I remember the first time I got shot at like it was yesterday.
I was tagging along on a foot patrol as an embedded journalist with infantry Marines in southern Afghanistan in May 2010. The lance corporal in the back of the group noticed two gun-wielding enemy fighters sneak out from behind a farm compound in an apparent attempt to ambush us, and opened fire on them. The situation quickly escalated into a firefight, with Taliban insurgents opening fire on us from two locations.
We dove off a dirt trail into a mucky, insect-infested canal, and the Marines returned fire, pressing through thorny vegetation and knee-deep water while maneuvering to go after the insurgents. Within 15 minutes, a supersonic F/A-18 fighter jet roared over the treetops in a show of force, and Cobra gunship helicopters and a surveillance drone buzzed overhead while U.S. troops scanned the area for the fighters who fled.
In many ways, that engagement in the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah in 2010 is representative of a greater truth for U.S. troops who have spent more than a decade at war. For most Americans, getting caught in an ambush would be a significant life experience. For the troops involved that day, though, it was another anonymous day at the office. Since no one was injured, they simply returned to their dusty patrol base, ate lunch, and hung up their camouflage uniforms to dry, cracking jokes along the way. Then they did it again the next day.
That’s exceedingly common. For all the media coverage of the wars, most service members are still known to the public only as “the troops,” the nameless cogs that make Uncle Sam’s military machine go. But they’re far more than that. They’re a proud group that ranges in ethnicity, faith and geographic roots, and they subscribe to a fascinating warrior culture that is all their own. They serve on land, air and sea, and operate equipment that is both amazing and frightening.
Checkpoint, The Washington Post’s new military blog, will look to explore this world every way we can.
Our mission doesn’t end there, though. The U.S. military is a powerful institution with a budget of about $500 billion per year. It includes fascinating weapons programs, secretive special operations units, and a history and present that is rich with stories filled with heroism and pride, tragedy and frustration.
Expect that this blog will take the temperature on a variety of issues affecting the military, noting a diversity of opinion and thought whenever possible. We’ll bring you slices of life from the military world, highlighting the courage, humor, and bureaucracy that is common in it. We’ll look at operations. We’ll examine veterans’ issues. And we’ll scrutinize decisions, whether it’s who should be in charge, where policy should be changed or what sort of new high-tech weapon should be purchased.
Some of you may remember The Post’s old national security blog, Checkpoint Washington. Consider this a different forum. We’ll certainly track what is going on in the Pentagon, but we’re going broad, here. The idea is to highlight the conversation in the military, not just the discussion about it. We’ll leverage a variety of formats to do that, and ask for plenty of participation in the process.
So welcome to Checkpoint. Follow us on Twitter, and join in the comments here.
Stick around a while, won’t you?