The journey home begins as the first stabs of sunlight crest the mountains east of Forward Operating Base Altimur, a hunk of land on the slope above a wide desert valley, deep in Logar Province. A sergeant from Bull Battery, one of the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s field artillery units, rouses Afghan drivers from their slumber in the cabs of their flat bed trucks. They park beside the base each night and sleep in the trucks to keep them running. They often fill their radiators with water to keep their engines from freezing.
Throughout the day, the troops and a few civilian contractors load truck after truck with T-Walls–eight-foot tall slabs of thick concrete that surrounded most buildings when the base was full. A driver can fit about four walls on the flat bed of his truck, or two twenty-foot metal containers, or four heaping pallets of ten-foot long lumber. Load by load, the 300-man base grows smaller, and soon it will be about a quarter of its original size. Closing smaller bases is the first step in what the military calls retrograde–the arduous and complex process of bringing home all of the U.S.’s equipment in Afghanistan.
The paratroopers from Bull Battery tackle the Altimur base closure with alacrity; they’ve done this mission before, and although this time the task is much larger, it many ways it’s an easier assignment. “Here it’s been unique for us because, to put it simply, we don’t have a lot of people shooting at us,” says Lieut. Colonel Kelly Webster, commander of 4-319 Airborne Field Artillery Battalion, Bull Battery’s parent unit.
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