It’s the New Year—the time when we make and break resolutions, look forward to years to come, and reflect on years past. It has been on my mind lately that three years have passed since I came home from my deployment to Afghanistan. As many soldiers will attest, we can be prone to moments of misty-eyed nostalgia—I sometimes find myself wishing to return to the simplicity of active service, though this is becoming an increasingly rare occurrence as I gradually gain age and shed my impetuous belief in my own invulnerability.

At any rate, the time of year has found me wistful, and I wanted to share one of my lighter stories from Afghanistan. This one takes place during the winter of 2009. My platoon had just assisted the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCDs) [see note 1]  with the collapse of a temporary Observation Point somewhere in the Dand district of Kandahar. And by assisted, I mean that my platoon had done all of the work pulling up razor wire, burning latrine waste (of which, no small amount ended up all over the uniform of one of our drivers), and taking down trip-flares. The RCDs simply sat atop their hill in an over-watch position until we finished with the grunt-work and we all drove back to their platoon house. Given this, my compatriots and I were in a state of righteous indignation when we rolled into the platoon house to pick up some of our cached equipment and move on to the Dand District Centre (DDC).

When we arrived, we found that our cots (which we had left only days before) had been appropriated by the RCD Quartermaster [see note 2], and that he had no plans to return them. It was felt within the platoon that some recompense must be had from the RCDs. We decided to hit them where they would feel it most: their junk-food stash, which was kept in a side-room of their compound.

Feigning legitimate purposes, a few of us slipped into the compound and infiltrated the stash to pillage it. We grabbed chips, cookies, and whatever else the RCDs had; I stole a half-flat of Diet Pepsi before returning to our Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV). Once we left the platoon house, and were on the road to the DDC, we began to relish our victory—picturing the looks on the faces of the RCDs when they came across their ransacked store of snack-food.

Our celebration was cut short by something altogether unexpected. Our laughter died in our mouths at the sight of a scaled tail slipping out of the flat of Pepsi and into one of our overhead storage pouches; we had a stow-away.

The interior of a LAV, as those in-the-know will tell you, is not spacious. In fact, with seven soldiers in full kit, the troop compartment can feel very much like a particularly crowded sardine can. In such tight quarters, our stow-away’s presence was particularly disturbing. Before panicking, one of the brighter members of the section suggested that we look inside our pictorial guide to Afghanistan’s fauna in order to identify the species we were dealing with. We went through the list of snakes and recognized the colour-pattern exhibited by our stow-away. According to the book, it was a “Siberian Pit-Viper”. Needless to say, that didn’t sound good.

It was dark outside by this time, and our convoy was still moving. Given this, we decided that the intruder must be killed; it was either him or us. Jack pulled out his knife and began to prod at the overhead pouch which contained the snake. I mentioned earlier that the inside of the LAV is cramped—no longer; we were all so pressed up against the rear door of the LAV that there was room for at least two more people. Jack gave the pouch a smack from underneath, and out popped the snake, which landed directly on one of the seats. What followed comes to my mind as a blur. Jack slashed wildly at the snake with his knife as it attempted to avoid the strokes. I seem to remember that he got the viper twice, but despite this, it crawled onto the floor and disappeared into the underside of the turret.

It was only fair, at this point, to warn the crew (who were in the turret) that a possibly wounded and angry pit-viper was somewhere under their seats. Jack got on the intercom:

“Attention crew… uh… there may or may not be a snake in the LAV, and it may or may not be in the turret with you.” What kind of snake? “We think it’s a Siberian Pit-Viper.”

Our LAV gunner lept out of his seat and spent the rest of the ride to the DDC on the roof of the LAV. In fact, we all spent the rest of the ride on edge. At any moment we expected to see our stow-away reappear and wreak his revenge. It never occurred to us to ask the convoy to stop. I doubt it would even have been possible while going through a darkened town at night; the risk of ambush would have been too great. So there we sat in the dim, semi-darkness of the LAV and kept a close watch for movement on the turret floor.

When we finally rolled into the DDC, we piled out of the LAV with relief and sealed the doors behind us. In the typical fashion of young men, we decided to leave the problem there until the morning. As dawn broke, we searched the LAV but found no trace of the snake. He was either dead, hiding, or escaped. As luck would have it, our LAV was due to be taken back to Kandahar Airfield to be exchanged for a new, up-armoured (and presumably de-snaked) version. I can’t recall if we told the maintenance crew to whom we passed our LAV about the snake; one way or another, it wasn’t our problem anymore.

Afghanistan is a dangerous country, and it is made more so by a whole litany of poisonous creatures. Their presence was just another challenge faced by our deployed soldiers in that country. So, in future, if you should find yourself sharing a drink with a Veteran of Afghanistan, ask them if they have a funny snake story—you will likely be surprised by how many do. But if any claim to be a mechanic who found a snake in a LAV after some infantry guys dropped it off, you don’t know me.

Notes:

[1] The Royal Canadian Dragoons, or “RCDs” for short, are an armoured reconnaissance regiment from Edmonton, Alberta.

[2] A Quartermaster in the Army is usually a senior non-commissioned officer in charge of keeping and distributing supplies to the troops.

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