A walk around the American side of Strong Point DeMaiwand takes all of two minutes. Stretch it to four if you take the scenic route, stopping at every tent, from the operations center to the mess hall. For this platoon from the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment out of Fort Bliss, DeMaiwand has been home away from home for more than four months.
They've spent much of that time strengthening the base's defenses, according to Spc. Ryan Stewart of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
"It was pretty bare. A lot of things needed sandbags, needed cover. We built up our C-wire defenses and our tower defenses and set some outside-the-wire security defenses also."
Small as it is, the post takes a lot of upkeep. Generators go out. Water pumps break down. For the most part, the men do the repairs themselves. And when they can't, they do without.
"You take the convenience of a shower as a normal, everyday thing."
Sean McCool is a retired, non-commissioned officer. He's now an environmental contractor, who visited DeMaiwand on an inspection tour.
"Here, they've got a couple of pop-up showers and a pump that they run only during certain times of the day. When the pump goes out, and it takes a week to get a replacement part for it, there are no showers. And the guys don't complain. They just look at each other, they laugh, and they clean up, they keep going."
Fixing up the base comes second to the mission: keeping the Maiwand District of Kandahar Province safe, and preventing the Taliban from threatening the district government at Hutal. But it's strictly a supporting role, backing up the Afghan National Army — or ANA — unit that shares Strongpoint DeMaiwand. 1st Lt.Frank Komadina commands the U.S. forces here.
"Well our job here is to advise and assist them so they can be ready to take over this fight when it's time for us to go. The Afghans are firmly in the lead. They're the ones doing all the lifting now."
It's a welcome change. Some of these men are on their fourth combat deployment. Sgt. 1st Class Trent Boone, the base's senior NCO, served three tours in Iraq.
"Strongpoint DeMaiwand was originally built during the surge. Back when it was originally established, it was a very high activity area. Right now, they are harvesting poppy, which if you’ll notice, in all the fields, there's usually 20 to 30 individuals out scoring the poppy. So we're thinking obviously that most of them are working during the day and not fighting. And once harvest is complete, things will pick up again."
Sgt. 1st Class Boone’s prediction would prove all too accurate.
On Saturday, May 4, soldiers from the 1-36 Infantry were on patrol in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, when one of their vehicles struck an IED. Five of the soldiers were killed. The dead included 1st Lt. Brandon Landrum of Oklahoma, Staff Sgt. Francis Phillips IV of New York, Spec. Thomas Mursch of Iowa, Spc. Brandon Prescott of Oregon, and Spc. Kevin Cardoza of Mercedes, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley.
They were the first casualties the 1-36 suffered since deploying to Afghanistan in December.
Tomorrow, Andrew Schneider reports on a mission by the 1-36 Infantry to cut a Taliban supply route, in Part 2 of Winding Down the War.