, in Afghanistan. The Chief’s thing fucking sucked but when I was done with that, I was just hanging out with my buddies drinking coffee and eating donuts every day just waiting to go home. So you have just that downslope where you’re not worried about going on responses and missions. You can kind of start to forget about those missions.
RH: Good to go. What are some of the funny stories that you have?
KK: [laughs] So I got one for you. We were in Helmand and we were expecting the same regular Afghan Army training that they were doing in Kandahar we had kind of shared with the Brits and they were doing it in Helmand. We actually did a personnel swap. I went there to give them my Lieutenant and another guy and take one of their Lieutenant British EOD guys – he was actually Scottish. Really good trade because this dude is way smarter than the guys I gave them. So we’re at the range and they had a blue roof in there. So I go in there to do my business and I can hear my buddies out there fucking around. I’m like, “you guys better not be doing something stupid.” I knew something was happening because they were laughing at this point so I jump out and as soon as I get out of the blue roof, the door closes and an arti-sim explodes underneath it [RH laughs] and when it exploded it shot blue shit water and completely covered the inside of this thing. Literally, the door was closing as this happened and I got blue shit water on my leg. I opened the door and I showed them that it was raining blue shit water in this thing. I was like, “if I was in here when this happened I would have literally gotten out of her and pulled this knife and I would have killed you with this knife!”
RH: That’s a good one.
KK: After that I got them back. I actually threw an arti-sim behind him and I said, “hey Bob, turn around!” And he turned around and it blew up in his face and to this day he still has hearing loss. So it was not a very fair trade – stained pants for deafness. [laughs] But we were fucking with each other pretty hard that deployment and that was one point in time. On Bob’s birthday we threw him in a river and we didn’t know this but upriver we saw a bunch of Afghans washing their asses in the river, [both laugh] upstream from where we threw him in. We were like, “Bob, we’re so sorry.”
RH: Alright. Time for the most important question of the entire interview. What was the best MRE?
KK: Buffalo chicken. Usually they had Skittles in there too. Buffalo chicken. Yeah, that was a good one.
RH: Alright. This is going to be a four part question. What was the best chow hall in Iraq? The best chow hall in Afghanistan? The best chow hall in the Philippines? And then, fleet-wide, the best chow hall in the US?
KK: OK. So, starting with Iraq, I can’t remember the name of it but it was at Camp Liberty. They had Mongolian barbeque every day. So it was basically stir fry to order every day and they had ice cream every day. So we were eating Mongolian shit and eating ice cream, hanging out in silkies and just loving it.
The best chow hall in the Philippines? The Philippines didn’t have KBR, they had DynCorp. So they had a DynCorp DFAC in Zamboanga. That was the same kind of thing – all you can eat, really good food, but they had a smoothie bar so you could order whatever smoothie you wanted.
In Afghanistan, probably the chow hall at Camp Brown which was the CJSOTF-A side. So within Kandahar, Jandahar’s broken up into all these different camps and then you have the air side. So on the main side you had all these camps. You had the USA camp and then you had the brick buildings for the hospital. You had the hospital then you had the Canadian camp. You had the British and the British DFAC and that was OK. They had curry and stuff. Camp Brown was specifically for Commander of Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan. It was just Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces and their support guys. So they had another DynCorp. It wasn’t regular. It was specifically a DynCorp DFAC and anybody knows that DynCorp is the best for it because they would have almost like 7-Eleven type of aisles for candy and shit. You just grabbed what you wanted. You know, Big Chews and Clif Bars and Snickers bars. Because you could just pack your pockets, go through, get your buffalo chicken or whatever you wanted and just bounce out. It was good.
RH: And then the US?
KK: In the US? Chow hall?
KK: Probably here in Point Loma. San Diego, Point Loma. They do a lot of good stuff.
RH: Alright. So last couple of questions. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about any of the three conflicts we are in?
KK: The biggest misconception is thinking that people are fighting for American freedom. At the best case you’re over there working for American security however I don’t see it that way. The Coast Guard, the TSA and local police do far more to keep this country safe than the American military does. We’re over there keeping American interests alive which means American corporations and business and government is giving money for us to stay over there. Period.
RH: If you could communicate something to young sailors who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
KK: Don’t stay in too long. A lot of guys want to get in and see if they can be a warrior. I think that’s a big part of it. In America we have this warrior culture where you have all these CrossFit gyms and you have all these fitness warriors. You look at how much we worship football and baseball and treat them like warriors on the field and bla, bla, bla. So Americans, I think, especially in men there’s this feeling where you want to feel like you’ve contributed to something, like you’ve been a warrior, like you’ve done your part. So, yeah. I think that everyone should be in the military. I think you should go out there and eat a piece of that shit sandwich that comes with trying to be a warrior and see if you like it or not because most of the times you won’t and you’ll realize that you’re fighting for rich assholes that could give zero fucks about your well-being. But, for the most part, guys go over there wanting to fucking shoot a terrorist in the face or, for me, it was keep those guys alive and I feel some pride for at least having some successes. Obviously nothing’s a hundred percent successful and you have to learn to live with those failures. So I guess, to save yourself, don’t take too much pride in your failures and move on and know that nothing is a hundred percent. Nobody’s perfect and, definitely, if you want to be a warrior go out and try to be one.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Is there anything I left out that you would like to address?
KK: No. I think that’s it.
RH: Perfect. Last question. What specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
KK: Keeping my family together. My first daughter was born the day I came home from my fourth EOD deployment, my sixth Navy deployment after fourteen years in the Navy. She’s three years old now. And going through the struggles I’ve gone through the last year and a half with treatment, and separation and things like that and having a second daughter on top of that. Just having a wife that’s as – sometimes I don’t think she’s understanding but she really, really is. And being able to keep a family together because at the end of the day, when you’re done with your service you have to go back to being a person.
No one’s a soldier forever and the ones that are are buried in the ground. I love them forever for what they’ve done but they’re going to miss out on what we’re given which is a long life, hopefully. I think just having a family still by my side and knowing that they’ll be there for my life I think is the biggest accomplishment because we always put the job first and that’s easy. To accomplish the mission, to get your awards and to get your promotions – that shit was always easy. I see time and time again people fail at being a family because they’d rather be good at being a sailor or Marine. Americans, they say sacrifice but they have no idea. You’re literally sacrificing what would be a good life for a military life. I guess being able to not lose everything for that sacrifice is my biggest accomplishment.
RH: Alright. Did I leave anything out?
KK: No. Sounds good man.
RH: Alright! Thank you very much. I appreciate it.