By Petty Officer 1st Class David M. Votroubek, USN
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 25, 2007 - A small, blinking Christmas tree sits in the dining facility. Aside from a few other lights, it is the only symbol of Christmas on Forward Operating Base Wolverine. The base is home to a group of soldiers formally called the 4-2 Embedded Training Team, but known informally as the "Crazy 98s." The 15-man team trained together at Fort Riley, Kan., and deployed to Afghanistan as mentors for the Afghan National Army. Now they're coming to the end of their tour.
Three days before Christmas, Army Capt. Douglas Solan sat in the gravel at FOB Wolverine, unpacking a new motorcycle for the Afghan army. The combat engineer chuckled while assembling the bright green bike. "Nothing ever changes," he said. "I'm 7,000 miles from home, and I'm still putting somebody else's toys together."
But Solan said he knows the soldiers he trains will use the motorcycle to guide convoys down Afghanistan's most dangerous roads. Since it arrived in February, his team has dealt with 50 improvised explosive devices planted by the Taliban.
Two days before Christmas, the team made a humanitarian assistance visit to a nearby village; but again the intent was serious. As if they were Santa Claus, they handed out candy, clothes and tools, while the mentors and Afghan soldiers were quietly gathering intelligence about local insurgents. This information could be well worth the price of a wheelbarrow or a pocketful of candy bars. A tip about a Taliban leader came in the following day.
Later they posed for one last group picture during a rare occasion that the whole team was together. Intact teams are rare for embedded training teams. Although they'd been attacked almost a dozen times and have suffered injuries, the Crazy 98 soldiers haven't suffered a fatality.
On Christmas morning, Solan prepared a holiday meal for the team. Others watched TV, read or called home. Each member of the team was permitted 30 minutes to make calls via satellite phone.
One of those soldiers was Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Dose, who had served a previous combat tour in Iraq. He woke up at 5 a.m. to call his wife and son during their Christmas Eve celebration.
"Technology has definitely made these tours better than they used to be," he remarked.
Christmas is quiet on the FOB. The radios are still manned in case of an attack, but that danger will soon be behind them. For now, the Crazy 98 soldiers are happy to celebrate the holiday and end of their tour together. They have each other, and say that it's enough.
(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David M. Votroubek is assigned to Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs.)