PANJWAI, AFGHANISTAN — U.S. Army Capt. Mike Aldrich hunches over his makeshift desk at Forward Operating Base Sperwan Ghar. He is the commander of Alpha Company, 1-16th Infantry Regiment, and currently nearing the end of a marathon 13 hour planning session. Functioning mainly on caffeine powders and poorly made coffee, the haggard officer is surrounded by a sea of crumpled notebook paper. On his walls are two white boards filled top to bottom with scratch work.
His job is not easy. In about 20 minutes, one of his platoons will be leaving the wire for an early morning combat patrol with the Afghan National Army. Joint missions like this always receive a lot of attention from higher headquarters, and Aldrich is still struggling to find a cool sounding name that will really pop when he talks about it in the battalion update brief tomorrow night.
“It’s getting down to the last second now," Aldrich says. "At first I was gonna go with Operation Anvil Hammer Sweep, you know, since we’re Anvil company. But then I thought, Anvil…Hammer… that’s too obvious. People will think I’m not even trying.”
He sighs and gestures to the heap around him on the floor. “I’ve been at this for hours. I really wanted to work something that makes it sound badass. Like Operation Whore Smashing Hammer.”
The captain chuckles.
“I wish, right? That one would definitely turn some heads in the battalion brief," Aldrich tells Duffel Blog. "I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t send the right message to the locals though. All about hearts and minds here. Maybe Operation Stealth Badass, since we’re going out early in the morning?"
Aldrich pauses for a moment, and looks back at his paperwork.
"Damn. Stealth makes me think of the F-117, and I don’t want someone to think my company is some weak Chair Force unit. Plus I don't think you can use profanity in the name. That's a real shame. I was kind of leaning towards Operation Taliban Cock Stomp. That one had kind of a nice ring to it.”
Aldrich looks out the dirty window of his office, located in an old Taliban school at the top of a hill. The sun is just starting to rise, illuminating the grape rows and marijuana fields that surround the U.S.-Afghan outpost, and the war-weary Infantry leader grunts.
“It’s almost time. I guess I’ll just have to go with a classic. Operation Anvil Thunder.”
He types the name into a blank Power Point slide and nods with satisfaction.
“I told the lieutenant to be ready for a mission this morning about 14 hours ago," Aldrich says, as he checks his watch. “So he’s had this entire time to prep. Guess I’m well within the one-third, two-thirds planning guidelines. Man I wish I had that kind of time back when I was a lieutenant!”
When asked what the mission actually is for the day, Aldrich's eyes grow large.
“Shit! The plan. Goddamn it!”
Frantic, the officer leaps into action, scribbling poorly drawn military symbols on the back of a piece of scratch paper covered with discarded operation names.
“They can infil from the south. I’m pretty sure we haven’t had any IEDs there recently," Aldrich reasons. "Or was it the north? I haven’t seen the historical data in a while. How many vehicles did I say were going? Let’s just call it five. The Afghans can bring their trucks too. Do they have trucks? Did I remember to tell their commander there was a patrol today?”
Suddenly there’s a loud knock at the door.
“Stand by!" shouts the commander, still drawing feverishly as the sun continues to rise. Finally he’s finished, and calls out for his subordinate.
1st Lt. Chuck Mercer, the 3rd Platoon leader, walks into the cramped space, already sweating from the weight of body armor, weapons, ammo, and his Harris radio, over the earpiece of which the rest of his soldiers can be heard completing their final comm checks.
“Good morning," says Mercer. "Uh, sir….it’s 0600 and we’re about to step off. Do we have the operations order yet for that mission you…umm…..ordered us to do?”
“Of course. Here you go lieutenant,” says Aldrich as he hands the young officer his work. The paper is a terrible mess of symbols, arrows, and hastily written notes wedged between the margins. At the bottom is a six digit grid coordinate, circled with the label ‘Objective 1.’
The Lieutenant looks at the paper in his hands, incredulous.
“Sir, with all due respect, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
“I know I know," Aldrich tells him. "Operation Anvil Thunder wasn’t my first choice either, but it’s too late to change it. Now have a safe patrol.”