Dan Willis was an infantryman in the Marine Corps from 2010-2015 after a tumultuous and short career on Wall Street, serving with Fox Company 2/9. He is currently working on his undergraduate degree in economics at Columbus State Community College, and expects to finish at The Ohio State University. Dan humbly serves as RTB Media's Creative Director and Co-founder. Follow Dan on Twitter.
t wasn’t 24 hours after Dycus was executed on Post 5 that you could feel the tension on the COP start to boil over. There was still a Company-size element of ANA living and sleeping right beside us. Our CO and 1st Sergeant were tripping over themselves to deliver empty, Just a Bad Apple speeches to us – you could sense in their voices how afraid they were that COP Coutu would wind up playing host to a retaliatory massacre that would make headlines the world over. The dynamic duo that had failed upward into the leadership ranks of Fox Company were also busy making special arrangements to host a cadre of Afghan dignitaries for Dycus’ memorial ceremony. They wanted weeds pulled, so we pulled weeds. They wanted FROG tops zipped up, so we zipped up our tops. They wanted patrols to go outside the wire and police call around the COP, so that’s what they got. But things were getting ridiculous. Things said under the breath of a Lance Corporal found their way to the less-hesitant, more seasoned staff NCOs. Our Company Guns told the 1st Sergeant to go fuck himself at the top of his lungs in the middle of the COP – not everyone saw it, but everyone heard it.
The open insubordination didn’t arrest our Command’s endless attempt to create the illusion of safety and stability on the outpost. Paramount among the initial, knee-jerk lunacy was their addition of an Internal Post that stood between the ANA portion of Coutu and the Marine side. A 4ft-by-4ft wooden box that stood about 8 feet high, and was sided with ½ inch particle board from the ground to just above one’s waist. No blast glass, no sandbags – just a half-finished coffin. The addition of this post to the security posture of the COP served as nothing more than an insult to us. We stood Internal Post exposed, with a clear view of Post 5 to remind us of the fact Dycus was gone, and we seethed. We joked with each other about helping the CO and 1st Sergeant find “an early bird home.” I knew nobody would actually do it. Plus, there was no way either of those clowns would have risked their skin on an actual patrol. But we longed for someone to blame, for some outlet to let out all of the rage.
Then the Skipper showed up with his precious goats – purchased or traded-for under terms that I am sure would infuriate most tax payers. He triumphantly tied them to a pomegranate tree at the edge of the orchard nearest Internal Post, probably some 10 meters away from us. We watched blankly as the man-child hands of the Captain fumbled with a simple rope and chain. We would’ve laughed if we weren’t so pissed off by the fact that we worked for him. He owned us and we hated ourselves for it.
“Hey Marines, er, these goats are Internal Post responsibility now, ya’ trackin’? We’re gonna’ get ‘em nice ‘n fat for an Easter, er, meal or feast-type thing.” For a college boy, the Skipper wasn’t great with words.
“Good to go, sir,” I replied. I looked over at Sweeney. He thought the same thing. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. The CO mumbled something about feeding the miserable animals as he lumbered his way through the gravel back to his isolation chamber. We stared at the goats, then burst into laughter. There’s no way he thinks we’re actually going to take care of these things, right?! I don’t know what made him think we would give a shit about two dusty, deformed, useless Afghan goats. But he should have thought it through. Our post stood on an endless bed of rocks, small enough not to cause any real damage, but big enough to be a real pain in the ass if you’re the goat. After the laughter faded, my thoughts traveled to a familiar, more contemptuous place.
“Fuck these goats,” I started. Sweeney added his agreement and a half-hearted laugh, but whatever sense of helpless euphoria that had allowed me to laugh at our predicament only moments ago had just then collided with the anger and grief and hatred over losing a friend and following an idiot.
“Seriously. Fuck these goats. They belong to the CO – a man as likely as any ‘Talib mother fucker to get me killed out here. That makes him an enemy. By extension, these goats are the enemy. Fuck these goats,” I demanded, refusing to consider dealing in anything besides absolutes.
Then Sweeney had a flash of real brilliance. “We shouldn’t let them sit down. Like, ever.” He bent over and picked up a handful of rocks, and proceeded to pelt the uglier of the two goats square in the forehead. The animal shot to his feet and scrambled, promptly discovering the extent of his freedom with a jerk that made us both laugh. Sweeney continued, “You see? Just throw rocks at them every time they sit down. Scare them into standing for hours on end – they’ll probably die from exhaustion. If not, we still win, because fuck these goats.” Internal Post was manned 24/7, just like any other security post. It was quite feasible for us to make this happen.
The unofficial orders for Internal Post spread across the other shifts like wildfire. Everyone was onboard. Everyone’s anger was righteous. That the goats were ugly or stupid or dirty, or even that they were goats at all, didn’t matter in the least. They were doomed. Surrounded on all sides by pointlessness, ineptitude and defeat, we decided to make the goats’ misery a small but significant victory for us – maybe the only victory I would ever know in Afghanistan. Of course, innocently launching acorn-size rocks at the goats failed to remain the only method of torture. Rocks, dirt, piss and other things found their way into the food and water bowls of the goats and onto the goats themselves. I don’t remember who the worst offenders were. But I do remember a feeling of deep satisfaction every time someone would inform me of the latest Internal Post Goat Security (torture) shenanigan -- like a general hearing of another incremental victory won by his men.
Like all victories, this one wouldn’t last. Eventually, we got sloppy and a few guys were caught in the act by our 1st Sergeant. He and the CO threatened to NJP the entire post standing crew. I’ve never been able to prove it, but to this day I believe that they squeezed the truth out of one of us. Those bastards. The same bastards that threatened a Marine with paperwork for shooting at Dycus’ killer. The same bastards that invented stories of Dycus smoking (he hated cigarettes) and leading PT (fat chance) during their memorial speeches. Their disciplinary heavy-handedness should have come as no surprise – they were on the last leg of a well-rounded career built on the backs of their men. Those fucking bastards.
Our Staff NCOs chewed us out at the 1st Sergeant’s directive, but no one got in any real trouble for torturing the goats. The day finally came for them to be slaughtered. We – the post-standers – desperately wanted to be the ones to cut their throats. We wouldn’t get to know the taste of that victory. A working party was thrown together to prepare their lifeless bodies for the fire. I watched the animals cook, only then realizing that we were never torturing them. In our minds, every time we pissed on them, we pissed on the CO; every slight to the animals was indeed a slight to our pathetic leadership. I had told someone I wouldn’t dare take part in the feast, but nevertheless I got in line for my helping of miserable, grilled goat. Ironically, it was delicious.
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