After a convoy from Forward Operating Base Orgun-E, Afghanistan to FOB Sharana, Sgt. Michael Hrehowsik, Pvt. Vandy Thon, Staff Sgt. Robert Rein and Pfc. Brandon Renner stand with their Humvee.

After a convoy from Forward Operating Base Orgun-E, Afghanistan to FOB Sharana, Sgt. Michael Hrehowsik, Pvt. Vandy Thon, Staff Sgt. Robert Rein and Pfc. Brandon Renner stand with their Humvee. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

ORGUN, Afghanistan — It wasn’t even their Humvee, it had nearly 11,000 miles on it, and here it was, part of a convoy, getting ready to cross miles and miles of bleak, rocky terrain surrounded by hills and scrub where men with rifles and RPGs might be hiding.

They were not happy soldiers.

Based in Afghanistan’s east at Forward Operating Base Orgun-E, they’d spent little time there. Instead, they’d been fighting all over the country the past several months — out one time for 45 days at a time — nearly always getting fired on. One soldier, already lean, had lost 20 pounds.

Four days before, they’d been ambushed. Two guys were shot in the elbow; another was hit in the foot. And now they had this new mission to fight someplace else. The bright spot: the Humvee’s discreet convoy position.

“You know what I like?” said Staff Sgt. Robert Rein, truck commander. “I like being in the middle.”

The convoy was supposed to take about 90 minutes. Rein and the three other soldiers in the truck, all from the seemingly indefatigable Company C, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, knew it would take longer. Someone’s Humvee, possibly theirs, would surely break down.

Nine minutes after rolling out the gate, it happened. A bolt broke in the Humvee in front of theirs, and all steering capability was gone.

“Maybe it’s an omen. Maybe we’re not supposed to go,” said Pfc. Brandon Renner, the driver.

Omen or not, the convoy continued. Only now the broken Humvee had to be towed by Renner’s Humvee.

And then, unexpectedly, things started looking up. Someone else towed the broken Humvee. The convoy proceeded, and, without the other Humvee attached, the ride seemed quite smooth. Plus, as Rein noted, “The AC works very well.”

As the convoy drove on, Rein talked about what he did on leave: He won money playing poker and roulette, he played ball with his kids, he told his girlfriend he could not sleep past noon, even if she could.

Rein told the gunner, Pvt. Vandy Thon, to be alert, after hearing on his radio that mirror flashes had been seen, indicating that someone was signaling their progress to someone else. “I don’t know … two flashes per vehicle?” Rein said.

“Then they blow us up,” said Sgt. Michael Hrehowsik, called “Hero.”

Company C’s 3rd Platoon members have been unbelievably busy since arriving in the remote Paktika province in February. Their base is nothing to write home about, but because they’ve usually been hundreds of miles away from its gym, communications and hot meals, it seemed almost beautiful.

“Name a place other than Kabul in Afghanistan,” Rein said.

“Kandahar,” a reporter offered.

“Been there,” Rein said.


“Been there,” Rein said.

Had they been to any place they thought was “nice”?

“You know what’s nice?” Hrehowsik said. “New Jersey is nice.”

In six months, the platoon had been attached to the Marines, NATO forces, the British, the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, the 3rd Battalion, 71st Cavalry and Special Forces.

“There’s not one platoon that’s done more missions than we have,” Rein said. “We traveled farther than any other unit in Afghanistan.”

All their missions have been combat operations. All involved shots being fired, including one ambush that lasted 30 minutes, Rein said. During that one, they were in their Humvees and just kept driving.

“When you’re in the truck,” Rein said, as opposed to being on foot, “it’s like you’re watching it.”

Of their platoon of 36 men, 17 have been injured and awarded Purple Hearts, Rein said.

One man — the company’s medic — had been killed in a roadside bombing. Rein, on his second Afghanistan tour, said there was far more enemy activity now.

“Not even close,” he said. “It’s just nerve-racking: Almost every single mission, we get shot at or blown up — something.”

Rein is scheduled to leave Afghanistan this winter. He says he’ll never come back, even if the country is transformed into a garden spot, even if the Army wants him to come back. He’s seen enough combat, he says, and he’s been far from home a long time.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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