I had been a police advisor in Afghanistan for about three months and I recalled how my Uncle Harry would tell me how, during the Vietnam War, he escorted road convoys called “Rough Riders” from Danang up Highway One, or the “Street without Joy” to Hue Phu Bai. He would man an M42A1 “Duster” with its twin mounted 40mm anti-aircraft cannon capable of launching 240 high explosive rounds per minute to bust up Vietcong and NVA reinforced ambushes with thick volleys of explosive ordnance. Ironically, I now found myself in just such a column of Marine escorted vehicles en route to a rural poppy-growing village just 20 miles north as the crow flies from our base. However, by gut-wrenching and twisting mountainous road, the trip was extended to 60 miles and it took 5.5 hours to reach our destination. The Dusters were long gone, having been replaced by up-armored HMMWVs (highly mobile multipurpose wheeled vehicles) bristling with .50BMG M2s, 5.56mm M249s, 7.62mm M240s and 40mm MK19s.
The terrain is extremely steep and narrow, and he who commands the high ground in this part of the world is usually in charge of what moves below him. Vehicles literally scrape by canyon walls while the occupants wear layer upon layer of protective kit in summer temperatures that crest 115 degrees. And no air conditioning, aggravated by the order to keep your armored windows shut at all times. We got to the village with few problems, but the heat was nearly unbearable and with the exception of a 2-hour meeting with the headmen, I wore over 60 pounds of gear the entire time during the three-day operation. I was able to eat only two MREs.