A lanky, jovial staff sergeant, Dirk Sheffer was sent into the war on terrorism on a sparkling day in October. He’d been working out in the gym at Fort Drum, in northern New York state.
“They came and said: ‘Get in uniform. Get your weapons and your rucks. No showers. Move!’ We went straight to the airfield. I didn’t have a shower for 22 days,” says Sheffer, 34, who boasts of being the only Jewish redneck sergeant in Afghanistan.
He knew, when the hijacked airliners hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that he would be going to war. So did everybody else in the 10th Mountain Division. They just didn’t know when. Or where. But they know soldiering, and they went forward with determination and a kind of innocent goodwill, doggedness and unquenchable humor. They got their gear together, in the familiar and frenzied routine of deployment. Hours later, they sweated and heaved onto giant cargo planes and rose heavily into darkness. From the windowless, dim interiors where they squeezed amid Humvees and assault rifles, tents, generators, duffle bags, rations, helmets, radios and rucksacks, they could see neither where they were going nor the families they’d just bid farewell. After an eternity, the interior lights switched to red and the loadmaster bawled at them and they shouldered their packs and tumbled out into Uzbekistan, a temporary staging base.
What he sees, though, is the beauty of this flat valley floor, the Shomali
plains stretching away between snowy mountain peaks. Pure opportunity.
“Biggest damn ranch you ever saw,” the staff sergeant from Tucson, Ariz.,
says dreamily. “Black Angus steers as far as you can see. I’d export the
beef to Kuwait.” He leans back against his 80-pound rucksack, lights a
Korean Mild 88 -- American cigarettes being unavailable—and happily stretches
in fatigues faded, worn and begrimed beyond salvage. “Afghanis already
know how to cowboy,” he explains in a stream of exhaled smoke. “I already
talked to the local warlords about this. I think I got ‘em on board.”